Around the Nation (Jan. 18): NASCAR considered radical Chase changes

Associated Press Published:

AUTO RACING

Report: NASCAR considered radical Chase changes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A 16-driver championship field that would be whittled down to create a winner-take-all season finale is among radical changes reportedly being considered by NASCAR.

NASCAR chairman Brian France has repeatedly said he wants to place a greater emphasis on winning, and he's never ruled out tinkering with the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format in an effort to create the "Game 7 moments" he covets.

The Charlotte Observer first reported Friday night the possible changes NASCAR is considering.

The Observer cited anonymous sources in outlining a 16-driver Chase field that would kick out the four lowest ranked drivers after three races. The points would be reset, three more drivers would be kicked out after three more races and the finale would be a winner-take-all for the four remaining drivers.

FOOTBALL

Former NFL star Darren Sharper arrested

LOS ANGELES -- Former NFL star defensive back Darren Sharper has been arrested on suspicion of rape, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

Sharper was arrested and booked Friday and released on $200,000 bail just before midnight, according to the LAPD. He faces a Feb. 14 court appearance.

LAPD said it is investigating Sharper in connection with two sexual assaults that occurred in October and earlier this month in the West Los Angeles area.

New Orleans Police Department spokeswoman Remi Braden said Saturday in a statement that NOPD is also investigating an allegation of sexual assault filed against Sharper on Sept. 24.

Sharper, 38, played 14 seasons in the NFL (1997-2010), mostly with Green Bay. He also played with Minnesota and New Orleans and retired after the 2010 season.

Metrodome deflates for last time

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome has deflated for the last time.

Officials from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority opened the stadium's relief vents to begin the deflation at 7:15 a.m. Saturday. Fans providing the air that supports the roof were turned off. It was done in 35 minutes.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority gave the go-ahead despite concerns about weather conditions. According to the National Weather Service, between 4 and 5 inches of snow fell in the area overnight. Winds were a steady 5 to 10 mph Saturday morning.

The deflation will make way for construction of a new $1 billion stadium located roughly where the Dome stands now in downtown Minneapolis.

Authority Vice Chairman Bill McCarthy called it "a sad and exciting day at the same time."

Lions hire Rutgers' Prince to coach TEs

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have reunited Ron Prince with coach Jim Caldwell.

The Lions hired Prince on Saturday to coach tight ends and gave him an additional title of assistant head coach under Caldwell. He was Rutgers' offensive coordinator last season.

Prince was the Indianapolis Colts' assistant offensive line coach during the 2010 and 2011 seasons -- when Caldwell was the team's coach -- and had the same job with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.

He led Kansas State from 2006-08 with a 17-20 record. Prince has also been an assistant coach for the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins and at Virginia, Cornell, James Madison, South Carolina State and Alabama A&M.

Former Lions asst. Burke to coach Bengals LBs

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have hired Matt Burke as linebackers coach, the position he held the last five seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Burke succeeds Paul Guenther, who was just promoted to defensive coordinator. The 37-year-old Burke also coached at Tennessee, and has 10 years of NFL coaching experience. He is a Hudson, Mass., native who played for Dartmouth.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has been reshaping his staff after defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer became head coach at Minnesota and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden took the Washington Redskins' head coaching job.

The Lions fired head coach Jim Schwartz and replaced him with Jim Caldwell. The Lions on Friday named former Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan their new linebackers coach.

Titans hire Spanos as new LBs coach

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have hired UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos as Ken Whisenhunt's new linebackers coach.

The Titans announced the hiring Saturday.

Spanos has worked in the NFL for 17 of his 19 years as a coach including 15 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also spent two seasons coaching linebackers for the Washington Redskins.

Whisenhunt says they are lucky to have Spanos working with the linebackers because Spanos showed he is a good teacher and leader at UCLA and also helped with some of the NFL's best defenses in Pittsburgh with Dick LeBeau.

During Spanos' time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers ranked in the top 10 for total yards allowed 13 times. Spanos says it's an honor to work with Whisenhunt again.

BASEBALL

Texas offers spring invite to former Tribe lefty Perez

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have agreed to a minor league deal with left-hander Rafael Perez that includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Texas announced the deal with the 31-year-old Perez on Saturday.

Perez pitched for minor league affiliates in the Minnesota and Boston organizations last season, going a combined 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA and six saves over 29 relief appearances. He is now pitching the playoffs of the Dominican Winter League.

Perez has a 21-12 record with three saves and a 3.64 ERA over 338 career appearances in the majors, all in relief with Cleveland from 2006-12. He made at least 70 appearances for the Indians three times from 2008-11.

OLYMPICS

Jamaican bobsled team qualifies

The Jamaican bobsled team may be headed to another Olympics.

Organizers said Saturday that Jamaica has qualified for the two-man competition at next month's Sochi Games, though it remains unclear if the tiny nation will actually be racing.

Funding remains a serious concern for the team, and pilot Winston Watts told The Associated Press on Saturday that he's trying to raise as much as $80,000 in the next couple weeks.

Watts was 28th in the two-man event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with Lascelles Brown, now one of Canada's top push athletes.

The International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation is not expected to confirm before Sunday at the earliest how many nations qualified for the Olympic fields.

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