Week In Sports: Ohio State; NBA Finals; Spelling Bee

Robert Siegel talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis about the week in sports. A large college football program is under the microscope, Dallas makes a late comeback in the NBA finals, and a champion is crowned in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And, first of all, what's your take on Ohio State and the story that we just heard from Tom Goldman?

Mr. FATSIS: You know, I'm with Murray Sperber, who was in that piece. Treating every case as an earth-shaking scandal is a big part of what's wrong. NCAA rules are so voluminous and Byzantine that breaking them is just endemic.

And those 50 NCAA enforcement staffers can't possibly monitor behavior at hundreds of schools, thousands of teams. So the schools are deputized to police themselves, which is flawed.

And in the prominent cases, including the Ohio State case in which a big Sports Illustrated piece played a role in Tressel's resignation, the media become the NCAA's de facto enforcement arm and we ignore the bigger picture.

SIEGEL: Which is what, the bigger picture?

Mr. FATSIS: The bigger picture is that if you accept that the NCAA's rules are worth enforcing - and I'm not sure that we should - the athletic administrators and university presidents who oversee sports need to be held more accountable. They need to stop being enablers of the bad behavior in the revenue sports -football and basketball - and instead, they enforce real moral priorities, not just business ones. That's not likely to happen.

So, the biggest-picture problem, I think, is that the system impels the kind of behavior that we see in all of these scandals.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to admittedly pro sports. The Dallas Mavericks staged a big comeback last night. They beat the Miami Heat 95 to 93 in game two of the NBA Finals. News some people like me can wake up to it actually since I'm never up late enough to see the Mavs win a game.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: This must be good, though, for the NBA that LeBron James isn't cruising to an NBA title.

Mr. FATSIS: No, I think that is. And people are tuning in because of LeBron James. And he's given us two great reasons to watch him. One, he's an antihero ever since he went on national television last year to announce that he's going to divorce Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach. And the second, is that he has been playing just fantastic basketball.

Last night though, it was the Dallas Mavericks who staged this incredible come back, 15 points down with just over seven minutes to go; scored 22 of the games last 27 points. And Dallas goes home, for games three and four with renewed confidence.

SIEGEL: Now, the game was broadcast on ABC, bumping another championship final to its sister network on cable, ESPN. That event was one of your favorites, Stefan, The National Spelling Bee. Let's take a listen to one moment here from The Bee.

(Soundbite of show, "Scripps Spelling Bee")

Ms. LAURA NEWCOMBE: P-S-O-R-I-T-E-S, sorites.

SIEGEL: That was Laura Newcombe, 12 years old, misspelling the word sorites there, which landed her in the second place position.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, that was sad. I misspelled it too, and then when the actual spelling, the correct spelling popped up on the screen, I said, oh, I know that word. It's a common Scrabble word because it's got very common letters in it. The correct spelling is S-O-R-I-T-E-S. I felt badly for Laura Newcombe.

SIEGEL: Yeah, Laura's mistake was putting a P in front of it.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, the winner, Sukanya Roy, is 14 years old, an eighth grader from Pennsylvania. It is her third Bee. She was serious, never got flustered. No ticks like a lot of the kids in the Spelling Bee. And her final word, Robert, I'm sure you spelled that incorrectly: cymotrichous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: Or is it cymotrichous. I can't remember the pronunciation.

SIEGEL: And like the Dallas Mavericks, she won her game really late at night.

Mr. FATSIS: And this is the thing I hate about the Spelling Bee now. They've pushed it into primetime. The thing didn't end until after 11 p.m., which I think is bad for the participants because it's, like, past their bedtime. But also bad for, I think, the kids in grade school and middle school who may have actually wanted to watch the Spelling Bee like my eight-year-old daughter, Chloe.

SIEGEL: Who can't watch the Mavs either.

Mr. FATSIS: She would have much rather watch the end of the Bee, let me tell you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: OK. Stefan Fatsis, have a great weekend.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: And Stefan writes about sports, which includes Scrabble. He's the author of "Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players." And he joins us most Fridays.

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