Managing Expectations…

Managing expectations is a good thing to practice. If a team starts off training camp with the coach and/or the star QB telling everyone in the world that this is a Super Bowl participant at the very least, anything short of that will be disappointing to fans of that team. On the other hand, if the coach and/or the star QB recognizes that this is likely to be a very good team but tells everyone that the goal for the year is to win their division to get a good slot in the playoffs, every misstep along the way will not be cataclysmic to the fanbase.

Today’s example of managing expectations comes from NY Knicks’ guard, José Calderon who had his season cut short last year by a couple of leg injuries. The Knicks were a tire fire last year posting a record of 17-65. Calderon has rehabbed his injuries and is looking forward to the start of training camp; moreover, he demonstrated a fundamental understanding of managing expectations with this comment:

“We’ll win more than 17 games and we’ll try to win every game. I’m real excited we can do great things, but talking about the playoffs, it’s too early. You don’t talk playoffs a few weeks before training camp.”

Saying the Knicks will win more than 17 games this year does not exactly set the bar in the stratosphere, but it might prevent the Knicks’ fans from going ‘round the bend as the euphoria of training camp starts to pervade the airspace.

In MLB, they will celebrate the 20th anniversary of interleague play next year. I am not alone in thinking that interleague play has lost a lot of its luster and attractiveness from 20 years ago. There are two factors at work here:

    1. The novelty has worn off.

    2. With the advent of two leagues each with an odd number of teams, interleague play is a necessity from Opening Day until the final game of the season in October. What used to be an “event” has now become merely an “occurrence”.

There is nothing to be done about #1 above. The only way to reverse the trend of having at least one interleague game every day of the season is to put an even number of teams in each league. That is not impossible – but it is not something to be done just by snapping one’s fingers.

I said before I wanted Toronto in the World Series in November so that there might be a snow-out for one of the games. (Yes, I know; I said there would have to be a roof malfunction in Toronto to make this happen.) Baseball should be over before November. Now that I look at the standings, I think I want to see the Mets play the Blue Jays in the World Series. Here is why:

    This would feature both Yeonis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.

    Both of these players were deemed to be expendable/replaceable by the Moneyball guru who runs the Oakland A’s.

    Any bets he will not be one of the studio guest commentators on MLB Network if that happens?

Here is a stat I ran across over the weekend:

    From the time the Mets acquired Cespedes, their average scoring has increased by 2.6 runs per game.

I have not gone back and tried to verify that number; I accept it as true and I recognize that is a huge increase. That acquisition by the Mets near the trade deadline may be one of the great deadline trade moves ever.

Having said that, I do wonder about Cespedes in the following sense:

    Cespedes will be 30 years old next month. He has been in MLB for 3 full seasons plus this current partial season and is clearly a good offensive player. His career batting average is .272 and he has a career OPS of .810. He has hit 105 HRs and driven in 365 runs in just under 4 full seasons. Moreover, he is a good defensive outfielder who can play all three positions if need be.

    Nonetheless, in less than 4 full seasons in MLB, Cespedes has been traded 3 times. He went from Oakland to Boston for 51 games in 2014. Boston sent him to Detroit over the winter and he started 2015 with the Tigers before the Mets acquired him in August.

    Why has a player who is good on the field been traded so often?

Speaking of baseball personnel moves, when the Marlins fire manager Dan Jennings at the end of this season and replace him with Joe Flabeetz, good ol’ Joe will be the 8th manager of the Marlins since 2010. Jeffrey Loria down in Miami has moved himself squarely into Danny Boy Snyder territory.

    Memo to Jeffrey Loria: That is not a place you want to be…

Speaking of Snyder, you should be glad you do not live in the DC area so that you will not have to watch all of the Skins’ games on TV this year. Their home opener was on last weekend and here is what I saw:

    Remember the totally fictional season ticket waiting list of 100,000 fans that Snyder and his minions claimed to have? Well Sunday you could see clearly that the upper rows all around FedEx field were blocked off; they did not use tarps as they do in Jax, but they did have highly colored barricades to close off and conceal large areas of the seats. My guess is that about 15,000 seats are “under wraps”.

    Attendance was announced as tad over 76,000. Two points about that:

      1. At least 15,000 and maybe 20,000 of those folks were wearing Miami colors and not Washington colors. Even the announcers commented that the Dolphins fans had “traveled well”.

      2. Lots of those fans must have been at the concession stands for much of the game because there were plenty of empty seats visible from start to finish.

    The folks in charge of the CBS telecast of the game showed close-up shots of RG3 at least 25 times. RG3 was not only the #3 QB on the depth chart that day but he was INACTVE and not wearing a uniform. The third string QBs on all of the other 31 teams combined will not get that many close-up shots over the entire season. The Skins’ QB mess is a goat rodeo at best; the guys in the TV trucks are going to milk that QB situation for all it is worth all season long.

Finally, here is what I hope is the final commentary on Deflategate for a while from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A Dunkin’ Donuts in Maine has offered Richard Berman, the judge in the Tom Brady case, free coffee for life.

If he accepts it, of course, that’s grounds for appeal.”

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

Sports Media Stuff Today…

I really like college football so please do not take what I am about to say as a knock on the game because it is not. The fact is that attendance at college football games is dropping. On the opening week of this college football season, consider that UNC took on South Carolina in a game in Charlotte. Yes, it was a neutral field but it was not a huge schlep for fans of either school. I have made the drive from the Research Triangle area to Charlotte several times and it can easily be done in 2.5 hours. I have not made the drive from Columbia SC to Charlotte but a glance at a map tells me that it ought to take about 3.5 hours – give or take a few moments. In that circumstance, there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium.

