Fixing Baseball ?

Sometime last week, MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, went on WFAN radio in NYC and said that he would consider limiting the number of pitching changes that can be made in a game. Notice, he did not say he would implement it by fiat or even make it a central piece in the upcoming CBA negotiations; he said he would consider it. Loads of people went teaspoons as soon as they heard/read that comment. Here is exactly what he said:

“Relief pitchers have really changed the game. The use of relief pitchers — obviously every time you have a pitching change, it goes contrary to our pace-of-game efforts. And the other thing it does — and hats off to them — our relievers now are so good that they actually make the back end of the game — seven, eight and nine — with less action in it. And when you think about keeping people engaged, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is this a good thing for the game?'”

The “issues” he cites are observably true; if you are going to give this idea serious consideration, you have to begin by acknowledging what is true and then decide for yourself if any of the possible “solutions” to these “issues” are worth the trouble. With regard to the “pace-of-the-game” issue, I suggested several months ago a change that would assist in that dimension.

    If a pitcher comes into a game, he has to face at least 3 batters. That change would probably reduce the number of pitching changes in a given inning.

    Oh, and to protect the integrity of the game from seeing how often a pitcher would come into a game and suffer an injury that forces his replacement, any relief pitcher in that circumstance would immediately be put on the 15-day DL.

With regard to “lack of action” in the back end of games due to the excellence of relief pitchers these days, I have a problem with trying to “fix” that problem. First of all, there is plenty of action in the final innings of games as pitchers and batters face each other – each with clearly opposite intentions. Secondly, I do not think it is a good idea to punish one class of players because they seem to excel at their craft. Back in the “Steroid Era” when home runs were flying out of ballparks at record rates, I do not recall anyone suggesting that certain hitters use balsa wood bats or that the fences be moved back another 30 feet.

The other news events that put Rob Manfred in the spotlight are the nascent negotiations with the MLBPA on a new CBA. The players have expressed an interest in having a few more off-days built into the schedule particularly around games involving major time zone changes. Those are not unreasonable requests but the most obvious way to provide such a thing is to cut the season back to 154 games as it was for many years until the 1960s. The problem with that is that cutting the season cuts the number of TV events meaning revenue would be cut. Eight games represent 5% of the MLB season; I suspect that the players would not be willing to take all of their contracts and shave 5% off the gross just to get a few days off.

However, there is another way to look at this. Suppose each team built 5 home double headers into their schedule on designated dates. To minimize the revenue hit for teams – not eliminate it but minimize it – teams could charge 50% more than usual for tix to those doubleheaders. And with people in the park that much longer, think of the increase in concession sales… Each team would play 5 home doubleheaders and 5 away double headers; it will balance the schedule and create 10 “off days” for the players. It may not be a perfect solution, but it should be considered…

Green Bay, Wisconsin is a small market; there really is not any way to pretend otherwise. Nonetheless, the folks there – and throughout Wisconsin – do love their Packers and come out to support them. Last year, 67,000 fans showed up at Lambeau Field on a summer day to watch a Packers’ practice. This year, the team sold out the stadium at $10 per ticket – 76,000 tix – for a practice. Basically, this event is a day in training camp with 76,000 onlookers.

Now, if you are a Packers’ fan and you did not get a couple of those tickets, you need not worry. The practice will be televised all over Wisconsin and to parts of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Oh, did I mention, this is just a practice – the kind where the QBs are wearing bright red jerseys. I do not want you to be disappointed should you tune in…

One other note about Lambeau Field comes from the Milwaukee Business Journal. Patrick Cudahy brand bacon is the official bacon of Lambeau Field – and the Green Bay Packers too. One of the important things to come of this arrangement is that Patrick Cudahy brand bacon will provide a “bacon-themed concession stand” in Lambeau Field. The full menu for this bacon-themed concession stand is not fixed yet, but two items were described:

    The Pigskin: This is a baked potato smothered with chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives. What makes this a Pigskin is that the potato is then wrapped in bacon. You know, if you hold the sour cream there, that actually sounds pretty good…

    A second item has not been named yet but it will be deep-fried bacon-crusted cheese curds. That sounds very good – and it also sounds like an embolism waiting to happen.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald channeled Johnny Carson and Carnac the Magnificent with this item over the weekend:

Answer: A new sport called “footvolley” — soccer meets beach volleyball; no hands allowed — will debut as a demonstration sport at Summer Olympics.

Question: What do you mean there are too many ridiculous, made-up sports?

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

College Football In July …

Earlier this week, I wrote about college basketball in July; today I want to lead off with news about college football. Anyone who has read these rants for any period of time knows that one of the things I do not like about college football is the “cupcake scheduling” that many of the power schools set up. I do not care how rabid a fan of Humongous State anyone might be; it cannot be “exciting” or even “entertaining” to watch a game that is 52-0 at half time and 69-7 at the end of 3 quarters. The fewer of those sorts of games that there are on the college football landscape the better.

