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Give us a break! These seasons are way, way too long

While many still are debating the 2003 PGA Tour player of the year, we're already a handful of tournaments into the 2004 golf season.

Not long ago, the 2003 pro tennis season was wrapping up. Now, we're halfway into the first Grand Slam of 2004.

Whatever happened to the offseason in sports? Hockey players had long summers, baseball players hibernated as bears do in winter and we recharged our batteries for next season.

Nowadays, pro sports seasons are so drawn out they might as well run year-round. The NHL season, for example, is one long, debilitating grind: four best-of-seven grinds, er, playoff series, tacked onto the end of an 82-game regular season. The champion, presumbly, is the only team still on its skates.

The NBA has a similar deal to the NHL. NASCAR keeps adding races to the point it has squeezed the offseason into little more than the holiday break.

Name a pro sport, and its season is too long. The reason, of course, is the leagues and owners are trying to milk every dollar possible. More games and longer seasons generally mean more money.

But there is a point where fan interest wanes and the product _ the games, tournaments and races _ loses value and meaning. Everyone should cut back and/or do some rescheduling. It's January, which means it isn't golf or tennis season.

_ PETE YOUNG

There should be no division on this: Midwest is best

Quick, name half of the teams in the NBA's Midwest Division.

What, not familiar with the best division in sports? The NFC East has hoarded the best coaches, but it can't yet compete with the magnificent Midwest.

How good is the seven-team Midwest? Halfway through the season everybody was over .500. Last-place Utah still was at .500 before playing the Lakers on Saturday.

If you thought Memphis was a doomed franchise, well, the Grizzlies are six games over .500, good for sixth place in the Midwest.

Hey, it's a tough crowd. Defending NBA champion San Antonio is in second place behind Minnesota (29-12). Mark Cuban and Dallas might spend enough to be the New York Yankees of basketball, but in this division, that's good for third, barely ahead of fourth-place Houston (25-17), even though many observers think the Rockets' two marquee players, Yao Ming and Steve Francis, haven't hit their stride.

In fifth is recent also-ran Denver (26-19), which has crafted the turnaround story of the season with some shrewd acquisitions and super-rookie Carmelo Anthony.

Which brings us back to sixth-place Memphis. The Grizzlies, who relocated from Vancouver, might want to consider another move, to, say, Rochester.

Because right now, they would be in first place in the Atlantic Division.

_ PETE YOUNG

Up next:SALUTE

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