Strange Doings Today …

Well, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned things around last night. They dominated the Warriors about as thoroughly as the Warriors had dominated them in the first two games. Perhaps an interesting final series is on the menu …

Until yesterday, I believed that everyone over the age of 12 realized the professional wrestling was a fantasy and not actual carnage and brutality. Then I read a report about a woman in Georgia who was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after she pulled a loaded gun and pointed it at the “bad guy” in a match. Yes, she did that…

This was a match put on by the American Wrestling Federation between Paul Lee (the bad guy) and Iron Mann (the good guy). At one point in the match Lee had managed to tie Iron Mann up and was hitting Iron Mann with a chair. The lady in the audience had exchanged words with the bad guy during the match but at that point she had had all she could take. She entered the ring with a knife and cut Iron Mann free and pointed the loaded gun at Lee. According to reports, there was a round in the chamber and the safety was off.

As things evolved – before the gendarmes arrived and restored a semblance of order – the woman also pointed the gun at the “commissioner” of the American Wrestling Federation in attendance. The fact that the commissioner was identified as “Robbie Rude” would lead me to suspect that he was part of plot for the evening that wound up with Iron Mann tied up and taking chair shots.

Lest you think I am making this up – or embellishing the story – you can check out the newspaper report of the incident here.

OK, that was outrageous enough and on a normal day, it would be the only outrageous item to report. However, there is another report that came out yesterday in the Seattle Times that scores highly on the Scurrilous Scale. As I go through the explanation of what happened here, please do not forget that this is a HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PROGRAM. This is not big time college football or professional football where revenue streams amounting to tens of millions of dollars are involved.

Bellevue High School is in a northern suburb of Seattle and the football team has been a powerhouse over recent years; it has been the state champion 11 times in the past 15 years. It now faces a 4-year ban on any postseason play on the basis of an investigation that uncovered “significant and long-standing violations”. Here are some of the issues:

    Families provided false addresses to have players eligible to play for that school and that team.

    Some players were “directed” to an alternative school where they took courses that guaranteed them good grades so they could stay eligible. One of the players told investigators that a teacher provided him with the answers to tests and that the alternative school was “day care” for the players.

    The head coach gave cash – collected from team boosters – to the family of at least one player.

Remember, this is HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

The school has the right to an appeal; it is not clear to me at the moment if they will do that. Here is a link to the report in the Seattle Times about this matter and in that report you can find the full investigative report. It is more than 60 pages long; I did not read all of it but the part that I did read indicates that the investigators were competent and dedicated to their task. I suggest you read the summary report in the Seattle Times if you do not have the time or the stomach to read the full investigative report.

The fact of corruption and payoffs related to FIFA is not mysterious. While I was on hiatus in the UK, I read a report in the Sunday Telegraph that shows the level of concern that has been generated about that. We saw the defrocking of Sepp Blatter and then we had the name of his successor show up in the “Panama Papers”. FIFA has not cornered the market on sleaze but they do have a large inventory of it.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, England could be forbidden to host future World Cup Tournaments, European Championships and/or Champions League Finals if the English Football Association (FA) “continues to resist reform”. The way that would be enforced is that the government would refuse to sanction the FA hosting action. The English government has a position titled Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; that is far too cumbersome for newspapers and so it is known there as the Culture Secretary. The current incumbent is a Member of Parliament, John Whittingdale, and he said that the FA would stop getting the £30M it receives from the government every 4 years if the FA did not reform its governance structure.

I mentioned that the English government was poised to block any move by the FA to host a major soccer event. The way they can do that is to refuse to allow various lucrative tax breaks that are important conditions that FIFA or UEFA demand as part of the deal to place those events in the selected countries. Evidently, the government has been pushing the FA for reforms for a while now. Back in 2005, the FA received a report that it commissioned from Lord Burns recommending wide-ranging reforms and changes to the FA structure and governance. In the intervening years, the members and the governors of the FA have resisted all attempts to implement any changes.

Finally, since I mentioned a serious report in the Seattle Times above, let me close with a not so serious observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Ex-Washington QB Robert Griffin III’s mansion in Aldie, Va., is up for sale, with an asking price of $2.75 million.

In keeping with the theme, it’s actually $3 million, but you get a quarter back.

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

Speak For Yourself?

According to a report in the Washington Post, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock are going to team up on FS1 to do a “debate show” akin to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. The working title for the new show is Speak for Yourself and it is supposed to hit the air sometime this month.

The time slot for the new show was not mentioned but I would think that FS1 would find a way not to put its new show up against Pardon the Interruption directly. According to ratings, PTI is ESPN’s most popular program other than game telecasts. Moreover, Colin Cowherd does a radio/TV simulcast program for FOX from noon to 3:00 PM every weekday and the reports are that he will continue to do that program. That being the case, it would seem logical that the new program would best start several hours after the radio program ended in order to allow for prep time with Whitlock for the program.

Interestingly, both Cowherd and Whitlock used to work for ESPN and both of them left recently “under a cloud”. Cowherd made some remarks on his ESPN program that many folks took as derogatory toward baseball players from the Dominican Republic. Whitlock was supposed to be the guy in charge of ESPN’s site TheUndefeated.com but problems arose in that enterprise supposedly related to Whitlock’s managerial style. All of that is water under the bridge; these two commentators will try to re-create the style that makes PTI so successful. [Aside: It has been on the air for 15 years now.]

I will tune in to sample the program once it is on the air. I realize that some folks will tune in to see these two innately polarizing figures collide with one another. Both of these guys have loyal followers/acolytes and both of them have dedicated antagonists who would find fault with either one even if he announced that he had a cure for cancer. In my case, the reason I want to tune in is that both Cowherd and Whitlock are interesting figures for a very simple reason:

    Both of them make me think about events in the sports world beyond the initial reaction that is governed by emotion. Often, they can each provide a viewpoint that reminds me that thinking is best done by one’s brain and not by one’s glands.

