The NFL Juggernaut Rolls On

Each year we get a glimpse into the finances of NFL teams because the Green Bay Packers are not owned by one person.  They are a publicly owned entity and therefore must file financial statements the same way Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon do.  For the previous year, the national revenue distributed by the NFL to each team was $255M.  With the salary cap set at about $170M, that means each team has covered its player costs with about $85M left over to cover ancillary costs like coaches’ salaries, travel, stadium leasing etc.  Not a bad deal if you can get it…

I think there are some other things to note here:

  • National revenue to be split among the teams was up in 2017 to $8.1B.  That is a 4% increase year-over-year.  The bulk of that national revenue comes from the network TV deals the NFL has with its “broadcast partners”.
  • Notwithstanding the gloom-and-doom narrative of falling TV ratings and negative reactions to the anthem protests, the NFL national revenue stream increased by 4% last year.
  • Team owners do not have to share local income – such as local radio and TV deals, ticket revenues (except with visiting teams), parking receipts etc.  As a “small market entity” the Packers managed to generate an additional $199M in 2017; that means the Packers’ total revenue was $454M.  Imagine what a “big market team” will generate in terms of revenue.

Tangentially related to the NFL is the fact that Peter King’s new Monday column for NBC.com debuted this week and it is called Football Morning in America.  The first installment was similar in format to his previous columns at SI.com meaning that football fans now have two columns of extensive NFL news to take in every week.  This situation reminds me of a friend whose motto in life is:

  • Nothing exceeds like excess.

In Greg Cote’s weekend blog entry at miamiherald.com, he set the stage for television events this week that may be of interest to sports fans with these two comments:

“British Open begins this week: Golf’s next major begins this Thursday at Carnoustie. This is once again where we chew over whether Tiger Woods is finally “back” and ready to at last win his first major in 10 years, raising the volume when he shoots a solid early round, only to concede by the weekend it ain’t-a gonna happen. “

And …

“The 26th ESPY Awards are this Wednesday night in L.A. Because there just are not nearly enough awards shows!”

Regarding the ESPYs, Professor Cote is absolutely correct.  His comment about the British Open and Tiger Woods brings to mind the hype and rumor surrounding a supposed winner-take-all match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for $10M.  The golf writers are slobbering all over this idea as if it might be THE solution to world peace and the ultimate identification of who actually put the ram in the ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong all wrapped up in one.  Obviously, I think such a staged/concocted event would fall far short of either goal.

Why can we not identify the underpinnings of this idea for what it really is?

  • These are two aging and fading super-stars in their sport who are going to take a shot at one more “cash grab”.

Years ago, Tony Kornheiser published a book that was an anthology of previous newspaper columns he had written.  That book, Pumping Irony, sold well and so he and the publisher went and collected a bunch of other columns he had written and put them together in a second book.  Tony Kornheiser gave the second book an honest title when he called it I’m Back For More Cash.  That should be the way we all refer to a Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson $10M winner-take-all hootdoodle.  Here is a question for you.

  • If it were a $10 winner-take-all match between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, would you watch?

And one last thing here…  I would be more interested in this winner-take-all match if Woods and Mickelson each put $10M of their own money into an escrow account and the winner got to have the $20M total.  That would not get me to watch the match, but it would make it more interesting and a lot more honest.

Switching gears – and sports.  I have been scanning baseball box scores for almost 70 years now.  My father and I would check them out in the paper when he got home from work. For the last month or so, I find myself looking for something I had never sought out before.

  • I am looking at the number of hits a team gets in a game and checking to see if that same team struck out twice as many times as they got base hits.
  • Start checking out your box scores in the paper.  It is not all that uncommon these days.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about a golfer on the PGA Tour not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson:

“Golfer Bryson DeChambeau used a compass in a tournament, prompting a PGA Tour investigation.

“Veteran Tour watchers were stunned — to learn that a man actually thought about checking for directions.”

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

 

 

France Wins The World Cup

My adopted World Cup team – Croatia – put up a good fight yesterday, but France was the World Cup winner for 2018.  When the Croatians tied the game at 1-1 overcoming an “own goal” that had given France the lead, I thought they were going to pull off the upset.  It did not happen.

By happenstance, I have some soccer news to comment on today.  The first one has to do with MLS here in the US, but before I get to that, I want to offer up a hypothesis regarding MLS and its TV contract.

  • For many new sports or niche sports, we tend the see a national TV contract as a measure of the acceptance of the sport and/or as a measure of the viability of the sport as an economic enterprise.
  • MLS has a national TV deal with FOX – the same network that carried the World Cup games here in the US.  One may normally see this as a huge plus for MLS given the cross-promotion that FOX did and given the juxtaposing of MLS games with World Cup matches.
  • My hypothesis is that the FOX national TV deal hurts MLS as much as it helps MLS.  The reason is that MLS games are not nearly as well played as the World Cup games.

I can feel the soccer mavens gearing themselves up to hit the comment button at the bottom of this rant about now, but the problem is deeper than that.  I will not have to wait 4 years to see another World Cup tournament which will throw shade on MLS games; I only have to wait a short while until the English Premier League and the Bundesliga begin to play because I can see a good number of those games on the same cable package that lets me see the MLS games.  I believe that MLS is hurt by the comparisons to the European leagues because even to a novice viewer like me, the difference in the quality of play is evident.

I think this situation is similar to – but not as stark – as the comparison one can make between NBA games and WNBA games.  They are both available nationally on TV, but I do not think the WNBA gets very much benefit from their TV deal other than the revenue that it provides.  I think another analogy is appropriate here.  MLB plays the same game as do Minor League Baseball teams; if a fan checks out the two levels of play close by one another, it will be relatively clear very quickly that MLB demonstrates a higher level of skill in the “same game”.  Minor league baseball dodges that comparison because there is no minor league baseball TV contract to show fans that one level is the “good stuff” and the other level is the “not-nearly-as-good-stuff”.

