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Greed drives college grid expansion.

All the worst things about college sports--greed, sexism, egos, more greed, stupidity, even more greed--are bearing fruit in this summer of 2010, and the latest development is that the courts are going to decide what is a sport and what is not a sport, kind of like having to decide what is a fruit and what is a vegetable.

As the NCAA takes a deep breath it realizes how close it has come to being deemed more irrelevant than it already is, with the big colleges having come this close to forming four 16-team super-conferences, setting up their own television deals and leaving the NCAA twisting in the wind.

Media coverage has been heavy, at least by newspapers, blog sites and ESPN. Local TV stations have little choice in what games they show, so covering or not covering is out of their range of vision, and talk radio has its usual thousands of opinions, almost all based on emotion and not knowledge.

The Big 12 barely escaped annihilation and Mizzou (my Good Ol' Alma Mater) discovered large portions of egg on its face. Mike Alden soon discovered it was no yolk when he tried to bluff a bust hand into a pot where other people (like Texas) were holding lots of aces and kings. By taking a superior-than-thou posture and disparaging other conference schools, the Tigers and Gov. Jay Nixon made some enemies, and in the end showed that they had few teeth, and little power.

The truth is that old rivalries and geography and travel costs don't count a tinker's dam in this reorganization. It's all about money. TV money first and foremost, followed by ancillary revenue and gate money. The power schools (Texas, Oklahoma, Penn State, Ohio State, USC before the most recent scandal, Florida and some others) want a national championship game, with several weeks of games leading up to it.

The Big Ten has the most lucrative television contract, and is greedy for more. The conference wants Notre Dame, but Notre Dame has its own TV deal and enough of a national name that it can remain independent as long as it chooses. But even the Irish can be swayed by the idea, the publicity and the cash of a Collegiate Super Bowl. In the near future, look for the Big Ten to court Rutgers, which will provide an entry into the New York television market, or Pitt, which will lock up Pennsylvania.

Missouri is definitely in a pickle these days. The Tigers draw viewers in St. Louis and Kansas City, but their scheduling habits of the recent past have made them less-than exciting to TV. In the interest of piling up victories and big scores, plus banking some wins for the various minor bowls they seem to prefer, the Tigers have battered such patsies as Bowling Green, McNeese State, Southeast Missouri, Buffalo and Furman in recent years.

All the nonsense of claiming records comes from two things--playing more games and playing weaker opponents. Since TV is interested in showing exciting games and well-matched teams, the Tigers find themselves on the sidelines.

Conference expansion seems over for a while. I think the various conferences fear that rapid expansion might bring government curiosity, and they will let things shake out for a few years before they move again. Some of the greedier and smarter athletic directors want four 16-team conferences, and we can be certain there will be many quiet conversations as universities' athletic departments battle for position and power. So far, Ol' Alma Mater has shown itself to be below the top rank when it comes to smarts and toughness.

Post slights other teams

I've been a baseball fan for a long, long time. I went to my first major league game in 1938. My Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Phillies, 4-2, at Ebbets Field. I love baseball no matter who is playing. Years as a sports writer, and learning the importance of objectivity, increased my affection for the game, not for any individual team. My warm feelings for the Dodgers disappeared minutes after Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles.

But I am puzzled by how much space the Post-Dispatch devotes to the Cardinals and how little to the other major league teams and games. On a normal day, there will be three or four stories on the previous day's game, plus a column if Bernie Miklasz or Bryan Burwell chooses to write one.

Two or three writers are at Busch Stadium every night; always one, sometimes two writers travel for road games. Meanwhile, all the other games are covered in a single column, one short paragraph for each game unless there is a no-hitter or some other exceptional feat. The coverage is extremely wide but extremely shallow. We learn every statistical feat, but get little analysis. Joe Strauss seems best in that regard, Rick Hummel's sense of history is absorbing and interesting, and Derrick Goold often writes brightly.

In trying to figure out why, I suppose its the popularity of sports radio and the fact that the columnists and some of the sports staff seem to be on-air experts, too. Being able to read off arcane statistics--how many strikeouts does a rookie left-hander from Kansas have in his first whatever-number of games as opposed to a rookie left-hander from Wyoming?--keeps everyone happy. I don't care that a batter has hit safely in 11 of his last 19 games; 11 out of 12 might have some relevance, but these things string out farther and farther.

Football is almost as bad, but there are longer stories about other games. What with going 1-15 last year, I'm surprised the Post is covering the Rams at all, but the drafting of Sam Bradford has increased the current off-season hyperbole and brought forth more babble from the columnists than is necessary.

This extreme localization is making the Post-Dispatch look like a small-town newspaper, as evidenced in the recent coverage of the U.S. Open. It's always a pleasure to read Dan O'Neill, but did he or the Post sports editor really think the young amateur from St. Louis had a chance of winning? A sentence or two each day would have sufficed, with more analysis of the performances of the good golfers.

But at least the Post covered the entire tournament, considering it an important event. Too often, the paper sends someone to an event, but as soon as the team is eliminated (Mizzou women's softball in the NCAA preliminaries, for example), the writer comes home and one becomes lucky to find any results for other teams in the sports section.

Joe Pollack is a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist and operator of the blog www.StLouisEats.typepad.com
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Title Annotation:sports & media
Author:Pollack, Joe
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:1121
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