A few of the big schools are starting to move in that direction and I think that is a good idea. Auburn and Penn State have agreed to a home-and-home pair of games for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Kudos to both of the athletic directors at Auburn and Penn State for making that happen. This meeting between solid teams in two major conferences should be the model for out-of-conference scheduling for all the schools in the major conferences. I am certain that someone somewhere will complain about this saying that this will deprive two smaller schools the opportunity to go and “get a payday” from Penn State and/or Auburn so that the smaller school can lose a game by 50+ points. I can imagine that some folks will suggest that this is a way for the “big guys” to make sure that the “little guys” are squeezed to a point where they will not rise up to challenge any of the “big guys”. To that argument, let me use one of H.L. Mencken’s favorite words:

    Buncombe!

There are also reports that Notre Dame and Michigan will renew their rivalry with two games scheduled on a home-and-home basis for 2018 and 2019. This too is a positive step for college football and those two athletic directors should be applauded for making that happen.

There are also reports that the Big 12 is looking to expand by 2 and perhaps by 4 teams. The Big 12 coaches seem to be onboard with the idea of expansion and Bill Snyder at K-State said that he hoped that the conference would not “get spread out all over the country” and that he hoped the footprint of the expanded Big 12 would be similar to the footprint of the old Big 8 conference. That is probably a good idea. Obviously, speculation on which teams would be under consideration for an invitation to the Big 12 began as soon as the announcement of the intent hit the streets. Here are the usual suspects – with my off-the-cuff commentary on what I think about each one:

    Boise State: Good football program but remotely located and a small stadium.

    BYU: The second most logical choice on the list

    Cincy: Interesting market

    Colorado St: Good location but program would need a major upgrade

    Houston: The most logical choice on the list

    Memphis: Meh

    Tulane: Kansas would no longer be the conference cupcake

    UCF: Remote location and no ties to any existing schools

    UConn: Seriously…?

    USF: See comment for UCF above.

According to a report in the Birmingham Business Journal, anyone attending a home football game at Alabama this year will need to get some new tote bags. Starting this year, anyone planning to enter Bryant-Denny Stadium will have to be carrying their stuff in a clear plastic bag with the size limited to 12” X12” X 6”. As usual, when a team makes an announcement about a change of this type, the PR folks get to weigh in. Here is part of what Alabama said about this new policy:

“This is about both safety and improving the overall fan experience…”

So, somehow my overall fan experience is enhanced based on the size of tote bags brought into the stadium and based on the transparency of the walls of that tote bag. This is a security and safety issue primarily and if the school wants to say that a secure environment in the stadium adds to the fan experience, that would be fine. This is also likely a way to make it more difficult for folks to “smuggle” contraband food and drink into the stadium thereby increasing the take at the concession stands; somehow, I doubt that sentiment would find its way into a roll-out announcement.

I have never been in Las Vegas while the Olympics were ongoing so I did not realize that the sportsbooks there did not take action on the Olympics. That must have been the case because reports say that for the Rio Games in 2016, there will be betting action on the Olympics for the first time. Proposition bets are already up; here are samples:

    Country to win the most gold medals:

      USA: 1/5
      China: 5/2
      Great Britain: 20/1
      Russia: 50/1
      Germany: 60/1
      The Field: 50/1

    Total gold medals won by USA:

      Over 41.5: – 110
      Under 41.5: – 110

I suspect that Baron Pierre de Coubertin did not have this in mind when he “resurrected” the Olympics at the end of the 19th century…

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

“June is being called an ‘important month’ for Husker football. In a nutshell, this has been the problem with Nebraska football recently. Too many important Junes, not enough important Novembers.”

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

A Step Forward For ESPN…?

With the exodus of Skip Bayless from ESPN’s program, First Take, the network needed someone to “debate” Stephen A. Smith on the program. Even though the “debates” are staged – it cannot be that Stephen A. and his partner disagree on EVERY situation – there need to be two people there to present two points of view. While I was away, ESPN resolved that problem by assigning Max Kellerman to the role of Stephen A. Smith’s “adversary”. I like Max Kellerman certainly more than I like Skip Bayless who normally could get me to change the channel in about 90 seconds of his monologues. Kellerman is bright and articulate; I think he will make First Take easier to take.

    [Aside: The woman who “hosts/sets up” the “debates” on First Take is Molly Qerim. The fact that she has been able for all of the time she has been in that role to sit there and not grab a baseball bat and do damage to either or both of the “debaters” speaks to her equanimity.]

The WNBA season began in mid-May and the final regular season game will be on September 18. In terms of the calendar, their season is half-over. Already, two teams in the Western Conference – the LA Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx – have clinched playoff berths. On a calendar basis that is equivalent to a team in MLB clinching a playoff spot right around now. League advocates might point to these two teams as examples of excellence in the WNBA; league detractors might say that the talent imbalance in the league is a joke. Take your pick – if you care enough to do so.

The LA Sparks’ record after 21 games was 20-1; they have hit a rough patch and have lost their last two games so they sit atop the West with a 20-3 record. During last year’s NBA season the Golden State Warriors started the year with a 24-0 record. By the time the Warriors were 15-0, they were a big enough story that they got lots of attention in the midst of the NFL season. The Sparks started their season similarly; so I ask you to stay away from Google and do the following:

    Name 3 of the starting players for the Sparks.

    OK, name any 3 players on the Sparks’ roster.

    Name the Sparks’ coach.

Last December when the Warriors were on their season-opening win streak, almost anyone could have aced that quiz. The WNBA has been around for 20 seasons now and it simply has gained no traction in the US sports assembly. In fact, for the regular season in 2015, the WNBA had its lowest average attendance in league history. In 2015, average attendance for a WNBA game was 7,318. Back in 2009, average attendance was just over 10,000 per game so the league has seen attendance drop about 27% in the last 6 years. Somehow, I do not think that the hugely unbalanced results to date this year are going to help those attendance numbers and reverse the downward trend.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that UFC fighter and WWE ‘rassler, Brock Lesnar, had failed a drug test proximal to his last UFC fight. A report yesterday said that his “B Sample” also came back positive so it would appear that there is not a “laboratory error” there. Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times viewed these circumstances through his customarily unique lens:

“USADA says rassler and MMA fighter Brock Lesnar might have violated the UFC’s anti-doping policy.

“Translation: They found a foreign object in his urine sample.”

In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett (UNLV) with the first overall pick. He lasted one year in Cleveland, went to Minnesota for a year and then on to Toronto for his third season. He was a free agent again this summer and the team he signed with was the Brooklyn Nets. That signing screams “Desperation” on both sides of the transaction.

    The Nets’ roster is a mess. Bennett is nominally a power forward and the other power forwards on the roster today are Trevor Booker, Chris McCullough, Thomas Robinson and Luis Scola. Let me be kind here; if Bennett as a former overall #1 pick in the draft cannot find a spot in the rotation for that team, he may need to call it a career at age 23.

    Here are Bennett’s stats over the past 3 seasons:

      Cleveland: 12.8 minutes/game; 4.2 points/game; 3 rebounds/game
      Minnesota: 15.7 minutes/game; 5.2 points/game; 3.8 rebounds/game
      Toronto: 4.4 minutes/game; 1.5 points/game; 1.2 rebounds/game

Any time a team has the overall #1 pick in a draft, it runs the risk of taking a player who does not live up to the potential ascribed to him. On rare occasions, the overall #1 pick contributes to the team the way a cadaver might. I am not going to spend the time and effort to look over the history of NBA drafts to look at all of the overall #1 picks but two really bad ones come quickly to mind:

    Michael Olowakandi – drafted sometime in the mid-90s
    LaRue Martin – drafted in the early-70s

At age 23, Anthony Bennett still has a chance to elevate himself off this ignominious list. However, the Brooklyn Nets may be his last serious chance to become a regular in a substitution rotation that will get him the time on the floor to do something with his game.

Finally, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that points out something I did not know – and would not have guessed:

“Numbers Crunching: Much was made this week over World Series results favoring teams with home field advantage – won again at the All-Star Game by the American League. But in the age of wildcards, isn’t the more dramatic trend that the team with the best regular-season record has won the Series only five times in the past 30 years?”

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

Unusual Subject Matter Today …

The sports world has a natural ebb and flow. In mid-July there are things that I can count on to be “in the news” and there are things that ought to be “quiescent”. So, it is a bit surprising for me to spend today on two items involving – – college basketball.

No, I am not going to talk about some 5-star recruit who has decided to play for some school after he had made a commitment to some other school a month ago. Commentary on those sorts of events only encourages more kids to do that in order to have multiple moments as the focus of media attention. Rather, I want to comment first on Larry Brown’s resignation as the head basketball coach at SMU a week or so ago. Let me be clear; the fact that Larry Brown quit a job as a head basketball coach is about as surprising as learning that Tuesday came after Monday this week.

The ostensible reason for his resignation was that he wanted a “long-term contract extension” from SMU and they would not give it to him. While I do not doubt for a moment that Larry Brown wanted such an extension and that the school was reluctant to sign up to it, it seems not to ring right to me.

    Larry Brown is 75 years old; he started coaching as an assistant at UNC in 1965. In his career, he has had 13 head coaching positions; the longest tenure anywhere was a 6-year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Those data tell me 2 things:

      1. The only long-term contracts in sports offered to 75-year olds are ones that make the person “coach-for-life”. No one who follows basketball would think of making peripatetic Larry Brown “coach-for-life”.

      2. SMU realized that it has already received what I call “The Larry Brown Dividend” and figured that it could move on.

Let me explain what I mean by “The Larry Brown Dividend”. Larry Brown is a great basketball coach and has been for just about all of his career. When he takes over a bad team, the team gets better quickly; when he takes over a mediocre team, the team excels quickly. The man knows how to recruit players and how to teach them to play basketball. When Brown arrived at SMU in 2012, the program there was moribund – to be polite about it; the team had had only 1 season over .500 in the previous 9 seasons. After one year of rebuilding and a 15-17 record, SMU went 79 – 22 over the next three seasons.

The downside of “The Larry Brown Dividend” is that it comes with “NCAA problems”. As happened to Brown’s teams at UCLA and Kansas in the past, there were NCAA violations at SMU and the mavens in Indianapolis suspended Brown for a bunch of games last year and made SMU ineligible for the NCAA tournament despite a 25-5 record for the season.

When SMU hired Larry Brown in 2012, one of the conditions of his hiring was that he would hire an assistant who was designated as “Head coach in Waiting”. The school already realized that the odds of Brown hanging around for a long time were slim; therefore, I am not surprised that the school would not give him a “long term contract” now at age 75 and after being the beneficiary of “The Larry Brown Dividend” and after being thrust back into the mainstream of NCAA basketball.

At least, Brown did not resort to the old chestnut that he needs to feed his family and he needs job security. I have to give him credit for that.

The other college basketball issue for today is an announcement from the NCAA about next year’s March Madness that has me confused. Earlier this week, the NCAA announced that the team with the overall #1 seed in the men’s basketball tournament will be allowed to select from among the various venues for its first two games in the tournament. My question here is really simple and straightforward:

    Why?

The overall #1 seed is done by a Selection Committee who already is the subject of plenty of scrutiny and criticism. Every year, people complain about teams left out (snubbed is the favorite word here) and teams that get seedings that are too high and/or too low. The Selection Committee needs more controversy like Helen Keller needed a mirror.

Next year, the venues for opening round games are:

    Buffalo
    Greensboro
    Indianapolis
    Milwaukee
    Orlando
    Sacramento
    Salt Lake City
    Tulsa

Suppose one of the “Tobacco Road teams” in the ACC gets the overall #1 seed. Is there any mystery where they will choose to play? Suppose Indiana is the overall #1 seed; suppose Utah or BYU gets that honor? Why give that team yet one more advantage if indeed they are already considered to be the best team in the field? Frankly, if the NCAA thought it had to make a change – and I do not think any change is needed at all – they should have made it that no team seeded #1 or #2 can play any of its games prior to the Elite Eight round closer to campus than 200 miles. But that’s just me…

Here is what can happen. Imagine that Duke and Kansas both have fantastic seasons and the Selection Committee decides to rank them #1 and #2 overall. Some folks will of course favor one team over the other for the “top slot”, but in previous years, that would be tossed off in a few moments as people raged on about who got snubbed and then moved on to figuring out their brackets. Now imagine that the Committee names Duke as the #1 seed over Kansas in my hypothetical. Not only does Duke get an obvious choice of venue but it opens up a huge can of worms for all the conspiracy theorists out there.

    Memo to the NCAA: This change was unnecessary. This change creates controversy and suspicion where none is needed. This change provides no benefits for the tournament at large.

    What the Hell were you thinking?

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News earlier this week tying together sports media and current socio-political events:

“U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attacked Donald Trump, calling him ‘a faker’ and saying she fears for the country if he becomes president.

“She later said she regretted making the remarks.

“It might have been out of line as a high court justice, but she can always get a job in sports radio.”

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

The Upside And The Downside Of Technology…

Reports say that the NFL will put computer chips in footballs to be used in Exhibition games this year and in Thursday Night Football games in the regular season. The primary purpose is to gather data to determine if the goal posts should be narrowed in order to make field goal tries and PAT kick attempts a bit less “automatic”. I do not pretend to have any codified data here, but I have advocated narrowing the goal posts in the NFL for about 20 years now and I continue to believe that would be a good idea. Let me outline my reasoning here:

    Plays where teams have a kicker try to kick the ball through the uprights are far less exciting/interesting than offensive plays against real defensive players. There are few fans anywhere who would try to argue against that assertion.

    Ergo, the more times teams line up and run real offensive plays as opposed to place-kick plays makes the game more exciting/interesting.

    Ergo again, motivating teams to run real plays as opposed to place-kicking plays is beneficial to the game experience.

    How to do that? Make the place-kicking more difficult. Increase the risk of failure without increasing the reward for success.

Currently, the goal posts are 18 feet and 6 inches wide and the crossbar is 10 feet high. In arena football the goal posts are only 9 feet wide and the crossbar is 15 feet off the ground. I would not advocate – without data in hand to justify it – changing the NFL goal post to the arena league goal post. However, narrowing the goal post and raising the crossbar should both be given serious consideration once data is compiled.

There is a downside to this data collection effort. One other thing that a ball-with-a-chip might do is to provide more accurate placement of the ball in situations where a play ends proximal to a first down marker or when a play involves “breaking the plane of the goal line”. In fact, it would be hard to argue that the ball-with-a-chip could possibly be less accurate than the current system is. Having said that – and being fully in favor of accuracy in this endeavor – please contemplate the delays in the game that will ensue from such placement technology. This will be like having a challenge flag thrown on half the plays in a game as officials seek to adjust the ball-with-a-chip exactly to a spot on the field of play. And then they will do the measurement with sticks and chains ignoring the need for the chains to be at precisely 90 degrees to the yard markers which have been place on the field without benefit of lasers to assure they are all parallel and perpendicular to the two sidelines which too must be parallel to one another. Sigh …

Switching gears here, I am not a follower of UFC or any of the MMA promotions. I have tuned in to see a few of the programs on TV and I do not particularly like them. I mention that only to make it clear that the following remarks come from someone who does not follow the sport nor has any fondness for it.

UFC had a big pay-per-view event on July 9; I did not see it; that happened in the middle of my most recent hiatus. One of the most hyped bouts on the card featured the return of Brock Lesnar to UFC. Lesnar had fought there in the past but had been participating in pro ‘rassling for the last several years. [Aside: Given the way UFC creates furious animosity between fighters before bouts, I have said before that UFC is just like WWE except that in UFC the punches land and the blood is real.] Lesnar won his fight that night.

