Who Will Lose 100 Games This Year?

At the end of April, six teams in MLB were on track to lose 100 games this year.  At the end of June, that list had narrowed to three teams.  By the end of July, the list of 100-game losers was back up to four teams.  And so, we are now at the end of August …

  • The Orioles project to lose 114 games this year.  They have the worst record so far in MLB and they are in the same division with the Red Sox who have the best record in MLB.  As of this morning the Orioles are 52 games out of first place in the AL East.
  • The Royals project to lose 111 games this year.

That’s it.  That’s the list – – with an asterisk…

  • The Padres project to lose 99 games this year.  By the end of September – when all the precincts have reported in so to speak – the Padres might sink into that abysmal category.

As I looked at the standings for the various teams in order to do the calculations cited above, I noticed something interesting.  I said above that the Red Sox had the best record in MLB and they have a comfortable lead over the Yankees who have the second-best record in MLB.  Moreover, the Red Sox winning percentage in road games this year is .647 and that is better than the overall record for every other team in MLB.  In fact, as of this morning, only the Yankees home record is better than the Red Sox road record.

Bob Molinaro lamented last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Stat stuff: The Red Sox had their 37th win by the end of May. The Orioles won their 37th last week.”

Somewhere in the cosmos, Earl Weaver weeps…

The FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, was here in the US earlier this week and presented his rosy vision for soccer in the US.  He sees the 8-year period between now and 2026 when the World Cup will come to North America as a vehicle to elevate soccer in the US to a much higher plane of existence.  Yes, I know; the World Cup has been here before and had little to no lasting impact on soccer in the US.  The odds are that will happen again once the 2026 tournament is in the rear-view mirror; I am not suggesting that the US is going to be one of the “futbol blue-bloods” because of the 2026 tournament.

However, if the folks who oversee/promote soccer in the US do some positive things during these 8 years of anticipation and preparation for the World Cup, it could raise interest in soccer and it might produce a more competitive US Men’s National Team for that tournament and ones going forward.  The opportunity is there; the problem is that the opportunity has been there before, and the US soccer gurus have done nothing to exploit those opportunities.  If soccer is to become a big deal in the US and thereby elevate the USMNT’s stature/ranking in the world, here are a few of the things that need to happen.  They cannot happen overnight; but at some point, they have to happen.  Is this the springboard to start the process to make them happen?

  • The US does not have equivalent “soccer academies” to the ones abroad.  Young players in the US do not learn skills to the extent that their foreign counterparts do; young players in the US spend lots of time traveling around to play games; the shortage of time spent on fundamentals and game instincts shows when the US plays one of the “futbol blue-bloods”.
  • Somehow there needs to be a relegation/promotion system for MLS and soccer leagues/associations below MLS in the country.
  • College soccer needs to throw off the trappings of “conferences” that were constructed to benefit football and the top soccer programs in the country need to coalesce into some sort of association of their own.

Just a note about the 2026 FIFA World Cup tournament.  It will be the first one that has 48 teams in the groups instead of the current 32 teams.  That means there will be a total of 80 games in the tournament; 60 will be played in the US and 10 will be played in Canada and 10 in Mexico.

FIFA recently took another action that was noteworthy.  It suspended the president of the Palestinian Football Association for 12 months and fined him approximately $20K for violating Article 53 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.  That article deals with individuals who might “incite hatred and violence”.

Here is what happened:

  • The Argentinian National Team was scheduled to play the Israeli National Team in a “friendly” in early June.  The game was to be in Jerusalem.
  • The president of the Palestinian Football Association called on people to “target the Argentinian Football Association” (whatever that means) and for them to burn jerseys and pictures of Argentinian star, Lionel Messi.
  • Evidently, those exhortations must have gained some traction because the “friendly” was canceled.
  • FIFA determined that it was those remarks that precipitated the hatred and violence that caused the match to be canceled.  Hence a 12-month banishment from anything associated with a futbol match other than his buying a ticket and sitting in the stands with the rest of the spectators.

When I read about this, I was surprised because:

  • I was totally unaware that there was anything like a Palestinian Football Association – – let alone that it had a president.

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

“Giants first baseman Brandon Belt named his newborn son August, in honor of his college coach at Texas, the late Augie Garrido.

“Just be thankful the Longhorns hired Garrido instead of Oil Can Boyd.”

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

 

 

More Sports Media? Again?

Yesterday, I spent a little over a thousand words chastising the widely available sports media – The WASM – for blowing stories out of proportion.  Naturally, one might expect that I would be avoiding any more mention of sports media for a while.  After all, if their behavior(s) annoy me, it would be logical for me to focus attention elsewhere.

Well, here in Curmudgeon Central, logic is not a permanent resident.  And so, I want to look at sports media events again today – but from a different angle.

Programming changes are coming to ESPN.  Probably the most dramatic change will be to Get Up! – the new sports roundtable discussion vehicle that ESPN designed around Mike Greenburg.  The show is currently a 3-hour snooze-fest which is hugely ironic given its name; the show is going to be cut to 2 hours.  In addition, Michelle Beadle will be leaving the show in a maelstrom of contrived controversy and her replacement has not been identified.  Perhaps the suits at ESPN know who they will put in Beadle’s chair but think that keeping an air or mystery around the announcement will generate interest in the show.  [Aside:  If that is indeed their thinking the show is doomed because there are more fundamental flaws in the concept.]

If I were quizzed by the suits at ESPN about my perception of the intent of the program they created, I would be at a loss.  It does not fit with any of the other ESPN programming models and yet its variance from those other models does not identify it.  Consider:

  • SportsCenter programming:  This is “sports news round-up” programming.
  • Inside the NFL/The Jump programming:  This is “deep dive into a single sport” programming.
  • First Take/Around the Horn programming:  This is “contrived controversy” programming.

