Week In Sports Reviewed
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And joining us, as he does most Fridays now, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: Plenty of upsets in the first couple of days of March Madness. I assume that you predicted them all correctly?
FATSIS: Oh yeah. Well, yesterday I almost did actually. I had the number 14, Ohio University, over number three, Georgetown - oh wait, that's a lie, I did not. I had a couple of other ones though. I actually picked 13 out of 16 correctly yesterday. As we speak, I've got 18 out of 23. Oddly, I had no faith in Ivy League champion and number 12 Cornell...
SIEGEL: Didn't pick Cornell.
FATSIS: ...beat number five Temple today. I should point out that there's a DePaul math professor out there. He says there are nine quintillion different ways to fill out a NCAA bracket. And of the 4.8 million brackets that are entered into ESPN's tournament challenge, how many do you think remain perfect right now?
SIEGEL: It's a total blank for me. How many remain perfect?
FATSIS: Two - and people on ESPN's site are already ripping these guys for their picks.
SIEGEL: Now, the second round of the men's tournament is this weekend, but the women's tournament begins tomorrow. And there's one big story in the women's tournament - that is the University of Connecticut. Tell us about it.
FATSIS: Yeah. They've won 72 straight games. They broke their own previous record of 70 straight. Let me give you some numbers to put Connecticut's achievements into perspective. They've trailed for 97 out of 2,880 minutes during their streak. This year, they've won every game by an average of 35 points. And here are some of their scores: 91-24, 103-35, 91-37, 90-35. It makes you wonder whether Connecticut is playing in the correct NCAA tournament.
SIEGEL: Yes, exactly.
Well, now on to a different tournament, the World Cup. International star David Beckham's hopes of playing in his fourth World Cup this summer ended last weekend. Beckham tore his Achilles tendon and his injury has repercussions in several countries actually.
FATSIS: Yeah, first England, of course, for whom Beckham was hoping to represent for a fourth time in the World Cup. The injury actually inspired the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy to compose a poem in honor of the fallen star - I'm not kidding - and she calls it "Achilles." Would you care to hear a few lines, Robert?
SIEGEL: Go for it, yeah.
FATSIS: (Reading) But when Odysseus came with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield, he followed him to the battlefield. The crowds roar, and it was sports, not war, his charmed foot on the ball. But then his heel, his heel, his heel.
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FATSIS: You know, the injury was also felt in Italy. Beckham was playing this winter for AC Milan and here in the United States too, where he was supposed to return for a fourth season with the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. He's facing a six-month rehab now. He might not play for the Galaxy at all. And that means he'll have missed more games than he's played since arriving for Los Angeles in 2007.
SIEGEL: But normally anyone else, because it's not clear if there will be a Major League Soccer season. The players are threatening to strike before the opening kickoff, which is scheduled for next week. What is going on with American Major League Soccer?
FATSIS: Well, the players want the kinds of rights that are afforded athletes in most other major sports - free agency, better pay - and they really deserve that. Some young players in Major League Soccer made as little as $20,000 last year. Players are seeking a modest rise in the salary cap. And as for free agency, MLS is a single entity. The league controls player contracts, not teams. So, the players can't switch clubs even when their contract expires and they should be able to do that.
SIEGEL: But can the league actually afford to give it to them?
FATSIS: Well, this is the issue: MLS has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in its 14 seasons, so there is this exercise in caution among the investors. On the other hand, it's in its best shape ever. Credibility is growing. The excellent performance of the Galaxy's Landon Donovan and his recent stint with Everton of the English Premier League is the latest example of how good American players are becoming.
You've got a new team in Philadelphia this year, a beautiful new $200 million soccer-only stadium in northern New Jersey. And you've got the World Cup attention this year. That's a lot of momentum to squander over what are basic rights in top-tier sports leagues.
SIEGEL: Finally, a little bit more on soccer, my colleague, Melissa Block - you familiar with her?
FATSIS: I am.
SIEGEL: She's your wife. She reported yesterday on a touching moment involving the U.S. under-17 women's soccer team and their counterparts from Haiti at a tournament the other day. The U.S. played in the semifinals of that event last night. An update?
FATSIS: Well, the U.S. girls actually lost to Canada yesterday and it means that the team won't play in the under-17 women's World Cup later this year. And that is the first time that a U.S. women's team has ever missed a World Cup.
SIEGEL: Oh my. Well, thank you, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. And you can hear more of him on Slate.com's podcast Hang Up and Listen.
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