Having said that, the bar for success here is rather high. The reason PTI is so entertaining is that there is a long-standing and genuine friendship between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon going back to their days as columnists at the Washington Post for about 35 years. That friendship comes through in the midst of their “debates” and it is noticeably absent when either of them is replaced on the program by some other ESPN figure. The challenge for Cowherd and Whitlock will be to create a similar atmosphere such that their “debates” do not appear to be contrived.

You probably read reports from last weekend that Broncos’ CB, Aqib Talib, had been shot in the leg outside a nightclub in Dallas and had been taken to a hospital. As of this morning, the Dallas police do not have a suspect in custody in the case and there are reports that Talib has not been particularly helpful. According to a TV station in Dallas, Talib told the police that he was too drunk to recall any details of the incident and that he was shot in a park and not outside a nightclub. Whatever…

    [Aside: Let us hope that he had a designated driver with him or was sober enough to call a cab for his transportation home that night…]

Surrounding all of this fluff are some hints that Talib may have shot himself in the leg. If that is true, that would put him in an exclusive NFL club joining Plaxico Burress in the Self-Inflicted Wound Society. The Dallas TV station also reported that the bullet took “an interesting path”; given that the venue is Dallas, the idea of a bullet taking an “interesting path” is hauntingly familiar. Supposedly, this bullet entered the rear of Talib’s thigh and exited through his calf. He has been released from the hospital and is expected to recover fully; this is not going to be career threatening or life threatening. However, the matter is not yet ready to conclude…

Also over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox acquired pitcher, James Shields, from the Padres in exchange for two minor league prospects. The White Sox started the season like gangbusters and were on pace to win more than 100 games this season for a while there. The recent weeks have not been nearly as kind to Sox fans; as of this morning, the team is at .500 and they sit in 4th place in the AL Central. The reason they are not in 5th place is that the Twins have already staked their claim on that position in the standings for 2016.

The Sox can use help in the rotation. Mat Latos started the season looking as if he would contend for the Cy Young Award; he allowed only 2 earned runs in his first 4 starts. However, he has regressed to the mean and has an ERA of 4.62 as of this morning. Miguel Gonzales has only pitched 34.1 innings in 7 games this year; that puts the bullpen for the Sox in play and the fact is that they do not have a great bullpen. The addition of Shields should help because he is an “innings eater”. Since 2007, he has thrown more than 202 innings in every season and he carries a career ERA of 3.76.

There is an interesting angle to the trade beyond the help the Sox hope to get from it. One of the minor league players they gave to the Padres is Fernando Tatis, Jr. His father is also named Fernando Tatis, Jr. and “Father” Fernando holds a distinction in baseball history. “Father” Fernando did something that I suspect will never happen again.

    In 1989, playing for the Cardinals, “Father” Fernando hit two grand slam homeruns in the same inning off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park.

    “Father” Fernando had an 11-year career in MLB as a shortstop hitting .265 with a career OPS of .785. More than likely, the Padres hope that “Son” Fernando can duplicate “Father” Fernando’s accomplishments.

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

“Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is engaged to Kate Upton. Just when you think a guy who’s paid millions of dollars to work every five days couldn’t get luckier.”

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

The NBA Finals So Far…

The NBA Finals are underway and the Warriors have dominated the first two games; actually, “dominated” is an understatement. From what I have seen – I saw the first game after the fact because of a social engagement – the Cavaliers look absolutely overmatched in this series. It is hard to understand how that can be given how good the Cavs have looked during most of the regular season and in the earlier rounds of these playoffs. Nonetheless, that has been the case.

The Cavaliers have one “all-time great” player and two “really, really good players” as the core of the team. Normally, that makes a team competitive with anyone else in the league but the Cavaliers have been anything but threatening in either Game 1 or Game 2. The Cavs cruised to having the best record in the NBA East this year and swept two of their previous playoff opponents. Now they look only marginally better than the Knicks.

To make things worse, the Warriors are dominating the series without getting any super-human production from either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. They are, however, getting super-human production from Draymond Green (the MVP of Games 1 and 2 without much doubt) and from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Let me give you a couple of cumulative stats to demonstrate what I mean by “domination”:

    Warriors 55 assists – – Cavs 32 assists

    Warriors’ points in the paint 104 – – Cavs’ 82

      Note: This is the area where the Warriors are supposed to be “vulnerable”.

    Cavs shooting from the floor is below 37% (60 for 163).

In Game 2, the Cavs tried to play up-tempo with the Warriors; whoever thought that was a good idea is living in a delusion. The Warriors have beaten the Cavs in their last 7 games now; that means the Cavs face two significant challenges:

    1. How are they going to win a couple of games to make this series look respectable?

    2. How are they going to find a way to blame this debacle on David Blatt?

The NBA gave the teams an extra day off between Game 2 and Game 3 so perhaps the Cavs should use that day to fly someone to Lourdes and back. There are probably good connecting flights through JFK Airport…

Notwithstanding all of the above, the line the morning for Game 3 of this series – to be played in Cleveland tomorrow night – is Warriors – 1. It will be interesting to see how much if any that line moves over the next 36 hours…

Changing the subject to the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, here is an item from the May 30 issue of Sports Illustrated:

    Forty-two (42) condoms per athlete will be available at the Rio Olympics. 450,000 condoms will be placed in the athlete villages – more than triple the number than at London Games in 2012.

    [Insert your own punchline here…]

News Flash! There has been a Keith Olbermann sighting. Evidently, he will be writing for TheRinger.com; he has a piece there related to his interactions over the years with Muhammad Ali. I thought it was a good read; you can find it here.

You can find “listicles” on loads of websites with some variation on the theme:

    Which NFL teams have the worst QB situations?

