Greetings From Custer State Park, South Dakota

Greetings from State Game Lodge in Custer State Park in South Dakota. The road trip continues having already stopped at the National Minuteman Missile Historic Site, the Carhenge site in Alliance, NE, the Museum of the Fur Trade, the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs NE, the National Woodcarving Museum, and Mount Rushmore. Never let it be said that we just go someplace and laze around day and night…

We arrived at the State Game Lodge last night and finally ended our streak of plentiful; but mediocre food for dinner. This place has a chef on duty – not merely a cook. We will be here three nights so I can look forward to dinners for a couple more days. After that, I fear we will be back on hardtack rations until Yellowstone.

The NCAA finally got around to notifying UNC formally about allegations of “academic irregularities” and the school now has 90 days to respond to said allegations. Well, that took long enough. The head of the department that ran the courses that allegedly were “ghost courses” resigned about a year ago so the idea that some kind of “irregularities” where going on has been in the air for quite a while now. Some mean-spirited folks might call those “irregularities” something more like “fraud” while kinder and gentler critics might label them merely “shenanigans”. Whatever…

It will be very interesting to see how the university responds to the allegations. UNC has said that it will be as transparent as it can – consistent maintaining individuals’ privacies as required by law – with the allegations and with its response(s). Some have characterized this matter as the worst case of academic impropriety ever; I will wait to see more info before going that far.

The Women’s Sports Foundation has started a petition to block Isiah Thomas from becoming a part owner of the NY Liberty. To steal a phrase from soccer play-by-play guy, Ian Darke, this one is on the knife edge.

    When Thomas was the GM for the Knicks, a woman charged sexual harassment and improper discharge.

    She won a civil judgment of $11.5M for being improperly let go.

    However, the judgment specifically said that Thomas was not liable in the matter.

I agree completely that James Dolan – owner of the Knicks and Liberty and major domo for MSG was tone-deaf in getting Thomas involved in this matter in the first place. However, his tone-deafness may or may not be a reason to deny Thomas this “business venture”. I do not know for whom to root in this contretemps.

More postcards from the road as time permits.

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

Greetings From Badlands National Park

Greetings from Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We got here by flying to Rapid City, SD and renting a car there. A quick drive to Wall SD and a visit to the famous/infamous Wall Drug Store – where you can buy everything from toothpaste to horse saddles to Native American artwork – preceded our arrival here in the National Park. The Badlands got their name because they were indeed “bad lands” if you were a settler or trapper trying to cross these lands before the days of paved roads. There is interesting geology here and plenty of beautiful scenery in an amazingly isolated part of the country.

Yesterday we took a drive and passed through the town of Interior, SD with a population of 94; a bit more than 30 miles from there we hit the town of Scenic SD with a population of 58. Between those towns there were scattered ranches, cows, prairie dogs and not much else.

We are only a bit more than 48 hours into this journey but it is becoming clear to us already that this will not be a culinary trip that rates more than 1.5 stars on a 4-star scale. Peg was introduced to biscuits with white gravy for breakfast yesterday and the look on her face made it abundantly clear that she was not going to finish that biscuit. Whatever…

Speaking of food, the Akron RubberDucks of the Eastern League are offering something called “The Screamer” which is billed as a 5-pound ice cream sundae. It comes of course in a RubberDucks batting helmet and consists of a 1-pound brownie and 21 scoops of ice cream. One need not be lactose-intolerant to realize that no one needs to consume such a concoction.

You could make it worse if you wanted to. You could eat “The Screamer” as dessert after consuming a “Heart Attack Burger” offered up by the Kane County Cougars – the Single A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Here are the contents of the “Heart Attack Burger”…

    One half-pound beef patty with grilled onions, one fried egg, slices of melted cheddar cheese, chipotle bacon mayo, 2 pieces of bacon and it has a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches on either side serving as the burger bun.

Good luck digesting that bad boy.

More postcards from the road as time permits.

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

Administrative Note

My writing schedule will be sporadic for the next couple of weeks. My long-suffering wife and I are about to go on another “road trip” around the US.

As I did last year, I will post rants from the road as time and material permit. Please check in once in a while for those “road rants” until I get home and get back to the usual schedule.

Stay well, all…

Playing Perry Mason This Morning…

The Preakness will happen later today. Favorite American Pharoah drew the #1 post position; and at Pimlico, that is not an advantageous draw. In a short field, it will not necessarily be as bad as it would be in a full field, but the post draw does add a marginal level of interest to the race. Lest you think I am being too critical of the Preakness Stakes, consider this item from Bob Molinaro’s column yesterday in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Horsing around: The Preakness is a day away. There’s still time to pretend you care.”

For the record, that comment comes from a native of Baltimore…

Now that Tom Brady has decided to appeal his 4-game suspension and Roger Goodell announced that he will personally hear that appeal, let me outline here what I would emphasize in the appeal if I were representing Tom Brady. The obvious disclaimer here is that I am not a lawyer and there is no way that Tom Brady or his representatives would seek my opinion here, but this is the broad outline of the points I would try to make.

