Taking Issue …

Bob Molinaro’s “Weekly Briefing” column is in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot on Fridays.  I often use one of his briefing points – or “Briefs” – as a way to provide a concise statement and comment on something in the sports world.  Sometimes, however, Professor Molinaro and I disagree; and in those circumstances, I prefer to present his point and offer a rebuttal.  Such is the situation today.  Here is one of his “Briefs” from last week:

“Move on: Slow to panic or fire head coaches, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a reputation for being the NFL’s model franchise. Had. Maybe they can start to regain it by moving on from disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown and free-agent running back LeVeon Bell, giving Mike Tomlin a chance to reboot an underachieving team that needs a shake-up.”

I take issue with the implication here that the under-achievement by the Steelers is somehow divorced from the performance of Mike Tomlin as the coach.  Yes, I know that he has won a Super Bowl for the Steelers and that his record over 12 years with the Steelers has him winning 65% of the games; those results are not an accident; Tomlin is an excellent coach and he has worked with the team’s front office constructively to evaluate and develop talent.  I stipulate all of that.

Over the past couple of seasons, however, the Steelers organization has not been as tightly organized as it has been in the past.  In the past couple of years, the Steelers have had:

  • An assistant coach run onto the field in a playoff game and get in the face of an opposing player – – without a penalty to be sure
  • The drama of LeVeon Bell and his contract dealings
  • Members of the offensive line publicly calling out Bell for not reporting to the team
  • Ben Roethlisberger go on the radio and make unusual statements to include an announcement that he might retire after a mid-season loss
  • Antonio Brown recording and posting on social media internal locker room happenings
  • Antonio Brown torching the team and the front office for playing favorites.

At some point, the head coach must be part of this dysfunction; his job involves leadership and consensus building within the team.  Mike Tomlin is a fiery guy who often wears his emotions on his sleeve; and it seems that he has – in the past – been very successful in letting players have a long leash.  Maybe the leash was too long, and this is the Steelers’ price to pay for it?

The Steelers are a team in turmoil and that situation will continue to obtain if Bell stays there or if Bell moves on.  It will also continue to obtain with or without Antonio Brown in town.  It will continue to obtain until Mike Tomlin becomes the adult in the room and makes it clear that jobs and playing time for the team depend on some sort of personal discipline on the field and off the field.  I think Bob Molinaro gave him a pass here…

Here is another of Professor Molinaro’s “Briefs” from last week:

“Recycled idea:  Not an original thought, but if the NBA wants to do away with tanking it should get rid of the draft.  Allow college players to sign with whomever they wish after taking into account which franchises provide the best fit and opportunities.  Selfishness over playing time would keep the top prospects from flocking to a select few teams.”

If I were confident that the final sentence above would prevail, I could think about giving this a try.  However, I wonder if the lure of playing time would be strong enough for a prospect to look at teams like the Pistons – playing home games to 74% of capacity this season – or like the Timberwolves – playing home games to 79% of capacity this season.  Contrast to those teams the nine different franchises that are playing to home crowds of 100% capacity – or ever so slightly more with the approval of the local fire marshal of course.

It would not take too many seasons where a downtrodden team – – say the Pelicans once Anthony Davis takes a hike – – where none of the top college or international prospects choose to go there descends into a talent abyss.  Attendance will similarly crater and then the team will not be as able to bid for veteran free agents to help climb near the edge of the abyss such that college talent will consider going there.  I think this idea – recycled or not – is Russian Roulette for franchises.

Please do not infer any malice or ill-will from the comments above.  This is simply a situation where Bob Molinaro and I disagree.  Nothing more…

Changing the focus here…  There are times when I just shake my head in disbelief at how tone deaf/out of touch some people can be in the world today where social media makes known boneheadedness.  The NY Post reported this week that a high school cheerleading team in Wisconsin came under censure for team awards handed out at the end-of-year banquets.  According to the report, the team gave out the usual awards for “Hardest Worker” and “Most Improved”.  No problem there; those are standard fare at such convocations.

HOW-EVAH, for the last 5 years or so, the team also gave out the “Big Boobie Award” to the girl with the largest breasts and the “Big Booty Judy Award” to the girl with the largest butt and the “String Bean Award” to the skinniest cheerleader.  I am trying to put myself in the mindset of the genius who thought this up in the first place, but I can’t get there.  Add to that befuddlement the idea that someone would continue to do something like that for about 5 years and my brain is gyrating inside my cranium.

The ACLU has been central to putting a stop to such nonsense.  [Aside:  While I completely agree that these behaviors are outrageous, they do not fit my definition of a violation of civil liberties – – but that is a quibble.]  Lest anyone think I am making this stuff up, here is the link to the report in the NY Post.

Finally, MLB seems to be right in step with the current trend toward inoffensive language formulations and Dwight Perry took note of that recently in the Seattle Times:

“Major League Baseball will henceforth refer to its disabled list as its ‘Injured list’.

“So what’s next, getting the list sponsored by Hertz?”

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



Financial News Today …

The Alliance of American Football (AAF) may be only two weeks old in terms of on-field action, but the league has already undergone a huge transformation.  ESPN.com reported yesterday that the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, Tom Dundon, made a $250M investment in the league and will become its chairman.  There had been some reports that the AAF was in dire financial straits and that this money was a “bailout” of sorts; the AAF denies that reporting.  The following statement from Dundon would seem to indicate that this influx of cash was not a desperation measure:

“I’m impressed with The Alliance’s stunning growth in-stadium and across TV, mobile and social media in just these first few weeks.”

The inaugural weekend for the AAF was a TV success.  It went head-to-head with an NBA regular season game featuring James Harden and the Rockets – – and the AAF game drew more viewers.  If the TV ratings for the second weekend have been released, I have not seen them yet.

