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Opinion Fall: a great time for sports fans

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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

We are headed for the time of the year for both football and baseball coverage and for nearly two months, sports fans have the best of both worlds.

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Unfortunately on the baseball side there will be no exciting pennant chase in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Both the Twins and Brewers find themselves in a downturn. The Twins are dead last in the AL Central and the Brewers are buried in fourth place in the NL Central. Neither team has a shot at the expanded wild card. But, there will be races as baseball fans enter September. All six divisions have the potential of races and there will be quite a scramble for the wild-card posts.

There is still a financial problem with professional baseball. As many know, baseball is the only professional sport without a salary cap. It is because of the salary cap that National Football League teams like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers can compete with the big-market teams like the New York Giants, Jets, etc. In baseball, the smaller market teams cannot compete with the Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Red Sox and others. The big-market teams can spend unlimited dollars on players. And, those big-market teams have much, much more revenue than the smaller market teams.

The latest example was the Red Sox-Dodger trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford and infielder Nick Punto to the Dodgers. Los Angeles picked up most the $250 million guaranteed salary of the four former Red Sox. Think the Kansas City Royals had a shot at picking up those four? How about the Twins, Brewers or A's?

As one pundit said, there are about seven or eight teams that play by one set of rules and 22 or 23 that play by a different set of rules. That is not the case in the NFL, or the NBA or NHL -- all have salary caps.

On the football side, the Packers offer great hope after a disappointing playoff appearance last season. The Packers, led by quarterback Aaron Rogers, appear to still have the high-powered offense to make a Super Bowl run. The question will be the defense. Last season the defense was porous at best. It does not appear that the Packers signed any free agents to help the defense, but did draft heavily on the defensive side of the ball. Hopefully the rookie defensive players will develop fast. If the Packers can put even a mediocre defense on the field, they can be an awesome team.

On the Minnesota side of the river, the Vikings are loaded with question marks. The success of the Vikings will probably depend on the progress of quarterback Christian Ponder. He has not shown great progress in the exhibition games. The team does have quality players at several positions, but in the NFL, it's all about the quarterback. Many experts now claim a winning NFL team does not necessarily need a great running back -- just an adequate back to keep the defenses honest. In fact, some claim there is no need to pay big bucks to a back like Adrian Peterson. The logic is that a running back is not the difference-maker that it was a decade or two ago.

Speaking of backs, the Packers picked up Cedric Benson to handle the duties. The big concern for the modern day back is catching passes and not fumbling the football -- that's about all that is expected in this "quarterback" era.

College football also kicks off this week. The Minnesota Gophers travel to UNLV for a Thursday night game and the Badgers host Northern Iowa.

And if you're not into pro or college sports, the Hudson Raider football team looks strong this fall. They are coming off a 28-7 win over Kenosha Bradford, the defending Division 1 state champions. Coach Adam Kowles looks like he has an experienced squad with 41 seniors. You may recall last year, Hudson defeated Wisconsin Rapids in the season-opener and lost to Bradford in the second game of the season. Rapids and Kenosha eventually were the two teams in the Division 1 championship game, won by Bradford. Rapids defeated Hudson in the playoff rematch. Clearly, however, Hudson is in the class of some of the state's best football teams.

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