HOUSTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Veteran infielder Jeff Kent apparently will continue his major league career in Houston.
Various media reports Wednesday, including two Houston-based radio stations and MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, reported that Kent has signed a two-year deal with a option for a third.
Kent, who played second base for the San Francisco Giants, has indicated in the past that he would make a switch to third if asked.
The 2000 National League MVP joins a lineup that already has Jeff Bagwell at first base, and slugger Lance Berkman in centerfield. It means the Astros will start the 2003 season as the only team in baseball with at least two players who finished in the top seven of the MVP balloting each of the last three years.
Kent finished eighth in the National League last season with a batting average of .313. He also hit a career-high 37 homers, and had 108 RBI.
With Kent, Biggio, Bagwell, and shortstop Julio Lugo, Houston will have one of the steadiest infields in the majors. Also, the trio of Berkman, Bagwell, and Kent combined for 334 RBI last season.
Kent led the NL in extra-base hits (81) and multi-hit games (63), and his 195 hits were the second most in the league, behind Montreal's Vladimir Guerrero. His 352 total bases trailed only Guerrero (364) among NL batters.
Kent is the only second baseman in major league history to drive in 100 or more runs in six consecutive years. In 2002, he finished among the top 10 in the league in hitting, runs, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage.
Kent, 34, owns a ranch in Spicewood, Tex., near San Antonio, and has said in the past he likes hitting at Minute Maid Park.
The three-time All-Star has finished in the top 10 in NL MVP balloting four times in the last six years. He is a .289 career hitter with 253 homers and 1,009 RBI with four teams in 11 seasons (Toronto, the New York Mets, Cleveland, and San Francisco).
Price leaves WSU for Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Al.,Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Mike Price stepped down Wednesday after 14 years as football coach at Washington State to take a similar job at Alabama.
Washington State, which became a national title contender under Price, will play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1. At Alabama, he succeeds Dennis Franchione, who left to become the head coach at Texas A&M.
Price was is 83-77 in 14 years at Washington State. He guided the seventh-ranked Cougars to a 10-2 record and a share of the Pac-10 Conference championship this season.
"I feel we have hired an outstanding person as well as an excellent football coach," said Alabama Athletics Director Hal Moore.
It is not immediately clear if Price will be allowed to coach the Cougars in Pasadena, but the school moved quickly to find a replacement for Price, promoting long-time defensive coordinator Bill Doba.
The Cougars were 10-2 last year and are enjoying their first back-to-back winning seasons in his tenure. His 1997 team, led by quarterback Ryan Leaf, reached the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1931.
Washington State had three straight losing seasons after that Rose Bowl appearance, but has bounced back handsomely over the past two seasons, with Price recruiting successfully. The Cougars no longer take a back seat to other Pac-10 school.
Price, 56, has no ties to Alabama, and takes over a program that is in the midst of an NCAA probation. The Crimson Tide went 10-3 this season, but are banned from a bowl this season and next as part of NCAA penalties that include scholarship reductions.
The threat of more NCAA penalties was believed to be one reason for Franchione's departure.
New Orleans Saints assistant Mike Riley turned down the job, and South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt withdrew his name from consideration.
Price is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, and at Alabama he would work with heralded Brodie Croyle, who will be a sophomore next season. Gesser, Leaf and Drew Bledsoe all developed under Price.
Doba has been at Washington State since 1989, and was hired less than a month after Price arrived from Weber State. He has been defensive coordinator since 1994.
Doba, 42, has never been a head coach on the college level. Before coming to Washington State, he was an assistant at The Citadel, Purdue and Indiana.
Top-notch signal-callers meet in Mobile
MOBILE, Al., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Two of the nation's top quarterbacks will face each other Wednesday night when Marshall meets Louisville in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Al.
The two quarterbacks, Byron Leftwich of Marshall and Louisville's Dave Ragone, combined for 6,700 yards passing and 49 touchdowns this season. They are expected to go high in next year's NFL draft. Some project the 6-4, 240-pound Leftwich as a top five pick.
Leftwich led the Thundering Herd (10-2) to their fifth Mid-American Conference title in six years, completing 32-of-42 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-45 victory over Toledo in the MAC championship game.
Leftwich became the MAC's all-time leading passer against Toledo, raising his career total to 11,654, surpassing the previous mark of 11,299 set by Tim Lester from 1996-99.
Marshall's receiving duo of Josh Davis and Denero Marriott combined for 179 receptions, 2,021 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
The Thundering Herd, who are 4-2 in postseason play, are seeking their fifth straight bowl win. They will be hard-pressed to top last season's heroics.
Marshall rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit to shock East Carolina, 64-61, in double overtime in the GMAC Bowl.
Leftwich completed 41-of-70 passes for 576 yards and four touchdowns in the highest-scoring bowl game in NCAA history, and got immediate national attention.