I will resist any temptation to do anything like that until much closer to the NFL regular season when injury situations and starting QBs are known. However, I must say that I find two of the NFL QB situations more than a bit strange:

    The NY Jets impasse with Ryan Fitzpatrick: Look, it is not as if either party in this squabble has any other legitimate options. Fitzpatrick has said he will play on a 1-year contract for $12M; there are no reports out there indicating that any other NFL team has made him an offer anywhere in the neighborhood of that number. On the other hand, the Jets have 3 QBs on the roster and none of them should get fans’ juices flowing:

      Geno Smith: Getting sucker-punched last year thereby opening the door for Fitzpatrick to start was his greatest contribution to the Jets in his career.

      Bryce Petty: Has never seen the field in a real NFL game.

      Christian Hackenberg: Has never seen the field even in an NFL exhibition game.

    The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning retired; Brock Osweiler took a huge contract offer from the Texans. Currently on the roster:

      Mark Sanchez: Really? For all 16 games? Mark Sanchez?

      Trevor Siemian: In one game last year he attempted zero passes and ran the ball 1 time for minus-1 yard.

      Paxton Lynch: Just drafted this year, he probably has a bit of a learning curve moving up to the NFL from the American Athletic conference.

    Yes, I realize that the Broncos won with their dominating defense last year but even the greatly diminished Peyton Manning inspired more confidence than any of the trio above. Oh, and that dominating defense has been weakened to some extent by players signing elsewhere and by Aqib Talib getting shot in the leg in a barroom fight.

As I said, those QB situations look a tad off-center to me…

Finally, I found this item in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score, recently:

“Richmond, B.C., blogger TC Chong weighs in on the fight of the week: ‘Odor was handed an eight-game suspension for his part in the brawl with the Blue Jays. This will give him enough time to sign an endorsement contract with Hawaiian Punch. Not to be outdone, look for Bautista to sign a contract with Odor Eaters.’”

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

RIP Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali died last week. His passing was properly “above the fold” news on the front page as well as on the sports page in most US newspapers. There are celebrity/athletic/cultural icons whose passing is important news across multiple segments of our society. Ali was such an icon.

Many of the best writers of the day wrote a eulogy for Ali and/or memoirs of their interactions with him over the weekend. I will not even try to add anything to their words and their memories.

Rest in peace, Muhammad Ali…

In the beginning of May, the NY Yankees were in last place in the AL East. At that time, they were on pace to lose more than 100 games this season and no Yankees team had done that since 1912. As a reference point, William Howard Taft was the President in 1912.

The Yankees’ GM, Brian Cashman, was majorly displeased with the team record and the team performance at that point and he told the NY Times that there was just so long that one could put up with that sort of nonsense and at some point it had to stop. When I read about this a few weeks ago, I was not sure if this was some sort of “Cover Your Ass” maneuver on the part of Cashman as he sought to focus blame on the players and the manager for the un-Yankee-like performance to start the season. Or perhaps, this malaise was a coded message to the Yankees’ roster that any or all of them could be shipped out to “the hinterlands” of MLB if things did not get better.

I made a note to myself at the time I read the reports about this that perhaps Brian Cashman was getting ninth-dimensional communications from George Steinbrenner about doing something with the current Yankees’ roster – even if it meant trading away hugely over-paid players to other teams and having the Yankees eat a majority of the salary that the player would get with his new team.

That was then; this is now. In the intervening weeks, the Yankees have escaped the cellar in the AL East; at the moment, the Yankees are solidly ensconced in 4th place in the AL East which is made up of 5 teams. [Outside NYC people will note that they are precisely one-half game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, but that puts them in 4th place in the AL East and not 5th place.] However, the Yankees are the only team in that division who sports a sub-.500 record against the other teams in that division. For the record, that is not a good thing…

You can blame the Yankees’ players on the field for most – if not all – of this mess; the lack of performance is something the players need to own; the Yankees’ record to date is not a fundamental shortcoming of manager Joe Girardi. You could also – if you were cynical bastard – lay the blame at the feet of the GM who assembled the roster that manager Joe Girardi has to put out on the field every day. Here is how I see the Yankees’ problems.

In previous years, the Yankees behaved like – well, the Yankees – and signed god players who were well into their careers to huge contracts that spread out over long periods of time. When a team does that, the realistic expectation ought to be that the player will do well for the early and middle years of that contract but “underperform” in the later years as Father Time catches up with him. It appears to me that is the case with the 2016 NY Yankees; their opening day payroll was $225.9M; the team is performing like a bargain-basement squad. Consider:

    CC Sabathia: Signed in 2012 to a 5-year deal, he is making $25M this year. His record is 3-4 with a respectable 2.58 ERA. The problem is that he is not performing at the “$25M-level” at age 36. For the record, Sabathia has a vesting option in his contract that will guarantee him another $25M next year if he:

      1. does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury,

      2. does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or

      3. does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury.

    Mark Teixeira: Signed in 2009 to an 8-year contract that runs out at the end of this season, he is making $22.5M this year. For that, the Yankees are getting a guy who is hitting .180 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs in 48 games.

    Alex Rodriguez: His contract also runs through the end of the 2017 season. He is making $20M this year – plus incentives – and will make another $20M next year – plus incentives. A-Rod is 40 years old; he is hitting .211 so far this year in only 29 games. He has struck out 36 times and walked only 7 times.

    Brian McCann: Signed in 2014 to a 5-yeqar contract, McCann is making $17M this year and will do so through the end of the 2018 season. He is 32 years old and in 45 games this year he is hitting .220.

    Brett Gardner: Signed in 2015 to a contract that runs through the 2018 season, Gardner is making $13M this season. He is 32 years old and in 51 games this year he is hitting .237 with 5 HRs and 12 RBIs.

I am not trying to pick on those players; those are the stats and the salaries and I think it is fair to say that these 5 guys are underperforming their salary levels; in combination, these guys make $97.5M.

So, who created this situation? Was this Cashman’s doing to sign these guys to deals whereby they would all be here for “declining years” at the same time – and with contracts that would make them untradeable even if they did not have trade protection clauses? Or was this an “ownership” initiative?

Ultimately the fault lies with the players on the field. The manager, Joe Girardi in this case, might come in for some blame if he made bad in-game moves on a routine basis but he cannot be held responsible for the population of the roster. It will be interesting – at least to me – to see what the Yankees do with Carlos Beltran at the end of this season. Beltran is 39 years old now and is making $15M. Compared to the stats above, he is far closer to earning his money; he is hitting .269 and slugging .568. Might the Yankees be tempted to give him a 3-year deal?

Lest any Yankees’ fans think that I am picking on the team, the phenomenon of giving expensive long-term deals to players at points in the players’ careers where the final years would be “underperforming” the salary is not limited to the Yankees. Let me cite one other specific example to demonstrate that case.

    Ryan Howard (Phillies): Signed in 2012 to a contract that expires at the end of this season, Howard is making $25M this year. He is 36 years old and at the moment, he is on the bench much of the time because he is hitting .151 and slugging .336.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald got some mileage from a very reliable source – José Canseco’s Twitter feed:

“Jose Canseco tweeted that when a “yellow stone” park volcano blows it’ll destroy the continental U.S. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to get my scientific forecasts from people who know that ‘Yellowstone’ is one word.”

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

I Was Ahead Of My Time…

Back in the late 60’s, I was toiling away on research for my dissertation in a chem lab. There were moments of successful results mixed in with hours of tedium and lack of results and one of the things that a few of us grad students would do was to come up with ideas for a career that did not project to be a lifetime of that sort of laboratory plodding. I remember once coming up with the idea of starting a mutual fund – only it would not invest in stocks and bonds. I named my “fund” the Exacta Fund and its investment objectives would be to play exactas on horse races around the country and have the net asset value of the fund go up and down depending on the success from day to day. It did not seem to me to be such a radical departure from buying shares on the NYSE…

Of course it was all a fantasy and a way to deflect attention from our research travails – except now it appears as if something very much like the Exacta Fund is coming to reality. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal [where else?], Chris Connelly has founded Contrarian Investments LLC. It is a “sports betting entity” that became legal in Nevada last June. For the moment, Connelly only bets on pro football, college football, pro basketball and college basketball games.

There are now six such investment possibilities in Nevada. You can read about them and how this fits into the Nevada wagering industry here.

Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time knows that I think the Pro Bowl – and all other All-Star Games – are meaningless twaddle. Nevertheless, there is news regarding the Pro Bowl that deserves commentary.

    1. The Pro Bowl will revert to the format of AFC versus NFC in 2017. The idea of having Hall of Fame players choose up sides from the players who chose to show up for the game was supposed to increase interest in the game. It did not; the idea was stupid from the start; now the NFL is going back to the original format which is also stupid – but not as stupid.

    2. Starting in 2017, the home of the Pro Bowl will be Orlando, FL. Starting in the mid-70s the game was always in Honolulu – except for one time in Miami and one time in Glendale, Arizona. I have not been able to detect any cries of pain and angst from the good folks in Hawaii over “losing” this spectacle which indicates to me that they really don’t care all that much about the change of venue.

    3. Orlando is a perfect place to hold the Pro Bowl. It is city whose economy is driven by theme parks that deliver fantasy experiences to customers. The Pro Bowl will provide a fantasy football experience for anyone who buys a ticket and goes to the stadium for the game. It fits like a glove…

Last week, The Big Lead reported that Chris Berman would be leaving ESPN – retiring – at the end of the upcoming football season. Berman’s agent subsequently denied the report saying that Berman is too young to retire – he just turned 61 – and that Berman loves his job. Time will tell if the report was accurate or not but when I read the report it got me to thinking of some of the nicknames that Berman has given to athletes in his years on the air. Three that I remember and really enjoy are:

    Eric “Sleeping With” Bienemy
    Odibe “Young Again” McDowell
    Von “Purple” Hayes

Bill Simmons’ new website – The Ringer.com – has launched and it looks interesting. As with his previous venture, Grantland.com, the site features long-form articles on sports and entertainment. One of the early offerings is by Bryan Curtis under the headline “Meet Joe Buck”. I thought it was very well done and I commend it to your reading.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and play their games in Appleton, WI. If you have never been to that part of the world, Appleton is about halfway between Green Bay and Oshkosh. The Timber Rattlers are worthy of mention here because of a few of their culinary offerings at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. [Seriously, that is the name of their ball park.] Should you find yourself in the neighborhood and in search of dinner, consider:

    The Meatlover’s Pizza Burger: Here is how you construct one of these. You take two pieces of pepperoni and sausage pizza; then, you stick a bacon cheeseburger between the two of them and eat it as a sandwich. For dessert, might I suggest 40 mg of Crestor…?

    Grilled Cheese Venom Cheeseburger: The ”bun” for this burger is comprised of two grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheeseburger between those two “bun components” also has four slices of pepperjack cheese, jalapenos and an optional shot or two of sriracha sauce. With all that cheese, you may not be regular until Halloween…

    Big Mother Funnel Burger: You guessed it. This bad boy features a bacon cheeseburger in a giant funnel cake – sprinkled with powdered sugar to be sure. I wonder if one should have a Bordeaux or a Burgundy with this concoction…

Finally, since I mentioned Contrarian Investments LLC and gambling entities above, let me close today with an observation from noted curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce:

“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.”

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

The Final Mess In Waco?

While I was gone, the Baylor football program entered and executed self-destruct mode. The idea that winning football games was sufficiently important so as to justify the covering up of sexual assaults by players who would make said winning of football games more likely is unspeakably horrendous. Sadly, that seems to have been the case at Baylor. I feel no sorrow for the coach, the athletic director or the university president who all took a hit in this matter; all that happened to them was to lose a job or to have their range of authorities circumscribed as a result of this matter. To my mind, that is a small price for them to pay.

