Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong began his comeback at the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race in Colorado in Sept. 2008. MIsport photo by Laurie Walsworth.

And, no, I wasn’t glued to the TV listening to Lance on Thursday night.

And, no, I haven’t read any of today’s columns or listened to all the endless debates on sports radio.

No, last night I drove 2 ½ hours to East Lansing and watched my favorite team play basketball – a scrappy group of underdogs who no one picked to contend for the Big Ten title or win even half their games at the start of the season.

And as the season began, I steeled myself for an even tougher year when season-ending injuries to three players forced the coach to reshuffle the roster, putting underclassmen in the lineup sooner than anticipated and moving veterans into less than perfect roles.

Now 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, the Michigan State women are not only in the thick of things, they even gained 12 votes in polling for the latest AP Top 25.

It is the oldest (and maybe best) sports story there is: Underdog overcomes adversity to triumph (I know, there’s a lot of season left, but, hey, I’m a fan, I’ll admit it).

Unlike real life, sports almost always produce a clear winner and definite loser. In real life there are no unambiguous victories (there’s always a cost, always some unanticipated and unfortunate consequence that comes with any victory).

It’s why Armstrong was so compelling, proof that, somehow, no matter how bad things get, plain old hard work can make things better. For Pete’s sake, CANCER then WINNING THE TOUR de FRANCE! SEVEN TIMES!

Best sports story ever. Almost too good to be true, it seemed, and so it was.

I’ve been closely watching Armstrong’s slow fall from grace for years now and was not the least bit interested in watching him hit the pavement last night on Opa. (Or bounce as he’s scheduled to tonight.)

Lance’s (and pro men’s cycling’s) problem was, of course, money. Millions and millions for not just the riders, by for everyone else involved – the international governing body, the bike makers and even, to some extent, of course, the sponsors, all of whom were loathe to kill the Lance than laid the golden egg and, to various degrees, simply looked the other way.

Grossly under funded and sadly unappreciated, women’s cycling has not yet been ravaged by the Greedheads. Retiring British women’s cycling superstar Nicole Cooke angrily put it best four days ago when she told CyclingNews.com , “When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward. Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour.”

The golden egg is gone now for everyone, especially the women – the sponsors that make the sport go are fleeing like bed bugs from a fumigated hotel room.

Women may or may not be more honest than men, but the simple truth is that there has likely been far less cheating in women’s cycling because the risk is far too great and the rewards were already nearly nonexistent.

The solution to cheating in every sport (and if you think the NFL isn’t dripping in PEDs, DUDE! WAKE UP!) is to simply take away the big money so only people who truly love the sport will play.

Which is why, instead of listening to Lance Livewrong confess his sins last night, I went to watch the Spartan women. (I know they’re being compensated with a free education, but other than that, they are unlikely to make any money from the sport which, right now, is a second full-time job in addition to their other full-time job of getting a college education. And most are going to need that education even if they’re one of about .00001 percent of Division I players who’ll reach the WNBA – where rookies make a whopping $35,000 and the top stars pull down a princely $100,000).

They play basketball because they love to play basketball, I think. For proof you need look no further than the Spartans’ bench and high-touted recruit Madison Williams who has, sadly, been a fixture there now for three seasons due to more ACL injuries than any team, let alone one person, should ever have to suffer. You could maybe understand if she looked a little discouraged, but you’ll never see her show it, ever, in public. She is on the floor for every warm-up, every shoot-around. She shoulders her way into the huddle for every timeout and listens intently to everything every coach says. She is the first one off the bench, cheering, every time a teammate makes a play.

There was a lot for Williams to celebrate in the Spartans’ gutty, gritty, come-from-behind win over Iowa Thursday night. If real life is fair (as it so often isn’t) Williams will have the greatest career ever by a Spartan, man or woman.

Whatever happens, she’ll always be one of my favorite athletes.

It’s why I drove to East Lansing Thursday night, rather that listen to Livewrong’s tardy, sad confession.

You go, girl!

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