Similarly on opening day, Alabama played Wisconsin in Arlington, TX. In that situation, I can understand the argument that the site of the game is a major travel event for both schools. Nonetheless, there were lots of tix available for that game up until the day of the game on the ticket resale sites and watching the game had to tell you that more than a few of those tix on the resale sites did not make it to the hands of consumers.

Last year – at the end of the college season – CBSSports.com reported that attendance at college football games dropped to the lowest average in 14 years. Their report came before the bowl games happened so they were not including the bowl games where stands struggled to be 30% full. Division 1-A teams averaged about 43.5K fans per game representing a 4% drop from 2013. If you want all the data that went into that CBSSports.com report, you can find it here.

I think there are two forces at work driving down attendance:

    Television deals: Perhaps UNC and South Carolina would have chosen to play in Charlotte on their own but TV networks want games in signature places and there was big TV money if the game happened in Charlotte. There is no way Alabama and Wisconsin choose to play in “North Texas” to start their seasons without TV money as the lure.

    On top of those two games, every conference now has its own TV deal – and some conferences have their own networks. That means a fan can find just about any major college football game on a TV channel somewhere. Put that fact alongside another fact – tickets to college football games are not “ten or twenty bucks” – and you have a formula to get some fans to choose to stay home instead of going to the stadium.

    Millennials: This is not going to be an old-guy rant about young whippersnappers who do not enjoy what I used to enjoy. This is an observation that is made by people across the age spectrum. Millennials do not like to sit still and do one thing exclusively for about 3 hours. If you are in a stadium full of rabid fans and boosters, it might be difficult – or at least distracting – to texting or posting shots on Facebook or listening to some tunes or playing Angry Birds. All of those ancillary activities are much more easily done away from a stadium packed cheek to jowl with screaming football fans.

    If you think I am exaggerating here, consider that more than a couple of schools are investing a lot of money to upgrade the capacity and the speed of the Wi-Fi system/cell phone coverage in their stadiums. They are not doing that for the comfort and convenience of the guys in the press box; they are doing that to accommodate people who come to the games and are not interested merely in watching what is going on down on the field.

In last week’s Sports Illustrated, here is an item from the Scorecard section:

“Attendance at college football games has remained relatively flat since 2009 but the average has dropped 7.1% among students according to a 2014 WSJ study. So many students show up late or leave early – or both – that in 2013 one coach publically prodded ticket holders to arrive on time and stay for the duration. That coach? Nick Saban at Alabama.”

So long as TV networks can sell ads for college football, the system in place can stabilize. But there are economic threats to TV networks too and if advertisers ever get the idea that too many folks are watching games on TV but skipping through the commercials, the amount they will be willing to pay for ad space will go down. That will be an economic blow to college football that will be seismic – because major programs have become addicted to TV money.

So, later this year when you see that two MAC teams will be playing a game on a Tuesday nite in cold weather at one of the MAC venues, tune in and check the stands. If they are 25% full, consider that it must be a big game in the MAC. At the same time, file away in the back of your head that the sponsors of that telecast are worrying about the fundamental interest in that game. They do not see “interest” in the number of fannies in the seats.

When ESPN and Colin Cowherd parted company, it left ESPN Radio with a 3-hour hole to fill in the late-morning/noontime slot. Cowherd took over that time slot from Tony Kornheiser back when TK went to do MNF and while Cowherd can be repetitious at times and definitely trolls listeners to generate controversies, he was a solid presence in that time slot. The new inhabitant will be Dan LeBetard whose program used to be in drive time and that is not a good time for national network programming. [Aside: If you have not heard, you can pick up Colin Cowherd on Fox Sports Radio these days.]

Generally, I like LeBetard but he has the same proclivity that Tony Kornheiser had for doing/saying things on the air that can run crosswise with the suits at ESPN HQs in Bristol. I will tune in to hear if he has “toned down” his act any now that he is in a bigger time slot.

Finally, there have been reports that the NBA is considering putting small sponsor logos on the fronts of team uniforms in the future to add new revenue streams to the teams and the league. Estimates of the size of the new revenue streams vary widely but any increase is better than no increase. Here is what I want to see:

    I want to see the logo for Oscar Meyer Hot Dogs on a team jersey worn by Nick Young.

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

RIP Moses Malone And Darryl Dawkins

Moses Malone died over the weekend. A couple of weeks ago, Darryl Dawkins died. The last couple of weeks have not been kind to former centers for the Philadelphia 76ers. If I were Harvey Catchings, I would schedule an appointment for a check-up.

Rest in peace Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

When Serena Williams lost in the semi-finals of the US Open to Roberta Vinci, it was a huge upset. I did some checking and the money line for Serena that day was minus- 2450. Let me remind some of you what that means:

    If you were to bet on Serena to have won that match, you would need to wager $2450 in order to win $100.

    Since she lost, you would have been “out” $2450.

My mind started thinking of comparable longshots in various sports and came up with this list:

    Arcangue winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 133 to 1.

    Dark Star beating Native Dancer in the Kentucky Derby in 1953.

    Buster Douglas knocking Mike Tyson out.

    NC State beating “Phi Slamma Jamma” in the NCAA Finals.

    Villanova beating Georgetown in the NCAA Finals

.

I am sure that other sporting events will come to your mind now that I have you thinking of things like that.

The NBA announced that it will seed teams in the playoffs from now on based on the team’s season long record. No longer will Division Winners get the top three seedings in the playoffs; in fact, the Division Winners are not guaranteed any place in the playoffs should it be the case that one of the division winners had the ninth best record in its conference. That is hardly a likely outcome but it is surely a mathematical possibility and one must heed the old adage:

    Low probability events happen every day.

