What Do I Know …?

When I present my NFL pre-draft analysis, I always go out of my way to let everyone know that it is hardly an authoritative exposition on the subject.  In last night’s first round, teams traded a lot of their future for QBs that I did not even mention and the first offensive lineman taken – Garrett Bolles (Utah) – was someone I had to have seen because I thought one of his teammates on the OL was worth mentioning as a 3rd or 4th round pick.  Shows what I know …

At the same time, the Bears and the Chiefs had better be right on the QBs they traded up to get.  Both teams paid a steep price; the Bears gave up a third round pick and next year’s first round pick to the Niners just to move up one slot in this year’s draft to take Mitch Trubisky.  My guess is that both teams will be drafting pretty high next year meaning that the Niners will have two early picks in the first round next year.  Trubisky had better be good…

The Chiefs paid a similar price to jump up a bunch of spots to grab Patrick Mahomes II.  The Chiefs have a solid roster so most of the analysts think this is a developmental situation for Mahomes and the Chiefs.  However, the Chiefs will not be part of the first round of the draft next year as a result of this trade.  Mahomes had better develop…

As has been the case for the last 30+ years, ESPN covered the draft last night.  ESPN has been in the news for its internal convulsions over the past week or two; the “Four-Letter Network” has gone through a pogrom and many of its visible on-air talents/reporters were let go earlier this week.  The total reduction in force for the network was 100 people and it comes at a time when ESPN is seeing a reduction in revenues generated by subscription fees paid by cable operators and an increase in costs generated by rising TV rights fees charged by leagues.

This is not a new situation for ESPN.  Just a couple of years ago, they parted company with more than 100 employees – including 3 “big-ticket items” in Colin Cowherd, Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons.  Chris Berman’s swan song was the end of the NFL season and Tom Jackson retired just before the NFL season started last year.

ESPN seems to be in an analogous situation to the newspapers in the country.  There is news/entertainment out there to be delivered but the mode of delivery seems to be changing underneath both ESPN and newspapers.  This shift is going to have an effect on media companies, journalists, fans AND on the players/owners.  ESPN and the other “broadcast partners” of the NFL are the ones that pay the freight allowing the NFL salary cap to reside in the neighborhood of $160M per team.

For more detail on who will no longer be with ESPN, you can check out this report in the South Florida Business Journal.

While ESPN and other news/sports outlets are managing a “revenue-squeeze” there is a sector of the sports economy that is growing nicely.  The various league commissioners and the ostrich-like NCAA do not want to hear it, but sports wagering is booming.  Just to give you an idea of the changes ongoing there, various sportsbooks posted proposition bets on the outcome of the NFL Draft last night.  Here is an example:

  • Number of QBs taken in the first round.  Over/Under 3.5
  • If you had the UNDER, you won…

The handle for that sort of wagering was not huge but it does represent new areas of proposition betting related to the sports world and people are participating.  Growth in this industry sector is not driven by new sorts of prop bets; there is what the Wall St. analysts call “secular growth”.  People are simply betting more.  And there is data from this year’s March Madness to support that statement.

Based on data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, March Madness had a record handle in 2017.  People – punters as they are called in the UK – pushed $429.5M through the betting windows on games and propositions in the state of Nevada for the 67-games in the tournament.  Not too surprisingly, with the handle at a record high, the profits for the sportsbooks were also at a record high – $41.28M.

This is not a trivial amount of growth.  Consider this data for the March Madness total handle:

  • March 2015:  $264.2M
  • March 2016:  $295.4M
  • March 2017:  $300.6M

These data represent a 14% growth rate over the past two years.  The folks who seeking to “grow the brand” for the various sports leagues and the folks at NCAA Hqs who need the influx of revenue from the TV rights to March Madness to pay the bills need to look at the this sort of data and realize that this is what will keep fans interested enough to pay attention to whatever media coverage is provided so that revenues to the sports entities is maintained.

One other comparison is interesting here.  If you look at the total handle for basketball (college and professional) in the Nevada sportsbooks this year, here are the numbers:

  • Feb 2017:  $212.8M
  • Mar 2017:  $439.5M

In March, college basketball stages all of its conference tournaments and then March Madness.  It does not take a Newtonian intellect to conclude that betting on tournament games for college basketball is a very popular pastime in the US.

For more details, check out this report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/betting/nevada-sports-books-win-record-amount-on-basketball-in-march/

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

“The first ESPN Football Power Index for 2017 gives the Nebraska football team 0.0 chance of winning the Big Ten. You think that’s bad? The odds of Rutgers winning the Big Ten are less than Pauly Shore becoming the first man to walk on Mars.”

