The Prodigal Son Returns…

I purposely budgeted my time yesterday to be in front of the TV at 5:00PM EST to watch Keith Olbermann’s return to the air after his 4-day suspension from ESPN. I was curious to see how he would “handle” the cause for his suspension and – truth be told – there was a part of me that wondered if watching the first day back might be the same as watching a self-immolation. As everyone here knows by now, I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann’s politics and more specifically I am not a fan of his views on Penn State University which caused the suspension, but I do believe that he is an enormously talented TV host/persona and I enjoy watching his program.

Some have assessed his apology and his discussion of the events leading to his suspension as “contrite” while others called it all “bizarre”. Here is a link to one assessment that has the apologia embedded within the article so you can view it for yourself. For me the apology came off as sincere.

I mention all of this because I want to make a larger point about Keith Olbermann and his current tenure with ESPN. Olbermann has been a controversial TV presence for at least a decade now; before that he and Dan Patrick were commonly regarded as TV trailblazers in sports. People watch Olbermann for a variety of personal reasons, but one of those reasons is that he does/says outrageous things. When ESPN re-hired him, they knew what he did on TV and they hired him to do more of that.

It is precisely for that reason that I believe that those folks who called for Olbermann to be fired for what he Tweeted last week – or that he should be boiled in oil before being fired – are way off base. If an organization (ESPN) hires a hit man (Keith Olbermann in the most figurative sense here), then the hiring organization cannot be offended or shocked or moved to righteous indignation when he does something outrageous.

I have used these kinds of analogies before but they bear repeating here:

    If you hire Howard Stern to give the commencement address at your college, you cannot then be offended or outraged when he makes a gratuitous reference to his penis in his remarks. It is what he does; you had to know it when you invited him to come; you should have expected it.

    If you hire Rev Jesse Jackson to come and give a speech to your professional society meeting, you cannot then be offended or outraged when he throws in a bunch of irrelevant rhyming sequences in his speech. It is what he does; you had to know it when you invited him to come; you should have expected it.

    If you hire Don Rickles to headline a show, you cannot then be surprised and shocked when he insults people in the audience. It is what he does …

Keith Olbermann provides edgy commentary with regard to sports programming and he has always in the past gone over the boundary line of good taste once in a while. Hiring him and giving him a regular program comes with that foreknowledge and putting him on the air says that some of the blowback is acceptable. What Olbermann tweeted last week was completely inappropriate and blockheaded but it does not come close to being a “firing offense” in my mind.

Some folks have tried to turn this situation into a “discussion” with a political backdrop – and of course, the politics behind all of this is conspiratorial. Forgetting completely the political differences between Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh, there is very little similarity in the events that led Limbaugh to be fired from his “football commentary job” and Olbermann being allowed to continue in his “sports commentary job”. The fundamental difference is demonstrated competence in the sports commentary field for a LONG time prior to the incendiary incident. Olbermann has it; Limbaugh did not.

Here is some level of solace for those folks who love Rush Limbaugh and fervently want to see Keith Olbermann separated from his seat in front of an ESPN camera as Limbaugh was:

    History says that one of these days, Keith Olbermann will get so far out on a limb that even his prodigious talent will not be sufficient to assure that he has a soft landing on the rocks below. History says he will eventually crash and burn.

    With a little patience, the Limbaugh crowd will have a happy day sometime in the future…

I am one of those folks who happens to enjoy watching college basketball more than enjoy watching regular-season NBA basketball. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot does not agree with me and we have had – over the years – more than a few e-mail exchanges explaining our differing points of view on this subject. He has not convinced me of his rectitude and I am confident that I have not changed his mind even a little bit. However, I would like to offer into evidence a report from Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post. In a column that focuses on NBA matters, Dempsey leads the column with this:

“A fourth-quarter huddle late in the Nuggets’ 104-82 loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday broke with this phrase: ‘1-2-3 … six weeks!’

“As in six weeks to go until the end of the season. That’s 24 games, 46 days and 1,152 minutes away.

“Tax day, April 15, is getaway day: the last day of the Nuggets’ season. Rest assured, there are players who are already counting.”

Here is a link to the column to give you assurance that I am not cherry-picking this commentary.

There are about 350 colleges that play Division 1 basketball. I doubt there is a team that is winless out there because if there were, I would have read articles about their uber-futility this year and I have not. Nonetheless, there have to be a half-dozen schools who have only won 1 or 2 games since the season started back around Thanksgiving. However, I doubt that those teams – with zero chance of making it to a post-season tournament of any type – would be breaking the huddle with anything akin to “1,2,3 … next week”.

Finally, since I pointed out a point of disagreement between Bob Molinaro and me, let me offer up an issue on which we agree completely:

“A bad joke: Among the finalists for this year’s Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame class is a celebrated active college coach who has had two Final Four trips vacated by the NCAA as a result of his players later being ruled ineligible. This is an unparalleled dubious achievement that not even the rascally Jerry Tarkanian (HOF, Class of ’13) was able to match. John Calipari says he’s humbled by his nomination. He should be. But the people responsible for it should be embarrassed.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

RIP Minnie Minoso and Ernie Banks

Minnie Minoso died over the weekend. Very recently, Ernie Banks also passed away. It has not been a good couple of weeks for long-term baseball fans in Chicago either on the North Side or the South Side.

Rest in Peace Minnie Minoso and Ernie Banks.

