The Sports Matchmaker

In honor of the seventies “classic” The Love Boat coming out on DVD this week (and don’t get me started on how annoyed I am that The Love Boat will be available on DVD before there is any DVD representation of any David Letterman broadcasts or the Showtime classic It’s Garry Shandling’s Show), I thought I’d “set a course for adventure” today and play a little sports matchmaker.

1. The Big Ten championship and the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team. Are they a match? Count me as someone who has long since shut up about his skepticism about the Badger basketball program this season after losing Alando Tucker and Kammron “Bring the Pain” Taylor last year. After a tremendous regular season last year in which Bucky earned the school’s first number one ranking (albeit short-lived) and set a school record for wins with 30, this year they’ve been at least as impressive, winning more Big Ten road games (seven) and overall conference games (14) than ever. Coming off one of their best games of the season (one turnover!) against Michigan State, Wisconsin looks to mop up against Penn State and on the road against Northwestern. Call me crazy, but I’m putting both in the win column.

The problem for the Badgers isn’t themselves, it’s Indiana and Purdue. Should Indiana beat Michigan State Sunday (and they whipped ’em by 19 just a couple of weeks ago), both the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers would be tied with Wisconsin for the Big Ten lead. And both have fairly easy games to finish the season — although not as easy as Wisconsin has it. To further complicate matters, Purdue beat Wisconsin twice this season, so even though the same record would equal a “share” of the Big Ten title for the three schools, I believe Purdue would be seeded higher than Wisconsin in the upcoming Big Ten tournament. But that wasn’t the match I was talking about, was it?

Result: Match. But the Badgers won’t win it outright. They’ll have to share. But hey, sharing is caring.

2. The Big Ten and the NCAA tournament. A couple of weeks ago, I thought that the Big Ten was a shoo-in to get five teams in: The aforementioned three that will likely wind up sharing the title, plus Michigan State and Ohio State. Unfortunately for the conference, reigning Big Ten champs Ohio State have played themselves out of the tournament with four straight conference losses, including Saturday’s surprising 14-point loss at Minnesota. So look for the Big Ten to send only four teams to the dance, putting them under the Big East, the ACC, the Big 12, the Pac-10, and the SEC in terms of representation.

Result: Not a lot of quantitative love here. But qualitatively, the four suitors could be in for a long-term relationship in the tourney.

3. The Packers and free agency. Let’s face it: the Packers have made few and far-between splashes in free agency. But let’s face it: The team, coming off a season that nearly resulted in a Super Bowl berth, seems to have few weaknesses and seems to know what it’s doing. Don’t be surprised if the biggest free agency news out of Titletown has already happened: The loss of defensive tackle Corey Williams to the Browns, which given the Packers’ depth, is really no big loss. The Packers are looking to add a linebacker and help their pass rush, but history states that if they can’t make a good (re: frugal) deal in free agency, they’ll address those needs in the draft. And as much as fans may want more excitement (anyone for Randy Moss, round two?), why change a pattern that has clearly worked more often than not?

Result: No match. Though not as clear-cut as that Moment of Truth woman and her wimpy husband.

4. The Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA playoffs. I’ll admit to being intrigued by this potential love connection a few days ago after the Bucks won back-to-back games against Denver and Cleveland, two of the NBA’s best. But after consecutive losses, I don’t think this match will stick. Sure, in the weak Eastern conference, it’s possible, but it would mean that four teams ahead of them would have to fall apart while the Bucks would have to play significantly better than their 22-37 record indicates they can. Besides, should any team 15 wins under .500 at this point in the season have a sniff at the postseason?

Result: No match. The NBA playoffs are easy, but even they have their standards.

5. CBS and Mixed Martial Arts. This is a bit of a cheat, as this match has already been made public with the announcement that the network will devote four Saturday nights to the bloody competitions possibly as early as April. But will it work?

Well, the networks have long since abandoned Saturday nights, programming reruns and second-run movies for years on a night that they feel the TV audience is too small to care about. But is primetime network ready for something as violent as MMA? Hey, CBS long ago stopped caring about being the “Tiffany” network and settled for being known as the “blood and guts” network with grisly fare such as the three CSIs, Without A Trace, Criminal Minds, and now the repurposing of the Showtime hit Dexter. So what’s at stake here is not a network’s reputation or even a huge potential audience. CBS clearly hopes to attract younger viewers with the move and along with it advertisers looking to reach a young audience and a platform by which to promote its other series to said audience. On those grounds, the match should work. But if CBS expects more than that, look for the return of crime repeats.

Result: A tenuous match. One side — here it’s MMA — has more to gain than the other (CBS). Those relationships are always tricky, like when Bobby Brown married Whitney Houston or Kevin Federline married Britney Spears. And we all know how well those worked out.

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