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

 

 

The Aaron Hernandez Matter Is Ongoing …

If I am reading some of the “legal reports” correctly, the issues involving criminal activities/behaviors by and related to Aaron Hernandez are now settled but the story is not really over.  Civil actions can proceed well after the time when “criminal matters” have been resolved; consider the wrongful death suit against OJ Simpson which resulted in a guilty verdict against OJ well after he was found not guilty of the double murder with which he had been charged.  If I understand the reporting that is out there now, here are some potential “loose ends” that may enter our consciousness in the future:

  1. The NFL and the NFLPA agreed to put any grievances either may have had until after the resolution of Hernandez’ criminal proceedings.  With his demise, those are now ended.  The grievances will probably not make it to a courtroom, but there are legal processes to handle such things delineated in the current NFL/NFLPA CBA.
  2. The NFLPA will likely seek the portion of Hernandez’ signing bonus that was not paid to him subsequent to his contract signing and his charging in the murder of Odin Lloyd – for which he was convicted.  The amount here is more than $3M.
  3. The NFL – and the Patriots – will likely seek to recover that portion of the signing bonus that had already been paid to Hernandez.
  4. The NFLPA will likely seek payment of the “guaranteed money” that was specified in the contract Hernandez signed in 2012 – money to be paid in 2013 and 2014 – even though Hernandez did not play in those years because he was incarcerated.
  5. Any money that the NFLPA might “win” for Hernandez’ estate will be subject to wrongful death civil actions by the families of Odin Lloyd and the two men who were killed but Hernandez was not found guilty of their murders.  His presence at the scene of the crime makes this sort of action by those two families possible.

The double-murder trial for Aaron Hernandez may be over and indeed Aaron Hernandez’ life is over; nonetheless, the potential for legal actions and subsequent headlines related to those legal actions continues on.

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in the petty pace from day to day …”  [Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5]

If the commentary above leaves you with a slight feeling of melancholy, this next one will leave you with your head spinning.  Once again, it involves the NFL but this time there are no gruesome details or cadavers involved in the story.  You may recall that Dean Blandino resigned recently from the NFL as the Senior VP for Officiating meaning that he was the one who oversaw everything about the NFL referees from assigning crews to games to making sure that all the officials were up to date on the newest changes in the rules and the points of emphasis for this year.  Then, the NFL Competition Committee chose to add to his plate the task of being “The Guy” in the central replay room that would deal with all of the challenged calls and reviewed calls in all the games on a weekend.

Dean Blandino needed that added task as much as former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutrous-Ghali needs another Boutrous.  Forget all the prepared statements and posturing, I have to believe that a large measure of Dean Blandino’s motivation to leave that job had to do with that new set of responsibilities.

Well, if you are interested in taking that job for yourself, here is the online posting for the job vacancy courtesy of the NFL.  Please take a moment and go there to read the Job Responsibilities, Required Education and Experience and Other Key Attributes/Characteristics that the person holding this position needs to display.

OK; now that you are back from reading that job opening, I hope you came away from it with a couple of the same reactions that I had when I read through it:

  • There is no indication of the remuneration one might expect from that job.  Would you be remotely interested in that job if the going rate was – say – $150K per year plus per diem when you travel?  On the other hand, would you be willing to risk padding your résumé more than just a tad if the salary range was “high seven figures”?
  • Reading the responsibilities and the required education/experience sections of the job vacancy notice, I have to wonder if there are more than 2 people on the planet who might be able to pretend to have all of those qualifications AND are still unknown to the mavens at the NFL who will be making the hiring decision.  Does anyone believe that there are really any job candidates here who are currently earning their livings doing things like installing carpeting or serving as wealth managers for clients who would have a clue where to start in this endeavor?

My solution to this “conundrum” is rather simple.  The NFL needs to hire TWO people and not ONE person.  They need a guy to do all the officiating scheduling and all the quality control and all the media relations/education activities.  Then, they need a guy to run the replay center from Thursdays through Mondays from early September through early February.

I would be glad to be the person who was doing the replay center work along with the techs and engineers who make all that stuff work.  I would be willing to put in the time to learn to call up all the relevant views of the plays in question and to make the call and live with the consequences.  I would not take the job of organizing and being the “face of the NFL Rules” to the public even for the kind of money the NFL reportedly pays Hizzoner the Commish – – $30-40M per year.

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

“NBC Sports.com headline: ‘[Tony] Romo hasn’t filed retirement papers yet (and it doesn’t matter).’  Um, so then why are you writing about it !?”

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

 

 

NFL Stuff Leading Up To the Draft…

The word is that the Seahawks and the Raiders have agreed to a trade for Marshawn Lynch and it seems a bit one-sided to me – – if indeed it goes down as has been reported.  Here is the deal:

  • Lynch comes out of retirement as a Seahawk.  As that happens the Seahawks and Raiders trade him.
  • Seahawks get a swap of late round picks in 2018.
  • That’s it; that’s the deal.

I know that Lynch is of no value to the Seahawks in retirement; so, from that perspective, it seems as if they are getting something for nothing.  However, the reality is that the raiders need a running back; they do not have a reliable one on their roster now and Lynch – despite plenty of wear and tear on his body – has had a year off and even if he returns at 80% of his “championship Beast Mode” is a significant improvement for the Raiders.  So, that makes the compensation seem trivial.  The trade is contingent on Lynch passing a physical – naturally – and when official, we may learn that there is some sort of other “consideration(s)” for the Seahawks in the trade.  Stand by …

Another NFL RB of note has a new home.  Adrian Peterson has signed with the Saints for – reportedly – $3.5M guaranteed this year.  Unlike Lynch, Peterson is not retired; he is coming off another leg injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of the 2016 season.   This move is a little strange to me because:

  • Mark Ingram had a good year at RB for the Saints last year.  He gained 1043 yards and 5.1 yards per carry.  He is still on the roster and signed.
  • The Saints’ offense is not predicated on having a running game that does much more than “change things up occasionally”.  The Saints’ offensive bread-and-butter is throwing the ball and Peterson is merely OK catching the ball.