    I would avoid any hint of an argument that would make it seem that I considered Ted Wells to be biased in his investigation on the basis that the NFL paid him. Ted Wells is by every report an experienced and highly regarded attorney; and unless there is video evidence of him doing something untoward and prejudicial in the matter, I would not go down that road even an inch.

    I would point out, however, that Ted Wells did not have subpoena power to command documents/records nor were any of the folks he spoke to subject to perjury or cross-examination. That does not nullify what he found but it does weaken the degree to which his findings can be taken as undeniable facts. Wells himself supports this argument because all he could bring himself to say over his signature and therefore with his reputation on the line were things like “more probably than not” and “generally aware of” in his findings.

    I would stress the amateurish – almost Keystone Kops – way that the league measured the pressure in the footballs at halftime. They used two gauges which did not agree with one another on even a single ball that was measured. Moreover, the difference in readings was as much as 0.4 psi – which happens to be 40% of the acceptable pressure range for footballs in a game (12.5 – 13.5 psi).

    I would apologize for Brady’s agent’s commentary that the NFL and the Colts engaged in a “sting operation” unless – once again – I could present video evidence to show same.

    I would argue that by all NFL precedents, this suspension is excessive. A comparison of the suspensions of other players relative to what they did – and the degree of certitude that they actually did what they did – is pretty easy to construct.

    I would point out that Ted Wells’ characterization that Brady did not aid in the investigation by making his phone records available to him is more a statement of pique than substance. First, that lack of subpoena power forces Wells to deal with that possibility from the start. Second, in a previous NFL disciplinary matter, another star QB, did not share his phone records with the investigation and did not suffer a 4-game suspension. (See Brett Favre and his “sexting incident” where his penalty for failure to cooperate was a fine of $50K.)

    Finally, I would hint that the punishment for Brady – and for the Pats by extension – is colored by the previous Spygate incident and that such a linkage is improper:

      a. Because Brady had no part in stealing the signals according to the findings at the time

      b. Even if he did have a part in stealing those signals, this is an unrelated matter and therefore added punishment would be the equivalent of “piling on” for the Spygate matter which the NFL did not put in Brady’s lap at the time.

I want to be clear here. I am not a New England Patriots’ fan; I have never lived anywhere in New England; I admire Tom Brady for his on-field accomplishments to the same degree that I admire Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and John Unitas among others for their on-field accomplishments. If you want to interpret all of this through the prism that I am some kind of a fanboy, I cannot stop you from doing that. All I can tell you is that in the harsh light of reality, I am not a fanboy.

In the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson maters, I supported what the NFL – and Roger Goodell – did. Granted in the Ray Rice matter, it took some time for the league to try to impose a penalty stiffer than a 2-game suspension. Many others called for Roger Goodell’s head on a plate; back then, here is what I wrote about the evolving Ray Rice Episode.

My support then for the league and for Roger Goodell was based on the degree of certainty I had in the wrong-doing of Ray Rice; I had seen “conclusive video evidence”… There is nothing even remotely close to such a level of certainty in this entire matter. That is not Ted Wells’ fault, but it is the fault of the NFL for taking “more probably than not” and “generally aware” as a sufficient basis to “drop the hammer”.

Finally, just in case you were worried that hyperbole might be on the wane, CBS announced that Super Bowl 50 – to be telecast on CBS next February of course – will be “the most historic broadcast event of all time”. Really? Have the suits at CBS forgotten already about Katie Couric’s colonoscopy and that time Judge Judy had to interrupt and scold one or both of the “litigants” in her “court” and/or the final episode of My Mother the Car?

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

Two Cities…

Let me start this morning with a tip of the cap to Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; … it was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

No, I am not going to talk about soccer in Europe. Rather, those words applied to the sense of optimism and the sense of despair felt by baseball fans in two American cities during the last offseason. In Cleveland, there was reason for optimism. The Indians won 85 games last year only 5 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers and only 4 games behind the wild-card KC Royals, who just happened to make it to the World Series. Jonah Keri covers baseball at Grantland.com and he picked the Indians to win the AL Central. Sports Illustrated went one up on Professor Keri and put the Indians in the World Series for 2015. About now, the fans in Cleveland are looking at their 2015 “spring of hope” turning into a “winter of despair”.

As of this morning, the Indians record stands at 12-21; only the imploding Milwaukee Brewers have a worse record in all of MLB. The Indians are 9 games behind the Royals in the AL Central and are in danger of losing touch with the race. Making matters a lot worse – and recognizing that the season is young and the situation has time to change –, the Indians are 6 full games behind the Minnesota Twins. The breakdown of the Indians’ record provides little solace; they are 7-16 in games against AL Central opponents and only 6-12 at home. Their Cy Young winner from last season just won his first game of the year this week and their dismal record stands in spite of the fact that six players are hitting .288 or higher and three players have an OPS higher than .850.

