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Williams denies McCants' UNC academic allegations

North Carolina coach Roy Williams and players from the 2005 national championship team deny they were involved with academic wrongdoing alleged by former teammate Rashad McCants.

In an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," McCants - the team's second-leading scorer - said tutors wrote papers for him. He also said he believes Williams knew "100 percent" about players taking no-show classes popular with athletes in a department later linked to fraud in a long-running scandal.

"We had to run sprints for missing classes if we got caught, so you know, they were very aware of what was going on," McCants said, comparing it to movies in which athletes would "just show up and play."

In a statement Friday, Williams said he "strongly" disagreed with McCants' comments.

"In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me," Williams said. "I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me."

After flunking two classes in fall 2004, McCants said he met with Williams, who told him he could swap a failing grade from one class with a passing one from another to stay eligible.

McCants said Williams told him to "buckle down on your academics" and things would work out. The next semester, McCants said, he had As in four courses from the formerly named Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) and made the Dean's List despite not attending classes.

He then entered the NBA draft as a junior. His sister, Rashanda, later played basketball for UNC and graduated in 2009.

In all, 18 of McCants' 28 college courses were in his AFAM major, with McCants earning As or Bs in 16 of those classes, according to ESPN.

McCants also said tutors provided him with test answers in some AFAM classes, and that teammates sometimes car-pooled to pick up already-written papers from tutors.

"For some of the premier players, we didn't write our papers," McCants said.

In a joint statement Friday, sixteen players from the 2005 team - including NBA players Raymond Felton and Marvin Williams, and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Sean May - defended their Hall of Fame coach.

"With conviction, each one of us is proud to say that we attended class and did our own academic work," the players said.

"In light of the comments made by Rashad on ESPN Outside the Lines, we want to state that our personal academic experiences are not consistent with Rashad's claims," they said. "We know that Coach Williams did not have any knowledge of any academic impropriety, and further that Coach Williams would not have tried to manipulate a player's schedule. Rashad will always be our teammate and we wish him well on all of his future endeavors."

McCants' allegations are the latest levied against UNC in an academic fraud scandal that began as an offshoot of an NCAA investigation into the football program in 2010. The findings included the lecture classes featuring significant athlete enrollments that did not meet and were instead treated as independent study courses requiring a research paper at semester's end, as well as unauthorized grade changes and possibly forged signatures on grade rolls.

Former UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham, who has questioned the literacy of Tar Heel athletes, has said "paper classes" helped keep athletes eligible despite many reading at below-grade levels. A university review reported in July 2012 that academic advisers referred athletes to those classes for enrollment, a charge McCants echoed.

A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found fraud in the AFAM department dating to at least the late 1990s. While Martin found no evidence of athletic department involvement, another probe led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is underway.

Previous investigations have directed blame at retired chairman Julius Nyang'oro, now facing a criminal charge in the case, and former administrator Deborah Crowder.

Neither cooperated with previous investigations, but Wainstein interviewed Crowder in March and Nyang'oro attorney Bill Thomas said in an email Friday night that his client is now cooperating, too. Thomas said Nyang'oro has met with Wainstein, though he did not say when.

In a statement Friday, Wainstein said McCants' comments are "directly relevant to our investigation."

"We have interviewed or attempted to interview a number of current and former UNC student-athletes and we have received valuable insights and information from those who have agreed to speak with us," said Wainstein, a partner in the Washington, D.C., law office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP. "We would welcome the opportunity to speak to Mr. McCants or anybody else who can shed light on the issues we are investigating."

In an email Friday, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn did not comment specifically about the UNC case. She pointed out that the Division I Leadership Council in April clarified that schools are responsible for monitoring academic misconduct and reporting it to the NCAA.

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AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Top pick Clowney signs with Texans

HOUSTON (AP) Jadeveon Clowney has his rookie contract with the Houston Texans. Now he needs to learn a new position.

The top overall choice in last month's draft, Clowney signed a four-year contract with the Texans on Friday. Houston has an option for a fifth year, as in all NFL contracts with first-round picks under the current collective bargaining agreement.

A star defensive end since entering South Carolina in 2011, Clowney will become an outside linebacker with the Texans. Rest assured he will have plenty of pass rushing duties, but Houston plans to use him in a stand-up position.

The Texans are moving to a 3-4 alignment and have 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt as one of their ends.

"For any rookie it's very difficult to make the jump from college to pro. It doesn't really matter if they were drafted No. 1 or undrafted, they're all trying to learn and keep pace with the veterans," new head coach Bill O'Brien said during a recent team workout. "I think he's doing a decent job of and he's working hard at it."

Clowney had 130 tackles, including 47 for losses, and 24 sacks in three seasons at South Carolina. He also set a school record by forcing nine fumbles in his career.

After both his freshman and sophomore years with the Gamecocks, Clowney was considered a surefire high pick in the draft had he been eligible. He was an All-American in 2012, but his performance dipped last season, and there were questions whether Houston would select him first overall.

Clowney's work ethic had been questioned, and critics wondered if he played things safe as a junior to avoid injury.

But his sheer talent, size (6-foot-5, 266 pounds) and potential were too good for the Texans to ignore.

"I'm here to learn the playbook and get the ball rolling with the Houston Texans and show what I've got on the field," he said following a practice session last month.

Clowney is the third top overall pick in team history. Houston selected quarterback David Carr in 2002 and defensive end Mario Williams in 2006.

Houston has signed nine of its 10 draft picks, with only UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, the first choice in the second round, still unsigned.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Spurs ready for James and any conditions in finals

SAN ANTONIO (AP) When the air conditioning went out in San Antonio, many of the Spurs felt right at home - their native homelands.

They are a roster loaded with foreign players, accustomed to playing in places where air conditioning not only isn't optional, it's not even available.

"It gets crazy sometimes," forward Boris Diaw from France said Friday. "It goes to 95, 96."

It wasn't quite that bad inside the AT&T Center during Game 1 of the NBA Finals, where the temperature hovered around 90 degrees and the thermometer got as much attention as the scoreboard in the Spurs' 110-95 victory.

The Spurs weren't immune to the steamy arena, they just handled it better.

