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Saturday Sports: College Football, Russian Doping


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Championship weekend in college football, an NBA veteran catches a third, maybe even a fourth wind, and Russian sports doping. Wait; I thought this was a news show. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Always a pleasure, Scott Simon.

SIMON: No. 5, Utah, lost last night. I - wait; let me reverse that. Oregon won last night...

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

SIMON: ...37-15 over No. 5, Utah, in the Pac-12 title game. LSU, No. 1, faces No. 4, Georgia, in the SEC title game. Ohio State, No. 1. No. 2, Clemson. Need we - boy, I'm getting tired of even just reading what's going on.

GOLDMAN: I'm exhausted.

SIMON: What's going to happen this weekend, Tom?

GOLDMAN: Well, as you mentioned...

SIMON: No. 1, Tom Goldman, go ahead. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. There are lots of conference championship games today. But thanks to Oregon's win, the focus is on two games in particular. With No. 5, Utah, out of the playoff picture, it paves the way for the Big 12 winner, Oklahoma or Baylor, to scoot into the top four and the playoff. If LSU beats No. 4, Georgia, which LSU is expected to do in the SEC championship game, those are the two teams...

SIMON: Excuse me, Tom. Scoot is not a college football - not a football term - scoot. They claw.

GOLDMAN: They roar.

SIMON: They roar, yeah. Go ahead. All right, yeah.

GOLDMAN: I'm done. Ask me another question.

SIMON: Oh, if you insist. Would expanding the playoff pool to eight teams, like a lot of people want, just make - and I wonder - the regular season seem less important?

GOLDMAN: Well, that's what the college power - football powers that be say. They say more teams and another round of playoffs will dilute the importance of the regular season, where one loss can wound a team. Two losses - a mortal wound. And those powers that be say that generates more excitement in the regular season. It keeps college football fans engaged. But, you know, it seems like eight would make the playoff more interesting, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: The playoff wouldn't just be stocked with the elite. You'd have a chance for some true upsets, which we love.

SIMON: Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, two old friends, met on the court last night. Carmelo Anthony now with the Trail Blazers. Well, the Lakers won 136-113. But Carmelo Anthony - 35, and he's just been Western Conference Player of the Week. What kind of breakfast cereal is this guy eating?

GOLDMAN: Supercereal, but not sure if five Carmelo Anthonys in their prime eating supercereal could've beaten the Lakers, Scott. They're really good - scary good. But Carmelo has been a minor revelation. There was a fair amount of skepticism here in Portland that he would help the struggling Blazers.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: He, of course, had the reputation of being a great scorer, but that's about it - no defense. He has scored and played defense and rebounded well. He's enjoying himself. He says he feels wanted, and he is.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: But, you know, the Blazers' problem, Scott - remember; they were Western Conference finalists last season.


GOLDMAN: Their problems are a lot bigger, starting with injuries. And last night, they lost another starting player when Rodney Hood tore his Achilles. A very sad injury for a really popular and effective player.

SIMON: Yeah. And I want to ask you about something you've been reporting on. The World Anti-Doping Agency is set to announce Olympic sanctions against Russia on Monday. Russian officials deny doping allegations. Did they say it's the Ukrainians who actually have been doing the doping?


SIMON: Sorry. Look; I can't do the rest of a news show and avoid a joke like that. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: God. Well, Ukrainians have doped, but we know the Russians have, too - a lot. Several independent, thoroughly researched reports from a few years ago detailed a state-sponsored widespread system of doping, which, as you say, Russian officials continue to deny. But the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, says it's still going on. WADA recently said Russia manipulated lab data it was required to turn over as a condition for reinstatement to the world sporting community.

So if WADA approves these sanctions Monday, it would ban Russia from hosting or competing in a major sporting event for four years, and all major sporting events, including next year's Summer Olympics. That's considered tough punishment. Harsh critics say, though, it doesn't go far enough and that Russia really won't be deterred.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.