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Baseball phenom back on mound; World Cup kicks off

By Matthew Mochow, CNN
The World Cup got under way Friday, with South Africa and Mexico dueling to a tie.
The World Cup got under way Friday, with South Africa and Mexico dueling to a tie.
  • U.S. takes on England in World Cup soccer on Saturday
  • Rookie Stephen Strasburg pitches against Indians on Sunday
  • Celtics or Lakers will be one win from NBA championship after Sunday's game

(CNN) -- As the World Cup -- football to everyone outside the U.S. -- gets under way in South Africa, U.S. football grabs its own headlines more than two months before the season starts. Will pitchers keep dominating and making history in baseball? And who will step up in Game 5 of the NBA Finals? Here are some things to keep you looped in on the sports conversation this weekend.

The World Cup games have begun, and the U.S. plays its first match Saturday against England. Our special report has everything you need, but if you want to know only enough to keep up with the conversation, check out this quick guide

When the Washington Nationals drafted pitcher Stephen Strasburg last year as the No. 1 overall pick, they gave him a record $15 million contract. For that price, they expected big things. And he delivered. After dominating the minor leagues, Strasburg made his major league debut Tuesday, and he more than lived up to the hype. Strasburg struck out 14 batters, including the last seven men he faced, in seven innings and didn't issue a walk in a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Strasburg makes his second start Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. Indians officials say they sold 8,000 additional seats to the game once people learned that Strasburg was pitching, and the Nationals' stadium was sold out for Strasburg's debut. If this keeps up, the $15 million could look like a bargain.

To learn more about the huge impact Strasburg has had on Washington's long-suffering baseball fans, check out this column from Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.

The Nationals-Indians matchup is one of a full schedule of interleague games in baseball this weekend.

Normally, American League teams and National League teams just play in their own leagues, but a few times a season, they cross over and play teams in the other league. This weekend's matchups include the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers, the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants, and the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. Attendance is almost always up during interleague play as fans check out players they normally wouldn't get to see.

The Chicago Blackhawks took home hockey's Stanley Cup on Wednesday, and within a week, we will have a champion crowned in the NBA as well. The Boston Celtics evened the best-of-seven series with the Los Angeles Lakers at two games apiece Thursday night, and they play Game 5 on Sunday.

The face of college sports is getting a major makeover as teams begin to abandon their longtime conferences and rivalries. If you want to know why, follow the money.

Conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-10 are signing TV contracts and distributing that money evenly to their teams; they want to add major markets to make more money. Enter the Big 12: It also has a TV contract, but money is not distributed evenly. Teams that aren't televised as much don't make as much in the Big 12, so they want a bigger piece of the pie. Moving to another conference can help them make more money.

Even the top dogs like Texas and Oklahoma, which make the most TV money in the conference, may make even more within a "Superconference" of 16 teams in an expanded Big Ten or Pac-10. There are more teams and more major television markets available if they merge, and therefore more money.

The first domino has fallen, with Colorado leaving the Big 12 to join the Pac-10. Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples says more moves could come soon.

For most of the past decade, the University of Southern California dominated college football. Coach Pete Carroll led the team to two straight national championships, and running back Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy. But on Thursday, they got hit by sanctions from the NCAA. College athletics' governing body says USC should have had more control and known that boosters had illegally given benefits to Bush and his family. A harsh view on the Trojans comes from the LA Times' Bill Plaschke.

By the way, Carroll left USC at the end of this past season and now coaches the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, and Bush plays for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.