Some argue that this renders the NBA Divisions meaningless other than the fact that a few teams will be float banners in their arenas pronouncing division championships that no longer mean anything. Point taken… So, if I were to “tweak” the new NBA system slightly I would populate the playoffs in this way:

    All Division Champions in each Conference will be in the playoffs provided that the Division Champions have a record of more than .500. If a Division winner has a record of 41-41 or worse and if there are 8 teams in that conference with superior records, that Division winner will not be in the playoffs.

    Seeding of teams in the playoffs will be done on the basis of regular season records and nothing else.

Please note that if the NFL would adopt either the new NBA system or my “tweak” on the new NBA system, there would not have been a team in the playoffs last year with a record of 7-8-1. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot is clearly in the camp that wants the NFL to change its playoff seedings:

“Streamlined: By seeding its conference playoff teams solely by record, the NBA has reduced – possibly obliterated – the relevancy of divisions. Is the NFL next? It should be.”

Last Thursday night, the coaches’ headsets malfunctioned in Foxboro and Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin was none too pleased. He stopped short of accusing specific Patriots’ employees of causing the malfunction but he did not stop far short of that mark. Well, the NFL took the Pats off the hook for the moment pointing out that it is the league and not the home team that manages the coaches’ communications at the games. That would seem to put this to rest – except:

    The NFL will investigate the problem and their equipment to find the cause and to remedy the situation.

Sounds like a good idea until you think for a moment about the efficiency and effectiveness of NFL investigations.

    Think about the Ray Rice investigation when the NFL could not figure a way to get hold of the elevator video tape.

    Think about The Wells Report which cost between $3M and $5M depending on the report you read and would have gotten a D+ in Criminology 101.

The conclusion you might draw here is that this investigation will discover that the technology in use is inadequate and needs to be upgraded beyond the level of two tin cans and a taut string. Then it will assess why the current situations obtains and will find that there is a dark hand involved here – perhaps the Elders of Zion or the Trilateral Commission?

Yesterday, Dwight Perry wrote the 3500th iteration of Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times. That is a whole lot of puns and plays on words. He began writing these columns in December 1999 – 189 months ago. That averages out to about 18 columns a month; that kind of output is prodigious by itself. When you add the quality of the humor and snark to the sheer number of columns, this is a noteworthy milestone indeed. Onward to 4000 columns, good sir…

Finally, to commemorate Dwight Perry’s milestone, here are two items from yesterday’s column and one from “a while ago”…

“Chin up, football widows and widowers: The next Sunday without NFL football falls on Valentine’s Day.”

And …

“If Mariners ace pitcher Felix Hernandez is The King, what does that make their best outfielder — Lord of the Flies?”

And …

“A former corrections officer was arrested after throwing two footballs stuffed with drugs and contraband into the prison yard at the Richland (Ohio) Correctional Institution, the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum reported.

Prosecutors can’t decide whether to charge her with drug trafficking or detentional grounding.”

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

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle At Work…?

During the 2013 NFL season, there was an abundance of reporting on the bullying that went on inside the Miami Dolphins’ locker room; trust me, I am not going to reprise any of that reporting here. Last year, before and during the NFL season there was a similar abundance of reporting on Michael Sam’s quest to be an openly gay player in the NFL; trust me, I am not going to go there either. If you fast-forward from the times when Jonathan Martin and Michael Sam were at the center of media attention until today, there is a common factor. Both Martin and Sam are out of football; both are taking different vector headings in their lives.

Martin played last year with the Niners; in the offseason, he had signed on with the Panthers but back in August, he announced his retirement. Subsequently, he revealed that he had attempted suicide several times saying that it was “his job” that had led to those suicide attempts. From his statements, Martin had not found joy or fulfillment in football all the way back to high school where he felt that he did not fit in with others. He said those feelings of exclusion led him to drinking and smoking pot “constantly” (his word). The locker room was evidently not a place of camaraderie for him; it was a source of tension and stress in his life.

Sam failed to make the Rams’ team after training camp last year and then spent a month or two on the Cowboys’ practice squad. When he did not receive any viable offers from NFL teams in the offseason, he signed to play in the CFL. Just before the first of his exhibition games, he took a leave of absence to attend to “personal matters” in Texas. He returned to the team in about a month and eventually played in a CFL game. A week later he left the team again saying he was concerned for his “mental health”; and by all appearances, his professional football aspirations are on hold.

It seems to me that there are some parallel lines in those two narratives. Michael Sam has no obligation to reveal why he was/is concerned for his mental health, but it would be presumptuous for anyone to dismiss those concerns as trivial; Jonathan Martin clearly has some mental health concerns to deal with unless one dismisses multiple attempted suicides as normal behavior. Both of these men found themselves under microscopic inspection because they played football and because they did not fit the norm of a “football player” that had been built up in everyone’s mind over the decades.

I wonder if a fundamental scientific principle is at work here. In the world of quantum mechanics there is something known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; in non-mathematical terms, it means that by observing a system, the act of observation perturbs the system thereby making it impossible to know everything about that system at the same time. Might it be that the intense scrutiny directed at these two men affected them in a way that made their “mental health” situations worse? Maybe if we begin to examine that question our act of observation will cloud our ability to reach a definitive answer…

One of the things I look for when sitting here in the darkness of Curmudgeon Central is hypocrisy in public figures. Even ignoring the political world and the 20+ active candidates for the Presidency in 2016, there are plenty of examples that present themselves. Consider the now mercifully dormant situation involving Deflategate:

    One of the foundation pieces that the NFL based its 4-game suspension of Tom Brady on was his failure to cooperate fully with the NFL’s investigation. The most glaring failure was his refusal to turn over his cell phone to the folks conducting the Wells Report subsequently buying a new phone and destroying the old one.