They have nine players born outside of the United States, representing an NBA-record seven countries, and even Danny Green, one of their few Americans, played internationally earlier in his career when he couldn't stick in the NBA. And while Diaw said it was the hottest NBA game he could remember, all the Spurs said they had faced worse.

They probably won't have to endure it again, at least not in this series.

The teams were already scheduled to work out Friday and Saturday at the Spurs' training facility, and Spurs officials announced just before practice began that the air conditioning system was "fully operational."

Commissioner Adam Silver said a breaker about the size of a car battery failed and workers couldn't replace it because they didn't know what effect that would have on the rest of the power to arena. Silver said workers from the facility and league, along with an outside expert, checked it out and are confident everything is repaired and will be fine for Game 2 on Sunday night.

And even if it isn't, the Spurs would probably handle it.

They have developed a mental toughness, the kind it will take to bounce back from last year's gut-wrenching NBA Finals loss to the Heat and get it done this year.

"Being a champion is not easy," Green said. "It's not going to come easy."

So no, the Spurs won't be rattled by something like the conditions. The two-time defending champion Heat will have to do that themselves.

"Anybody can be rattled, but this team is more difficult to rattle than others," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "They have great poise, they're always a step ahead a little bit."

They were way ahead down the stretch, particularly after the demoralized Heat realized LeBron James - sidelined with cramps - had been lost for good with about 4 minutes remaining. And, as is often the case for the Spurs, this game was won just as much with their minds.

"I feel part of our downfall in that game was mental and physical fatigue down the stretch. You know, rotations and things that we normally do wasn't done last night," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "It wasn't from not having the will or the want to do it."

The Spurs never lose that. Even after their unforgettable Game 6 defeat last season, when they blew a five-point lead in the final half-minute of regulation with a chance to win the title, they came back two nights later and pushed the Heat into the finals minutes of Game 7.

And rather than change things up after that loss, even with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both on the wrong side of 35, the Spurs brought back all five starters and 12 players overall, rather than try to make fixes some thought might be needed to stay atop the Western Conference.

Coach Gregg Popovich doesn't know what causes his players to have their mental fortitude, but it's clear they do.

"It's difficult to judge or paint things with too big a brush," he said. "I think individual players have their own individual qualities and traits. I think some players are softer than others, some are tougher than others. But that doesn't change, it's just who they are."

The Heat have it as well. Five times they have lost Game 1 of a series since 2011, including last year to the Spurs, and each time bounced back to win Game 2 and eventually the series. They were disappointed by the finish to Thursday's game but not shaken, especially since James said he expects to be 100 percent by Sunday night.

"We have to do some things better, more committed, five-man (defense) against a very good passing team. They're well-schooled," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Some things that we need to adjust on.

"That's what we'll figure out in the next couple of days."

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Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Hamlin wins pole at Pocono Raceway

LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Denny Hamlin won the pole the first time he ever raced at Pocono Raceway. Eight years later, Hamlin still had the speed in the No. 11 Toyota to take the top spot at the triangle track.

Hamlin turned a track record-lap of 181.415 mph Friday to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup pole, a throwback to the times he dominated qualifying at one of his best tracks.

Hamlin is a four-time winner at Pocono, matching his Martinsville mark for most career wins at a track. He swept two Pocono races on its former rugged surface from the pole in 2006. He also won races on the 2 1/2-mile track in 2009 and 2010.

"I hope this track has aged a little bit," he said, "because when it was old and worn out was when I was really good at the track."

With blistering speeds, Hamlin zipped his way to his second track record and pole of the season after topping the field at Bristol. Hamlin has 19 poles in 304 career Cup starts.

Hamlin hasn't had much success with Joe Gibbs Racing at Pocono since 2010, finishing in the top 10 onlt twice and crashing out twice - including a 43rd-place run last August.

"We haven't been that strong here since the repave," he said. "It's just a handful of things that make you off here and there. These tracks are almost like superspeedways now in the sense that you've got to have the fastest car in the right position to win them. Back when I was winning in `06 on the old track, you could make up tons of position. That would never happen today because the cars are running so fast and so equal."

Kurt Busch starts second for a needed lift for his Stewart-Haas Racing team. Busch has otherwise struggled outside of the one win that all but locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

"We came here with a new approach to try to get our front ends to settle into the track a little better," Busch said. "I was really surprised that we had the speed for the pole today in our first attempt to try something a little different. It's great to cash in."

Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon completed the top five.

Coming off wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover, Jimmie Johnson will start 20th in his bid for a third straight victory.

"I just got too greedy down in two and lost the nose in the corner exit," Johnson said. "I feel bad for my guys, but this one's on me."

Keselowski continued his run of qualifying success. Last week's pole winner at Dover, Keselowski has started third or better in the No. 2 Ford a whopping 10 times in 13 races this season.

"I'm not sure why, but I'm not going to complain about it either," he said. "It does seem qualifying day has been the highlight of our week, for sure."

Gatorade apologizes over LeBron-related tweets

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Gatorade apologized Friday for comments posted to the company's Twitter feed after Miami Heat star LeBron James cramped up and had to leave Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

James needed intravenous fluids after the game, during which temperatures inside San Antonio's AT&T Center were measured at nearly 90 degrees after the arena's air conditioning system failed. The Spurs won the game 110-95, pulling away in the final 3:59 after James left the game for good with cramps ravaging his left leg.

"Our apologies for our response to fans' tweets during (Thursday) night's Heat vs. Spurs game," Gatorade said in a release. "We got caught up in the heat of the battle. As a longtime partner of the Miami Heat, we support the entire team."

Gatorade has a long business relationship with the NBA. James is an endorser of Powerade, a Gatorade rival.

James was a lightning rod of social media criticism after cramping in Game 1, with even NFL player Jonathan Martin - a central figure in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal last year - questioning his toughness in a tweet that was quickly deleted.

"What everybody has to say, you guys should know me by now, I don't care. I really don't," James said. "I really don't care what people say about me."

One of the tweets, in response to someone who directed a message toward the sports drink's feed, read that, "We were waiting on the sidelines, but he prefers to drink something else."