Dundon’s investment has to put the AAF on safe footing for now.  Obviously, the biggest expense for the league is player salaries.  So, let’s do some math:

  • There are 8 teams with 43 players on each roster.  Given injuries and the like, let’s say each team has 50 players on the roster for the season.  That is 400 players.
  • Let’s pretend for a moment that all the teams keep all their players for the entirety of their 3-year contracts.  That won’t happen of course, but if players lost are replaced by other players with the same standard contract, the financial burden is pretty much the same.  So, each player over the 3 years of their deal is going to earn $250K.
  • That means the total salary paid to all the players in the league is about $100M over the first 3 seasons.  Mr. Dundon’s investment of $250M would seem to cover that expense nicely.

The other big financial story from yesterday was the Padres’ signing of Manny Machado to a 10-year contract worth $300M – – with a opt-out clause after 5 years.  I have never been a fan of 10-year deals – – because such a large fraction of them turn out to be albatrosses around the necks of the franchises that sign on to them – – but this one just might make a bit of sense.

  1. With Machado and Eric Hosmer, who signed a long-term deal with the Padres last year, the team should improve markedly over its 66-96 record from last year.
  2. The Padres’ farm system is regarded as one of the best in MLB.  If 3 or 4 of those prospects mature in the next year or two and make it to the Padres’ 25-man roster, they will provide the team with talent at a low cost for about 4-5 years.
  3. That means the Padres have the opportunity to make a run at the playoffs in the next 5 years or so without having to sign onto another humongous free agent contract if they want to take that route.
  4. The Padres are the only major sport in town.  Even with last year’s dismal record, the Padres drew more than 2 million fans to their home games; they ranked 17th out of 30 MLB teams in home attendance.  If the team evolves to become a contender, there is plenty of potential to increase attendance significantly.  On average, Petco Park was only 63% full last season.

MLB teams all find ways to have special days in their seasons where they celebrate something related to the team.  Sometimes they bring back the living members of the roster that won the World Series 40 years ago; sometimes they honor a player who just got inducted into the Hall of Fame.  We have all seen and heard about these celebratory events.  Interestingly, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a celebration event planned for this season – – on May 18th to be exact – – that might put a lot of pressure on one of the current D-Backs’ players for that night.  Here is the deal:

  • On May 18, 2004, D-backs’ pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee threw a perfect game in Atlanta against the Braves.  This year will mark the 15th anniversary of that accomplishment.
  • On May 18th 2019, the D-Backs will have Randy Johnson in the house.  The first 20,000 fans to show up will get a Randy Johnson “figurine” featuring the starting lineup for his perfect game 15 years ago.
  • They will show some video highlights; there will obviously be some speeches; I would not be shocked to learn that Randy Johnson tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the night.

So, a good time will be had be all; this is an unadulterated feelgood moment – – unless of course you are the starting pitcher for the D-Backs on May 18th 2019.  After all the hoopla about a perfect game on this date, the starting pitcher takes the mound for the top of the first inning; think there is any pressure?

Finally, there is an AAF franchise in Salt Lake City where Brad Rock of the Deseret News plies his trade.  Here is one of his observations in his Rock On column from about a week ago:

“A Detroit Free Press article on the fledgling Alliance of American Football called it ‘The eight-team league, based in eight warm-weather cities …’

“Salt Lake a warm-weather city?

“Yeah, maybe … if you’re from Detroit.”

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



The New Orleans Pelicans Are A Mess

The New Orleans Pelicans fired their GM, Dell Demps, over the weekend.  Demps was a central character in the soap opera that ensued once Anthony Davis demanded a trade from the Pelicans [Hint – hint: to the Lakers] and that trade never happened.  Then the team toyed with the idea of sitting Davis out for the rest of the season to prevent injury and preserve his trade value over this summer – – but the NBA threatened huge fines for the team and for all practical purposes vetoed that idea.  Then Davis played in a game just before the All-Star break and “injured his shoulder”; he left the game and the arena before the game was over.

[Aside:  He must have been catching a flight to Lourdes because he was miraculously able to play in the All-Star Game last Sunday.]

The team owner – Gayle Benson who also is the person running the New Orleans Saints in the NFL – was reported to be enraged that Davis left the building in mid-game.  So, she fired Dell Demps.  It is not clear to me how that event became the straw that broke the camel’s back; but then again, I don’t own or run an NBA or NFL franchise.

Anthony Davis is a top-shelf basketball player; if anyone want to have him become the “face of their franchise”, I suggest he is ill-suited to that task.  During All-Star week festivities, he sat for a live interview and denied that he asked for a trade or that there was a list of preferred teams to which he would like to be traded if he had – in fact – asked to be traded.  [Aside:  Try not to get lost in the contrafactual subjunctive mood here…]  Then he said he would be willing to play for “any of the 29 teams” in the NBA because all he wants to do is win.

  • Translation #1:  I want to play for any team in the NBA other than a team that plays its home games in the State of Louisiana.
  • Translation #2:  Every other team in the NBA wants to win and could possibly win – – except for this sorry-assed franchise that I have been stuck with for the last six-and-a-half years even though they are paying me about $25M per year to lead this sorry-assed team to victory.

Having heard that interview, I can see why Davis wants to play for the Lakers.  There is no way he will have to be the face of the franchise there so long as LeBron James and Magic Johnson are there.  If he goes to LA, he can focus on playing basketball – – something he is perfectly capable of doing.

Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry has had to stand in front of the press for the last couple of weeks and field questions about all of this.  On the night when Davis left the building early, he probably had reached his limit in terms of trying to put some perspective on all this; he referred to the situation the team found itself in as “a dumpster fire”.  Give Alvin Gentry an award for candor…

As Spring Training progresses for all the MLB teams, there are still lots of free agents out there who have not signed contracts; it seems that everyone is waiting to see what happens with Harper and Machado to break the logjam.  Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer signed a 1-year deal with the Indians and said he would do so again next year; he suggested that the whole free agency situation could be resolved if everyone got 1-year contracts.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Charles O. Finley – the former bodacious owner of the Oakland A’s – is smiling knowingly.  Back in the 1970s when free agency was brand new, lots of people were forecasting gloom and doom.  Only the rich/big market teams would be able to afford the star players who exercised free agency; the league would become unbalanced and non-competitive; you get the idea…  Charlie Finley always thought about baseball differently than his fellow-owners; he said that the way to keep salary demands under control was to be sure there was an abundance of supply during every free agency period.  It’s called the Law of Supply and Demand

His idea was that every team should bid for player services with 1-year contracts.  That meant every player was a free agent every year; there would never be a year when there was only one or two stud starting pitchers out there to exploit a bidding war.  [There is no need to point out here that this idea has more than a few shortcomings, but the underlying principle was offered up as a way for management to limit the “outrageous demands” that free agents were making.  And this was before Scott Boras got into the agent business.]

There are 1200 players on MLB rosters at any given time plus minor league players that are in development stages with the various teams.  Imagine for a moment that every Halloween about 2000 real and aspiring baseball players all became free agents at once.  Then imagine the demolition derby that would ensue as 30 MLB GMs and front office gofers fanned out around the country to sign the players they wanted at prices they wanted with secondary plans in hand to go after other guys if the preferred guy signed elsewhere.  Put a little background music to that and you would have the 21st century version of the Keystone Kops.

Last week there were reports that the Boston Red Sox would have a rotating cast of announcers to do their radio broadcasts.  Former Mets’ play-by-play guy, Josh Lewin, is on the menu; so is Sean McDonough along with Red Sox staple, Joe Castiglione.  These guys will divide up the 162 games along with a mix-and-match group of color commentators.  It was one name on the list of “part-time color guys” that caught my attention.

  • Chris Berman

When Berman did baseball play-by-play on ESPN, I thought that was his weakest area of performance.  As a color analyst, he might be interesting.  Some of his broadcasting hijinks can become tiresome; but with him only on some of the time for Red Sox games, he could be interesting to listen to.

Finally, Dwight Perry took notice of Chris Berman’s part-time return to the broadcasting booth with this comment in the Seattle Times:

“Look who’s back, back, back in the booth.

“Former ESPN icon Chris Berman will be among the rotating stable of announcers calling call Red Sox games on WEEI Radio this year.

“Mookie ‘Gentlemen, Place Your’ Betts and Mitch ‘This Land Is’ Moreland refused comment.”

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



The Kaepernick Case Is Now Kaput

Clearly, the big event of the weekend was the news of a settlement in the lawsuit involving Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and the NFL.  That settlement involves a confidentiality agreement and as of this morning there are no reports that the agreement or the settlement documents have been made available to anyone in the press.  Notwithstanding that fact, the narrative goes like this:

  • The NFL caved because they did not want certain information to come to light at trial.  The fact of the settlement is a de facto admission of its guilt in the case and they paid a huge amount of money to Kaepernick and Reid to keep it quiet.  [Aside: I have heard/read commentators say the settlement was as low as $20M and as high as $80M.]

In order to settle a civil lawsuit, the signatures of the parties on both sides of the matter are required.  The prevailing narrative does not allow for the possibility that Kaepernick and Reid were not nearly as certain in their own minds that they would prevail and decided to take the bird in hand when the NFL made an offer just to put this matter to bed.  Please note; I am NOT saying that is what happened.  What I am saying is that until someone reveals the agreement itself, then that someone does not know what he/she is talking about either.

Here is what I know:

  1. The argument that Kaepernick is without a job in the NFL because he was suing the league is no longer valid.
  2. The confidentiality agreement limits everyone’s free expression on this matter and that limitation means any and all proclamations regarding the settlement are pure speculation.

Switching gears to another matter that is not in the courts yet but involves Title IX.  The US Department of Education is investigating whether the entity in the State of NY that makes the rules for high school softball is discriminating against women when it makes and enforces a rule prohibiting metal cleats for the sport.  The fulcrum of the investigation is that baseball players can wear metal cleats; baseball is predominately played by males; softball is predominantly played by females.  Ergo …

According to this report from Newsday, the investigation was sparked by a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last Fall.  In NY as currently mandated by rule, softball players wear “molded cleats” which are essentially the same shape as the metal cleats worn by baseball players except the softball cleats are made from rubber.

I realize that the following statements will demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have a preponderance of Neanderthal DNA in my body; nonetheless:

  1. It is good to see that the important areas of gender discrimination in US society have been resolved and that the battle lines are now focused on the composition of cleats used in softball versus baseball.
  2. It is also good to know that the recent shutdown of the US Government has been resolved to the point that the folks in the US Department of Education can give full and proper attention to this matter.

Regular readers know that I pay exactly no attention at all to the recruiting wars that go on regarding high school basketball and football players.  I have said that concocted events like National Signing Day are frivolous at best.  So, I won’t even pretend to know a tenth of what happens within those “ranking services” that assign levels of potential excellence to potential collegiate athletes.  I don’t know because I don’t care.