The NFL and the TV execs probably love this signing because in Week 1, the NFL schedule calls for a Monday Night Football encounter between the Saints and the Vikes.  The storyline for that game is already established.  Stand by …

Fans can also welcome Martavis Bryant back to the NFL – probably.  Bryant was suspended for all of the 2016 season for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.  Yesterday, the NFL has given him “conditional reinstatement”.  Here is what that means:

  • Bryant can join the team and be in the Steelers’ facilities and participate in OTAs and minicamps.  He will be “evaluated” closer to the start of the season and if clean he can play in Week 1.  He will also be “evaluated” as the season progresses and if he stays clean for an unspecified part of the 2017 season he will be fully reinstated.

Here is the statement released by the Steelers’ organization related to all of this:

“Martavis Bryant has followed the protocol and has been conditionally reinstated by the National Football League. We appreciate that he has taken the necessary steps in an effort to get his personal life in order. We also understand this is just the beginning as he works to return to the team and meet all of the conditions of his reinstatement.

“We look forward to working with Martavis to ensure that he is mentally and physically prepared to contribute to our efforts on the field, while also maintaining the proper balance to keep his life in order off the field.”

Is it just me, or is that not a very joyful welcoming home for the prodigal son?

Well, if you think that was a lukewarm statement of welcome, think about this one.  I have to admit that I did not recognize the name Daryl Washington at first because he has been suspended from the NFL for the past 3 seasons.  Washington was suspended for substance-abuse violations in 2014 plus he plead guilty to an aggravated assault charge in 2014.

He was/is a linebacker for the Cardinals.  The NFL conditionally reinstated Washington earlier this week with continued evaluations like the ones set up for Martavis Bryant before full reinstatement.  However, from what the Cardinals had to say about all of this, I am not sure the team cares if he shows up for work or not:

“The National Football League today informed of us of Daryl Washington’s conditional reinstatement. Considering we have been prohibited from having any contact with him over the last three years, it would be premature today to discuss a potential return to the team. As everyone is aware, the 2017 NFL Draft is just days away, and that is where our energy and attention is fully focused right now. At the appropriate time, we will address the issue of Daryl Washington further.”

The best news related to the NFL is that the Draft is starting tomorrow and that means we will not be seeing a minimum of 15 Mock Draft articles/fantasies per day.  Give thanks to the Deity of your preference for that welcome relief.

Finally, here is news from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald on a subject other than the NFL:

“McLain Ward won the jumping competition at the Equestrian World Cup in Omaha. When your name is McLain Ward you have four choices in life: become an equestrian rider, diplomat, chess master or novelist.

“A quick correction: The World-Herald mistakenly reported that McLain Ward is also Batman.”

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

 

 

Lots Of Suggestions Today …

The 80-game suspension handed down by MLB to Pirates’ centerfielder, Starling Marte, is a significant blow to the Pirates’ hopes for 2017.  As of this morning, the Pirates active roster of 25 players has 4 outfielders:

  1. Adam Frasier
  2. Andrew McCutcheon
  3. Jose Osuna
  4. Gregory Polanco

The outfield looked set as a strength of the team back in Spring Training, now it is an area that needs help.  However, beyond the short and medium term effects on the Pirates, Marte’s suspension demonstrates 2 things:

  1. Baseball is not drug-free.  MLB and the MLBPA worked out the drug testing protocols and the increased penalties for failing drug tests back in 2004.  In the intervening dozen years, there have been 85 players who got long-term suspensions.  That means MLB has improved in terms of the number of players who are “using”, but the penalties have not taken PEDs out of the game.
  2. The time is coming when fans and baseball writers/commentators will tire of the standard – and clearly insincere – explanation by players who fail these tests.  Starling Marte is merely the most recent case; he has had many predecessors but the excuse that he did not do this knowingly and cannot figure out how that “stuff” showed up in his lab specimens is threadbare.  So is the faux contrition offered up to the team’s fans for “letting them down”.  Frankly, if there are ever negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA to increase penalties, I would like to see players get twice the amount of time for offering up that sort of lame pabulum.  And maybe, agents who write that nonsense for the players to read should lose their status as MLBPA approved agents if that were to happen in the future…

About a week ago, I mentioned an idea floated by a high school principal in Dayton, OH that might reduce significantly all the intentional fouling by trailing teams at the end of basketball games.  I would really like to see the NBA try out that system in the D-League just to see if it works and if it produces interesting game endings.  With that said, I would like to suggest today some ideas that might add some degree of excitement/interest in the NBA regular season and the NBA playoffs.

  • First, when teams are in “tanking mode” they do not produce an interesting product for their fans or for the fans of their opponents.  Because the fortunes of a bad team can be turned around with the addition of only one or two young dominant players, there is a significant motivation for bad teams to tank a season.  The same is not true in the NFL or in MLB; this problem is endemic to the NBA only.  I believe the overall draft order needs to be determined by lottery meaning the 14 teams that do not make the playoffs should each get 1 ping-pong ball in the hopper and the top 14 slots should all be determined by lottery.  Yes, a truly bad team can try its best and still be bad and then they could have buzzard luck and wind up drafting 14th.  So be it.  Minimizing tanking is an important goal for the league; it is essential to the “Holy Grail of competition” – – the integrity of the games.
  • Second, the regular season needs to be shortened if it is so taxing to the players that they need to rest when faced with back-to-back games.  The NBA season will start earlier this year – meaning shorter off-season rests for players – as a means of spreading out the 82 games a trifling amount.  Some scribes have suggested cutting the schedule back from 82 to 76 games.  My suggestion is more radical.  Cut the schedule to 58 games; every team plays every other team twice; the schedules are balanced; there would never be a need for back-to-back games.  If, however, you subscribe to the thinking that “division races are important”, [Aside: I do not think they are important at all.] then make the schedule 66 games and have division teams play 6 games each and with two games against all other opponents.  Revenues will go down meaning player salaries would also have to go down.  But there would be rest for weary under this proposal; I wonder how much that rest is worth…
  • Third, the NBA playoffs take too long – more than 2 months if the Finals go 7 games.  I think the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals should remain as 7-game series; the others should be reduced to 5 games.  This will give more meaning to the early-round games.

Here is the lead paragraph from a report at CBSSports.com from last week:

“Tiger Woods revealed on Thursday that he has undergone yet another back surgery. This is his fourth in the last 40 months, and it was performed to alleviate pain he was having in his back and leg.”

The first of those 4 surgeries was reported ex post facto in March 2014.  If I have counted correctly, I believe that Tiger Woods has only had 4 finishes in the top 25 in PGA Tournaments since the start of the 2014 season.  When the number of Top 25 finishes equals the number of back surgeries over a period of time, I will go out on a limb and suggesst that is not a positive equation.

Finally, here is an item reported by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Next week, the Equestrian World Cup Finals get underway at the CenturyLink Center. The World-Herald assigned its equestrian expert: a guy who has seen every Budweiser Clydesdales commercial.”

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

 

 

The Death Of Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez died in his jail cell two days ago.  Prison officials said it was a suicide; Hernandez’ former agent and his attorney both say there is no way Hernandez took his own life.  Already the Internet in general and the “Twitter-verse” in particular have taken sides in this “debate”.  As is commonplace in Internet debates on many topics, the lines have already been drawn and sides have already been taken.  Rather than wade into those fetid pools I will prefer to state what I am confident that I know now and to await the results of any further investigations before I draw any conclusions.

  1. Aaron Hernandez was found hanged by the neck using a bed sheet.  He was housed in a single cell in a Massachusetts prison.  He was pronounced dead by a physician at a medical facility near the prison.
  2. Aaron Hernandez was serving a “life-without-parole” sentence in the prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  That conviction came several years ago.
  3. Aaron Hernandez was found “not guilty” of a double murder earlier this week.  He was found guilty of a firearms violation associated with that double murder and that added 4 years to his “life-without-parole” sentence.  [Aside: That seems like not much of a deal to me…]

Those are things that I know for sure.  I am not interested in the least in participating in any discussions of conspiracy theories and so I will await the findings from at least two investigations that will happen.  Why two investigations?  Aaron Hernandez‘ family has retained the attorney who just defended Hernandez in the double-murder acquittal to be the executor of Hernandez’ estate and he is one of the people saying there is no way Hernandez took his own life.  The prison officials will need to do an investigation of the incident; the attorney will almost assuredly do his own investigation; both of these activities will reveal facts and I will then draw my own conclusions based on all the facts that are brought to light.  Until then, let me only say this:

  1. Aaron Hernandez was not a wonderful human being.  We know he murdered Odin Lloyd and we know he was present at the site of the double murder of which he was acquitted.
  2. I can only hope that the surviving family members of all the deceased involved in this saga find peace for themselves so that the survivors can get on with their lives in some productive vein.
  3. The death of a convicted murderer is not going to elicit a tsunami of sympathy from me.  At the same time, if his death came at the hands of some other person, that other person needs to stand trial for that act.

Moving on to college basketball …  Grayson Allen announced this week that he has decided to return to Duke for his final year of eligibility and to forego the NBA Draft this season.  This announcement has generated hyperbolic reaction.  This has been called a “momentous decision” by the “most famous college basketball player in the country”.

We could get ourselves into a nuanced discussion of Allen’s level of “fame” as opposed to his level of “infamy” and then into a discussion of whether his infamy contributes significantly to his fame.  Or we might pump the brakes just a bit here.

Maybe – – just maybe – – Grayson Allen is an actual student-athlete who enjoys the college experience.  Maybe – –  just maybe – – Grayson Allen is sufficiently self-aware that he knows he is not going to be one of the most coveted players in the NBA Draft and that his standing in the draft might be better with another year of college basketball for scouts to evaluate.  Maybe – – just maybe – – Grayson Allen is attracted to the idea of playing for Duke where he and his team are very likely to win 80% or more of the times they take the court as opposed to the random chance that he will wind up with a team like the Brooklyn Nets.  Or maybe – – just maybe – – none of these things apply to this situation and Grayson Allen just decided this is what he wanted to do next year.

My point here is that there are loads of explanations and motivations here that would not come close to being “momentous”; and in fact, there could be many explanations that would only be marginally interesting if we knew them in detail.  I would not be surprised if I ever knew all that went into Grayson Allen’s decision that my reaction would be along the lines of, “Well, OK then …”

Recently, we learned that Tony Romo was going to take Phil Simms’ place as the color analyst with Jim Nantz on the CBS lead TV announcing team for NFL games.  Lots of people – me included – wondered how Romo would do in this role given his lack of broadcasting experience but we had to await further information with regard to what Simms would be doing and how he might do in whatever his new role might be.  Now we know.

  • Phil Simms will replace Tony Gonzalez on NFL Today – the CBS studio show that is intermingled with NFL telecasts on that network.
  • This season the NFL Today crew will be James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Bart Scott and Phil Simms.