I mention the TV deal because it is a prelude to the opening of a new soccer-only stadium here in DC for the DC United team in MLS.  There are more than a dozen of these new soccer-only facilities around the country for MLS squads.  The one in DC is Audi Field and it frees DC United from having to play in RFK Stadium which is a facility that should have been razed at least 20 years ago.  As with many of the other new soccer-only venues, this one is not a huge concrete cavern; Audi Field will seat 20,000 people.

All of that coincides with another major piece of news for DC United:

  • They signed Wayne Rooney – the aging EPL star for Manchester United and Everton.  He is available for the opening game at Audi Field.

This signing of an aging foreign star is the new normal for MLS.  Various US pro soccer leagues in the past have gone down this path only to see that it did not provide nearly the financial revenues that were envisioned.  Previous foreign stars who came to the US to play soccer here – and hopefully to convince skeptical fans that it was OK to enjoy soccer – included Pele, Johann Cruyff and Giorgio Chinaglia; none of them succeeded in that task.

I think that MLS has taken a different and more realistic view of what it is and what it might become in the near term in the context of US sports.  The answer is that it is still a small and growing sports enterprise and that it does not have itself leveraged to the hilt.  MLS does not play in cavernous venues that cost and arm and a leg to lease and to operate.  MLS has a national TV contract to keep the league financially sound – if not artistically sound by comparison to other televised soccer leagues.

What I find most interesting here is that another of the niche sports that suffers from TV comparison with the way the “big guys” play it – the WNBA – has begun to emulate the MLS playing venue model.  The WNBA teams are looking to find alternate sites for their games other than the large and expensive arenas where the men play NBA basketball.  The New York Liberty are going to play future home games in Westchester County and not in Madison Square Garden.  The folks who run the Liberty have decided that they are not going to fill the Garden even if they try to wallpaper it with free give-away tickets; ergo why try to cover costs in a place as expensive as the Garden when there are much smaller – and much more affordable – venues available for the booking.  It makes eminent sense…

As of now, only 4 of the 12 WNBA teams play in “NBA arenas”; when the league started, every team played in an “NBA arena”.  The Liberty’s new home seats a maximum of 4500 which is fine given the number of paying customers the Liberty draws.  Here is the kicker; the new arena in Westchester County costs only 5% of what it costs to play in Madison Square Garden.

In recent news, and in another sport, you can find yet another team looking to downsize its venue.  The MLB Tampa Bay Rays have had difficulty drawing fans to their very large ballpark outside St. Petersburg.  The place can seat 55,000 for baseball; the Rays cannot draw 20,000 for anything other than Opening Day or a World Series game.  So, the Rays have been looking for a new park for a while.

What now is on the table is a stadium in a downtown neighborhood of Tampa that will seat only 28,000.  Given the attendance history of the Rays over the past 15 years, this downsizing makes sense.  Lots of folks have opined as to why the venue in St. Petersburg has never worked all that well for fans in the area.  I would be lying if I tried to tell you what the correct opinion might be in that mix.

There are no definite decisions regarding this new venue for the Rays; this is all still in the “concept stage” but the mayor of Tampa seems to be pleased by the idea and the design.  Now will come the interesting part of the “negotiating: who will pay how much and for what in order to turn the proposed site into an actual stadium.  I am sure that the Rays would like the whole thing to be on the city’s dime; I surely hope the city drives a harder bargain than that.  You can see a report from the Tampa Bay Times about the design concept for the new stadium and where it might be located and what the projected costs might be at this link.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald regarding the recent summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un:

“In Singapore Kim Jong Un reportedly ordered his security detail to seize and destroy the phones of bystanders who were taking lots of selfies…OK, this guy isn’t all bad.”

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

 

 

Friday The Thirteenth

It’s Friday the Thirteenth.  What could possibly go wrong…?

Earlier this week, I shared some trivia sent by a long-term friend that I suggested you could use to win bar bets – – if you took the time to verify their accuracy.  The reader in Houston who is a world-class font of sports stats and history took that as a challenge and indeed verified those assertions.  Here are his findings:

  • Ted Williams indeed did get a hit in every opening day game in which he appeared.  He was in 14 of them; in opening day games, Williams hit .449 with 3 HRs, 14 RBIs, 7 doubles and a triple.
  • The Houston Maven also passed along that Walter Johnson started 14 Opening Day games and threw 9 complete game shutouts in those games.  Wow!
  • Wilt did indeed have 124 games with 30 points or more and 30 rebounds or more.  Our “fact-checker” said he did it the easy way and checked with Elias Sports Bureau.  His bonus info here is that Chamberlain also had 100 games where he went 50/20 – – 50 or more points and 20 or more rebounds.
  • Regarding Tony Gwynn’s record against Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez, let me simply quote the response from Houston on the matter:
  • “I checked out Gwynn and he hit .415 vs. Maddux over 16 seasons (1986-2001), while he faced Martinez in just Martinez’ first six MLB seasons (1992-1997). Your friend could have picked other HOF pitchers who faced Tony at least 10 years for such a comparison and also in their prime.

  • “For example, Tony hit .444 vs. Smoltzie in 13 seasons (1988-2001, in 2000 Smoltz DNP).

  • “Altogether vs. all current HOF pitchers, Tony hit .333 in 508 AB.”