The Tampa Bay Times is now the “exclusive print media sponsor” for the University of South Florida. Here is a link to the press release making that announcement. I have no idea what the scope of this exclusive sponsorship might be, but the paper is still going to be covering USF sports and USF “happenings”. Am I the only one who thinks that this sponsorship is nothing more than an ongoing conflict of interest? The paper is going to cover and report on the activities of its “sponsored client” and “image partner” so that the public can be fully informed on all of the issues. Yeah, right… Imagine if a local or state politician were involved in a similar conflict of interest situation and the Tampa Bay Times was on the story. Do you think the paper might choose to take a highly principled position with regard to such conflicts?

FIFA seems to be on the verge of suddenly recognizing that their decision to put the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar might not have been the brightest move in the history of sports. The World Cup has always been contested in the summer when the major leagues in Europe are in their “off-season”. Unfortunately, the temperatures in Qatar in the summer often hover around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and have been known to cross the 120-degree line too. Those are unsafe conditions for players and officials and most folks might consider those conditions to be “less than comfy” for spectators.

Back when the bidding process was underway, there was talk of Qatar building evaporative cooling systems to keep the temperatures more manageable. That sounds great until one does some engineering calculations; then that idea sounds like sending a manned space flight to the sun and keeping the astronauts cool by having the ship rendezvous with the sun at night.

Reports are that FIFA will move the World Cup games to November or December in 2022 when – climatologically speaking – the weather is cooler in Qatar. If they announce such a decision, it should annoy several large constituencies involved with FIFA:

    The European Leagues will not like it at all since November/December is in the midst of their seasons. Moreover, in England, the FA Cup tournament begins in November meaning that English teams already have two simultaneous competitions ongoing.

    MLS here in the US should not like this schedule switch at all – even though it falls in the MLS “off-season”. MLS is in a different situation than the European Leagues; MLS benefits significantly from the “bump” that it gets quadrennially from the World Cup. If the tournament is in November/December, MLS will get a much smaller “bump” because it is not playing at that time of the year and whatever “bump” it might have gotten would be diminished because November/December is the middle of the NFL season. Futbol is huge worldwide but here in the US, the NFL rules.

    FOX will not like the decision for the reason that November/December is in the NFL season. FOX has the TV rights to the 2022 World Cup; it obviously would love to put the games on the air in June/July and not face the problem of:

      Going up against the NFL on TV

      Juggling schedules around because FOX is also an NFL broadcaster.

    There was a report yesterday that may give credence to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of FOX for such a decision. Reports said that FOX had been given the TV rights for the 2026 World Cup without any open bidding process. Since FIFA is not known for their propensity to leave money on the table, my sixth sense here says that this is FIFA’s way to keep FOX from being less than fully cooperative and committed to the 2022 World Cup.

Stay tuned; this saga has more acts to follow…

Oh, one more thing about fans sitting in 110-degree weather to watch World Cup Games… As in several countries in that part of the world, alcohol is not openly sold or widely available. That means fans in that heat will not have a cold brewski at the ready. Somehow, I cannot see coffee and hot chocolate for sale as a way to compensate.

One other very minor soccer note today… Jason Cummings is young player on Scotland’s Under-19 national team. He also plays for a team in one of the Scottish leagues. Jason Cummings is now banned from a McDonald’s in Edinburgh due to an incident there where reports say he was involved in “pelting the staff with muffins”. For the record, he denies the report and I am surely in no position to speak to its veracity.

I will note however that what he may have needed at the first stage of the alleged incident was a FIFA referee at the next table to call him for using his hands. That might have prevented the situation from escalating and would allow Cummings continued access to this particular set of Golden Arches.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha-World Herald:

“Legendary college basketball coach, the one and only Jerry Tarkanian has died. He was mostly healthy and lived to be 84. I’m waiting for a surgeon general recommendation that we all eat towels.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

RIP Earl Lloyd…

Earl Lloyd passed away yesterday at 86 years old. Lloyd was the first Black player in the NBA back in the 50s. I remember seeing him play for the Syracuse Nationals – now the Sixers – back in the early-50s on a small black-and-white television set.

Rest in peace, Earl Lloyd…

I got an e-mail this morning from #1 son saying:

“Saw this headline on CNN.com today:

    “Hoyer calls McCarthy a ‘coward’

“I had to think – what the Hell could have happened that Brian Hoyer would call Mike McCarthy a coward in the middle of free agent singing when Hoyer needs a job and the Packers need a back-up QB. This MUST be juicy!

“But alas, it was two conveniently-named Congressmen arguing over an appropriation bill.

Sometimes sports and politics intersect in strange ways…

Brandon Bostick is the former Green Bay Packer who flubbed the onside kick in the NFC Championship Game allowing the Seahawks to recover and go on to tie the game in the final seconds and then win the game in overtime. It was not Bostick’s “finest hour” by any stretch of the imagination. However, a report on CBSSports.com yesterday said that Bostick got more than a few death threats in the days after the game and that goes way over the line.

At the bottom line, folks, these are games. In the NFL playoffs, there has to be one winner and one loser in every game. And simply because IT IS A GAME, the entire notion of a “death threat” aimed at someone on the losing team is out of line. Obviously and fortunately, none of the threats turned into actions but anyone who thinks that “death” is an appropriate consequence for some error in a sporting event needs to seek help. Anyone who acts on that thought and actually sends a death threat should be required to undergo counseling.

