A Dead Zone Solution
by Jim Alderson, 7/5/01

Once again, the time of year has arrived that I refer to as the Dead Zone of sports. The landscape is dreadful and September seems years away. This year’s Dead Zone has occurred at a most inopportune time, as a malady of mine, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, has recurred with a vengeance, and I will be scurrying back to the Duke University Medical Center as soon as the DUMC’s resident quacks cease staring at the latest addition to the Cameron trophy case long enough to actually see patients.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, as all are aware, is a condition in which blood serum, for reasons unknown to modern medical science, begins manufacturing and distributing antibodies that lay siege to the thyroid proteins thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase. I am told this is not good. Treatment involves the daily consumption of the drug Synthroid, which I have been taking for years, in what would suddenly seem an inadequate dosage. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, mental dullness, loss of concentration and memory and some other things I don’t remember. So, if any think this or any other column stinks, I have an excuse.

This latest bout with Hashimoto’s has left me with only enough energy to flop onto my couch and gaze dumbly at my television, and therein is the problem. Television offers very little these days for the sports-starved viewer. I managed to make it through an entire NBA season without watching so much as a minute of what is rapidly becoming a neighborhood youth league. The day is not far off when the average age of college basketball players will be above that in what passes for today’s NBA. The WNBA is out of the question, as about thirty seconds of observing the gals in action convinced me that my plan for increasing attendance and television ratings for David Stern’s Title IX of a league, shirts and skins, was not a sound one. Yikes.

I do make it a point to watch every tennis match involving Anna Kournikova for reasons that have nothing to do with her being a lousy tennis player; likewise, matches involving the Williams sisters can cause my active imagination to go into overdrive, but, alas, Daddy Williams rarely has them in even the same tournament anymore, and my fantasies definitely involve both.

I cannot name more than a couple of participants on the men’s tennis tour, and see little difference in watching televised golf or grass grow. I do spend some Sundays observing NASCAR races, but, obviously, the less said about that the better.

ESPN and the Deuce really suffer at this time of year. Nothing whatsoever concerning what they call ‘Xtreme’ sports interests me in the slightest other than the grateful knowledge that I am no longer of an age to participate in such activities, even if I wanted to and possessed the energy [there is an upside to Hashimoto's], and I didn’t want to even when I was younger. The Deuce and its collection of rodeos, dogs jumping over obstacles, large men determining who can pull busses to a finish line the fastest or toss telephone poles the farthest has less than zero appeal.

The lack of observable sports has often led me to do the unthinkable and discover what programming exists among the 75 or so channels of my local cable system not devoted to sports. The pickings are slim. CNBC is liable to leave me weeping uncontrollably as I ponder how much less is my net worth these days. The Cable News Network seems to carry everything but news. Douglas MacArthur, as he stood aboard the USS Missouri in 1945 gazing contemptuously at what was left of the Japanese high command, was certainly correct when he stated that war must be abolished and civilized nations find another way of settling differences [I would suggest football], but an outbreak of hostilities between nations in some far corner of the globe would at least offer the benefit of providing the History Channel with fresh programming. I have figured out that the Germans lost, having learned their lesson about bombing Pearl Harbor.

Turning to Discovery one evening I discovered that lunatic Nigel swimming alongside a great white shark and babbling on about what a magnificent beast it was, while a quick jump to the Food Network revealed Emeril tossing a steak carved from the carcass of a mako shark onto the grill. I’m with Emeril on this one. The only time I care to encounter a shark is not in its natural habitat but instead mine, the dinner table. The next time Tech is in the Sugar Bowl I plan on journeying to Emeril’s restaurant in the French Quarter and devouring a shark and whatever else looks good.

Returning to Nigel, I watched and listened to his joy and amazement at discovering an eel, which reminded me of my own joy and amazement at my discovery years ago of how delicious eels taste when sautéed in butter with garlic. Having me watch nature shows focusing on oceanic creatures or big game [one on elk had me salivating] and thinking ‘tailgate food’ is probably not what the producers had in mind.

I have given the problem of lack of meaningful televised sports during July and August as much thought as the Hashimoto’s-induced mental dullness will allow and have a solution. We still occasionally hear high school athletics administrators yapping about ESPN’s plans to televise games of the second-tier conferences on Friday nights, as if a televised game between a Directional and a Hyphen will suddenly cause thousands of empty seats at high school stadiums. The reason, of course, is that there is so little interest in the MAC or Mountain Something that they might as well not be playing on Saturdays, and have no chance of grabbing one of the television slots devoted to the big boys. They are taking what they can get, which are obscure days and times.

I propose that televised games from the conferences on the lower level of the football food chain not be played in competition with high school football, but played now, during the Dead Zone. High schools could go back to enjoying their Friday night football monopoly free from the worry that people would not attend and instead stay home to observe Marshall pound Buffalo. The lower-level conferences would get the exposure they crave without the competition from the major ones that generally relegate them to the back pages of the sports section. They would be the only game in town; millions would discover that the WAC actually played football. June, July and August would no longer be the Dead Zone of sports, instead livened up by games involving teams generally ignored during the real season. ESPN could televise on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, heck, every night of the week would be fine with me. CUSA and the MAC could rise from football obscurity to having millions watching their games and maybe even caring who won, which is not exactly the case at the present.

Hopefully, executives of ESPN and the Friday conferences will soon get together and begin televising their games during the summer. While UAB playing Houston would not exactly be Tech and Miami, it would be better than what we have now, which, as I head back to the couch, involves Nigel playing with a cobra. I could root for the Blazers rather than the snake.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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