Play it forward: Dec. 20-26 on your sports calendar

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(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
Connecticut celebrates in the final seconds of its 81-50 win over Ohio State in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

MONDAY

NFL: Chicago at Minnesota, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

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Why wouldn’t the Vikings have moved this to, say, their future home of L.A.? Paramedics will be standing by with snow shovels and chest paddles to treat those who needed to be here. Our plans include smuggling some Peppermint Schnapps into our living room.

NBA: Clippers vs. Minnesota, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Somehow, Kevin Love’s T-wolves made it out of the Twin Cities just in time. The Clippers’ home losing streak sits at just three for the time being.

NHL: Ducks at Boston, 4:30 p.m., Versus:

Nothing like a little national exposure for the Anaheimers.

TUESDAY

Women’s college basketball: Florida State at UConn, 4 p.m., ESPN2:

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after an historic Win No. 88 in a row on Sunday: “If we were fortunate enough to win Tuesday night, that just means we did something in women’s basketball that’s pretty special.”

College basketball: UCLA vs. Montana State, Pauley Pavilion, 7:30 p.m., BruinTV.com:

It should be noted: After a four-game losing string, this Bruins team is just 85 wins from tying their school winning streak.

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College basketball: USC at Tennessee, 4 p.m., Prime:

Vols hoops coach Bruce Pearl said it about the press he’s received in the wake of an eight-game SEC suspension for recruiting violations: “What I was hoping for was that some other dumbass would get on the front page and take me off the hook. I miss Lane Kiffin.” That’s just as hilarious as the way Pearl’s team has been playing lately. The former No. 7 Vols (7-2) followed a win over then-No. 3 Pitt with head-scratching upset losses to Oakland and Charlotte. See if Pat Summit has any answers.

NHL: Kings at Colorado, 6:30 p.m., Prime:

The Kings finish their roller-coaster roadie against an Avalanche team they knocked off, 6-4, back in late October, when Brad Richardson, who started the night with 30 career goals in 254 games, got his first NHL hat trick. Richardson, who missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, has been activated in time for this one. Marco Sturm could also be available by this one. Good deal. The Avs have been hot.

NBA: Lakers vs. Milwaukee, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

Check your tickets again. This is against “MIL,” not “MIA.” A huge difference.

College football: Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl, St. P’tersburg, Fla.: L’ville vs. Southern Mississippi, 5 p.m., ESPN:

How many ‘postrophies can they get in one lousy b’wl game?

WEDNESDAY

NBA: Clippers vs. Houston, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Can Yao Ming at least visit his favorite Chinatown restaurant while he’s in the neighborhood?

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College football: Maaco Bowl, Las Vegas: Boise State vs. Utah, 5 p.m., ESPN:

A Pac-10 team could have should have been slotted for this one, but not enough were bowl eligible. Instead, we’ll have to accept future Pac-12 participant Utah, against the team that should have been BCS worthy if they had a reliable field-goal kicker. That’s the gamble you take in Vegas.

THURSDAY

NHL: Kings vs. Edmonton, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

These young Oilers have one of the worst records in the league, but they have that No. 1 draft pick, Taylor Hall, right? Continue . . .

College basketball: USC vs. Lehigh, Galen Center, 5:30 p.m., USCTrojans.com: UCLA vs. UC Irvine, Pauley Pavilion, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Here’s the final tuneups for both teams before the Pac-10 season starts. Make it count.

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College football: Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego: San Diego State vs. Navy, 5 p.m., ESPN:

It’s a natural fit, these two, but an unnatural annual event in the bowl lineup.

NFL: Carolina at Pittsburgh, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network:

Neither of these two teams are on Bill Cowher’s coaching wish list?

FRIDAY

College football: Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu: Hawaii vs. Tulsa, 5 p.m., ESPN:

It’s not an Hawaii home game, it just seems that way. The Rainbow Warriors may someday return to the Sugar Bowl (remember ’08, Colt Brennan’s team lost 41-10 to Matt Stafford and Georgia). But for now, they’ll have to settle for hosting a bunch of travelers from Oklahoma who don’t mind roasted pig in a one-horse open lei..

SATURDAY

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NBA: Lakers vs. Miami, Staples Center, 2 p.m., Channel 7:

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Santa sez: Believe the hype. Snoop Dogg sez: I believe you’re in my seat. The NBA has been dreaming of this Christmas, just like the ones it used to know when Shaq came back to L.A. loaded with gifts for the local kids. This time, the Lakers can’t really be all that excited to face a squad that may be riding a 14-game winning streak and has been whipping their opponents by nearly 20 points a contest. Yet, can the Wade-James-Bosh trio stand up to the Gasol-Bynum-Artest front line? Let’s just make sure no seat cushions are tossed onto the floor. And if this one isn’t to your taste, the NBA has four others on TV today: Chicago at New York (9 a.m., ESPN), Boston at Orlando (11:30 a.m., Channel 7), Denver at Oklahoma City (5 p.m., ESPN) and Portland at Golden State (7:30 p.m., ESPN).