The Miami Heat are struggling to hold onto a playoff slot in the NBA Eastern Conference. As of this morning, they are 7th in the East but there are 5 teams behind them within 2.5 games. Compounding their predicament is the fact that Chris Bosh – arguably their best player – is out for the season with blood clots on his lung. That is a potentially fatal condition and clearly the correct choice for him is to sit out and make sure his is recovered before he plays again. So, the Heat need a big man as a replacement and the trade deadline is past and – truth be told – there are never any good big men in the D-League because if they were any good they would be on an NBA team.

So, the Heat signed Michael Beasley to a 10-day contract. Beasley is big and he has talent; the Heat once took him as the #2 pick in the draft. So, how was he available?

    This is Beasley’s third stint with the Heat. He spent two years in Miami followed by 2 years in Minnesota followed by 2 years in Phoenix followed by a year in Miami and a season in the China Basketball Association.

    The euphemism applied to Beasley is that he “lacked maturity” in his previous career stops. In fact, he has had a handful of marijuana-related incidents and a few other run-ins with the police since coming out of college. And he is still only 26 years old.

There is no question that Beasley can play and score on the basketball court. This year he scored 59 points in the Chinese Basketball All-Star Game. The fact that he was available for a 10-day contract tells you that the Heat are taking a chance on his “maturity level” here. As I understand the current CBA, a team can only sign a player to 2 10-day contracts in a season. If the team wants the player for even a day after that second 10-day contract has expired, they have to sign him for at least the remainder of the season. Twenty days from now, the calendar will be in mid-March and the Heat will have about 15 games remaining on their schedule in the final month of the regular season.

Absent something really bad, the Heat are pretty much committed to Michael Beasley for the rest of this season. You will get an indication of the degree to which he has “matured” in the off-season when the Heat make a decision as to his presence on their roster next year…

Michele Roberts is the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association having succeeded Billy Hunter in that job. She has demonstrated her rhetorical prowess already denouncing the concept of a salary cap as “un-American” and saying that there is no such thing as a salary cap in her DNA. She has also correctly – and unoriginally – observed that people pay to see the players and not the owners making the owners “expendable”. The current CBA has a few years to go, so I just consider that she is using this time to gather her momentum for the upcoming negotiations that will surely be contentious.

However, I think she recently took her prep work a bit too far and she may want to “evolve her position” a bit. Michele Roberts said that allowing the media access to locker rooms and practices is:

“…an incredible invasion of privacy.”

Literally, she is correct. In the real world, the media is the means by which the players – her employer – generate and maintain the attention of the fans to the point where the fans shell out money for tickets and take the time to watch NBA games on TV. In the real world, she is going to need some of the media to “push her message” when the negotiations start. I am not sure that the idea of limiting media access to teams has ever been a critical issue and I doubt that it will be one in the next round of NBA labor negotiations. Unless of course, Michele Roberts wants to make it so…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald that is sort of basketball related and definitely speaks to media coverage of basketball players:

“There was a WNBA trade: Epiphany Prince for Cappie Pondexter. You know how they keep records for everything? This was first sports trade in history involving two players named Epiphany and Cappie.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NFLPA News…

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the NFLPA’s Board of Player Representatives will meet with the union’s Executive Committee for the purpose of electing an Executive Director. DeMaurice Smith is the incumbent in that position and has been there for a six-year term. The 32 player reps – one from each team – will elect the new Ex.Dir. and the requirement is that one candidate must get 17 votes. The last time the players elected an Ex.Dir., there were 4 candidates; this time there are 5. It is possible there may need to be multiple ballots.

Not surprisingly, DeMaurice Smith is one of the candidates. The other 4 – along with what seems to be their main selling point to the players as a candidate are:

    James Acho: He carries the endorsement of the NFL Alumni Association which may or may not be a good thing given that the previous players and the current players do not agree on all sorts of issues. From what I have read, Acho seems to favor an 18-game schedule with 4 exhibition games too and expanded healthcare coverage for all players into their retirement.

    Sean Gilbert: The former defensive lineman wants to sue the NFL in a collusion case and thereby render the current CBA null and void. He wants an increased minimum salary and eligibility for free agency after only 3 years in the league. He too favors an 18-game schedule but with a reduction to 2 exhibition games.

    Andrew Smith: He is an attorney who has served as a legal advisor to an NFL team for several years. He believes that the league has “cooked the books” and is not reporting all of its revenues thereby artificially lowering the salary cap from where it ought to be and he believes that the team training staffs ought to be part of the NFLPA. He too is open to consideration of an 18-game schedule.

    John Stufflebeem: He was a punter for the Lions many years ago and also served in the US Navy rising to the rank of Vice Admiral. His candidacy here emphasizes his ability to negotiate to get things done and in so doing to advance the cause of the players in the NFLPA.

I find it interesting that 3 of the 5 candidates here are open to the idea of an 18-game schedule. I think it is also interesting to note that two candidates (Sean Gilbert and Andrew Smith) believe that the current CBA works to the disadvantage of the players and they would seek to change it in fundamental ways. Six years ago, DeMaurice Smith won this job as a dark horse candidate; might that happen again?

In another NFL-player-related occurrence, I read that Michael Sam will participate in Dancing With The Stars this year. I am sure that exactly no one will be surprised to learn that I will not watch even a moment of that programming. Nonetheless, I find it interesting that Michael Sam would choose to do this. I would presume that Sam continues to aspire to make an NFL roster. Last season he made it through the Rams’ training camp until the final cut and then spent much of the season on the Cowboys’ practice squad. While that is not the same thing as “making a team”, it would indicate that it is not out of the question that he might make a team this year.