As scurrilous as this recent situation was, there is a historical piece to this which – believe it or not – makes this only the second worst scandal in Baylor athletics. Back in 2003, the Baylor basketball coach was Dave Bliss. The short version of the Dave Bliss saga is:

    Bliss had a kid transfer to Baylor when there was no scholarship for him but he arranged for the tuition to be paid ‘under the table’.

    The kid was found shot to death – it turns out a teammate was found guilty of that act sometime in the future.

    To cover up the “under the table payments”, Bliss orchestrated a cover story that the victim was dealing drugs and that the shooting was drug-related.

    An assistant coach secretly taped one of the coaches’ staff meetings that detailed how the cover-up/stonewalling would work and it all unraveled.

Back in August 2003, I wrote about the situation at Baylor as it was unfolding. Lest you think that I am exaggerating what I thought of Dave Bliss back then as a way to minimize any criticism of the current miscreants at Baylor, here is one paragraph from my rant then:

“I will not reserve any judgment on Dave Bliss. I have to admit that I never thought that I would be alive long enough to say that Jerry Tarkanian needs to haul his ass out of the bull’s eye that is reserved for the lightning bolt that I want to hit the all of the sleazy coaches in collegiate athletics. Until last weekend, Tark had been in that spot so long that I thought his feet would have taken root in the bull’s eye. Tark is antediluvian pond slime; Dave Bliss would need about a billion years to evolve up the biological ladder to reach that lofty status.”

Perhaps the recent football mess at Baylor completes the Devils’ Trifecta of three horrible things to happen in Waco Texas.

    1993: Branch Davidian siege and raid
    2003: Dave Bliss
    2016: Art Briles and company

Bob Molinaro had this comment on the Baylor football mess in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. I think he hits the nail squarely on the head:

“Dumbfounding: The saddest commentary on Art Briles’ dismissal is that, despite the report detailing violent incidents and sexual assaults by Baylor football players, what people find most astonishing is that the university actually held a wildly successful coach accountable for what took place off the field. People are surprised by Briles’ firing because we’re conditioned to assume the worst from big-time football. Our colleges are to blame for that, but so are fans and media that buy into it.”

Back before I left, Mets’ pitcher, Noah Syndergaard hit two home runs in a game. Partly because he plays in New York, that was given a lot of attention; but indeed, that is not a common happenstance for pitchers. I would like, however, to do another historical perspective bit here and mention a game back in 1971. The pitcher was Rick Wise and he played for a bad Phillies team that finished last in the NL East winning only 67 games. That year, the Phillies played the Cincy Reds 12 times and won only 2 of those games. One of those wins was a no-hitter by Rick Wise AND in the same game, Wise also hit 2 home runs.

The Reds that year won 79 games; they were not yet the Big Red Machine but you may recognize some of the names that were in the lineup on the day of Wise’s no-hit game:

    Pete Rose
    George Foster
    Lee May
    Johnny Bench
    Tony Perez
    Hal McRae
    Tommy Helms
    Dave Concepcion
    Ross Grimsley

Two other tidbits related to Rick Wise and the 1971 season:

    In that same 1971 season, Rick Wise also hit 2 home runs in a game against the SF Giants.

    Rick Wise is probably most remembered for being traded at the end of the 1971 season from the Phillies to the Cardinals even-up for Steve Carlton. Wise was better than average major league pitcher; Carlton was a Hall of Fame pitcher. The trade happened because Carlton and the Cardinals’ management got locked into a salary hassle that resulted in the trade.

Finally, since I cited a comment from Bob Molinaro above, let me close with another of his observations:

“Word play: It would make perfect sense for the 76ers to use their lottery pick on Ben Simmons. An Aussie is the right fit for a team that has spent so much time down under.”

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

The Ongoing Mess At UNC

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a reader with a link to an article in the Charlotte News & Observer dealing with the appearance that the UNC Women’s Basketball program will be the recipient of NCAA sanctions while the men’s basketball program and the football program skate with regard to the academic fraud situation there. Here are the salient parts of that e-mail:

“Perhaps this could be a rant topic for you.

“I’m a fairly cynical guy, so I can’t say I’m surprised that the two flagship revenue sports are completely clean, but women’s basketball is dirty.

“I’m also reminded of something I once read along the lines of ‘every time Auburn football has a bad year, they fire their basketball coach.’”

I suspect that the reader’s cynicism sensors have picked up a strong signal here but it is not clear to me where the responsibility for making UNC Women’s Basketball the scapegoat for the 20+ years of academic fraud perpetrated there belongs. I suggest that everyone read the report in its entirety to get a flavor of the current state of play. I will summarize it briefly here and try to identify some of the “bad guys” here:

    It is pretty obvious that UNC offered sham courses that provided academic credits – and high grades – to students who never met with professors or attended a single class. Stats show that an extraordinarily high percentage of the students taking those courses were football players and men’s basketball players.

    The fact that all students could enroll in these sham courses – and some non-athletes did – and could obtain credit for those courses means that the blame for the existence of those courses extends beyond the athletic department. The fact that the faculty and the administration of the university tolerated the existence of those sham courses is an indelible stain on the academic standing of the university itself.

    I do not believe that any of the head coaches in any of the sports at UNC suggested the creation of these sham courses nor do I believe any of them knew about them or worked to sustain them.

    I would not be shocked to learn that some assistant coaches and other athletic administrators/academic counsellors knew what was going on and that those folks actively kept information from head coaches to provide a sense of “plausible denial”.

Meanwhile, the NCAA finds itself in an interesting situation. There are no real “impermissible benefits” here; these sham courses were open to all students and these sham courses were used by the student body at large. No athletes had access to anything that was denied to any student enrolled at UNC. The NCAA mandates that students have a specific grade-point average and that they take a sufficient number of courses per academic year to be eligible. The NCAA does not – and they cannot and they should not – be an arbiter of what course content must prevail in each course taken by every athlete such that it is worthy of academic credit and inclusion in a grade-point average calculation.