Having seen Simms perform in a studio-like show on HBO occasionally, I suspect that he will be comfortable with his new assignment and I think he will add to the discussions there.

Finally, here is a timely observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the cabin wall when United Airlines discovers that its flight full of MMA fighters is overbooked?”

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

 

 

Today Is Basketball Day …

I want to talk about basketball today.  Sometime ago, I read a report that TV ratings for college basketball’s regular season were up a meager 1% this year over last year.  I find that a bit surprising because college basketball – at least in the DC area – is horribly over-exposed.  On some weekends, I can pick and choose from a menu of about 2 dozen college basketball games; I wonder how any of them draw an audience that would earn even the smallest measurable rating let alone an increase of 1% over last year.  But that is what the report said and so I take it to be accurate…

In late March, the “overnight ratings” for the first several rounds of the men’s tournament showed much larger gains – 8 or 9% as I recall – and that would seem to support the idea that interest in college basketball was on an uptick this year.  Those numbers and those sorts of conclusions do not, however, apply to the NBA.  According to this report at sportsmediawatch.com:

“In the first regular season of the nine-year deal, viewership declined for all three major broadcast partners, with TNT and ABC posting their smallest audiences in nine years.”

The total value of the NBA TV deal from all of its “broadcast partners” is $2.66B/ year and $1.4B of that total comes from ESPN which is facing financial difficulties as cable TV loses subscribers and cable companies are not likely to continue to pay ESPN increasing “per subscriber rates”.  ESPN has already shed some of its on-air talent and more cuts are rumored to be coming in the next month or two.  This is not a good time for the network and this is not a good time for the NBA to be basking in this 9-year TV deal that showed seriously diminished interest in its first year.

I have been saying here for years that the NBA regular season did not begin to get interesting until around March 1st; given the obvious disinterest in regular season games by the players who sat out regular season games with playoff implications or home-court implications, I may have to amend my thinking now to extend my period of meaningless to the entirety of the regular season.  What the NBA must hope for is that a large number of potential viewers of regular season games does not adopt my sense of regular season pointlessness.

According to the report linked above, the networks have ways to deal with eroding interest in regular season games because they can air highlights and studio programming in lieu of games.  If networks opt to do that, it could erode fan interest even more as the hardcore fan finds it more difficult to find games on TV from November until April.  This situation bears watching and the report linked above is worth the time it will take you to read it.

With that as background, it is important to the NBA and its network partners that the playoff ratings improve significantly over the regular season ratings.  [Remember, this year was the overall lowest rated season since cable TV became a staple in the US.]  In another report from sportsmediawatch.com about the early results from the playoffs:

  1. The ratings for the Blazers/Warriors opening game (Sunday) were up from last year.
  2. The ratings for the Thunder/Rockets opening game (Sunday) were up significantly from last year.
  3. The ratings for the Bulls/Celtics opening game (Saturday) were up significantly from last year.
  4. The ratings for the Wizards/Hawks opening game (Saturday) was in a time slot that did not have comparable playoff game to measure against.  The ratings for this game were a meager 1.8 (the lowest of the opening games by a wide margin) and perhaps the message is that an early game on a Saturday is not a good time to air an NBA early round playoff game.

Obviously, the playoffs have a long way to go – perhaps up to two more months before ending.  Nonetheless, the early ratings should be encouraging to the folks who have their money on the line.  The trick for everyone will be to carry that interest forward into the next regular season.  Good luck with that…

There is one other basketball note for today.  Lots of folks have observed and complained that the intentional fouling at the end of basketball games does not add to one’s viewing pleasure and when mixed with all the timeouts that the coaches have hoarded during the game it makes the final 2 minutes seem like a half-hour.  Moreover, the team doing the intentional fouling in order to “catch up” usually does so without a positive result.  There was an ESPN.com report about a high school principal in Dayton OH, Nick Elam, who has come up with an idea to obviate that tactic.  This is real “out-of-the-box thinking”; I like the idea and wish I had thought of it first.  Here is how it would work:

“Under Elam’s proposal, the clock would vanish after the first stoppage under the three-minute mark in the NBA and the four-minute mark in NCAA games. Officials would establish a target score by taking the score of the leading team and adding seven points — then restart the game without a clock. The team that reaches that target score first wins.”

Without a clock running there is no need to foul in order to stop the clock.  What the trailing team would need to focus on is playing defense to prevent the team in the lead from scoring and getting to the target winning score.  There are data and logic behind this proposition and they are well explained in the ESPN.com report here.

Finally, here is a basketball-related comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Who says pro sports aren’t show business?

“Andrew Bogut broke a leg in his Cavaliers debut.”

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

 

 

Baseball Stuff

Last week, I had lunch with a former colleague who moved away from the DC area when he retired.  He was “back in town” for a family reason and we caught up over burgers and beers.  He is a baseball fan first and foremost and he asked me a question during lunch that I had not given much thought to.

“Do you still listen to baseball on the radio?”

I said that I did and he acknowledged that he did too.  He then said that he preferred listening to baseball on the radio than listening to the commentators on televised games.  Here is his reasoning – paraphrased of course since I did not record our lunch conversation and then transcribe it:

“I can see what just happened in a game on TV.  I don’t need the announcer to tell me someone hit a double; there he is standing on second base.  I don’t need the analyst to psychoanalyze the pitcher to explain why he threw that last pitch where he did; that is all B.S. anyway.  A televised game is much better with the mute button engaged.

