Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Pluto's Lessons for the World of American Sports

The downgrading of Pluto to "dwarf planet" may prove to be a guide for those who control major sports in America. If Pluto can be downgraded, why not demote Duke football to "dwarf team?" It's a slippery slope, but many teams seem ripe for relegation to a lower status.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Far from the launch pad, deep in the solar system, is Pluto. Just last week it was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet, and commentator Frank Deford says that could spark some ideas in the sports universe.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

Like so many other millions of right thinking, sensitive sports fans, I've been outraged by the putsch against Pluto in Prague by the petty planet professors.

This astronomy dictate is clearly only going to give the National Collegiate Athletic Association and various professional leagues new ideas.

If Pluto can be willy-nilly downgraded to a dwarf planet, then I'm afraid it won't be long before the Kansas City Royals, the Duke football team, the Arizona Cardinals, the United States National Soccer Team and the Portland Trailblazers will all be arbitrarily designated as dwarf teams. It's a slippery slope out there.

Hey, astronomers, at least have some heart. Couldn't you grandfather Pluto in? Or couldn't you follow the example of our American sports leagues and at least say that Pluto still makes it into the playoffs of our solar system as a wild card planet?

Actually, in Europe something like what happened to Pluto is a regular part of that sports universe. It's called relegation. In most of the major soccer leagues at the end of each season, the worst few clubs are sent packing down into a minor league.

But unlike with the nasty astronomers, relegation is a two-way street. If two major league teams get demoted, then two minor league teams get raised up to the majors in their place. And that's fair, you see. Tit for tat.

In any event, I would certainly hope that somebody quickly moves to name their team after Pluto. This would soften the insult that poor Pluto has suffered and instantly win back many sympathetic fans for, say, rotten teams that have fallen out of favor. The Baltimore Plutos of the American League for example. The Pittsburgh Plutos of the NHL. The Syracuse Plutos of college football.

But then, the heavens have never been a popular supplier of nicknames. Just pretty slim pickings. The Dallas Stars of the NHL, the Houston Comets of the WNBA, the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

We've got far too many bears and tigers and rockets as nicknames. A few Plutos and maybe one or two Mercurys or Neptunes would be most welcome.

Now, as for Pluto itself, can't we get the hardboiled astronomer boys to compromise? Okay, bag Pluto as a planet. It's cold and unreliable and not much bigger than Delaware. Fair enough. Eighty-six it.

But then let's change the name of Uranus to Pluto. Nobody has the foggiest idea of who Uranus was. We connect with all the other planets. Mercury delivers flowers. Venus is naked. Mars is science fiction. Jupiter is real big. Saturn has rings. Neptune is the ocean guy with the pitchfork. But Uranus? Nobody has a clue.

Besides, apart from Earth, it's the ugliest name for a planet. Nobody will miss Uranus if it's gone. Name an asteroid or something after Uranus and everybody will be happy.

If we can move the Dodgers to Los Angeles and the Colts to Indianapolis, we can surely move Pluto to Uranus.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Somewhere out there in the universe, Mel Brooks must be saying, that's Uranus, Frank, Uranus!

Frank Deford is senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford