A Coup In Fantasy Baseball Yesterday …

I do not play fantasy sports but I have a hunch that, if you had Scooter Gennett in your baseball lineup yesterday, you did pretty well.  Gennett tied an MLB record with 4 home runs in a single game becoming only the 17th player in baseball history to do that.  He also had a single to produce a stat line for the evening like this:

  • 5 for 5; 4 runs scored; 10 RBIs; 17 total bases

At the start of the game, Gennett had hit a total of 38 home runs in his career which began in 2013 and consisted of 502 games and 1637 at bats.  It is fair to say that he had a “career-game” last night.

The Seattle Seahawks put an end to the speculation that they would sign Colin Kaepernick as their backup QB earlier this week by signing Austin Davis to fill that role.  I wrote previously that I thought Seattle would be a logical landing spot for Kaepernick for the simple reason that the team had no viable backup on the roster but the rest of the roster indicated that the playoffs should be within reach.  Signing Austin Davis simply adds fuel to the concocted debate that has been out there ever since the Niners released Kaepernick regarding the motive(s) for his long-standing free agency.

Austin Davis was drafted by the Rams out of Southern Mississippi in the 2012 NFL Draft.  He did not see the field in his rookie; he did not see the field in 2013 and in the previous 2 seasons, he has appeared in 13 games – starting 10 of them.  He was with the Rams in 2014 and the Browns in 2015.  When Austin Davis is the starter, his team’s record is 3-7-0.  For his career, he has thrown 13 TDs and 12 INTs and he has completed 62.4% of his passes.

Meaning absolutely no disrespect to Austin Davis, those statistical entries on his résumé do not match those of Colin Kaepernick who did take a team to the Super Bowl.  Meaning absolutely no disrespect to Colin Kaepernick, that was at the end of the 2012 NFL season and a lot of water has gone over the dam since then.

I do not know why the Seahawks made the decision that they did; they worked out and interviewed both men; the folks who run the Seahawks are not stumblebums.  Rather than add to the cacophony surrounding this “debate”, I will simply say this:

  • When a player’s perceived talent level is sufficient, that perception is sufficient to override some dark stains on that player’s reputation – darker than Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest last year.

Let me stay with NFL news for a moment here …  If you have watched NFL games on TV for even a few moments, you realize that beer companies spend a lot of money buying advertising time on those games.  However, there have never been any ads there for hard liquor and the reason for that is that the NFL has “worked with its broadcast partners” to refrain from selling ad slots for those sorts of products.  That will change this season.

The NFL has eased up a bit here and will allow the networks to sell up to 4 ad slots (30 seconds each) to hard liquor products per game.  This is not a capitulation by the NFL to economic realities because there are still restrictions:

  • None of the ads can be “football focused”.  You are not going to see folks in their backyard pounding shots and playing touch football; you are not going to see a football team in the locker room after a game drinking highballs; you are not going to see an active player endorsing “hooch”.
  • Each ad must contain some sort of exhortation to use the product responsibly and not to do something dumb like drink-and-drive.  [Aside: Given the number of DUI incidents involving NFL players, any reference to the negative aspects of drinking and driving might be considered “football focused”.  Hmmm…]

Before you jump to the conclusion that the NFL is racing to get away from its stodginess, let me assure you that there are still products that will not be part of the ad mix on NFL games.  You can agree with it or not, but the NFL is not going to air commercials for condoms or sexual lubricants during its games.  Nor will you see ads for birth control drugs even though you will see plenty of ads for drugs that purport to combat erectile dysfunction.  I guess the NFL would try to argue that they would prefer to stay away from the “debates” that could arise from such advertising.  Whatever …

More interestingly, the NFL still will not allow energy drinks to be advertised nor can the makers or distributors of “supplements” purchase ad time.  I was surprised to see energy drinks on the “do not sell ad time to these guys list”; but given the problems that some players have had with drug tests that they blame on supplements, I can understand the league not wanting to muddy those waters any more than they are.

However, here is the case that I find particularly interesting.  The NFL will still prohibit any advertising by a gambling concern or for Las Vegas tourism.  The NFL is putting a team in Las Vegas; they are the beneficiaries of $750M in State of Nevada tax revenue to build a new stadium there.  The Las Vegas economy is not driven by heavy industry; Las Vegas lives and dies via tourism.  I can understand that it might take a while for the NFL to get itself to the point where it does not look upon places like The Mirage or Bellagio or The Westgate as facilities populated in the main by evil ne’er-do-wells, but I do not understand how it can simultaneously believe that it is OK to place a team in Las Vegas but not allow the city to advertise itself as a tourist destination.

Finally, consider this comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald.  I did not know this was part of the existing NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement:

“Ex-Husker Randy Gregory reportedly failed a drug test for the seventh time in the NFL. One more and he’s removed from the league permanently and becomes a member of the Grateful Dead.”

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



Mental Meanderings …

Let me begin with a Public Service Announcement today.  You still have time to get your tickets to Des Moines, IA and hustle on out there for the World Pork Expo.  Preliminary events began yesterday but things will be hopping all week long.  Tomorrow, you can play a round of golf in the World Pork Open; you can pick up clothing accessories at the World Pork Apparel Shop; you can attend a seminar on Social Media in Pork Production.  You can begin Thursday morning with an “Inspirational Service” and then participate in the World Pork Open Clay Target Championship.  Friday will feature the judging of the Junior National Swine Show while Saturday is the piece de resistance – the sale of the livestock from the World Pork Open Swine Show.  A good time will be had by all …

Back to sports…  Albert Pujols joined the rather exclusive club of MLB players who have hit 600 home runs in a career.  I have no interest in debating the cheapening of home run records in MLB over the past 25 years; the fact remains that very few players have ever done it and it may be a while until we see the next player join the club.  Looking at active players who might get to this level, I see only one player over 30 years old who may have a shot and that is:

  • Miguel Cabrera:  He is 34 years old and has been in MLB for 15 seasons.  He has 451 home runs as of this morning; that is an average of 30 per season.  If he can play until he is 40 and can average 25 home runs per season until then, he will join the club.  Only twice in his career has he hit fewer than 25 home runs in a season.  The first time was his rookie year when he only played in 87 games; the other time was in 2015 when he played in only 119 games.  Barring injury, I think he is going to make it.