Subsequent to the results, we now know that Brock Lesnar failed a drug test on 28 June. That means that 10 full days came and went between the time the sample was analyzed and the time of the fight. Once that information came to light after the pay-per-view event was over and the money was counted, the UFC mavens claimed that this was all news to them. Wow …

Oh, did I mention that UFC as a business has just sold itself to a new owner for a price reported to be in the range of $4B? I guess the UFC mavens were so busy handling that transaction and celebrating the closure of the deal that they never got the memo regarding the failed drug test for their pay-per-view headliner.

To be fair, there will be a confirmatory test on Lesnar’s “B-Sample” to see if that testing shows the same result that the first test did. There is indeed a chance that this is a laboratory error – but that does not explain how for 10 days the event promoters managed to avert their eyes and ears from such results. The UFC Word for Today is:

    C R E D I B I L I T Y

Several weeks ago, CBSSports.com had a report about booze coming to college football stadiums in greater amounts. No, they were not talking about hip flasks smuggled in by students and used to stay warm during cold weather games. The report was about more and more NCAA institutions selling alcohol in stadiums as a revenue generator. And it is not just for football games; this year at the College World Series and at the Women’s College World Series (softball), fans could purchase wine and beer in the stadium venues. This Fall, about 40 colleges and universities will sell beer – and in some cases beer and other alcoholic beverages – in the stadia where football games happen.

I am anything but a fan of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; I have been known to imbibe an adult beverage on more than a few occasions. Nevertheless, in college football stadium, there is a significant fraction of the attendees who are underage. On college campuses around the country, there are more than a few problems that involve underage drinking and involve over-consumption by young adults who seem to have insufficient self-restraint. And so, the institutions of higher learning who put on these events think it is a good idea to add yet one more source of alcohol to that audience.

    What could possibly go wrong?

Obviously, the motivation to sell beer and such in the stadia is revenue. Here is some data from the CBSSports.com report:

    West Virginia made $600K from selling beer and wine last year.

    Texas made $1.8M from selling beer and wine last year.

Here is a rationalization offered for selling beer in the stadium:

It will cut down on the binge drinking in the parking lots during pre-game tailgating.

Honestly, one of the college officials said that to CBSSports.com. I wonder how long it took him to be able to say that without giggling.

Finally, here is an item from Gregg Drinnan’s Keeping Score at newskamloops.com:

“On Monday, Joey Chestnut downed 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes and was treated as an American hero for winning a July 4 eating contest. In my house, I got the stink eye when I reached for a second pork chop at dinner.”

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

Good To Be Back …

A couple thousand years ago, Julius Caesar victoriously returned to Rome after his conquest of Gaul. Last weekend I returned to my keyboard from a river cruise in southern France. Caesar used his trip to set himself up as Emperor of Rome. I used my trip to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary with my long-suffering wife. You have to look very carefully to see any real parallels there…

Lots of stuff happened while I was gone and I really did not pay that much attention until I got home last weekend. But I did notice that the American League won the All-Star Game meaning the AL champ will have home field advantage in the World Series. For the first time that I can remember, it might actually be appropriate. It has never made much sense to me use the All-Star Game in this way. However, this year might find the Royals in the World Series again and two of the Royals’ players hit home runs in the All-Star Game to provide the margin of victory. At least for once, the outcome of the All-Star Game can possibly have direct ties to some sort of accomplishment by members of the team in the World Series. As of this moment, I am rooting for the KC Royals to make it to the World Series for that reason alone.

    [Aside: Do not take the above to mean that I think Bud Selig did a smart thing or a useful thing linking the All-Star Game outcome to the World Series. I have said that was a dumb move since the day it was announced. However, this year I can root for a serendipitous ending to the AL season by having the Royals in the World Series – and then go back to saying this is a moronic linkage.]

I also noticed – thanks to an e-mail from a reader with a link in it – that Dwayne Wade expressed feelings of remorse about having to leave Miami to sign with the Chicago Bulls because of the “business aspects” of the game. It seems that the Heat offered him 2 years and $40M to play in Miami at age 35 but “business aspects” demanded that he take the Bulls’ offer of $43M for 2 years. At least he did not sink to Latrell Spreewell levels and declare that he had a family to feed as a way to denigrate the Miami offer.

At the same time, Tim Duncan retired from the San Antonio Spurs in a most understated way for a player who will surely go into the Hall of Fame down the road. His retirement announcement is perfectly in character for him. If you listed all of the adjectives in the English language in order of relevance to Tim Duncan’s demeanor and carriage over the past 20 years, I think it would take you a week to get down to “flamboyant” on that list. He is the most understated superstar I can recall in the NBA since the league started marketing its stars.

NBA Commish, Adam Silver, expressed some concerns/reservations about the trend to form “super-teams” in the NBA. The league had a “super-team” in Golden State last year until the NBA Finals and that season produced the biggest TV ratings ever. At first, some may think that the Commish is out of touch. I think over the long haul he has reason to be concerned.

    There are 30 teams in the NBA. I am certain that there are die-hard fanboys in every one of those cities who are convinced that their guys have what it takes to be NBA Champs next season. Those fanboys are living in a delusion…

    Absent crippling injuries or disasters like fatal plane crashes, there are only a half-dozen teams who have a prayer of making it to the NBA Finals let alone winning it all. That is reality…

Over the long haul, without competitive balance the league will not continue to flourish and grow. There are CBA negotiations upcoming for the NBA and the NBPA and it will behoove both sides to figure out how to keep money flowing to the enterprise so that it can be divvied up equitably between owners and players. Here is the outline of one idea to accomplish that end; clearly, it will need meat put on the bones:

    1. Fix the percentage of revenue coming to the league that is assigned to player salaries and divide that number by 30 (teams in the league).

