X-Games champ dies 9 days after crash

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X-Games champ dies 9 days after crash

From Comcast SportsNet
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke died Thursday, nine days after crashing at the bottom of the superpipe during a training run in Utah. Burke, who lived near Whistler in British Columbia, was 29. She was injured Jan. 10 while training at a personal sponsor event at the Park City Mountain resort. Tests revealed Burke sustained "irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," according to a statement released by Burke's publicist on behalf of her family. A four-time Winter X Games champion, Burke crashed on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury during a training accident on Dec. 31, 2009. As a result of her fall, Burke tore her vertebral artery, which led to severe bleeding on the brain, causing her to go into cardiac arrest on the scene, where CPR was performed, according to the statement by publicist Nicole Wool. Wool said Burke's organs and tissues were donated per her wishes. "The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for the international outpouring of support they have received from all the people Sarah touched," the statement said. Burke was the best-known athlete in her sport and will be remembered for the legacy she left for women in freestyle skiing. She set the standard for skiing in the superpipe, a sister sport to the more popular snowboarding brand that has turned Shaun White, Hannah Teter and others into stars. Seeing what a big role the Olympics has played in pushing the Whites of the world from the fringes into the mainstream, Burke lobbied to add superpipe skiing to the Olympic program, using the argument that no new infrastructure would be needed -- the pipe was already built -- and the Olympics could get twice the bang for their buck. She won over the Olympic bigwigs, and the discipline will debut at the Sochi Games in 2014. Burke, who was favored to win a fifth X Games title later this month, would have been a favorite for the gold medal in Sochi, as well. Instead, sadly, the competitors will have to toast to her memory when they make their debut on what will be the sport's grandest stage. "Sarah, in many ways, defines the sport," Peter Judge, the CEO of Canada's freestyle team, said before her death. "She's been involved since the very, very early days as one of the first people to bring skis into the pipe. She's also been very dedicated in trying to define her sport but not define herself by winning. For her, it's been about making herself the best she can be rather than comparing herself to other people." Burke's death continues a sad string of stories involving some of the best-known athletes in the wintertime action-sports world. Pearce's injury -- he has since recovered and is back to riding on snow -- was a jarring reminder of the dangers posed to these athletes who often market themselves as devil-may-care thrillseekers but know they make their living in a far more serious, and dangerous, profession. Burke's death also is sure to re-ignite the debate over safety on the halfpipe. The sport's leaders defend the record, saying mandatory helmets, air bags used on the sides of pipes during practice and better pipe-building technology has made this a safer sport, even though the walls of the pipes have risen significantly over the past decade. They now stand at 22 feet high. Some of the movement to the halfpipe decades ago came because racing down the mountain, the way they do in snowboardcross and skicross, was considered even more dangerous -- the conditions more unpredictable and the athletes less concerned with each other's safety. But there are few consistent, hard-and-fast guidelines when it comes to limiting the difficulty of the tricks in the halfpipe, and as the money and fame available in the sport grew bigger, so did the tricks. Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton once told The Associated Press that much of this was self-policed by athletes who, because of the nature of a sport often considered less competitive and more communal, knew when to draw the line. It's an opinion shared by many. "There are inherent risks in everything," Judge said. "Certainly, freestyle skiing has one of the greatest safety records of almost any sport. Freestyle is a very safe sport in large part because we had to build a safe sport in order to get into the Olympics." Burke's biggest accident before this came in 2009 when she broke a vertebrae in her back after landing awkwardly while competing in slopestyle at the X Games. It was her lobbying that helped get slopestyle -- where riders shoot down the mountain and over "features" including bumps and rails -- into the X Games after much back and forth. It wasn't her best event, but she felt compelled to compete because of her advocacy of it. She came to terms with her injury quickly. "I've been doing this for long time, 11 years," she said in a 2010 interview. "I've been very lucky with the injuries I've had. It's part of the game. Everybody gets hurt. Looking back on it, I'd probably do the exact same thing again." She returned a year after that injury and kept going at the highest level, trying the toughest tricks and winning the biggest prizes. The tragedy brings a much-too-early end to a life of fame the skiing star lived both inside and out of the halfpipe. A native of Midland, Ontario, Burke won the ESPY in 2007 as female action sports athlete of the year. In 2010, she married another freestyle skier, Rory Bushfield, and they were headliners in a documentary film project on the Ski Channel called "Winter." In her interview two years ago, Burke reflected on the niche she'd carved out in the action-sports world. "I think we're all doing this, first off, because we love it and want to be the best," she said. "But I also think it would've been a great opportunity, huge for myself and for skiing and for everyone, if we could've gotten into the (Vancouver) Olympics. It's sad. I mean, I'm super lucky to be where I am, but that would've been pretty awesome." A little more than a year later, with Burke's prodding, her sport was voted in for 2014.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead