Behaving Like A Senator Today …

The NBA started its season around Halloween last year.  They have played 1230 games since then in order to eliminate just under half the teams from participating in the playoffs.  I have argued for years that most of the games before the end of January are virtually meaningless and that the season does not begin to present compelling games until late February/early March.  I wish to invoke a privilege that is sought by our esteemed US Senators all the time.

  • I wish to revise and extend my remarks on that subject.

As of 2017, I am incorrect in thinking that regular season NBA games from about the beginning of March until the end of the year are meaningful.  These games are no more important or meaningful than the ones in November between the Sacramento Kings and the Brooklyn Nets.  Why did I change my mind?

Well, it is really very simple.  The NBA players have convinced me that the games are unimportant because they have behaved in ways that prove to me that THEY believe they are unimportant.  In the last week or so, players “rested” when the schedule had them laying back to back games even though:

  1. The Cavs/Heat game had relevance to which team would get the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs – – AND – –
  2. The Cavs/Heat game had relevance to the Heat’s pursuit of the #8 seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

That game should have mattered to both teams.  It did not.  And so, I now do not care about ANY NBA regular season games.  This is the league that has known for decades that some teams tank entire seasons to get high draft picks and had to introduce a lottery system to try to prevent teams actually racing to the bottom.  Now they have players so stressed out by scheduling that they need time outs that extend for about 48 hours.

These players are victims of nothing except Fat Wallet Syndrome.  They deserve the scorn of sports fans everywhere.  Maybe they are in receipt of some scorn already given that regular season NBA TV ratings are universally down this year as opposed to last year.

Commish Adam Silver diverted his attention from what he identified as one of his prime tasks – assuring that there is a woman as a head coach in the NBA sooner as opposed to later – to recognize that resting players is something the league as a whole needs to address in a way that makes it less of an affront to the fans who pay the freight.  Deciding on who plays and how long they play is a coaching decision but there are “integrity of the game” issues here.

  • When top teams rest all their good players at one time in a nominally meaningful game, they tell the fans that the game is not really meaningful because they do not give a spit.
  • When bottom-feeding teams play “the end of their bench” for long stretches in late season games seeking to lose and get more ping-pong balls in the hopper, that tells fans they value a high draft pick more than winning.  The Lakers tried – not very successfully – to use this strategy late in the season when all of a sudden Metta World Peace became a 20-minute per game presence on the court instead of a 5-minute per game presence.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had an interesting perspective on this need to rest NBA players recently:

“The new NBA trend is resting your star players. I remember when this was called ‘defense.’ ”

There is another embarrassing situation going on in the NBA world this morning and – – no great surprise here – – it involves the NY Knicks and the team owner James Dolan.  CBSSports.com reports that the fan who got into a “verbal altercation” – probably better described as a shouting match – with Owner Dolan now claims that the team is making it difficult for him to renew his season tickets and that his ticket representative will not even take his calls.  James Dolan surely does not like anyone getting up in his face and calling him a “rhymes with glass bowl” and James Dolan is the owner of the team and the arena in which they play.  I doubt that this situation infringes on any of the fan’s inalienable rights even were he to claim that attending Knicks’ games in the Garden is essential to his Pursuit of Happiness.

Having said all that, this is yet another “bad optic” for the NY Knicks and Lord knows they have become the masters of bad optics over the past decade or so.  The Knicks are a bad team and this fan wants to renew his tickets – – translation: he wants to spend his money on that bad team – – and the team is behaving like a hard ass by making that difficult.  Here is a link to the CBSSports.com report so you can see for yourself what is going on here.

I began today saying that I am now convinced that none of the NBA regular season matters anymore.  Well, here is something else that falls into the bucket of “does not matter yet it has become a big deal”:

  • NFL Network had a “special program” to announce the upcoming schedule for the NFL Exhibition Season.

Let me be clear; the NBA regular season is more important than the NFL Exhibition Season for the basic reason that the NBA regular season games count for something and the NFL Exhibition games are meaningless with a capital “M”.  The NFL stages 65 of these Meaningless events – or 64 in seasons where the Hall of Fame Game field is unplayable and the league cancels it because the NFLPA won’t allow its members to take the field – and none of those events means a damned thing.  Notwithstanding that reality, the schedule announcement becomes a “Special” on NFLN.  My only reaction to this is:

  • Give me a [bleep]ing break!

Finally, here is one more comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“Klay Thompson was asked to sign a fan’s toaster. It speaks volumes when an American in public doesn’t have any paper on him but he’s lugging around his toaster.”

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

 

 

Labor And Management Strike A Deal

Progress usually comes as a result of a sequence of small steps in a positive direction.  Sometimes, in order to get a person or an entity to cooperate in taking those small steps, a bludgeon needs to be used.  Such has been the case in recent times with women athletes in the US.

Recall about a month ago that the US Women’s Hockey team said it would boycott the World Championship Tournament that was going to be held in Michigan unless the governing bodies and the US overseers of that sport came up with better compensation for the players and support for growing the sport itself.  There was a lot of posturing that led up to that declaration but once it became clear that these women were going to stay home, a deal was struck.  Amazingly, money that was unavailable and/or non-existent became part of the deal that got the women’s team back on the ice.

Simultaneously, the US Women’s National Soccer Team had an analogous standoff with the folks who run women’s soccer here in the US.  Despite the world-class performances of the women’s team over the last couple of decades, they too did not have what they believed was the proper level of support and compensation.  That dispute dragged on for far too long and even involved the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for the last year because the women alleged wage discrimination in their situation.  That matter was settled last week when the team members and the US Soccer Federation agreed to a new CBA.