After Cabrera, I think you have to look all the way down the list of active players to the “young stars” to find someone who might get to the 600 level in home runs.

  • Nolan Arenado:  He is 25 years old; he has 125 HRs in his first 5.4 seasons.
  • Bryce Harper:  He is 24 years old; he has 136 HRs in his first 5.4 seasons.
  • Manny Machado:  He is 24 years old; he has 117 HRs in his first 5.4 seasons.
  • Mike Trout:  He is 25 years old; he has 184 HRs in his first 6.4 seasons.

June is not a month when one should expect an important news item from the world of college basketball.  Nonetheless, just such an item emerged yesterday when Ohio state fired head coach Thad Matta.  This parting of the ways was not sugar-coated; Matta is not leaving his job to spend more time with his family nor is he leaving to pursue some lifelong passion of his that had never been expressed to any human before yesterday.  Ohio State simply fired him and doing that in early June is strange because the coaching carousel for college basketball coaches had pretty much gone to mothballs about a month ago.

Ohio State has had two consecutive difficult seasons; they have not made the NCAA Tournament – or any of the post-season basketball tournaments – in both of those years.  While that may sound like a reason for a big-time athletic program to fire a coach, consider Matta’s coaching career for a moment:

  • He has been a head coach for 17 seasons (13 of them at Ohio State).  He has missed post-season play only 3 times.
  • Overall, he has a winning percentage of .740.
  • At Ohio State in 13 seasons, he has a winning percentage of .733.
  • He has taken Ohio state to the Final Four twice.

Ohio State is a sufficiently attractive job to get the coaching carousel out of mothballs and fired up once again.  It is not likely that Ohio State will hand the job to some high school coach who did a bang-up job somewhere; remember when Notre Dame tried that once in their football program and how swell that worked out.  Ohio State is going to get a good coach and if that person is already employed somewhere else, that will start the domino effect.

The Buckeyes could hire Tom Crean for the job.  He is capable and he is “unencumbered” at the moment having been let go by Indiana earlier this year.  He knows the Big 10 and can likely be successful rather quickly.  The problem with hiring Crean is that there will be no domino effect and that is not interesting.  So, let me allow my mind to wander and present some other college coaches who might “get a call” from Ohio State so that if they take the job, there will be openings elsewhere.

  • Greg Marshall – Wichita State.  He has been a constant presence in the NCAA Tournament in recent years and he always brings a competent and competitive team there.
  • Chris Mack – Xavier.  Like Marshall, his teams are always in the tournament plus he is already a key player in basketball recruiting in the State of Ohio.
  • Shaka Smart – Texas.  Smart is an excellent coach who made a mistake going to Texas where basketball is the poor relative.  If he gets the call, he should take the job in a heartbeat.

Let me throw out one more name here that would probably not start up the college coaching carousel – but might get things moving in the NBA.  Billy Donovan was highly successful in college and has had a nice run in Oklahoma City.  Looking objectively at the Thunder, it is hard for me to see them doing much more than edging into the playoffs occasionally over the next several years in the NBA West.  So … maybe a return to the college game at one of the premier programs would be enticing?  Just saying …

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

“A Boston Marathon competitor reportedly took the train to get a better time. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the meet director didn’t have to consult the rule book on this one.”

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



RIP Jimmy Piersall

Jimmy Piersall died over the weekend.  To say he was a “colorful character” would be a monumental understatement.  Back in the 60s, he hit his 100th career home run in a game and ran backpedaling around the bases.  I guess the “unwritten rules of baseball” had not been unwritten back then because no brawl ensued and he was not the target of a beanball in his next at bat.  If that were to happen today, they would need to call out the National Guard.

Rest in peace, Jimmy Piersall.

By the way, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment recently regarding a baseball brawl:

“There was a Giants-Nationals brawl after Hunter Strickland threw at Bryce Harper. How silly does this make NHL players feel? The playoffs are winding down and the biggest sports brawl is started by guys named ‘Hunter’ and ‘Bryce.’”

For reasons that have never been crystal clear to me, ESPN televises the National Spelling Bee.  I know the “E” in ESPN stands for “Entertainment” but I hardly find the Spelling Bee entertaining.  I know the “S” stands for “Sports”; and while there is a clear and definite winner at the end of the spelling bee, I doubt that a significant number of people would call it a sport.  Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found a way to link the National Spelling Bee with a minor kerfuffle going on related to the current political situation:

Ananya Vinay, a sixth-grader from Fresno, Calif., won the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling:

  1.  “marocain”

  2.  “Krzyzewski”

  3.  “covfefe”

For the record, I can spell “Krzyzewski” but neither of the other two words on that list…

Obviously, I do not think cheerleading is a sport.  It can be a very athletic endeavor/performance, but I don’t think it is a sport any more than I think rhythmic gymnastics is a sport.  According to reports/rumors, the IOC may consider cheerleading as a sport and may think about including it in the Olympic Games in the future.  Oh my …

I know that cheerleading has a tradition here in the US but I do not recognize it as a routine happenstance in many international sports.  For example, I do not recall ever seeing cheerleaders for English Premier League games or for UEFA Cup games or for FIBA basketball games or for Australian Rules Football games or for Rugby games or for …  I have seen cheerleaders for CFL games and I recall feeling very sorry for the young ladies given the weather conditions of the game I was watching.  As I recall, it was in Winnipeg and it was really cold and there were gale force winds …

My point is that cheerleading does not seem to have much of a “world-wide footprint”.  Are there cheerleaders in Kazakhstan?  How about in Mali or in Iran?  And please do not get me started on how cheerleading fits into the Olympics’ motto of “Faster … Higher … Stronger” which derives from events related to warfighting skills from times past.