“Radio is different.  The play-by-play guy is telling me what happened because I cannot see it and I get to reconstruct the game in my mind based on his words and his descriptions.  I have to pay attention to what he says because that is the only way to follow the game.  I get invested in the game by getting invested in the announcer(s).”

My friend is absolutely correct in this regard.  The way televised baseball has evolved, the audio portion of the game adds precious little to the experience.  However, in a radio broadcast, the onus on the play-by-play announcer is pretty much the same as it was when Red Barber was behind the mic.

Another major topic of discussion at our lunch was about his view that MLB has a really bright future ahead because there are so many very young players in the major leagues today who appear to be ones with great careers ahead of them.  He started rattling off some of his young “stars-in-the-present/stars-of-the-future” and I added some to the list and that resulted in my writing our consensus list on a napkin so I can present them here:

  1. Javier Baez
  2. Mookie Betts
  3. Kris Bryant
  4. Xander Bogaerts
  5. Carlos Correa
  6. Bryce Harper
  7. Francisco Lindor
  8. Manny Machado
  9. Lance McCullers
  10. Wil Myers
  11. Roberto Osuna
  12. Aaron Sanchez
  13. Gary Sanchez
  14. Kyle Schwarber
  15. Corey Seager
  16. Dansby Swanson
  17. Noah Syndergaard
  18. Mike Trout
  19. Trea Turner

We compiled this list without the aid of Google to scan all of the MLB rosters so I am sure we left some really good young players off this list – Addison Russell comes to mind at the moment.  However, once again, my former colleague is on the money here.  All of these players are very good now and none of them have reached their prime years in a typical career.  The future of MLB is indeed bright.

I would like to add one other contributing factor to the bright future of MLB.

  • Labor peace.

Since the strike/lockout that killed the World Series in 1994, MLB and the MLBPA have found ways to come to an accommodation on successive CBAs without a work stoppage.  The two sides have been able to find ways to line the pockets of the owners and the pockets of the players and their agents in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.  Personally, I think a large measure of the credit for this situation belongs on Bud Selig’s plate and I do not think that he gets the full measure of credit he deserves from fans or from baseball writers/commentators.

Finally, let me close with a baseball-related comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty had a painful trip around the bases Tuesday night against the Cubs — getting hit by thrown balls on both elbows (at bat, then running to second) and then on the helmet while running home.

“No truth to the rumor that he just landed a Target endorsement.”

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

 

 

Leading Up To The NFL Draft



A couple of weeks ago, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said in an interview that he thought quarterback DeShone Kiser would be better off playing another year at Notre Dame instead of being in the NFL Draft this year.  Lots of people jumped all over Kelly after he said that claiming that his statement was self-serving (Notre Dame did not have a winning season last year) and that his comments were spiteful because they might hurt Kizer’s stock in the draft.

I concur that the statement was self-serving; Brian Kelly would have an easier time coaching Notre Dame next year if Kizer were still on the team.  However, unlike many commentators who saw that comment as some sort of breach of faith between a coach and a quarterback, I was not really surprised to hear a football coach say something that was self-serving.  Football coaches do that all the time; think about the stories they tell to recruits who eventually never see the field; think about the assurances they give to parents that the coach and his staff will act in loco parentis for the recruit. Those are self-serving statements and they happen constantly.

When I heard about Kelly’s remarks, I thought that he was probably closer to right than wrong in what he said.  This was before I did my pre-draft analysis but as I went through all of my college football notes from last season, I determined that I did not have any notes on DeShone Kizer.  Not that my opinion amounts to a bit of tid, but I did watch Notre Dame play last year and Kizer did not motivate me to say something positive about his projection into the NFL.

Then I remembered a parallel incident from about 8 or 10 years ago.  Mark Sanchez declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season at USC.  It was either at the press conference to announce Sanchez’ decision or immediately after it that USC head coach. Pete Carroll, said publicly that he thought Sanchez belonged in school and that he was not ready for the NFL.  Pete Carroll was accused of all the same sort of stuff that was thrown at Brian Kelly in the past few weeks but with 8 to 10 years of evidence in front of us, here is something people need to admit:

  • Pete Carroll was absolutely correct.

Mark Sanchez has had a mediocre career and other than the possibility of sustaining a career-ending injury in one more season at USC, his ability to perform at the NFL level could only have been helped by one more year in school.

Time will tell if Brian Kelly was similarly correct…

Staying with NFL topics here, there are plenty of reports out there about the possibility that NFL veteran players will be involved in trades proximal to the upcoming draft.  Lots of bits have been committed to solid state memory about the possibility of:

  1. Kirk Cousins going to the Niners and new coach Kyle Shanahan
  2. Jimmy Garoppolo to the Browns for a cornucopia of picks.
  3. Malcom Butler to the Saints for picks.
  4. Marshawn Lynch out of retirement and to the Raiders from the Seahawks.
  5. Richard Sherman from the Seahawks to any number of new teams.

It would seem to me that most – if not all – of the rumored trades above make sense so I would not be surprised to see a few of them reaching fruition over the next week or so.  However, there is another veteran player who is very good at his position that ought to be sufficiently “on the market” that there are rumors about him.  That would be:

  • Sheldon Richardson – DE – NY Jets

Make no mistake, Richardson is a very good defensive end.  Moreover, he will not be 27 years old until late in the upcoming NFL season; he is not a player who is about to see his warranty expire.  So, why do I think the Jets should be thinking about trading him?