A key element of the deal intends to “provide stability and growth potential for the National Women’s Soccer League.”  That is a big deal because a key element of the continued excellence of the US Women’s National Team is the ability of its players to make a living here in the US playing their sport and growing their sport.  If this CBA moves things in that direction, it is a win for both sides.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here that can apply to other conflicts in the sports world.  These issues balanced on financial matters – and at the core, most conflicts in the sports world involve the same basic issue.  Once the two sides put aside things like “a boycott” or a “Federal complaint to the EEOC”, the parties could sit down more comfortably and figure out a way to divide the available resources in a way that both sides could live with.  The key is to make sure that money is the paramount issue under discussion; if it gets lumped in with things like “discrimination” or “entitlement” or stuff like that, the negotiations become more difficult.

I mention this because there is an ongoing contretemps between the NHL and the IOC over the availability of NHL players for the 2018 Winter Games.  If there is to be a “meeting of the minds” here, the two sides need to stop finger-pointing and name-calling and start to look at the finances so they can strike an economic deal that each can live with.

 

[Aside:  I purposely put “meeting of the minds” in quotation marks above given the two entities I am talking about.  The NHL canceled an entire season to make a point that was unclear then and is probably unrecalled by most folks today.  The IOC’s behaviors over the years simply makes it impossible to consider them as acting in a rational or cooperative environment.]

 

Shifting gears … the Seattle Seahawks signed free agent running back, Eddie Lacy, to a 1-year deal.  According to a report on ESPN, there is a “weight incentive clause” in the contract that could be worth up to $385K for Lacy.  According to Pete Carroll, his preference would be for Lacy to play games weighing somewhere “in the 240 range”.  Looking back at the draft projections for Lacy coming out of college at Alabama, the scouting reports said he weighed 235 lbs.  Using only the eyeball test, I think it has been quite a while since Lacy saw that weight; if you told me that he played at 270 at times over the past 2 years, I would not argue with you for very long.

According to a report from Adam Schefter, Lacy’s contract could be worth as much as $5.5M but only $2.8M of that is guaranteed.  The rest of the contract value must be earned as incentives related to Lacy’s weight, his production as a running back and how often he is dressed and active for a game.

The second two incentive criteria may be affected by the fact that Lacy is still rehabbing a foot/ankle injury he suffered early last season with the Packers.  If that injury comes around, he should be a useful running back for the Seahawks; if it lingers, he may have to settle for seeing limited action.  In any event, making the weight targets should be something he can control completely on his own.

The Milwaukee Brewers have an interesting – if not completely healthy – culinary offering for the upcoming season.  I would suggest arriving at the ballpark a bit before game time because this is not something you want to try to eat in your seat as you watch the game.  It has an apt name; they call it:

  • The Beast:  It starts with a grilled bratwurst sliced in half lengthwise.  That baby gets stuffed with a footlong hot dog and then gets wrapped in bacon for a flash-frying.  The whole thing is put on a pretzel roll and served with onions, sauerkraut and mustard.  Oh, and you get a bag of chips on the side too.

Finally, Brad Dickson has these two observations about the recently concluded NCAA basketball tournaments in the Omaha World-Herald:

“During an official review at the women’s NCAA tournament, Washington and Oklahoma held a dance-off. This isn’t to be confused with that NFL booth review when a couple players had time to complete a half-marathon.”

And …

“Arena security reportedly had to visit the seat of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall’s wife three times during the loss to Kentucky. If a game had been decided by a technical foul on the coach’s wife, it would be my favorite ‘One Shining Moment’ ever.”

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

 

 

RIP Don Rickles

Don Rickles passed away yesterday at the age of 90.  I remember Johnny Carson once calling him The Merchant of Venom; others called him The Master of Malice.  There is a good chance that when he first encountered St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, Rickles said he was as dumb as a hockey puck.

Rest in peace, Don Rickles…

A state legislator in Nevada wants to try to convince the NCAA to put the Sweet 16 games and the Final Four games for the women’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas.  As you may imagine, the NCAA dismissed the idea out of hand because – gasp! – there are casinos in Las Vegas where gambling on college basketball games takes place.  This well-intentioned legislator must not realize that the NCAA can hide its head in the sand better than any ostrich ever born.

  • The NCAA can avoid seeing the obvious when it would prefer that the obvious not exist.  Case in point: the continued “investigation” of the academic fraud at UNC.  The NCAA really does not want to drop the hammer on a school that is a major revenue generator in football AND basketball so it ignores the obvious evidence of serious infractions and just kicks the can down the road hoping that it will all go away.

What is the NCAA preferring not to see when someone suggests putting the women’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas?  Let me start with a bit of background.

  • One criticism of the women’s tournament has always been that the early round games are scheduled almost as home games for the top seeded teams.  The disparity in the women’s brackets assures that the top seeds are going to advance but making those game home games turns them into nothing but glorified scrimmages.  Fans show up to support the highly-seeded teams and to watch them blow out their early competition.
  • However, once the games are played at neutral sites as the women’s tournament proceeds, the attendance disappears.  This year, Notre Dame and Stanford played each other in Lexington, KY and the winner would go to the Final Four.  There were 2,527 souls in attendance for that game.
  • Two other regional finals could not draw flies either.  For the Baylor/Mississippi St. game in OKC, the attendance was 3,128.  For the S. Carolina/Fla St. game in Stockton, 3,134 people showed up.
  • Only UConn – playing Oregon in Bridgeport, CT as almost a home game for the Huskies – could draw a decent crowd.  That game had 8,978 fannies in the seats.

That data would seem to imply that fans are not willing to travel to see women’s college basketball when the destinations are Lexington, Oklahoma City or Stockton.  Fans of UConn will travel from various parts of Connecticut and New England to see the Lady Huskies play locally, but then the taint of “home-court advantage” for the favorites comes into play.

Now, if I were trying to analyze this sort of problem, I would want to see if I could goose up attendance just a bit.  I would ask myself these sorts of questions:

  1. Is the low attendance due to a fundamental lack of interest in women’s college basketball?  If so, any scheduling other than home games for one of the sides is doomed to failure.
  2. Or … Is it possible that the low attendance here is a combination of “less interest in women’s college basketball than men’s college basketball” plus “a minimal desire of folks to travel great distances to arrive in Lexington, OKC or Stockton?

If I consider the second of those questions to be interesting, one test would be to put all those regional final games in a much more attractive venue.  Meaning no disrespect to Bridgeport, Lexington, OKC and Stockton, Las Vegas probably gets more tourist interest in an average week than any of those cities gets in a year.  Just maybe there would be more interest in folks following their teams in tournament games if those tournament games were put in a more interesting setting.

Is the NCAA going to listen to this idea with an open mind?  Don’t hold your breath…

With the MLB season in full swing, I feel the need to advise you of new food offerings at various major league – and minor league – parks.  I shall do this in small doses lest the act of reading about these offerings causes you gastric upset.  Let me start at Citizens Bank Park in Philly:

  • The Triple Triple:  This is described as a 9×9 cheeseburger because it has 9 burger patties and 9 slices of cheese on a bun.  You add the condiments of your choice – or your daring.  This is a simple menu option – and one designed to get your cholesterol levels headed toward the 4-figure range.

Finally, with The Masters underway, here are two comments from Brad Rock of the Deseret News regarding that “tradition unlike any other…”:

“WalletHub.com reports the amount of time TV devotes to the Masters has increased from 2½ to 18 hours since 1956.

“Experts credit the increased airtime to Jim Nantz’s descriptions of the azaleas in bloom.”

And …

“WalletHub.com also says a green jacket for the Masters’ winner costs only $250, but Horton Smith’s blazer from 1934 sold for $682,000 at auction.

“This is also the difference between online pricing and what a car actually costs at the dealership.”

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

 

 

The Ratings Are In …

There is one more thing that needs to be said about March Madness 2017.  It certainly looks as if it was enjoyed by a lot of folks.  On average, the ratings on CBS and the associated TBS networks for the whole TV package were up 13% over 2016.  The final game between UNC and Gonzaga had ratings up 21%.  Based on early Nielsen ratings 24% of the TV sets in use during the game were tuned into the game.  The number of video streams sent out by the NCAA for the final game was up also.  Here is why I think that is important…

Ratings for the NBA so far this season are down.  Every time I run across a report of weekly ratings for NBA telecasts, the picture is not pretty and I believe that an important element of the NBA’s falling ratings is reflected in the March Madness increased ratings.  Tune in to see an NBA game that you have been anticipating because it is between two good teams and you just might see all the best players for one team in street clothes.  Since you do not have hundreds of dollars invested in arena tickets for that event, you just might turn the game off; moreover, you may not be so “anticipatory” about the next game between two good teams because you also read about other games where players “needed a rest”.

[Aside:  Back-to-back road games are the things that cause NBA players to “need rest”.  In the ACC tournament held in NYC, every team was on the road and to win the tournament, a team had to win 4 games in 4 nights.  No one needed a rest…]

In the college tournament games, you are going to see the best players even if they are injured and should take a rest.  In addition, those players are totally invested in the games in terms of focus and emotion.  After an NBA team loses a playoff series, you do not see tears; after a March Madness tournament loss, you see them frequently.  Even sitting in your living room, you can sense how important the game is to the college players vis a vis the pros.

NBA ratings will increase once the playoffs begin and as the playoffs proceed.  However, the huge money paid to the NBA for its TV deal is not going to be sustained if the only good ratings come in May and June but the airwaves are occupied from November to June.

Changing subjects … I am pleased to announce that our long national nightmare is over [ /Gerald R. Ford ].  We now know the answer to the question that has been smoldering for the last 8-10 weeks:

  • Whither Tony Romo?

Yesterday we learned that he will no longer be playing football on Sundays; he will be in the television booth doing color analysis for CBS on Sundays.  Romo will be paired with Jim Nantz as the #1 announcing team for CBS displacing Phil Simms from that chair; there was no explanation as to what Simms’ role with CBS – if any – will be starting this Fall.

[Aside:  There is a symmetry here.  Dak Prescott showed up as a rookie in Dallas and took Romo’s job causing Romo to retire and show up at CBS as a rookie where he took Phil Simms’ job.  Wheels within wheels…]

Tony Romo is in a challenging situation here.  The color analysts on the lead announcing teams at FOX and NBC are:

  1. Troy Aikman
  2. Cris Collinsworth.

Notwithstanding the fact that there are fans around the country who will swear that both Aikman and Collinsworth hate their favorite team, both of those men are excellent at what they do and they have been doing it for a long time.  Troy Aikman did not step into the lead analyst role straight out of the NFL; he did some “apprentice assignments” first.  Cris Collinsworth spent more than 5 years in various broadcasting roles before his ascension to the top slot.  Tony Romo is going to do this “cold” and the comparisons are inevitable.

Please note; I said Tony Romo is in a “challenging situation”.  I did not say he was doomed to failure or anything of the sort.  I am merely putting down a marker here to remind myself not to draw conclusions about his future after a game or two – – unless of course he comes out of the gate as the reincarnation of John Madden.  We shall see…

The MLB season is under way.  Baseball more than any other US sport celebrates its history as well as its present.  However, that is not to say that there cannot be changes in baseball even when it comes to an iconic venue that is part of the National Register of Historic Places – – Fenway Park.  The Red Sox played their first game in Fenway Park in April 1912. They did not broadcast that game for a simple reason; there were no radio stations in existence at the time; this is a place where one bathes in “baseball history”.

Notwithstanding all the above, Fenway Park has leaped from its beginnings in the early 20th century directly to the 21st century with this new addition:

  • A Virtual Reality Batting Cage:  According to the folks who run the stadium (Fenway Sports Group) this new feature will give fans a chance to ““feel what it’s like to take swings against Major League players at Fenway Park.”
  • Nothing says “2017” like “virtual reality” …

The folks at Fenway also made two gustatory additions for this year:

  1. The Tully Tavern:  This is a new full-service bar area named for and featuring Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.  This happens to be a whiskey to my liking so I would definitely check this out were I to get to a game in Fenway Park.
  2. Lobster Poutine:  One of the vendors will offer this concoction that I doubt I could resist.  I like lobster in just about any way other than as a topping for chocolate ice cream.  Poutine is a Canadian specialty made of French Fries, cheese curds and a light brown gravy; there is a restaurant in our area that makes this dish by frying the potatoes in duck fat; the word “spectacular” comes immediately to mind.  I have no idea how these folks might combine “lobster” and “poutine”, but I would surely give it a try if I saw it.

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News; I am in full agreement with his conclusion here:

“The Salt Lake Bees have announced their promotional schedule for 2017.

“Among the special nights are Golf Night, Frank Layden Night, ‘70s Night, Yoga Night, Star Wars Night and Singles Night.

“Considering the Bees had the second-worst record in the Pacific Coast League last year, maybe they should work on Win the Game Night.”

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

 

 

Congratulations To UNC …

Congratulations to the University of North Carolina as the men’s basketball national champions for 2017.  Before the tournament started I was sort of hoping for a final game that would be a rematch of UNC and Villanova from last year; that didn’t happen.  My bracket pick had a final game between UNC and Kansas; that did not happen either.  Gonzaga earned their place in the final game.

Having said all of the above, I told my game-watching companions as soon as the game was over that I thought it was not a particularly well-played game by either team; and moreover, I did not think that the game was well officiated. I said then – and I still believe – that the only saving grace for last night’s game from a viewer’s standpoint is that the game was close throughout.  Knowing that I have seen every final game on TV since 1954, one of my viewing companions asked if I meant this was the worst final game I had ever seen.  I said then I would have to sleep on that question because it would take time to dredge up memories.

As of this morning, I will say that the closeness of last night’s game assures that it cannot be the worst final game I ever saw because close games where the winner is in doubt down to the final minutes are universally better than blowouts.  I do not recall the year, but I do remember when Duke beat Michigan in the final game in a blowout; that was when Michigan had the Fab Five.  That game was no fun to watch.  I also recall when UNLV beat Duke by about 30 points in a final game.  That game was not fun to watch.  I remember one of John Wooden’s teams at UCLA (with Bill Walton at center) demolishing Memphis State.  That game was not fun to watch.

The only blowout final game that was fun for me to watch was my first one in 1954.  LaSalle beat Bradley by about 20 points but I loved the game because I was given dispensation from my parents to stay up and watch it even though it was long past my bedtime.  That game was “special” to me for that reason; it was sort of like having an extra New Year’s Eve in the year when I could stay up until close to midnight…

Switching gears …  One might think that the news value of items connected to the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas might calm down now that the NFL has approved the transfer of the franchise from Oakland.  Well, that might be wishful thinking.

The Raiders signed a lease in Oakland before the start of last season that gave the team access to the stadium in Oakland for last year and it contained two one-year options for the Raiders to extend that lease.  So, the Raiders have a place to play in 2017 and in 2018.  HOW-EVAH [ /Stephen A. Smith ] the new digs in Las Vegas may not be ready until after the 2019 season.  Aye, there’s the rub …  [ /Hamlet ]

The Executive-Director of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority told ESPN.com that it is unlikely they will be “welcomed back” in 2019.  I understand; in the immediate aftermath of the NFL vote that cost Oakland its team, there will be frayed nerves and hard feelings.  I also understand that this sort of statement can be the opening element of a potential future negotiation where the Coliseum Authority will want to extort a princely sum to extend that lease yet one more year.  Nonetheless, this is a storyline that is going to continue to be part of the news until and unless the new stadium in Las Vegas is ready for NFL games starting in September 2019.  Here is a link to the ESPN.com report:

Scott McKibben is the executive-director of the Coliseum Authority and he told USA Today that it would be financially beneficial to the Authority to have the Raiders play anywhere else in 2019.  McKibben said:

“It’s actually financially to our benefit if they didn’t exercise the options and play here even in the two years they’ve got [2017/18].”

Obviously, I have not seen the details of the lease that exists at the moment nor would I have access to the accounting for the Coliseum Authority.  However, that statement might lead one to assume that Messr. McKibben and his colleagues are doofuses.  Consider:

  1. They negotiated this lease with the Raiders about a year ago when the idea in the air was that the Raiders and Chargers would jointly move to LA and build their own stadium there.  The lease in question is not one that has been in existence for a long time such that the Coliseum Authority could not do an accurate projection of what it might cost to stage Raiders’ games in their facility in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
  2. If the Coliseum Authority knew the costs relatively accurately and still signed a lease that guaranteed that they would get less “rent” from the Raiders than their costs, then the Coliseum Authority is not exactly on speed dial from the folks at MENSA.
  3. Not being a resident of California or the Bay Area, I do not know the details of the Coliseum Authority, but its name suggests that it is an entity that acts on behalf of the local government and is somehow beholden to the local government.  If that is even vaguely correct, then Raiders’ fans have yet one more entity to draw their ire.  Not only will the team pick up and leave but they are going to be playing out their days in Oakland while putting a deficit number on the board for the local government to cover. Does that suck or what?

Frankly, I wonder how the fans in Oakland will support the Raiders after 2017.  I presume that most of the season ticket sales/renewals have been done by now so the finances for 2017 are relatively settled in.  But how about 2018?  The Coliseum Authority might be cool to the Raiders coming back in 2019; perhaps the fans will be cool to their coming back in 2018?

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times over the weekend putting a punctuation mark on the telecasts of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

“WBNS-TV viewers in Columbus, Ohio, missed the deciding moments of Sunday’s North Carolina-Kentucky regional title game — Malik Monk’s tying three and Luke Maye’s final-second winner — because its weather staff cut in to deliver news of a tornado warning for Franklin and Madison counties.