And that is why Dancing With The Stars seems odd to me. I understand that there is a degree of athleticism involved in dancing but it does not seem to me that working on one’s samba skills is as likely to earn one an NFL roster spot as working on one’s pass rushing skills. Obviously, I am missing something here; I’ll just stay tuned to see how it all plays out.

MLB announced some changes for this year with the intention of speeding up games. Last year, games averaged over 3 hours and many dragged on for close to 4 hours. This year, batters have to keep one foot in the batters’ box and while there is not going to be a pitch clock in MLB, there will be one in the minor leagues. There will be efforts to speed up games by having players ready to start play as soon as the commercials are over between innings and relief pitchers will be “on a clock” to get into the game and get back to action. None of these ideas is offensive to me; each will help to speed up baseball games so long as these changes are enforced on the field. However, I have another suggestion:

    One of the things that happens more than once in a while in late innings is the relief pitcher who comes in to face one batter and one batter only. If that happens in the middle of an inning that means there will have to be two pitching changes in that one half-inning. A pitching change could take as much as 5 minutes – although many are effected in less time than that.

    One way to shorten the game would be to change the rule and require any pitcher who enters a game to face a minimum of 2 batters – or even 3 if you wish. (Oh, and by the way, any intentional walk issued by a pitcher does not count as a “batter faced”.)

    This rule change should obviate at least a few of the late-inning pitching changes in games and every one of them that is avoided shortens the games.

Finally, here is a gem from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times:

“Comedian Argus Hamilton, on the latest Alex Rodriguez apology for lying about his PED use: ‘If Alex Rodriguez’s word were any more worthless, his portrait would be displayed on Greek government bonds.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Keith Olbermann Suspended…

It has not been a good month to be a larger-than-life TV personality. Brian Williams misremembered some stuff; Jon Stewart announced his departure from The Daily Show; Bill O’Reilly is in the midst of allegation-exchanging with a host of others; Keith Olbermann is serving a week-long suspension. Obviously, here, I want to focus on Olbermann.

Politics aside, I am a big fan of Keith Olbermann and his endeavors in the arena of sports journalism/commentary. I have been a fan of his in that dimension for more than 20 years now. Notwithstanding my fandom, I have documented here the fact that he has been less than a model employee/person at many of his previous stops in his career. Here is a link to a topical rant I wrote back in 2012 when he and Current TV parted company. One of the things I said then that explains why I enjoy him as a sports commentator was:

“Keith Olbermann is a natural as a TV host and or as an anchor. He makes you think and he makes you laugh. Sometimes he also makes you angry. As a host or an anchor, that is precisely what every one of them ought to be able to do.”

Today, he has made me angry because his suspension came after he got into a nonsensical Twitter-war with some folks at Penn State University. The backdrop to this is that Olbermann still holds Penn State as an institution responsible for Jerry Sandusky’s heinous behaviors. I share his horror at what Sandusky has done; I do not believe that the university is evil to its core because of what Sandusky did. And the problem seems to be that Olbermann cannot distinguish between good things done by Penn State and his belief that the university was – to borrow an old phrase – an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Sandusky matter.

The Twitter-war actually erupted after Penn State students staged a fund raiser for pediatric cancer research and they raised more than $10M. Even that was not enough for Olbermann to simply ignore the emotional upwelling he must have felt at the onset of the Twitter-war. Now he serves a week-long suspension from his ESPN program – one I watch about twice a week – and some folks are suggesting that ESPN part company with him once again.

I seriously hope that ESPN does not do that. I also fervently wish that somehow someone can insert a 10-second delay line between Keith Olbermann’s brain and his tongue – or in this case his “Twitter fingers”. The delay line would give him time to reflect on the potential – and in this case the logical – consequences of a verbal eruption.

Yesterday, reports flew about regarding tickets for the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacqaio fight in Las Vegas on 2 May. The event will be held in the MGM Grand Arena which seats 16,800 folks for a boxing match. The cheap seats – up in the nosebleed sections – will start at $1000. It should not take a great deal of math skills to realize that if EVERY ticket sold for $1K, that the live gate for the fight would be $16.8M. However, pricing increases as the seats get better and the face value of ringside seats is going to be $5K. The live gate for the fight should come in at something in the neighborhood of $40M. Meanwhile, watching the fight on pay-per-view is going to set you back $100.

The irony here is that this fight is the one people REALLY wanted to see about 5 years ago when both fighters were at the peak of their careers. For whatever reasons, that fight never happened and despite the expectations of more than $200M in revenue for this fight, the same contest 5 years ago would likely have been bigger. Whatever… Now, before anyone asks, let me say clearly that I will not be one of the folks in the MGM Grand Arena to see the fight.

Some NFL teams wear “throwback uniforms” once in a while. The absolute worst of those are the “bumblebee stripes” worn by the Steelers once a year; the next worst are the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle worn by the Packers once a year. I am completely convinced that this practice has exactly nothing to do with “honoring the history of the team and the league”; I think this just provides the team with another variety of jersey to sell. This is not about “honoring the past”; this is about a revenue stream.

I mention this because it seems that the Packers are going to abandon the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle for next year. As far as I am concerned, that is good news. Here is the additional news I want to hear from the Packers’ brass:

    Moreover, the team will not be wearing any other form of alternative uniform for any of its games in the future. Our colors are green/gold/white; our helmet symbol is iconic. That is who we are now and to the future.