Get Up! Is nothing like any of those programs and yet it does not stake out a path or a territory for itself.  I began to wonder if the folks who “designed” the program conceptually had anything in mind for the program direction other than to throw three interesting folks on a set just to see what happened.

I am not a regular viewer of Get Up! But I have made it a point to tune in aperiodically to see how the show has evolved.  The opening days of the show were painful to watch, and I expected time to provide a measure of pace and purpose to the discussions there.  For the most part, I was wrong in that expectation.  I have watched enough of the program now that it has been on the air for about 3 or 4 months to say that I just do not like it.  The funny thing is that I do like all three of the hosts of the program individually.

  • Mike Greenburg is solid.  He is a sports fan in his core and that comes across in his TV persona.
  • Michelle Beadle has energy and very pointed opinions that she presents in unequivocal terms.
  • Jalen Rose has a great sense of humor.

For some reason, the three of them together add up to a dish that just does not work.  It would be like making an ice cream sundae using vanilla ice cream, tuna fish and mustard.  All three ingredients are very good but in combination it just does not work.

In another ESPN move, the good folks in Bristol seek to achieve a major warp in the space-time continuum.  According to reports, they are going to move High Noon to 4:00 PM ET.  While that may not be easily done with an atomic clock, it is very easy with the High Noon program featuring Bomani Jones and Pablo S. Torre.  Now, there is a relatively new ESPN program that works.  I think it is too long in its current incarnation going from 12:00 to 1:00 ET, but that will be remedied with the time change because it will then be a 30-minute show.

The aura that comes across on High Noon – ESPN is going to change that name, right? – is that these are two friends who are sitting around and talking about sports topics that both of them enjoy.  This is the same vibe that emanates from Pardon the Interruption where – in fact – Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are indeed good friends off camera.  If Jones and Torre are not friends off the air, they are damned good actors on the air!

Just as I gave up on Get Up!, I have been drawn to High Noon even though noontime is not normally TV viewing time here in Curmudgeon Central.  With the time change, I will probably watch more of it.

Switching gears – and networks – I read a report in the NY Post that NBC and Bob Costas may part company.  Say what?  Those two entities have been conjoined twins for as long as I can remember.  In “sports media world” folks jump around from place to place and network to network but there are a few folks who identify with a singular media outlet;

  • Howard Cosell and ABC Sports
  • Chris Berman and ESPN
  • Jim Nantz and CBS Sports

Put Bob Costas on that list with NBC Sports and you will understand why I was very surprised by the NY Post reporting.  I guess I should not have been as surprised as I was after NBC decided to make Mike Tirico the studio honcho for the Olympics in place of Costas.  Meaning no disrespect to Mike Tirico who is a very competent member of The WASM, but he is not Bob Costas.  I will not pretend to know any of the backstory(ies) here, but I have to believe that there have been backstage incidents in the past year or so that have led to all of this.

Let me go on a flight of fancy here for a moment.  Bob Costas’ first love in sports is baseball; he is an articulate analyst of the game.  I can say the same thing about Keith Olbermann.  Imagine if the two of them came to your town in one of the large auditorium venues to sit down for about 3 hours to talk baseball with one another – – and with the audience.  I would pay money to be in that audience.  And they could take the show on the road and reprise the concept in different cities say once a quarter.  That would give them lots of fresh material to discuss and it would keep the idea fresh enough to continue to draw audiences in cities that are deeply into baseball.

Obviously, I think this is a great idea, so I will now invoke the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard:

“Make it so.”

Finally, consider this observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot relative to TV media:

“Tuning out: TV viewership of the MTV Video Music Awards dropped off sharply for the second year in a row. What happened? Did Madonna take a knee?”

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

 

 

Time Marches On …

As the furor over the Urban Meyer Saga comes down from the boil to a mere simmer, and as the powers that be at Maryland await the results of a Blue-Ribbon Commission investigation of the “toxic culture” that exists in the football program there, it is still possible to find voices of sanity in the room.  Jerry Brewer wrote a column in the Washington Post over the weekend about a former basketball coach, John Oldham, who taught a course in Basketball Coaching at W. Kentucky.  Brewer took that course to quell a case of “senioritis” and came away with some life lessons.  Here is a key paragraph from that column:

“No matter the frequency of scandal, no matter the cautionary tales of misplaced perspective and selective leadership that have ruined legacies of former coaching giants such as Joe Paterno and Rick Pitino, no matter how often history ties absolute authority to treachery, colleges continue to make gods out of men whose only mandate is to win. And as long as the mercenary has power without effective oversight, he will go too far eventually and bring shame to the institution he intends to uplift.”

Here is a link to Jerry Brewer’s column.  I think you should read it in its entirety.

By the way, please take a moment and circle November 17, 2018 on your calendars.  That is the day when Ohio State and Maryland will play football against one another in College Park, MD – – home of the alleged “toxic culture”.  This may come to be known as college football’s “date which will live in infamy” – with apologies to FDR.

[Aside:  If the Maryland allegations are found to be true – or even “sorta true” – would I be wrong to wish that both teams lose this game?]

I mentioned above that Maryland has appointed a Blue-Ribbon Commission to look into the happenings in its football program and its athletic department.  The Board of Regents just added a couple of recognizable names to the Commission to give it more cachet; what it needs is more ability to compel people to speak the truth to them and then enough backbone to call it like they see it.  If you get the feeling that I am not optimistic that there will be monumental findings and changes that come from the Blue-Ribbon Commission, you would be absolutely on point.

Switching gears …  Dwight Perry had a summary of a sporting event in his Sideline Chatter column last weekend in the Seattle Times that sent me to Google to find out what it was.  Here is his comment:

“Talk about running low on fuel.

“Corey Bellemore, winner of this year’s Beer Mile World Classic in Vancouver, B.C., was disqualified when race officials ruled he didn’t consume enough beer during the race’s four mandatory brew stops.

“It’s believed to be the first time in sports history in which a runner was stripped of his title for failing to fail a drug test.”