The Indians’ 6-12 record at home has to be ominous but perhaps a small part of that dismal record has to do with playing at home in Cleveland. Last year, the Indians were contenders for the AL Central title and for the wild-card slot for virtually the entire season. Nonetheless, the average crowd in Cleveland was only 17,746. The only team close to that meager an average attendance was Tampa Bay which does not draws fans even when the team is in first place and the Rays were not in first place for much of 2014. The Cleveland attendance in 2014 was pathetic. So, with the “spring of hope” and predictions of good times coming, how have the Indians drawn so far this year?

    In 18 games so far this year (22% of all the home dates on the schedule), the Indians are drawing 15,540 folks per game. That is more than 2000 fewer fans per game than the full season average from last year.

    To be fair, Cleveland attendance usually increases as the summer arrives. Nevertheless, this is not much of a “home-field advantage”.

In another major league city, Philadelphia, there was little reason for optimism over the winter. The Phillies only won 73 games last year finishing last in the NL East a measly 23 games behind the Washington Nationals. The team traded away one of its aging stars, Jimmy Rollins, over the winter but did not get back a phenom; Cliff Lee’s arm troubles were worrisome in the winter and became problematic when they showed up again in Spring Training. The team has bloated contracts it cannot move and the team offense that was suspect over the winter has shown itself to be worse than anemic in 2015. Consider:

    The Phillies have exactly 1 position player (Freddy Galvis) batting over .300 and his OPS is .815.

    Chase Utley has gotten off to such a bad start (.118/.209/.403) that three pitchers on the team have better batting stats so far.

    The Phillies sent 3B, Cody Asche down to AAA to learn to play left field which leaves open the question of the future of former wunderkind, Dominic Brown.

The roster is a mess; the team record so far this year is 13-23; the team will have to pick up the pace to win 60 games for the year. Last year, the Phillies’ average home attendance was 29,924 which is pretty good for a team that never had a prayer of making the playoffs. In 19 home dates this year, the Phillies are still drawing an average of 26,106 to the park every night. Philly fans have not abandoned this team – – yet. However, last winter’s despair has carried over into this spring and will surely remain over the summer months. By August, it should not be difficult to walk up to the ticket window and get a ticket for the game that night.

Since I was talking about ticket-buying and attendance figures above, let me switch sports for a moment. In July, the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame will welcome the arrival of Brett Favre and the team will retire his number. Given the less-than-fully-amicable parting of the way between the team and their former QB, this is a good thing. The Packers decided to open this event up to more fans than were going to be able to fit into the Hall of Fame structure; and so, Lambeau Field tickets were offered up so that fans could come and view the ceremony on the video screen at Lambeau. The agenda for the evening calls for Favre to make a cameo appearance at Lambeau “on his way” to the dinner and ceremonies for the evening.

The good news here is that the team did not use this opportunity to gouge the fans and dip even deeper into their pockets. Tickets cost $4 – that is not a typo; that was Favre’s number that is about to be retired – and the money will go to Favre’s charity foundation, Favre 4 Hope. According to reports, the Packers sold 67,000 tickets in less than 24 hours.

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

“Sign hoisted by a Milwaukee Bucks fan, after Chicago jumped to a 3-0 lead in their NBA playoff series: ‘But you still have Cutler.’

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

The Smell Of Affirmation In The Morning

It is nice to receive affirmation; it is doubly nice when said affirmation comes from a columnist that you think is in the upper echelon of writers on a particular topic. That is how I feel this morning. Let me do a reset here…

For at least 25 years, I have said that the Preakness Stakes having to take place at Pimlico made the Preakness into – at best – a third rate event. I have said that Pimlico was antiquated and outdated; it is. I have said that Pimlico is in a part of town that is anything but “top-shelf”; it is. I have said that on my visits there I had to look to find a horizontal surface at the track that was not sticky to the touch; I did. I likened the ambience at Pimlico to an “upholstered toilet”; that was unkind to every upholstered toilet on the planet.

Forget the pageantry and the relatively new infield tradition of drunkenness and public sex; Pimlico needs to be imploded – or at the very least to get a visit from the wrecking ball that used to fascinate Maynard G. Krebs. [Google is your friend.] And now, after about 25 years of being a voice crying in the wilderness, I am joined in the chorus by none other than Andy Beyer who I consider to be the best racing writer practicing the craft today. In this column in the Washington Post, Professor Beyer says that the Preakness should be moved to a modernized Laurel Race Track and Pimlico should be razed. He is absolutely on the mark here…

Several weeks ago, Charlie Walters said in a column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the Minnesota Wild needed to win their first round Stanley Cup playoff series in order to show a profit for the season. Talk about cutting it close in the world of budgeting… In any event, here are some of the data he presented:

    A sell-out crowd at the Xcel Center (17,954) turns a profit for the game of $1.3M for the team.

Assume his numbers are exactly correct. That means the team turns a profit of $72.40 per person – over and above the cost of putting on that specific playoff game such as paying the concession workers and the people who prepare and maintain the ice and the cost of utilities and etc. I think that number is interesting because the average cost of a ticket to an NHL game might be close to $70 all by itself.

