College Football's Big Game; NBA's Stalled Start

College football's two top-ranked teams, Alabama and Louisiana State University, play for the No. 1 spot Saturday night. Howard Bryant of ESPN talks with host Scott Simon about the game, the end of baseball season and the stalled beginning of the NBA season.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Tonight: Alabama, LSU. College footballs two top-ranked teams play for the number one spot, and new crop of baseball free agents are now on the market - and this just in: still no basketball. Maybe ESPN will pick up that big game next week between the (unintelligible) High School Bulldogs and the Von Steuben Panthers. Howard Bryant, from ESPN.com, ESPN the magazine and ESPN the pesto sauce joins us from the studio of WBUR in Boston. Howard, thanks very much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And tell us about the big game in Tuscaloosa tonight?

BRYANT: Well, it is the epicenter of all things college football tonight. I like Alabama in this one. Last year, LSU wins on their home field and it wasn't as big a game last year as it is this year.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Last year LSU was ranked 10th. Alabama was 6th. It was a close game, 24-21, LSU. This year, it's one versus two for all the marbles. Whoever is going to win will most likely go to the national championship game if they run the table. Whoever loses is not going to be able to get to the national championship game. So this is essentially the super bowl of college football. Alabama's defense is just terrific, especially against the run. Nobody can run the ball against them and Trent Richardson is the best running back in the country.

And so, I tend to like Alabama in a very close game this year.

SIMON: Let's move to baseball, if we can, because the free agent market is about to open up.

BRYANT: Um-hum.

SIMON: And two names obviously that come to the top of everyone's list, and they're first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.

BRYANT: And sure, and that's where the big money is going to be this year. And you've got two things at work. If it's Albert Pujols, if he leaves he's going to be the first superstar player in his prime with a multiple MVP on his mantle and multiple World Series as well to leave a team voluntarily. We've never seen that happen before. We've seen players leave at the end of their careers or be dumped and traded at the end of their careers, but we've never seen a guy in his prime walk away as a homegrown superstar with an MVP and a World Series title under his belt.

This would be the first. And as for Prince Fielder, he made it very, very clear and the Milwaukee Brewers made it very, very clear during the season - and for the last couple of years - that when this day came they weren't going to pony up the big money to try to keep him. So, we're looking at somebody who may just be a $200 million dollar player come December during this free agent period.

SIMON: Howard, NBA owners are set to meet this morning. Any sign of progress towards actually having a basketball season?

BRYANT: On paper, no. Anecdotally, yes. Because I think there's public narrative that suggests that the players are cracking. I don't see it. I'm very disappointed with what we've been hearing and reading, that this conversation will only depend on whether or not the players fold. There's a system in the NBA that's broken. It's a player system and it's an owner system and both sides have to acknowledge their part of it and right now all we're hearing is this blame the player, shut up and play, sort of attitude.

And I think that what really also has to happen is that the owners have to acknowledge one thing; and that is that if you have teams that are supposedly losing money that nobody wants to play for, maybe you shouldn't have them. And also, if you're going to say that your teams are losing money, how do you explain that the Golden State Warriors just sold, as did the Philadelphia 76's during a lockout. So, obviously somebody believes there's money to be made somewhere.

Both sides need to come back to the table and they need to be a little bit more honest about their positions.

SIMON: And will that happen when Key West freezes over?

BRYANT: Probably. As I've been saying all along, everyone that I've spoken to about this for the last couple of years told me that they did not expect to see basketball until February 2012. And I've said right around the All Star break 2012 and I'm going to stick to it, I don't think we're going to see basketball at least until the first of the year.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, with ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

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