    One of the reasons Judge Berman gave for overturning that 4-game suspension was that in the appeal process, the NFL refused to allow Brady and his lawyers to question NFL VP Jeff Pash who was the “co-lead investigator” in the production of the Wells Report.

    So, it appears here that the suspension the NFL imposed based partially on Tom Brady “withholding evidence and not cooperating” was overturned based partially on the NFL “withholding evidence and not cooperating”.

Seriously, the only thing missing from the entire Deflategate hoot-doodle is a white rabbit in a waistcoat hopping by saying that he is late for a very important date…

Here is how Brad Dickson of the Omaha-World Herald reacted to Judge Berman overturning the 4-game suspension:

“Thursday a judge overturned Tom Brady’s suspension. I’m just happy to see a handsome multimillionaire with four Super Bowl rings who’s married to a supermodel finally catch a break in life.”

I am not a big fan of MMA. I may watch a few minutes of a bout if I happen to pass through it while grazing channels but under no circumstances am I a fan or a connoisseur. The sport seems to me to be very much like pro ‘rassling with its hype and feuding but with undetermined bout outcomes and real blood/injuries. Like I said, I am not a connoisseur…

With that as background, I have to admit that I do not understand the media fascination with Ronda Rousey. I understand that she is an undefeated MMA fighter and that she has dominated all of her opponents there. Somehow, that has translated into her becoming the focus of paparazzi and gossip mongers. If I paid more attention to MMA, I might understand why that is. In any event, Greg Cote had this item in the Miami Herald recently:

“UFC star Ronda Rousey accepted an invitation to the Marine Corps Ball as the date of a Philadelphia soldier. He’ll be a perfect gentleman, or she’ll beat the [email protected]#$ out of him.”

Finally, in cutting down to the 53-man roster, the Jacksonville Jaguars released DE, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, much to the delight of every copy editor at the Florida Times-Union.

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

Pounding Down The Calories

With the baseball season on the wane, you have precious little time left to head out to the ballpark to stuff your face with these culinary monstrosities:

    In Cleveland, if you go to see the Indians play at Progressive Field, you can get yourself a Thomenator – named after former Indians’ slugger Jim Thome. This is a hot dog with sauerkraut – – topped with three pierogis. Basically, a pierogi is a dough ball filled with potatoes that is boiled in salt water like dumpling. Normally, two pierogis for a serving; in this thing you have three of those bad boys plus a dog with kraut.

    Ever so slightly east of Cleveland in Pittsburgh, the Pirates offer up a specialty at PNC Park. They serve the Cuban pretzel dog there which is a hot dog (no surprise) with slices of ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese and pickles, wrapped in a pretzel bun. I guess that is “Cuban” because after eating one you are tempted to light up a large cigar…

    In Milwaukee – at Miller Park – the Brewers tempt their fans with a series of gut bombs:

      Inside the Park Nachos: This is ground beef with taco seasoning on a stick covered with doritos, nacho cheese and sour cream. It is basically nachos that you can eat while walking around. Oh, and of course it comes with a salsa dipping sauce.

      Pulled Pork Parfait: This is alternating layers of pulled pork – duh! – and mashed potatoes covered with chives and gravy. You eat this bad boy with a Spork.

      The Beast: This is a bratwurst that has been stuffed with a hot dog then wrapped in bacon and topped with sauerkraut and onions on a pretzel roll. I don’t know if you can get a side order of Crestor with this puppy.

    It is too late this season to go and see the Fresno Grizzlies so you will have to hope they bring back “The Frankenslice” next year. This concoction is a slice of pepperoni pizza with a full sized hot dog baked into the rolled over crust. If the creator of this dish did not win a James Beard Award, I have no idea what the judges could have been thinking.

As I said, the baseball season is on the wane but for those of you who want to challenge your arteries over the winter, the Baltimore Ravens have heard your cries and have produced a football concoction they call The Tailgater Burger:

    For $18, you get a beef patty topped with cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, kielbasa, Maryland crab dip and 2 beer battered onion rings, on a pretzel roll. Oh, but there is more, that sandwich is topped with 2 Buffalo wings.

Looking over all of these culinary creations – and being mindful of the deep-fried varieties of things one can purchase at State Fairs all over the Mid-west – I think investing in the company that makes Rolaids is a good long term strategy…

Next season, the Charlotte Hornets will have a “three-man booth” for all of their locally televised games. I put “three-man booth” inside quotation marks because it is really a “three-person booth”; one of the color analysts will be Stephanie Ready and she will join Dell Curry as color commentators for the games. Ms. Ready was the volleyball coach at Coppin State and also an assistant coach for the men’s team there under Coach Fang Mitchell. She has been the sideline reporter for the Hornets’ TV programs for the past several years but has moved up the food chain for the coming year. Good fortune to her…

You have probably read about the quip/counter-quip situation that exists between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Ronda Rousey. This whole thing sounds almost as scripted as one of the fire-breathing feuds that are concocted in pro ‘rassling. Unless these two individuals decide to fight one another – which is something neither should want to allow to happen – then all of this semi-lucid banter is pointless. Do you really care to know any more about this “feud” – or about either of the combatants – than you do at this moment? I do not…

Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle is becoming the master of the rhetorical question. Here is one that seems rather obvious:

“If something is off the charts — like a player’s work ethic or a team’s performance — shouldn’t the charts be expanded?”

Well, of course it should…

Finally, since I mentioned Floyd Mayweather, Jr. above, let me close with this observation regarding Messr. Mayweather by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his final fight before retiring would be Sept. 12, with no date set yet for his final fight after that one.”

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

Signs Of the Apocalypse…?