Let me move to a couple of baseball notes here. The Yankees continue to refuse to pay A-Rod for his 660 HR achievement because they contend that they have an option to market that achievement and they choose not to. Fine. A court or an arbitrator will decide if they have to pay up or not. Nevertheless, it sure does seem as if the Yankees are being “cheap” here.

The team contends that A-Rod’s PED use makes their marketing of his HR achievement tenuous at best. Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, marketing that achievement will cost them $6M. Now, the Yankees are also scheduled to hold a ceremony later this year in Yankee Stadium where they will retire the number of Andy Pettite. The team is promoting that event – at no cost to the team close to paying Pettite $6M – and when you look at Pettite and A-Rod in juxtaposition you see two players who both admitted to using PEDs on more than one occasion.

A cynic might look here and see that the difference is that marketing the “Pettite event” does not cost the team any cash on the barrelhead while marketing the A-Rod achievement will cost the Steinbrenner Brothers $6M. That makes the Yankees look “cheap” and Papa George Steinbrenner will not be happy with that situation wherever in the cosmos he may be.

Many folks thought going into the season that the Boston Red Sox starting pitching was questionable at best. Well, so far this year, the Sox pitching staff as a whole – starters and relievers – has been well beneath “questionable”. And what did the Sox do to deal with that situation:

    Trade for Cole Hamels? No.
    Bring up their top pitching prospects? No.
    Lure Roger Clemens out of retirement? Thankfully, no.

What they did was to fire their pitching coach, Juan Nieves, who was the same pitching coach upon whom everyone lavished heaps of praise when he guided the Sox pitching staff that won the World Series. That was in 2013 which means Nieves got really dumb really fast…

According to some reports, Barry Bonds is considering filing a “collusion lawsuit” against MLB alleging that he was blackballed after the 2007 season and after he had – for all practical purposes – the BALCO Mess in the rear view mirror. Obviously, I have no idea if the owners colluded to keep him out of the game but if – I said IF – they did, I would hope that the owners learned a lesson from history. Back in the 80s, the owners lost a couple of costly “collusion lawsuits” because there was a paper trail of memos/messages/whatevers among them on the subject of “keeping free agent salaries low” for that particular season. As I recall, part of that paper trail also tied the office of the Commissioner into the cabal and that paper trail cost the owners something in the neighborhood of $300M.

So, IF the owners orchestrated a plan/scheme to keep Barry Bonds out of baseball – thereby depriving him of a way to make a living – one would have to think that they were smart enough also to get rid of any incriminating documents/text messages/voicemails/e-mails/whatevers. Could they be so dumb as to have neglected to cover that trail…?

Finally, here is a social commentary from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson were arrested in a domestic-violence incident. It’s about time women in sports other than Hope Solo chipped in. Male athletes have been bearing the brunt of the idiot burden for far too long.”

Professor Cote must not have noticed that Griner and Johnson more than made up for their squabble because the two of them were married in the last week or so. Love conquers all…

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

Random Musings…

Too bad Braylon Edwards is no longer playing NFL football; his arrest yesterday would have been a fantastic test case for the NFL under the new standards of evidence leading to punishment as established in Deflategate. Edwards was arrested under suspicion of DUI and police reports say he blew a .20 which is more than double the legal limit. Now, that is just the police report and not the findings of a court but still:

    “More probably than not” someone driving with a breathalyzer reading of 0.20 is over the limit.

    Braylon Edwards was surely “generally aware” that he had had a few pops prior to starting his vehicle.

It would have been an interesting test case…

I mentioned yesterday that Bill Simmons and ESPN were parting company. With his departure, there is certainly the possibility that Grantland.com will undergo a significant change and that leads to a situation that should be interesting to watch. ESPN has been “developing/incubating” another edgy website called The Undefeated. Some have referred to it as “The Black Grantland” because it will be headed up by Jason Whitlock. In absolutely no way do I believe that Simmons’ dismissal has anything to do with the impending launch of The Undefeated (scheduled for some time this summer), but with Simmons absent there will likely be fewer comparisons to the well-established Grantland.com and that almost has to help The Undefeated.

To say that Jason Whitlock can sometimes be controversial/provocative is sort of like saying that Sinatra could sing a bit. The site has five essays posted on it now and all are interesting reading; two are thought-provoking. I had thought I would wait until after the formal launch to link you to the site, but now that the launch is imminent and given the possible turmoil surrounding Grantland.com, you might want to check it out in its nascent form. Here is the link.

Almost 2 weeks ago, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony in Columbus. The Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame has been around for a while; this was its 10th induction ceremony. The keynote speaker was Bob Knight (a charter inductee 10 years ago) and he presented the first Ohio Heritage Award (a lifetime achievement award of sorts) to Jerry Lucas. For a Hall of Fame at the state – or the school – level, those two are huge icons. Both men are properly enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. And it their presence at this event that points to the tenuous status of localized Halls of Fame.