“Heidi was unavailable for comment.”

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

 

 

Sports Stew Today …

The UConn women lost in the semi-finals of the women’s tournament last Friday.  Mississippi St. played tenacious defense and won the game with a shot at the buzzer in overtime.  The win snapped UConn’s 111-game winning streak.  This was no fluke; Mississippi St. deserved to win this game.

According to this report in Saturday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, a bettor placed a $7000 wager on the UConn women to win the game on the money line.  Had they won, he would have collected $7100 – a $100 profit.  Instead, he is out the full $7K.  Meanwhile at the same casino, another bettor put $200 on Mississippi St. on the money line.  He collected $4200 – – a profit of $4K.

Someone sent an anonymous letter to the President of Coastal Carolina University alleging that members of the cheerleading squad

  1. Participated in prostitution,
  2. Purchased alcohol for underage members of the squad
  3. Paid others to do their homework.

The second and third entries on that list are not unheard of on college campuses; the first one however must have gotten the president’s attention because he suspended the cheerleading squad and they will not participate in competition scheduled for later this week.  The police have interviewed team members but as of this morning no charges have been filed.

This is either an extreme over-reaction on the part of the school or there is unreported information from the ongoing investigation into this matter.

If – – I said IF – – there is any substance to the allegation of prostitution by the cheerleaders, it gives new meaning to:

“Two bits; four bits, six bits a dollar …”

Gonzaga beat South Carolina by 4 points on Saturday with the game going pretty much to form.  When the Zags were able to run and/or to get open shots they scored; when they had to run pattern offense against South Carolina’s defense, they struggled.  Here is my conclusion based on that game and the rest of the tournament performances by South Carolina:

  • Frank Martin is a damned good basketball coach.

My pregame assessment of the UNC/Oregon game was off-base.  I thought that if Joel Berry did not have a top-shelf game, UNC would lose the game.   Berry had – for him – a less than mediocre outing but UNC still managed to win because Kennedy Meeks played at a level that I have not seen from him in the past several years – – let alone games.

I want to offer one more observation here that will probably draw some ire.  Dillon Brooks was named the PAC-12 Player of the Year.  He is a good player to be sure but I wonder if his tournament play lived up to the level of that accolade.

The line for tonight’s championship game is:

  • UNC – 2 (152.5):  I think this game will be a track meet so I would take the game to go OVER.

A CBSSports.com report says that Georgetown has agreed in principle with Patrick Ewing to become their new head basketball coach.  This hiring decision keeps the coaching position “in the Georgetown family” and it puts some extra pressure on Ewing to succeed with the program.  He was the anchor of the Georgetown team that was a fixture in the Final Four in the early 1980s before going on to his NBA career and his “return” to the Georgetown bench will necessarily draw comparisons.  Ewing has had plenty of assistant coaching experience in the NBA since his playing days ended but this will be his first time in the head coaching position.

Bonne chance, Patrick Ewing.

I read a report saying that Americans will bet $36B on baseball in the upcoming 2017 season and that the expected handle in Nevada casinos for baseball will be $2.1B.  the rest of the money will be wagered “illegally” through bookies and internet sites.  These estimates need to be taken with a grain of salt because they come from the AGA [American Gaming Association] which is a trade group representing casinos and gambling interests.  This group seeks to make sports betting legal and regulated in any jurisdiction that may want to have a sportsbook operate in the open.  While I agree with the goals of the AGA, I find the estimate of $36B bet on baseball hard to understand.

Finally, Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune is obviously unhappy with the Bears’ quarterback situation.  Consider this series of comments from his column, The Rosenblog:

“Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Tom Brady told him he wants to play another six or seven seasons.  That’s 24 starting quarterbacks in Bears years.”

And …

“After swooping down on Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon with what looks like a slick bit of bidding against themselves, the Bears completed their apparent forfeiture of the position by signing Cowboys castoff Mark Sanchez, and congratulations to the Bears:

“They’ve managed to make their quarterback signings feel worse than their actual quarterback play.”

And …

“My look at the Bears’ projected quarterback depth chart:

  1.    Mike Glennon

  2.    Whoever They Draft

  3.     Mark Sanchez

  4.     Your Name Here

  5.     David Fales

  6.     Some Guy Eating Cheetos On His Couch

  7.     Connor Shaw

  8.     That Guy Over There

  9.     Yeah, You.”

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

 

 

Final Four Weekend Approaches …

As the Final Four games approach, it is interesting to look back on the tournament form a perspective other than the games themselves.  ESPN had its bracket challenge contest this year where people picked the full brackets.  There were 18,797,075 entries in that contest and from that mass of entries only 657 of them had the Final Four predicted correctly.  In case your calculator battery is dead, those correct prognostications amount to 0.0035% of the total entries.

One other meaningless fact from the Final Four is that Oregon coach, Dana Altman, and South Carolina coach, Frank Martin, both had the head coaching job at Kansas State in the past.

  • Dana Altman was at K-State from 1990 to 1994; it was his first head coaching assignment at the collegiate level; the Wildcats made the tournament once under his guidance.  His overall record there was 68-54 but his record in conference games (the Big 8 at the time) was an unimpressive 19-37.  Since his days at K-State, Altman went to Creighton from 1995 until 2010 and used his success there to land the Oregon job from 2010 until now.  Since coming to Oregon, Altman’s teams have won 21 games or more in each season.
  • Frank Martin was at K-State from 2007 to 2012; like Altman, it was his first head coaching assignment at the collegiate level; the Wildcats made the tournament four years out of the five Martin was at K-State including one trip to the Elite 8.  His overall record there was 117-54 and his record in conference games (the Big 12 by this point) was 50-32.  Martin took the South Carolina job in 2012; this is the first of his teams there to make the NCAA tournament.