Once again, let me borrow an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times related to cheerleading in the Olympics:

“Cheerleading could become an Olympic sport by 2024?

“All for drug tests, stand up and holler!”

According to reports coming out of Minneapolis, the FBI is investigating the University of Minnesota Ticket Office regarding allegations of fraud.  Brent Holck, who was the head of the Ticket Office has been fired, and now the FBI is involved in a case that may have been ongoing for a while now.  According to the Athletic Director at Minnesota:

“It was a very sophisticated and complex scheme and it was deliberately done … In essence, we had tickets that were distributed for Gopher events. We had tickets that were used but the revenue was not tying back to those tickets.”

He also said that the scheme was brought to light by an internal audit of “Gopher sports tickets”.  In addition, the school now believes that this “scheme” had been ongoing for at least 6 years but when pressed to say how many tickets were involved or how much money had been diverted to improper destinations, the school could not provide specifics.  Perhaps that is because the FBI is involved and the investigation is ongoing.  However, the wording here is a bit strange…

The only way I can think of that would justify saying this has been going on for “at least 6 years” is this pair of situations:

  • The internal audit found a recent problem and subsequently traced that problem back 6 years in the past.  Now if that is the case, the school would know the problem is that old.
  • To say the problem is “at least 6 years old” means there is a likelihood that it is even older.  So, does that mean there are insufficient records starting 7 years ago to detect the problem or does that mean something different was ongoing starting 7 years ago?
  • Or – more ominously – does this mean that the accounting system used by the university is not adequate to dredge up fine scale details of transactions more than 6 years old?

For the record, the alleged sole perpetrator here is the now-fired Brent Holck.  He was hired to the job in 2008 and had occupied that job until his firing a couple of months ago in 2017.  Perhaps that is the basis for thinking the ticket fraud has been ongoing for more than 6 years.

By the way, none of the reporting I have read indicates why the FBI is involved in this investigation as opposed to the local or state police and district attorneys.  There is more to come from this before all is understood…

Finally, let me return to Dwight Perry for a third time today for another item related to cheerleading:

“A high-school cheerleader in El Paso was arrested on suspicion of submitting a false police report after she confessed she made up a story that her home had been burglarized so she could keep her uniform instead of having to turn it in.

“She was released from jail after posting bond of two bits, four bits, six bits, $5,000.”

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



Hopping Around Today …

In the spirit of “keeping it real”, that opening game of the NBA Finals was not exactly what I had been looking forward to since November of last year.  Both teams got to this series on cruise control and this was – in my mind’s eye – going to be a showdown between two teams that clearly stand above the rest of the league and two teams that can legitimately be labeled “juggernaut”.  Game One was a blowout and it was clear from early in the 3rd quarter who was going to be the winner.  Here is what I would like to see in this series:

  • I would like a game to be tied with 2 minutes left to play.  Then I want either team to win the game – I really do not care which one – without the benefit of some outlandish call by an official.
  • I am only asking for one game like that.  After enduring the tedium of this NBA regular season and its playoffs, I don’t think that is so much to ask for.

Down at the college basketball level, do you recall the “Louisville scandal” where a woman wrote a book and said that she had provided escorts and sexual services for Louisville recruits at the behest of the team?  That was blaring headline news for a while back then but I did not see the same coverage of a news item regarding this matter about a week ago:

  • It seems as if the prosecutor and a grand jury in Kentucky have chosen not to file any charges against anyone in this matter.

Let’s review for a moment.  We had allegations that someone paid someone else for sexual favors; if you could prove that, there would be a crime.  You had allegations that one of the women who did some of the providing here was the underage daughter of the book’s author.  If you could prove that, there would be a crime.  Prosecutors and grand juries exist to:

  1. Determine if there is evidence that a crime was committed
  2. Bring charges against the individual(s) who committed that crime
  3. Try, convict and punish said individual(s).

In this matter, the authorities stopped at Step 1 above.  Moreover, it is not clear if the “stoppage” was caused by the lack of evidence that there was a crime committed or by the insufficiency of evidence against any individuals here.

The book that initiated this scandal was written and released in 2015.  The Louisville program – and Rick Pitino personally – have been under this cloud for almost 2 years now.  One might think that these decisions by the authorities in Kentucky would put an end to this and someone somewhere might say something like, “Ooops, sorry about that.  I guess we rushed to judgment here.”  Well, don’t hold your breath because now the NCAA will do its thing and decide if there are NCAA punishments that can be meted out in this matter.  Given the NCAA’s pace of investigation – as evidenced by their progress in the UNC academic fraud matter – the Louisville basketball program will still be under this cloud for several years.

Stop the presses, I think Kevin Durant just threw down another dunk against the Cavs…

After a flurry if firings at ESPN, there was a recent announcement of a hiring.  Chip Kelly will join the ESPN studio talkers this season and will contribute his comments to coverage of both college and NFL football.  I do not know Chip Kelly but I do know a couple of folks who do and both say that Kelly is intelligent and articulate – – in addition to stubborn.  If he is intelligent and articulate, he will fit in with the other chatterboxes on the ESPN studio sets.  However, I think there is a more interesting aspect to this hiring than the person himself.

Recall that Urban Meyer spent time at ESPN commenting on college football after he left Florida and before he went to Ohio State.  Might this “ESPN gig” be a short-term deal for Kelly as it was for Urban Meyer?  Once the college football jobs start opening up, Kelly could well be the guy who takes one of the seats before the music stops.  In fact, he might move up the date when the coaching carousel starts to go around if a school really wants him to take over its program.