The most recognizable name on the inductee roster this year for people who live outside of Ohio would be Zydruynas Ilgauskas. The majority of the others on the list would be unknown to all but the most ardent fan of an Ohio team. Consider:

    Tom Dinger
    Dave Jamerson
    John Miner
    Bert Price
    Marlene Stollings
    Brooke Wyckoff

Those are the players – in addition to Ilgauskas – inducted this year. I did not include on the list the coaches and the referee who were also added to the rolls. My point here is that restricted Halls of Fame – not just in Ohio but everywhere – create multi-levels of members where the disparity among the levels is huge. Go, for example, to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sure, there are gradations of members; only a fool would try to equate Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Henry Aaron with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Nellie Fox. However, the disparity from the top to the bottom there is not nearly as great as you might find if you look at the full membership of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.

Nonetheless, a good time was probably had by all. Ergo, no harm came from the event or the fact of the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame’s existence…

File this under “When it rains, it pours…” Aaron Hernandez already stands convicted of murder in the case of Odin Lloyd in 2014. He is charged with murder and a bunch of other things in a 2012 incident where two people were shot and killed outside a nightclub in downtown Boston. That trial is imminent.

Earlier this week, the local prosecutors also charged Hernandez with intimidating a witness involved in that 2012 case that is about to come to trial. Allegedly, Hernandez shot this potential witness in the face sometime in 2013 and left him to die after the person said something about that previous incident that was not to Hernandez’ liking. That shot to the face cost the recipient an eye.

OK, I think we have crossed a threshold here. I think that the preponderance of good citizens in the US of A would conclude about now that Aaron Hernandez is not a nice person. Here is a link to a report that goes into more detail on this whole situation.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times is exactly on target with this observation;

“The Wire apartment building in Omaha, Neb., has been equipped with a 136-foot vertical tube that uses rising warm air to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

“But why stop there? Hire Dickie V. to talk into that tube, and you could light up the whole city.”

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

Moving On – – Hopefully

OK, the verdict is in. Tom Brady is out for 4 games without pay (costs him something in the neighborhood of $4-5M), the Pats are fined $1M (peanuts) and the Pats lose two draft picks (first round in 2016 and 4th round in 2017). Of course, this is pending appeals and grievances and the like, but for now…

Try to shed any vestige you may have of your dislike for the Patriots or your Patriots’ fanboy attire. Is this punishment commensurate with the alleged crime? I say alleged because after about 4 months and 243 pages of turgid prose, the best the investigators could come up with was “more probably than not” and “generally aware”. If that is the new standard for “proof” in the NFL and if those penalties are the new standard for punishment, teams and players had best beware.

Try to shed any vestige you may have of your dislike for the Patriots or your Patriots’ fanboy attire. Is this punishment a surprise? I say it is not surprising at all because the NFL had pretty much painted itself into a corner with regard to punishments. The only thing that is surprising is the magnitude of the sanctions.

Oh, and before folks get carried away with saying that Tom Brady is the highest profile player ever to get a severe punishment from the league, please recall that Paul Hornung was suspended for an entire season back in 1963.

Enough about Deflategate for now; there will be more as appeals and grievances happen…

The next blot on the NFL’s escutcheon arrived yesterday when it was revealed that 14 teams were paid by the National Guard to stage things like salutes to soldiers and other flag waving events. The National Guard says that it did this as a recruiting tool for an all-volunteer army; I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with the fact that this was a sponsored event and that fact was not disclosed. When Pepsi or Budweiser sponsors an event, it is pretty clear that they are ponying up some cash or promotional considerations to get to do that. When there is a salute to veterans or a tribute to the troops, one could – in the past – delude oneself to believe that the teams or the league were self-motivated to honor the troops. It turns out that the honor bestowed on the troops was bought and paid for – very quietly – with funds allocated to the DoD.

Why the secrecy? I think it is simple. It looks sleazy – and now that it is open to public scrutiny, it will look even sleazier if that is even a word. It appears that 14 NFL teams shared a total of $5.4M in DoD funds. If you care to see which teams got how much money, here is a link that will give you that information.

So, what might be next for the NFL…?

    Santa Claus appears in stadiums because a retailer like Target or Nordstrom paid the NFL for the appearance?

    The league does not donate to breast cancer charities after wearing pink for a month, the charities are paying the league to have the players wear pink?

    The punt pass and kick competition is rigged and parents buy their kids way into the finals?

So, you think I am just being cynic? Maybe so, but I do not quite achieve the ultimate level of cynicism as defined by H. L. Mencken:

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”

I am sure you have heard by now that Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting company starting in the Fall. Unlike many other reporters, I will not profess to know what he might or might not be doing next. Unlike others, I have no insight into the events within ESPN that led to this situation. Here is what I know.

Bill Simmons and ESPN have been together for more than 10 years. Simmons created and led Grantland.com starting with a concept and turning it into a highly regarded website for long-form commentary on sports and pop-culture. He also was one of the prime motive forces behind ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentaries. He has appeared on various studio shows for ESPN and has been a fill-in host on PTI on occasion.

Back when the Ray Rice Affair was front-page news, Simmons called Roger Goodell a liar on his podcast. The NFL and ESPN have more than a passing acquaintance in the financial arena and Simmons earned a 2-week suspension for that remark. I agree at that point he crossed the line. Recently, he was a guest on Dan Patrick’s syndicated radio show and made another comment about Goodell that was less than flattering. He said Goodell lacked “testicular fortitude”. Soon after that, ESPN announced that they will not be renewing Simmons’ contract in September.