Not too long ago, I mentioned rumors that the NFL was “thinking about” moving Super Bowl Media Day to primetime. Well, that was more than just a rumor; that was inside info. Yesterday, the NFL made this announcement:

“We are excited to enhance an annual event and provide a unique experience for more fans in both the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, while continuing to provide access to the Super Bowl teams for media from around the world. By elevating the event to prime time, fans across the country can experience even more of the excitement of Super Bowl leading up to the game.”

I wish to make the following declarative statement in response to this announcement:


    I never watched Media Day when it was on when the sun was in the sky. I shall not watch Media Day with the moon in the sky. Anyone who spends money to sit in the stands and watch that nonsense should be committed.

Executives in companies often make monumental blunders. I would hope this is a blunder for the NFL similar in magnitude to the blunders that produced:

    The Edsel
    New Coke

While those two blunders have to be at or near the top of any such list, I suggest that there is an executive somewhere in the advertising department of Doctor’s Associates Inc. who has seriously blundered or has had a couple of decisions run into a storm of bad luck. Doctor’s Associates Inc. owns and operates Subway restaurants. Consider two of the spokespersons for that chain of restaurants:

    Jared Fogle – now plea bargaining charges of kiddie porn
    RG3 – well, the drama never stops with him

Since the company is “Doctor’s Associates” maybe they can come up with a cutesy ad campaign using a “reincarnated” Doctor Mengele. That would complete the trifecta for them…

Here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. I am in complete accord with his thinking here:

Quick hit: As we get closer to another NFL season, the same rules apply: I’m still not interested in your fantasy football team.

I am interested, however in the results of a study done by the consulting firm of Challenger, Gray and Christmas which estimate that the cost to US employers of Fantasy Football will be $16B this year. That figure comes from estimates of time spent during the work day by employees tending to their teams or communicating with others about their teams in place of doing productive work. While that sounds like a lot of money to me, the conclusion of the study is that employers ought not to “crack down” here because, in reality, this amounts only to the loss of about 1 hour per week per employee. John Challenger, the CEO of the firm doing this study, explained it this way:

“We need distractions during the day, whether it’s checking Facebook, scanning Twitter, buying something at Amazon.com, or managing one’s fantasy football team. It may seem counter-intuitive, but those short periods of being unproductive help workers be more productive in the long run. They also help boost morale, lower turnover and keep our creative juices flowing.”

I think this kind of situation creates a new cottage industry. Since I do not engage in Fantasy Football, that means that I do not devote one hour of my workweek to this sort of on-the-job-downtime. I ought to be able to monetize that by selling my unused “fantasy hour” to someone else who plays Fantasy Football and thinks he/she needs another hour during the week in order to make the playoffs this year. Let the bidding for my “downtime hour” begin…

By the way, if this idea ever catches hold, I might actually become interested in your fantasy football team.

Draft Kings – one of those websites that offers daily/weekly fantasy leagues – has just signed a partnership agreement with the Dallas Cowboys. The agreement will give the company a branded fantasy sports lounge inside AT&T stadium and “access to Cowboys’ fans as part of the team’s digital, TV and radio networks”. In part, that translates into Draft Kings being able to offer its customers things like tickets to Cowboys’ games and VIP events in that fantasy sports lounge.

Forbes estimates that 56 million people play fantasy sports and that the fantasy football portion of the market here was worth about $70B in 2013. I mention those numbers to show that if the revenue stream is big enough the NFL and its teams are willing and eager to wade in that stream – even though the deals they set up are deals with companies that facilitate gambling on the NFL product. Please do not forget this the next time you hear Roger Goodell whine on about the “integrity of the game”.

The Gay Softball World Series will happen for the first time next year in Austin Texas. The organizers expect about 5000 folks to attend the event and Austin is happy to host them. I wonder:

    Must one be gay to participate in the Gay Softball World Series? That would not seem to be very inclusive if it were the case.

    If one has to be gay to participate, what is the test that confers eligibility on a player?

    If one need not be gay to participate, then what makes this the Gay softball World Series?

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this to say about the break-up between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals:

“Sad story: The Harlem Globetrotters are disbanding their stooge team, the Washington Generals. Those guys really aren’t qualified for any other occupation, except playing for the Sacramento Kings. With the breakup of the Washington Generals, Colin Powell and David Petraeus are free agents.”

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

A Stadium In Need Of Replacement…

I do not advocate spending taxpayer money on stadiums/arenas for sports teams or sporting events like the Olympics. Having said that, The Coliseum in Oakland makes a cogent case for the need for a new stadium there. That facility famously backed up raw sewage into the locker rooms more than once; last night part of the left field wall fell down after an outfielder bumped into it tracking down a base hit. The game was delayed while a grounds crew went onto the field and reassembled the left field wall.

Folks, this facility is not the home of some bottom-feeding minor league team; the game last night that was delayed while people reassembled the freaking wall was a game between the Oakland A’s and the LA Angels. As a point of reference, the Oakland Raiders will also play 8 games in this venue over the next 4 months. This facility is an embarrassment to Oakland – not an easy status to accomplish – and it needs either serious renovation or replacement. Or, the alternative would be for both of those teams to go somewhere else.

The Oakland Coliseum – currently called the O.co Coliseum – is not in significantly better condition than the Roman Coliseum.

While on the subject of baseball, it certainly appears that the Chicago Cubs are poised to shed their ”identity” as lovable losers over the next couple of years. The Cubs are playoff bound this year barring a catastrophic collapse and they are a team of young players who project to improve in the near future. The only quibble you might have with that last statement is that their starting rotation is not full of young pitchers. However, I would counter that Dan Harren at age 34 is the only “old-timer” in the group; the starters may not be “Young Turks”, but they are not “geezers” either.