However, there is an interesting story out there that one of those ranking services was taken for a ride and the service was convinced that a high school player in Knoxville, TN was worthy of a 3-Star ranking.  The service proclaimed that the 6’ 6” 315 lb. offensive lineman was a 3-Star prospect and that prompted phone calls to his high school coach from Georgia Tech.  The problem is that the player in question – he does exist – is actually 5’ 7” and 220 lbs.; the information in his recruiting profile is pure fiction.

This story in USA Today fills in the details.  The NCAA estimates that 1.1 million kids play high school football and that less than 100,000 of them play college football.  That is a severe winnowing process.  It is also indicative of the amount of resources a ranking service would need to be able to assign 5 levels of gradation to the next crop of potential college football players.  The fact that a recruiting profile could be created and promulgated on this player/prospect without anyone at the service noticing that he might not be quite the size indicated in the report would tell me that no one ever saw him play even a single down for his high school team.

  • Breaking News:  We interrupt this daily rant to bring you news just in to Curmudgeon Central.  The player in Knoxville fictionally represented to be a potential offensive lineman in college football is now engaged to Manti T’eo’s former girlfriend.  Nuptials will be conducted in Narnia sometime later this year.

Finally, here is a word from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“A charter bus carrying the Stanford track team to a meet caught fire near downtown Seattle and, after all 31 passengers escaped, was totally engulfed in flames.

“Suggested title for the team’s 2019 highlight video: ‘Chariot’s afire’.”

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



Sports Betting Survey Results

Today, I want to focus on some survey results from Nielsen Sports about gambling.  From the outset, I must point out that the survey was done at the behest of – and funded by – the American Gaming Association (AGA) which is an organization that represents casino and sports betting interests.  I am not accusing Nielsen Sports or the AGA of any shenanigans here, but I always think it is important to know the interests of the people behind the survey and the interpretation of the results of that survey.

Nielsen Sports surveyed more than 1000 adults who self-identified as sports bettors from around the US.  While that sample size may seem awfully small at first, it is a statistically significant sample for such polling if the demographics of the people in the sample are properly managed.  What the survey sought to do was to project the future size of sports wagering revenues and the future behavior of sports bettors in the US now that it can be available in any State that chooses to authorize sports betting.  Obviously, there will be real data to analyze over the next 5-10 years to know with far more certainty the impact of the Supreme Court’s striking down of PASPA last year; this survey might provide casino operators, leagues and broadcasters with a signal as to where all of this is headed.

Here are some of the findings from the survey:

  • Among this sample of self-identified sports bettors, 44% are less than 35 years old.  In the entire US population, 31% are below the age of 35.  This would indicate that the population of sports bettors skews young.
  • Among this sample of self-identified sports bettors, 29% report a total household income of $100K or more.  In the US population at-large, 16% of households have that level of income.  This would indicate that the population of sports bettors skews toward higher income levels.

These data should be very encouraging to the entities that make up the AGA, but they should also be encouraging to TV networks and advertisers.  People with “a little something” riding on a game tend to tune in to see how their “little something” is doing; if the networks can convince advertisers that there is a segment of that audience that “skews young and affluent”, that is a good deal for the networks in terms of the fees they might charge for sponsorships.  That, in turn, is good for the leagues because that allows them to demand higher TV rights fees…

Obviously, the AGA is more than happy to take those results and to portray them in the most positive way and to use these data to encourage the expansion of sports betting in as many States as possible.  Here are how these data are seen through the rose-colored glasses of the AGA:

“Expanding access to legal sports betting will bring millennial audiences back to sports broadcasts and stadiums, which is a huge benefit for sport enterprises across the country. However, this potential will only be realized with proper policy frameworks that empower consumers with competitive odds, access to all bets and the ability to tap into modern platforms including mobile. Without this focus on consumers, the illegal market will continue to thrive.”

My translation for that statement is that the AGA recognizes that casinos face competition from local bookies who may offer credit to bettors which casinos cannot.  The AGA advocates for casinos to be allowed to offer a variety of betting formats and offerings to compete with the “underground betting operatives”.

As I said, a lot of the fallout from expanded sports betting in the US will become self-evident in 5-10 years.  Nonetheless, this survey has some interesting results.

While I am on that subject, the folks who ponder these big issues of “legalized gambling” and “effects on the soul of America” need to recognize something here:

  • Sports gambling is a tax revenue stream because casinos/sportsbooks pay taxes on their profits and on their real estate and there can be mechanisms to collect tax revenue from big winners in the casinos too.  Since many States employ sales taxes and hotel stay taxes, those are also tax revenue streams where sports betting contributes.
  • Moreover, much of this tax revenue comes from taxpayers on a voluntary basis.  It is very difficult for taxpayers to avoid sales taxes or real estate taxes or income taxes; it is very easy to avoid being part of the sports betting tax stream.  All participants there are doing so voluntarily.  That ought to be a popular concept among legislators…

Switching gears…  There was a report yesterday that the NFL may have reached out to Adam Silver to inquire if he might be interested in leaving his job as NBA Commish to become NFL Commish.  It is certainly no mystery that Silver enjoys a better reputation in the media and in public than does Goodell, but I would be very careful trying to equate the two jobs.  The NBA and the NFL are two very different entities; this would not be like the CEO for Ford Motor Co. moving over to become the CEO for General Motors – – or vice versa.

Finally, since I alluded to Ford Motor Co above, consider this Tweet from Brad Dickson recently:

“Ford is recalling 1.5 million F-150 pick up trucks. Oh, great, now how are Iowa State fans supposed to get to the games?”

