An 11th-hour appeal to sports fans

AN 11TH-HOUR APPEAL TO SPORTS FANS…. Both presidential hopefuls taped interviews with ESPN’s Chris Berman yesterday for last night’s “Monday Night Football.” It was, in all likelihood, the largest audiences for the candidates since the major party conventions a couple of months ago.

It was, in some ways, an odd role reversal. For the better part of the year, it’s been Barack Obama who’s been focused heavily on substance and policy, while John McCain has tried to move away from the weightier issues. Last night, though, it was McCain who got serious while Obama talked like a sports fan.

Asked about what he’d like to see changed in the world of sports, McCain said he would “take significant action to prevent the spread and use of performance-enhancing substances. I think it’s a game we’re going to be in for a long time. What I mean by that is there is somebody in a laboratory right now trying to develop some type of substance that can’t be detected and we’ve got to stay ahead of it. It’s not good for the athletes. It’s not good for the sports.” That’s a perfectly good answer, though I think it’s reminiscent of George W. Bush’s concerns.

Obama went in a very different direction, noting his frustration with the college football post-season, driven by the absurd “Bowl Championship Series system.” Obama told Berman, “I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football. I’m fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams — the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion.”

I seriously doubt that anyone, the night before the election, is going to watch “Monday Night Football” and base their vote on the candidates’ responses about sports.

That said, for the sports fan tuning in, who may be only casually interested in politics, I suspect it was Obama who made the connection.