A small part of the improvement for the Cubbies comes from a trade made by Cubs’ GM, Theo Epstein at the trade deadline last year. He sent starter Jeff Samardija to the A’s along with starter Jason Hammel to acquire Addison Russell and two other prospects. Hammel turned out to be a “rental” for the A’s because he went back to the Cubs as a free agent over the winter. Russell has been a fixture at second base for the Cubs at age 21 while the A’s gleaned three players who have been OK for them this year in exchange for Samardija over the winter. In all of that shuffling, Addison Russell looks to be most valuable asset.

Oh, and by the way, acquiring Joe Maddon over the winter to run the club on the field was another good move by Epstein. Maddon has shown in the past that he can get a young team to believe that they can win now and not necessarily have to wait for the future to arrive. He seems to be doing just that with the Cubs again this year.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this item in a recent column:

“DEBATABLE: I don’t know what to think about the calls – often from big-league players – for protective netting down the first- and third-base lines. Is MLB leaving its fans at too great a risk from laser-like foul balls, inviting serious injury or worse? Or are people overreacting to rare, but publicized incidents? Would extending the netting detract from the fan experience? Maybe. But some of the most coveted seats are behind the home plate screen. An alternative: Big-league clubs could make every game ‘Fan Batting Helmet Night.’”

This is another debate where there seems to be little likelihood of changing the minds of the partisans on either side of the argument. The problem with the “debate” here is that the incidents are indeed rare but at the same time some of the incidents are extremely severe. It is sort of like flying on an airplane. They do not crash very often – but when they do the results are horrible and the crash is covered 24/7 on CNN for at least a week to assure that the maximum number of people are exposed to the possibility of this rare but horrific circumstance.

I would like to suggest however an underlying problem in baseball parks that can only serve to make these rare occurrences slightly more commonplace. If you go to a ballpark these days – or if you look past the players on the field to watch some of the fans in the seats when you watch a game on TV – you will see a significant fraction of the fans sitting in those “vulnerable seats” who are not paying even the slightest bit of attention to the game. At any given time, there are hundreds of fans who are intently focused on their telephones or their tablets. Here is something that is not debatable:

    If a fan is not looking at the game when a foul ball or a broken bat heads in his/her direction, that fan is significantly less likely to be able to get out of the way of the flying object heading his/her way.

This is not intended to be a diatribe about how cellphones have ruined society. This is an observation that some people can be so focused on checking their e-mail and texting and posting photos on social media that they are virtually oblivious to things going on around them. Moreover, if they go into the state of oblivion at a baseball game, they increase their risk of injury from things headed into the stands. Netting down the first and third base lines will cut down the number of flying objects that make it to the stands but it will only serve to make the intersection of a line drive and the skull of a fan more rare; it will not make such an intersection less severe.

A more effective solution would be to jam the signals of all cell phones and tablets inside the stadium so that people cannot bury their faces into a small screen to chat with their friends who did not care enough about this game to join that fan in attendance. The chances of that happening are about as likely as professional synchronized swimming becoming America’s #1 sport.

Finally, here is an observation by Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“I’m having withdrawal with the Little League World Series coming to an end. When does ESPN televise the T-Ball World Series?”

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

Mostly NFL STuff Today

The first round of cuts by NFL teams to get the rosters down from 90 to 75 players mainly involves people like Joe Flabeetz – of whom you never heard and for whom the major role in training camp for the outset was to be cannon fodder. However, there were two recognizable names in the first round of cuts this year:

    Cards cut punter, Dave Zastudil.
    Bills cut RB, Fred Jackson.

The Bills’ cut was really surprising since Rex Ryan believes in an offense built on “ground and pound”. It takes runners to do the pounding and while Jackson may not be Jim Brown reincarnate, he seemed to have something remaining in the tank.

Scott Ostler posed a couple of interesting questions in the SF Chronicle last weekend:

“Do you buy the apology lite of USC football coach Steve Sarkisian, who was drunk and profane at a public rally and blamed it on mixing a smidge of alcohol with meds? Didn’t specify the meds. Could a player get away with the same excuse?”

The blunt answer to the question about a player offering a similar explanation/excuse is that the player would be swimming upstream in the court of public opinion from the moment his voice trailed off at the end of said explanation. That is neither right nor wrong; it just the way it is. Having said that, I believe that Professor Ostler did not comment on another aspect of Coach Sarkisian’s explanation that jumped out at me. Sarkisian said that there was liquor in the coaches’ locker room and that after this incident where he had had a pop or two and it led to embarrassment, the answer was to remove the booze from the coaches’ room. Here is my question:

    What was the alcohol doing in the coaches’ locker room in the first place? I understand the idea of celebrating big wins – with the emphasis on the word “big” – but this is not a celebration the coaches could legally share with about half of the players on the team. So, why was it there in the first place? They could not wait an hour after showering, dressing and dismissing the team to go and have a couple of shots together somewhere else?

Similarly, over the last weekend, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald seems to have put the exclamation point on the whole Cris Carter controversy at last year’s NFL Rookie Seminar:

“Cris Carter apologized for telling players at an NFL Rookie Symposium they should have a ‘fall guy’ handy to help them avoid trouble. An alternate piece of advice he might have considered: Stay out of trouble so you don’t need a ‘fall guy.’”

There is wisdom in Greg Cote’s remark here; would that more of the NFL players would be able to take that wisdom and assimilate into their daily lives…

I know that I am more cynical/skeptical than the vast majority of people walking the streets these days. Nevertheless, I wonder if the following played even a small part of Roger Goodell’s thinking as the Deflategate saga lurched forward to the point that we find it today:

    If Tom Brady has to miss the first four games of the 2015 season, he will be eligible to return to action on October 18 when the Patriots play – wait for it – the Indy Colts. Recall, it was the Colts who “blew the whistle” here and started the whole Deflategate kerfuffle.