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



Joe Flacco To The Broncos

Normally, the announcement of a trade involving a 4th round pick in the upcoming draft for a backup QB would merit a glance and not much more.  Today the trade of Joe Flacco from the Ravens to the Broncos for a 4th round pick is a topic that commands major focus.  You will read and hear about the Broncos’ QB problems during the John Elway Era in a dozen other places so let me focus in a couple of other items from this swap:

  • The big winner in the trade is Joe Flacco.  When John Harbaugh left Lamar Jackson in that playoff game in the 4th quarter after Jackson had thrown up on his shoes for the first 3 quarters, that was an unequivocal statement that Jackson was “his guy”.  So Flacco wins the trade by landing on a team with a good RB, a couple of good pass-catchers and a good defense.  Now, he has to show that he can avoid injury and recapture some of his previous form…
  • The big question now is what the Broncos will do with Case Keenum.  He is owed only $7M next season so for one year he is not a “cap killer”.  I will not be surprised to read that the Skins have interest here because they have a lot of money tied up in a starting QB who cannot play in 2019 – and may never play again – so that small salary number combined with the fact that Keenum is a step up from colt McCoy and/or Josh Johnson at QB makes this a sensible landing spot for Keenum.
  • The fact that the Broncos acquired their starting QB for a 4th round pick and nothing else sort of sets the market for players on the market such as Nick Foles and/or Antonio Brown.

Another offseason NFL soap opera  now involves and will continue to involve the Oakland Raiders and where they are going to play their home games next year.  Their stadium in Las Vegas will not be ready until at least 2020 – and some folks have said 2021 is a more realistic target.  Their lease on the Oakland Coliseum runs out this week; the City of Oakland and/or Alameda County are suing the Raiders over the process by which they put together the deal to move to Las Vegas.  The Niners have nixed any possibility that the Raiders could play in a stadium in SF.  Someone actually suggested that the Raiders play one year with London as its home stadium as if that could ever be approved by the owners of the other teams.  This story will probably take three dozen twists and turns before some final decision is made.

However, there is a wild card in the deck here.  I don’t know the details but there are reports that Birmingham, AL and Tucson, AZ have come together to offer the Raiders an opportunity to play their 8 home games in those venues; this is a joint venture of the two communities.  You have to give these folks credit for originality here.  I realize that the league and the Raiders’ ownership will not care too much about the inconvenience for the players over an arrangement like this but consider that these two cities are 1200 miles apart.  If the Raiders have to have “two home fields” for the season, where would the players’ families locate?

My guess – and I mean guess – is that the Raiders will wind up playing their home games in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and share that field with the Niners for the 2019 season.  That makes the most sense – – and that is the reason I think there is a real likelihood the Raiders could wind up playing their home games elsewhere like on the Moon.

The NBA has reached its All-Star break.  That means there will not be any meaningful NBA action for about a week.  There will however be plenty of meaningless activity and let’s start with the Dunk Contest.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to say goodbye to the Dunk Contest.

This was a fun idea and it was interesting to watch – for a while.  Then it got repetitious; then it got creatively silly as players dunked over parked cars; now, it is embarrassing.  The NBA can’t get many players – let alone any All Stars – to participate.  The players people want to see during the All-Star break will not show up for this silliness.  In 2019, there will be the grand total of 4 participants and there are no Dr. Js or Michael Jordans or Vince Carters or Dominique Wilkins in the group.

You have heard about Dennis Smith recently; he is the guy who was sent to the Knicks in the Porzingis trade.  Because that trade went down recently, you might actually know about Dennis Smith and might recognize him if you saw his mug shot.  I doubt that is true of the other three participants:

  1. Miles Bridges:  He plays for the Hornets don’t you know.  He is not related to Jeff Bridges or Lloyd Bridges.
  2. Hamidou Diallo:  He plays for the Thunder don’t you know.  If you put him in a photoshoot with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I could probably figure out that he is the tall Black man in the picture.
  3. John Collins:  He plays for the Hawks don’t you know.  You may know his brother, Tom Collins from Tom’s regular appearances at Happy Hours.

It is time for the Dunk Contest to be mercifully dispatched to the ashbin of basketball history…

The All-Star Game itself will take place on Sunday night and if you have nothing better to do with yourself on Sunday night you might find yourself watching some of it as you go channel surfing.  But understand that the NBA All-Star Game is not a basketball game.

  • The NBA All-Star Game is an extended version of the Skills Challenge from the day before the game with two added features.  First, they keep score as if it were a basketball game; second, they have referees involved to a marginal extent.

As you might guess, I will not be watching the NBA All-Star Game.  I have something much more important to do on Sunday night; I plan to alphabetize all the checks I have written over the past 5 years.  There is no reason to do that; it serves no purpose; yet it is more compelling than watching the NBA All-Star Game.

Finally, here is an NBA observation from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“A Kansas City woman reportedly makes $40,000 a year as a ‘professional cuddler.’ She offers comfort, understanding and reassurance by hugging people.

“Sources say the Cavaliers have booked her for the entire month of February.”

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



Here And There

With my long-suffering wife on a trip that has her 11 time zones away, I sat down last night after a comfort food dinner to watch the Duke/Louisville game.  I thought this was a perfect trap game situation for Duke coming between a trip to UVA last weekend and upcoming games against UNC.  Given that Duke is a predominantly freshman team, I wondered how they would handle such a situation.

I thought they played nothing but uninspired basketball for the first 30 minutes or so; it was worse than a sleepwalking performance.  With about 8 minutes left to play, the light went on and the Blue Devils did more than just wake up.  It was as if they snapped to attention and looked around and realized they were “in a predicament”.  Louisville was up by 20 points and were dominating on both ends of the floor – – and then the entire tone of the game flipped 180 degrees.  I don’t recall seeing that dramatic a turn-around in a game recently.  In the final 8-10 minutes, Duke erased a 20-point deficit against a very competent Louisville team and won the game at the very end.