If there is some sort of link between the other two coaches in the Final Four – – Mark Few and Roy Williams – – I have not been able to discern it.  The only sort of link I can find for Mark Few is that he graduated from Oregon in 1987 but that was well before Dana Altman arrived in Eugene, OR.

The headline over Bob Molinaro’s column today reads:

“Is there a better bet than UConn women to win it all? That’s doubtful.”

Well, here are the betting lines as of this morning:

  • UConn wins the women’s national championship:  – 1050
  • Anyone else wins the women’s national championship:  +550

(Frankly, I am surprised the odds are that low.)

For tonight’s semi-final game in the women’s tournament, the line for UConn/Mississippi State is:

  • UConn – 21 vs. Mississippi St. (150)
  • Money lines are UConn – 4750 and Mississippi State +2375.

To answer Professor Molinaro’s rhetorical question from that headline above, the only things I can think of that are more likely than a UConn championship are outside the sports realm such as:

  • A senior White House official will say something dumb in the next week.
  • Democrats in the Congress would vote against a cure for cancer if it were discovered by Ivanka Trump.
  • You get the idea…

Switching attention to the NBA for a moment, there has been a sort of forced “debate” over the past several weeks in print and on sports radio about who should be the NBA MVP for this season.  As usual, the “debate” really comes down to different people having different criteria for what the “Most Valuable Player” is.  Consider:

  1. If you think that the MVP for a season is the best all-around player, then the NBA should just award it to LeBron James every year until such time as he is not clearly and conspicuously the best all-around basketball player on the planet.
  2. If you think that the MVP for a season is the best player on the team with the best record, please be quiet until you know which team has the best record at the end of the season and then the choice will be rather obvious.
  3. If you think that the MVP should be the player with the best stats for this year, then Russell Westbrook is your man because it looks as if he will average a triple-double for the season.  That has not happened since Oscar Robertson did it back in the 1960s.  Recognize, however, that the Thunder – despite Westbrook’s heroics – are probably not going to win 50 games for the year.
  4. If you think the MVP should be the player who led his team to a very good record for the year (better than 50 wins and maybe even better than 60 wins) but may not be as good all-around as LeBron James, then Kawai Leonard and James Harden come into the discussion.  [Aside, I think there is a real and serious debate to be had regarding those two players and this award.]

The problem with the “debates” that have been ongoing is that the creator/moderator of the debate never addresses the criteria that will be considered.  That results in people talking past one another usually in escalating volume levels which illuminates nothing.

Come to think of it, that description summarizes just about everything coming out of the US Congress today and for the past 10 years or so.  No one ever sets up a “debate” to argue about “MVC” or” Most Valuable Congressthing”.  If anyone ever does that, I think that I will move myself to a cave in the Andes in Patagonia.

Finally, I cited a headline from Bob Molinaro’s column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot above.  Here is a comment from within that column for your cogitation:

“Word play: So Mets reliever Jeurys Familia gets a 15-game suspension under MLB’s domestic-violence policy. Anybody else see the irony of a player named Familia being accused of domestic violence?”

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

 

 

Predicting the 2017 MLB Season

Baseball season starts early next week and here are my predictions for how the season will end in early October.  There will be lots of games and storylines and memorable moments between now and then, but here is how I see everything shaking out.

AL East:

  1. Boston:  Yes, they will miss David Ortiz.  However, the addition of Chris Sale to the starting rotation improves their pitching significantly.
  2. Toronto:  They are the “best of the rest” in the division.  A significant “comeback year” from Jose Bautista will let the Jays put pressure on the Red Sox.
  3. New York:  They are in the midst of a roster rebooting but their young players appear to be awfully good.  They cannot challenge the Jays or Red Sox … yet.
  4. Baltimore:  Chris Tillman is their top-of-the-rotation starter and he is on the shelf for now.  To win with their excellent bullpen, they need to have leads in games.
  5. Tampa:  I think the Rays are overmatched in this division and may be major sellers come the trading deadline.

AL Central:

  1. Cleveland:  Losing Mike Napoli cannot help the Indians but adding Edwin Encarnacion will help the Indians.
  2. Detroit:  This is a veteran team that is getting long in the tooth.  To finish this high, they must avoid the injury bug.
  3. KC:  I just do not think they have the talent to challenge the top of the division.  Losing Wade Davis over the winter surely did not help the team.
  4. Minnesota:  The Twins just have to be better than a 59-win team this year – – don’t they?
  5. Chicago:  How they plan to replace Adam Eaton and Chris Sale is not clear to me.  Maybe they can rise above the Twins in the division but nothing beyond that.

AL West:

  1. Texas:  They will win the division but will be pressed by the Astros all year long.
  2. Houston:  They spent a lot of money in the offseason adding veterans to their lineup.  A good comeback year from Dallas Keuchel would go a long way toward getting the Astros over the Rangers.
  3. Seattle:  The Mariners made lots of roster changes in the offseason but the fundamental success of the team rests on Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.
  4. LA:  Mike Trout is the best all-around player in MLB but there is not nearly enough around him to get the Angels anywhere near the top of the division.
  5. Oakland:  A strong comeback year by Sonny Gray could get the A’s over 70 wins this year – – or not.

My call for the wild-card team in the AL is the Houston Astros by a whisker over the Toronto Blue Jays.

NL East:

  1. Washington:  Adding Adam Eaton and Matt Wieters to a team that won 95 games last year equals another division title.  The Nats’ only shortcoming is their bullpen.
  2. NY:  The Mets need a big comeback year from Matt Harvey and the rest of the starting rotation to stay healthy all year long to be able to threaten the Nats.
  3. Atlanta:  The Braves won 68 games last year but they are my pick for most improved team in 2017.  I think this year is the start of a long and productive career for Dansby Swanson.
  4. Miami:  The accidental death of Jose Fernandez last year is more than this roster will be able to overcome.
  5. Philly:  Phillies only scored 610 runs last year; the next lowest total in MLB was 649 runs by the Braves.  I do not see any potential for an offensive explosion from that roster.