Bill Simmons is a talented guy; I do not think there is a lot of argument about that. He may be replaceable in terms of finding someone to edit/lead Grantland.com. However, one thing I read made me stop and shake my head:

    According to reports, ESPN will retain ownership of his ESPN outlets one of which is his podcast, “The B. S. Report”.

    The initials there stand for Bill Simmons and not the gutter phrase for ovine offal. I do not know how ESPN thinks it will carry on “The B. S. Report” in the absence of “B. S.” unless of course they have Keith Olbermann do it in the persona of Bob Slurm…

Finally, this item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times demonstrates that if you look hard enough, you can find something good to say about anything:

“Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, on the Orioles and White Sox playing inside an empty stadium: ‘On the bright side, nobody did the wave.’”

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

Deflategate – Morning, Noon And Night

I think that the only way for Deflategate to get more coverage/exposure would be for some exec at CNN to mistake Deflategate for a missing airliner over the ocean and to order the network into its blanket coverage mode.

Last week, I told all of you what I thought might and should come out of the Deflategate Mess now that the league has the Wells Report. Over the weekend, there was a plethora of sports column space devoted to the topic and, of course, those columns attracted multiple sets of comments. Let me recommend two such columns to your reading today.

Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressed the issue with some humor while paying attention to most of the salient issues here. Like me, he was not particularly fond of the Wells Report itself. I will just give you a sample of his evaluation of it:

“According to the much-anticipated Deflategate report commissioned by the league and prepared by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, whose mountains of billable hours Ted Wells brought home in 243 pages (The Old Man And The Sea came in at 126 if you’re wondering how much verbiage it took Hemingway to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, because I know you were), 243 pages that somehow do not include the words Tom Brady is a cheating, conniving liar.”

Here is a link to the column; I commend it to your reading; I would not recommend that you spend a lot of time reading the comments at the end of it.

The other column you may wish to read in its entirety is by Charles P. Pierce at Grantland.com. Pierce is a wonderful writer and in this analysis he manages to harken back to the days of Nixon, Ehrlichman and Haldeman and ties that stuff into Deflategate. I have to admit, that would never have occurred to me nor could I have pulled it off. Here is the link to the piece.

About a year ago, I created something called the Just Go Away Club. I put in charter members including Lance Armstrong, Terrell Owens and the like. Membership in the club meant that I hoped not to hear from or about them anymore; they had worn out their welcome in my brain. Later Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano earned membership in that club. Thankfully, they seem to have gone away. I have a new member that I wish it induct into the Just Go Away Club today. That would be …

    Don Shula

Coach Shula has won more NFL games than any other coach; for that he is properly enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Coach Shula also piloted the only NFL team to go undefeated through a season and win the Super Bowl at the end of the season. While that is a big achievement, Coach Shula has beaten the sports world over the head with that achievement for at least the last 20 years – and I am being generous there. Now he has felt the need to add his voice to the Deflategate Mess by telling SI.com:

“We didn’t deflate any balls.”

Congratulations, Coach; you, your staff and your players were nothing but paragons of virtue in addition to athletic stalwarts. However, no one cares anymore about your 1972 team. You have made mention of that team something that resembles fingernails scratching a chalkboard. Enough already…

Oh, by the way Coach, about all that “paragon of virtue” stuff, you do recall don’t you that in the process of leaving the Baltimore Colts to go to the Dolphins, there were shenanigans involved. The Dolphins tampered with you – and interestingly it is difficult to have tampering occur in a contract signing without TWO signatures on that contract. So, while you “more than likely” did not initiate the tampering, you were a party to it. If you ever feel the need to moralize again, please include that disclaimer.

Coach Don Shula, Just Go Away!

Sticking with NFL happenings for the moment, Ed Reed announced his retirement from football last week. He played 12 years – 11 of which were with the Baltimore Ravens. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and safeties do not win that award all that often. He is certain to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame down the line and perhaps the best way to summarize his career is to use the words of Bill Belichick who was preparing to play against the Ravens and Ed Reed in the 2012 AFC Playoffs:

“Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.”

Bonne chance, Ed Reed…

Finally, here is a note from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding an NFL persona who is on the fringe of membership in the Just Go Away Club:

“Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress, 37, has been indicted on charges he failed to pay a $48,000 tax bill when his electronic funds transfer failed and he ignored notices to make good on it.

“Prosecutors are calling it out-and-out tax evasion; Burress apologists say it’s merely an incomplete pass.”