So, while I am on the track of having readers write today’s offering, let me set another scene.  Two of the regular readers here used to be baseball umpires at the high school, American Legion and collegiate levels.  So, when a bizarre idea popped into my head, I asked them what they thought would be the call.  Here is the situation:

  • Team A has used its entire quota of mound visits for a game.
  • Pitcher for Team A calls time out and is granted time out by one of the umpires.
  • Pitcher for Team A moseys over to third base where he is joined by the catcher for Team A and they chat.
  • Manager for Team B bolts out of the dugout breathing fire …

Both reader-umpires agreed that ejections were in order here.  The pitcher probably has to go; so too would anyone from the bench on Team A that may have joined in this conversation.  Neither former umpire commented on the fate of the catcher who was in on the chat.  It would be fun to see how Cowboy Joe West would handle something like this, right?

Minor league baseball teams put on lots of off-center promotions and that is part of the fun of minor league baseball.  However, the Montgomery Biscuits – a Double-A team – decided to put on Millennial Night on 21 July with advertising that said there would be:

  • Participation ribbons, napping and selfie stations and lots of avocadoes.
  • It also asked, “Want free things without doing much work?”

Let’s just say this did not go over well.  You can read some of the vitriolic commentary on social media here.  This is not the dumbest sports promotion ever, but it has to be one of the dozen or so dumbest ones considering that baseball at all levels is trying to cozy up to young people and not mock them to drive them away.

This got me to thinking about stupid sports promotions that were worse than this one.  Here is what I came up with:

  1. Disco Demolition Night in old Comiskey Park.  Google is your friend…
  2. Ten-cent Beer Night in Cleveland.  Definitely Google this gem…
  3. “Awful Night” in Altoona.  The Altoona Curve decided to celebrate failure that night and did things like reverse batting averages from “hitting .300” to “failing .700”.  The night was indeed, awful.
  4. Celebrity Boxing which once featured a “fight” between William “Refrigerator” Perry and Manute Bol.  [For the record, Bol won the “fight”.]

Feel free to add to the list…

Finally, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun used mathematics to put a sports story in perspective for “the rest of us”.  When LeBron James opted out of his contract with the Cavs to sign with the Lakers, he left $46M on the table in Cleveland; so, Simmons did the math:

“For someone making $75,000 a year, you’d only have to work 613 years to equal what LeBron declined.”

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

 

 

Sports Gambling “Stuff” on 7/11…

On July 11 – – 7/11 in shorthand – – I feel a need to lead off with a discussion of sports gambling.  In the wake of the Supreme Court decision regarding PASPA, sports gambling has expanded its footprint in the US and I am glad to report that all of the major professional sports leagues remain intact.  Gambling has not yet destroyed – or even harmed slightly – any of them.  I’ll keep an eye out for major damage – as the leagues professed would happen – in all their legal filings on that case.

The State of Delaware was one of the first states out of the blocks with expanded sports gambling at their racetracks in the state.  [I know of 3 racetracks in Delaware; there may be others.]  Delaware had been one of the 4 states “exempt” from PASPA because they had established sports gambling prior to the passage of PASPA so I guess Delaware had a head start.  The first month’s results are in and here is what we know:

  • Bettors wagered $7M in Delaware at the racetracks where sports gambling action was taken.  Approximately 70,000 wagers were made meaning the average bet was $100.
  • Payouts to bettors was $6M.
  • While that looks like a $1M profit for the State of Delaware, that is not really the case because some of that $7M wagered was on futures bets such as who will win the World Series.  The bookkeeping/accounting for sports gambling revenues is not so revealing on a short-term (monthly) basis.
  • Almost 75% of the money wagered was on MLB games.
  • More money was wagered on World Cup games than on the NBA Finals.  [Of course, there are far more World Cup games to bet on than there were in the NBA Finals which was a sweep.]

Here is a Wimbledon update that would have gotten you a major score if you had bet on this prop before the tournament:

  • None of the top ten seeds on the women’s side has survived to the quarterfinals.

If that prop bet existed anywhere, you can be sure it was a long odds prop.  However, do not be fooled into thinking that this year’s Wimbledon winner might be someone you never heard of.  Serena Williams was not one of the top ten seeds this year, and she is still alive and is the current betting favorite to win it all.

One of the readers of these rants has – in the past – sent me trivia facts related to sports.  Since I have known him for about 30 years, I have taken them at face value and have not tried to verify them because it looked to be too much work.  My plan was to save up a couple dozen of those gems and do a rant on something like “Bar Bets You Can Win”.  That plan hit a significant speed bump recently.

I had not received one of those “gems” in several months and finally had the temerity to ask why they had stopped arriving in my inbox about once every month or two.  The response came in an e-mail earlier this week:

“I had no idea you were counting on these for one of your rants.  I would have told you not to do that because I do not have a reliable source for them.  I read something that is statistically significant and send it to you because you always liked that kind of oddball [stuff].  That’s all these were … I don’t know when I will find the next one to send to you.”

So, I will adapt to this new information and present here a far more abbreviated version of “Bar Bets You Can Win” – – if, of course, you take the time and expend the energy to verify each of the following:

  • Ted Williams got a hit in every opening day game he played in.  Williams was in the majors for 19 seasons between 1939 and 1960.  He missed 3 years during WW II; he also played in only 6 games in 1952 and only 37 games in 1953.  That was the time of the Korean War and he went back into the service for some of that time.  If I assume he missed those opening days in ’52 and ’53, that means he played in 17 opening day games.
  • Wilt Chamberlain produced 30/30 games 124 times in his career.  That is a game where he scored 30 or more points AND had 30 or more rebounds in the same game.  These days, if a player does that one time, it is top-of-the-front-page-of- the- sports – section news.  Chamberlain did it 124 times in a total of 1045 NBA games.  He did it more than 10% of the time!
  • Tony Gwynn batted against Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez 143 times in his career.  Against those two Hall of Fame pitchers, Gwynn batted .388 and struck out zero times.  If you had any doubts about why Tony Gwynn is in the Baseball Hall of Fame …

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times that has nothing at all to do with sports gambling.  It’s just that I found it interesting and amusing:

“IKEA announced global partnerships with a few leading brands such as Adidas.