What will be interesting to observe is the effect this game will have on Louisville.  They had the game under control and in hand and then everything turned to mud.  Clemson visits Louisville on Saturday; I cannot find any lines on that game this morning [For college basketball, lines tend to show up about 48 hours ahead of game time.]; I think it will be interesting to see how the oddsmakers see the outcome of last night’s game in light of the game on Saturday.

In the NBA, James Harden has a streak of 31 consecutive games where he scored 30 or more points.  Impressive…  Also, in the NBA, Russell Westbrook has had a triple double in 10 consecutive games.  Likewise, impressive …  Someone asked Michael Jordan which  of those feats was more difficult – given that he had never done either of them.  His answer was:

“Winning six titles.”

Even though Jordan abruptly changed the subject, I have to agree with his conclusion.  However, I would like now to change the subject on him just a bit and suggest that people recall some basketball happenings before Michael Jordan was a household name.  Bill Russell turned 85 this week; Bill Russell was a critical performer for 11 Boston Celtic teams that won NBA titles.  That is E-L-E-V-E-N!

The following paraphrase comes from Bob Ryan in his appearance on Around the Horn yesterday:

  • Counting NCAA tournaments, the Olympics, and NBA playoff series, Bill Russell played in 21 games where it was “win or go home”.  His team’s record in those games is 21-0.

So, kudos to James Harden and to Russell Westbrook and to Michael Jordan.  And an equal helping of kudos to Bill Russell…

When the Cleveland Browns announced the signing of Kareem Hunt earlier this week the social justice warriors went apoplectic.  You may recall that we have conclusive video evidence that Hunt assaulted a woman – even kicking her when she was down on the floor.  That behavior is despicable, and it got him suspended from the NFL and cut by the KC Chiefs.  He remains on the Commissioner’s Exempt List – which is even worse than double secret probation.  But the Browns signed him to a 1-year contract earlier this week.  I was wondering how long and how loud the voices of outrage would last for this action.

Now, in today’s Washington Post, Sally Jenkins provides a column of reason.  She does not excuse, dismiss or minimize what Kareem Hunt did.  [Aside:  Note that I am not hedging this by saying “allegedly did” because I saw what he did with my own eyes.]  What Sally Jenkins has done is to consider the possibility that there is a way to have something good come from that which is unmistakably bad.  I commend this column to your reading; here is the link.  Just to whet your appetite, here is the first paragraph of that column:

“Giving Kareem Hunt a second chance in the NFL is not just the right thing to do; it’s the only thing to do.  The alternative is to designate him incurable, a lost cause at 23.  It’s to say that his character is permanently set; and he’s incapable of making a willful better choice.  That’s not right, and it’s not true.”

Kyler Murray has decided he wants to play pro football instead of pro baseball – – at least for now.  Radio and TV commentators are now in full “debate mode” about how Murray’s short stature – – he is listed at 5’ 10” but we will have to wait until the Combine to get his official height recorded – – will affect his ability to function as an NFL QB.  Some have said that he will be the shortest QB ever.  Once again, people need to realize that all of history has not happened since 1990.

Eddie LeBaron was a QB for the Skins and the Cowboys over an 11-year career.  He is listed at 5’ 9” tall but plenty of reporting on him says that he was only 5’ 7” tall.  Interestingly, Google thinks Doug Flutie at 5’ 10” tall is the shortest NFL QB of all time.  Whatever…

José Canseco is back in the news.  Here is a recent Tweet from the volunteer Chairman of the Fed and/or the President’s Chief of Staff:

“Go on a Bigfoot and alien Excursion with Jose Canseco contact Morgan Management at XXX-YYY-ZZZZ.”

This is simply stunning.  If you were to consider – even for a fleeting moment – going on a “Bigfoot and alien excursion”, would you go with:

  1. A respected archeologist
  2. A TV producer such as David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau (who is currently dead)
  3. A scientist
  4. An outdoorsman
  5. A former MLB player who has been hit in the head with a fly ball?

Tough choice…

Finally, Brad Rock had this comment in the Deseret News recently regarding celebrity status in the sports world:

“Norwegian world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is reportedly a celebrity in his home country.

“He edged out curling, ice fishing and fjord-yodeling champions for the honor.”

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



Fixing MLB Free Agency?

Last week, Jeff Passan wrote a column on espn.com about MLB’s free agency and why it is imperative for baseball to fix its free agency processes/procedures ASAP.  I like Jeff Passan; I almost always read his reports in their entirety when I run across them; I learn a lot from them.  Regarding last week’s offering on the “broken” free agency system, I must politely offer dissent.  Here is the opening paragraph of that column:

“On this, the 97th day of free agency, four days before the first pitchers and catchers report to spring training, less than six weeks ahead of Major League Baseball opening its regular season, the two best free agents in more than a decade remain unemployed. This is not a black eye for baseball. It is a ruptured spleen, a punctured lung and a lacerated kidney.”

Fortunately, the metaphors employed here stopped short of imminent fatalities…  The “problem” with MLB free agency – if there is one – comes down to intransigence on both sides of the negotiations.  If the players/agents have a fixed set of parameters in mind and the GMS have a fixed set of parameters in mind, there will never be any agreement if both sides refuse to budge.  It takes both sides to make a deal and both sides will have to be willing to live with the deal once it is made; that second condition argues against any type of coercive action to “get a deal done”.

The column states that players are wary of the clubs’ intentions to reign in salaries; OK, I believe that.  The column states that MLB is embarrassed that two young star players remain unemployed as Spring Training begins; maybe this is true and maybe not.  The column also states that:

“Fans are rightfully tired of waiting and guessing.  Intrigue has evolved into annoyance.”