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

In Anticipation Of The “Deflategate” Punishments

The Ted Wells Report to the NFL regarding “Deflategate” was finally delivered. In a sense the report was perfect – from the perspective of the folks in the NFL who want to keep “The Shield” front and center in the sports news mix 365 days per year. What the report has done is to give the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Haters” fuel for their hatred while simultaneously giving the “Pats/Brady/Belichick Acolytes” plenty of room to point at the haters for being what they are. While much of the sporting world awaits the decree of The Commish on this matter, let me take a moment and try not to preach to you about morality or pragmatism or concepts such as “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The Wells Report, lengthy beyond what was needed and tardy given its contents, makes several things clear:

    The Pats used underinflated footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

    The measurements of those underinflated footballs by NFL officials at halftime showed a range of 0.4 psi from ball to ball depending on which pressure gauge was used. I have a PhD in chemistry; if a student reported data of that nature, I would send him/her back to the lab with a calibrated instrument to find out what the actual pressure was.

    There is incriminating evidence to say that two Pats’ employees were involved in assuring that the balls were inflated to the minimum pressure stipulated by the rules – and that in this particular game they may have “over-achieved” by underinflating the balls.

    The game officials did not cover themselves in glory in terms of their stewardship of the game balls once they had performed whatever measurements they did on those game balls.

After all of that, the report contains incredible wordsmithing – or weasel-wording depending on your bias here – to say that “it is more probable than not” that those two Pats’ employees took air out of the footballs after the referees had checked them prior to the kickoff and that Tom Brady “was at least generally aware” of the actions of those two Pats’ employees. And it is that kind of phraseology that makes me want to get off the Ted Wells train…

If it is “more probable than not”, that means that you believe “it” to be true but there is enough reason to doubt that conclusion that you will not put it forth in writing lest you be proven wrong at some later date and thereby demonstrated to be an incompetent investigator. Take a deep breath folks but the fact is that Ted Wells and his law firm have made lots of money off the NFL and stand to make lots more in the future – so long as they do not come up looking like amateurish a$$holes in reporting on this high-profile matter. Ted Wells is also an accomplished attorney who “more than probably” “is generally aware” of the laws regarding libel and slander. The fact that he worded his conclusions as he did could well mean that he did not want to be sued for libel/slander and have to prove in a court that what he said/wrote was the absolute truth.

“More probable than not” applies to the two employees who by dint of some incriminating text messages to each other points to the determination that they did something deliberate to take air out of the footballs after the officials had measured the internal pressures. I am going to say something harsh here but bear with me:

    No NFL fan – indeed, even no sports fan – gives more than a rat’s patootie if those two Pats’ employees did or did not do what they are alleged to have done. Folks, these two people do not matter a whit.

What NFL fans want to know is this:

    Did Bill Belichick orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did Tom Brady orchestrate any/all of this?

    Did anyone else in the Pats’ organization who is more famous than the two locker room attendants but less famous than Belichick or Brady orchestrate any of this?

The Wells Report pretty much exonerates Belichick and other members of the Pats’ organization. However, with regard to Brady, it says that he was “at least generally aware” of the actions of the locker room attendants. Let’s review:

    Wells is not certain enough to say that these two Pats’ employees did in fact deflate the footballs on that day in anything resembling an unequivocal fashion.

    Wells implicates Brady saying he was “at least generally aware” of actions that he is not willing to say that the locker room attendants actually did.

If I were to be most unkind here, I might characterize the key findings of the Wells Report in the following:

    We know the footballs had lower pressure than the rules allow.

    We think we know who did it – but we have no way of coming close to proving that conclusively.

    Based on the evidence that is not sufficient to point to the perpetrators unequivocally, we also take a leap of faith to say that Tom Brady “was generally aware” of that they may or may not have done but we have nary a clue as to whether he ever told them to do it.

If you are a Patriot/Belichick/Brady hater, take a deep breath here. Gather your thoughts because I am going to go into another direction here that you may not like even more than you did not like what came before.

Some have called for a suspension for Tom Brady for a couple of games; others have suggested 4 games; some have said suspend him for all of the 2015 NFL season. Think about it for a moment:

    Should the NFL set the bar for a lengthy suspension at “was generally aware” of a rules violation perpetrated “more probably than not” by someone other than the player to be suspended?

If “more probably than not” becomes the measure for lengthy suspensions, consider that phraseology when it comes to each and every domestic violence call made to 911 and involving an NFL player:

    The call is recorded; the caller gives an address and a description of what is happening.

    When the police arrive, they write a report indicating injuries/bruises on the person who made the call and they find the “NFL player” at the scene.

That is not enough to get a conviction in a court of law. If it were, the NFL would have more than a few current players who were doing time behind bars and not playing Sunday football. But if the standard for NFL participation is to be “more probably than not”, loads of players would suffer consequences from the league far in advance of any court appearance/trial. I do not know if that is such a good idea…

Recall a few years ago when the Giants were accused of faking injuries to defensive players as a means to slow down opponents who used a hurry-up offense. Such chicanery violates on-field rules and it would not be difficult to conclude that “more probably than not” the players were faking those injuries – after all they were back in the game seconds later – and it should not be difficult to assert that the coaches and the other players were “generally aware” of that those rule-breakers were doing. If this is to be the new standard for eligibility, there could well be entire teams that are on suspension with only one week for a franchise to assemble a replacement team. That would be ugly…

Now that I have suggested rational reasons why harsh punishments are not justified here, let me now tell you why the NFL has to hand down some significant penalties in this matter. The Commissioner and the league have some pragmatic issues to confront:

    This involves the Patriots and the fact of the matter is that the Patriots were over the edge in the Spygate Incident in 2007. There has to be a penalty and it cannot be a mere slap on the wrist.