“Which is great news if you like taking two hours to put your sneakers together, then wondering why you have three screws, a bracket and an Allen wrench left over.”

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

 

 

NBA Doings…

Recently, Bob Molinaro posed this question in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Just asking: Is the Golden State Warriors’ signing of big man DeMarcus Cousins any more extreme than the Yankees adding Giancarlo Stanton to an already power-laden lineup?”

My answer to that is that the Yankee’s deal to get Stanton had a taint to it that the Cousins to Golden State does not have.  The Cousins/Warriors deal appears to be an arms-length transaction.  The Warriors offered a 1-year deal at $5M; virtually every team in the league could have offered that same deal and perhaps other teams did; Cousins chose to sign the deal put in front of him by the Warriors.  I have no problem with any of that.

The Yankees/Stanton deal has as aspect to it that is unsavory.  From the Marlins’ side of the table, the negotiator was Derek Jeter.  Like it or not, any transaction between Jeter and the Yankees is going to cause raised eyebrows with regard to the degree to which Jeter drove a hard bargain.  I am not saying that he gave Stanton away; I am saying that the fact that the deal involved the Yankees gives one pause in thinking about the deal.

Since I started on the NBA today, let me continue down that path.  There has been some player movement that merits comment:

  • Dwight Howard signed with the Wizards.  When the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat, it was clear they needed a big man.  John Wall had been critical of Gortat for not being sufficiently athletic and able to stretch the floor; ergo I would have expected the Wiz to get someone that fit such a description.  Dwight Howard does not.  Howard is a good player at the point in his career and a likely Hall of Fame player when one considers his entire career.  I am not sure he fits what the Wizards say is the way they want to play next year.  Oh, and there is one more thing…  The Wiz will be Howard’s 6th team since 2012.  At least 3 of those “partings” were of the variety of “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!”  This will be interesting to watch.
  • DeAndre Jordan signed with the Mavericks – – and did not change his mind this time; the deal is worth $23M for 1 year.  The Mavs did well in the draft last year with Dennis Smith and many people think they struck gold this year with Luka Doncic (time will tell).  Signing a center who can play defense and rebound and run the floor a bit seems like a good thing to me – – but why only 1 year?
  • Tony Parker signed a 2-year deal with the Hornets.  That would have been a great deal for the Hornets in 2010 or even in 2012.  Parker’s stats have been waning for several years and last year he only averaged 19 minutes per game in only 55 games.   I really do not understand this one.
  • Derrick Rose re-upped with the Timberwolves for 1 year at $2.2M.  Like the Tony Parker deal, this would have been great in 2012.  Rose has been injured multiple times and appeared in only 25 games last year and he averaged less than 17 minutes per game.  He is only 30 years old; I guess the Timberwolves are hoping that he pays a visit to Lourdes over the summer.

Of course, there is the pending saga of Carmelo Anthony who reportedly will part company with the Thunder and seek employment elsewhere in the league.  Rumors have him going to the Lakers and/or the Rockets and/or the Celtics.  I am not sure I understand why any of those three teams would want him, but I am not an NBA GM.  I think it is safe to say that he will not be returning to the Knicks any time soon…

Another NBA topic that had some time in the sun recently was the idea of re-seeding the teams in the NBA Playoffs with the idea that it would be possible for the two best teams to meet in the Finals instead of in Conference Finals.  In theory that is a good idea, but I don’t think it is a good one overall.  I know that – for the moment – the Western Conference is significantly stronger and deeper than the Eastern Conference.  That will change over time.  And that difference in strength and depth is a major reason why re-seeding is a bad idea.

  • If the East is weaker than the West and the schedule is maintained as it is, then teams in the East play weaker schedules than ones in the West.
  • If that is true – and it is – then the regular season records of Eastern teams are not directly comparable to the Western teams.  But that is the basis on which the teams would be re-seeded.  Hello?

If the NBA were of a mind to restructure itself such that every team played a totally balanced schedule, that would be a monumental undertaking.  Thirty teams playing eighty-two regular season games does not make for a balanced schedule anywhere let alone everywhere.  Do the math…

If the NBA figured a way to play a balanced schedule – they won’t! – that would mean the end of any meaningful divisions or conferences and that would put a significant dent in franchise rivalries.

  • Memo to NBA Mavens:  That would be a horrendous idea.  Do not weaken franchise rivalries.

The NBA regular season is – for the most part – a 7-month bore.  Rivalry games make some of those games a bit more interesting than others; there is no good that will come from eroding those rivalries.  What the NBA ought to want to do is to have more of these sorts of regular season games:

  • Los Angeles/Golden State
  • Dallas/Houston/San Antonio
  • Boston/Philly
  • Indiana/Chicago

Finally, since I began today with a question posed by a columnist, let me close with another question posed by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Mets pitchers yielded seven bases-empty home runs in an 8-7 loss to the Dodgers.

“So when is Hope Solo Jersey Night?”

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

 

 

World Cup Status Report…

We now have the “Final Four” for the World Cup.  The favorites are out, and the game’s biggest stars are out.