The Jets’ roster is a mess; they have released a bunch of veteran players from the team who were starters last year; there are more holes in that roster than there are in a wool sweater at a moth convention.  At the same time, the Jets have 3 very good defensive ends:

  1. Muhammed Wilkinson
  2. Leonard Williams – – and – –
  3. Sheldon Richardson.

Richardson has one year left on his rookie contract so it might take some time for his agent to work out a longer-term deal with a new team than there is between now and the draft.  That is why I am surprised that talks about dealing Richardson have not been “out and about” over the past month or so.  The Jets need help in so many places that they need to amass draft picks; they are in a position where quantity of picks is a measure of quality for their draft.  This one surprises me…

The Milwaukee Brewers have a culinary item on the menu this year that deserves mention.  I do not know what it is called but it goes in the tradition of midwestern stadium food/state fair food which is to say that you take a dish that normally is eaten off a plate or with your hands and you put it on a stick and fry it.  This item is “deep fired nachos on a stick”.  Here is the composition:

  • Spicy ground beef and refried beans get rolled in taco flavored tortilla chips.  Then a stick is inserted and that mass of food is deep fried.
  • The dish is served with a side of nacho cheese, sour cream, pureed jalapenos and salsa roja as “dipping sauces.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding Kirk Cousins who was mentioned in passing above:

“Washington QB Kirk Cousins, it appears, might get out of work on labor day.  Cousins’ wife Julie is due to deliver their first child during Week 2 of the upcoming NFL season.

“In keeping with the theme, all he’s asking for are no false starts, or at least a two-minute warning.”

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

 

 

RIP Dan Rooney

Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers,  died yesterday at the age of 84.  He was a quiet but highly influential leader among the owners in the NFL.  The “Rooney Rule” is only a small part of his legacy.

Rest in peace, Dan Rooney.

Russell Westbrook broke the NBA record for most triple doubles in a season.  That record had been held by Oscar Robertson for decades upon decades.  That record had often made the list of “Sports Records That Will Never Be Broken”.  Congratulations to Russell Westbrook; he achieved something that a lot of folks thought would never be done; he deserves nothing but accolades for his season-long achievement.

At the same time, Westbrook’s breaking that long-standing barrier proves that any athletic accomplishment by one of the “all-time greats” in a sport can possibly be overtaken if the right “future-time all-time great” comes along.  Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game; no one has done that for decades-upon-decades; however, the record is not literally unbreakable.  The same goes for these records that surely look to be well outside the realm of potential danger – – but you never know:

  1. Cy Young:  Everyone knows that he won 511 MLB games – the most in history and that record is likely beyond the reach of any pitcher in today’s game.  I do not want to focus on that record; I prefer to focus on the fact that Cy Young completed 749 MLB games.  Given the way today’s MLB is managed, it is extraordinary when a pitcher has double-digit complete games in a season.  James Shields had 11 complete games in the AL in 2011; the time before that in the AL was in 1998.  Randy Johnson was the last pitcher in the NL to throw more than 10 complete games in a season; he had 12 complete games in 1999.  Even if a modern day pitcher were to average 15 complete games in a season, he would need to pitch for almost 50 seasons to equal Cy Young’s record.  Not impossible – – but as Arte Johnson might intone – – “highly unlikely!”
  2. Grover Cleveland Alexander:  He threw 16 shutouts in a single season in 1916.  Given modern MLB management, that record looks to be safe for a long time to come – in addition to the fact that it has stood for a century already.  In the NL, Bob Gibson threw 13 shutouts in 1967 – 50 years ago.  Since then, only one NL pitcher has reached double digits in shutouts; that was John Tudor with 10 shutouts in 1985.  In the AL, only 2 pitchers since 1947 have had double-digit shutouts; Dean Chance had 11 in 1963 and Jim Palmer threw 10 in 1975.  That record is not impossible to overcome – – but it is unlikely.
  3. Byron Nelson:  Back in the 1940s, he won 11 consecutive PGA tournaments.  Given the depth of the competent golfers on the PGA Tour these days, that record is going to be hard to reach – – let alone break.
  4. Boston Celtics:  They once won 8 consecutive NBA Championships.  In this time of free agency, that record will be monstrously difficult to break.
  5. Oklahoma University:  In the 1950s under the tutelage of Bud Wilkinson, the Sooners won 47 consecutive football games.  Today the NCAA imposes scholarship limitations that allow for top talent to spread out to more than a few schools.  That situation makes this record difficult to reach.

I have pointed out before that there is one sports record that CANNOT possibly be broken.  It can be equaled or tied but will never be broken unless there is a fundamental change in the rules.  Here is THE unbreakable record:

  • In January 1991, the Giants beat the Bills in the Super Bowl by a score of 20-19.  That is not only the smallest margin of victory in a Super Bowl game to date; it is the smallest POSSIBLE margin of victory in a Super Bowl game because the rules for that game do not allow for a tie game.  Down the line, two teams might match this record but they cannot break it without a change in the rules to allow for tie games or a change in the scoring rules to allow fractional points.

Let me stay with an NFL theme here for another moment.  The City of St. Louis has filed suit against the NFL, the Rams franchise and against the 57 owners/partial owners of NFL franchises individually seeking about $1B from the defendants for moving the Rams from St. Louis to LA.   I am not going to pretend to be able to explain the totality of the meaning of these allegations, but here is what the plaintiff claims:

  1. Breach of contract,
  2. Unjust enrichment,
  3. Fraudulent misrepresentation (against the Rams and owner Stan Kroenke) and
  4. Tortious interference with business expectancy.