What I learned is that there is indeed a sport/competition known as Beer Mile.  The rules are not complex:

  • Runners run a mile separated into four quarters.  Each runner consumes a 12-oz can or bottle of beer before each lap is begun.  At the finish, the runner with the fastest time for running and chugging is the winner.
  • Here is a direct quote from the Beer Mile Rules: “Competitors who vomit before they finish the race must complete one penalty lap at the end of the race (immediately after completion of their 4th lap.)

I think the folks who are the overseers of Beer Mile need to consult with the grand poohbahs who run Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl.  In the Wing Bowl, there is a very different way they deal with vomiting:

  • You heave; you leave.

Todd Gurley said last week that it is “everyone’s dream” not to have to play in the NFL exhibition games.   More and more teams are giving more and more top-shelf players access to that dream.  Lots of players are now sitting out those meaningless exercises.  I want to be clear on one thing here:

  • The continued existence of NFL pre-season games is completely economic.  Teams can – and do – charge season ticket holders regular season prices for two of those meaningless games.  For teams that sell 50,000 season tickets at an average price of $75 a ticket, well, you do the math.

The continued existence of NFL pre-season games has little to nothing to do with getting players in football shape or giving coaches a necessary yardstick by which they decide on their final rosters for the regular season.  Those arguments are offered up as a smoke-screen to hide the purely monetary basis of the meaningless pre-season games.  Consider college football for a moment.  Those teams manage to find a way to get to the opening game of the regular season without any pre-season contests.  Coaches figure out who will play and who will sit, and the opening day games are not a gigantic exhibition of penalties, fumbles and misrun plays.  College players figure out how to play football on Day One without 4 stupid rehearsals; you mean to tell me that pro players – – who are the cream of the crop from college players – – suddenly forgot how to get ready for Came One?

Finally, here is a Tweet from humor writer Brad Dickson in Omaha, NE:

“Man, it’s already hot and humid. When I was outside this morning I was sweating like Urban Meyer being strapped into a lie detector.”

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

 

 

Shades Of Lying…

I was reading an Internet message board yesterday and a “debate” was raging about the severity – or lack thereof – regarding the punishment meted out to Urban Meyer.  That sort of debate is futile and feckless; no amount of Internet gnashing of teeth is going to change it.  However, there was an interesting eddy current in that “debate” wherein proponents of the punishment as it stands and opponents squared off.

  • A key element of this “eddy current” had to do with the less-than-truthful statements Urban Meyer made to the folks at Big 10 media day and then to investigators.
  • Meyer’s proponents argued that he did not “deliberately lie” in these situations.

Since I do not have a dog in that fight – and I recognize that none of my spleen-venting would change even an iota of the outcome there – I read the arguments and counter-arguments for what they were and took them to be what the writer intended.  And then I asked myself this question:

  • Is there really a difference between “lying” and “deliberately lying”?
  • Can one lie about something “accidentally” or is an “accidental lie” just giving the wrong answer to a question or making an incorrect statement?

Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald had this Tweet regarding the bottom line for the Urban Meyer Saga:

“Breaking news: Urban Meyer has been suspended for almost as long as the average booth review takes.”

Enough of that stuff for the day; the weekend is coming; no one needs to encumber one’s cerebral cortex with that kind of nonsense.  So, let me turn now to something far sillier.  Last night, there was a headline on an article at CBSSports.com that read:

  • Terrell Owens is still ripped and can outsprint P.K. Subban

For those who are not of a hockey persuasion, P.K. Subban is a very good NHL player.  And that headline is about content-free as this one might be if any headline writer were dumb enough to write it:

  • 70-year old Bobby Orr can still skate backward faster than Terrell Owens

[Aside: And I’ll bet 60-year old Jerry Bailey can ride a thoroughbred better than T.O. too…]

The Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson winner-take-all match play contest will happen on Thanksgiving weekend.   I have already stated that I have no interest in watching two fading stars go at one another to see which of them is the “least-worst” on a given day and that the “winner take all aspect” of this match would be a lot more meaningful if each of them were putting up the millions of dollars in the kitty out of their own funds.  It should not be news to anyone that the funding for this event will not be as I just described…

There is something more going on here.  This is going to be a pay-per-view event.  So, the golf-goofs who want to see this nonsense are going to have to fork over their own money to watch it.  And I doubt that any of them are going to give this consideration as they decide if they are going to pay whatever the cost of the pay-per-view is:

  • TNT is putting up $9M plus production costs for this event.  If TNT makes money on this, they will be motivated to find other “golf properties” to put out there as pay-per-view events.
  • Once they exhaust all the match-play pairings that even the golf-goofs would care about, why not put the US Open on TV in pay-per-view mode?
  • Don’t tell me this can’t happen.  That is exactly what happened with boxing.  First, only heavyweight championship bouts were pay-per-view; then Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran came along…

The folks who pay to watch this are playing with fire…

The NCAA has ditched the RPI – the Rating Percentage Index – as a tool for deciding which college basketball teams get seeded into March Madness.  The RPI was created about 40 years ago and it has drawn fire from many quadrants over the years; now it is history. The NCAA has replaced it with NET – the NCAA Evaluation Tool.  Components of the NET scoring include:

  • Game results (straight up wins and losses)
  • Game location
  • Strength of schedule
  • Quality of both wins and losses
  • Net offensive and defensive efficiency – – AND – –
  • Scoring margin.