    This incident involves on-field issues and on-field issues involve the “integrity of the game” and the integrity of the game is a foundation piece that supports this $10B per year enterprise.

    Tom Brady is a famous white player. The majority of players who have served significant suspensions meted out by the NFL have been less famous and black.

    There is no rational financial penalty that can be levied on Brady or on the Patriots that makes any sense.

Oh, and for the record, some folks have suggested that the Colts and the NFL ran a “sting operation” on the Pats in that game; I cannot tell you how little credence I put in such assertions. There is no “Colts/NFL Conspiracy” here any more than there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” about 20 years ago to defame a former President for getting serviced in the White House.

The NFL has to come down on someone or something for these deflated footballs; they violate on-field rules and the league cannot pretend it is inconsequential without simultaneously admitting that at least one of its hundreds of rules is in the book for no good reason whatsoever. So what are the possibilities?

    Monetary fines that have any relationship to previous fines are immaterial here.

    Tom Brady and his household take in something in the neighborhood of $60M per year these days. A fine of $1M would be enormous by prior standards and would be an amount just north of pocket change that fell into the sofa pillows for the Bradys.

    Forbes says Robert Kraft has a net worth of $4.3B and the Pats are making money faster than he can count it. What might the NFL fine the Pats and/or Robert Kraft – notwithstanding their declaration of innocence in the Ted Wells Report – that would be more significant than a mouse turd?

    The last discipline for a team that violated the tampering rules (Jets in 2015) was a $100K fine. In this environment, that is a laughable fine.

That leaves suspensions and loss of draft picks.

    The Falcons GM got a suspension when it was determined that the Falcons pumped in amplified noise into the Georgia Dome in violation of league rules. This happened even though the GM had no involvement in the incidents; it just happened on his watch.

    The Browns GM got a suspension of 4 games – without pay – for sending text messages to one of his coaches on the sideline during a game.

    With those “suspension precedents” someone on the Pats needs to be suspended for multiple games and the only person mentioned in the Wells Report who might be in the crosshairs is Tom Brady.

No matter what Roger Goodell decides to do here, there will be screeching. If he drops the hammer on the Pats as a franchise, lots of folks will see it as having been amplified by a desire to prove that even the “best teams” can suffer at the hands of the “League Disciplinarian”. If nothing happens to the Pats as a franchise, the folks in other cities can pat themselves on their backs for “knowing” ahead of time that the fix was in for the league’s favorite franchise. If the Pats lose a draft pick, it will not be enough for some fans and it will be an outrageous miscarriage of justice for other fans.

Roger Goodell is between a rock and a hard place but that is why he gets paid the big bucks – reportedly north of $40M last year. Here are some elements of what I would do if I were in his position and wanted to keep collecting that cool $40M per…

    1. Even though fines are virtually meaningless here, they do have some meaning to the general public. Therefore, I would fine the Pats $5M – and tell them to shut up and pay it lest the next judgment against the team be a whole lot worse. Moreover, I would fine Tom Brady $500K – the same amount Bill Belichick was fined in the Spygate Incident – with the admonishment to him and his seemingly hyperactive agent that it could be a whole lot more severe.

    2. If there needs to be a suspension to assuage the villagers poised to march on the Pats’ castle with torches and pitchforks, then make it a 3-game suspension where Tom Brady cannot play in any of the Pats’ home games against their 3 division rivals. [October 25 vs. the Jets, October 29 vs. the Dolphins and November 23 vs. the Bills]. I think this would be excessive on the part of The Commish and I think it sets a horrendous precedent for league action, but if he must…

    3. The most meaningful punishment would be loss of draft picks for the team – despite the fact that the Wells Report exonerated the owner and the coaches and everyone else in the franchise. Maybe the Commish could relieve the Pats of their first round pick in 2016 – or in 2016 and 2017 if he really wants to establish his cred as “The Great American Badass”.

      [Aside: The Commish also needs to tell the Competition Committee to change and tighten the rule about how game balls are prepared and handled before games. Make the officials responsible for inflation and preparation of the balls and make a player or coach from each team go to the officials’ room to witness the pressure measurements for all of the game balls. No team will prepare or inflate the game balls.

      Oh, by the way, spend some of the $10B to buy a calibrated pressure gauge for each officials’ crew…]

I expect criticism from Patriot fans suggesting that the punishments I offered up are too stern for things that are suspected but not known for sure. I expect criticism from Patriot haters and fans of other teams who may or may not hate the Patriots for harping on the flimsiness of the evidence and the conclusions in the Wells Report. The last thing I expect is for more than a handful of people to think I have called this one down the middle.

We shall see what The Commish decides – the guy who makes $40M per year to make such decisions. I shall just sit back here in Curmudgeon Central and take it all in and use whatever decision comes down as fodder for a future rant.

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