NL Central:

  1. Chicago: Kris Bryant is the second-best player in MLB today.  Unlike Mike Trout, he has plenty of talent around him and the Cubs should win this division in a walk.
  2. Pittsburgh:  Moving Andrew McCutcheon to RF may be the change of scenery he needs to have a bounce-back year.  Starling Marte will be a better defensive CF than McCutcheon was.  I think a big year is coming for Gregory Polanco…
  3. St. Louis:  The Cards won 86 games last year and might win 88 or 90 this year.  That will not be sufficient in this division.
  4. Milwaukee:  If the Brewers finish at .500 this year, the team should break out the champagne in the clubhouse.
  5. Cincy:  The Reds stunk last year and traded away Brandon Phillips.  I think they will stink again this year.

NL West:

  1. LA:  If there is a weakness on this team, I do not know what it is – – unless you count the potential for Yasiel Puig to “go rogue” at any moment.
  2. SF:  The Giants’ bullpen was awful last year leading MLB in blown saves.  I don’t know if the addition of Mark Melancon is sufficient to avoid that sort of ignominy again this year.
  3. Arizona:  The three bottom teams in this division are after-thoughts.  The D-Backs look like the best of the three to me – but they are not going to threaten either LA or SF for long.
  4. Colorado:  The Rockies can score and the Rockies’ opponents can also score.  Probably good to take the OVER in lots of Rockies’ games this year.
  5. San Diego:  The Padres have been torn down and need now to rebuild.  It is going to take time – lots more time than the 2017 season will allow.

My pick for the NL wild-card team is the NY Mets.  Obviously, if that starting rotation falls victim to injuries – – and at least 3 of the starters have a significant medical history – – this pick could be laughably wrong.

One other thing to note…  Two cities lost their NFL franchises since New Year’s Day; the Chargers left San Diego for LA and the Raiders are now cleared for takeoff from Oakland to Las Vegas.  The baseball season does not look to be a salve for sports fans in those cities because I think the Padres and the A’s are both going to win fewer than 70 games this year.

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle to set the tone for the upcoming MLB season:

“A fond adios to all those elderly Cubbie fans who say, ‘Now I can die happy!’ It’s called ‘thinning the herd.’”

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

 

 

Some Of This … Some Of That …

Yesterday in discussing the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas and where they will play while the new stadium there is constructed, I said:

“The Raiders do have a short-term lease deal with Oakland to continue using the Coliseum there.  Having said that, I will not be surprised to read any time soon that someone will find a clause in that contract that purportedly voids the entire deal if the Raiders make a deal to leave the city.  That will go to court – and probably take at least 2 years to get anywhere near a trial – and in the end the team will likely settle with the city for a pittance because the stadium in Las Vegas is ready.”

Well, the first part of that seems to be in motion already.  Last evening, I found this report in the San Francisco Business Times and it says that “Oakland officials” have already begun to study their options regarding lawsuits against the Raiders.  Everything now is in the “posturing phase”; do not be shocked in the near future to hear that Raiders’ fans in Oakland are also studying their legal options.  Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circuses may be going away very soon; this circus will go on for at least another year or two.

There is another NFL story that has been overshadowed by the hoopla surrounding the Raiders’ move.  On the assumption that Roger Goodell and league officials can make all of this happen effectively, the NFL is looking into ways to speed up the games and make them more “viewer-friendly”.  Here is a link to what the league is trying to do at NFL.com.

One suggested way to avoid long breaks in the action is to stop having the referee run to the sidelines to go “under the hood” to watch replays when a play is under review.  The proposal is to have the referee review the play on the field with a tablet computer and for the referee and NFL Central in New York to make the decision right there.  This is not going to save a lot of time but – assuming that it works properly – it will be better than the situation we have now.

Another change contemplated is to reduce the number of commercial breaks in the games and simultaneously to increase the length of those breaks to accommodate the same number of ads.  In terms of “pace of play” or “action content” with regard to NFL games, there is just about nothing less interesting than this sequence of events:

  1. Team A scores.
  2. Commercial break
  3. Team A kicks off (often a touchback)
  4. Commercial break
  5. Team B puts the ball in play at their own 25-yardline

That is between 4 and 5 minutes of tedium in a game and if the NFL can find ways to avoid that sort of thing – without having to give money back to their “broadcast partners” – fans should stand and applaud.

NBA Commish, Adam Silver told ESPN that he thinks there will be a female head coach in the NBA one of these days and he thinks it should be sooner not later.  He said that he felt a responsibility to make that happen.  He is correct in saying that there will be a woman in that role in the NBA in the future.  What I do not understand is why he thought he needed to inform the world of this matter.  There have been women head coaches in professional basketball in the D-League; Nancy Lieberman held that position for several years and is now on the coaching staff of the Sacramento Kings.  Becky Hammon is on the coaching staff of the San Antonio Spurs.  It is not as if no woman has ever been in that sort of a job in the history of the world.

From my point of view, the problem he creates by saying what he did is simple:

  • The NBA Commissioner should have exactly no role whatsoever in who gets hired or fired in a head coaching job in the league.

Yes, I know that the Commish might have to stop in if a team decided to hire Charles Manson as its coach or even Tim Donaghy as its coach.  But neither of those things is going to happen so Adam Silver’s insertion into this sort of hiring decision is not welcome nor is it helpful.

It is not as if the NBA Commissioner has nothing to do these days.  There are several things going on in the NBA that need fixing.  Here are a couple:

  • When star players decide they need a rest in a road game, the fans are cheated.  Do not sugar-coat what happens in these cases.  Fans pay a premium price to see stars on visiting teams play in the fans’ home arenas and then the stars show up in street clothes.  That would be called bait-and-switch if done by just about any other commercial enterprise.  It happens in the NBA; it is permitted by the NBA; it is not a positive thing for the NBA.
  • Just as bad – if not worse – is the entire issue of tanking.  I know it happens; you know it happens; the NBA knows it happens – – but the NBA will not admit it happens and the NBA continues to make tanking a viable strategy for its teams.

