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World Cup Fever

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If you are one of the dozens of Americans who are adoring the opening matches of the World Cup, you may have missed some of the truly remarkable sports business news of the past week. I know we are all supposed to fall in love with the "beautiful game," but, at least when Landon Donovan is not out on the pitch, it seems just a bit too boring for me. Wow! Ninety minutes of running up and down the nicely mowed lawn with the final score of nil-nil! And don't you just love those horns! The symptoms you are experiencing may simply be a mild case of World Cup fever.

I know the retort. Baseball is boring too, with guys standing around spitting. On the other hand, how could anyone find "The Stephen Strasburg Phenomenon" anything less than thrilling? I have not yet checked with my friends at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I am sure that Jim Gates, the director of the Giamatti Library, will be able to confirm (or deny) the rumor that they have started construction on the Strasburg Wing. Mike Weiner, the new Executive Director of the MLB Players Association, should certainly take credit for Strasburg's devastating curve since it was the Union that refined the art of throwing "curveballs" to baseball management over the years. We will soon begin taking wagers on what club this future Hall-of-Famer will sign with when he becomes a free agent.

While soccer heads have been busy drooling, the sports management of the Big Ten and the Pac-10 have been engineering their raids on Midwestern state universities. Apparently, Nebraska is Big Ten academic material, but Kansas is not. That seems strange to me. They are both fine comprehensive state universities now starved for financial resources like everyone else. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M, et al., are all being auditioned by the Pac-10. The collegiate conference oligopolies are dividing up the remains of the Big-12. Perhaps it is too late to raise the fundamental question what any of this football/basketball business has to do with higher education.

The feel-good-finally story in hockey has transported Lord Stanley's Cup back to Chicago after an absence of almost a half century. It is nice to see one of the Original Six win the prize for a city that deserves a winner in a sport it has supported through thick and thin -- mostly thin. Now if the Cubbies could only field a winning club ...

Finally, the NBA Finals have produced an unexpected conclusion to a season when all the foregone conclusions have proven a bit premature. The too-old Celtics have had a remarkable run even sans the glamour of the La La Land entourage. Before this match-up is over, it certainly would be wonderful to see some Celtic -- perhaps "Big Baby" Davis -- flying headlong into Jack Nicholson, who apparently has the prescriptive right to walk on the court whenever he wishes.

The World Cup spectacle has another month to run, and the inspiring story of South Africa's rebirth deserves retelling. South Africa's leaders realized that the games we play and watch are important measures of societal health and effective means of rejuvenation. They can be used as vital instruments of national and international policy. Afflicted by the legacy of apartheid and racial animus, the country could have wallowed in retribution. Instead, it has brilliantly used rugby and soccer to establish a lease hold on the goodwill of the world. It deserves all the plaudits it has received. That does not mean, however, that the world's game of football will become any more interesting any time soon. And if the noise from the vuvuzelas gets to you, press mute.

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