However, the overriding purpose of all those NCAA rules and regulations is to prevent one school from having an on-field advantage over other schools. One way for a school to gain such an advantage is to use players who might not be really academically eligible and one way around that it to give those players A’s in courses that have no content.

Moreover, the NCAA faces the unenviable task of figuring out how to sanction teams that play for a school that is widely recognized and widely followed in both football and men’s basketball – where most of the money comes from. No matter what decision the mavens there come up with, there will be shrill voices of protest out and about in the land. That being the case, maybe the mavens will take this opportunity to get it right and punish as many of the ne’er-do-wells as it can find and to punish them severely.

The fact that I am 99% sure that is NOT what the mavens will do demonstrates my level of cynicism here…

Earlier this week, Jayson Stark wrote for ESPN.com about the delays caused by MLB’s replay rule(s). He provided data and made some suggestions. I would like to comment on them here:

    Replay delays in 2016 so far average 1 minute and 55 seconds. That is an increase over 2015 and 2014. Delays in 2014 were 1 minute 46 seconds and in 2015 were 1 minute 51 seconds. These delays are the costs associated with “getting it right”.

    So far this year, 42.5% of the replay reviews resulted in a change in the call made on the field. If the last overturned call benefited your favorite team, maybe you find that rate of return on the time spent acceptable. Personally, I do not.

    Stark suggests putting a time limit on the managers who pop up onto the top of the dugout step and wait for a signal from their “replay review mavens” with regard to the value of going out to protest. That is a hidden form of delay that precedes almost every replay challenge. I think the time should be zero. If the manager hits the top step, there should be a replay AND there should be a limit on the number of replays he can demand.

    Stark suggests that reviews should start before a challenge is made on close plays. MLB insists that is happening. Somehow, that does not pass the smell test because if it did, at least once you would see the umpire go over to the stands and put on the headset and hear the answer to the challenge immediately. He would then take off the headset in less than 2 seconds and make the ruling. Maybe MLB thinks it is happening and/or that it ought to happen, but I cannot believe it is.

    Stark suggests having a 5th umpire on every crew and that the 5th umpire would rotate into the review booth in that park for every game. Maybe that is a good idea and maybe it isn’t. I do know the umpires’ union would love the idea.

I think Jayson Stark’s best suggestion is that MLB stop reviewing “The Utley Rule”. He says umpires should make the call and that is it. That would eliminate a ton of replays all of which take a lot of time because the “slide play” and the “neighborhood play” are often ones involving inches and tenths of seconds. The reviews are lengthy and the number of challenges to base running plays at second base are significant. If MLB were to go along with that suggestion – and I think it is a good one – they could use their replays after the game to grade umpires on the correctness of their calls at second base on such plays. I can promise you that the umpires’ union would hate that idea.

Baseball games take a long time and there are too many segments of a baseball game where there is no action. Anything that will minimize – or get rid of – the 5-minute delays to scrutinize a replay as if it were the Zapruder Film is worth doing.

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

“David Ortiz stole a base for just the 16th time in his career. He caught the second basemen and shortstop playing Words With Friends.”

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

The NBA Salary Cap Increases…

Today will be a tidying up day… Let me start with a report I read that said the NBA salary cap will jump from about $72M per team this year to approximately $90M next year as a result of ginormous new TV contracts kicking in. That is good news for the owners and the players; there is more money for all to share. I am not so sure however that this is completely beneficial for fans.

In addition to seeing “superstar salaries” go through the roof over the next 24 months, the other thing you are likely to see is that “role players” and “bench players” will also get big raises. Instead of that genre of player making somewhere between $2.5M and $4M per year as they tend to do today, they are going to start earning $5M and up. That is great for their personal exchequer but it also presents them with a dilemma that has practical implications.

    If “Sixth-Man Sam” is making $2.5M today and he gets a minor strain in his oblique, he may or may not tell the coach that he needs to sit out a game or two. If he is making $5M a year, he might be far more inclined to sit out with even a minor ailment because:

      a. He wants to maximize the likelihood that he will play like a $5M player when he on the court and not look like a guy the Front Office made a mistake on.

      b. He wants to maximize his stat lines because there is always another contract negotiation coming up and for “Sixth-Man Sam” the likelihood is that he does not have a 7-year deal.

I am not implying that players should play hurt no matter what; of course they should not. Nonetheless, when there are big paydays at stake, a player is logically inclined to consider every minor problem in the context of it possibly becoming a major problem. If that sort of mindset prevails, then the fans are going to watch more and more games where players sit it out. The fans who pay to go to the arenas will see more games where teams participate without their full roster and the fans who tune in to see the games on TV will watch more games of the same type. The salary cap explosion might not be a great deal for the fans…

Another downside of the cap expansion is that it comes as a result of the explosion in TV rights fees that the NBA collects. Sadly, that assures that any revolutionary thinking on the part of the league to shorten the season will be squashed immediately. There is no way the league would even consider putting a control on the flow of TV cash into its coffers; TV is major component of the revenue so putting as much content on TV is the mandate for the league.

Sadly, from a fan’s perspective, what the NBA really needs is to cut down on the number of meaningless games – say 95% of the ones played before Feb 1st – and increase the number of games it shows to fans that really matter. I have been thinking about ways to do that – without simply cutting back on the regular season and thereby removing content from the networks – and all I have come up with so far are half-baked ideas. But I shall continue to contemplate this issue and hope to have a reasonable proposal to offer somewhere down the road.

In other NBA happenings, the Memphis Grizzlies fired Dave Joerger as their coach and the Sacramento Kings snapped him up 2 days later. Joerger had been with the Grizzlies for 3 seasons and his cumulative record there was 147-99 with playoff appearances in all 3 seasons. Now, Joerger takes his coaching skill to Sacramento where he gets to try to get along with “Boogie” Cousins and crew. Oh, and he also gets to deal with a mercurial and meddlesome owner too. Consider:

    The last time the Kings made the playoffs was in 2006. That year the team fired Rick Adelman as the coach.

    Joerger is the eighth coach of the Kings since the start of the 2007 season. Only Paul Westphal managed to stay there for the equivalent of 2 full seasons (He coached 171 games).

    “Boogie Cousins arrived in 2010 – with Westphal in charge. Since his arrival in town, the Kings have gone through 5 head coaches and Joerger is the 6th.

    Good luck to Dave Joerger; he is going to need it. Oh, and I assume his agent made sure that the deal is guaranteed for whenever Joerger gets fired by the Kings.

The last thing I read about the possible move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas painted the local issue as a contest between building a football stadium or expanding the Las Vegas Convention Center. I guess I can understand why Nevada and Las Vegas cannot come up with enough money to do both projects at the same time and given my longstanding skepticism about the worth of building stadiums with public money, I am not about to advocate for one here. However, I would like to make an observation not as a citizen of Las Vegas but as an annual visitor:

    There is a Convention Center in the city near the Westgate Hotel where we often stay. I have not been inside the building but from the outside it looks big enough to house the assembly of NASA’s Space Shuttle and the parking lots around the building look big enough to park at least 10,000 cars – maybe 15,000?

    I recognize that Las Vegas is the home for some of the largest conventions and trade shows in the country. Nonetheless, I am surprised to learn that the current facility is so small and/or so antiquated that it would need an upgrade that would cost even a fraction of what a new football stadium might cost.

Obviously, this is an issue over which the citizenry and the local pols can arm-wrestle for a while. I am not taking sides in this purported struggle.

I will however comment on two things that Raiders’ owner Mark Davis said recently after meeting with some of the Las Vegas pooh-bahs. First he said that he had no intention of using Las Vegas as leverage to squeeze a favorable stadium deal out of the city of Oakland. On this point, I have to say that I believe him because I do not think that there is any way that Oakland could come up with the money to build an acceptable NFL stadium in the near future. I think Davis recognizes that.

However, he also reportedly said that putting the Raiders in Las Vegas would “bring worldwide attention to Las Vegas”. I am not so sure that is the case. In fact, I suspect that “Las Vegas” has greater name recognition worldwide than either “Oakland Raiders” or “National Football League”. That may seem like nit-picking but it does not make a lot of sense to me to try to sell the folks in Las Vegas on a “billion-dollar expenditure” on the basis that it will help Las Vegas be more widely known.

Finally, here is Bob Molinaro cutting directly to the chase in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“This year’s model: Reportedly, Caitlyn Jenner will appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated this summer – ‘wrapped in nothing but an American flag and her Olympic medal,’ as one story put it. It will commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jenner’s golden decathlon performance at the Montreal Games. For some, the cover will help show how far we’ve come as a society. For others, it will demonstrate the lengths to which a magazine will go to move product.”

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

Sports Betting – A Growth Industry…

Anyone who has read these rants for more than a short while knows where I stand with regard to sports betting:

    It should be legalized, regulated and taxed.

    Banning it is a feckless exercise because making it illegal drives it underground much the same way Prohibition drove the manufacture and sales of alcohol underground.

    People are going to wager on sporting contests despite any sort of government intervention that might be acceptable in the US social/political system.

So with those biases on the table, here is some data that might get some of the tight-asses who think that gambling is the work of the Devil to think again. A recent report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said that the sports betting industry has been growing very rapidly in recent years and that it could be a $5B per year “industry” in Nevada very soon. Here is the trend for the sports betting handle over recent times:

    2006: $2.4B
    2012: $3.0B
    2015: $4.2B

You can see the trend there…

Some folks attribute the explosive growth recently to the use of mobile aps by the sportsbooks. Maybe that is it or maybe it is the fascination with fantasy sports – and daily fantasy sports – that has focused attention on the opportunities to wager on individual sporting outcomes. There are myriad people who play fantasy sports regularly who have never put down a wager on a single sporting event; in a sense, fantasy sports may be the “gateway drug” to sports wagering. Let me give you one vignette that will not “prove” that statement but will give you an indication as to why I am thinking along these lines.

    I have a neighbor who is a big sports fan. He is into fantasy baseball and fantasy football up to his armpits. Every reader here knows that I do not play fantasy sports but he surely does. I know that he is in at least 2 fantasy baseball leagues this year and last Fall/Winter he was in at least 3 different fantasy football leagues. He is not averse to wagering money on the outcome of those fantasy league endeavors.

    About 6 weeks ago, he asked me to explain how “half-points worked” because he saw a line on a basketball game that had one team favored by 3.5 points. He had no idea what that meant because he knew for sure that there was no such thing as a half-point shot in basketball. After I explained that to him and he understood he had another question for me.

    He wanted to know what it meant when odds were listed as -110 or +140. He is an intelligent and educated man so explaining this to him was not difficult but he is in his 60s and he had never encountered either the “half-point concept” for a spread or the common expression of odds on a money-line. [Aside: I was tempted to tell him about Total Lines but thought at that point I might overload his synapses. That lesson is deferred to some later date.]

My point here is that I believe there is a large untapped market for legal sports wagering in the US over and above the HUGE market that is already tapped by the illegal sports betting environment. There is plenty of room for growth in sports betting and the only real question is this:

    Will the growth be in the “legal sector” where it is regulated and taxed – – or – –

    Not?

In that Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited above, there are data for some recent wagering events:

    Super Bowl 50 last February had a handle of $132.5M. That is a 33% increase over the past 3 years.

    March Madness 2016 had a handle estimated at $200M. The exact figures are still being tallied in Nevada and will be reported soon.

    The Mayweather/Pacquiao fight last year had a handle of $80M all by itself.

A little over 50 years ago, Bob Dylan wrote and sang that The Times they Are a-Changin’. At the time, Dylan was talking about social change and different attitudes with regard to racism; however, today the same concept applies because the times NEED to be a-Changin’ with regard to sports betting in the US.