NFL: Dallas at Arizona, 4:30 p.m., NFL Network:

Nope, the league’s own channel can’t flex out of this mess.

SUNDAY

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NHL: Kings vs. Ducks, Staples Center, 6 p.m., FSW:

Even if you believe the numbers — it’s all even in the all-time series now at 43-43-4 after the Ducks took a 2-0 win a few weeks ago in Anaheim — the fact the Ducks have more Stanley Cup victories in a shorter time frame really gets under the Kings’ fans skin. On the day after Christmas, it’s back to getting into a fightin’ mood.

NBA: Clippers vs. Phoenix, Staples Center, noon, Prime:

In their previous loss to the Suns back on the day after Thanksgiving, the Clippers fell behind by 21 after the first quarter in Phoenix. And some 17,000 Suns fans still witnessed it.

College football: Little Caesars Bowl, Detroit: Toledo vs. Florida International, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

This could be done in 30 minutes or less.

NFL: Minnesota at Philadelphia, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:

NBC opted out of the previously-scheduled Chargers-Bengals bash for more Favre-Vick panache.

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It’s Out of the Question: What’s wrong with the Bowl Cuban System?

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Why has the rejection of Mark Cuban trying to fix the BCS system turned into a mini Cuban Dismissal Crisis?

The billionaire maverick simply says he’ll his load up a bank account and then let the NCAA work out a 12- or 16-game college football playoff system.

Make too much sense already?

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Pac-10 chief Larry Scott says this plan is doomed: Tuition-strapped schools, especially those in the state tax-payer systems, simply aren’t going to be swayed by cold, hard cash.

Huh?

“It’s a mistake to assume the impediment to a playoff is money,” he insists. “This is about a broader set of priorities benefiting schools and student-athletes.”

Bill Hancock, the BCS cartel’s current director of operations and, apparently, oxygen deprived from all the sand he has been eating since his head seems to be buried in it, adds: “Given how much support our current system has among university presidents, athletic directors, coaches and athletes, I don’t think any amount of financial inducement will make people abandon the BCS.”

When did the NCAA ever turn down greenbacks?

Or decide it the best interests of the student-athletes was a top priority?

Apparently, the BCS bozos assume they can print enough funny money with their own system in place – one that allows TCU and UConn a spot at the adults’ table, while the remaining house of cards celebrating the consolation prizes brings more headlines lately for languishing ticket sales and D-list title sponsors?

It’s not like Cuban doesn’t have other socially conscious objectives on his agenda. With the Super Bowl coming soon to his homedown of Dallas, he has given the city $100,000 for a graffiti clean-up program.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

So is NCAA taking him up on his offer and cleaning up its corrupted system that merely sends bowl CEOs on all-expense paid trips to Tahati.

== These Lakers must be so well-oiled at this point they just add any Joe Smith off the street and still be a title contender?

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== What gives D.T. Sterling the right to heckle his Clipper players from his rented seat? As long as his checks don’t bounce, why should the players care?

== Jimmer Fredette: The starting point guard for the BYU team that meets up with UCLA in today’s John Wooden Classic, or a new line of toddler clothing at Kids R Us?

== Would it help get Brett Favre back into shape if he was sent out there with a shovel to start moving snow out of the Vikings’ newest playing facility?

== Shouldn’t Michael Vick be ordered to own a dog as part of his rehab, if only to be forced to clean up after it?

== Considering that an injury will prevent snowmobile champ Levi LaVallee from trying the latest New Year’s Eve extreme stunt – he was going to vault his rig a world-record 300-plus feet across a water gap in San Diego – hasn’t this whole Red Bull-oney circus event already jumped the shark?

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The Media Learning Curve: Dec. 10-17

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Because we’re a list maker and a risk taker, we’ll go over the one that Eric Deggans did for the the Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Center site (linked here): The Top 10 Sports Media Stories of 2010.

