January 31, 2007

Talk Amongst Yourselves

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Who is the most dominant athlete in their sport: Roger Federer or Tiger Woods?

Even before Woods’ seventh consecutive PGA Tour victory at the Buick Invitational and Federer’s straight-set run through the Australian Open last Sunday, sports blowhards and bloggers were salivating at the myriad possibilities for pointless debate.

Regardless of which side you come down on the Federer-Woods divide, the debate itself is about as fruitful as comparing apples to oranges (clearly oranges…), which is to say that inevitably answers are almost completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless (… unless we’re talking pies, then clearly apples).

Yet power rankings, dream teams and unending arguments have become the hallmark of sports discourse. And sports fans love it. We wait patiently through the same arguments on Around the Horn to hear them regurgitated half an hour later on PTI. We read the Sports Guy religiously, and we delight in disagreeing with every word out of Woody Paige’s mouth.

So for the sake of argument, and because I’m still a little verklempt from turning 22, here are a few sports-related debates in need of settling. Talk amongst yourselves.

What’s the better innovation, Shotspot in tennis or instant replay in football?

Sure it looks cool, but does anyone actually know how Shotspot actually knows what’s in or out? For all I know, some intern in the editing room simply moves a digital ball a few inches left or right to maximize TV-tennis drama. Still, I’ll take a computer program over the robotic droning of Mary Carillo any day. If you want a real tough call…

Thanking God vs. Thanking Mom

With Super Bowl XLI just days away, I figure we’re going to be hearing a lot of both. But who do you thank first, the creator of the universe or the creator of you? It’s a tough call, but as long you’re not thanking your agent before either of them, I think you’ll be okay. Speaking of football…

Whose arteries will collapse first, those of former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells or Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weiss?

Before his retirement, smart money would have been on Parcells, as coaching Terrell Owens is as about as healthy as a Big Mac deep fried and dipped in chocolate. Still, I’m not sure Weiss can win any hypothetical bet let alone a bowl game. Besides, I’m not convinced that Parcells moving to Saratoga, N.Y., to be near the racetrack is necessarily the best thing for his health. We all saw how retirement worked out for Barbaro. (Too soon?) Regardless of morbid predictions, the NFL and NCAA need to take preemptive action immediately and ban all cotton polo shirts from the sidelines. While we’re on the subject of boobs…

What league has the better cheerleaders, the NFL or the NBA?

For pure All-American apple pie hotness, I think you take the NFL, but in terms of actual cheerleading ability, I feel like NBA cheerleaders actual do more. Either way, nothing’s more entertaining than a failed basket catch. Moving on to more pressing pseudo-sport issues…

Which basement rec room activity least deserves to be on ESPN, poker or pool?

Being good at pool is the classic sign of a misspent youth, while for 99.9 percent of poker “professionals,” gambling is a sign of a misspent life. But why stop with glorifying just one highly addictive, potentially life ruining behavior? How about the World Series of Slot Machines, or even better, competitive drug abuse? Now that you mention crystal meth…

Between VH1 and MTV, which station has the better reality TV programming?

If athletics capture the pinnacle of human achievement, these Viacom sister stations scrape up the remaining tripe of existence. Real World may have been the first of its kind, but in the choice between D-List celebrities and teen-sploitation, I have to say I Love New York. It’s the most addictive reality TV show since QVC’s short-lived prescription painkiller hour. Getting back to actual sports programming…

Who is the better half of PTI, Tony Kornheiser or Michael Wilbon?

In terms of sports knowledge, I think Wilbon has an edge, and by edge I mean he actually watches the sports he talks about. But for pure entertainment value, Kornheiser is definitely the king — plus his daughter went here and he drops the random Cornell shout-out every now and then.

Yet the fact that you can seriously argue the merits of Kornheiser over Wilbon or pool over poker gives us a different, more troubling answer to this column’s opening question. The most dominant figure in sports isn’t Woods or Federer — it’s ESPN.

In the demand for around-the-clock sports coverage and highlights, the action on the field has become obscured by the reaction in the studio. There was a time when SportsCenter actually showed highlights from games instead of cutting back to the “Big Finish” of PTI. I’m sorry Skip Bayless, but Cold Pizza belongs in my fridge, on my kitchen floor, or in my belly, but not on my TV.

It’s not that these shows or even these debates aren’t entertaining. They are. It’s just that talking about sports all the time is a lot like talking about another favorite pastime of college students — the real thing’s always better live.