According to my understanding of the reports on this legal action, the charge of “unjust enrichment” is backed by data from Forbes saying that the Rams – now in LA – are worth about $1.2B more than they were when they were in St. Louis.

I have no idea how Forbes makes these sorts of determinations but if the plaintiff says this is a critical analysis – and if I am on the jury at this trial – I would not think this strengthened the plaintiff’s case even a little bit.  If moving to LA added $1.2B to the value of the team, then the owner would have to have been dumber than oatmeal to leave the team in St. Louis; if that is the factor that makes the team more valuable, then the plaintiff has proven that indeed the team should have moved.  In fact, it shows that the team should have moved at least several years before it did.

 

[The preceding commentary is why no attorney worth his/her billable hours should ever allow me to be on a jury at one of their trials.  The entire process of voir dire is in place to keep people like me off juries.]

 

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

“The Florida Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr turned 45 Wednesday, joining Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios as the only ones to play in an NHL game at that age.

“Teammates showered him afterward with Molsons and Metamucil.”

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

 

 

International Cooperation…

Mexico, Canada and the US have “joined forces” so to speak to present a unified bid to FIFA which – –  if accepted – –  would assure that the 2026 World Cup Tournament would be held in North America.  Mexico and the US have hosted this tournament in the past; Canada has not.  This is described as an “historic event” because bids in the past have been limited to a single country.

By distributing the games among the countries, none of the three countries would need to construct new venues from scratch; there might be a need for some upgrades at some venues, but any costs associated with those activities would be trivial as compared to building new venues from the ground up.  The 2026 World Cup will be the first such event where the number of participating nations increases from 32 to 48; that indicates to me that an already HUGE international event will be even bigger at that time.

Do not hold your breath waiting for a decision here.  FIFA will announce its choice of venues for the 2026 tournament sometime in 2020.  Two things that will need to be addressed regarding this three-headed bid are:

  1. The host nation automatically gets an entry into the tournament no matter how well or how poorly its national team might perform in qualifying matches.  So … what do they do with three “host nations”?
  2. Will the FIFA folks look upon this as an opportunity to “plunder” three countries at one time as opposed to only one?

Recently in the Sporting Cosmos of the Earth, we have seen a lot of unlikely events and the breaking of some long-term streaks such as:

  1. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
  2. Leicester City (founded in 1884) won the EPL for the first time in club history.
  3. Sergio Garcia won a major golf tournament for the first time.

These events raise the question as to whether we have entered a period where out-of-the-ordinary happenings are going to become commonplace or if this is just an accidental merger of these unusual events in time.  If indeed we have entered into some sort of space-time warp where strange happenings are the new normal, then here are some things to look for as confirmation of that new normal:

  1. The Detroit Lions make it to the Super Bowl.
  2. The LA Clippers win the NBA Championship.
  3. The Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
  4. Sam Marino wins an international soccer match.
  5. James Dolan wins NBA Exec of the Year.
  6. Rex Ryan actually delivers on one of his bombastic “promises”.
  7. The Oakland A’s average home attendance is north of 30,000.
  8. Tom Brady invites Roger Goodell over for dinner.

In another piece of recent news, Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar, offered up this “analysis” of the NCAA basketball tournament for 2017.  The reason that UCLA did not win the championship – as he had predicted several months ago – is because they played three white guys who were slow afoot against Kentucky.  Seriously, he said that.  Here is his full commentary:

“Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow. I told Lonzo—’One of these games you might need to go for 30 or 40 points.’ It turned out that was the one game. Then once they get to the Elite Eight, they’re right there.”

Here is Greg Cote’s take on that commentary in the Miami Herald:

“Clown-dad father LaVar Ball now claims his son’s UCLA team lost in the NCAA Tournament because of the slowness of’”three white guys.’ Well, at least he didn’t name them!”

Forget the screeches of “racism” leveled at LaVar Ball for those remarks; that is not the issue here.  The real issue is that the best player on the court for the Bruins in the UCLA/Kentucky game was TJ Leaf (17 points and 7 rebounds) and it does not take a “Google genius” to find out that TJ Leaf is white.  If indeed “that was the game” where Lonzo Ball needed “to go for 30 or 40 points”, then he fell just a bit short.  His stats were 10 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds.  Oh, and Ball was also the one who was torched by DeAaron Fox of Kentucky on many of Fox’s drives that led to Fox’s 39 points for the Wildcats.

Perhaps another of those things to look for as an indication that unusual happenstances are the new normal might be this:

  • LaVar Ball says something that has a basis in reality.

If you are going to take in an Astros’ game at Minute Made Park, here is something that might catch your dining fancy:

  • The Freddy Fender:  This starts with a chorizo sausage wrapped in a corn tortilla; that puppy is then deep-fried and served topped with cilantro-sour cream, cotija cheese, pico de gallo and tequila-braised onions.
  • My recommendation is order this with a side of Rolaids…

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had these reasons why President Trump chose not to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Nats’ home opener this year:

“MLB refused to move game to Mar-a-Lago.

“Former President Barack Obama is stealing catcher’s signs.

“Lying radar gun keeps flashing ‘36’ on his 100-mph heater.”

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