He may be paid by Powerade, but it appeared James was drinking Gatorade at least once during Game 1 of the finals. Video and photos taken of James on the Heat bench during the second half showed him holding what appeared to be a Gatorade bottle with the label removed, as has been the case on many other occasions.

The original tweet posted by Gatorade came late in Game 1, saying, "With a game this hot, we're right at home."

The Spurs said a power outage was to blame for the air conditioning failure, and later NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told The Associated Press that a faulty breaker was identified as the issue. The team announced Friday it had been repaired.

Michael Sam: No issues fitting in with Rams

ST. LOUIS (AP) Michael Sam is confident he'll be judged on performance.

The first openly gay player drafted in the NFL said Friday there have been no issues fitting in with his St. Louis Rams teammates, no awkward moments in the locker room and that he was accepted right away.

"They respect me as a human being," he said. "And as a football player."

Being a bit of a cut-up helps cut the ice, too. Sam skipped all of the media days last season at Missouri while saving his announcement for February, but teammates will tell you he has quite a sense of humor and is not the least bit sensitive about off-color jokes that can fly behind closed doors.

"If anybody had any reservations about who he was to begin with, he wins them over pretty quick," said wide receiver T.J. Moe, who played with Sam at Missouri. "They're laughing so hard, they can't breathe."

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers said Sam was asked to stand up and tell a joke on Friday. The verdict: "Totally funny."

"We don't really focus on the outside stuff," Brockers added. "He's our brother, he's on our D-line and that's where it sits."

Working out with the full squad this week, Sam realizes he must step up his game to carve out a spot on a loaded defensive line. He said he's spending a lot of time poring over the playbook, too.

No doubt the Rams will give Sam every chance to succeed. But like any seventh-round pick, it's an uphill battle.

"It's faster, you've got to learn a lot more plays, you've got to know what you're doing," Sam said after a two-hour session. "You're supposed to perform at a high level and I'm doing pretty good."

Sam got a lot of snaps at left end with the second team defense, moving up on the depth chart because veteran William Hayes is rehabbing from an injury. He's been getting a lot of work on special teams, where the Rams might break him in.

The Rams had one of the top pass rushes in the NFL last year with ends Robert Quinn, second in the NFL in sacks, and Chris Long both former first-round picks. So are tackles Brockers and rookie Aaron Donald, plus Kendall Langford was a major free agent pickup a year ago.

"I'm telling you, they get after it," Sam said. "I thought our D-line at Mizzou was pretty tough. This is a whole new level."

Everyone, Sam said, has been willing to help. Nobody, Long said, gives a hoot about the fact he's gay.

"Only the media cares," Long said. "The players don't care, we just care about what kind of football player you are.

"We got a steal in whatever round we took him in."

Players picked way ahead of him don't seem to mind that Sam's getting more attention.

"He's a cool guy," Donald said. "We get along well and we're trying to get ready for the season together."

The 260-pound Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season. After the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick late in the seventh round, general manager Les Snead called him a designated pass rusher.

Sam said he's probably going to have to shed some weight to be effective on special teams.

Among the early goals for the Rams (7-9) is getting Greg Robinson, the second overall pick, accustomed to a new position. Robinson was a tackle at Auburn and the Rams have him at guard.

"I can get my hands on them faster, so it's something I think I can grow into," Robinson said. "But I'm a little rusty. It's been a while since I played guard."

Veterans were challenged, too, by new wrinkles in the playbook.

"Just knocking the rust off, I think, is the biggest thing," Brockers said. "Like coach Fisher said, we're not going to win the division in these next few OTAs."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Alonso, Hamilton fastest at Canadian GP practices

MONTREAL (AP) Whether it's practice, qualifying or the races themselves, Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been dominating Formula One.

Winners of all six races so far this season, the two drivers posted the fastest laps on the first day of practice Friday at the Canadian Grand Prix. Hamilton turned in the top time of 1 minute, 16.118 seconds in the afternoon practice - a speed of 128.16 mph (206.253) - on the 2.71-mile (4.36-kilometer) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and Rosberg was just 0.175 seconds slower.

"Nico looked very quick today as well so I have my work cut out for sure," said Hamilton, who won four races in a row before finishing second to Rosberg at Monaco last month. "The Ferraris looked quite close today and the rest of the field seemed closer in general but hopefully not too close."

Rosberg leads the Formula One championship with 122 points, thanks to two victories and four second-place finishes. Hamilton, the 2008 champion, is in second place for the season with 118 points from four victories and a No. 2 finish; he lasted just two laps before a failed cylinder knocked him out of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton won at the track for McLaren in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is in third place with just 61 points. He had the fastest lap in the morning practice Friday with a time of 1:17.238.

"It's going to be a tough challenge" to catch Mercedes, Ferrari engineering director Pat Fry said. "But we just need to keep on. There's quite a gap to close, let's face it, but we just need to do our best and keep developing."

Fry said Ferrari's garage was busy Friday after problems with Kimi Raikkonen's power unit limited him to just 15 laps in the morning. But he said both drivers got enough time on the track to provide data that the team can evaluate before practice resumes on Saturday morning.

"It's too early to say whether it's all working or not," Fry said. "Some things are looking promising; some we need to look into in more detail. ... But we need to keep developing the car as quickly as we can."

Although it was surprising to see the dominant Mercedes knocked from the top spot in practice, Rosberg said he was experimenting with the brakes in the morning before making a change for the afternoon.

"It was much better for the second session, so I'm quite happy now with that," he said. "But I'm still a tenth off the quickest time so I'll work hard with our engineers tonight to find that extra pace."

Four-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel, the race winner last year, posted the third-fastest lap of the afternoon, with Ferrari's Raikkonen and Alonso fourth and fifth. Williams teammates Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were sixth and seventh.

Light rain fell in the late morning but did not disrupt practice. Teams ran more laps in the morning because of the threat of more rain, but the second session went on without interruption.

Another practice session on Saturday morning will be followed by qualifying in the afternoon.

"It's very hard to overtake here so pole position is important," Hamilton said.

Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe said the focus on Friday was doing their homework on tire performance and fuel consumption.

