A murder at the Final Four? Drexel’s involved? And a dead sportwriter? Get a clue … it must be fiction

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Wes Drexel is the nom de plume of a Chicago area lawyer, journalist, author and hoops fan named Steve Fiffer who has written for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Inside Sports and other publications. And now he has a mystery book out.

“Murder At The Final Four” focuses on Jimmy Bishop at Central Prairie U., whose team made it to the NCAA finals. But he’s in trouble. Hours after he threatened to kill Alan Sternberg, a New York Times sportswriter, for doing a book on him called “A Year On The Edge,” the writer turned up dead.

(You’re now supposed to make the connection that Bob Knight is stil upset at John Feinstein for his writing “Season On The Brink,” and eventually, Feinstein ends up deceased.)

The title game in Chicago only 48 hours away, so Bishop has to figure out a way to keep himself out of jail, prepare his team and solve the murder.

From there, an episode of “Scooby Doo” breaks out — a beautiful young lawyer named Lydie Wynn agrees to help Bishop follow clues that lead to blackmail, adultery, backstabbing at the Times, and more.

What does it say about the state of college athletics? We’ll have to see when someone reads this and turns it into an episode of “Law & Order.”

For now, “Murder at the Final Four” (not to be confused with the title of a book written in 1987, linked here) is available on Amazon eBooks (linked here)

Here’s the way the book begins in Chapter 1 (via Smashwords.com, linked here):

Jimmy Bishop coached the last six minutes of the NCAA basketball semi-final between Central Prairie University and the UCLA Bruins dressed as a prairie dog.

“I knew there was a reason I turned down the Notre Dame job,” Bishop told his nephew Martin, the usual inhabitant of the Central Prairie mascot’s costume, as he struggled to get his 6’3″, 230-pound body into the furry outfit in the team’s locker room. “There’s no goddamn way I could pull this off if I had to play a leprechaun.”

The idea to disguise himself as a rodent so he could get back to courtside had been, like many of Bishop’s decisions, a spontaneous one. Leaving the floor to the jeers of the Bruins partisans and the cheers of the CPU faithful, Bishop had felt a furry paw on his neck and heard Martin say, “That’s okay, Uncle Jimmy. We’ll get ’em without you.”

Damned if you will,” Bishop replied. Then the inspiration: “You hightail your ass into the locker room with me right now, Martin.”

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Why Orel Hershiser isn’t (completely) done dreaming about his Dodger ownership chances

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Orel Hershiser, who had aligned himself as a potential Dodger owners with a group that included Steve Garvey and Natual Balance Pet Foods president Joey Herrick , explained a little today about why their bid ended last January in the first round of vetting by Frank McCourt’s company handling the bankruptcy auction of the team.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Dodgers’ 1988 Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP isn’t completely done dreaming about it.

On an ESPN conference call with reporters this morning, Hershiser, joined by “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast partners Terry Francona and John Shulman, answered our questions about sheding a little light on why his group’s bidding ended early.

“We were knocked out at the $1.2 billion range and then we weren’t able to go any higher,” Hershiser said. “We raised capital for $800 million-to-$1.2 (billion) and we felt it was important to put it in at the highest point at that time. But we didn’t go any further.

“I still had some talks with people who are still in the (bidding) game and I look forward to seeing new ownership there. … I really don’t want to talk about the process or any of the internal conversations that have happened yet because it’s still going on.”

Hershiser said he goal to possibly be in the Dodgers’ ownership group is “why I chased that dream, and that dream is probably not possible now with the ownership.” He said he has been “getting feelers as far as employment (with the team),” but unless it’s part of an ownership situation, he would rather stay at ESPN working on the “Sunday Night Baseball” crew. He starts his third season in that role and has been with ESPN since 2006.

“But if someone ever gave me an opportuinity to be a part-owner of a ballclub, and to have a large impact, that would be the community I’d want to have the impact,” he added.

Hershiser said he still thinks McCourt will “be able to leave with his head held high and he’s done some good things there. But the organization has struggled on the field a little bit.” He said the team’s 82 wins in 2011 should be considered an achievement considering “the chaos of last year” and if the Dodgers of 2012 are in the mix at midseason, “I wouldn’t look at that as someone who isn’t going to acquire players. I’d look at them as a shopper when we get to that point because new ownership will want to show the fans: We’re in this to win and turn it around. It would be good for all of baseball if the Los Angeles Dodgers started creeping back closer to the top.”

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How do the NFL’s TV partners profit from Manning going to Denver? Just pull up a virtual cart at ESPN Shop, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, NBC Sports …

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It can’t be more than 18 hours since Peyton Manning declared that he’d be the newest Denver Bronco. Yet every NFL TV partner already has sales on their network website front pages touting the same of Manning No. 18 Bronco gear.

Maybe we just noticed it first on ESPN (linked here) and then CBS linked here), with T-shirts going as much as (cough) $32. It doesn’t even look as if they’ve actually been printed yet — a photoshopped name and number on a blank orange shirt is the best they can do on short notice.

Yet, it doesn’t preclude FoxSports.com (linked here) from also offering Manning stuff. Or NBCSports.com’s online shop (linked here) from also putting a banner on their home page, making it a quick click to get right to it.

Not as if it’s some of get-rich-quick scheme, but it reinforces the idea that when you’re in bed with the NFL, everyone shares in money laundering for ready-made laundry.

Sure, the NFL.com store also touts its new Manning gear at its site (linked here), slanted more toward jersey sales.

Stay tuned for how quickly the new Tim Tebow/New York Jets apparel comes out in the next few hours — with it destined to lap anythig Manning related.

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Where art thou, Rulon? Back in the gym, apparently

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We didn’t even realize that Rulon Gardner, the champion Greco-Roman wrestler who won an Olympic gold in 2000 and a bronze medal four years later, had a “controversial walk-off” from the NBC reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” a while back. Must not have been all that controversial.

These days, we understand the 40-year-old Gardner “wants redemption, and one more shot at the Olympics,” according to an NBC press release, touting his appearance with Harry Smith at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs that will appear on the next installment of “Rock Center with Brian Williams” (tonight, 10 p.m., Channel 4).

Will Gardner, who once survived a plane crash, a broken neck and nearly died in the Wyoming wilderness, have the resolve to make weight and make the U.S. team? Once up to 474 pounds, and losing 160 on the reality show, that’s the dilemma he apparently grapples with daily.

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Tennis Channel’s attempt to rank the Top 100 players … of all time … M and F combined

Jennifer Capriati, Bobby Riggs, Tracy Austin, Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport were among the interesting names that made today’s episode of the Tennis Channel’s “100 Greatest of All Time” (it repeats at 10 p.m.), hitting those who made the list from numbers 41-to-70.

The five-episode series works toward the overall No. 1 by revealing 40-to-21 on Wednesday (4, 5 and 10 p.m.), 20-to-11 on Thursday (4, 5 and 10 p.m.) and the top 10 on Friday (4, 5 and 10 p.m.).

Tennis Channel recruited an “international panel of tennis experts” to make up the list.

Combined with Monday’s release of the numbers 71-to-100, here’s what they’ve got so far (with ranking, name, gender and nationality):

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