Hold on there, Hoss…  Is the NCAA going to incentivize teams to run up the score in cupcake games to enhance their NET scoring?  Fortunately, when you look a tad closer to the details here, scoring margin will count – – up to score differentials of 10 points.  So, it will not matter if One-And-Done University beats Disco Tech by 45 points or 55 points in a December game.  In the end, the NCAA Selection Committee will also take these factors into account when making the final decisions on inclusion or exclusion from March Madness;

  • Player/coach availability – – Did the most dominant player break an ankle a week before the regular season ended?
  • Teams’ road records – – Remember, March Madness games are supposedly not home games…
  • Head-to-head results when available and common opponent results when available.
  • Conference records

All of this sounds like a major step up in terms of the quality of the selections that will emanate from the Selection Committee next March.  Call me a skeptic, but even if all of this data were presented openly and the full deliberations of the Committee were broadcast in real time, there will still be screams on the Monday after Selection Sunday over “who got snubbed”.

Finally, Brad Rock has this comment in the Deseret News recently about former college basketball hero, Jimmer Fredette – now plying his trade in the Chinese Basketball Association:

“Jimmermaniacs are demanding Fredette get another shot at the NBA, despite the fact he’s 29.

“But don’t plan on it. Chinese officials are threatening a 25 percent tariff if he returns to the United States.”

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

 

 

The End Of The Urban Meyer Saga?

Obviously, the sports “issue of the moment” is the resolution of the Urban Meyer Saga at Ohio State.  Meyer will not lose his job as many suggested he would; Ohio State will suspend him for 3 games.  While this decision and action should bring closure to the issue, I suspect it will not.  There are folks who have looked at the summary report presented to the powers that be at THE Ohio State University and wonder two things:

  1. Since the report says that Urban Meyer issued reprimands and warnings [Note the plural nouns there.] to Zach Smith for a laundry list of improper and potentially illegal actions, how did Coach Meyer get off so lightly?
  2. If this sort of smarmy behavior can go on inside the Athletic Department for years without coming to light, what sort of oversight exists there to assure that behaviors in that department rise to the level of “human”?

The answer to the first question is either cynical or realistic – – depending on how intensely you want to see Urban Meyer fired for all of this.  He got off “so easy” because he is an elite football coach who wins lots of games and brings lots of money into THE Ohio State University.  No one will convince me that if Urban Meyer had a sub-.500 record over the past 3 seasons there, he would still be on the job today.

The answer to the second question is saddening.  There is no adult supervision within the Athletic Department if you include in the definition of “adult supervision” the recognition of common decent behavior that must be exhibited by anyone who is in the Athletic Department and wishes to remain in the Athletic Department.

Even the 3-game suspension is nuanced.  Coach Meyer cannot be with the team at all until after the first game – – against Oregon St.  Then, he can “coach ‘em up” during the weeks leading up to Games 2 and 3 – – Rutgers and TCU – – but cannot be on the sidelines on Saturday afternoon.  Let’s just say it is something short of a 3-week banishment from the team.

Let me go on the record here with a statement:

  • Lest anyone think that I am picking on THE Ohio State University here, I am not.  I would not be surprised to learn that similar sub-human behaviors exist in other Athletic Departments and that they have gone unchecked and been hidden away in those other Athletic Departments.

Oh, and one final question comes to my mind today:

  • Given what the pooh-bahs at THE Ohio State University know now, why did they not also announce that they have turned all of their findings over to the gendarmes so that there can be a criminal investigation of their findings?  Without that action, how have they discharged their obligations?

Enough of that nonsense; let me get down to some REAL nonsense.  Richie Incognito is back in the news; and not surprisingly, there is fundamental weirdness to the story.  Just for giggles, let me hit a few of the high notes of previous instances where Richie Incognito has been in the headlines:

  • Back in college, Incognito demonstrated “anger management issues” including fights with teammates and spitting on opponents.
  • He was identified by ESPN as a major actor in the bullying of teammate Jonathan Martin with the Dolphins.  Even after an NFL-sponsored investigation into that matter, there are still plenty of loose ends there.
  • Several months ago, Incognito was involved in an incident at a health club in Florida where he allegedly threw a dumbbell at someone in the gym.  Police categorized him as being in an “altered paranoid state” and held him on an “involuntary psychiatric hold”.

This week, Richie Incognito was arrested yet again.  This time he was arrested at a funeral home in Arizona where his recently deceased father was about to be cremated.  In the midst of an altercation, he allegedly threatened people at the funeral home and told them he had a truck full of guns outside.  Truth be told, he did have a bunch of guns in his truck and they were legally his and he had permits to carry them.  There was not a “weapons offense” involved here, but I think it is fair to say that mortuaries are not normally places where those sorts of behaviors manifest themselves.  Here is a link to the ESPN story of the most recent arrest; trust me, I have only hit the highlights here; there was a lot more “weirdness on display”.

Yesterday, I ran across an article that said the Washington Nationals’ hugely disappointing season this year was a “vindication for Dusty Baker”.  Look, I get it; the baseball media loves Dusty Baker and I have no reason to believe that he is any kind of “bad guy”.  But the fact that the Nats have so hugely underachieved in 2018 does not “vindicate” Baker for the Nats’ playoff collapses in previous years.

Since 2011, the Nationals have had 4 managers – Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, Dusty Baker and Dave Martinez.  Those four managers have all had top shelf rosters with the likes of Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Gio Gonzales, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner – – just off the top of my head.  None of those four managers could win a playoff series with those players.  The fact that the current manager – Dave Martinez – is doing worse in the regular season than others did before him does not “vindicate him”.  It does lead one to suspect that there may be organizational problems with the Nats that go beyond the roster – – but even if that were proven conclusively that would not “vindicate Dusty Baker”.

Finally, here is a comment on baseball and hygiene from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Two Major League pitchers have reportedly come down with hand, foot and mouth disease.

“You just knew all that tugging and scratching in baseball was eventually going to turn into something bad.”

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

 

 

Justice Is Served

Today is “Justice Day” here in Curmudgeon Central.  This is a day where bad behavior and poor judgement get what they deserve, and that situation exists in – of all places – the WNBA Playoffs.  [Yes, I know; I had to look it up too.  The WNBA regular season ended.]  The rendition of justice there is this:

  • The Las Vegas Aces – – known in these parts as the Las Vegas Asses – – missed the playoffs by a single game.  Recall that the players chose to pull a no-show for a game here in DC because they had a terrible 24-hour travel experience to get here for the game.  They arrived about 5 hours before game time but chose to “sleep in” instead of playing that night.  The league office declared the game a forfeit – after several days of deliberation.  [Duh!]

