Outlook & Opinions

The endless sports season

by Tracee Hamilton

Sports is taking over our lives.

I like sports, so there are worse fates, but even rabid fans are feeling overwhelmed by what I call "season creep." Seasons are starting earlier, running later, overlapping more often and generally sucking more of our time than ever.

Take college football. At the end of the 1998-99 season, there were 22 bowl games. The season closed with six games on New Year's Day, another the next day and the national championship on Jan. 4.

This season will feature 34 bowl games. Fourteen will be on or after Jan. 1, with the national title awarded Jan. 7. That's 68 teams qualifying for bowl bids, more than half of all Division I teams. Isn't this like giving trophies to every school just for participating?

Season creep is invading other sports as well. The World Series is pressing further into November; Reggie Jackson's reign as "Mr. October" will never be challenged. The National Football League is considering adding a week to its playoff schedule, pushing the Super Bowl - formerly a fixture on the last Sunday in January - to Presidents' Day weekend. (Picture the halftime tributes to George Washington!)

Worse, the NCAA is thinking about expanding its men's basketball tournament from 65 to 96 teams. The tournament has long spilled into April, but this would add an entire week to the schedule. One of the great days on the sports calendar used to be that early Monday in April when baseball's Opening Day led into the men's national championship game. It was the perfect break between winter and spring, the end of one obsession and the beginning of another. So much for that.

The reason for all this, of course, is money. More TV networks need more content, and the NCAA is happy to cash their checks. Bowl bids bring in a tidy sum; every school in a conference shares in one team's largesse.

Why should we care? Well, college football and basketball players are supposed to be student-athletes. But football takes up more than a semester's worth of time, and basketball even more. Selfishly, we should also care because day by day, sports is eating up more of our time. And more time is one thing even ESPN can't give us.

Tracee Hamilton is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.

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