    2. Make that number a hard salary cap for each team for each season.

    3. Get rid of the “maximum contract” concept. If the hard cap for a season is $100M (just to make math easier) and a team wants to spend 75% of that money on a superstar player, they should be allowed to do so and then fill out the team with 14 other guys who can divide up the remaining $25M.

In that system, the players get paid in aggregate the same as they would with the “max contract” in place but it would make it more difficult to assemble a 4-player “super-team” without all four of the players making the conscious decision to take tens of millions of dollars less to play together than they could make playing against each other.

Just a thought…

To give you an idea of NBA revenue streams, I ran across a report about the potential value that might accrue to teams by selling those “company logos” on their uniforms next season. Recall that the league decided that they would allow each team to sell one 6.25 square-inch patch on the uniform for next season. The Golden State Warriors have evidently let it be known that they are looking for somewhere between $15M and $20M from a sponsor for that privilege. The Warriors are going to be on national TV a lot next year; you can count on that. To some extent, the market for these company logos has been set from the lower tier of the league.

The first team to sell advertising rights on the uniforms for next year was the Philadelphia 76ers. You can be relatively certain that they will not be on many national telecasts next year unless there is some clause in the TV contracts mandating that every team must have some minimum exposure in such games. The Sixers logo for the next 3 years will be StubHub – the ticket reseller – and the revenue to the Sixers will be $5M per year. Here is a link to an espn.com report with details on this

Phil Mickelson finished second in the British Open yesterday at the age of 46. Recall that he won the British Open in 2013 at age 43. I want you to take yourself back to 2006 and think about how you would have answered this question:

    Which golfer – Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson – will be the bigger factor in major golf tournaments ten years from now?

Remember, back then, Tiger Woods was the fitness and conditioning freak and he is 6 years younger than Mickelson. Back then, the only thing anyone ever mentioned about Mickelson’s physique were his “man boobs”. Well, here we are in 2016 and Mickelson came within 3 shots of the winner, Henrik Stenson, and he was 11 shots ahead of the third place finisher. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods last win in a major was 8 years ago in 2008 and his last win in any tournament was in 2013.

Finally, here is an observation from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Bartolo Colon looks like the first runner up in a Fred Flintstone lookalike contest.

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

Here, There And Everywhere…

Today will be a clean-up of odds and ends on my clipboard. Any continuity from item to item is purely coincidental…

Kevin Durant ended what seemed to be endless speculation about where he will play basketball next season by announcing that he will sign a 2-year deal with the Golden State Warriors. This announcement raises one question in my mind:

    Are there enough shots in a game to go around among Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? We shall find out next year…

This announcement puts to rest various speculations about where Kevin Durant may have chosen to play. Let me try to explain why some of those outcomes did not happen:

    Why not the Lakers? Well, in the last three seasons the Lakers have lost 55 games, then 61 games, then 65 games. That is not a good trend. Moreover, it means that in the past three seasons the Lakers have won a total of 65 games; the Warriors won 73 last year alone.

    Why not the Knicks? It is impolite to answer a question with a question but I will do so anyway. Who would want to play for that hot mess of a team?

    Why not the Wizards (in his home town)? Look at the Wizards roster; there are no certified star players there. Durant could not win with Russell Westbroook and a decent frontcourt in OKC; why would anyone think he might win with John Wall as his running-buddy and a less competent front court? Ka-beesh?

I somehow missed the following comment from Brad Dickson but Gregg Drinnan caught it and put it in his Keeping Score column. It is pertinent to the recent NBA championship won by the Cavaliers:

“With people in Cleveland rushing to see a sculpture of Cavaliers leader LeBron James that is made out of dryer lint, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald wrote: ‘You have over five decades to prepare, and this is what you come up with?’”

Joey Chestnut won the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest downing 70 hot dogs – and their buns – in 10 minutes. Ignoring the gastric distress of the moments following that feat and the impending intestinal distress on the next day, consider the “nutritional value” of 70 Nathan’s Hot Dogs:

    1260 grams of fat
    19,600 calories – not counting the 70 hot dog buns
    800 calories from fat – 64% of caloric intake from fat
    FDA “guidance” is to keep fat intake to 25-30% of ingested calories

Why do we celebrate gluttony on Independence Day?

There was a report that a disembodied human foot washed ashore in Rio de Janeiro right near where the beach volleyball competitions will take place in the Olympics next month. Just guessing here, but if an errant shot rolls down near the water line, no one is likely to say,

    “Give me a hand, here…”

Greg Cote had this comment about the upcoming Games in Rio in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“The Rio Olympics begin in one month. And, really, other than the threat of Zika virus and crime, the unfinished facilities, bacteria-riddled water, athlete withdrawals, doping suspensions and body parts washing ashore, everything is looking good.”

The 2016 Olympic Games have not yet begun but there is already sponsorship news about the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this item in a recent column:

“There is already an official toilet of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. I’m just glad sport isn’t overly commercialized.”

