SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.
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SIMON: Championship week in college football. Alabama squares off against Georgia today for the SEC title, and maybe even on to the BCS championship after that. Northern Illinois polished off Kent State last night in a MAC - got nothing to do with laptops - thriller. They might pack their bags for a BCS Bowl. And San Antonio Spurs are fined an amount of money that might be close to the cost of one of Tim Duncan's cars. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi-ho.
SIMON: Hi, hi-ho, my friend. A $250,000 fine that the commissioner leveled against the team because Coach Popovich told Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green take a rest. They're an aging team. Don't go to Miami to play the Miami Heat. But that happened to be TNT's nationally televised game. So what's the slipperier slope? Resting players selectively or the league telling a team who they have to play?
GOLDMAN: NBA David Stern is trying to keep it from becoming a slippery slope for resting players with that whopper fine. You know, Scott, public opinion will favor Popovich probably. He's revered as a coach. He was given a lot of credit last season for resting his aging stars, which helped the team perform well in the playoffs. And many NBA fans will say, well, it's the coach's right to do what he wants to do. But Stern is...
GOLDMAN: Yeah. NBA Commissioner Stern is looking at the big picture. It's his responsibility to put out as great a product as possible every night. Ticketholders pay a ton of money to see the best night in and night out. Stern's league, Stern's rules trump Pop's rules.
SIMON: Northern Illinois upset Kent State last night - I bet they upset them - in the Mid-America Conference championship. Could they earn the first ever BCS bowl for a MAC school?
GOLDMAN: Well, they could. It's kind of a tall order. The MAC winner has to sneak into the top 16 in year-end rankings to qualify for that precious, lucrative BCS bowl berth. Kent State was ranked number 17 going into last night, Northern Illinois number 21. So, easier for Kent State to vault that one spot into the top 16. Northern Illinois still could do it, but it needs some help with losses from teams ranked higher. For instance, number 13 Florida State losing tonight would help.
SIMON: And, of course, big game this weekend, the Crimson Tide of Alabama against the Georgia Bulldogs. Awful lot at stake here.
GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. The winner almost certainly plays Notre Dame in the national championship game. Alabama is favored, but it should be a close game. Bama is not as dominant as it was last season. Crimson Tide's big defensive line is looking to harass Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. He has a history of not playing his best in big games. So as a result, one of the keys for Georgia is its offensive line. Can they protect Murray, giving him time to attack the Alabama secondary, which is really the one vulnerable part of the Alabama defense.
SIMON: Two teams who definitely won't be going to any bowl games are Ohio State and Penn State. They've both banned from the postseason this year after scandals, albeit of a very different kind. But Ohio State went undefeated. So do you mourn? Do you celebrate? Do you just contemplate the complexity and unfairness of life?
GOLDMAN: Well, I think you do that anyway, right? So. But I think you're going to do all three. You know, as gleaming as that Ohio State record was, Penn State is probably the bigger accomplishment considering the magnitude of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal there. Huge sanctions, top players leaving the program. Penn State still finished 8-4 and new head coach Bill O'Brien named Big 10 coach of the year. A great accomplishment. Certainly thrilled many in State College. But yes, part of the celebration seems wrong. Perhaps, you know, a little too soon.
SIMON: But those players had nothing to do with the infractions.
GOLDMAN: Very true. That's an age-old criticism of college sports sanctions. It penalizes those that came after. You know, it's a tough one and probably why there should be this mix of emotions and a reminder that if you don't want to have that mix of emotions do what you can beforehand to prevent these scandals from happening in the first place.
SIMON: And Ben Ainslie retired from Olympic sailing this week. We don't know the name, but we should, right?
GOLDMAN: We'd be feting Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps if they were retiring from Olympic competition. Ben Ainslie is those guys in the world of sailing. Won four golds, four straight Olympic golds. A great sailor. And we tip our mainsails to him.
SIMON: Exactly. Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
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