Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lewis Preston's return should pack the Odome

Florida hosts Penn State tonight for a trip to New York. Penn State doesn't turn the ball over a lot and shoots threes well at times, but they don't have the kind of interior player that UF's had trouble with. They're pretty banged up too, although supposedly all the Nittany Lions will play. UF is the better team and they're playing at home. This is a game they should win. With Kentucky edging Creighton yesterday and keeping Billy Gillispie employed at least two more days, it could be a pseudo SEC Tournament in NYC. Auburn hosts Baylor tonight as well, and Kentucky heads to Notre Dame tomorrow. Getting three teams in the NIT Final Four would perfectly sum up SEC basketball this year. The conference was really good at being not quite good enough.

The NFL is as brilliant as any business in the country at finding ways to keep themselves in the news throughout the year. The draft's a month away, free agency and the combine results have both faded as topics, so that means it's time to start announcing the schedule. Pittsburgh hosts Tennessee in the opener and T.O. gets a Monday Night stage to play on for his first game as a Bill. The league also announced an extension on its deal with Directv that ups the fee the satellite provider spends to a billion per year while also planning to make the Sunday Ticket package available to those who can't get Directv for the first time. That's a pretty nice chunk of change, yet the league "needed" to lay off office workers making around fifty grand a year last month. Hmmm. You can bet they won't lay off the cheerleaders like the Denver Nuggets have, though.

There are tons of different angles to follow with the current recession, but one I've been eyeing since my friend Andy Staples did an SI.com piece about it last summer is the impact on high school sports. A variety of communities in Ohio are looking at tough choices that will result in either killing off high school sports or shifting all the costs onto the parents. This story is playing out around the country, and if these programs are axed it will have major longterm ramifications. Sports provide discipline and keep kids out of trouble by reducing idle time. Even if a kid isn't up for an athletic scholarship, having sports experience on an application helps with college admissions committees. Some kids stay in school specifically because of sports. Areas that make the choice to slash these programs because they don't want to pay for them are going to wish they hadn't when they look at their dropout and crime figures a couple of years from now.

I'm lucky enough to love what I do for a living. I do have lots of interests other than sports, and naturally there are some days when I'd probably rather talk about them since little of note is going on. Still, even on the deadest sports topic day of the year (which typically is any day in the first two weeks of July before NFL camps open and conference media days for college football begin), you could never get me to say something stupid like “I don’t like sports—I am embarrassed that I cover them. I can’t wait to stop. It is a means to an end and a paycheck”. That's what Chico Harlan, Washington Nationals beat writer for the Washington Post, thought would be good to say in an interview with Washingtonian magazine. He's since apologized on his Post blog. With layoffs continuing to devastate the newspaper industry and entire papers folding - the Ann Arbor News being the latest to announce its imminent demise - Harlan's lucky if one of those unemployed people who actually loved what they did as a sports writer doesn't punch him out. How tone deaf does a guy have to be to make a comment like that right now?

A couple of weeks ago it was Delaware's governor making moves toward his state offering some form of sports betting. Now it's a New Jersey state senator filing a lawsuit hoping to overturn the federal law allowing just four states to offer any form of sports wagering. Of course Vegas has to stay ahead of the pack, and the M Resort there may have found the way. They now have wagering available on a constantly shifting line as the game is being played. Sounds incredibly risky to me, but maybe if I saw how it works I wouldn't feel as leery about it.

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