If for some reason you actually care enough about this to want more information, here is a link about the partnership between the Tokyo organizing committee and the toilet company.

Back in April Loyola University faced a problem on its women’s basketball team. Most of the players either quit or applied for a transfer citing harassment from their coach, Sheryl Swoopes. The university hired outside investigators and after several months of sleuthing, Loyola fired Sheryl Swoopes over the weekend. The Chicago Tribune has been on top of this story from the beginning; here is a link to their recent coverage.

Iceland’s hope of being the Cinderella of Euro 2016 ended over the weekend with a 5-2 loss to France in the tournament. The Icelandic team played hard for the entire game but France simply had better players on the pitch; the score was reflective of the game as a whole. Not to worry, however, there is a Cinderella still in the “Final Four” of Euro 2016:

    Wales – a team that had last won a game in a major international competition back in 1958 – will play Portugal and the winner of that game will be in the Final Game for Euro 2016.

    The other semi-final game will match France and Germany.

Finally, since I cited a Greg Cote comment above, let me close with another of his observations here:

“Colts sign Andrew Luck to richest deal in NFL history, worth up to $140 million through 2021. Imagine if he weren’t coming off his worst season!?”

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

Summer In Finland…

Canadians celebrated Canada Day last Friday; Americans celebrate Independence day today. Between those two days of celebration, Finland hosted the Wife Carrying World Championships in the town of Sonkajarvi located a couple hundred miles northeast of Helsinki. The race takes place on a 253-meter sand track with a water obstacle that is 1-meter deep. The male in the race has to carry the female – who does not have to be his wife – for the entire course. Thirty-five teams competed and the winner was a Russian team that finished in 1 minute and 2 seconds.

The rules for this competition require the female to be carried must be at least 17 years old and must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds). The rules also state that all of the contestants “must have fun”.

If you missed the opportunity to got to Sonkajarvi to take in this event – or to participate in it at your choosing – be advised that Finland will host another world championship event later this summer and you still have time to plan to go or to practice so you can participate. From 24 through 26 August in the town of Oulu, the 21st annual Air Guitar World Championships will take place. The guiding spirit for that event is summarized here:

“According to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars would end, climate change stop and all bad things disappear, if all the people in the world played the Air Guitar. At the end of the competition, the whole universe is invited to play the Air Guitar for the world peace.”

Last night, the Marlins beat the Braves in a game played at Fort Bragg, NC. It is the first MLB game played in the state of North Carolina and it is the first MLB game played on a military base. This was one of the home games for the Braves and the crowd was clearly in favor of the Braves. That did not matter much as the Marlins won the game 5-2. From the crowd shots of the game, I believe those in attendance were all servicemen and their families and it certainly appeared as if everyone was having a good time. Obviously, this was a makeshift facility for an MLB game; there did not appear to be an empty seat in the house and the attendance was reported as 12,582. During the game, they interviewed Rob Manfred about the motivations for putting the game at Fort Bragg. Manfred said that MLB is committed to putting real baseball games in places where it has never been before and make it clear that he wanted to see things like this happen in the future. Based on the crowd response last night, it is probably worth replicating.

The Braves “lost” a home game by playing this game where they did. The Braves are clearly having attendance woes this year – in addition to their on-field woes. The team is about as bad on the field as most people thought they would be and fans are finding other things to do with their spare time instead of going out to the ballpark. The Braves are averaging only 22,724 fans per game – down 3,266 fans per game from last season. These are not “early numbers”; the Braves have already played 47 home games as of this morning which is over half of their season allotment of home games.

In an attempt to get more fans into the park, the Braves have come up with an interesting sales promotion. You can buy a monthly pass for $39. Each person can buy up to 4 of these passes but the catch is that you do not know where your seats will be. About 2 hours before game time, each monthly pass holder will get an e-mail informing them where they will be sitting for the game that day/night. The pass will automatically renew month-to-month unless the buyer cancels out of the deal prior to the arrival of the new month.

In July, the Braves will play 9 home games. If you thought you might want to see even 3 of them, the monthly pass is a pretty good deal because that would mean you would see a major-league game for $13 per game. Those are minor league prices… I think this is a good idea for a team that is struggling at the gate. For all of the details, here is a link

There is a strange story out there concerning former Seahawks’ backup QB, Tarvaris Jackson. In June, Jackson was arrested for allegedly pulling a gun on his wife; he has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. There has been no trial or any pleading in the case so I am loath to fill in any details here. What is strange in this matter is that Jackson requested a public defender claiming that he is broke.

According to reports, Jackson said that he has no income and no savings or investments. He said that his assets are a car (worth $100K) and nothing else. Evidently, the judge was skeptical and denied Jackson’s request for a public defender. Jackson is correct in saying that he has no income; he is an unrestricted free agent and has not signed with any NFL team as of this moment. [Aside: This arrest and these charges will surely not make him any more attractive to NFL teams considering any addition to their QB rolls.] However, his assertion that he has no savings or investments is difficult to believe.

    In 2015, his contract with the Seahawks brought him $1.5M

    In 2014, his contract with the Seahawks brought him $1.25M

    In 2013, his contract with the Seahawks brought him $840K

Jackson was originally drafted in 2006; so, he has made a significant amount of money over the last 10 years. Obviously, he may indeed be destitute as he claimed; but I can understand why the judge was skeptical here.

