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Issue: "Iraq: Bloody Ramadan," Nov. 29, 2003

Joke's on who?

Some called Nov. 13 the blackest day in baseball history, while still others rejoiced. Such are the mixed emotions following Major League Baseball's discovery that somewhere between 5 and 7 percent of the random steroid tests of its players came back positive. Whatever the outcome, the findings confirmed what many have suspected for years: Baseball has a drug problem.

Baseball's players union had fought steroid testing for years, but tests revealing the steroid use triggered further investigation and penalties. Many fans rejoiced, hoping that rooting out baseball's steroid usage would place baseball's old record-makers on a level playing field with the new record-chasers.

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But the penalties for failing drug tests that will begin next year have some experts crying foul. Failing the first test will lead to treatment. Only after flunking a second test would a player be punished with a 15 day suspension and a $10,000 fine. The penalties culminate in a one-year suspension for a fifth violation. In most Olympic sports, a first doping violation leads to a two-year suspension. A second results in a lifetime ban. "I think [baseball's new rule] a complete and utter joke," World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound said.

In all fairness...

The Bowl Championship Series board is ready to change, but not drastically. And don't even think about playoffs. Actually, all the university presidents and chancellors from the 11 Division I-A conferences could agree on in a four-hour meeting in New Orleans was a process to change the controversial system. But going from process to proposal may prove to be as hard as picking a one-loss football team to go to the national championship game.

From its inception in 1998, the BCS has been burdened with challenges in the press about its fairness. The system picks teams for a national championship game and three other big-money bowls almost exclusively from its six member conferences. At the root of the controversy is money, as the current BCS system awards about $110 million for major-conference schools. A $6 million sum is divided among other schools. That could change this season, as TCU is vying for the first-ever BCS bowl bid for a non-BCS conference team. That would mean a big payoff for the Horned Frogs and for Conference USA.

School and conference officials are trying to work out a new system before the current BCS contract expires in 2006. But the future could involve lawsuits if smaller-conference schools don't get a bigger piece of the pie. Already, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is threatening an anti-trust probe. c

Around the horn

Another year, another Matsui. Kazuo Matsui, dubbed "Little Matsui" next to Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, said he'd like to try his hand at the major leagues after witnessing the success of Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, and others. The 28-year-old infielder spent 10 seasons in the Japanese Pacific League and is a career .309 hitter. Most expect the latest Matsui to sign with one of the usual suspects: the Yankees, the Mets, or the Dodgers.

According to CBS, four Oakland Raiders, including Dana Stubblefield and Bill Romanowski, tested positive for THG, the "designer steroid" at the center of several doping scandals. The Raiders have denied the charges, even as Mr. Stubblefield testified before a grand jury looking into doping allegations against BALCO, the manufacturer of THG.

What's most unlikely? That it was the Cincinnati Bengals that ended Kansas City's undefeated season-or that with the win, the Bengals, long the symbol for futility in the NFL, moved to an even 5-5 record? After all, it's been seven years since the Bengals finished without a losing record. "From the time that we started, we said we were going to bring the NFL back here," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said after the win. "And that was NFL football out there today."

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