Louisville (7-5) was expected to contend for a third straight Conference USA title, but endured an up-and-down season. The highlight of the year was a 26-20 overtime victory over then No. 4 Florida State on Sept. 26.
The Cardinals settled for a share of third place in Conference USA after suffering a 27-10 loss to Houston in their regular season finale on Nov. 30. A victory would have given Louisville a share of the conference title with Texas Christian and Cincinnati.
Ragone passed for 2,687 yards and 23 touchdowns. His favorite targets were Damien Dorsey and Joshua Tinch, who combined for 83 receptions for 1,159 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While Marshall and Louisville are facing each other for the first time in four years, they played 16 times from 1921-1998, with the Cardinals holding a 16-10 edge.
Contract extension for Schiano
PISCATAWAY, N.J., Dec. 18 (UPI) --Greg Schiano Wednesday received a two-year extension as football coach at Rutgers.
Schiano was given the extension despite a two-year record of just 3-20. He was extended through the 2007 season.
"We are committed to Greg Schiano, just as he is committed to developing the Rutgers football program into one that everybody in the state of New Jersey will be proud of," said Rutgers Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy.
The Scarlet Knights have a long way to go before realizing that goal. After posting 2-9 record last season, they finished 1-11 in 2002, beating only Army. The Scarlet Knights went winless in the Big East for the third straight year, and have lost 22 straight conference games.
"I've made a thorough evaluation of the program and there's no question that we've made progress in the two years that Greg Schiano has been our head coach," Mulcahy said.
After spending two years as the defensive coordinator at Miami, Schiano was named Rutgers' 28th coach in December 2000. He replaced Terry Shea, who posted a five-year record of 11-44.
Bob Johnson becomes NBA owner
NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Robert Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, has been awarded Charlotte's new NBA franchise.
Both the Charlotte Observer and the Washington Post reported the development Wednesday. Johnson was chosen over Boston businessman Steve Belkin, the managing partner of Larry Bird's group. Both groups made presentations Monday to the NBA's expansion committee.
"This is a terrific honor to join your elite club which has created the dynamic sports club across the world," Johnson said at a news conference in New York. "It's great and strong contributor to the economic and social environment in which we play ball. I'm looking forward to bringing a team that will be competitive on the court and a credit to the community off the court."
Bertram Lee and Peter Bynoe were thought to be the NBA's first black ownership group when they purchased the Denver Nuggets in 1989, but later it was learned that Comstat Video actually owned 60 percent of the team.
Both Johnson and the league down played his ethnicity.
"What I brought to the table was my ability to identify talented people and businesses -- how to take a vision and make it happen," Johnson said. "The fact that I do this and stand before you as an African-American lets me know you should look at people as they are. The issue of adversity was important, but in no way was the determining factor of this candidate."
"Bob Johnson deserves to get this job because of who he is, not what he is," said Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who chairs the NBA's expansion committee.
Johnson said he has made no decisions about a coach or general manager, and will not automatically turn to minority candidates.
"I'm going to select the best candidates for the job -- red, yellow, black, or white," Johnson said.
During his presentation to the committee, Johnson emphasized his business sense, noting that he turned a $15,000 loan into a $3 billion enterprise at BET.
"Bob's been trying to get a team," said Michael Jordan, who tried purchasing part of the Charlotte Hornets before his involvement with the Washington Wizards. "He loves the game of basketball. (Charlotte) is a great environment for basketball. I think Bob's going to do well. He has the first thing you need as an owner - the love the of the game."
League officials were unavailable for comment.
Johnson, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, would become only the second black majority owner in the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball or NHL. During his presentation, he emphasized his business sense, having turned a $15,000 loan into a $3 billion enterprise in BET. Johnson sold the company to Viacom about three years ago and continues as its CEO.
The new Charlotte franchise replaces the one that moved to New Orleans following the 2001-02 postseason. The NBA has a deal with the city to build a new arena that would open in 2005, a year after the new team debuts.
Former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird was a partner in Belkin's group. He said he was crushed that his group was unsuccessful.
"I am heartbroken," Bird said in a prepared statement. "It is hard to realize that the dream I have had for so many years is not to be, and that an awesome opportunity, which would have been the greatest and most exciting challenge in my life, will not come to pass."
The new Charlotte team will compete beginning in 2004, with the city's new arena opening the following year.
Heart procedure for Harrington
ALLEN PARK, Mi., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington has undergone a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat that caused him pain in last Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.
Harrington was released from Henry Ford Hospital Tuesday afternoon and will not play in Detroit's final two games of the season. He left Sunday's game after one series because of an irregular heartbeat, and was transported to the hospital for testing and observation.
On Monday night, he underwent a catheter ablation procedure.
"We proceeded with the delivery of a radio frequency ablation which is energy used for coronary in a very small area of this circuit, terminating the arrhythmia," said Dr. Claudio D. Schuger, Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Ford Hospital. "This resulted in non-inducability, meaning that we could not trigger the arrhythmia again after this procedure. The procedure was terminated and there were no complications."