    How big would the hype be for that game if it were Brady’s first of the year? The hype would be bigger than for any other regular season game and it might rival the Conference Championship games. Now, we know that the NFL loves to dominate the sports news firmament on a 24/1/365 basis and so I wonder if that is part of the calculus here…

Interestingly, when the Falcons were found to have pumped artificial noise into their home field, team president and GM Rich McKay was suspended and was booted from his seat on the NFL Competition Committee but reinstalled there as his suspension was lifted by the Commish. With that reinstatement, McKay basically will not miss any games – ignoring the fact that having the GM present in or absent from the stadium on game day does not amount to a pinch of coon s[p]it. Similar to the Brady situation, there was no evidence that McKay was part of the effort to pipe in the amplified noise. Dissimilar to Brady – should the Commish get his way – McKay never had to miss a real NFL game.

Former NFL RB, Lawrence Phillips, is doing time in California for a felony assault conviction. We need not go into Phillips’ troubled past here; if you really want to get all the gory details, Google is your friend. Recently, Phillips’ cellmate, Damian Soward, turned up dead in the prison and after investigating, it now seems that Phillips will prosecuted as the instigator of the death. According to reports, Soward was found in his deceased state in the cell that Soward and Phillips shared; if true, that means Phillips needs to retain Perry Mason to defend him lest his current 7-year sentence become something far lengthier.

Lest anyone draw an erroneous conclusion here, I am not decrying the death of Damian Soward here. Soward was in prison for first degree murder and was serving an 82 years-to-life sentence. I suspect the world did not lose a great human benefactor or a great philanthropist; that does not mean that he deserved to die.

Veering off the sports scene for just a moment here, in another prosecutorial decision, it seems that Caitlyn Jenner could face charges in a vehicular incident where others lost their lives. I have no knowledge of or real interest in that matter but there is an interesting aspect:

    How would you feel if you were selected to be on the jury for any trial that might descend from that incident knowing that your presence in the jury box designated you specifically as one of Caitlyn Jenner’s peers?

    During voir dire, I suspect that a comment along those lines could get you excused from empanelment.

Finally, here is Greg Cote of the Miami Herald again with an overview of Deflategate:

“Parting thought: Lawyers for the NFL and Tom Brady are due back Monday for the latest round of arguments. If this “Deflategate” morass were any more ridiculous, they’d move it from federal court to Vaudeville.”

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

NFL Exhibition Games…

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that there was far too much media coverage of NFL Training Camps simply because there is not enough actual news emanating from those camps. Ergo, we get way too many formulaic reports and wishful thinking reporting. Well, this week’s pronouncements from a variety of training camps proves my point. This week, we heard players lament the number of serious/season-ending injuries incurred in “meaningless games”. Think about that for a moment; has there ever been a pre-season where that was not the case?

There is no news value in reports that say there are too many injuries in the exhibition season. Of course there are; this is NFL football and NFL football incurs player injuries. Of course, players do not want to be injured under any circumstances; but if it is fated to happen, they want it to happen in a game that matters.

I need to interrupt my narrative here for a moment to point out one report this week on the subject that was indeed new and different. Detroit Lions’ safety, Glover Quin said this regarding the non-contact injury sustained by Jordy Nelson of the Packers that will keep Nelson out for the entire season:

“I feel like injuries are going to happen, same way Jordy got hurt. I hate that Jordy got hurt, but in my belief and the way that I believe, it was God had meant for Jordy to get hurt. If he wouldn’t have got hurt today, if he wouldn’t have played in that game, if he wouldn’t have practiced anymore and the next time he walked on the field would have been Opening Day, I feel like he would have got hurt Opening Day.”

That is why I used the phrase “fated to happen” a couple of paragraphs above. I have no interest in a theological or religious discussion at this point, but it does seem to me that Quin’s statement of belief has a lot of predestination contained in it. Now, if that is the case, it would make no sense to go out every Sunday and hustle and play hard and all that stuff because the end result of that particular game and the whole season is beyond control. Like I said, I do not want this to get theological…

I do agree with folks who suggest that the exhibition season be cut to two games. Training camps can remain as lengthy as they are but the real NFL players who will actually play on Sundays only play one full game in the exhibition season so the argument that they need the practice is silly. Here is what I would do with some of the “extra time” generated by cutting out two exhibition games:

    Give each team 2 Bye Weeks during the real season. That will extend the regular season by an extra weekend meaning another weekend of televised games to generate revenue,

    To keep the Super Bowl where it has become a fixture on the first Sunday of February, get rid of the useless “dark weekend” between the Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl.

That idea embraces “player safety” by giving players’ bodies more time to heal during the season and it enhances revenue from TV partners offsetting the loss of revenue from ticket sales for two meaningless exhibition games.

You want to know who will be the most vocal opponents of that idea? The millions of NFL fanboys who drool over any kind of NFL activity including seven-on-seven drills where players only have helmets on will screech because they want to see “action”. By worshiping at the altar of the NFL for 364 days a year – the off day is the day after the Super Bowl when many of those fanboys are sleeping one off – they encourage the league to keep force feeding itself to the media and the fans. What those fanboys actually tell the league is to give them games anytime and anywhere and if the league does that then the fanboys will herd up like sheep and fill the leagues coffers with money. Therein lies the obstacle to serious discussion here and a change in the exhibition season.

