MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
An estimated 200 million people around the world tuned in today to watch as little plastic soccer balls were pulled out of glass bowls. The event: the draw for the World Cup soccer tournament next summer in South Africa.
Joining us as he does most Fridays is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Stefan, the United States is among the 32 nations that will be playing in the World Cup. What happened today and how did it go for the U.S.?
STEFAN FATSIS: Well, it went great for the U.S., actually. Thirty-two teams, they're placed in eight groups of four for the first round of play. Often, it is make or break for countries. In this case, the U.S. really did well for itself. It drew England, Algeria and Slovenia as its opponents for the opening round.
As a fan, I'm thrilled. England will provide lots of national rooting interest. It's always a goal of U.S. soccer to stick it to the traditional European powers. The pre-match publicity for this game is going to be huge. By no means is the U.S. a lock in this group. Algeria and Slovenia are good, but it does offer a real chance to be one of the two teams that will advance to single elimination in the next round.
NORRIS: So good news, the U.S. did okay for itself. Who did not luck out?
FATSIS: Well, the toughest World Cup draw is always dubbed the group of death, and this year there are a couple. Brazil, Portugal and the very talented Ivory Coast, the numbers two, five and 16 teams in the world rankings are grouped together along with North Korea. And then Germany has to face three good teams - Australia, Ghana and Serbia - in the first round.
After reaching the World Cup courtesy of that hand ball a couple of weeks ago, France did luck out. They're going to face the host, South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico in the first round.
NORRIS: Let's move on to American football. Two big games in college football tomorrow that'll help decide who will play for the national championship in a few weeks. Tell us about this.
FATSIS: Well, you've got the battle of unbeatens: Number one Florida against number two Alabama for the Southeast Conference championship. And then you've got also undefeated number three Texas against Nebraska for the Big 12 championship.
The winner of the first game gets a spot in the national title game no matter what. If Texas wins, they'll be in there, too. Few people will complain about that. The real controversy will be if Texas loses, and that's because there were three other unbeaten teams this year: Texas Christian, Cincinnati and Boise State.
Now, TCU and Boise State don't play in one of the big conferences that run the championship process. Cincinnati plays in the weaker Big East Conference. If Texas loses, it is conceivable that voters will favor a Florida-Alabama rematch over an appearance by one of those schools, which will again demonstrate the need for a playoff system to determine a champion in college football.
NORRIS: Now, you're talking about powerhouse college football, with all the glitz and the glamour and big paydays for those teams. On the other hand, two universities in the last two weeks announced that they're eliminating football as a cost-saving measure. Tell us about those two teams.
FATSIS: Well, Hofstra just yesterday and Northeastern a couple weeks ago. Obviously, these aren't powerhouses, but both played football for more than 70 years. Football at mid-tier schools like these doesn't generate enough revenue to cover the cost of running these programs: $4.5 million a year for Hofstra, $3 million at Northeastern.
These moves show how severe budget issues are at colleges now and how cutting football, which is by far the most expensive sport to maintain, rather than investing even more money in football to try to generate more revenue, cutting sports now is becoming a realistic option.
NORRIS: Now, Stefan, I can't let you go without asking about the really big story in the world of sports this week. I'm not talking about Tiger Woods.
FATSIS: No, you're referring, of course, to the crowning of a new world Scrabble champion, right?
NORRIS: Of course.
NORRIS: Since I'm talking to you, after all.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FATSIS: The tournament was held in Malaysia. There were players from 39 countries. The winner was Pakorn Nemitrmansuk. He's a 34-year-old architect from Thailand. He's not a native English speaker. The big play in the clinching game was the eight-letter word botanica, B-O-T-A-N-I-C-A. It was worth 94 points and it sealed a 501-to-480 victory for Pakorn.
NORRIS: Congratulations to Mr. Pakorn. Thanks so much.
FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He talks to us Fridays about sports and the business of sports.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.