Points worth noting: Final Four event sites, sports for disabled students

Posted Friday, Jan. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Let Fort Worth play

When Charlotte Jones Anderson said hosting the 2014 NCAA men's basketball Final Four at Cowboys Stadium was "great for all of us," did she mean all of us in North Texas or just all of us east of North Collins Street?

Anderson, daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, was named chair of the local committee that will recommend venues for public events associated with the Final Four next year and with the men's basketball regional scheduled for Arlington in just two months.

True, the NCAA will decide where to locate the ancillary fun, but as was evident in planning the hoopla surrounding Super Bowl XLV in 2011, local voices can be mighty persuasive. Remember, it was a great sales job that brought ESPN's SportsCenter to Sundance Square for pre-game broadcasts.

A Dallas Morning News report about Anderson's appointment to head the North Texas Local Organizing Committee said that most of the hotel room blocks for the 2014 men's tournament would be in Dallas and that it wasn't clear what would be scheduled in Arlington besides the games.

Well, that doesn't sound very sporting.

Sure, Dallas has a large and well-known footprint when it comes to big-time athletics. But, as Pittsburgh fans, Kansas State fans and other sports buffs who've stayed in Fort Worth have discovered, Tarrant County also has plenty of amenities.

It's natural that each city wants a piece of the expected influx of visitor dollars spent on lodging, meals, transportation and souvenirs. Hosting a men's Final Four has been estimated to bring multimillions into a region -- though some economists argue that when such things as public safety and sanitation costs and crowd-out of locals are considered, cities might actually lose. Still, the exposure, to visitors and on TV, can be invaluable.

The basketball organizing committee looks weighted with Dallas heavies.

Let's hope that Jay Burress, outgoing president and CEO of the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau, Fort Worth businesswoman Gina Puente and former Texas Christian University athletic director Frank Windegger, who also are on the panel, can effectively represent why the western side of the region matters, too.

A sporting chance

It's not really surprising that a new federal directive on school athletics has come from Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He's a basketball player who shoots competitive hoops with President Barack Obama and appreciates the lessons in discipline, teamwork, leadership and socialization that sports can teach.

On Friday, the Education Department issued a clarification of rules that schools receiving federal funds must follow in letting students with disabilities take part in extracurricular sports. (1.usa.gov/XFbQv6)

The guidelines should open opportunities for students, but they also raise questions about how far schools must go and, perhaps most important, how new programs will be paid for.

On one level, the guidelines basically say that kids should get to compete if they have the ability, without anyone assuming they're limited just because of their disability.

The department makes clear that schools still can have selective teams as long as the criteria don't discriminate unfairly. School districts are required to make "reasonable modifications" when "necessary to ensure equal opportunity," but those adjustments don't have to be made if they fundamentally change a game or provide an unfair advantage.

An example the department gives is that baseball wouldn't need to add an extra base, but a hearing-impaired student could get a visual signal to start a track race.

If students can't be accommodated in existing programs, districts should create other opportunities, the department says. That could mean working with community groups or setting up regional leagues.

According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report, Minnesota has created adapted soccer, floor hockey and softball leagues and started a bowling league in which students play at their local alley and compete "virtually" against other schools. (1.usa.gov/SNJyBq)

Bringing down unreasonable barriers for students isn't just the law, it's the right thing to do. But this will challenge public schools' adaptability and ingenuity once again.

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