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No. 1: Tiger Woods and Brett Favre define new era in sports gossip reporting.
“Remember when journalists were too principled to admit paying for sources? Welcome to the Internet age, where Gawker Media owner Nick Denton can breezily announce his Deadspin sports site paid $12,000 for voicemails of superstar Favre hitting on a pretty sideline TV personality and nude shots sent to her by text message of a man who may be him. Golf superstar Woods already opened the Pandora’s Box, cheating on his wife so brazenly it only took a 2 a.m. car crash for gossip site TMZ to unravel it all (though TMZ honcho Harvin Levin insists they didn’t pay for their Tiger scoops). Considering that Favre’s indiscretions happened in 2008 and Woods cheated for years, there may be a host of superstar athletes sweating over how fast the sports reporting game has changed, and the skeletons left in their closets to unveil.”

No. 2: The Decision marks new low for LeBron James and ESPN.

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No. 3: NFL ratings skyrocket.
“Given the high quality of most home-theater systems, it’s no surprise professional football games have been the most-watched television shows of the week.”

No. 4: NFL stands tough on blackout policy as recession lingers.
“Why not just carve out an exemption for economically challenged communities and take credit for helping the working man?”

No. 5: Mike Wise’s fake tweet mostly proves he doesn’t understand Twitter.
“In trying to mock how fast sports websites pass along inaccurate news items (the Washington Post columnist) only proved how little he understands the new media ecology.

No. 6: Dave Kindred takes on hypocrisy of Red Smith Award for Mitch Albom.
“I’ve never met or even spoken to my fellow columnist on this website. But I read in awe as he used superstar writer Mitch Albom’s own acceptance speech to – in his words – raise a little hell about Albom receiving one of the highest sportswriting awards in the country five years after admitting he fabricated the lead to a Sunday column. Lots of writers have groused about Albom’s ego and occasional hypocrisy; Kindred let the man’s own words do most of the talking.”

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No. 7: Ines Sainz and Jenn Sterger revive talk of sex and sexism in sports.

No. 8: George Steinbrenner’s hidden legacy as a media pioneer.
“In a world where everyone has a channel, whoever owns the best content is king.”

No. 9: Jay Mariotti felled by same excess he criticized as a sports pundit.

No. 10: ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentaries.

Heck of a job on this … kinda reminds us of our dubious dozen. Maybe we should be more evolving and involve all the media stories of the year, dutiful and dubious.

Naw ….

And now, a delayed reaction to today’s media column (linked here) about ESPNU’s coverage of the UConn women, the SI “media” issue and other stuff:

== The NFL’s week on L.A. TV:
Sunday:
= 10 a.m., Channel 11: Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants (with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver), instead of Washington-Dallas, New Orleans-Baltimore, Arizona-Carolina or Detroit-Tampa Bay.
= 10 a.m., Channel 2: Jacksonville at Indianapolis (with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf), instead of Kansas City-St. Louis, Buffalo-Miami, Cleveland-Cincinnati, Jacksonville-Indianapolis and Houston-Tennessee.
= 1 p.m., Channel 2: N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh (with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms) instead of Denver-Oakland. Fox also has Atlanta-Seattle in this window.
= 5:15 p.m., Channel 4: Green Bay at New England (with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Andrea Kremer)
Monday:
= 5:30 p.m., ESPN: Chicago at Minnesota (with Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden). Monday’s game marks the 29th anniversary to the day (Dec. 20, 1981) that the Vikings played their last home NFL game outdoors, a 10-6 loss to the Chiefs in their final game at Metropolitan Stadium. ESPN says the telecast will begin with a Frank Gifford MNF vignette highlighting the 2009 MNF season finale when the Bears defeated the playoff-bound Vikings 36-30 in overtime in frigid late-December conditions at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Thursday:
= 5:30 p.m., NFL Network: Carolina at Pittsburgh (with Bob Papa, Joe Theisman and Matt Millen)

== Mixed in with ESPN’s college basketball coverage on Saturday: Dave Pasch and Bob Knight call USC’s game at No. 3 Kansas (ESPN, 9 a.m.), while Dave Flemming and Miles Simon do Loyola Marymount’s home game against Florida State (ESPNU, 8 p.m.).

== Lakers radio play-by-play man Spero Dedes deviates from the team’s current road trip (leaving Philadelphia after Friday’s game and returning to Toronto for Sunday’s game) to call Saturday’s South Carolina-Ohio State game in Columbus, Ohio, for CBS (Channel 2, 11 a.m.) with Bill Raftery.

== A rundown of the CIF state high school football games tonight and Saturday on FSW:
= Today, 4 p.m.: D-IV Championship: Brookside Christian (Stockton) vs. Bishop’s School (La Jolla) with Chris McGee, Mike Pawlawski and Courtney Jones.
= Today, 7:30 p.m.: D-I Championship: Palo Alto vs. Centennial (Corona), with McGee, Pawalski and Jones.
= Saturday, noon: D-III Championship: Escalon vs. Madison (San Diego), with McGee, John Jackson and Jones.
= Saturday, 3:30 p.m.: D-II Championship: Folsom vs. Serra (Gardena), with Jim Kozimor, Petros Papadakis and Dan Dibley.
= Saturday, 7:30 p.m.: Open Division Championship: De La Salle (Concord) vs. Servite ( Anaheim), with Kozimor, Papadakis and Dibley.
Brody Brazil and Jackson host the between-game desk.