My guess is that there will be some kind of alternate uniform trotted out to replace the blue jerseys with the numbers in a circle sometime next year.

MLB.com had a story yesterday that Royals’ slugger Mike Moustakas is going to bunt this season when teams put on a defensive shift. May I say that every player who faces a shift that puts only one defender to the third-base side of second base should be bunting down the third base line on a regular basis. More than a century ago, William Henry Keeler – known more widely as “Wee Willie” Keeler – had this advice for hitters:

Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t.

Keeler’s accomplishments confer credibility on his advice. In a 19-year career, he hit .341 and had one season north of .400. Batters in 2015 should take note…

Finally, here is a suggestion from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald I can second:

“Ray Rice apologized to Baltimore fans. Alex Rodriguez apologized to the Yankees. Hey athletes, how about you spare us the wrongdoing and save an apology?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Circus Has Come To Town…

PR people exist to make their clients look good in the public eye. Some “clients” present more a challenge for the PR folks; Josef Mengle would have been a “hard-sell” to the US public in the late 1940s and Alex Rodriguez is clearly a “hard-sell” to baseball fans today. Well, A-Rod’s “people” caught a small break yesterday when a public interaction turned out to make him look better than the folks he interacted with. What “geniuses” pulled off that less-than-likely event?

    The New York Yankees

According to reports in the NY Daily News and on CBSSports.com, the Yankees’ brass is torqued off at A-Rod yet again. This time, his outrageous behavior engendering the latest case of agita is:

    He showed up early for Spring Training and did not tell anyone he was coming early.

I tell you; that guy has some nerve showing up for work a couple of days early…

    Memo to NY Yankees: Unless you actually want this entire season to be a goat rodeo, you need to dial back your level of sensitivity to what this guy does peripheral to actual baseball games. You cannot take your outrage to DEFCON 1 in the event that he goes back for seconds at the salad bar or donates some money to a charity without telling you first.

During the NBA All-Star break, Kevin Durant made the news when he uncharacteristically went off on reporters. Here is how Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summarized it:

“Feeling’s mutual: Before expressing regret this week for his All-Star weekend rant, Kevin Durant claimed that he only talks to media because he has to. I’d hazard a guess that many in the media only talk to athletes because they have to.”

Durant’s comments evoked recent memories of Marshawn Lynch at Super Bowl Media Day telling the assembled masses, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” I mention this because there are reports this morning that Marshawn Lynch has applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”. The idea would be to put that phrase on various forms of apparel and then to sell said apparel via a website BeastModeOnline.com. I am not an economist but I believe the applicable term here is that Lynch is in the process of monetizing his Media Day statement.

Just in case anyone here is thinking of horning in on some of this action, Lynch has already gotten a trademark for “Beast Mode” so that would not be a way for you to insert yourself into the middle of this commercial enterprise.

Since I was on the topic of sports entrepreneurship, allow me to let you in on news that a group in Bloomington, MN hopes to organize a rugby match this summer featuring former NFL players against a team from Europe. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, the hope is that this exhibition match will provide the impetus to launch a professional rugby league here in the US in 2016. The proposed league would play in the summertime and the league concept is that rugby in the summer would provide US sports fans with a contact sport during that time of the year when football does not happen.

The exhibition game involving the English team from Leicester is scheduled for August of this year. Obviously, the emergence and ultimate viability of this pro rugby league in the US is a longshot and not something one should take out a second mortgage to invest in. However, it is an interesting idea and if the organizers can find a way to get that exhibition game on TV…

Here is a link to the full story in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Yesterday, I told you to be on the lookout for the formulaic and banal stories that would certainly emerge from Spring Training this year. I forgot to point out one of the stories that will appear and when that story does appear you need to recognize that it presents a conundrum worthy of philosophical debate.

    At some point this Spring, you will read that “the pitchers are ahead of the hitters at this point…”

    So, ask yourself why the teams don’t have the hitters report to Spring Training before the pitchers and catchers.

    Then consider that if the hitters reported first, there would be no one to pitch to them…

Not only is the story predictable, there is no solution to the “issue” revealed therein. However, it does fill up space…

Finally, B.J. Upton says that henceforth he wants to be known by his given name, Melvin Upton, Jr. I am sure that Braves’ fans will call him anything he wants to be called so long as he improves on his batting average over the past 2 season in Atlanta where in 910 at-bats, Upton has hit .198. If he does not improve, they will likely call him names that will make “B.J.” a most welcome reversion.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

A Rite Of Spring – At A Price…

The Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic parts of the US remain in the deep freeze; there is not even a hint of Spring as one looks at the landscape. Nonetheless, Spring Training has begun in Florida and in Arizona meaning that even as I am bundling up to go out and get the mail, there is a real and reliable harbinger of Spring out there. As alluring as the harbinger is, it comes with a price:

    For the next 6 weeks, baseball fans will be bombarded on a daily basis with reports from Spring Training that are formulaic and unimportant.

There is a harsh reality associated with Spring Training every year and somehow it has escaped the cognizance of newspaper sports editors for at least the last 60 years that I have been “following” Spring Training. Here is that harsh reality:

    Newspapers come out on a daily basis.

    Actual news emanating from Spring Training happens far less frequently.

    Publishing daily “reports” from Spring Training makes no more sense than publishing hourly reports on what the astronauts are doing on the International Space Station.

Reporters faced with deadlines for daily stories therefore fall back on standard themes:

    A player who was injured last year surely hopes to be healthy this year.