Now with that polemic as a backdrop, let me inform you that there are lines posted as of today for each and every NFL game for the upcoming 2016 season. That is correct; you can get down on any and all of the 256 games because a company – CG Technology – has posted lines for each game. The company provides tech support to about a dozen sportsbooks in Las Vegas including many that you have heard of and possibly visited in your times there. Yes, I realize that betting on games at this point when the first important and debilitating injury of the 2016 season has not yet happened is tantamount to playing the lottery with smaller payoffs. Nonetheless, the lines are out there if you care to go and find them – and to wager on them if you must.

For the purposes of today’s rant, I will simply list a couple of the biggest point spreads in these “Future Lines” – and from those spreads I think we can spot a perception that is out there:

    Niners at Seahawks – 14 – Sept 25 – Largest spread on the board now
    Niners at Panthers – 11.5 – Sept 18 – Second largest spread on the board now
    Browns at Bengals – 11.5 – Oct 23 – You thought the Browns would dominate?
    Niners at Cards – 10.5 – Nov 13 – Looks like a bad year for SF…

Finally, this next item needs a bit of a set-up. The 420 Games are a “series of unique athletic events taking place in CA, CO, WA & OR that promote the healthy and responsible use of cannabis.” All of the events somehow involve feature a 4.20 mile course and there is a beer tasting garden set up by a brewery in Petaluma, CA, educational speeches and of course lots of music. After the 420 Games had concluded, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times:

“The 420 Games — “The Olympics for Stoners” — took place March 26 on the Santa Monica (Calif.) Pier, but not without controversy.

“Apparently three contestants were stripped of gold medals when they passed a drug test.”

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

The Obverse Of Leicester City in the EPL…

I doubt there are many folks who have more than a casual interest in sports who have not heard about Leicester City’s improbable season. They are the English Premier League champs sitting 10 points ahead of second-place Tottenham with only one game to play. The team has plans to reward its fans with a free beer and free Pizza Hut pizza; anyone with a ticket to the final game gets both. It is a great feel-good story but it masks the real drama that remains in the EPL season. There are deep feelings of unease, angst and apprehension down at the bottom of the table in “The Relegation Zone”. Here is the deal:

    Aston Villa is guaranteed to be relegated to the English Football Championship next year. They have played 37 games this season and have won only 3 of them.

    The bottom three teams get relegated; that leaves two more teams – and sets of fans – in a state of high anxiety. Here is the situation as of this morning:

      Norwich City is next to last in the table with 31 points – but they have 2 games still to play

      Three from the bottom at the moment is Newcastle with 34 points. They have only one more game.

      Four up from the bottom – but not out of the woods – is Sunderland with 35 points and still 2 games to play.

    In the EPL, a team gets 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. That means any one of these teams can make it out of the Relegation Zone when the day of reckoning comes in a week or so.

By the way, in case you are not familiar with the geography of northeastern England, Newcastle and Sunderland are about 20 miles apart. There is a long-standing rivalry going back more than 100 years. If things stay the way they are now, Newcastle will not be playing Sunderland twice in the EPL next year…

Greg Cote had this mention of Leicester City’s EPL champion ship season in the Miami Herald recently:

“Leicester City won the first EPL championship in its history against 5,000-to-1 odds. Coincidentally, those were the same odds against the Dolphins’ No. 1 selection being pictured draft-night wearing a bong gas mask.”

The Zika virus has gotten a lot attention by the UN World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control here in the US. The consequences of a Zika infection are serious indeed and the prevalence of the virus – for the moment – is in warm climates because the mosquito that is the disease vector is a warm weather insect. The virus can cause pregnant women – or women who become pregnant after encountering the virus – to give birth to severely impaired children. Two countries – Brazil and El Salvador – have suggested to the women in those countries to avoid getting pregnant until at least 2018 so that eradication of the insects and medical advances can catch up to the consequences of the virus.

Earlier, that caused some female competitors to wonder if Zika was a sufficient threat to have them opt not to participate in the Rio Olympics this summer. Men too can be infected and some male athletes wondered aloud if going to Rio was a good idea. I have not read any reports of widespread “defections” from the Olympic ranks, but it was a subject that came up. I mention this because the Zika virus has caused a change of venue in another sport – MLB.

The Pirates and Marlins had scheduled two games in Hiram Bithorn stadium in San Juan Puerto Rico for 30-31 May. Puerto Rico has had confirmed cases of Zika; here is what the CDC website says about Puerto Rico:

“Local mosquito transmission of Zika virus infection (Zika) has been reported in Puerto Rico. Local mosquito transmission means that mosquitoes in the area are infected with Zika virus and are spreading it to people.”

The players, the MLBPA, MLB and the teams came to the decision to play those games in Miami instead of in Puerto Rico at the end of the month. As Shakespeare said:

“The better part of valor is discretion…”

Of course, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald took the announcement of the change of venue and wondered about its ultimate efficacy:

“Marlins’ May 30-31 games vs. Pirates will not be played Puerto Rico as scheduled because of threat of Zika virus there. Instead the games will be played at Marlins Park, because of course we have no mosquitos in South Florida (!)”

The FIFA Ethics Committee [/chuckle] has something called “the adjudicatory chamber”. If that does not sound like a “star chamber” then I must be seriously off mark here. In any event, that “adjudicatory chamber” handed down two edicts recently and banished for life two individuals who plead guilty in the US to charges of “racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.” The two men were senior figures in the world of Latin American soccer:

    Sergio Jadue was formerly the VP of CONMEBOL (the South American Football Association) and the former President of the Chilean Football Association.

    Luis Bedoya was also a former VP of CONMEBOL and the former President of the Colombian Football Association.

Without going into the details of what they did or did not do, the edict bans these men from virtually any association with football (national or international) for life. Presumably, they can still go and buy a ticket and watch a game if they so choose, but nothing much beyond that.

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

“Nebraska’s bowling team is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“Who says the Cornhuskers no longer get to play in meaningful bowl games?”

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