Maybe the Asses would have lost that game to the Washington Mystics – – but just maybe they could have won that game; and in that circumstance, they would have earned a “play-in game” for the WNBA Playoffs.  The epitaph for the Las Vegas Asses’ 2018 season ought to be one of Vince Lombardi’s famous quotes:

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

ESPN will have a totally reconstructed 3-man announcing team for Monday Night Football this year.  Joe Tessitore takes over the play-by-play duties from Sean McDonough.  While these two guys have very different styles when it comes to calling a game, I think both of them are solid pros.  Tessitore will sometimes take his call a bit over the top but substituting one for the other here is neither a great leap forward nor a step backward.  Call this move a lateral arabesque…

The departure of Jon Gruden from the ESPN airwaves brought smiles and serenity into Curmudgeon Central.  My first reaction was that the suits at ESPN had to take a step up the announcing ladder when naming his replacement and that I would probably never have to hit the mute button while watching MNF again.  As we move toward the season – and with a VERY small sample size to go on – I think the ESPN suits have succeeded here.

Jason Witten will be one of the game analysts.  Like his pal and former teammate, Tony Romo, Witten will make the jump from NFL player to high level network analyst with no stops in between.  That model worked very well for Tony Romo at CBS last season; I heard Witten in his first game live on the air and he was good enough for a “debut performance”.  [Aside:  He needed this Exhibition Game in the booth far more than he needed any Exhibition Game on the field in prior years.]

The “third man in the booth” is sort of a misnomer.  Booger McFarland will be that “third voice you hear” but he will not be in the booth.  Rather, he will be riding the sidelines in what ESPN calls “The Booger Mobile” which is a motorized cart that can amble up and down the sidelines to give Booger a field-level/close-up view of the action.  Take the cart away and this is reminiscent of the way Tony Siragusa used to work NFL games for Fox.  I’ll reserve judgment on “The Booger Mobile” as an asset to the telecast or just a gimmick for a while but I will say this:

  • After listening to Booger McFarland on ESPN Radio programs and on studio shows related to college football on ESPN and ESPN2, I think he has a chance to be the star of this team.  He is articulate and he has a quick wit – two important traits for a football color analyst.  Most importantly, he seems not to be full of himself which means he will not likely grate on viewers’ nerves.

I think NFL fans can look forward to MNF this year.  Checking out the new announcing team will be an interesting undertaking plus the NFL seems to have upgraded the schedule of games played on Monday night.  I will grant you that the first game of the year on MNF is not particularly appetizing – – Jets and Lions – – but late game for Week 1 on MNF will be the Rams and the Raiders and that game should be interesting from several angles.  Here is a link to the full Monday Night Football schedule for 2018.

I cannot possibly claim to be a serious follower of professional golf, so I will present here a stat sent to me by a former colleague who is a serious follower of professional golf and “golf history”:

“When Brooks Koepka won the US Open and the PGA Championship this year, he earned more prize money there than Arnold Palmer plus Gary Player earned in their careers combined.”

There you have a clear demonstration of the growth of sporting enterprises over the last 50 years and the amounts of money that sponsors are willing to put into sporting enterprises in terms of advertising and promotion.

Recently, I wrote here that the Washington Nationals’ season of underachievement was due in part to a coddling atmosphere surrounding the team.  Yesterday, the Nats traded away two of their players for nothing more than money to offset some of the luxury tax they will pay for the 2018 season.  Various commentators have concluded that the Nats are throwing in the towel on this season and have begun their roster strategizing for 2019.   As of this morning, the Nats are 63-63 which is mediocre by any standard and which is seriously short of expectations for a team that is well into the luxury tax zone in terms of its payroll.  More importantly, the Nats have only the 9th best record in the National League.

The players the Nats traded away – Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams – are not prime offenders in terms of lackadaisical play and both wound up with teams well ahead of the Nats in the standings.  (Murphy to the Cubs and Adams to the Cardinals) What the Nats need to do is to ask themselves why they found themselves in this situation given the talent on this year’s roster – especially as compared to the talent on the rosters of a few of the teams above them in the standings.  Once the team braintrust focuses on that aspect of the 2018 debacle, they might be able to figure out how to avoid another season like this one after they go out and spend plenty of money to assemble a new cast of characters.

Finally, speaking of baseball teams having disastrous seasons in 2018, consider this comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Smithfield Foods has been ordered to pay $470 million to neighbors for the smell from a hog farm.

“Don’t go getting any ideas there, Oriole fans!”

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

 

 

When It Rains, It Pours

Cleveland Browns’ WR, Josh Gordon, just arrived in training camp.  To say that Gordon has had an “unorthodox career” to date would be akin to saying that Frank Sinatra “could sing a little”.  Here are a few summary items:

  • Browns drafted him out of Baylor in 2013.  There were a couple of drug-related issues in his college days and they must have been more than trivial because he was suspended indefinitely by Baylor coach, Art Briles, who is not exactly known to be a heavy-handed disciplinarian.
  • Gordon played well for two years and looked as if he would be a franchise cornerstone; made the All-Pro team after his second season in Cleveland.
  • Unfortunately, Gordon has been suspended on multiple occasions for violating the NFL Substance Abuse Policy.  Partially through the 2014 season, he failed another test and was suspended “indefinitely”.
  • He was finally reinstated in the middle of the 2017 season.
  • He was late to training camp this year because he was involved in counseling regarding anxiety issues and his continuing drug/alcohol rehab process.  When he went into that counseling program, he said that it was a necessary step for him in his “overall wellness program”.