Safeway has to pay Michael Jordan $8.9M as a result of a lawsuit filed by Jordan against a Chicago supermarket chain – Dominick’s – that Safeway bought for $1.2B in 1998. It seems that back in 2009, Dominick’s put an ad in a commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated that used Jordan’s picture without his permission and without compensation. Contained in the ad was a coupon that readers could cut out to get a $2 discount on steak at Dominick’s. There are lots of strange twists in this story:

    1. Safeway bought Dominick’s and has subsequently closed all of the stores. That was not a good expenditure of $1.2B.

    2. According to information brought out at trial, the ad placed in the magazine was not particularly effective. Testimony revealed that only 2 people cut out the coupon and got the $2 discount on steak at Dominick’s.

    3. The trial was in Chicago. The case was tried before a jury. Michael Jordan was the plaintiff. Safeway’s lawyers said that Jordan might be entitled to about $125K; Jordan’s lawyers said his image was worth $10M. Safeway thought that a Chicago jury was going to lowball Michael Jordan…?

Before anyone points out that Jordan does not need the money from this case – which he surely does not – he has stated that he will donate the entire $8.9M to charity.

Finally, here is all you need to know about a happening in the sports world courtesy of Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“On its trip to Italy, Creighton’s basketball team visited the Vatican and met Carrot Top on a flight to Milan. If the point of the trip was an eclectic experience, mission accomplished.”

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

Here Come Da Judge…

The Third Circuit Court ruled against the State of New Jersey saying that its latest gambit to permit sports betting at racetracks and casinos in New Jersey was illegal. I do not pretend to understand the maneuverings here so I will not try to explain what happened. Legal analysts seem to say that the idea of sports betting in New Jersey is dead for now and that there will need to be a movement in the US Congress to repeal or at least modify PASPA – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. In my assessment, the US Congress is only a 9-5 shot to figure out that Tuesday comes after Monday this week; the idea that they will recognize that PASPA was a bad idea in 1992 and that it does not “protect” either professional or amateur sports is laughable.

The pro sports leagues oppose expansion of legalized betting with the NFL leading the charge there. The NBA is more open to such expansion so long as it is done at the Federal level and not with a patchwork of different regulations from state to state. The hypocrisy of the NFL on this issue is so blatant and their arguments are so outdated that it makes my teeth itch every time they speak to the issue. The NFL owes its popularity to gambling and the many forms of wagering that fit perfectly into the sport of football. The person who invented point spread betting – it was back in the 1940s I believe – ought to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a major contributor to the game.

Naturally, the NCAA opposes gambling on any collegiate sporting event; the NCAA opposes lots of fundamentally good ideas. The hypocrisy of the NCAA with regard to gambling is also palpable:

    1. March Madness is the NCAA’s biggest revenue generator. To think that there is no gambling on tournament games or bracket pools is monumentally foolhardy. To pretend there is no linkage between such gambling and the popularity of March Madness is monumentally ignorant.

    2. College sports have had more game-fixing scandals than pro sports. While one could attribute that to “gamblers”, the more important attribution should be to the exposure of the scandals. Since PASPA went into effect, how many issues have been uncovered by the NCAA “investigators” and how many have been flagged by legal sportsbooks? The answer is that the NCAA has uncovered none of them – as in not a single one.

There are two clear winners from the decision of the Court:

    1. Las Vegas sport: Their existence is “grandfathered” by PASPA and this decision mitigates significant competition to those sportsbooks.

    2. Daily Fantasy Sports websites: Somehow, those enterprises fall outside the definition of sports gambling and the two major sites now get to maintain their virtual monopoly status in that “industry”.

Since I am on the subject of sports gambling, there is a guy in New York who wants to blend horseracing bets with the lottery. Brad Cummings has patented some software called EquiLottery and what it will do is randomly generate tickets for customers on actual horse races. Each ticket would cost $2 and each ticket would be a straight trifecta wager on the race – meaning the numbers on the ticket have to match the numbers of the first three horses in that specific race to win. Cummings thinks that this will be more appealing to the betting public. He may be right but EquiLottery would be or exactly no interest to me. For a more thorough look at this idea, here is a link.

Switching gears, CBS just announced its announcing teams for the 2015 NFL season. Naturally, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are the #1 team and will do the Thursday Night games plus the CBS featured game on Sunday. They have been the “bell cows” for CBS on the air for at least a decade now. What I liked when I saw the listing is that Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will be the #2 team for CBS this year. I have been a fan of Ian Eagle – doing football and basketball – for about 20 years now. It is good to see him moving “up the food chain” at CBS. And by the way, Dan Fouts is also very good as a game analyst.

I saw a report a couple of days ago that said that Seahawks’ offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell said that he remains convinced that the play he called at the 1-yardline in the Super Bowl that led to the interception and the loss of the game was the right call. He said that he would not change anything and would make the same call again.

I guess he has to say something along those lines unless he is going to go fully to the other end of the line here and say that he made one of the worst football decisions ever. [Aside: I remember seeing someone at the time say that the decision to throw the ball at the point in the game was as bad a decision as the one Napoleon made when he invaded Russia. That metaphor is a bit over the top, but…] The point is that we now know the outcome of that call; and with that knowledge, we can recognize that from the Seahawks’ perspective there are few outcomes that would have been worse. Because that is the case, it might be a tad more reasonable for Bevell to say that he made a mistake but that he made the call that he did based on sound football reasoning. That is lot better than saying I would do it again knowing that the end of the play results in the team losing the Super Bowl.

Finally, let me close today with two comments on the same topic from two columnists:

“Flying disk sports, including Ultimate Frisbee, have been granted full recognition by the International Olympic Committee.

“’We got next!’ said lawn darts.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

And…

“And finally: The International Olympic Committee has recognized ultimate frisbee as a sport. I believe this was pushed by the ‘It’s no dumber than synchronized swimming’ committee.” [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

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