  1. Argentina is out.  They feature Lionel Messi who some believe is a “generational player”.
  2. Brazil is out.  They are a World Cup blueblood.  Neymar is a world star and he is gone.
  3. Germany is out.  They are the defending World Cup champions and they were the betting favorite to win it all at the start of the tournament.
  4. Portugal is out.  They are the reigning UEFA champions.  Cristiano Ronaldo is also considered by many as a “generational player”.
  5. Spain is out.  They were the second favorites in the betting as the tournament began.

What is left is a very interesting mixture of four European teams.

  1. Belgium is a country with a population of about 11.3 million people.  Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the city of Tianjin in China – – and Tianjin is only the fifth largest city in China.  Nevertheless, even from that small native talent pool, Belgium has fielded a team labeled the “Golden Generation” because they feature 4 players who are bona fide stars in the English Premier League.  [Aside:  I have enjoyed watching midfielder Kevin De Bruyne; he is an excellent passer and is always looking to attack.]
  2. Croatia is a country with an even smaller population than Belgium; Croatia has a population of about 4.2 million people.  Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the metropolitan area surrounding Boston MA.  Like Belgium, they have a talent pool that is sufficiently skilled that much of the Croatian team plays in the top leagues around Europe.  Remember, I am rooting for Croatia this time around because I promised out tour leader in the Balkans that I would.
  3. England is a soccer crazed nation that has underperformed in the World Cup tournaments for the last several decades.  From what I have seen in this year’s tournament, England is playing very good defense.  If the adage that “defense wins championships” holds water, England may prevail.  This time around, they are in the semi-finals and the mantra there is that “It’s Coming Home!” – – meaning the World Cup trophy.  For the record, the only time England won the World Cup was in 1966.
  4. France is also a one-time winner of the World Cup (1998) and they seem to have gotten here on cruise control.  I did not see any of their draw with Denmark, but I have seen some or all of France’s other games and if they were pressed in any of them, it surely did not look like it on a TV screen.  They have looked to be under control and in control when I have been watching.

Since a team from Europe is sure to win this year’s trophy, that will mark the fourth consecutive World Cup that has gone to a European nation; the last winner from somewhere other than Europe was Brazil in 2002.

There was an interesting stat from the quarterfinal Belgium/Brazil game.  In that contest, Brazil took 26 shots – – and Brazil lost the game.  To put that in perspective consider these shot stats for other teams in the quarterfinal matchups:

  • Brazil  26 shots  lost
  • Croatia  3 shots  won
  • Belgium  9 shots  won
  • France  11 shots  won
  • England 11 shots  won

On a recent ESPN telecast of a Yankees/Red Sox game, Brett Gardner beat out an infield hit.  Analyst Jessica Mendoza said that he did that “by using his feet to get down the line”.  Interesting:

  • I was unaware of the rule change that allows players to opt for a Segway to take them to first base…

In NFL news, Julian Edelman’s 4-game suspension was upheld on appeal.  I never expected any other outcome.  However, the NFL has yet to reveal what it was in the blood/urine sample that caused the test failure; they still do not know what the “unknown contaminant” is.  For me that leaves a huge open question here:

  • If you do not know what the substance is that makes the test procedure indicate a “failure”, how do you know that it is a PED or that it is on the list of NFL-banned substances?
  • Seems like a good final exam essay question for a college course in epistemology…

Finally, here is an interesting quiz from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

The biggest competitive mismatch these days is:

  • a) Globetrotters vs. Generals
  • b) Warriors vs. NBA
  • c) Joey Chestnut vs. hot dogs

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

 

 

Get Your Hot Dog Here …

Now that all of us have recovered from the celebratory excesses of the July 4th holiday, let me spend a moment telling you how various MLB teams have decorated hot dogs in their stadia for sale during the entirety of the MLB season.  The hot dog is a symbol of “Americana”; MLB is a symbol of “Americana”.  Notwithstanding either of those statements, consider:

  • In Arizona at Chase Field, fans attending D-Backs’ games can order a Top Tot Dog.  That would be a hot dog with chili, scallions, tater tots, nacho cheese sauce and sour cream.
  • In KC at Kauffman Stadium, fans attending Royals’ games can order a Royal Blue Dog[No, this is not a political reference to Blue Dog Democrats…]  That would be a hot dog topped with bacon and blue cheese.
  • In Cleveland at Progressive Field, fans attending Indians’ games can order a Slider Dog.  That would be a hot dog topped with mac and cheese, bacon and Froot Loops.  Seriously …
  • In Atlanta at SunTrust Park, fans attending Braves’ games can order a Dixie Dog.  That would be a hot dog with pulled pork and barbecue sauce, cole slaw and pickles.
  • In Baltimore at Camden Yards, fans attending Orioles’ games can order a Crab Mac ‘n Cheese Dog.  There is really no mystery there …
  • In Detroit at Comerica Park, fans attending Tigers’ games can order a Poutine Dog.  That would be a hot dog topped with French Fries, gravy and cheese curds.
  • In Pittsburgh at PNC Park, fans attending Pirates’ games can order a Cracker Jack ‘N’ Mac Dog.  You guessed it; this is a hot dog with mac and cheese, Cracker Jack chips and jalapeno peppers (fresh or pickled at the customer’s option).

Most of the above sound good enough to me so that my reaction to all of this is:

  • Pass the Rolaids…

I read a report somewhere – – and did not make a note of where it was from so I cannot cite it properly – – that John Spanos who is the President of Football Operations for the LA Chargers said recently:

“It doesn’t matter where you’re playing; it’s important to have a good team. That defines everything.”

I think John Spanos is absolutely correct here; if an ownership and Front Office have a winning team on the field, most everything else can work itself out.  HOW-EVAH … [/Stephen A. Smith]:

  • If location does not matter nearly as much as putting a winning team on the field, can John Spanos explain in 5 simple declarative sentences why the Chargers moved away from San Diego? 