I mention all that history and baggage because Josh Gordon seems to be the embodiment of the old saying, “When it rains, it pours.”  According to reporting by TMZ, Gordon is under a court order to pay $6500 per month in child support and that he missed his first payment date on 1 August.  According to that TMZ report, Gordon could face 30 days in jail for his first violation of that court order and then 60 days for a second violation and then 90 days …

When Gordon arrived in the Browns’ training camp last week, this is what he had to say:

“I realize in order for me to reach my full potential my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being. Let’s get to work!”

Josh Gordon is now 28 years old.  I hope that his rehab program has gotten him to a point of self-realization that maintaining his focus on his sobriety is important to more than just him reaching his potential as a football player.

We shall see …  Bonne chance, Josh Gordon.

If you are a believer in that ethereal concept labeled as “team chemistry”, you probably want to keep your eyes on the LA Rams this year.  To extend the metaphor, the Rams have donned their white lab coats and have begun experimenting with volatile ingredients by mixing them up and putting them in the same beaker.  What happens next …?

In the off-season, the Rams went out and acquired three players who – generously – can be called “testy”.

  1. The Rams got CB, Marcus Peters, from the Chiefs.  You may recall that Peters is the player who lost control to the point that he picked up an official’s penalty flag and threw it into the stands in the late stages of a game last year.  Let’s just say he did not win the “Mr. Poise Award” for that weekend…
  2. The Rams signed Ndamukong Suh from the Dolphins.  Suh is well-known for violent outbursts on the field at times and for completely lackadaisical play at other times.  Amazingly, sometimes these extreme behaviors are on display in the same defensive series.
  3. The Rams signed Aqib Talib from the Broncos.  Talib has been in the NFL 9 seasons and this is his 4th team.  That is a bit unusual for a guy who has been a Pro Bowl selection 5 times and an All-Pro selection twice.  Talib’s off-field interactions with various members of various police forces have not always been totally positive.

Make no mistake, all three of these players are way better than average players on defense.  At the same time, recognize that each of the three has shown himself to be a “handful” in the past.  Sean McVay and defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, have all three of them to deal with at one time.  If they keep things under control, the Rams’ defense could be outstanding this year; if the “team chemistry experiment” gets out of control, it could be interesting to watch – – from afar.

If my reading of the contract terms for the Patriots is correct, I believe that the team has 20 players who would have made more money in 2018 than Tom Brady – – before the Pats added 5 incentive clauses to his contract a few weeks ago.  On the assumption that Brady earns the $5M attached to the 5 incentive clauses – and he did surpass all those criteria in 2017 so that is not an absurd assumption – then there would only be 9 players on the roster who would make more money than he will in 2018.  Cue Arte Johnson here:

  • Verrrry in-ter-esting…

Finally, speaking obliquely about the New England Patriots, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle about the culture of the team:

“Bill Belichick’s postgame-interview look: the dude at your gym waiting impatiently for you to get your wimpy ass off the bench-press machine.

“That Hoodie death-glower, by the way, might be why the Patriots don’t commit many infractions.”

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

 

 

No Surprises Here …

Recently, Scott Ostler wrote in the SF Chronicle:

“Looking over the Warriors’ regular-season schedule, I was shocked and surprised. The NBA is going to make the Warriors play the regular season?”

And in those two statements is the kernel of why I prefer football and baseball to pro basketball.  In the NFL, just about every year, some team that finished last in their division in the previous year finds a way to win that division in that year.  Heck, in 2017, the Eagles went from worst-to-first in the NFC East and then compounded that “rise from the ashes” by going on to win the Super Bowl.  It happens frequently enough in the NFL that we are no longer shocked when it happens again.

Similarly, in MLB, there are always surprise/Cinderella teams that far exceed the expectations and prognostications of the experts.  This year, you can point to the Braves, Phillies, Mariners and the A’s as teams that are in a far better position as we head into the final 6 weeks of the season than just about anyone anticipated.  The fact of the uncertainty makes for greater sustained interest over the seasons in the NFL and MLB.

In the NBA – particularly in this “Era of the Superteam” – a lot of the mystery is wrung out of the season.  Absent a rash of injuries or some sort of tragedy befalling a team like the Golden State Warriors, what sort of a scenario can you imagine whereby they will not be part of the Conference playoffs and most likely one of the teams in the Conference finals?  The Warriors will play 82 games and less than a handful of them will be important games in the overall status of the playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Look at the idea of “worst-to-first” in the NBA and tell me who you like next season to accomplish that feat:

  1. The Brooklyn Nets were 28-54 last year.  They would probably have to reverse those numbers in their record for the upcoming season to win their division.  Does anyone really think that is going to happen?
  2. The Chicago Bulls were 27-55 last year.  Somehow, I do not think a whole lot of folks would expect the Bulls to rever4se the numbers in their record either.
  3. The Atlanta Hawks were 24-58 last year.  Forget winning their division, the Hawks would probably have to increase their number of wins by more than 60% to make the playoffs comfortably as an 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
  4. The Denver Nuggets were 46-36 last year.  I guess you could look at the numbers and suggest that they might wind up in first place in their division come April 2019.  However, if you look at the teams in their division who finished ahead of the Nuggets, (the Blazers, Thunder, Jazz and Timberwolves), you might not be so anxious to bet the ranch on them wining their division.
  5. The Phoenix Suns were 21-61 last year.  Unless the NBA can find a way for the Suns to play the Washington Generals 30-40 times next year, the Suns are not winning their division.
  6. The Memphis Grizzlies were 22-60 last year.  See the comment above regarding the Suns to see my view of their “road to the playoffs” and their chances of winning their division.

Notwithstanding the scheduling hype and PR surrounding the revelation of the NBA regular season schedule – – which teams will play whom on Christmas Day and how many regular season games will be played in foreign countries next year – – the fact is that the regular season is pretty gruesome fare until about the beginning of March when a few of the teams get serious about every game because they are fighting for that final playoff slot or two and/or they are fighting for advantageous seeding.

