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Saturday Sports: College football; new women's hockey league


I wait all week to say, and it's time for sports.


SIMON: College football national championship - redemption for Jim Harbaugh, or will the Huskies be top dogs? And a women's hockey sellout up north. Michele Steel of ESPN joins us. Michele, welcome back. Happy New Year.

MICHELE STEELE: Happy New Year right back at you, Scott.

SIMON: The Wolverines of Michigan play the Huskies of Washington Monday in Las Vegas - both teams undefeated since the playoffs began in '24. So this is the first year the championship doesn't include Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State or Alabama? This is refreshing.

STEELE: Yeah, especially if you're Michigan and Washington.

SIMON: Oh, wait. Have I just lost every listener we have in Georgia, Alabama and Ohio? But go ahead - yeah.

STEELE: They've been before. It's OK. It's definitely great to be a Big Ten fan because both of these teams are going to be in the Big Ten next season. But as you mentioned, these two teams are two undefeateds. They both emerged triumphant in down-to-the-wire, great playoff games last week, and now they're both in this national championship game. The big matchup here to watch is Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who has just put on a show...

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: ...Scott...

SIMON: He has.

STEELE: ...All season long. And that Huskies offense going up against the best defense in the country in Michigan - remember, they made the play against 'Bama (ph) last week that sent them to the final. Now, both of these teams have a chip on their shoulder. Washington feels like they have to prove themselves every single week. Michigan, since the preseason, has been laser-focused on the national championship kind of no matter what happens to them off the field.

SIMON: And I got to ask about Coach Harbaugh. He was suspended three games this season after his team allegedly stole opposing team signs. Many rumors, reports saying this will be his final game before he returns to the NFL, where maybe they're a little more understanding about the rules. Is this a farewell game for him?

STEELE: You know, I was talking to some folks in college football ahead of the Rose Bowl, and that seemed to be the consensus opinion, Scott, kind of no matter what happens Monday night. And Harbaugh has fueled some of this himself, right? He has yet to sign a 10-year, $125 million extension that Michigan has generously offered him.


STEELE: Yeah. And he's hired an agent. He hired Don Yee, who represented another Michigan man during his NFL career, Tom Brady. Now, you never know what's going to happen. You know, maybe Harbaugh wakes up Tuesday and decides, I never want to leave Ann Arbor, but he's clearly looking at his options right now.

SIMON: Zingerman's Deli is a great reason to stay. I'm just saying.

STEELE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. They have a great Reuben.

SIMON: But I think you can order by mail, too.

STEELE: They deliver.

SIMON: A new women's professional league is already setting attendance records. The Professional Women's Hockey League kicked off its inaugural season Monday. Toronto hosted New York in front of 8,300 fans, the most ever for a women's hockey game. This is great news for a league just starting out, isn't it?

STEELE: I'll say. Yeah, the attendance numbers are what caught my eye, too. You know, all six teams have played so far this week. You got Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa in Canada, and three in the U.S. - New York, Boston and Minnesota. Now, this is not the first women's hockey league to launch. This is the third since 2007. But the vibes are very different around this one. For one, they've got a labor agreement - an eight-year labor agreement - already ratified, guaranteeing players, you know, decent salaries and health insurance and that kind of thing. And you got money behind it - you know? - Dodgers owner Mark Walters backing this. He's recruited Billie Jean King as a big backer on the board. The season goes until May 5, Scott. So a lot of positive momentum for this league - you can't watch it on television yet, but I believe you can stream the games on YouTube.

SIMON: World Junior Hockey Championship last night - the United States beat Sweden 6-2. This is, of course, a tournament with players under 20 years of age. What are the implications? I mean, reading that the U.S. won just confirms you don't have to say eh to swing a hockey stick, now do you?

STEELE: Yeah, right. U.S. - hockey nation. They're not the only - it's not just Canada anymore. The U.S. had an absolutely stacked, star-studded team. The future of U.S. hockey is in good hands. That's kind of the takeaway here. And by the way, Scott, if you win the gold medal in the World Juniors Championship, I learned you get free burritos for a year.

SIMON: Oh, my - is it...

STEELE: How about that, is it?

SIMON: Oh, gosh, it's too late for me. Oh, well.

STEELE: (Laughter).

SIMON: Michele Steele, thanks very much. Talk to you soon.

STEELE: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.