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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is News & Notes. Thursday is our day to look into the world of sports and March Madness tops our headlines this week. NCAA tournament fans are picking their teams, including the president of the United States.

(Soundbite of speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: The Tar Heels that are watching, I picked y'all last year. You let me down. This year, don't embarrass me in front of the nation.

COX: We'll see how good the bracket picker-in-chief does with his choices this time around and get the low down from a true insider with our very own sports guru, New York Times sports columnist, Mr. Bill Rhoden. What's up, Bill?

BILL RHODEN: The great Tony Cox. Hey, man. How are you doing?

COX: It's wonderful to have you here again as always. So the president has his final four. He likes Louisville, North Carolina, Memphis and Pittsburgh, although Coach K at Duke was like, look, Mr. President, mind your business.

RHODEN: (Laughing) Well, you know, the president, he's got pretty good stakes at a number or levels. He's won a lot of fans in the Tar Heel state, I tell you that. I don't know what the - what he pulled North Carolina, but he upped his stock for reelection.

COX: (Laughing) Well, the...

RHODEN: He does a good final four, though. That's a good final four, except for Pittsburgh.

COX: You don't think they can do...

RHODEN: He made one - see, he made one - the team that everybody in the nation is overlooking is Morgan State, my alma mater.

COX: (Laughing) See...

RHODEN: It's going to become - it's going to be the Golden Bears that's going to become the first historically black college to win...

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I don't know...

RHODEN: The national championship.

COX: I don't know what's wrong with you. You sound like Coach K now. Coach K is like, are people are overlooking us...

RHODEN: You...

COX: Because we got a number two seed and not a number one seed.

RHODEN: That's...

COX: Not Coach K. I'm talking about Coach Calipari, excuse me.

RHODEN: Oh, yeah. Well, yeah, you know. Memphis - outside of Morgan, I like Memphis a lot, and I really like - I would love to see a Memphis-Louisville showdown in the final four and I think that would be (laughing) - that would be spectacular.

COX: It would be interesting. I think North Carolina got to be the odds-on favorite. You know, Yukon was up at the top all year, but it doesn't look like they've got enough to pull this off.

RHODEN: The problem with North Carolina, Tony, is that if I may... I'm a little concerned with Lawson because his toe is hurting. I think he's going to miss the first around.

COX: Yes, he is.

RHODEN: (Laughing) And if you're a point guard and your toes hurt, that's a problem.

COX: Well I guess you got a point there. You know, on the other side, the flip side, the women's side actually. The Oklahoma Sooners, they're in the mix, and their player, Courtney Paris, helped lift women's basketball above the fold of the sports section when she not only guaranteed the championship - you know, kids will do those kinds of things.

RHODEN: That's right.

COX: But she bet her scholarship money on it. Now, that's putting your money where your mouth is.

RHODEN: That's putting in your mommy's and daddy's money where your mouth... When I heard that, you know, if I was her dad, I'd call her. Say listen, babe, you know, come on. I know you're coming from, but come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Not only that. They're ranked number three. Yukon is at the top, and I think they got spanked by Yukon earlier in the year.

RHODEN: Yeah. But you know, that's what makes this month so great because all kinds of things happen. You're still dealing with 19, 20, you know, 21-year-old people. You know, and I mean, that's the great spirit of this stuff. That's really what makes this month, Tony, just - you know, I think one of my favorite months of the athletic calendar.

COX: You know, you're absolutely right. Because of the youth of the people who are involved, anybody can actually beat anybody on a given day if the stars line up just right for them.

RHODEN: That's why I don't speak for Morgan or Oklahoma.

COX: Oh.

RHODEN: Remember, Morgan is coached by who? Todd Bozeman. And with Todd Bozeman, who's from California, he did a number - he had a number of first round upsets.

COX: I'm going to let you have a pass on that. Well, I'm not even going to engage in the conversation about that team, how far they're going to go. Let's talk football for a moment because I know that you are really interested in what happens in the NFL, particularly with the players' association. And over the last week, we've had some major developments there with the head - a new head of the NFLPA to replace the late Gene Upshaw.

RHODEN: Yeah. In a very contentious battle, DeMorris Smith, an attorney who is really unknown except probably for the insides of the NFLPA, DeMorris Smith was a bit of field(ph) that includes Troy Vincent, David Cornwell and Trace Armstrong. And it was a very, very contentious election. But what I like about them, I backed - I thought that Troy Vincent, who's a former player, a 15-year vet, highly-respected among players. But what I like about it, Tony, was that I think a lot of players were actually engaged and they began to look around if, you know, who will the player reps, who's on the executive committee...

COX: Yeah, but let me ask you this. You know, the issue of player versus lawyer. Gene Upshaw was a player and look what happened - former player.

RHODEN: Yeah.

COX: So that didn't mean anything in the end, did it?

RHODEN: Well, but you know what, I don't think any of it means anything because the owners are just - ultimately they're so powerful that I'm not sure if they've got their minds set as they do now on taking back games. They want to take back stuff. And the players are going to have to be more unified than they've ever been. And they say they are, so we'll see. I mean, Upshaw took over their association when it was bankrupt. And he built it into a pretty prestigious job.

COX: Yeah. But he sold his players down the river, didn't he?

RHODEN: Well, that depends on who you talk to. I don't - I think that he didn't at first. I think eventually, he paid the price for being very conciliatory. But I think he did that because he realized that he was not going to beat the owners. He just - he knew that he wasn't.

COX: All right. Well, I tell you what. Our time is up, unfortunately. Man, I mean our time is really up because this is the end as you know, of our doing sports.

RHODEN: Yeah.

COX: It's been a wonderful experience having you on. You brought some class to the place as people say, with the association, with the newspaper and your long years. And I just want to say on-air, in front of everybody, how much we appreciate it having you with us because we've got about 20 seconds and we're gone.

RHODEN: Amen. As you know, Tony, the pleasure's all mine. I mean, work ingwith you and Roy and Nicole, it was a great experience and, you know, we shall meet again.

COX: Absolutely. Bill Rhoden, thank you very much. Bill Rhoden is a sports columnist for the New York Times and the author of "Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback."

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