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Sorting out the sports seasons

Posted: Wed August 19, 1998

If you're a sports fan, wondering why you've felt so empty the last couple/three days, I'll tell you why:

There are only 51 weeks in the sports calendar year. This is the one week in our Gregorian calendar that really doesn't exist athletically. Let me explain this.

Sports does not have seasons like the rest of the world. Still, the sports calendar was pretty simple when there was one national pastime. The four sports seasons were: baseball, the bowl games, the hot stove league and spring training. But, over time, with the decline in baseball hegemony, a new calendar has evolved. It's made up of the following four seasons:

1. The Serious Season. That begins next week, in tandem with when kids begin to go back to school. Labor Day used to mark the end of summer, but now that very few of us are involved in the harvest, summer ends earlier. We must get serious sooner.

In the Serious Season there is no room for anything but teams. The United States tennis Open doesn't understand how the calendar has changed, and gets lost midst all the serious football and the serious pennant races. There's more sports betting during the Serious Season, and, if there is going to be a strike or a lockout—like with the NBA this year—the chances are it'll come during the Serious Season. Women athletes are totally forgotten during the Serious Season. I think they may even be sent to the same place where summer TV replacement series are banished to.

2. The Holiday Season. This begins with NFL Doubleheader Thursday—an occasion previously known as Thanksgiving—and extends through Super Sunday. The Holiday Season is a warm, joyous time on the American calendar, when families join together around the TV set and bond ... with John Madden and Terry Bradshaw.

3. The Off Season. This is the shortest period, running from late January into April. It's called the Off Season because not a whole lot goes on, unless you're devoted to the Daytona 500 or involved in forming a new Rotisserie Baseball League—and if you are lucky, you will be off to Jamaica or Acapulco.

4. The Individual Season. This is the most exotic time of the sports year, beginning in April with the Masters and running through this Sunday past, when the PGA concluded. It features all sorts of individual sports—golf, tennis, the Triple Crown of racing, the Indy 500, what's left of track and field. Also, the Individual Season is when the Olympics and World Cup are held—the only time Americans will deign to pay attention to anything in sports more foreign than Toronto.

Since the NBA has basically become an individual sport, its playoffs fit in well here. But the National Hockey League remains a team game, and so no wonder it's struggling, out of place in the Individual Season.

Now you understand why you are so empty and logy today. You're in the middle of the lost week in the sports year. What's a fan to do? In fact, it might be a good week to schedule all the hockey playoffs or the Soap Box Derby. But bear up. Soon enough it will be time to celebrate New Year's Day in sports. The Serious Season will be upon us again.

These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.

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