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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How Much Little League Is Too Much?

I am a huge fan of "Around the Horn" and "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN.  If I can't catch them live, I usually download the podcast.  But I didn't do it this week because my favorite shows are bumped for a bunch of 11-year olds.

Maybe this was a good excuse for the network to give their hosts a week off.  Maybe this was just "dead time" leading up to the kickoff of football season.  After all, you can only go so far with coachspeak and preseason game film, right?

But maybe something a little more sinister is happening here.  Maybe the world of big-money sports is already creeping down to the Pee Wee League.  If the Little League World Series can bump Kornheiser and Wilbon, would anyone be surprised to see a Little League World Series winner pedaling Gatorade next month?

The LLWS used to be fun.  It used to be an awesome event to watch on one Saturday out of the year, as a bunch of semi-pubescent kids took over a major network.  It was cool to think that, if I was good enough, maybe I could play on national television before I started shaving.

Now, games are on the air for weeks.  The LLWS gets on top plays, and takes over entire segments on SportsCenter long before the final game.  Is this a good thing?

As I lamented last week in my commentary on the University of Miami, money seems to take over as the driving force behind every decision.  Now, money has overrun the little league fields.  If you are fortunate enough to be on a good team--or buy your way onto a good team--you can spend two weeks on ESPN long before your time.

This isn't Little League anymore, Toto.  The same force that drove Miami players to break the rules is driving the over-emphasis on kids who can't get a ticket to the PG-13 movie.  Somewhere, someone thinks there is a dollar to be made.

Networks certainly have the right to broadcast the games if the audience demands it.  But that doesn't make this a good decision.  As the money starts to creep further and further down the ladder, the athletics become more corrupt at every level.

It's bad enough that the money is controlling college athletics.  How far are we from money controlling high school athletics?  Or middle school?  Or YMCA leagues?

As I catch highlights of the LLWS, I fear that we may already be there.

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