    A player who shows up 15 pounds heavier says this will allow him to stay stronger during the long season.

    A player who shows up 15 pounds lighter says this will give him more speed and will keep him stronger longer in the season because he is carrying around less weight.

    A player with a new fat contract from free agency just wants to win and it glad that all the hoopla associated with contract negotiations are behind him.

    A player whose contract will expire at the end of this year is intent on getting a new contract and/or using the upcoming season to demonstrate his real worth – by focusing on nothing but winning of course.

We have all read all of those stories a hundred times before and will read another 4 or 5 dozen of them again this year because there is nothing else to put in the papers. On most days, nothing of any import happens in Spring Training. It is the price we pay for that particular harbinger of Spring…

About a year ago, I created an entity that I called the “Just Go Away Club” and populated it with folks about whom and from whom I had heard enough. All I wanted was for them to Just Go Away; I did not wish them any harm; Just Go Away. One of the charter members of that club was Lance Armstrong. I have refrained from commenting about him since then and paid only scant attention to anything written about him – until now. In the last couple of weeks, however, he made the news twice with happenings that are at least as outrageous as his PED induced cycling career ever was.

    Driving in the snow in Aspen, CO, Armstrong hit two parked cars. His first reaction was to concoct a story that his ladyfriend was driving not him. Amazingly, she agreed to take the rap for him at first. The falsehood unraveled and Armstrong pled guilty to reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Once again, Lance Armstrong demonstrated that he is a lying weasel and a manipulator of other people.

    An arbitration panel ruled against him saying that he needs to pay a promotions company $10M. In handing down the decision, the panel cited Armstrong as having an “unparalleled pageant of international perjury, fraud and conspiracy.” According to reports, Armstrong said he will not comply with the arbitration ruling which makes one wonder why he bothered to contest the action in the first place.

I had had more than my fill of Lance Armstrong a year ago; these two happenings in the last month or so only confirm my previous sense that the best thing Lance Armstrong can do is to Just Go Away!

When Tiger Woods announced that he was taking some time off from the PGA Tour because he golf game was not up to the standards of tournament golf, I wonder how many duffers around the country partaking of an adult beverage after a round at the local club looked at the other members of their foursome that day and said something along the lines of:

    “Same with my game…”

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle left little doubt regarding what he thinks of Alex Rodriguez’ handwritten apology to the world:

“Nice of Alex Rodriguez to apologize for his ‘mistakes.’ Hey, at least he didn’t refer to his serial lying and cheating as ‘oopsies.’

“ ‘I take full responsibility,’ A-Rod said, falling back on the most overused and meaningless phrase in sports apologies. It usually means, ‘I’ve run out of people to blame.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

No “Inside Info” Yesterday…

It is purely a coincidence; I had – and continue to have – exactly no inside information on the matter. Yesterday, I mentioned that folks representing the San Diego Chargers had sent an unusually blunt and direct message to the stadium advisory board for the mayor of San Diego regarding the Chargers’ desire for a new stadium in the city of San Diego. Those kinds of talks between the team and the city had been ongoing for at least a decade but it seemed to me as if the Chargers were sounding a new tone in this particular communication. And then this morning, CBSSports.com reports that the Chargers and the Raiders have both decided that the talks with their home cities needs more than a gentle nudge. The teams have purchased a plot of land in Carson California and they say that if the teams do not have stadium plans in place and in motion by the end of the year, they will jointly build their own stadium on the site.

Here is a link to the joint statement released by the two NFL teams.

For those of you who are not geography majors, Carson California is south of downtown LA and west of Anaheim. It is not – geographically – a huge move for the Chargers; it is probably not much more than 100 miles. For the Raiders it would be a much longer move but the Raiders have done this before so they would be going to an area where they already have a residual fanbase. I cannot recall a situation in the NFL’s past where two division rivals would share a stadium but that is what would be in the cards if this plan were to move forward.

Major stumbling blocks to previous stadium ideas in So Cal has been the reluctance of the local politicians to fund the projects. If the early reports on this joint activity are accurate, this project would cost $1.7B and for now the idea is to finance this privately. That is the kind of deal I would hope the folks in So Cal can get behind because it might set a trend for the rest of the country…

I said yesterday that I had never been to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and I have never been to the stadium in Oakland for a football game. I have been there to see baseball back in the early 1990s and I have to say that the stadium was starting to look a bit “threadbare” even then. With the reports of random sewage backups into locker room facilities hitting the papers last year in Oakland, I suspect that “threadbare” might have been the politest thing folks were saying about the facilities there.

I hope today’s news spurs some action on new stadia for both teams. It seems that both of then need one and it seems that they are prepared – on their own – to get a new one. They seem prepared to spend $850M each – plus whatever the cost of the land was – to achieve that end and that should give the two cities an idea of how they can put together plans to keep the teams in their current locales. That assumes of course that the cities want the teams to stay as opposed to political posturing regarding the importance and value of the team to the city.

Yesterday I said that in these matters, money talks and bulls[p]it walks. Well, as of this morning, it would seem that the Chargers and the Raiders have put some serious money on the table… Question for the local pols:

    Are you going to talk or walk?

Yesterday was the NBA trade deadline and it seems as if there was a flurry of activity moving players around amongst – mainly – marginal teams. The top contenders this year stood pat seemingly happy with the rosters they have already assembled. Two potential playoff teams made moves that improved both of them:

    The Heat traded for Goran Dragic from Phoenix. He is a quality point guard who can also score. He will not win the Heat a championship by himself but this trade might just be the beginning of the Heat’s rebuilding process.