Here is the proposition:

  • OVER/UNDER on the date for the first “Chip Kelly to Whatsamatta U rumor” is Halloween.
  • Your call…

Whoa!  I think Steph Curry just sank another 3-ball against the Cavs…

Since I just mentioned ESPN – sort of – I want to make another observation.  I tuned into a weekend MLB game on ESPN after the game was underway.  That means I did not see the opening statements and so I was confused by what I saw.  The announcing crew was sitting in the outfield stands.  Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza were all out there and had baseball gloves presumably in the event that a ball landed in their laps.

  • Question for the ESPN Mavens:  Who thought that was a good idea?

For decades upon decades, the best seats in the house have been set aside for the media – print and electronic.  Seats in the outfield stands are not bad seats but they are not nearly as good as the standard ones provided.  Compared to outfield seats, the broadcast team would get a better view of most of the game by simply watching the TV feed that all of us are getting.  If that is “acceptable” television, why waste the time and money to send the broadcast team to the stadium in the first place?  They could do that from a studio in East Jepeep, KS.

Finally, since I mentioned the Louisville scandal above and the potential for NCAA action there, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Southeast Missouri State’s basketball team has been banned from postseason play next year for not meeting NCAA academic requirements.

“Since the Redhawks have made exactly one Division I NCAA Tournament appearance, isn’t that like banning Nancy Pelosi from Trump’s after-party?”

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



The Passing Of An Era for Golf

It does not take a whole lot for Tiger Woods to get his name in the newspapers.  If he goes to a driving range and hits a bucket of balls without grimacing; that is a story; if he volunteers to do something for the PTA at his kids’ school, that is a story.  After all, if he can do such wonderful things out there on a golf course, he must also be able of all sorts of other great accomplishments in real life, right?  There is a segment of the press that is ready to lionize everything associated with Tiger Woods.

At the same time there is a dark side to the media too.  If Tiger Woods gets a parking ticket, it must mean that he was with a hooker and lost track of time; if he hits a bad shot in a tournament and utters an word even slightly less polite than “Dagnubit”, then it shows he is a crass and uncultured boor.  With that as a background, consider that Tiger Woods was arrested in Florida earlier this week and charged with DUI.  He passed the alcohol breath test but police found him in his car at 3:00 AM asleep at the wheel with the motor running.

Not wishing to take sides with the “Tiger-Haters” or the “Tiger-Acolytes” here, can we simply agree that asleep at the wheel of a car with the motor running at 3:00 AM is not a good look?   As this story has evolved, it now appears that a combination of prescription meds could have led to the situation the police came upon.  I think this is a sad state of affairs from several perspectives:

  • There was a time when Tiger Woods was golf’s icon.  If Tiger Woods did it, then it had to be good for golf as a sport and good for anyone who played golf because that associated them with Tiger Woods.  Those days are about 10 years in the rear-view mirror.
  • Tiger Woods was raised to be a golf prodigy.  He succeeded at that but failed at just about all other aspects of “growing up” into a mature and responsible adult.  Now, his body is failing him and he no longer can be the manifestation of a golf prodigy.

I am not a psychologist – and even if I were I have not examined Tiger Woods in any way – so consider this next statement as AMATEURISH  at best:

  • I think Tiger Woods needs a mentor in his life – even though he is in his 40s – to assist him in catching up to what an adult male of that age needs to understand and to do in modern society.  I am not convinced that he can do this on his own and his father has passed.

Looking at a bigger picture regarding what this means to “Golfdom”, this DUI incident may not have come at a worse time.  For the last 20 years or so, golf has marketed/pushed the Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson rivalry as the pinnacle of its sport.  Ignore the fact that the rivalry was lopsided; it was the golf narrative for a VERY long time.  In reality, it has been purely a fictional/nostalgic rivalry for about 3 years now because Phil Mickelson can’t play either; unless I missed one, I think his last win on the PGA Tour was in 2013.

Golf marketed the game as the rivalry between Tiger and Phil and now it is over.  Even worse for golf is the fact that the two of them have reached this point in their lives/careers without embracing the rivalry to forge some sort of friendship.  Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were intense rivals but that rivalry grew into respect and friendship.  I wonder if Tiger and Phil will be hitting ceremonial tee shots together at The Masters in 2047…

The ratings are in.  Sunday Night Football on NBC was the top rated TV show in primetime again in 2016; this is the 6th year in a row when Sunday Night Football has enjoyed that status.  In the coveted demographic of 18-49 year-olds, the NFL hit the trifecta.  The largest number of viewers in that demographic watched:

  1. Sunday Night Football – 20.3 million folks
  2. Thursday Night Football (NBC) – 17.0 million folks
  3. Thursday Night Football (CBS) – 14.7 million folks.

The NFL continues to ride tall in the saddle when it comes to sports enterprises in the US.  It would be foolhardy to say that will NEVER change but the current data certainly indicate that it will be either a long time or a cataclysmic event that will take the NFL down off its pedestal.

Earlier this week, I suggested that MLB should consider contracting to 24 teams and that one of the teams to be whacked would be the Miami Marlins.  Recall that there were stories out there that Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush – were ready to buy the team for $1.3B.  Well, it seems that they may still have some interest in buying the team but they have not yet been ready to cough up $1.3B.  A recent entry to the field of potential buyers is Tagg Romney – son of Governor Mitt Romney – but that consortium is still short of the asking price.  Here is the thing about all of these reports that gets me:

  • If you believe reporting about the Marlins as a franchise, the team is losing money year over year.
  • Part of the revenue shortfall for the Marlins is the fact that they drew fewer than $1.65 million fans last year and are on pace to do the same again this year.

The Marlins’ owner, Jeffrey Loria bought the team for about $200M back in 2002.  The NY Post says that he may need to “cut the asking price” to $1B in order to get a deal done.  I still think it would be better to do without a team in Miami.

Finally, since I was speaking of things that are priced above what they are actually worth, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“At auction yet again: That rare 1909 T-206, the original Honus Wagner baseball card. I don’t wanna say it might be a fake, but if you look closely you can see an ESPN banner on the outfield wall.”

