Major League Baseball cancels season opener

NEW YORK — The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will kick off as scheduled in primetime Thursday, even if the U.S. has begun dropping bombs on Baghdad.

In a conference call with reporters, NCAA prexy Miles Brand said Tom Ridge, secretary of homeland security, “encouraged us to play. It’s important that life go on as normal. We mustn’t let a tyrant determine how we’ll lead our lives.”

But Major League Baseball, citing the threat of war, canceled the season-opening series between Seattle and Oakland that was to take place March 25-26 in Tokyo. The games were rescheduled for April 3 and June 30 in Oakland.

CBS and NBC have contingency plans in place for alternate coverage of scheduled sports events.

Brand confirmed previous reports that ESPN might take over coverage of the basketball tournament if CBS ends up running wall-to-wall news on Thursday and Friday in primetime and dislodging the scheduled games (Daily Variety, March 18).

President of CBS Sports Sean McManus canceled a planned Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters because he’s still locked in negotiations with ESPN.

Brand said the NCAA staff has had a number of talks with executives of the FBI and homeland security, with the result that “we’ve taken measures to insure the security of student athletes and fans” in the arenas during the games.

NBC Sports announced it will shift coverage of the Professional Golf Assn. Tour’s Bay Hill Invitational to CNBC on Saturday and Sunday if news of war preempts coverage.

Plans regarding NBC’s scheduled regional coverage of three Arena Football League games Sunday have yet to be finalized.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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