Wrapup Of College Football Season

With the college football season over and the NFL playoffs about to get under way, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis offers his insight on a battle between two undefeated teams that resulted in the University of Alabama winning the national title. He also previews the upcoming NFL postseason and an important anti-trust case against the NFL that the Supreme Court will hear next week.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

College football has an undisputed national champion: Alabama's Crimson Tide. Undisputed, that is, unless you live in Boise, Idaho, and believe the season shouldn't be over just yet. Or unless you happen to be sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who's here as he is most Fridays, this time to talk some football.

So, Stefan, Alabama beat Texas in last night's championship game at the Rose Bowl. But you're still not convinced they should be proclaimed the champion.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter): Look, it was a terrific event: a hundred thousand people in the Rose Bowl, great excitement. But I'm guessing I was not alone in that I kept thinking during the game about the other team that had already finished with a perfect 14 and 0 record: Boise State. And I know this is a dead argument now, but it will not leave my brain and it is becoming a bigger and bigger distraction every year. College football needs a modern, reasonable, equitable playoff system, and not a postseason controlled by a minority of elite athletic institutions the way we have now. I am done until next year. Let's move on.

NORRIS: Well, glad you got that off your chest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, the National Football League, of course, does have a playoff system. And conveniently the playoffs start this weekend: two games tomorrow, two on Sunday.

Mr. FATSIS: Yup, the New York Jets in Cincinnati and Philadelphia at Dallas tomorrow, Baltimore at New England, Green Bay at Arizona on Sunday. Kind of amazingly, three of the four games are actually rematches from last weekend. Hard to glean too much from those games. Some of those teams didn't play their best players. My only wish for this weekend: heavy snow in Cincinnati or New England. A good snow game is great in the NFL.

NORRIS: Oh, Vikings. Sorry, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Not playing.

NORRIS: I know but I still have to get my shout-out in, nonetheless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, off the field, the Supreme Court next week will hear arguments in a case that could have an important business ramification for the NFL and for other sports leagues. Tell us about that, please.

Mr. FATSIS: Well, it's called American Needle versus the NFL. The case is narrowly about marketing and merchandising. American Needle is an apparel company. It was shut out of the NFL in 2000 when the league awarded a contract to Reebok. The company argued that the NFL is a collection of 32 competing interests - the teams - and that it violated anti-trust laws by signing a deal with one company. But the reason for what has been intense interest in this case is the fear that the NFL could win a much broader anti-trust exemption that it could then apply to other aspects of its business.

NORRIS: Other aspects? What you talking about?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, concessions, stadium parking, the kinds of things that could increase cost to fans, anti-trust protections on matters like franchise relocation. But the biggest fear is from players' unions. They say that a ruling in the NFL's favor could give the league and other leagues the unchecked ability to control salaries, and restrict free agency, and cripple union leverage in the event of a labor dispute. The likelihood, I think, is that the court will rule that leagues like the NFL can act as a single entity in some areas, like licensing, and as groups of competitive teams in other areas, like player acquisition. But no one is taking any chances here. There've been a lot of briefs filed on both sides.

NORRIS: Finally, Mr. Fatsis, you've got an article on The New Republic's Web site today about the arrival here in Washington of a man who was coach during your short time as an NFL kicker with the Denver Broncos. We're talking about Mike Shanahan.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, and this is a big deal in the NFL. He's a pedigreed coach, two-time Super Bowl winner. He's coming to one of the elite franchises in the league - at least in terms of revenue, if not victories, in the last decade. And there's a terrific dynamic that's going to be at play. You've got a very strong owner, Dan Snyder, who's earned a reputation as sort of brash and over-involved in the operations of the team. You've got Mike Shanahan, a very type A, controlling figure, known as a real control freak in the NFL. Whether they will clash over the next few years or whether they will find a way to carve out room for both of their egos to restore the Redskins - what people in Washington sort of insanely believe is their birthright - to be one of the best teams in the NFL, we will see.

NORRIS: It sounds like the action off the field could be as interesting as the action on the field.

Mr. FATSIS: You know, it often is in the NFL, particularly here in the nation's capital. This is a place where Richard Nixon used to call George Allen, the coach of the Redskins, to offer advice and check in from week to week.

NORRIS: Have a good weekend, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: You, too, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL."

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