April 18, 2010

Frank Deford asked that question, on, and talked about women’s basketball.

“As the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team was laying waste to the opposition these past few months, going through its second straight
undefeated championship season, the argument arose that the Huskies were too good, and thus too bad for the sport. It’s a perennial debate: is a sport better off with a lot of good teams battling one another ferociously or is it best to have one famous juggernaut that attracts attention for its superior majesty?
There is no doubt that in individual sports, which can’t depend on home-team loyalty, the whole enterprise profits by having a dominant winner. Even before Tiger Woods became notorious for being the Don Juan of the demimonde, he was so compelling a golfer that in the tournaments he skipped, there was no sound as the putts fell in the forest. But Woods made fans beyond the cognoscenti look to golf. Same with, say, Michael Phelps and swimming.
With team sports, though, it’s more complicated. Major league Baseball and the NBA, for example, are completely different in their appeals outside the core fandom. In pro basketball, the Celtics and Lakers may enjoy some historical resonance, but it is stars, not teams, that drive the league’s popularity. The dream finale is LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant, and never mind what shirts they might be wearing. Few cared about the San Antonio Spurs when they were champions. They were merely the best team. Ho hum.
Baseball, though, is so much a local attraction. Typical baseball fans are primarily connected to their home team, watching on local TV, listening on local radio — so it’s more difficult for national superstars to be created. Thus, for the postseason, a national audience is unacquainted with many teams, so that baseball profits most when well-known perennials, like the Yankees — and the Phillies, now, in the National League — dominate. In baseball, familiarity breeds audience.
By contrast, the NFL is such a national game and so many people bet the games without an emotional rooting interest, that it matters least whether there’s a dominant team. Anybody will do.
For men’s college basketball, Butler proved that what helps the sport most is for fans to have an outsider to cheer for. After all, the top players in college leave for the NBA after a year or two, so there’s no continuity, no possible excellence. So, if the Goliaths don’t have any appeal, hope for a little David to cheer on.
Last year, when two blue-chip schools, North Carolina and Michigan State, met in the NCAA final, the ratings were abysmal.
But women’s basketball is different because it’s not top drawer. It needs a cynosure. Basically, UConn proves the point that the less mainstream the sport, the more widespread popularity one lasting, dominant team can bring. A team like UConn may be bad for the other women’s basketball teams, but it’s great for women’s basketball.”

Greg Logan of Newsday talked about Arthur Mercante Sr. and Jr.

“The passing of Hall of Fame boxing referee Arthur Mercante last week evoked memories of a time when boxing still commanded a tremendous worldwide  audience. Looking up the list of title fights on Mercante’s resume is like a walk down memory lane for those old enough to recall all the way back to his first title bout in the 1960 rematch between Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Patterson, who became the first to regain the heavyweight crown.
As Newsday colleague Bobby Cassidy noted in a blog last week, that was the final fight at the Polo Grounds. Mercante also was third man for the last fight at old Madison Square Garden, the first fight at the current MSG and the last fight at old Yankee Stadium way back in 1976 when they stopped holding boxing events because of the damage to the field.
Cassidy came up with a terrific idea to keep that legacy going when he suggested it would be appropriate to have Arthur Mercante Jr. referee boxing’s return to the new Yankee Stadium on June 5 when Yuri Foreman risks his WBA light middleweight title against Miguel Cotto. Arthur Jr. has reffed plenty of big-name title fights over the past quarter century, including one featuring Tracy Harris Patterson, Floyd’s adopted son.
I had the privilege last week of writing the obituary celebrating the life of Arthur Sr. Son James Mercante told the story of how Arthur Jr. followed his dad’s footsteps as a referee.
“My brother Arthur fought Juan LaPorte in the Golden Gloves finals,” said James Mercante, referring to the future WBC featherweight champion, who was Arthur Jr.’s opponent.
“It was like ‘Rocky.’ My father told Arthur he didn’t want him to be a boxer, so, he refereed. My brother was influenced that way.”
Arthur Jr. had to be a good boxer to reach the Golden Gloves finals against someone as good as Juan LaPorte, but he obviously turned out to be a better
referee in the tradition of his dad. It would be a beautiful touch to name him as referee for the first title bout in new Yankee Stadium because it would honor his father’s memory and the sport’s history.
 By the way, when boxing does return to new Yankee Stadium, Yankees CEO Lonn Trost assures that it will be a regular event because of the modern
drainage system and protective covering for the field, where 7,000 seats will be set up around the ring in short rightfield. They will re-sod, but they have five days to make the field perfect before baseball is played again.
Foreman, who lives in Brooklyn and is studying to be a rabbi, was asked recently what it would mean to beat Cotto. “Perhaps I will have the right to rename Yankee to ‘Yankel,’ ” Foreman said with a sly smile. ‘I’m joking, of course.”


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