By the afternoon, they seemed to have figured it out.

As usual.

"It's not easy," Lowe said. "I know we have a fantastic record so far this year, but we've got some competitors out there who will grab everything we leave behind. We've got to make sure we don't."

Penguins fire Bylsma, hire Rutherford as GM

PITTSBURGH (AP) Jim Rutherford doesn't believe the Pittsburgh Penguins need to undergo a massive overhaul to regain their spot among the NHL's elite.

One thing is for certain: Dan Bylsma won't be part of the process.

The Penguins fired the franchise's all-time winningest coach on Friday while hiring Rutherford away from the Carolina Hurricanes to replace Ray Shero as general manager. Rutherford's first decision was to end the three weeks of limbo for Bylsma, whose star-laden teams had fallen well short of the Stanley Cup since winning it all in 2009.

"What ownership wants here is a complete change in direction, one with the GM and one with the coach," Rutherford said.

Bylsma won 252 games behind the bench and was the Jack Adams Award winner in 2012 as the NHL's Coach of the Year but failed to produce a bookend to the championship he captured with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in 2009. The Penguins were just 4-5 in playoff series since raising the 2009 Cup, with each loss coming to a lower-seeded team.

Pittsburgh's latest defeat came last month when the Penguins fell to the New York Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Rutherford met with Bylsma on Friday morning as part of an organization-wide shake-up. In addition to dismissing Bylsma, the Penguins promoted Jason Botterill to associate general manager, named Bill Guerin and Tom Fitzgerald assistant general managers.

The 65-year-old Rutherford takes over for Shero, who was fired on May 16. The new gig is a homecoming for the former goaltender. Rutherford played for the Penguins in the 1970s before spending 20 years with the franchise that began as the Hartford Whalers, moved to North Carolina in 1997 and won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

The Hurricanes struggled maintaining that success, missing the postseason each of the last five years. It led to Rutherford stepping down in April when the Hurricanes promoted Ron Francis - who helped Pittsburgh win consecutive Cups in 1991 and '92 - to the GM's job. Rutherford took on an advisory role in Carolina with a small ownership stake in the team, a position he will relinquish in the near future.

The Penguins, meanwhile, plan to get their money's worth out of a man closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Rutherford allowed he will likely only be around "two or three years" and will serve as a mentor to his new staff, adding he will give Botterill and company "big roles with a lot to say."

Rutherford hopes to find Bylsma's replacement by the time free agency begins in July. Considering the talent at the top of the roster, the job will certainly be attractive. Finding the right fit, however, may be challenging.

"With some changes, they don't have to be sweeping changes, we can (win another Cup) in the near future," Rutherford said.

While it's unlikely Rutherford will do much to mess with the core of Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, there are some serious depth issues, particularly along the bottom two lines.

"Our supporting cast needs to be improved," Rutherford said. "I look at our fourth-line players and some of those guys are in double-digit minuses and we can't have that."

What the Penguins do have is arguably the league's best player in Crosby and one of its most dynamic in Malkin. The duo has dominated during the regular season when healthy - with Crosby the favorite to pick up his second Hart Trophy as league MVP after leading the NHL with 114 points this season - but that success hasn't translated into deep playoff runs.

Crosby struggled in the postseason. He scored just once in 13 games while maintaining he was not injured. Rutherford will try to find the right kind of role players to take some of the pressure off his high-wattage stars.

Coincidentally, the Hurricanes are also looking for a new coach - Francis' first big decision in his new job was firing Kirk Muller after three years - and Carolina has been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Bylsma.

The move by Rutherford - who won 44 games in net for the Penguins from 1971-74 - is the latest in a series of significant ties between the organizations.

Carolina has the longest active playoff drought among Eastern Conference teams. Its last postseason appearance came in 2009 - when the Hurricanes were swept in the East final by a Penguins team that went on to win its only Stanley Cup under Shero's leadership, the crowning achievement of his eight years as Pittsburgh's GM.

Rutherford and Shero orchestrated the blockbuster trade of the 2012 NHL draft when forward Jordan Staal was sent to Carolina and reunited with big brother Eric in exchange for Sutter and prospects.

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AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

NFL hopes to pick 2015 draft site this summer

NEW YORK (AP) More than a dozen cities are interested in hosting the NFL draft in 2015 draft, and the league hopes to choose a site this summer.

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were invited this week to make presentations for next spring's draft. But the league stresses that no finalists have been selected and many other cities are in the running.

The draft drew record TV ratings last month. It has been held in New York since 1965, with Radio City Music Hall the venue since 2006. But the Music Hall was not available for the usual late April dates this year and the draft was pushed back to May 8-10.

For the 2015 draft, the NFL is seeking proposals for April 22-25 or April 29-May 2.

The NFL originally was less than happy that Radio City could not be used in April, although the two-week move into May seemed beneficial as interest ramped up. The theater, owned by Madison Square Garden, will not be available next year, either, but the Garden has a smaller venue, one that previously has held the draft.

Or, considering its skyrocketing popularity, the draft could wind up in the main arena if it stays in New York.

The league this week sent letters to organizations that work on behalf of hosting events in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, asking for information. Among the factors the league will consider are:

-availability of the proposed venue or venues for April 22-25 and April 29-May 2.

-number of fans the venues could hold for the draft and related events.

-ability to host a fan festival in an adjacent indoor or outdoor space.

-hotel availability for fans, team and league staff, incoming draft prospects and their families.

Among the other cities that have shown interest in the draft are Boston, Cleveland, Green Bay, Houston, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle. Also, Canton, Ohio, the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Commissioner Roger Goodell several times has suggested the draft could be expanded to four days and moved around the country.

"We're looking at ways to make the draft more exciting for our fans," Goodell said. "We are looking at a lot of options, perhaps expand the number of days or moving it around."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Rays have moment of silence for Don Zimmer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Rays held a moment of silence for Don Zimmer before Thursday's game against Miami.

The Rays will also have a ceremony for their team senior adviser before Saturday's game with Seattle.

Zimmer spent 66 years in pro baseball and died Wednesday at 83. He had been in a Florida rehab center since heart surgery in mid-April.

Tom Zimmer, Don's son and a San Francisco Giants scout, issued a family statement thanking all of those who "rooted so hard" for "Pop's recovery."

"What a great life he has had," the statement said. "The game goes on without him now, but he surely would have expressed once again that `I was so lucky to be part of this game for a lifetime."'

Tom Zimmer called his father's final few years a "huge struggle."

"In baseball terms he battled the best he could but simply was running out of gas," he said. "These last eight weeks, he was just too weakened to survive anymore and we are grateful the suffering has ended. We will miss him terribly, but will have a lifetime of memories."

There is no funeral or other memorial service planned. In lieu of flowers, the family asked donations be made to either the National Kidney Foundation or the Baseball Assistance team.

Kentucky gives Calipari 7-year, $52.5 million deal

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky gave coach John Calipari a seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension that will pay a base package of $6.5 million next season and $8 million over each of the final three seasons.

Already one of college basketball's highest-paid coaches, Calipari led the Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA championship and is coming off his third Final Four appearance in five years with Kentucky, a 60-54 title-game loss to Connecticut in April. He has often been rumored as a potential candidate for NBA coaching openings, most recently this spring with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Calipari quickly reiterated his happiness with Kentucky, later using social media to state his commitment after Los Angeles fired coach Mike D'Antoni. He continued that theme with his new contract that pays more than most pro coaches.

"I've said over and over that I have the best job in the country," Calipari said in a release Thursday night. "With the continued support from our administration and the greatest, craziest, fans in college basketball, we have accomplished a lot in our five quick years, but we still have lofty goals for the future.

"We want to continue to help young people and their families reach their dreams, while at the same time maintaining our success on the basketball court, in the classroom and in the community."

Besides building a 152-37 record at Kentucky, Calipari has established himself as a master recruiter in landing top-three freshman classes annually. That includes next year's group which figures to make the Wildcats a title contender again, and with this contract the school appears to have locked him in for the long term.

"It has long been our goal over the last three to five years that Cal enjoy this as his final stop in coaching," athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in the release, "and that he has an opportunity to finish his career at the University of Kentucky and hopefully set standards and win championships that will be remembered for many, many years to come."

Wie, defending champ Park share LPGA Tour lead

WATERLOO, Ontario (AP) Michelle Wie and defending champion Hee Young Park shared the first-round lead at 6-under 65 on Thursday in the Manulife Financial Classic at windswept Grey Silo.

Wie, the winner in Hawaii in April, birdied three of the last four holes in her morning round. She's seeking her second victory in Canada after winning the 2010 Canadian Women's Open in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Park had a bogey-free round in the afternoon. Last year, the South Korean player beat Angela Stanford on the third playoff hole after they finished at 26-under 258 to match the tour record for lowest total score.

China's Shanshan Feng was a stroke back, and countrywoman Xi Yu Lin matched Cristie Kerr with a 67.

Stacy Lewis had a 69 in her first round since taking the top spot in the world with a victory Sunday in New Jersey. Second-ranked Inbee Park also shot 69, and No. 3 Lydia Ko had a 71.

NY Rangers wowed by LA Kings in Cup finals opener

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) Alain Vigneault reviewed only portions of the video from the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup finals opener before he sat down at their oceanside hotel to explain how it got away.

The coach had already formed a few impressions, and they made him even more wary of the Los Angeles Kings.

"They're one of the best teams I've seen in a long time," Vigneault said Thursday. "Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you. We're going to have to be better than we were."

The Rangers realize they missed a golden chance to grab an early game from the weary Kings, who were 72 hours removed from a grueling, seven-game Western Conference finals victory over defending champion Chicago.

New York jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period at Staples Center, but was soon overwhelmed. The Kings tied it in the second, utterly dominated the third and won early in overtime on Justin Williams' latest clutch goal.

The comeback was classic Kings - and now the Rangers realize exactly what they're facing.

"We're a team that's just never going to go away," Kings forward Jeff Carter said. "We're going to play hard no matter what the score is."

Game 2 is Saturday. The Kings enjoyed a rare day off at home, while the Rangers tried to relax near the beach on a splendid sunny day.

Despite Vigneault's lofty praise, the Rangers don't seem intimidated by the 2012 Stanley Cup champions. Although New York was outshot 20-3 in the third period, Carl Hagelin was denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway in the last minute of regulation, barely missing a chance to steal it.

"To be honest, I don't think they had that many grade-A scoring chances in the third," Hagelin said. "They had a lot of puck-possession time. They had some shots. It wasn't really a lot of good chances. I mean, we can't look too much into shots."

The Kings realize they've also got work to do after stumbling early in their first series opener at home in the entire postseason. New York's speed on the wings surprised the Kings, leading to numerous prime scoring chances for the Rangers.

But Los Angeles' ability to adjust during a game has been a strength throughout its remarkable playoff run. The Kings also have proven to be an incredible comeback team after rallying from four multigoal deficits to win: They've rallied from at least two goals down in three of their last four games, winning twice.

"Well, you can't chase leads all the time," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's the National Hockey League. It's the best teams in the world. There are two teams left out of 30, which means that they've both come a long ways, and they both had to be resilient. You don't get any award for `resilient.' So we can play a lot better, and it's way better when you're not chasing the lead."

New York acknowledged Los Angeles took control of the second half of Game 1, using its disciplined structure and balanced offense to dominate puck possession. It's a familiar formula to the Western Conference after the Kings gritted out seven-game series victories over San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago.

The Rangers have a renewed respect for the Kings after Game 1, but they also see simple fixes for their biggest problems.

"I think maybe we're pressing, holding our sticks a little too much, too tightly," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Looking for stuff that wasn't there. We know if we get pucks in deep and get our forecheck going, that's where we can generate offense. We were looking for a little bit too much on the rush, looking to carry it across and gain the zone a little bit too much."

The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup title roughly 77 percent of the time since 1939. The Kings won Game 1 in overtime two years ago in New Jersey, ultimately finishing off the Devils in six games.

The Rangers might spend two days stewing over the lost opportunity of Game 1, but they also realize they've got time to counter the Kings' strengths.