I would be happy to hear that reasoned and logical discourse.

I have had a note about this next topic on my clipboard for a while and have put off talking about it because it is potentially a hot-button issue and I do not want to be labeled as some sort of troglodyte.  Nonetheless, I have decided to take the heat that is sure to come my way and talk about the scope of the NFL Cheerleaders’ lawsuits against various NFL teams and even the NFL itself.

I think there are two categories of lawsuits here.  Some seek compensation because cheerleaders have not been paid minimum wages. I have no problem with those lawsuits and – candidly – I hope the cheerleaders win those suits and collect for themselves and for women who preceded them.

There are allegations that some cheerleaders have been used as “eye candy” for big-spending suite owners who were invited to photo shoots where the cheerleaders were in various states of dishabille – to include being only clothed in body paint.  I find that disgusting – – not the cheerleaders in body paint but the fact that their employer would use them as a way to maintain or attract big spending customers.

I get all of that; I sympathize with all of that.  Here is where I get off the train – and where feminists can take aim and fire:

  • Some cheerleader suits have claimed that they have been “body shamed” and forced to “lose weight” or “get in better shape” as a condition of continued membership of the cheerleading squad.

Yes, I agree that women ought not to be put in positions where they are ogled because they are women.  Notwithstanding that statement, I also believe that women who sign up to be cheerleaders for NFL teams should have NO EXPECTATION of value to the team other than as eye-candy.  Cheerleaders do not block or tackle; they do not score points or prevent the opposing from scoring points.  NFL cheerleaders are attractive women who are scantily dressed and the reason for all of that is that the teams hope that those women will be part of a fully rewarding experience for an audience that is mostly men – – and mostly inebriated men.

Here is why I could never be a judge.  No woman with an IQ equal to or greater than the speed limit on the Interstates could possibly fail to realize that she was signing onto a “job” where she was going to be objectified for her sexuality and that those were the most important “qualifications” for her to get the job in the first place.  Any woman who did not recognize that from Day One may not be able to tell lightening from thunder.

There are real – and potentially actionable – lawsuits out there for the taking.  There is the temptation to various activist groups to take those lawsuits to a nonsensical extent.

  • Memo For Cheerleaders And Their Advisors:  You have the law on your side; you have won in the “Court of Public Opinion”.  Try not to screw this up and make some or all of the ranks of NFL Cheerleaders look like dumbasses.

Finally, Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – had this Tweet regarding the recently concluded College World Series in Omaha:

“At the CWS concession be sure to buy a ‘Widow maker’ – it’s 7 lbs of cheese, 5 lbs of bacon, covered in frosting, butter and tobacco.”

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

 

 

The NFL Shoots Itself In The Foot …

The NFL is big on keeping its brand – The Shield – in the collective face of the US sporting public.  About the only thing that motivates the NFL more is to keep its brand in front of the public in a benign/glowing/favorable light.  I find all the previous commentary to be self-evident.  [Apologies to Thomas Jefferson for using that construction so close to July 4th …]

It is because of the league’s dedication to continuous positive imagery presented to the public that I find this next item incongruous at best and downright dumb most of the time:

  • Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is an offensive guard for the KC Chiefs.  He just completed med school (McGill University in Canada) while he was an active player.  He took classes during the off-season when he had time on his own.
  • He wanted the name on the back of his jersey to read “Duvernay-Tardif M.D.”   After all, that is what he is; he is a medical doctor.
  • The NFL said, “No!”

I understand that the NFL image mavens want to maintain control over what can and cannot be displayed on player nameplates during games.  After all, the NFL could not possibly continue to exist if some player took advantage of a lax ruling here and wore a jersey nameplate that read “He Hate Me” or “Who Gives A S[p]it?”  It seems to me that there is a 40-acre field here between “Duvernay-Tardif M.D.” and “He Hate Me”; the NFL must see this as an incredibly steeply inclined slope that is covered with black ice.

I believe that Duvernay-Tardif is the first active player to complete his med school requirements and classes while still maintaining himself as an NFL roster denizen.  Frankly, I find the successful blending of those two endeavors to be inspiring and I find it some thing that should be seen as laudatory at several levels.  Clearly, there are those who work at 345 Park Avenue in NYC who do not see these accomplishments in nearly the same light.  I think that the NFL could benefit greatly by having announcers point out that Duvernay-Tardif – after a great play that was captured on replay for all to see – was more than just a “dumb jock”; Duvernay-Tardif was a med school graduate.  I don’t see how that sort of publicity could hurt The Shield but I am not in the PR world…

In Waco, TX, there has been an ongoing “football-related story” that has been far less than laudatory for the team and for Baylor University which had been the locus of that team.  After some gut-wrenching stories and times, Baylor fired its football coach and its AD and is trying to reboot itself with an image that is something less loathsome than Dr. Josef Mengele.  There was a report produced by an independent law firm hired by the university to “clear the air”.  It seemed as if that report would allow the university to “turn the corner” with a new sports administration and a new football coaching staff in place.

Perhaps that sentiment was premature …  Here is a column written by Kevin Sherrington in the Dallas Morning News.  Here is the third paragraph of that column:

“Because of Baylor’s decision to gloss over the actual facts – whether out of misguided intentions to shield the innocent or in an attempt to cover up guilty parties – the university needs to start all over and get it right this time.”

Obviously, I would recommend that you follow this link to see the entirety of Kevin Sherrington’s argumentation in support of that directive.  I will only say that if he is only partially on the right track, this situation is still a gigantic hot mess.

