Bob Gutkowski was "forced out" yesterday as president of Madison Square Garden, "becoming the first casualty of the sports and entertainment complex's proposed" $1.075B acquisition by ITT and Cablevision Systems. Officially, Gutkowski said he resigned, but according to one person familiar with the situation, "he was dismissed" Monday at the request of the new owners by Viacom President Frank Biondi. Biondi: "It was evident that Bob and [the new owners] were not in sync." Viacom named Knicks President Dave Checketts as Gutkowski's interim replacement, and President of the newly created MSG Sports Group, directly in charge of the Rangers and Knicks. Rangers President Neil Smith will report to Checketts (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 9/21). Several MSG sources claim Gutkowski was "devastated" by the timing of the upheaval (Fred Kerber, N.Y. POST, 9/21). TEAMS FOR SALE? Frank Brown notes that if the Knicks and Rangers are sold, Checketts' current position could mean "one fewer firing by incoming owners who may want somebody else. Nike often has been mentioned as a prospective buyer of the Knicks; while no names of potential purchasers have surfaced on the Rangers' front" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/21). BIG APPLE REAX: Headline over Phil Mushnick's column: "Garden Plot Sickens -- More bad moves to follow Gutkowski firing." Without Gutkowski, Mushnick predicts the quality of MSG Network will go down. "Gutkowski assiduously protected the separation of church and state; i.e., the right of MSG Network personnel to serve the interests of viewers before the interests of the Garden's teams." Mushnick also notes the possibility of the Devils and Nets leaving. The Devils' and Nets' contracts with Cablevision's SportsChannel expire in '98 & '96 respectively. "SC and MSG Network, once the only real competitors for local teams' sports rights, will be controlled by the same company. Therefore, the only existing company that would bid for TV rights to the Devils and Nets owns the teams/or the TV rights of clubs that compete against them in the same market" (N.Y. POST, 9/21). George Vecsey writes, "Time moves fast in corporate America" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/21). Bob Raissman notes the contract dispute between the Rangers and Mark Messier: "If Messier is not in uniform soon, there will hell to pay. ITT/Cablevision will be cast in the role of villains. No spin- doctoring by Checketts can erase that" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/21).
RAMS: In Washington, Mark Maske reports that Orioles owner Peter Angelos met with Raiders owner Al Davis. He "apparently received advice from Davis" about dealing with the league, especially on issues having to do with relocation. Angelos and MD Gov. William Donald Schaefer were in Southern CA over the weekend to meet with Rams President John Shaw (WASHINGTON POST, 9/21). BROWNS: In Cleveland, Bud Shaw's column on Browns coach Bill Belichick noted that last Sunday's crowd was the smallest for a September home game in nine years and "only the fourth such paltry turnout in 20 seasons." Shaw notes that the size of the crowd was reminiscent of the crowd sizes in the final coaching years of both Sam Rutigliano and Nick Skorich (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER, 9/20). MORT REPORT: ESPN's Chris Mortenson notes that if Jimmy Johnson goes to the Bucs it would "inflate the team's price tag," similar to the Patriots after hiring Bill Parcells ("Sportscenter," 9/20).