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Sports Beyond The Olympics

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Sports Beyond The Olympics

Sports

Sports Beyond The Olympics

Sports Beyond The Olympics

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Believe it or not, there were other things happening in the world of sports besides the Olympics. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks about who succeeds Gene Upshaw as head of the NFL players union, the NFL's preseason schedule, baseball and team handball at the Olympics.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, believe it or not, there are some other sports in season right now. And as the Olympics end, it's time to get focused on those. And here to help us, as he does most Fridays, is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

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

SIEGEL: We know that, sadly here yesterday, the death of Gene Upshaw, who led the NFL Players Association. Is there about to be, by the way, a new era in owner-player relations in the NFL?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, Upshaw's death comes at a very sensitive time in player-owner relations in football. Under the last collective bargaining agreement that Upshaw negotiated and he pressured the owners at a deadline to cut a deal, the players got 60 percent of league revenue, about $4.5 billion this year. There's a belief that the players just got too much the last time around, and it's really putting teams at a breaking points in terms of profitability.

Now, the question is who takes over and fills that leadership vacuum. It could be a labor lawyer, it could be an agent, it could be a former player who's been active in union affairs. It's a crucial decision for the players union.

SIEGEL: Sticking with pro football, most teams are now halfway through the preseason. Ever since 1978, the NFL has held four incredibly boring preseason games and then 16 regular season games. And I gather there's now talk to change that?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, finally. The preseason's too long and it's been a joke for years. Players are in such good condition, they don't need four games to get ready for the season. Fans are forced to pay full prices for these lackluster, boring scrimmages. The proposals that are floating around now, 17 or 18 regular season games, this is driven by a desire for more revenue because there's more to be made, especially from the television networks, if you have staged more actual games even though you're going to have to pay the players more and you're going to risk more injuries to players. This could be a way to help resolve this expected standoff with the union over revenues.

SIEGEL: On to baseball, it's almost September, when we can officially declare the pennant races to be in their last lap. And Stefan, I want you to give us your preview. First of all, let's note that there are two teams in first place in the Second City, the Cubs and the White Sox. Both lead their divisions.

Mr. FATSIS: You know, and if they make the playoffs, it would be the first time that both Chicago teams have done so since 1906, when the White Sox beat the Cubs in the World Series. The White Sox hosts the Tampa Bay race this weekend. This is a battle of division leaders who have staged remarkable turnarounds from last season. The Cubs host the team with baseball's worst record, the Washington Nationals, and it is happy times at Wrigley. Did you see the story about the 104-year-old Cubs fan who wants to throw out the first pitch in a playoff game on the grounds that he's one of the few Cubs fans who are alive the last time that the team won the World Series in 1908?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: No. But on their heels in the central division are the Milwaukee Brewers, the team I've taken a real liking to this year, and who may have made the best midseason acquisition this year.

Mr. FATSIS: CC Sabathia from Cleveland in early July. Sabathia dropped the periods in his first name, and he's gone on to win eight games without a loss from Milwaukee. He's a win away from matching the best start by a pitcher switching leagues during the season in the last 90 years. And that was Doyle Alexander in 1987, who was traded from the Atlanta Braves to Detroit for John Smoltz.

And since the Brewers picked up Sabathia, they have sold out every game. So clearly, an investment worth making for the stretch run.

SIEGEL: I'm giving you 10 seconds to return to the Olympics for one, only one event: your favorite, team handball.

Mr. FATSIS: All right. I know you're going to be watching the men's final on Sunday, Robert, Iceland against France. Tiny Iceland, population 300,000, they beat Spain today, 36-30. It triggered a nationwide celebration. My friend, Dan Steinberg, who blogs about sports for the Washington Post, has fallen in love with the boys from Iceland. He reports that Iceland's preliminary round match against Denmark attracted nearly 60 percent of the country's 100,000 televisions and a share of about 100.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: Meaning that just about every set in the country that was turned on was watching the game where I wish I could be in, Reykjavik, on Sunday. I know you do too, Robert.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Well, your weekend is obviously going to be very satisfying. Stefan, thanks a lot.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis. He talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

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