"Ultimately, I feel this group has a lot more to give," McDonagh said. "We're going to need that in Game 2."

Colts owner's license suspended for refusing test

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) A court has suspended Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's driver's license for one year following his arrest for driving while intoxicated.

The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/1pUleLq ) that recently released documents in Hamilton County confirm the license suspension effective starting May 27. Police and prosecutors have declined to discuss the case.

Irsay refused a blood test after his March 16 arrest in Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. Indiana law requires a one-year license suspension for refusing such a test. Police later obtained a warrant ordering Irsay to submit to a blood draw.

Irsay faces a June 19 initial hearing on two misdemeanor counts of impaired driving. A probable cause affidavit said Irsay was driving under the influence of powerful painkillers.

A message seeking comment was left with a spokeswoman for Irsay.

Nadal, Murray set up French Open semifinal matchup

PARIS (AP) - Briefly, and only briefly, Rafael Nadal was in a difficult spot in the French Open quarterfinals.

For the first time in this year's tournament, the eight-time champion dropped a set.

And this had to be on Nadal's mind: His opponent, David Ferrer, could present real problems. Not only is Ferrer ranked No. 5, and not only was he the runner-up at Roland Garros a year ago - to Nadal, of course - but he also beat Nadal on red clay the last time they played each other.

So how did Nadal handle this test? Perfectly. From late in the second set, he won 10 games in a row, and 13 of 14 the rest of the way, to come back and beat Ferrer 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1, setting up a semifinal Friday against Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.

"At the beginning," Nadal acknowledged, "David was playing with a higher intensity than me."

But once Nadal made a key adjustment - deciding to dispense with his surprisingly off-target backhand as much as possible and instead do whatever he could to use his topspin-heavy forehand - he took over.

After committing 28 unforced errors across the windy first two sets, Nadal had zero in the third, and only three in the last.

"When I was able to hit with my forehand," Nadal said, "I felt that I was in control."

Ferrer, for his part, said that in the latter stages, "I lost my concentration, my focus."

It was Nadal's 33rd consecutive win at the French Open and improved his record in the event to 64-1. His only loss at the tournament came to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.

The Spaniard, who turned 28 on Tuesday, is not used to facing much in the way of hardship at Roland Garros. So Nadal took what he was able to do against Ferrer as a good sign.

"At the end of the day, I am rather happy to have been able to turn the situation around," said Nadal, who wasn't thrilled to be put on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second-largest arena, for the second time this year. "I managed to pull through, even though it was complicated."

The route Murray took during his 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 victory over No. 23 Gael Monfils of France was far more circuitous, finishing right on the cusp of dusk after 9:30 p.m. In front of a crowd loudly pulling for Monfils at Court Philippe Chatrier, Murray was terrific at the outset, mediocre in the middle, then closed on a high.

After a brief discussion with a tournament official over whether there was enough sun to play the fifth set - the Roland Garros courts have no artificial lights - Murray made the whole thing moot. He raced through that set in 21 minutes, winning 24 of 31 points, as Monfils appeared to stop trying.

"Everything happened very fast," Monfils said.

Said Murray: "It was so dark at the end. Thankfully for me, he played a poor fifth set once I got ahead."

Murray will be playing in the French Open semifinals for the second time; he lost to Nadal in 2011. In all, Nadal owns a 14-5 edge in their head-to-head matches.

"I need to recover very well," Murray said, "and try to be especially calm for that one."

The other men's semifinal will be No. 2 Novak Djokovic against No. 18 Ernests Gulbis.

Longtime baseball fixture Don Zimmer dies at 83

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Don Zimmer wasn't a fixture in baseball forever. It just seemed that way.

He played alongside Jackie Robinson on the only Brooklyn Dodgers team to win the World Series. He coached Derek Jeter on the New York Yankees' latest dynasty. And his manager once was the illustrious Casey Stengel.

For 66 years, Zimmer was a most popular presence at ballparks all over, a huge chaw often filling his cheek. Everyone in the game seemed to know him, and love him.

Zimmer was still working for the Tampa Bay Rays as a senior adviser when he died Wednesday at 83 in a hospital in nearby Dunedin. He had been in a rehabilitation center since having seven hours of heart surgery in mid-April.

"Great baseball man. A baseball lifer. Was a mentor to me," teary-eyed Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Zimmer started out as a minor league infielder in 1949, hitting powerful shots that earned him the nickname "Popeye." He went on to enjoy one of the longest-lasting careers in baseball history.

Zimmer played on the original New York Mets, saw his Boston Red Sox beaten by Bucky Dent's playoff homer and got tossed to the ground by Pedro Martinez during a brawl.

Oh, the tales he could tell.

"Zim was around when I first came up. He was someone that taught me a lot about the game - he's been around, he's pretty much seen everything," Jeter said after the Yankees lost to Oakland 7-4. "His stories, his experiences."

With the champion Yankees, Zimmer was Joe Torre's right-hand man as the bench coach.

"I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me. He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game," Torre said in a statement.

"The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life ... We loved him. The game of baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man," he said.

A career .235 hitter in the big leagues, numbers could never define all that Zimmer meant to the game. He had tremendous success, too - his teams won six World Series rings and went to the postseason 19 times.

Zimmer's No. 66 Rays jersey had been worn recently by longtime Tampa Bay third base coach Tom Foley in tribute - the team wanted that, and MLB decided a coach should wear it.

Foley was crying in the dugout Wednesday night during a 5-4 loss to Miami. He later remembered the Rays going as a team to see "42," the movie about Robinson.

"He would talk about it. He had a lot of stories, a lot of history coming out of him," Foley said. "He had a lot to give, a lot to offer and he did."

Earlier this season, the Rays hung a banner in the front of the press box at Tropicana Field that simply read "ZIM."

"Today we all lost a national treasure and a wonderful man," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement.

There was a moment of silence at Dodger Stadium for Zimmer before Los Angeles played the Chicago White Sox.