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



Rest In Peace, Frank Deford

Frank Deford died on Sunday.  A long time ago, I would grab my issue of Sports Illustrated from the mail pile at home and turn to the Table of Contents to see if he had a byline in that issue; when he did, that is where I turned first.  There was no Google or Wikipedia in those dark days; I ascribed inordinate levels of wisdom and insight into Frank Deford; I did that because I assumed that he was so much older than I am.  In reality, he was only 5 years older than I.  Whether he was writing a novel or a long-form sports feature or the story of the sickness and death of his daughter, Frank Deford was – simply – outstanding.

I have another bond with Frank Deford.  For years he did a weekly commentary on NPR Radio; reportedly, he did 1656 of those commentaries.  About twice a year, he would adopt the persona of “The Sports Curmudgeon” for one of his weekly columns; whenever he did that, I would get a flurry of e-mails and/or comments on the website asking for a transcript of “your radio column”.  I answered every one of those requests telling the listener that I was not Frank Deford and could never hope to be Frank Deford but that the listener could probably get the transcript he/she sought by contacting the local NPR station in their area.

Rest in peace, Frank Deford…

Since I mentioned one of my favorite writers from my youth, let me take a short paragraph here to recommend a book to you.  I just finished reading Dan Jenkins’ latest novel, Stick A Fork In Me; Dan Jenkins was my other “favorite writer” from the halcyon days of Sports Illustrated  This is a fictional “memoir” of a collegiate Athletic Director who is looking to find a comfortable retirement package from his school – Western Ohio.  If you even enjoy Dan Jenkins’ writing a little bit, I think this is a book you should read.  I read it cover to cover in about 3 hours; this is not War and Peace.

The NFL has loosened the reins a bit regarding endzone celebrations by players after a TD.  Ignore the details here and think about the “big picture” here for a moment:

  • To a large extent, the NFL is a TV show.  So long as people can bet on the games – legally or illegally – and watch them on TV, the NFL has a license to print money.
  • Do “over-the-top/choreographed” endzone celebrations cause fans to turn off the games?  If so, that hurts ratings and those celebrations need not be curtailed, they need to be banned completely.
  • Do “over-the-top/choreographed” endzone celebrations attract any fans?  Do you know anyone who tunes into an NFL game primarily to see endzone celebrations?  If those folks are out there, the NFL should never have a limit on what players might do.

As I said, NFL telecasts are a TV show and the TV industry likes its shows – to the greatest extent possible – to fit into carefully carved out time slots.  Lots of scoring along with lots of extended celebrating MIGHT cause time overruns and that is an imperfect solution.  So here is what the NFL Competition Committee should have done:

  1. After a TD is scored, the referee should immediately call for a “kicking ball” and place it at the 15-yardline and start the play clock.  Failure of the scoring team to get a try off in the allotted time would forfeit that team’s right to make an extra point try.
  2. This ruling would get the coaches on the side of the league and its “TV partners” and keep things rolling along.

The 2016/2017 NBA season started on October 25, 2016; the Finals will begin on June 1, 2017; if I have counted correctly that is a span of 219 days.  Here is the problem; we pretty much knew for certain which teams would be in the NBA Finals in the days leading up to October 25, 2016.  Both the Warriors and the Cavaliers were going to make the playoffs even if they had two starters show up on Quaaludes every fourth game; the teams did not care about regular season games; the con offered up by the NBA was that once the playoffs began the competition and the intensity would be ratcheted up.  Horse hockey!  To date, the totality of the NBA Playoffs has produced less than a half-dozen games that you would honestly call “interesting”.

These finals had better deliver some kind of game drama that makes the fan/viewer fixated on the game until the end; if either team wins this final series by 4-0 in 4 blowouts, the NBA will have some “ ‘splaining to do”…  [/Desi Arnaz]  The NBA is not the Harlem Globetrotters; you know who is going to win Globetrotters’ games but you go to be entertained by other antics on the court.  That is NOT the competition model or the fan interest model the NBA seeks.

I tried to get into the NBA this year once January showed up on the calendar and then February and then March.  I could not get myself to care even more than the slightest bit because all of this was obviously pre-destined.  The only – and I mean only – thing that I found interesting about the NBA regular season was the snarky – but on-the-mark – commentary from Charles Barkley about things that are imperfect with the NBA game as it exists today.

  • Memo to Adam Silver:  I am a basketball fan and have been since the mid-1950s.  I could not get myself interested in your NBA product this year even though I tried.  If that happens again in the next season or two, you will lose a lifetime fan – and at my age you may never get me back.
  • Memo to the NBPA:  You folks need to work with the league on this problem; this will affect both sides of the negotiating table.  Your product is less interesting than it used to be and you need to find ways to reverse that trend tout de suite.

Greg Cote summarized the situation at hand for the NBA and its fans like this in the Miami Herald:

“Finally, it’s on! The inevitable Warriors-Cavs Finals begins: It’s the Golden State-Cleveland trilogy, LeBron-Steph III, and the rubber-match series begins Thursday night. Now all it has to be is the greatest Finals ever ending in a triple-overtime Game 7 to live up to expectations.”

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

“Two players at the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships who used a cart to take a bathroom break were given two-stroke penalties.

“So who’s running the show there, Roger Goodell?”

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



Happy Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day.  It is a day when remember the people in the Armed Forces who gave their lives in defense of the country.  When I think of Memorial Day the way it was when I was a kid, the first thing that comes to mind is:

  • Doubleheader baseball games in the daytime

Those events are an extinct species in 2017 having succumbed to maximizing revenue streams and all that comes with that.  However, when thinking about MLB and its scheduling, it comes to mind that thirty teams split into two 15-team leagues makes for awkward schedules.  Not the least bit of awkwardness is the fact that there must always be an inter-league game going on.  The first thing that comes to mind is for MLB to expand to 32 teams; the second thing that comes to mind is for MLB to contract to 24 teams.  That got me thinking about the pros and cons for each scenario.

I’ll start with “Expansion to 32 teams”.  Here are some of the pros:

  1. Current owners will get two fat checks in the name of “expansion fees”.
  2. MLBPA will like this since it “creates more jobs” for members.
  3. Allows inter-league play to be condensed into a fixed time slot on the schedule making it “special” again.

Here are some of the cons to expansion:

  1. Are there two viable baseball markets that are not yet filled?  With the NHL and the NFL going to Las Vegas, that might be one site and putting a team back in Montreal might make sense.  Perhaps Vancouver?  Remember, there are several existing MLB teams that are not hugely supported too.
  2. Are there enough pitchers?  MLB rosters are pitching dominated – probably because in these days of “pitch counts” and “working the count”, teams need lots of arms in the bullpen.  Are the two dozen best pitchers in the minors ready to pitch regularly at the major league level?  I am not so sure…

Let me be clear; MLB is not going to contract absent some sort of cataclysmic set of circumstances.  This is purely a gedanken experiment; so, here are some of the pros for “Contraction to 24 teams”:

  1. It weeds out 6 of the franchises that are not well supported.
  2. It concentrates the existing MLB-level talent thereby increasing the average level of play.
  3. It would allow scheduling to concentrate games within divisions thereby increasing/generating rivalries.  Rivalries tend to increase interest and increased interest produces increased revenues.

Here are some of the cons to contraction:

  1. Current owners will have to write some hefty checks to buy out 20% of the franchises or perhaps forego some portion of the current revenue streams for a while.  This is the main reason contraction will never happen.
  2. The MLBPA will hate this because 20% of its members will be out of work.

To take the gedanken experiment to some sort of conclusion, I now have to consider which 6 MLB franchises I would terminate.  The first three are pretty easy for me; these teams always have low attendance numbers:

  • Miami Marlins
  • Oakland A’s
  • Tampa Bay Rays

The next three are much more difficult but here goes:

  • Chicago White Sox.  They are the “poor relative” in Chicago in terms of attendance and fan interest by a wide margin.  Over the last two seasons, the Sox average 20,000 fans per game; they ranked 27th in MLB last year and in 2017 they are currently 28th in attendance per game.
  • Cleveland Indians.  This is a team that was in the World Series last year; in that season-long run to glory, the Indians’ average home attendance was the lowest in MLB.  This season in the afterglow of a World Series appearance, the Indians’ average attendance is 25th in MLB standing at 21,749 over 278 home games.  It surely looks as if most of greater Cleveland does not care about the Indians.
  • Minnesota Twins.  I know this looks like I am picking on the American League but that is really not the case.  The Twins were in the bottom third of MLB in attendance in 2016 and rank 24th in attendance this year with attendance down more than 3,000 fans per game.

Looking at the results of my mental musings here, you can add one more “con” to the list under “Contraction to 24 teams”:

  • Follow my plan and you also have to realign the leagues since the AL would lose 5 teams and the NL only 1 team.

Finally, since I mentioned the possible lack of major-league level pitchers above, here is an item related to one minor league pitcher from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

During the [Omaha] Storm Chasers-Salt Lake game in Utah, [Salt Lake City] Bees’ pitcher Troy Scribner was called for a balk after he was knocked off the mound by a gust of wind. OK, I’m thinking there’s no need to test this guy for performance enhancers.

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



No Marketing Man Here …

Odell Beckham Jr. has reportedly signed a $25M shoe deal with Nike for the next 5 years; it is supposed to be the largest shoe deal for an NFL player ever.  There is something here that I do not understand.  Let me say very explicitly that I am not the target audience for athlete designed/endorsed shoes whether they come from Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Jordan, Lonzo Ball or Joe Flabeetz.  Let me also say very explicitly that I claim no expertise at all in the field of marketing.  So here is my confusion in a nutshell:

  • Basketball players wear shoes that can be used to play basketball – obviously.  Those shoes can also be worn around the house or to school or to the mall or … you get the idea.
  • Football players wear cleats.  Other than to play football – or some other sport on a grass field – cleats are not useful apparel.
  • I can understand this deal from Nike’s perspective if the objective is to market the shoes to high school football teams but I do not understand the “mass marketing appeal” of football cleats.

Now, here is a marketing initiative that I do understand.  The Arizona Diamondbacks are playing well so far in 2017 but they are nowhere near filling their home stadium.  The D-Backs have 25 home games scheduled in June and July; and according to this report, the team is offering up a “Summer Pass” for those 25 games in June/July.  A fan pays $50 and for that he can get a seat in the outfield to any game he wants in June or July.  The seats will vary from game to game and all the logistics are handled over a mobile phone via an app.

The Braves tried something similar a year ago on a month by month basis and reported some fan interest in the concept.  Despite the D-Backs strong start this year – 30-19 and only 1 game out of first place in the NL West – average home attendance is only 22,649 per game and that figure is surprisingly down 3,410 fans per game from last year over the same number of home games.

For an upfront cost of $50, any fan who might be interested in going to a half-dozen games ought to consider this “Summer Pass” idea and then perhaps go to 10 games instead of 6 because the marginal cost for going an additional 4 times is zero.  From the perspective here in Curmudgeon Central, I would be much more likely to pay $100 for a pair of D-Backs Summer Passes than I would to pay $100 or more for a pair of football cleats.

Speaking obliquely about MLB, Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“I was surprised to recently learn that African Americans now account for less than 7% of big-leaguers.  Not since 1957 have fewer MLB players been black.”

I too am surprised that the percentage is that low but I am not surprised that young African-American boys gravitate to sports other than baseball.  No, I do not believe it has anything to do with sociological factors surrounding the origins of baseball or anything like that.  I believe there are pragmatic and logistical reasons for this.

For kids to play a pick-up game of baseball, they need to get 15-20 kids to be at one place at one time with the right equipment and desire to play a game.  When I was a kid, it was not all that difficult to make that happen just by showing up at the playground and counting heads and asking if folks wanted to play a game.  Look at playgrounds in the cities and suburbs now and you will only rarely see kids playing pick-up baseball games because there are not hordes of kids on the playground.

Therefore, to get kids started in baseball requires adult intervention in terms of organizing and scheduling and the like.  This brings two factors into play:

  1. Adult intervention – from the kids’ perspective – comes with a price.  With that intervention, the games are not merely fun; the games become more cutthroat and there is emphasis on winning as opposed to just playing the game because one likes to play the game.
  2. Adult intervention requires interested adults and that usually means parents who have spare time to contribute to the organizational activities involved here.  From an economic perspective, it is more likely for “suburban parents” to have more spare time to devote here than for “inner-city parents”.

The economic factor also contributes to African-American kids gravitating to basketball.  Not only is it easier for kids to be able to find a pick-up game of basketball due to the small number of kids needed to play, but it is also more economically feasible.  Basically, all you need is a basketball, a pair of sneakers – not necessarily ones that cost $150 a pair – and a hoop in a playground.

Finally, here is a comment from Steve Rosenbloom in the Chicago Tribune regarding the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victory last year:

“Each World Series ring the Cubs handed out Wednesday night contained 108 diamonds on the face to mark the number of years between titles. So, if the Cubs repeat, will next year’s rings contain zero diamonds?”

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



A Modified NFL Overtime Rule …

Surely, you have read about or heard about the NFL decision to change the regular season overtime rule by reducing the time of the overtime period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.  The “cover story” for all of this is that this is done in the interest of player safety.  While that may in fact be an outcome here, pardon me for my skepticism related to the idea that this was the concept that sprung from nowhere to mesmerize the NFL Competition Committee and now the NFL owners.

If, indeed, player safety is the paramount concern here, can I ask why there is overtime at all in the regular season?  Fans “hate tie games” – – or at least that is the standard narrative that sports leagues operate upon.  The fact is that the NFL existed until 1974 without the benefit of any overtime rule for the regular season; that means for more than half of the league’s existence, it was “OK” to have tie-games in the regular season.  Tie games are not apocalyptic; they may be unsatisfying to the fans but they do not threaten civilization as we know it.

If player safety is the driver here, there should be no overtime games at all until the playoffs where a singular winner is needed to ascertain who moves on to the next round.  If some other factor(s) are at work here, please identify them clearly and unambiguously.  If I asked you to guess what the NFL record is for a team playing tie games in a season, what would be your guess?  Here is the answer:

  • In 1932, the Chicago Bears played 6 NFL games that ended in a tie.  The team record for the year was 7-1-6.
  • The Bears began the 1932 season with tie games in the first 3 games of the season – and all of them were 0-0 tie games.
  • In the 4th game of the 1932 season, the Bears suffered their only loss.  The Green Bay Packers beat the Bears at Wrigley Field by a score of 2-0.
  • The Bears did not score a single point until their 5th game of the season and finished the year with a 7-1-6 record.

The NFL has had overtime in existence for 43 years now.  First it was sudden death; then, it was modified to give the loser of the coin toss an opportunity to possess the ball; now we have this change.  If the rules mavens cannot come up with something people perceive to be fair and effective at the same time, I have a radical idea:

  • Why not end the game after 60 minutes of play; and if the score is tied, record it as such and move on to the next game on the schedule?
  • That worked for the first 54 years of the NFL’s existence.

Since I started with an NFL topic today, allow my mind to wander in the space-time continuum of the NFL and television.  We know from recent personnel reductions that ESPN is in a cost cutting mode and that much of that is driven by the number-crunchers who oversee ESPN from corporate mahogany offices in Disney Corp.  So, let me accept as a fact that ESPN is not nearly the cash-cow that it was 10 years ago.

Earlier this week, I read a report that speculated that Turner Broadcasting – TBS – might be interested in getting a piece of the action for NFL television rights.  Let me be clear; I have no insight into that corporate thinking if indeed it is actually ongoing.  Let me channel Will Rogers here:

“All I know is just what I read in the papers, and that’s an alibi for my ignorance.”

Never being one to allow my own ignorance to stand in the way of an opinion, consider that MNF costs ESPN $1.5B per year in TV rights.  According to reports, ESPN signed on with the NFL for $15.2B for TV rights to MNF for 2001 to 2021.  Might the mavens at ESPN/Disney think that a way to ameliorate the financial burdens at ESPN in 2017 might be to sell off part of that “inventory” to TBS?  Here is what math tells me:

  • If ESPN fired 100 staffers to save their salary costs, the $1.5B that MNF costs would cover all of those salaries unless all 100 of the fired staffers made more than $15M per year.

By comparison, NBC pays a little less for SNF than ESPN pays for MNF and NBC gets the benefit of flex scheduling which is logistically impossible for MNF.  My take-away here is that the good folks at ESPN need to find a better contract negotiator to represent their interests when they seek to carry NFL games after 2021.

A former colleague and long-term reader of these rants sent along a link to an article on Deadspin.com about a communication between the Athletic Department at LSU and the “student-athletes” at LSU.  Earlier this month, the United States DoJ decided that it would not press charges against two police officers who had been involved in the killing of Alton Sterling.

Summarizing the communique from the Athletic Department, they asked the student-athletes not to wear LSU “gear” or uniforms if the “student-athletes” felt that they wanted to participate in protests over this decision.  Forget your opinion on the entire matter of Alton Sterling’s death for a moment.  This communication phrased as a request from the LSU Athletic Department is well-positioned.  It recognizes that some of the “student-athletes” will choose to participate in protests and the Athletic Department does not seek to stifle that in any way.  However, they do ask that the “student-athletes” help the Athletic Department in protecting the “brand” of LSU athletics” by not wearing uniforms or gear.  My summary:

  1. The “student-athletes” have full freedom of expression.
  2. The “student-athletes” are requested to ignore their freedom of attire.

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

“A squirrel ran on the field during a Twins-Indians game and eluded members of the grounds crew for four minutes. I’m sure this was more entertaining than any dumb between-innings hot dog race.

“A study reveals that rodents that run on the field at baseball games tend to have a higher IQ than fans who run on the field.”

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



NFL Hump Day …

The staff cuts at ESPN have not been too severe; someone there has plenty of time oh his/her hands.  On one of the myriad ESPN studio shows yesterday, the talking head intoned that yesterday was “NFL Hump Day”.  Yesterday was the exact middle of the “barren stretch” between the Super Bowl in February and the start of the new NFL season in early September.  Inconveniently, “NFL Hump Day” fell on a Tuesday this year and not a Wednesday…

Nonetheless, the NFL is producing news on its “Hump Day” that is on a different vector heading from things like free agent signings and/or the promise of the NFL Draft.  This week marks the start of “practice” for the upcoming NFL season as teams hold the first of their OTAs – Organized Team Activities.  The teams organize these things in accordance with the terms of the current CBA but they are not mandatory for players who are under contract.  That fact alone creates news like this item:

  • Odell Beckham Jr. did not show up for the first day of the NY Giants’ OTA.  Oh, the horror …  The world of social media has more than sufficient reason to explode over this news.

These sorts of stories are nothing more than sensationalized filler.  If the NY Giants’ 2017 season is going to be doomed by the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. on the first day of non-mandatory OTAs, then the whole organization should just take the season off and forfeit their games.  At best, this is a non-story – – or “fake news” to use the argot of the day.

The other thing that comes out of hiding as teams head into the start of their OTAs is the early pronouncements about “Teams That Have An Eye On The Super Bowl In February 2018”.  These sorts of articles pick up on stories about teams that made splashy free agent signing and/or teams that good immediate grades for their talent haul in the recent NFL Draft.  All looks positive for the teams mentioned in these articles – – for the moment.

Here in Curmudgeon Central, the standard practice is to look at the sports world through the other end of the telescope.  So, I want to take this horribly too early point in history to project the teams that just may be the WORST team in the NFL – the one that will be on-the-clock with the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as of 1 January 2018.  I believe there are 5 teams among the 32 teams in the NFL who might wind up in that position.  Let me list them here alphabetically since it is still far too early to make a pronouncement:

  1. Chicago Bears:  I seriously believe the Bears will be a bad team again in 2018 no matter who they play at QB and that Coach John Fox will be fired in early 2018 if he actually makes it to the end of the 2017 season.  The Bears’ have no offense and the Bears’ defense is not nearly good enough to be sufficiently dominant as to carry the team to a break-even record.  Looking at the Bears’ schedule, they begin the season with games against the Falcons, Bucs, Steelers and Packers – – all four teams should have realistic hopes of making the playoffs.  If the Bears start out 0-4, which is a very real possibility, this team could easily hang up the jockstraps for the season and mail it in for the rest of 2017.
  2. Cleveland Browns:  Some folks have been just short of orgasmic in their praise of the Browns’ draft haul and the “Moneyball-style” mindset of the Browns’ front office.  I will be much more confident in pronouncing the Browns’ Front Office as “geniuses” after a few years.  However, even if I think they were great in their drafting this year and added 4 quality players to the roster, that leaves the Browns in the “talent-deficient” category of the NFL because the rest of the roster has – at most – 3 quality players.
  3. LA Rams:  Football is a team game and it is axiomatic that QBs get too much of the credit for successful teams and too much blame for bad teams.  Notwithstanding what I just said, the Rams’ problem has been for the last several years that they have not had a quality QB.  Truth be told, they have not had a QB who is better than a journeyman.  They spent an overall #1 pick on Jared Goff but did not put him on the field until late in the 2016 season and when Goff was out there he looked “less than awesome”.  Now we hear that the Rams at their OTAs are trying to work with Goff on his “leadership skills”.  The Rams are not going to be a good team, but if Goff flunks his QB tests and his leadership tests, the Rams could be awful.
  4. NY Jets:  Is there a player on their roster who can even pretend to be a functional NFL QB?  If so, the Jets can dodge the ignominy of the overall #1 pick in the 2018 draft.  If there is such a player on the roster, he has been keeping a VERY low profile to date.  The Jets are loaded with defensive linemen who can be difference-makers; that is not enough to make the team a difference-maker in 2018.  I suspect the Jets will be awful and that coach Todd Bowles will take the fall for a team whose roster would not be competitive under any head coach that could not cast hypnotic spells on the entire opposing squad every Sunday.  This is an early call but look at the NFL schedule for Week 5 and you will see that the Jets play the Browns.  That may be the Toilet Bowl game for the NFL season and it may have a significant role in determining the draft order in the Top 5 for the 2018 NFL Draft.
  5. SF 49ers:  Once again, the draftniks have proclaimed that the Niners – – under the firm hand at the tiller of GM, John Lynch – – aced the draft.  Even if they did – and that diagnosis would be at least 24 months too soon – the Niners’ roster is talent deficient.  The top two QBs on their depth chart as of this morning are two of the castoffs from the 2016 Chicago Bears – a team that won a total of 3 games.

Finally, since I mentioned the role that projections of the 2017 NFL draft may or may not have on the fortunes of some NFL teams, let me present some comments about “the draft” in two other sports from sports commentators around the country:

“Ping and pong: The NBA draft lottery couldn’t have gone much better for the L.A. Lakers if the drawing were rigged. Did I say rigged?”  [Bob Molinaro – Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]

And …

“The MLB draft is less than four weeks away. I’m working on my mock draft. Right now I’m stuck on the 22nd pick in round 113.”   [Brad Dickson – Omaha World-Herald]

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