    The Thunder got Enes Kanter and DJ Augustin – two players who can provide alternative scoring threats off the bench – and they got rid of Reggie Jackson who was not happy with his role in OKC and who was about to become a free agent.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, I was fascinated with the moves made by the absolutely irrelevant Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have won 12 games so far this year and they managed to get worse by trading:

    Michael Carter-Williams was last year’s rookie of the year. He is not a great player and likely will never become a great player, but he has shown that he is a competent NBA-quality player and that is a commodity in short supply on the Sixers’ roster. So, of course they ditched him…

    KJ McDaniels might get more than a few votes as the rookie of the year this year. He was undrafted and the Sixers signed him to a one-year contract making him a free agent after this season. [Aside: Should he win the award, I believe he would be the first rookie of the year ever to be a free agent that summer.] Evidently, the Sixers did not think this potential rookie of the year was important enough to keep around…

In my opinion, those two moves are merely the tip of the iceberg because the Sixers had a “mirror-image moment” yesterday. Let me explain. We all know of the famous “addition by subtraction” trades; teams dump a player who totes far more baggage than his contributions justify. Well, in every such transaction there has to be a “mirror-image moment” because the other team in the trade experiences a “subtraction by addition”. And the Sixers got one of those in JaVale McGee. Here is the trade in a nutshell:

    Sixers send the rights to Cenk Akyol to the Nuggets. Just in case you have no damned idea who Cenk Akyol might be, he is a 27 year old forward playing in the Turkish League who was originally drafted by the Hawks in 2005. He has never played in an NBA game. That is it; that is what the Sixers gave up.

    Sixers get JaVale McGee PLUS a first round pick either this year or next year plus the rights to Chukwudiebere Maduabum. “Chu” was originally drafted by the Lakers in 2011; he is 23 years old and currently plays in the Estonian Basketball League.

    The Sixers basically got a first round pick just to take JaVale McGee off the hands of the Nuggets. That is “subtraction by addition”.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this NBA insight in a recent column:

“Looks as if Kobe Bryant might miss the rest of the season with a shoulder issue. Doctors have ruled out that the injury occurred from excessive passing.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

An “Instant Classic” Indeed

I have commented more than a few times on the over-exposure of college basketball on television and I do not intend to walk those remarks back even a little bit. Nonetheless, last night Duke and UNC presented everyone who tuned in with a magnificent display of basketball. If you did not happen to watch last night, keep an eye out for replays because you may be sure that ESPN will show it again as an “Instant Classic”. It deserves that label.

Duke led early; Carolina rallied and led by 9 with about 3 minutes to play; Duke rallied to tie the game; Carolina had a chance for the final shot but solid defense forced them to take a bad shot – and we were treated to overtime. It was a game of hustle and total effort; the only time you saw players just “standing around watching” was on the foul lanes as the foul shooter prepared to launch the ball. It was one of those games where you knew that one team had to win and the other had to lose but neither team “deserved” to lose the game – except for the fact that Carolina shot only 12-20 from the foul line in the game.

It was a GREAT game and I am glad to have been able to see it on TV…

Switching gears from basketball to football and from game action to the intersection of business and politics, the San Diego Chargers have resumed negotiations with the folks in charge in San Diego regarding a new stadium for the Chargers. These “negotiations” have been ongoing for so long that my first reaction to reading about new happenings there was along the lines of:

    Here we go again…

However, maybe this time it is a bit different because the Chargers assert that 25% of the tickets that they sell are to fans who live in the Los Angeles area. I have no idea if that is true, but surely the Chargers do draw some fans from “up north” and in 2015 the dynamic surrounding an NFL stadium going into the LA area is different than it has been in the past. Granted, not even a teaspoon of dirt has been moved to construct a stadium that would house an NFL team – or maybe two – in Los Angeles, but somehow the current push to put a stadium there seems to have more substance to it than did previous ones. The Chargers’ position is that they cannot stand by and allow teams to come into LA and to “gut the Chargers’ revenue streams” while the Chargers continue to play in Qualcomm Stadium.

I have never been to Qualcomm Stadium; I have driven by it and seen it from the road; that is the extent of my personal interaction with it. By reputation, Qualcomm Stadium is outdated and with inadequate parking. The Chargers have been complaining about this for years but everyone has managed to kick the can down the road for all of those years. Now, the Chargers’ position seems to be something along these lines:

    We want a downtown stadium in San Diego. If we cannot have that and if it looks as if there is serious movement towards an NFL stadium in LA, the Chargers may just have to be one of the tenants in that new NFL stadium in LA.

The Rams and the Raiders – both of which used to play in LA as did the Chargers back in the 1960s – are reportedly interested in a possible move to LA in large part because their stadiums in St Louis and in Oakland are “not so good”. With the Chargers rattling sabers about the insufficiency of their quarters, that puts at least 3 NFL teams “in play” for the sports business/politics dance. Strike up the band…

There is nine-member stadium advisory group in San Diego that was established by the mayor. It is the entity that interacts with the Chargers and nominally comes up with a proposal for the mayor and the other city leaders to consider – including a financing plan to pay for whatever they propose. According to an ESPN report, here is part of what the Chargers’ representative told that advisory group about a week ago:

“[The Chargers] have no intention of quietly participating in any effort to provide political cover for elected officials. … Simply put, we have no intention of allowing the Chargers franchise to be manipulated for political cover and we will call out any elected official who tries to do so.”