That is where I get off the train.  If indeed the fans are tired of waiting and guessing, let me suggest that the source of that fatigue is not the fault of the players or their agents or the teams.  The wellspring of that weariness is the huge over-abundance of “reports” written by baseball writers since the end of the World Series about where either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado was going to sign.  Baseball writers beat this to death; resuscitated it; and then bludgeoned it to death again.  Either with no real sources at all – or with hugely uninformed sources at best – multiple dozens of writers have bombarded baseball fans with those sorts of “insider information” to the point that I cease to read past any headlines any more.  My fatigue is real; my fatigue was brought on by the journalists and not the players or the GMs.

Please follow this link to read Jeff Passan’s column in its entirety; it has some good insights there, but I do not believe that there is a palpable danger to baseball lurking in the last two winter’s of free agency – – unless both sides decide to go to the mattresses when the current CBA expires in 2021.

Having said all that, let me offer up a really radical idea that might make future winters of free agency less like winters of our discontent [H/T to William Shakespeare].  My suggestion contains two provisions; one of them has been anathema to the MLBPA for over 40 years; the other continues to be anathema to baseball’s owners.  Here it is in simple English:

  • Point #1:  Institute a salary cap – a hard cap – for every MLB team.  I don’t know what the number is, but some smart business analysts can figure that one out.  I can hear the gasps and the cries of chest pains emanating from the MLBPA offices all the way down here in Curmudgeon Central.
  • Point #2:  Institute a salary floor – a hard floor – for every MLB team.  I don’t know what this number is either, but I am confident that some smart business analysts can come up with it.  Moreover, what the salary floor will require is a real and robust system of revenue sharing among the teams so that the “small market teams” can stay afloat while they also incur payrolls in the region between the floor and the ceiling.  I am sure that idea is as welcome a turd in the punchbowl at the next owners’ meeting.

My point here is that the “problem” is resolvable by itself but if it is truly existential, then it is going to take something about as radical as what I have proposed here.  Until you start reading those sorts of suggested “solutions” to the free agency problem, do not buy into the dystopian future that is predicted.

After months of speculation – that stretched back to last year’s trade deadline – the Marlins got a deal they liked for catcher, JT Realmuto, and sent him to the Phillies for a catcher and two minor league pitching prospects.  With Realmuto leaving South Florida, the dismantling of what was a young and building Marlins team when new owners rode into town is complete.  Last year, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna were auctioned off; now Realmuto is gone too.

Given that all four of the very good Marlins’ players sent off in trades were young players, what is the point of the team stockpiling “prospects”?  History shows that once the “prospects” prove to be capable major league players, they get traded away for more “prospects”.  The Marlins drew a total of 811,104 fans to their 81 home games last year; that is about 350,000 fewer fans than the next lowest draw in MLB.  At least some part of those dismal numbers can be attributed to the personnel strategies exhibited by the team.

Finally, since today was devoted to baseball, consider this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“For what it’s worth: Free-agent signee and former Colorado Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino will be the first Yankee to wear No. 0, also making him the only current Yankee to wear a single digit. But, then, he’d have to be. It’s the only single jersey number the Yankees have not retired. Maybe future generations of Yankees should consider wearing fractions on their backs.”

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




I must begin today by correcting an error from last week.  In speaking about Frank Robinson being involved in a hugely one-sided trade between the Reds and the Orioles, I said that one of the players involved was Dick “Suitcase” Simpson.  I received this email from the font of sports historical information in Houston:

“You got your Simpsons mixed up. Harry “Suitcase” Simpson was the traveler, playing with Cleveland, KC, NYY, KC again, CHW, and Pittsburgh from 1951-1959.

“Dick Simpson played with LAA, Cincy, St Louis, Houston, NYY, and Seattle from 1962-1969. He had no nickname, as he only had 518 ABs and a .207 BA over that period.

“The funny thing is that Dick was traded seven times to Harry’s four times (Harry was purchased twice also).

“Compared to many other players travels over the years, these guys’ movements among teams seems like a pittance.”

I stand corrected.  Thanks to the reader in Houston for setting me straight.

I also said last week that I would take a look at some of the AAF games in their inaugural weekend.  I did not watch any game from start to finish but I saw about half of the three games on TV in my area.  Just a few generic observations:

  • Generally, the talent level on the field is equal to or better than major college football teams.  These guys are not weekend warriors by any means.
  • Teams have been together for about a month with one exhibition game under their belts; some of the play was understandably ragged.
  • I saw 7 QBs; none were impressive; Christian Hackenberg specifically was bleak.
  • The pace of the games was fast; one of them ended 2 hours and 40 minutes after the TV start time.
  • Interesting rule for the AAF limits blitzing to 5 pass rushers all of whom must be within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.  I’m not sure I like that one.
  • I did not miss seeing PATs or kickoffs.
  • I like having the replay official on camera and on the microphone as he deliberates challenged calls.
  • Marvin Lewis did color for the Arizona/Salt Lake game; he obviously knows his stuff, but his presentation is verbal Ambien.  They need to change his embalming fluid before he goes on the air…
  • Stadium crowds were OK; none were filled to overflowing but the ones I saw looked to have better attendance than many college bowl games.
  • The AAF is not “appointment TV”, but the AAF is a reasonable product.

The NY Post had a report over the weekend that Charles Woodson is out at ESPN from their Sunday studio show, Countdown to Kickoff.  I’m sorry to hear that; I liked Charles Woodson in that role.  To my mind, the “problem” with Countdown has little to do with Woodson; I think the problem is very simple – and very difficult to resolve:

  • The ESPN studio lead-in to NFL football on Sundays was presented by a broadcasting icon – Chris Berman – for decades.  He is not there anymore and no one in the cast of characters can pretend to be of a comparable stature.

