The Badgers And The Buckeyes

Wisconsin has a rare opportunity tomorrow.  A few months ago they ruined Ohio State’s perfect season in football with a convincing win at Camp Randall Stadium.  Tomorrow they have the chance to do the same thing in basketball.  The very idea sends a collective shudder through Buckeye Nation.

The odds favor the Badgers.  They have a well-coached, talented team — and Wisconsin is ridiculously hard to beat at the Kohl Center.  Bo Ryan’s record there is absurdly good.  Thad Matta, who has a fine Big Ten road record since he began coaching the Buckeyes, has never beaten Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.  And if, like me, you are a Buckeye fan who believes in karma, your heart must have sank when you saw Wisconsin recently pull out a gritty road win against Iowa in a game where Wisconsin simply could not knock down a shot.  That probably means that the Badgers will be lights out tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s game should be a real treat for college basketball fans.  Both teams play solid basketball and sound defense.  Both teams have experience and players who are in contention for all-conference honors.  In Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin has two players who would be welcome on any team in the country, and they are backed by a complement of players who can shoot the 3, crash the boards, and run Wisconsin’s deliberate offense to perfection.  Both teams have great coaches who are perennial winners.  If you are Ohio State, you are hoping that Jared Sullinger plays at the same high level he has displayed all season and that David Lighty and Jon Diebler, as seniors, help the Buckeyes navigate through the rough patches that undoubtedly will occur before the screaming Kohl Center crowd.

This will be a huge test for this year’s Ohio State basketball team.  Win or lose, it is the kind of tough game that will be good experience for the Buckeyes when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.


Holding Our Breath

In the United States, the decision of Hosni Mubarak to yield power to a supreme military tribunal should be a cause for circumspection, not celebration.

Much as we understand and appreciate the desire of the Egyptian people to throw off the reins of an authoritarian regime, there is no assurance at present that whatever government will eventually follow Mubarak will be a real improvement in terms of permitting democracy and recognizing human rights.  From this point forward, prudence would seem to suggest that the United States should refrain from public statements about developments in Egypt in favor of careful diplomacy that works behind the scenes to ensure an inclusive, democratic Egyptian government that respects and honors Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

We also should recognize that the fall of Mubarak no doubt will leave every government in the Middle East — from Israel, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia — feeling a bit shaken and concerned about the possibility of additional popular uprisings.  Sweeping pronouncements from the United States about what should be done may not be welcome.  We should hold our breath, keep our own counsel, and see what happens next.

Sumo Scandals

The ideal of sport is a pristine competition in which skill and merit will determine the victor.  Often, matches begin with the statement:  “May the best man win!”  Of course, the reality often falls short of that ideal — and in America, the NCAA spends a lot of its time trying to police the cheaters.

Cheating is not a problem that is limited to America.  Pakistani cricketers are embroiled in a cheating scandal in which they are accused of (honest!) “bowling deliberate no-balls.” And Japan is being rocked by a sumo wrestling scandal.  Thirteen senior sumo wrestlers are implicated in a match-fixing scandal that is so serious that the Japanese Sumo Association grand tournament has been canceled for the first time in 65 years.  (This should not be wholly unexpected; years ago the book Freakonomics, by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, postulated, based on a statistical analysis, that sumo involved rampant match-fixing.)

For Japan, however, the corruption in sumo is more difficult to accept than, say, an NCAA college football recruiting scandal.  Sumo has its origins in ancient religious rites and has been an organized activity in Japan for centuries.  It is generally viewed as Japan’s national sport.  The scandal strikes at the heart of sumo and is so serious that even Japan’s prime minister has spoken out about it.  He says that if match-fixing has occurred, “it is a very serious betrayal of the people.”

The reaction in Japan is probably akin to the reaction in America when people learned that the 1919 World Series was fixed.  That was a more innocent time,  when baseball was America’s undisputed national pastime and it was unimaginable that players would fix a game and betray their fans.  I wonder if, somewhere in Japan, a young boy will go up to one of the accused sumo champions and cry out:  “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”