"On behalf of Major League Baseball and the many clubs that `Popeye' served in a distinguished baseball life, I extend my deepest condolences to Don's family, friends and his many admirers throughout our game," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Zimmer's biggest admirer was his wife "Soot" - they were married at home plate during a minor league game in 1951. Two years later in the minors, Zimmer's path took a frightening turn - he was beaned by a fastball and left in a coma, and doctors had to put metal screws in his head.

Zimmer recovered well enough to wear a lot of uniforms during his 56 years in the majors. He played for the Dodgers, Mets, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators. He managed San Diego, Boston, Texas and the Cubs.

"I loved Zim. I loved his passion. He was a great, great guy. He was a great baseball guy," Yankees executive Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. "Everybody loved him."

Zimmer hit 91 home runs and had 352 RBIs in 12 seasons. He started Game 7 when Brooklyn beat the Yankees for the 1955 crown and was an All-Star in 1961.

The next year, he played under Stengel on the 1962 expansion Mets, who famously went 40-120.

"Don't blame them all on me," Zimmer once said. "I got traded after the first 30 days."

Zimmer was the 1989 NL Manager of the Year with the Cubs and was at Yankee Stadium for three perfect games, by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series and by David Cone and David Wells in the late 1990s.

"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me," Rays star Evan Longoria said.

"He taught me a lot of things, and those days of sitting in the dugout with him will be missed," he said.

Said Rays pitcher David Price: "Zim was a very special person to all of us. A very special person in baseball, period."

"He always lit everybody's faces up whenever he'd walk in," he said. "Zim had a passion for baseball that rubs off on everybody."

Zimmer is survived by his wife; son Thomas, a scout with the San Francisco Giants; daughter Donna, and four grandchildren.

Williams puts LA Kings past Rangers in OT opener

LOS ANGELES (AP) Justin Williams scored 4:36 into overtime after a turnover by Dan Girardi, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup finals opener.

Williams was left alone in the slot after Girardi's pass from his knees went straight to Mike Richards. Williams put his eighth goal of the postseason past Henrik Lundqvist, who made 40 saves and nearly stole a series-opening win for the Rangers.

Jonathan Quick made 25 saves for the Kings, who moved one victory closer to their second Stanley Cup title in three years after a hair-raising finals opener.

Game 2 is Saturday at Staples Center.

Attorney: Donald Sterling agrees to sell Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling agreed Wednesday to sign off on selling the team he has owned for 33 years to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, bringing the possibility of a resolution to weeks of rumors, uncertainty and looming possibilities for legal action.

The agreement hadn't been officially signed Wednesday afternoon, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations who wasn't authorized to discuss them publicly. But Donald Sterling's attorney, Maxwell Blecher, said he "has made an agreement with the NBA to resolve all their differences." Sterling gave his consent to a deal that was negotiated by his wife, Shelly Sterling, to sell the team, Blecher said.

Representatives for Shelly Sterling and the NBA declined to comment.

The agreement was an about face for Donald Sterling, who just last week filed a $1 billion suit against the NBA in federal court alleging the league violated his constitutional rights by relying on information from an "illegal" recording that publicized racist remarks he made to a girlfriend. It also said the league committed a breach of contract by fining Sterling $2.5 million and that it violated antitrust laws by trying to force a sale. Blecher said that as a result of the agreement, the federal suit will now be dismissed.

Sterling's comments to V. Stiviano included telling her to not bring black people to Clippers games, specifically mentioning Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. They resulted in a storm of outrage from the public and players and even prompted President Barack Obama to comment on what he called Sterling's "incredibly offensive racist statements."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver ultimately decided to ban Donald Sterling for life and began efforts to force Sterling to sell the team.

For weeks, Donald Sterling said through his attorneys that he would fight the NBA's decisions to try to force his ouster as a team owner. But last week Shelly Sterling utilized her authority as sole trustee of The Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, to take bids for the team and ultimately negotiate a deal with Ballmer.

Ballmer beat out bids by Guggenheim Partners and a group including former NBA All-Star Grant Hill. Ballmer made more than an hour-long personal visit to Shelly Sterling's Malibu home last week and laid out his plan.

If the NBA owners approve the sale, it will be a record-high sum for a team that cost Donald Sterling about $12 million in 1981. Blecher's co-counsel, Bobby Samini, said the vote by league owners is expected to take place in mid-July.

This is not Ballmer's first foray into potential NBA ownership. Ballmer and investor Chris Hansen headed a group that agreed to a deal to buy the Kings from the Maloof family in January 2013 with the intention of moving the team to Seattle, where the SuperSonics played until 2008.

But Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson lobbied the NBA for time to put together a bid to keep the team in California, and though the Ballmer-Hansen group later increased its offer, owners voted to deny the bid for relocation and the Kings were sold to Vivek Ranadive.

Marlins send mourning Rays to 9th straight loss

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Joe Maddon's voice cracked with emotion. The Tampa Bay Rays are mired in the second-longest skid in the major leagues this season, yet they suffered a much greater loss with the death of club senior adviser Don Zimmer.

"We lost a good buddy tonight," Maddon, fighting back tears, said Wednesday following Tampa Bay's ninth consecutive defeat, 5-4 to the Miami Marlins. "I'm going to miss his advice ... his feistiness and fire. He was about winning, doing whatever it takes to win."

Donovan Solano hit a three-run homer off David Price and closer Steve Cishek escaped a ninth-inning jam the help the Marlins hold on for their third straight win in a four-game home-and-home series between the intrastate rivals.

Tampa Bay's losing streak is the team's longest in nearly five years and is becoming more frustrating by the day.

The Rays hit into three double plays for the second straight night, are 0-for-their-last 31 with runners in scoring position and will match the longest skid in the majors this season if they drop Thursday's series finale at Tropicana Field.

Boston dropped 10 straight from May 15 to 25, with Tampa Bay handing them the last three losses in the streak. The Rays haven't won since.

But that wasn't the focal point in a somber clubhouse following the game.

Maddon said he learned of Zimmer's death during the third inning and informed his coaches, but not the players. Word gradually spread through the dugout, where third-base coach Tom Foley was spotted weeping before slipping into Zimmer's No. 66 jersey and wearing it for the remainder of the game in memory of the former player, coach and manager, whose career in baseball spanned more than 60 years.

