Friday, September 6, 2013

Opening Night, Big Night

While TigerBlog is pretty fired up for the start of games for the 2013-14 athletic year here at Princeton, even he will acknowledge that there are bigger sporting events in the world today than those that can be found involving the Tigers.

In case you forgot, there are two games on campus this evening, both at 6, as the defending NCAA champion field hockey team hosts Duke at 6 on Bedford Field, while about 100 yards away on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium, the defending Ivy League champion women's soccer team hosts Richmond, also at 6.

Admission is free.

Again, admission is free. So is parking.

Given that the weather isn't this good on the nicest days in heaven and that the games are free, there is absolutely no reason not to go.

Think about it. What else in the entertainment world can provide this kind of value? You have two games within one minute's walk of each other, high-level Division I games at that, for no charge.

And you get to see the kind of athletes and athletics that will make you forget all of the headlines about conference realignment and Johnny Manziel and all of the things that make the sporting public shake their head about college sports.

When the game's over, walk up to one of the athletes and say hi. Bring you kids, boys and girls. They'll love it, and so will you.

There are around 125 FBS college football teams and about 100 players on each (scholarship plus walk-on). That comes to 12,500 FBS football players.

There are 330 Division I men's basketball teams. Figure they average 13 players per roster. That's another 4,300 athletes. Add them together, and you get 16,800. Round it to 17,000.

Then according to that commercial, there are approximately 400,000 NCAA athletes. That means roughly 96% of them don't play FBS football or Division men's basketball.

Unfortunately, all of college athletics gets labeled together way too often, especially in the national media. TB once challenged Kevin Blackistone, then with the Dallas Morning News (and now a professor and regular on "Around the Horn"), to come to Princeton and see for himself what goes on here after he'd written a series of articles critical of college athletics.

Blackistone took TB up on it and came to a Princeton-Lafayette football game. He also spoke to several Princeton athletes and coaches. He told TB that he thoroughly enjoyed the perspective here and his experience here, and TB could tell he meant it.

So that's what will be on display here tonight. Come and check it out.

In the meantime, the biggest sporting events in the world today are the World Cup soccer qualifiers.

TB's focus, like most in this country, is on the U.S.-Costa Rica game, which will be held at the national stadium in San Jose, beginning at 10 tonight Eastern time.

TB imagines Diego Quesada will be watching.

Diego was one of the three tour guides the Princeton men's lacrosse team had during its trip to Costa Rica 15 months ago. It was a great experience for everyone who made the trip, including TB.

One of his top memories is from attending the WCQ match between Los Ticos, as the Costa Ricans are known, and El Salvador, in the preliminary round.

To say it was wild is an understatement. To say the home crowd was into it is an understatement.

TB assumes that will all be multiplied out by a factor of about 10,000 or so for tonight's game. For starters, the stakes are higher, as both are on the verge of clinching spots in the field for Brazil next summer.

And then there's the first game between the two, in Denver in March, when the Americans won 1-0 in a blizzard. The Costa Ricans are still a tad miffed that the game was played in such conditions, and apparently there has been little in the way of accommodation for the U.S. team made for the return leg.

Right now the U.S. leads the group with 13 points, followed by Los Ticos with 11. Mexico is next with eight, followed by Honduras with seven, Panama with six and Jamaica with two.

The Americans have a bunch of players one yellow card away from having to sit out the next game, which is Tuesday at home against Mexico. And the country of origin for the ref tonight? Yup, Mexico.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, goes to Jamaica Tuesday. The final games are next month, with games on Oct. 11 and Oct. 15.

The top three teams in the group automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place team plays New Zealand home-and-home for a spot in Brazil.

It's going to be hard for the U.S. and Costa Ricans to play their way out at this point, but goofier things have happened.

Tonight's game should be a great one, though it is on BeIn Sports TV, which TB doesn't get. Oh well.

He'll have to be content with opening night here.

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