Eight national teams remain in the World Cup.  Let me declare a bias here before I comment:

  • On my recent trip to the Balkans – much of the reason I was off the air for about a month – our trip leader was Croatian.  Since the US (my country) did not make the tournament nor did Italy (my heritage), I promised our trip leader that I would root for Croatia in this tournament.  Full disclosure there…

The best team I have seen so far in the games I have been able to watch for more than the highlight reels is Brazil closely followed by Belgium.  Those teams will meet tomorrow and the winner will play the winner of the France/Uruguay match.  That end of the quarterfinals bracket houses much the better teams.  In the other bracket, Croatia looks to be better than Russia, and England has seemingly exorcised the ghosts that have haunted that team for the last 30 years or so making a Croatia/England contest for a berth in the Final Game a possibility.

True to my word, I am pulling for Croatia.  Having said that, my guess for the Final Game contestants would be:

  • Belgium versus England

Even if you profess not to like soccer, let me urge you to tune into these games with even a semi-open mind.  If you do, you will see some amazing athletic action.

Finally, Japan advanced to the “knock-out round” – – only to be knocked out” – – based on fewer yellow cards than Senegal.  Here is how Scott Ostler summed up all of that in the SF Chronicle:

“Was anyone pleased with Senegal being knocked out of the World Cup on the fair-play tiebreaker, based on more yellow cards? I know Draymond Green voted against that rule.

“Soccer fans wonder, if Senegal and Japan had had an equal number of yellow cards, what would the next tie-breaker have been? Answer: The team with the best haircuts advances.”

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

 

 

We The People …

Happy Fourth of July to everyone.  Try to take a moment today during barbecues and fireworks to reflect on the “blessings of liberty” that the Founding Fathers “secured” for us – their posterity.  Or, as a morning DJ used to say to his audience back in the 50s and 60s:

“To be sure to have a safe Fourth, don’t buy a fifth on the third.”  [ /Bill Wright Sr.]

A couple of days ago, I said that there would be a lot of blathering about the meaning of Lebron James “taking his talents’ to Los Angeles.  Indeed, there has been some formulaic pabulum on that topic.  However, there have been some standout pieces too and – not surprisingly – Sally Jenkins’ column in the Washington Post about the co-existence of Lavar Ball and LeBron James was superb.  I am not capable of distilling it down to a few sentences because it is too insightful to deserve that treatment.  Here is a link to her column; please go and read it in its entirety.

The other big move in NBA free agency is the Warriors signing “Boogie” Cousins.  I see this as a stress test for the ”professional equanimity potion” that Steve Kerr has clearly been able to dispense to his squad over the past several years.  Cousins has been a temperamental handful over the course of his time in the NBA; Draymond Green is hardly a wallflower; this could be interesting to watch.  The reason I would give this a “better than 50/50 chance at success” is the way the Warriors as a team and as a coaching staff assimilated JaVale McGee last season.  To say that McGee’s career history was a tad “flaky” would be a most polite assessment.  Nevertheless, with the Warriors he played and behaved professionally.  So may be the Warriors’ magic can rub off on “Boogie” too …?

USA Today published a list of the collegiate athletic departments with the most revenue in 2016/17.  The report only includes data from public colleges and universities because the records of those institutions is part of the public record and can be obtained regularly and reliably by journalistic outlets.  Looking at which schools were on the list provided only mild surprise; looking at the order of the “Top Ten”  provided a couple of surprises.  Here is the “Top Ten”:

  1. Texas  $215M
  2. Texas A&M  $212M
  3. Ohio St.  $185M
  4. Michigan  $185M
  5. Alabama  $174M
  6. Georgia  $158M
  7. Oklahoma  $155M
  8. Florida  $149M
  9. LSU  $148M
  10. Auburn  $148M

Here are my “surprises” from that list and from the total revenues:

  • I am surprised that Alabama is $41M below Texas and $36M below Texas A&M.
  • I am surprised that Oregon is not in the “Top Ten”.
  • I am surprised that Oklahoma St. is not in the Top Ten”.

I am not the least bit surprised to see that Ohio State and Michigan have the same total revenue to 3 significant figures.  What else might we find for those two schools to compete in head-to-head?

More importantly, we should all look at the revenue totals for these “Top Ten” athletic departments and remind ourselves that we enable a system whereby those athletic departments maintain the pure fiction that they are ‘non-profit entities” which means:

  • They file and pay no tax on those revenues and their attendant profits
  • Donations to those programs are eligible as “charitable donations”.

Your Congressthing; your Senators; the IRS – under the policy direction of multiple Presidential Administrations from all over the political spectrum – are the ones that created and maintained this giant fiction.

On this July 4th, as you ponder the “blessings of liberty” passed down to us from the Founding Fathers, please also reflect on the fecklessness and the moral cowardice of our current crop of legislators as they allow that nonsensical status quo to continue to obtain.

I understand fully that the Mountain West Conference is not one of the “big boy conferences” in college football.  Nevertheless, the conference has passed a “Serious Misconduct Rule” which will make any student-athlete ineligible for any sort of scholarship money or for any athletic teams that compete inter-collegiately.  When I read the headline(s) announcing this new rule, I was skeptical; I figured that the bar for “Serious Misconduct” would be so high that Lizzie Borden would have slipped under it comfortably.  Or, possibly the certification of the “Serious Misconduct” would only apply after a conviction in a court of law that had been held up on appeal.  I was wrong; it seems that the Mountain West Conference has gotten itself out ahead of the rest of the collegiate athletic world in this area.