“The Chargers do not intend to waste years of time and millions of dollars on a proposal that city leaders simply do not have the capacity to actually implement. … In short, a proposal that looks good on paper should not be sufficient. What we all need is a proposal that our city government has the capacity to actually implement.”

I do not pretend to be fluent in the language used in negotiations or diplomatic exchanges, but those words seem to me to be a tad more blunt that what I would expect. Granted they are not as direct as my translation would be:

    “This is not a game and the Chargers are not going to be yanked around by the crank. You got political problems; we got economic problems. You are not going to hide behind us. And, do not think that we will go along with some lame brained idea that will be DOA as soon as it shows up in City Hall. The bottom line is that money talks and bulls[p]it walks.”

Tiger Woods’ announcement that he was taking time off from PGA events simply changed the focus of the “Tiger Woods stories” that golf writers must be compelled to write by editors who have become addicted to Tiger Woods stories. Folks, Tiger Woods was once the best golfer in the world; for the last 5 years he has not been anywhere near that stature. In fact, if you look at the last 5 years alone and consider the amount of coverage in the media for Tiger Woods juxtaposed with his athletic accomplishments here is a sports figure that he has begun to resemble:

    Danica Patrick

Think about the amount of coverage per meaningful victory over the past 5 years and those two sports figures are coming closer and closer together.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Baseball Stuff…

In the wake of Alex Rodriguez’ handwritten apology to fans, the Yankees, major league baseball and all the ships at sea, commentators and columnists have posed the question:

    Do you believe him? – or –
    Should you believe him?

Personally, I do not think that either question here – or any other variants on this theme – rise to the level of interesting let alone important. A-Rod is going to show up in Spring Training; the Yankees wish that he will not pass his physical exam so that they can pay him off using insurance policy money instead of Yankee revenue; if he does “fail his physical”, you can be sure there will be legal challenges to that finding. The bottom line here is that my credence in his apology is irrelevant; A-Rod is almost assuredly going to play baseball this year despite what I or anyone else thinks about his apology. Therefore, I have not wasted any energy firing synapses in response to those sorts of questions.

The relevant baseball question regarding A-Rod is more along the lines of:

    Given his age, his rehab from significant surgery and his presumed drug-cleanliness, can A-Rod still play baseball at the major league level?

That question will be answered partially during Spring Training and then far more thoroughly in the months of April, May and June…

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment regarding another sizeable MLB contract:

“The Detroit Tigers signed Victor Martinez to a $68 million contract. He’s planning to take half that money and buy Detroit.”

New MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred said he would be willing to consider a new approach for MLB toward legalized gambling on sports to include baseball games. In an interview shown on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, Manfred said:

“It’s important for baseball to give fresh consideration to the issue.”

Somewhere in the cosmos, Kennesaw Mountain Landis felt a twinge in his neck and had no idea why. Look, the only reason there is a job called Commissioner of Major League Baseball is the response of the baseball owners to the gambling scandal of a fixed World Series in 1919. Even after Landis supposedly “cracked down” on all such shenanigans, there is more than a smidgen of evidence to say that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker may have colluded to fix a game or two years after Landis was in office to assure that it would never happen again. And of course, there is also Pete Rose and all of the “stuff” that surrounds his case…

MLB has joined with the NBA and the NFL in opposition to legalized sports gambling in New Jersey. However, Manfred’s statements here could indicate that he – like Adam Silver in the NBA – recognize that gambling on sporting events in the US is inevitable and legalization could have revenue implications for state and local governments not to mention the pro sports leagues themselves. Clearly, any new policy or any support for changes in the laws regarding sports betting would have to assure that baseball players could not wager on baseball games – just as football players could not wager on football games – keeping the “integrity of the game” on a solid footing.

Adam Silver says the NBA continues to oppose the New Jersey initiative to legalize sports betting because he favors Federal legislation on the matter. His point that if states individually make changes to set up sports wagering, there will be a hodgepodge of regulations; Silver says he favors a change at the Federal level providing a single set of rules. MLB has also opposed the proposed changes in New Jersey. Manfred’s statements here could indicate that he might join with Silver to seek some movement on this issue at the Federal level.

Good luck dealing with the US Congress. Getting those folks to agree that the sun came up in the east this morning might be a difficult task; getting those folks to agree that they – and/or their predecessors – were a bunch of asshats when they passed PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) back in the early 1990s will be a whole lot harder.

In that interview on Outside the Lines, Manfred also said that Pete Rose’s lawyers have contacted him regarding the possibility that Manfred might consider lifting the lifetime ban on Rose. My position on that action should be clear to any long-term readers here:

    If there is any evidence that Rose bet against a team that he played for or managed, he should never be reinstated under any circumstances.

    Absent that information, he should be reinstated BECAUSE MLB is the entity that keeps Pete Rose off Hall of Fame ballots with their rule that only eligible players may appear on the ballot.

Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because of what he did on the field as a player. If you doubt that, let me give you 4,256 reasons why he belongs there.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock of the Deseret News regarding player mix-ups:

“Eastern Conference [NBA] All-Star Paul Millsap told reporters his name is often confused with country singer Ronnie Milsap.

“Part of the problem, he said, is that he played in Utah with Ronnie Brewer.

“On a positive note, it’s unlikely anyone will mix up 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert with 5-foot-6 Rudy Ruettiger.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………