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Saturday sports: USC, UCLA go to Big Ten; Serena Williams returns at Wimbledon

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: A super conference forming in college sports, big player moves in the NBA, and a legend returns to Wimbledon, but only briefly. Joining me now is Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Melissa. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm great. Thanks. And let's start with college sports. This week we saw USC and UCLA announce that they are abandoning the Pac-12 conference. They're moving to the Big Ten in 2024, traditionally a Midwestern conference. I'm seeing these moves described as seismic. Howard, what does it tell us about the state of college sports?

BRYANT: Well, it tells you what it's been telling us for a few years now, is that the - football rules college sports - all of college sports - and the creation of this national playoff has led to these super conferences in terms of who can compete for the championship of college football, because that's where the money is, and that's where the TV money is. That's where it all is. And that's where - everything else gets uprooted because of that. And so you have one of the great conferences - the Pac-12 - and some people are predicting that it's the death knell. How do you survive a - as a conference without the two signature Los Angeles teams? There's the discussion - obviously, this happened after last year. Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12, and they're going now to the SEC, the other super football conference, and everything else is going to fall in line.

But the one thing that people, Melissa, really aren't talking about nearly enough is the academics of this. Once again, we're talking about name and likeness and paying the players and all of these things. And people are losing their minds about it because it undermines the integrity of college sports. But what happens to all of these supposedly student athletes who are now being asked to fly across the country? And now your Los Angeles schools are going to be - these athletes are going to be on planes more than ever. The hypocrisy of college sports has just - it's so obvious. No one's hiding it anymore. It's all money.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the NBA - big moves there, too. The season is over, but things are not quiet. It's free agency time. What are the biggest deals we've been seeing?

BRYANT: Well, obviously, the biggest thing is the other seismic situation - as I'm trying not to laugh - in Brooklyn. We have Kyrie Irving opting in to his contract and then Kevin Durant demanding a trade. And obviously the best player controls the market. And so the world is going - the NBA world is going to wait to see what Kevin Durant does. Where does Brooklyn trade him? Do they trade him to Phoenix, where he wants to go? Does the Miami Heat get involved? What happens there? And obviously, what a disaster for the Brooklyn Nets. They had a really nice team - wasn't a superstar team, but they had a nice team that people could get behind, and then they went big. You had a chance to win championships. You bring in Kyrie Irving. You bring in Kevin Durant. It produced no championships but a lot of drama. What a disaster.

BLOCK: Finally, we have Wimbledon to talk about. A lot of big names are not playing this year because of COVID, injuries, a lot of other issues. But there was one huge star that we haven't seen in a full year, and that's Serena Williams. She came back after recovering from an injury but eliminated in the very first round. She is 41, Howard. Have we seen the end of her incredible career, do you think?

BRYANT: Well, this has been an interesting tournament. We see Serena last year in tears with the hamstring injury at Wimbledon. She hadn't played a match since. She comes back a year later, and she's playing 115th-ranked Harmony Tan, and she showed us why we all watch superstars - couldn't keep our eyes off of her, even though old times Serena would have pretty much wiped the floor in this match. But she lost in three sets, obviously making her future even more in doubt because superstar players do not show up just for moral victories. If you're losing in the first round, chances are we're not going to see her. But Serena is different. She never announced her retirement. She comes back on her timetable. The U.S. Open is coming up next month, and I would expect to see her because she hasn't said anything different. But boy, what a match. And we need to still see the great Serena Williams because she's terrific to watch.

BLOCK: And very briefly, Howard, who do you like to become champions at Wimbledon?

BRYANT: Djokovic, Swiatek - men and women.

BLOCK: You heard it here. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media - Howard, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.