== “The Climb: UConn’s Quest for Perfection,” a documentary four-part series on the women’s basketball team that aired during the 2010 postseason in March, will re-air on ESPNU on Sunday from 5-7 p.m. prior to a reair of the UConn-Ohio State game (which is live at 2 p.m.).

== CBS annual one-hour special, “Championships of the NCAA” (Saturday, 10 a.m.) includes video of USC’s men’s water polo title, as well a stories and highlights from cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball. Sam Ryan hosts.

== A real-time coverage of a Jan. 15 no-limit Texas Hold ’em poker tournament in the Bahamas (albeit, on a one-hour delay) is ESPN2’s next step in taking televised card playing to another level. The World Series of Poker is edited and aired on tape-delay, which prevents cheating and tightens the event for broadcast. This one is supposed to allow views to see things as they happen – including longer lulls – while knowing what cards the players are holding. “For the first time viewers at home will see a poker telecast from start to finish, with all the strategy of world-class poker players playing in real time and completely unedited,” said Matt Volk, ESPN manager of programming and acquisitions.

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Could the SI cover jinx KO ‘The Fighter’? Naw. Then it would be another media story …

Perhaps Sports Illustrated’s decision to go this week with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale from the new movie “The Fighter” as a “Year in Sports Media” cover for the second year in a row might be a sign a big media company legitimizes the compelling influence of the big media in today’s sports world.

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Or, maybe it’s just good timing.

SI associate editor Adam Duerson said in an e-mail the magazine certainly “didn’t feel tied” to making this the cover piece, following Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert in the speed skating outfit a year ago. But it was “kind of a perfect storm” in having a “fantastic movie, arguably the best in sports of the decade with a close release date and an amazing story behind it.”

This is the sixth year SI has expanded its “Scorecard” section for a sports-media theme retrospective of the year.

“We’d be kidding ourselves if we acted like broadcast networks, blogs and internet coverage weren’t an enormous part of the sports experience,” Duerson said. “If we could watch sports in a vacuum, maybe there’d be no need for this issue. But we don’t.

“As an editor of the Scorecard section, I can tell you that plenty of stuff occurs throughout the year that can’t hold up on its own as an item or review. But come the end of the year, packaged as a whole, I think readers enjoy the roundup.”

The 13-page theme spread starts with a Steve Rushin piece about a new media company called StatSheet that has created software converting basketball game summaries into a template story.

And as for the way the section ends — with a small commercial touting a list of 13 SI-related books that were pushed or written by the magazine’s writers — Duerson responds:

“The issue looks at what we consider the highlights of 2010 regardless of what company they were tied to. That said, I don’t recall many items in the package that Time Inc./TimeWarner/Warner Bros. was involved in. In fact, I’ve noted blogs that seemed surprised at how much love we gave ESPN.”

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Cuban rules baseball … it’s not what you think

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(AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Industriales’s fans cheer during a game last week against Pinar del Rio during opening day baseball at the Latinamerican stadium in Havana, Cuba.

Peter Orsi
The Associated Press

HAVANA — When Armando Rivero took the mound for Industriales with the score tied in the top of the 10th, he was already in a deep hole: Villa Clara had runners on first and second with no outs — all before the first pitch of the inning.

Opening day in Cuba offered a new rule that tries to prevent extra-inning games from going on forever. But the Olympic-style format has irked many purists on this baseball-crazy island who say it cheapens the sport.

Under the rule, teams begin the 10th and any subsequent innings with two men on base. Managers get a one-time restart, meaning any hitter can lead off. After that, the lineup stays in place.

Think soccer penalty kicks, NHL shootouts or — perhaps the closest analogy — overtime in college football, where teams start within field goal range at the 25-yard line and trade possessions

The object in the top Cuban league this season is to make it easier to score, thereby shortening games that often top four hours.

“I don’t like it,” said 66-year-old Sixto Ramirez, wearing a blue Industriales cap as he watched a recent game from field-level seats behind third base. After six decades of coming to Havana’s El Latino Stadium, the tiebreaker strikes him as “cold” and clinical.

“We are committed to … a traditional game,” Ramirez said. “When there’s a tie in the ninth, it should keep going. There’s nothing wrong with 15 innings.”

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