If Adam Silver thinks it is worth his time and energy to assure that there is a woman in a head coaching position in the NBA “sooner and not later”, then maybe he also needs to spend time and energy improving the nature of the NBA owners.  Getting rid of Donald Sterling did no harm to the NBA; I doubt that many fans would argue with that assertion.  However, there are still folks in ownership in the league whose behaviors do not reflect well on the league.  Seeing a qualified woman as a head coach in the NBA would be a good thing; seeing new ownership in a couple of places – – like NY and Sacramento and Brooklyn – – would also be a good thing.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from a week ago:

“NASCAR runs today in Phoenix. It will be loud. I won’t watch.”

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

 

 

The Las Vegas Raiders …

In case you had not heard, the Oakland Raiders have been unhappy with their stadium there and applied to move out of Oakland to Las Vegas.  The NFL owners approved that move yesterday.  The new digs in Las Vegas will not be ready for at least 2 years – and perhaps 3 – so the question of where the Raiders will play home games becomes the next potential saga.

The Raiders do have a short-term lease deal with Oakland to continue using the Coliseum there.  Having said that, I will not be surprised to read any time soon that someone will find a clause in that contract that purportedly voids the entire deal if the Raiders make a deal to leave the city.  That will go to court – and probably take at least 2 years to get anywhere near a trial – and in the end, the team will likely settle with the city for a pittance because the stadium in Las Vegas is ready.

Another interesting angle to how this story played out is that it appears to me that Sheldon Adelson was used in the process.  Adelson pledged $650M to the deal and then threw some weight around to get the Governor and the State Legislature to approve a hotel tax in Las Vegas to come up with another $750M.  Then the Raiders and/or the league itself did what needed to be done to get Adelson to walk away from the deal only to have Bank of America step in to fill the $650M funding shortfall.  That seems awfully convenient to me…

I read a report that said coaches were already planning on what to do and where to stay to keep their teams out of trouble and ready to play when they visit Las Vegas.  Obviously, if they are worried about “the dreaded distractions”, teams will not stay on The Strip but frankly, this seems like a “manufactured worry”.  Think about it for a moment:

  1. Visiting teams have been playing in Miami since 1966.  The homefield advantage for the Dolphins is not much better than normal NFL homefield advantage.  There are plenty of “dreaded distractions” and ways for players to “get in trouble” in Miami.  Teams do not stay in Port St. Lucie to keep the players out of harm’s way.
  2. Visiting teams have been playing in New Orleans since 1967.  Change “Dolphins” to “Saints” in the above and realize that teams do not stay in Pascagoula MS to keep players out of harm’s way.

There is the potential for a long-term problem with this move.  The Raiders are a peripatetic franchise; this is the third time they have gone from one city to another.  If they happen to move out of Las Vegas somewhere down the road, someone might want to point out to the City Fathers there that the move would disprove their marketing slogan:

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…

There was another report yesterday that caught my eye simply because it has the potential for future material here.  Coincidentally, it also involves the city of Oakland.  José Canseco is going to be part of the Oakland A’s television team; he will do analysis for the pre-game and post-game shows for A’s games this season.  You may recall that during the Presidential Campaign of 2016, Canseco “volunteered” to be the Chairman of the Federal Reserve for then-candidate Trump.  Canseco said he had a plan to grow the economy by 25% – instead of the meager 1-2% we have experienced in the last10 years and the slightly better 2.5-3 we have seen since WW II.  I presume that he is taking the job in Oakland because he has gotten word that he will not be on the short list to replace Janet Yellen when her term expires at The Fed.  For the record, her term will expire in early 2018…

There is a storyline that has been out and about for the last several weeks or months that I have tired of.  The narrative goes like this:

  • Jerry Jones is best buddies with Tony Romo; and that in the end, Jones will “do right” by Romo.

Since each person is free to define what “doing right” means here, the storyline is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  That is annoying on its own, but there is another part of this story that does not ring right to me.

  • My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that Jerry Jones and the Cowboys have paid Tony Romo about $115M to play for the Cowboys since 2004.
  • Might we agree that Jones has already “done right” by Romo?

As the MLB season gets closer, we will enter that time of year when a huge annoyance is perpetrated on sports fans.  If you go to a baseball game this season, you will likely be exposed to a gimmick that might have been cute back in the 80s – which is the timeframe that I first remember this nonsense – but it has outlived its “usefulness” and has become a pain in the ass.  I am talking of course about Kiss Cam.

There is nothing “cute” about Kiss Cam. In its most benign form, it is intrusive and voyeuristic.  And that is as good as it will ever get.  From that lofty perch of intrusive and voyeuristic, the Kiss Cam descends to a logical offshoot which is even more cringe-worthy.  In this obviously staged event, one party proposes marriage to the other party on camera in the presence of tens of thousands of people they do not know.  Whoop-di-damned-doo!

Look, if proposing marriage in front of 25,000 is OK, then why not hold the ceremony at the pitcher’s mound during the 7th inning stretch and then invite everyone to join in watching the consummation of the marriage later that night?  You know, there is sufficient facial recognition software technology available today to enforce a lifetime ban from any sports stadium or arena for everyone who proposes marriage on camera.  Do we need legislation to make that happen or will an Executive Order do?

Finally, since Oakland was the focus for a couple of topics today, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle regarding the public view of Oakland A’s management:

“Consumer watchdogs warn A’s fans not to fall in love with those food trucks at the Coliseum this season.  ‘If the Jamaican taco truck becomes wildly popular,’ warns one consumer advocate who has studied A’s management over the years, ‘the A’s are sure to trade it for a fried-whale-blubber-on-a-stick truck.’”

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