"The organization wanted to do it and it fell on me," Foley said. "Major League Baseball decided to have one of the coaches wear it. I was honored to do it."

Star third baseman Evan Longoria said Zimmer will be missed on and off the field.

"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me. It's just been a rough go for us, and this kind of is the icing on the cake, so to speak," Longoria said.

"I know that he would want us to continue on and just honor him by doing all the things that he preached to us, playing the game the right way and playing the game hard. Going out there on a daily basis and really caring."

Casey McGehee had an RBI single for the Marlins, who won 1-0 on Tuesday on a bases-loaded walk.

The sputtering Rays, coming off an 0-8 trip that was the worst in team history, tumbled 14 games under .500 at 23-37 - the second-worst record in baseball. The last time they were this far below the break-even point was the end of 2007, the final season they were called the Devil Rays.

The team has made the playoffs as the Rays four of the past six seasons, but are in the midst of a horrendous offensive slump that's seen them bat .217 on the trip to Toronto, Boston and Miami and score 21 runs during their longest skid since dropping 11 straight in September 2009.

Tom Koehler (5-5) pitched five innings for the Marlins, allowing three first-inning runs on Ben Zobrist's two-run homer and a solo shot by Evan Longoria. Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn shut down the Rays over the next three innings, and Cishek earned his 13th save in 14 opportunities.

The Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on an error, a high-bouncing bloop double and a walk, but only scored once. Cishek walked Longoria intentionally to reload the bases with two outs, then got James Loney to pop out to end the game.

"It got a little hairy there at the end. I've seen that happen here, at this place, the high choppers and the bloops," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.

"Exactly how that ninth inning happened, I've seen that a lot here," Redmond added. "But fortunately, Shek kept it together and was able to pitch through it, and got a couple big outs and locked down a win."

Price (4-5) allowed five runs - one earned - and nine hits in 7 1-3 innings. He struck out 11 and walked none, but paid for Longoria's third-inning error and gave up Solano's first home run of the season.

After being limited to two runs over the last four games of their woeful trip, the first three batters scored against Koehler, who walked David DeJesus before giving up home runs to Zobrist and Longoria, who has just one other extra-base hit in his past 23 games.

The Marlins rebounded with four unearned runs in the third, the first scoring when Longoria failed to hold onto the ball after fielding a grounder at third base and applying a tag on a sliding Marcell Ozuna for what should have been the final out of the inning.

The miscue left Miami with runners at first and third. Solano hit his homer to left field on the next pitch for a 5-3 lead.

NOTES: Tampa Bay OF Wil Myers, who will be in a cast for five to six weeks due to a stress fracture in his right wrist, is hopeful that the time off will also help a sore left wrist that he hurt early in the season. ... Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow surgery) says he will make his first rehab start Saturday for Single-A Charlotte. He expects to be back before the All-Star break. ... C Ryan Hanigan, on the DL with right hamstring tightness, caught Hellickson's bullpen session. ... Miami RHP Carter Capps (strained right elbow) got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with team doctors that the reliever can resume playing catch after a month of rest. ... Marlins SS Rafael Furcal (left hamstring strain) will move his rehab assignment from Single-A Jupiter to Double-A Jacksonville on Thursday.

NHL, NHLPA closing in on World Cup plans for 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) The NHL and the players' union are deep in conversations about staging another World Cup of Hockey in two years.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that the league and the NHLPA have held "very substantive discussions" recently about the return of the tournament, which hasn't been held since 2004.

"I think it's important, and I think it's a great opportunity for the game," Bettman said before the Stanley Cup finals opener between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Bettman says the plans aren't "fully baked," but the hockey world has been talking for months about the return of the summer tournament, likely in September 2016.

The 2004 World Cup of Hockey was staged in seven cities in North America and Europe, with the final in Toronto.

Bettman also said the NHL's continued participation in the Olympics hasn't been discussed lately. After consecutive Winter Olympics in hockey hotbeds Canada and Russia, the 2018 Games are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is widely perceived as an opportunity for the NHL's wary owners to move their valuable players away from Olympic participation, which resumed in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

"That is something that ultimately we're going to have to resolve," Bettman said. "I'm not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement. We'll see where the discussions go and where we are."

A World Cup would be lucrative to the NHL and the players' union, and it wouldn't require a three-week league shutdown in the middle of a season, as the Olympics do.

Bettman still believes NHL players should be able to play for their nations on a major stage, saying ice hockey has the greatest tradition of international play among all of North America's major team sports.

"It's something that we know is very important for our players to be able to represent their countries," Bettman said. "We understand that and we appreciate it. So yes, it's a great business opportunity, but it's also an opportunity to expand our fan base, to continue the growth and development of the game, and encourage young people to play the game, and ultimately develop at a caliber where the best players in the world will come to play in the NHL."

Bettman said the NHL isn't ready to reveal its slate of outdoor games for the 2014-15 season, But he confirmed that the success of the Dodger Stadium game in January allayed fears about staging games in most warm-weather cities.

The commissioner also said the NHL isn't planning imminent expansion, but is willing to listen to proposals. Seattle and Quebec City have been mentioned frequently as expansion targets, but both have significant problems as NHL homes.

Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, who partnered with lead investor Chris Hansen last year in an attempt to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, is finalizing a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Hansen still hopes to build a large arena in Seattle to house teams from the NBA and the NHL, but has said he isn't interested in being a majority owner of an NHL team.

Bettman flew to Seattle during the playoffs to meet with city officials.

"Seattle seems to have the most number of people interested," Bettman said. "The fact is there's no building that's on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what's happened to date, and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don't know that there's any prospect of a building in Seattle.

"It's nice that there's interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it."

Small-market Quebec City is building the $400 million, 18,000-seat Quebecor Arena to be ready in September 2015. But the NHL's potential return to the former home of the Nordiques could further unbalance the league's makeup - particularly without an expansion to Seattle. The Eastern Conference has 16 teams, and the West has 14 after last summer's realignment.

"If we get to a point where there's enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we'll look at everything," Bettman said. "I don't think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis."

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