A year from now, the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, will just be finishing up. Whether NHL players will be participating on their respective country's squads is very much in question.

Meanwhile, the fourth World Baseball Classic is set to begin March 6. Many of MLB's star players have declined to compete, deciding to take their time and get ready for the season to begin in April.

In the case of the Winter Olympics and WBC, it is difficult to criticize either the players, or their team owners, for wanting them to take a pass. The objective in both the Olympics and WBC is to promote the game on a worldwide basis.

That is a noble goal.

However, the risk of injury in either case can't be ignored. For NHL players, flying halfway across the world in the middle of your season for a two-week competition doesn't make much sense.

When you're 60-some games into the season in a physical sport such as hockey, your body is aching. It doesn't need the stress of a long airplane flight in addition to being away from athletic trainers who know your bumps and bruises and how to best treat them.

There is no doubt the inclusion of NHL players into the Olympics in 1998 has helped its appeal worldwide, but to what extent isn't known. For those of us who remember the Miracle on Ice of 1980, when a bunch of college players stunned the powerful Soviet Union en route to a gold medal, it would be kind of cool to see some unknowns out there on the ice again.

The WBC, which will be broadcast on MLB Network, has always seemed to be an awkward experiment. Players come to spring training, then take off for a couple weeks to join their country's team before getting back just in time for the regular season to begin.

Maybe in some countries, such as the defending champion Dominican Republic and Japan, the WBC is a major source of pride. But for those of us living in the U.S., we really don't care if the Americans win or lose.

College BB: Illinois State at UNI (CBS Sports Network, 1 p.m. Saturday): With Wichita State finishing when this game tips, the Redbirds will know if a win gives them outright MVC crown or a title share. They'll be happy with either scenario.

NASCAR: Daytona 500 (Fox, 1 p.m. Sunday): Would Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the Super Bowl of auto racing be as compelling as Tiger Woods capturing another major?  

NHL: Blues at Blackhawks (NBCSN, 6:30 p.m. Sunday): Chicago is starting to round into shape and appears ready to make a run at its fourth Stanley Cup championship in the last eight years.

Contact Jim Benson at jbenson@pantagraph.com.


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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