That is not intended in any way to be a back-handed dismissal of Sam Ponder as the host of the program.  That statement simply states the obvious; Sam Ponder does not have the broadcasting gravitas of Chris Berman; that is why it is immensely difficult to follow someone of high stature in any position.  Moreover, Sam Ponder does not get a lot of help from her cohorts on the program:

  • I said I like Charles Woodson; I think he is the best of the lot among the regulars but let me be clear and say that if he is measured by the standard of Tom Jackson as the counterbalance to the program host, he does not measure up.
  • Rex Ryan is a one-trick pony; he ran out of interesting things to say a year ago.
  • Randy Moss is excellent at times and “change-the-channel obtuse” at other times.
  • Matt Hasselbeck often has interesting things to add, but he is as exciting as porridge pizza.

I ran across this statement by an NCAA official to ESPN:

“During the NCAA tournament, we will review all shots made at the buzzer, as necessary, in the interest of accuracy of score and team and player statistics and even if the outcome of the game isn’t riding on the officials’ call.”

Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?  The NCAA tournament has been around since 1939; the NCAA has had access to replay technology since the 1970s; the “accuracy of score and team and player statistics” now becomes important enough to review buzzer shots the year after sports wagering has expanded.  Only now has the “interest in accuracy” become so important…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Mulligan required: Maroon 5 wanted a do-over after its heavily criticized Super Bowl performance, but the State of the Union doesn’t have a halftime show.”

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



RIP Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson passed away yesterday at the age of 83.  Because his career overlapped the likes of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle – you get the idea – he is one of the most under-appreciated baseball players ever.  He was traded to the Orioles from the Reds in one of the most lopsided trades ever; the Reds got in return for Robinson Milt Pappas (a serviceable starting pitcher), Jack Baldschun (a reliever whose best days were in the past) and Dick Simpson (his nickname was “Suitcase” because he was traded so frequently).

Rest in peace, Frank Robinson…

I suspect that I am going to be spending time this weekend doing something that most readers here will ignore.  Nevertheless, I am planning to take some time to watch the inaugural week of the Alliance of American Football.  In my area, there will be 3 games on the air on Saturday and Sunday; I am not going to watch the entirety of all 3 games, but I hope to tune in to see parts of all of them.

My interest here is not because I am a “football junkie” and need something to bring me down from my “Super Bowl high”.  I am interested because this is a new entity that is approaching the game differently from the NFL and I want to see what it offers to the viewing public.

[Aside:  It already offers itself up to the betting public.  Las Vegas sportsbooks offer futures bets on the ultimate league champion and there are spreads and totals offered for this week’s opening games before anyone has seen any of the teams.  If you like betting this week’s AAF games, you probably also enjoy scratch-off lottery tickets too.]

The AAF approaches football from a different business model and from a different entertainment model.  Here are some differences:

  • All players have the same contract; it does not matter if one is a QB or a defensive lineman.  All contracts are 3-years and $250K.
  • Players can earn incentives in each game.  HOWEVER, the incentives are not given to individual players, they are given to team units.  It is not clear how the units will share the incentives, so I guess that is up to the unit members?
  • The AAF wants to present shorter games instead of the 3+ hour games put on by the NFL and the “almost-4-hour games” that have become commonplace in NCAA football.  Their target is to offer a 2.5-hour game.
  • The AAF will try to emphasize offense and scoring.  According to reports, the league will “de-emphasize offensive holding”.  That will be something I will be watching for this weekend; I want to know what they mean by “de-emphasize offensive holding” …
  • The AAF will have a play clock of only 35 seconds (vice 40 seconds for the NFL).  What that means is more plays/more action/more scoring chances.
  • There are no kickoffs.  The “receiving team” simply gets the ball at its own 25-yardline.  For onside kicks, the kicking team gets the ball at its own 35 yardline and the situation is 4th and 10.  If they convert that 4th down opportunity, they keep the ball; other wise the receiving team gets it wherever the play ended.
  • There are no PATs either.  Teams must go for 2-point conversions after every TD.
  • There will be no “TV timeouts” during the games.  It will be interesting to see how the AAF works the TV ads into its presentation.
  • The overtime rule in the AAF is completely different – and I don’t think I like it very much.  There is a single OT period; each team gets the ball first and goal at the opponent’s 10 yardline.  If a team scores a TD, it must go for two.  Each team gets the ball once.  If the score is still tied at the end of the single OT, then it goes in the books as a tie.

I have checked my local listings and the Saturday night game will be telecast in CBS at 8:00 PM EST.  On Sunday, there will be a game at 4:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network and then another game on NFL Network at 8:00 PM EST.  I was surprised to see that the AAF is going to be telecast on NFL Network; I have no idea what that portends for the future…

I mentioned above that the sportsbooks in Las Vegas have lines posted for AAF games already.  I will NOT be participating in such activities for a while; I do not play lotteries.  However, there are two hypotheses I have about AAF wagering that I will be “testing out” as I check the league results:

  1. If the AAF wants to emphasize offense and scoring, betting OVER should make sense early on as the lines adjust from “NFL-thinking” to “AAF-thinking”.
  2. The mandated 2-point conversions will produce scores that are uncommon in NFL and NCAA games.  Three TDs in the NFL normally produce 21 points; a bettor can reliably think of things that way.  In the AAF, three TDs can never produce 21 points and the range of scoreboard points from those three TDs can range from 18 to 24 points.  That is a big deal…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times from a few weeks ago:

“Good in the paint, too:

“The Academy of Art basketball team is only 1-7, but you’d have to assume the Knights are adept at drawing charges.”

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