  • The “Serious Misconduct Rule” covers as any act of sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual exploitation or any assault that employs the use of a deadly weapon or causes serious bodily injury.
  • The rule takes effect in the 2019-20 academic year for student-athletes already in MWC schools and for MWC’s prospective student-athletes beginning with the Dec. 2019, signing period.

The devil is in the details – and in this case the value of this rule is in the way and degree to which it is enforced.  Let me turn off my “skeptic mode” just a moment and say that I really hope this rule is tightly enforced and that other conferences use it as a template to do similar things in those other conferences.

Finally, on this 4th of July, take a moment to think upon this comment from comedienne, Lily Tomlin:

“Ninety eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans. It’s the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them.”

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

 

 

The Mets Are A Mess…

At the end of last season, the Mets fired their manager, Terry Collins.  The Mets were disappointing in 2017 and reports said that some of the players were at odds with Collins; it is always easier to fire a manager than it is to change out a bunch of players so that is what the Mets did.  In early April, the Mets’ braintrust looked like Nobel Laureates; the Mets started the 2018 season 11-1.  No one thought that sort of performance would obtain for the rest of the season; similarly, no one thought at the time that how the Mets have performed since early April was going to happen.

As of this morning, the Mets’ record stands at 33-48; that puts them all of 1 game ahead of the Miami Marlins who have the worst record in the National League.  Since their torrid start, the Mets are 22-47.  Their new manager, Mickey Callaway, seems to be learning on the job; this is his first managerial assignment.

Just as it was incorrect for the Mets – and their fans – to blame Collins last year for the team’s disappointing result, it would be wrong to put all of this failure on Callaway.  The problem is the roster itself.  The Mets have two excellent starting pitchers and not a whole lot else.  No one is batting over .280; only 2 of their 8 starting position players is younger than 31.  As a team, the Mets are hitting .231 (second worst in the NL); they are also second worst in the NL in runs scored and they are dead last in the NL in Total Bases.  The roster is a mess.

And I have not even gotten started on the contract that the Mets gave to Yoenis Cespedes in 2016.  They signed him to a 4-year deal worth $110M even though Cespedes had shown very clearly that his play and his approach to the game was lackadaisical-at-best before he got that big fat contract.  Lots of players have exhibited what I call “Fat Wallet Syndrome” after getting a huge contract; Cespedes was doing everything except posting billboards saying

  • I Can’t Wait To Show You What Fat Wallet Syndrome REALLY Means!

The Mets have Cespedes through the 2020 season.  He makes $29M this year; he will make $29M next year; he will make $29.5M in 2020.  Who thought that was a good idea?

The Marlins are in a full-blown “tear down and rebuild” situation.  To get there, they unloaded their best players and Giancarlo Stanton brought them a bunch of prospects.  If the Mets were to try to take a similar course and to trade away Cespedes, I doubt that he would bring much in a trade.  [Aside: It will be doubly difficult to trade Cespedes because in addition to the $110M in the contract, there is also a FULL no-trade clause in there too.]  Oh, and just to put icing on the cake, Cespedes is hurt and has missed the last 40 games or so.  Unsurprisingly, there is no timetable for his return…

Speaking obliquely about baseball managers and winning baseball games, I am already getting tired of the worshipping at the altar of Advanced Analytics by so many of the young managers today.  I understand the concepts of probability theory and I am relatively facile with mathematics.  Nonetheless, analytics – – even Advanced Analytics – – are not mandatory for guiding MLB teams to victory.

  • There is no evidence to show that Connie Mack was a mathematical genius.  He somehow found a way to win 3,731 games as a manger.
  • John McGraw was never nominated for the Nobel Prize in Mathematics [Aside: I know that there is no such prize; this is hyperbole.]  He was on the bench 2,763 times when his team won the game.
  • Joe McCarthy was never spotted in a dugout wearing out a slide rule and yet he managed to win 2,125 games in MLB AND he is the only manager in baseball history to win 1,000 games or more and to have a winning percentage over .600.

In case you have not been keeping track, New Jersey has been taking bets on sporting events for the last month or so and the integrity of MLB, the NBA and the NFL has not come crashing down.  Call this situation Doomsday Postponed.

In a similar vein, the NCAA shockingly came down on the correct side of what could have been a hugely hypocritical position for them.  I am hard-pressed to recall the last time this institution did so, but I will refrain from calling this a “first”.  Here is what happened:

  • As professional leagues try to extort money from casinos by asking for “integrity fees” that nominally would cover the leagues’ costs to monitor the integrity of their games now that gambling on them can be done on a coast-to-coast basis, the NCAA announced that it would not do that.
  • Take a deep breath here; the NCAA shut off the possibility of a revenue stream.
  • Of course, the reality is that the NCAA does not do anything that is very effective when it comes to protecting the integrity of its games.  Previous point-shaving scandals have come to light when casinos and law enforcement officials have gotten wind of something and then let the NCAA in on it ex post facto.
  • Basically, the NCAA just got a lot more sportsbook people involved with their games meaning there are extra sets of eyes out there looking to see if anyone is trying to score a betting coup.  And, mane no mistake, the sportsbook folks have a keen interest in preventing such occurrences.

It is not common in these parts to hand out kudos to the NCAA for much of anything other than their presentation of March Madness.  However, the NCAA deserves credit for this decision.  They did the right thing here.

Before I give then an unvarnished A+ on this matter however, I should note that the NCAA did leave the door ajar just a sliver here.  While it will not seek any “integrity fees” from casinos, it did say that member schools may pursue such fees from casinos in their states if the schools choose to do so.

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

“News flash: Barkley, 15 others to appear in ESPN the Magazine’s 10th annual Body Issue.

“Relax, folks — it’s Saquon, not Charles.”

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