Finally, here is an item I gleaned from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times a while back:

“New York ended its holdout last week, becoming the final state to legalize MMA fights.

“The first bout will be at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12 or the next time someone wears a Red Sox jersey into Yankee Stadium — whichever comes first.”

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

NBA Stuff …

I am intrigued by one of the early NBA free agent signings. The LA Lakers signed Timofey Mozgov for 4 years and $64M; I have not looked up the exact terms of the deal so let me assume for a moment that this is a simple $16M per year contract. I think there is a huge risk for the Lakers in this signing. Consider:

    Two years ago, Mozgov averaged 10 points per game and 7 rebounds per game for the Cavs. In the subsequent off-season, he had knee surgery.

    Last year, Mozgov averaged 6 points per game and 4 rebounds per game. In the Finals against the Warriors, he played a total of 25 minutes in 7 games and scored a total of 15 points in those 7 games.

    Mozgov will be 30 years old in 2 weeks.

Perhaps he needed that year to rehab his knee fully. In that case, the Lakers have themselves a competent center to go with three or four young and promising players who cannot play center; that would be a shrewd move by the Lakers. On the other hand, it may be that the Lakers are paying $16M per year to a guy who was essentially a bench player for all of the NBA playoffs this season. [Even before the Finals against the Warriors, Mozgov only averaged 5.8 minutes per game for the Cavs.] If his knee is damaged to the point where it will not improve significantly from where it was last season, the Lakers will have signed a $64M albatross.

While I am on the subject of the NBA – sort of – I wrote recently that Adam Silver wanted to make a rule change to eliminate the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy and that I fundamentally disagreed with him on that point. However, I do have a suggestion for The Commish related to an issue that I think would benefit the NBA significantly. Moreover, given the large increase in revenues that the NBA has experienced – and is projected to experience in the next few years – this is the time to consider it.

The NBA is not well-served by the negotiated terms of the current CBA that creates the “one-and-done” situation in college basketball. Yes, there are some players who are physically ready to be NBA players one year out of high school; Karl Anthony Towns is the most recent example; however, please do not forget the names Kwame Brown or Eddy Curry. Yes, there are some players who are mature enough to handle the fame and riches they obtain as they sign their rookie NBA contracts; let me just say that some of them handle those assets more poorly than others. In the days when players stayed in college for 3 or 4 years before coming to the NBA, the league had access to talents that had received good coaching for a longer period of time and – generally – more mature individuals. So, how can that situation obtain once again?

I think that it is time for the NBA to make a major investment in the D-League – or to use the D-League as the basis for evolving a much more robust “minor-league system” for basketball. The NCAA used to provide this to the NBA for free; Federal courts ruled that the NBA could not prevent players from skipping directly to the NBA; the CBA legitimized – in a legal sense – the notion that a player had to be 1 year removed from high school to be NBA-eligible. I just do not think that 1 year is enough in most circumstances.

Let me review the D-League briefly here:

    There are 22 teams in the D-League and 14 of those 22 teams are owned by a “parent” NBA team.

    Eight other NBA franchises have some sort of “hybrid”/”partnership” sort of “ownership”/”affiliation” with other D-League teams.

    It is not as if there are not close ties between the NBA and the D-League already.

The problem is that the public perception of the D-League is about as bad as it could be. Ask most folks about it and the response will be somewhere on a spectrum centered around “the place for players who can’t play in the NBA”. Compare that with the public perception of minor league baseball where most folks think of those teams as “places where prospects hone their skills in order to get to the majors”. The NBA can do a lot to change that perception; and if they do, they can then embark on a course whereby they can begin to develop players over time for the parent club; having draft picks spend some time in the D-League should become a normal part of player development much as happens in baseball.

There are probably CBA considerations here but my next idea might make the NBPA amenable to a change here:

    I think the NBA Draft should be increased to at least 3 rounds and preferably 4 rounds.

    I think that D-League salaries need to be increased on a scale and that contracts for players taken in the second, third and fourth rounds should be limited to 2 years. After that, the parent club has to sign the player to an NBA contract that meets some minimum standard or the player becomes a free agent.

    I think that a first-round pick who is sent to the D-League for “seasoning” should continue to get his guaranteed NBA contract salary based on the slotting formula that exists and his time in the D-League counts directly toward the time when he fulfills that contract and can sign elsewhere as a restricted free agent.

I think this will make the NBA a better league with a better product to sell to the public. Yes, it will cost the league some money, but it will not bankrupt the owners by any stretch of the imagination. It complies with the law in that all of this would be codified in a CBA and it allows for the truly gifted player to go directly to the NBA after one year of college – Karl Anthony Towns as my poster child here.

Finally, since today is the day Johnny Manziel declared that he will get totally sober and serious about playing for an NFL team this year, here are two comments about Manziel from columnists:

“Johnny Manziel was indicted. My question: What with all that partying, how does he find the time for domestic assault?” [Greg Cote Miami Herald]

And …

“Last week, Johnny Manziel attended a Justin Bieber concert. In a crowd full of 16,000 11-year-olds, Manziel was still the least mature person in the room.” [Brad Dickson Omaha World-Herald]

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