Medication can be an option to treat the arrhythmia, but Schuger indicated that might not be the best option for an athlete.
"Medication is a definite option though it's not the best option," Schuger said. "Given the low-risk of the procedure and the curative nature of the procedure, the majority of people elect to have this procedure done because then they will not need to take any medication."
Dr. Schuger said that the recuperation period for Harrington will be 3-6 weeks, and the procedure has as 95-97 percent success rate. The third overall pick in April's draft completed 215-of-429 passes for 2,294 yards and 12 touchdowns with 16 interceptions in 14 games this season.
Without Harrington, the Lions (3-11) will start Mike McMahon in their final two games against Atlanta and Minnesota.
Bengals lose Hall for season
CINCINNATI, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- A torn labrum in his shoulder will sideline veteran safety Cory Hall of Cincinnati for the rest of the 2002 campaign.
Hall, who will be a free agent at season's end, has become the eighth player placed on the Bengals' injured reserve list this year. He was the team's fourth-leading tackler with 46.
He had one interception and got his first two sacks of the season last Sunday against Jacksonville.
"Cory Hall is to be saluted for the effort he gave in the game," said Bengals Coach Dick LeBeau. "He refused to come out of the game in several instances. Cory had a pretty tough injury, but he just hung in there and played, and played pretty well."
Trainer Paul Sparling said Hall suffered the injury earlier in the season, and that it kept getting worse as the season went along. He'll undergo arthroscopic surgery Friday.
To replace him on the roster, the Bengals signed Jeff Perry, who was release Monday by Minnesota. Perry, a 6-0, 200-pounder out of North Carolina State, was a fourth-round draft choice by San Diego in 1999. He had been on the Vikings' inactive list for six games this season.
Perry, 26, missed virtually all of the 2000 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the week before the second game of the season.
Rix ineligible for FSU bowl game
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Florida State will be without starting quarterback Chris Rix when it faces Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
The school declared Rix ineligible Tuesday for failing to take a final exam. The sophomore will accompany the team to New Orleans, but will not play against the Bulldogs.
Late Tuesday, Rix issued an apology for what happened in a prepared statement through the school's Sports Information Office.
"I know we, as players, are aware of the rule about not missing an exam," Rix said. "Due to a personal family issue, which was weighing heavily on me, I slept through an early final exam. I apologize to my teammates, coaches and the fans as this is a difficult price to pay. I'm in good academic standing and am on track to graduate on time. I simply slept through the exam. I talked to the university about my circumstances, but the decision had already been made."
Rix did not elaborate on the personal matter to which he referred. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, student confidentiality laws prevent school officials from releasing further details.
It is another blow for the Seminoles (9-4), whose season has been filled with turmoil. Fellow sophomore Adrian McPherson, who led the Seminoles to a 3-1 record, was dismissed from the team on Nov. 25 for his involvement in a theft of a check. The following week, McPherson was arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges.
Coach Bobby Bowden has named sophomore Fabian Walker as FSU's starter against Georgia. He is the only other quarterback on the team's roster with experience. Walker played in three games this season, but completed just five of eight passes for 74 yards.
"Naturally, I'm disappointed, but I know a lot about Chris that people do not know," Coach Bobby Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat, which also reported that sources indicated Rix also missed a second exam but was only given permission to make up one of them. "I know some things and how frustrating things have been for him. But still, he didn't do what he was supposed to have done."
"I decided (the situation) was serious enough he would be ineligible for the bowl game," said FSU Provost Larry Abele, who made the final decision. "It came down to assessing the issue and making a decision based on our stated and published policies and past practices."
In high school, Walker set Georgia state records for career passing yards (8,231 yards) and touchdowns (81).
Rix was benched after a loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 26, but regained his starting job after McPherson was kicked off the team. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for 83 yards in Florida State's 31-14 victory over Florida on Nov. 30.
Sampras to skip Australian Open
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Pete Sampras, who has indicated he will play at least one year on the ATP Tour, plans to skip the 2003 Australian Open.
Sampras, 31, told the Los Angeles Times he will bypass the year's first major because he does not have enough time to prepare for it. His first appearance will be at the Siebel Open in San Jose in February.
There was speculation that Sampras would retire after he unexpectedly captured his record 14th Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in September. Fueling those rumors was the birth of his first child last month.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that he will continue playing as long as he is competitive, and does not want people to look at the 2003 season as a farewell tour.
"I'm just going to see how it goes, just kind of ride the wave and see how far it takes me," he said.
Sampras said he is committed to the other three majors -- the French Open in May, Wimbledon in June, and the U.S. Open in September.
Prior to this year's win at the U.S. Open, Sampras' game had been in decline. He had not won a tournament in more than two years.
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