FIFA awarded the World Cup Tournament in 2026 to North America.  Games will be played in Mexico, Canada and the US; I believe this is the first time the World Cup will be a “regional event” as opposed to a single country event.  Whatever … that is only marginally interesting.  What I wonder is if these countries will be able to generate a financial windfall for themselves by the fact of hosting the tournament.

In recent times, the World Cup has not been a gigantic moneymaker for the countries that hosted the tournament.  In large measure, that is because countries like Brazil and South Africa had to spend lots of “upfront money” in order to have stadium venues that met FIFA standards and in order to have a sufficient infrastructure to support the games that would be played in those venues.  Building new stadiums and new roads to get to the venues and sufficient hotel accommodations is not cheap.  What happened then was that countries never made up those upfront costs plus the costs of putting on the day-to-day events in the tournament.

The difference for the North American countries is that they have extant stadiums that can be used to host the games.  Some of the stadiums may need minor upgrades and maybe some “spiffing up”, but there will not be a need to build 5 or 6 new stadiums where none exist now.  Similarly, the infrastructure to get players, fans and media to and from all the venues is in place and most – if not all – of the cities that will host games already have plenty of hotel rooms.  So, on the surface, I would expect the North American countries to wind up in the black on this event.  However, I am not an economist…

So, there is a website called The Sports Economist.  As you may expect, this site features economists analyzing issues related to sports and economics.  I figure that the authors there will have a far more reasoned insight into that issue than I do.  So, I used the “Contact Us” feature there to pose this question to the managers of that website.  If or when they provide some analysis that is more detailed and more thoughtful than the one I gave here, I will report back and link you to their thoughts.

Finally, late night comedy host, James Corden had this to say about a new LeBron James entertainment venture:

“HBO recently announced that LeBron James will be hosting a new talk show set in a barbershop in Los Angeles and it’s called ‘The Shop’.  Apparently, LeBron’s talk show is going to be him and four random guests you may or may not have heard of.   You know, like when he plays basketball.”

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

 

 

A Tip Of The Hat To T. S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot said that April was the cruelest month.  I have no comment on that, but I do think that Friday is the cruelest day if one is writing sports essays Monday thru Friday every week.  The good stuff on the clipboard has already been used in the essays from Monday thru Thursday and – truth be told – Thursday night is not a typical time for great new revelations in the sports world.  In case anyone is reading this a few days hence, today is a Friday…

There is a story afoot today based on a report from the NY Post earlier this week.  According to the report, Chris Berman may be back in a “reduced role” with ESPN during the football season this year.  According to the report, all of the wrinkles have not been ironed out yet, but the idea supposedly is:

  • Chris Berman would appear on some SportsCenter programs and other NFL-related programming starting this Fall.
  • More importantly, he would be part of some of ESPN’s NFL Countdown programming between now and the end of the NFL regular season.

Berman is “semi-retired” and has already committed himself to certain events on weekends during this football season.  So, he is not out there as a free agent for ESPN to pick off the vine so to speak.  However, his return to ESPN in a visible role is important for a couple of reasons:

  • NFL Countdown ratings tanked last year when Berman was no longer the “host”/” traffic cop” on the program.  Sam Ponder took Berman’s place and it is never a good career move to follow a legend in a job.  From what I saw, Sam Ponder did a good job – – but she is not Chris Berman and that fact alone cost her some viewers and some credibility.  With him back in a “part-time capacity”, Sam Ponder might get a boost as it may appear that he is handing the baton to her so to speak.
  • NFL Countdown ratings dropped 12% last year as compared to the year before that. One need not be a “TV-genius- in waiting” to recognize that is not a good thing…

ESPN has undergone a lot of personnel turnover in the past couple of years and many of the choices for new “faces of the franchise” have hot worked out all that well.  Recently, ESPN seems to be working to mend fences with some of its popular alumni and to get them back on the air in spot roles.  If Berman comes back, he can join Keith Olbermann as part of the “old-timers’” reunion there.  Berman and Olbermann have a long history together going all the way back to the time when both had recently graduated from college.  It might be very interesting to see the two of then hosting SportsCenter and NFL Prime Time on some weekend this year.

As the NY Post said:

  • Chris Berman may be back … back … back…

There is another angle to NFL news today that is far less uplifting than the idea of Chris Berman to the airwaves.  You must recall that the NFL settled the lawsuit against it regarding concussion injuries and their long-term effects regarding long-retired players.  That settlement was more than $700M.

Well, now it seems as if claims against his escrowed fund are coming in far more frequently and for far more money per claim than had been estimated.  Originally, the thought was that about $400B in claims would be paid out in the first decade after the settlement.  It turns out that just over $500 B has been “settled out” in terms of claims in the first 16 months wherein claims could be filed.  Here are two imperatives that face former NFL players who may or may not want to seek “protection” under these protocols:

  • More than 6,000 former players have undergone the baseline assessment.
  •  Former players become eligible for payment based on the development of certain specific conditions, without having to demonstrate a football-related cause.

I do not want to be a callous hard-ass here, but that second item listed above gives me great pause.  I am not saying that former NFL players have gamed the system or have found ways to “defraud it”, but it sure seems to me as if the recipe for major-league abuse and profiteering is not that difficult to ascertain.

There seems to be a new “buzz phrase” going around for athletes or coaches who asked about the techniques that players may need to employ in order to “achieve their potential”.  This is the sort of pabulum everyone has come to expect from interviews near to or just after NFL teams break camp and head back to their home digs.  That does not make it any more meaningful or interesting to listen to.  Anyhow, the latest “buzz-phrase” that far too many fresh recruits to basketball and football teams have been taught to use as their go-to source of wisdom is this one:

  • Our team [The Fighting Annelids] overcame obstacles that would have given Hercules pause lo those many years ago.
  • Nonetheless, we/they persevered.  So, let us hear from Coach Flabeetz on this matter.
  • Thank you all.  The single most important thing that our student-athletes did during the trials and tribulations of this season is that they “stayed within themselves”.

Holy Checkmate, Batman …  What other choice might those student-athletes have had?  Astral projection to the gridiron on Saturday afternoon?  Well, Caped Crusader, maybe it would not have been worse when considering the outcomes…

Finally, here is an observation by Brad Rock of the Deseret News from back in the time this year when the ESPYs filled time on the airwaves:

“Danica Patrick tweaking LeBron James at the ESPYs: ‘When LeBron hosted, he made fun of me too.  I’d say we’re even.  J.R. Smith would say, ‘We’re up by one’.”

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

 

 

 

Football And Finances Today

Every year when I look at the college football menu of games for a weekend, I often see what I call “Sacrificial Lamb Games”.  Those are the kind where a minor football school gets a million-dollar payday to travel to the stadium of a Top Ten school for a “football game”.  In reality, these are glorified scrimmages; and on one hand, I can understand the financial incentive for the people at Cupcake U to take the game.  On the other hand, I rarely see any benefit in terms of learning or personal growth for the “student-athletes” at Cupcake U who get their brains beat out for 60 minutes of football.

I mention this because a reader sent me a note on Tuesday with a link to an article from Tulsa World Sports Extra.  According to this report – dated 7 August 2018 – the AD at Tulsa University has taken a pay cut and so has the head football coach and the head basketball coach.  These pay cuts have nothing to do with unfulfilled goals on the field or on the court; these pay cuts are caused by the finances in the athletic department.  Derrick Gragg is the AD at Tulsa; here is what he told Tulsa World:

“Basically, the budget reductions to me are a microcosm of what’s going on, not just at TU but across the country at a lot of different places.  We’re like a lot of other athletic departments — we’ve been asked to tighten our belt.

“We approached it with a combination of things. We did have some budget reductions. We did have some head-coaching salary reductions. My salary has been reduced the past three years. That’s the way we’ve dealt with some of that. You don’t want to negatively impact the student-athletes in any way.”

[For the record, Tulsa eliminated its golf team several years ago, so that sort of negatively impacted some of the student-athletes at the time.]

All that aside, this situation explains to me why a school like Tulsa might be more than willing to take a game or two against opponents where Tulsa has no chance to be competitive – – so long as there is a million-dollar payday attached to that shellacking.  Here is a link to the report I read in case you want more of the details.  The university officials say this is not a crisis – but it certainly sounds as if all is not peaches and cream in the athletic department.

Speaking of minor football endeavors, you may not have noticed that the Alliance of American Football (AAF) has scheduled its kick-off date for 9 February 2019.  That is correct, the AAF will play its first game(s) 6 days after the Super Bowl in Atlanta.  Do not be confused; this is not the same enterprise as Vince McMahon’s planned resurrection of the XFL; this is a totally separate venture and this one is populated and managed by people with long backgrounds in the NFL.  Bill Polian and Charlie Ebersol – son of former NBC sports maven Dick Ebersol – were heavily involved in getting things moving.  The AAF is not out to take on the NFL head on; its “vision” is that football fans suffer a let-down after the Super Bowl is over and they want to let those fans “extend their interest in football” beyond the first Sunday of February and into the Spring.

It is probably wrong to consider the AAF in the same way we think if minor league baseball leagues.  There is no plan for AAF teams to be aligned with NFL teams or to share players.  Maybe the better model to consider for the AAF is the NBA’s D-League.  Even that comparison has it flaws because many D-League teams are affiliated with specific NBA teams.  The idea behind the AAF is twofold:

  1. Provide fans with quality football – not necessarily NFL quality football – at a time of the year when there is no other football for fans to consume.
  2. Provide players who are not quite at the caliber of NFL players and give them a chance to develop their skills such that they may become competitive NFL-level players.

The NFL itself has tried to do something similar in the past but the World League of American Football and NFL Europe never made it.  It will be a challenge for the AAF; early on into their season, they will run into March Madness.

Here are the locations of the teams that will kick off the AAF:

  • Atlanta
  • Birmingham
  • Memphis
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego

The AAF is going to try to “tailor” the personnel on the teams to local interest.  Bill Polian said that if Trent Richardson wants to play football again, he would hope to have him play for Birmingham in the AAF.  Steve Spurrier has already been lured out of retirement as the coach of the Orlando franchise.  Michael Vick in an offensive coordinator in the AAF; not surprisingly, he is with the Atlanta franchise.

There will be rules modifications in the AAF.  They will have a 30-second play clock (Chip Kelly would be happy with that.) and there will be no kickoffs or onside kicks.  The intent is to put a football game into a 2.5-hour time slot; if they can do that, the AAF will be attractive to TV execs.

Can the AAF make it?  Well, none of the previous “Spring Football” ideas survived for long – unless you count the USFL’s anti-trust win over the NFL in court as “survival”.  The difference here is that the AAF is not taking the NFL on as a competitor which most of the previous “Spring Football” entities sought to do.  Another difference is that the AAF is managed and populated with lots of NFL people which was not the case with many of the previous “Spring Football” enterprises.  The AAF is not a shoo-in to succeed, but it is worth following its ramp-up to kickoff next February.  The next set of “big events” for the AAF will come when the NFL cuts its camp rosters from 90 players down to 53 players; those cut downs could make 1184 football players who are at or close to “NFL-caliber” available to the AAF.  I expect a flurry of signings.

Finally, here is a question posed by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding one of the NFL Exhibition Games:

“Antonio Callaway turned a short pass into a 54-yard TD in the Browns’ exhibition opener, just days after the rookie receiver was pulled over and cited for marijuana possession.

“Just one question: If the cops can catch him, why can’t the New York Giants?”

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