The NBA Goes Dormant Until March…

To begin today, I want to juxtapose two recent occurrences in the NBA. The first event is summarized by an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Philadelphia 76ers finally snapped the longest losing streak in American pro-sports history — 28 losses in a row.

“That popping sound you hear is the Washington Generals hitting the champagne at Don Shula’s house.”

The other NBA event is at the other end of the success spectrum; the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game this year and as of this morning, their record stands at 24-1.

Those two streaks were very important to the NBA for a simple reason. Each of those streaks gave people a reason to give a fig about a few NBA regular season games in November and December. For the majority of such games in just about every NBA season, no one really pays attention at all. Without meaning any offense to the 5 games the NBA will stage on Christmas Day, few if any people really care about them either save for TV execs who have programming for the day other than the 6437th rerun of It’s A Wonderful Life. With these two polar opposite streaks in the past, serious fan attention to NBA games will be minimal until late February/early March when playoff positioning becomes interesting.

The NBA is somewhat fortunate in another way this season. Kobe Bryant’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the season has fueled

    The Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America

That series of tributes – which in reality are not much more than a series of feelgood events – allows teams to promote the final visit of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to their city/arena. It too brings attention to games that would normally be somewhere between “Meaningless” and “Blah” on the Spectrum of Interest. The Farewell Tour also masks something else:

    The Lakers are an awful basketball team.

    The Sixers are intentionally awful; the Lakers are awful even though they are trying not to be.

    You make the call which is the worse situation…

The Lakers have two young players taken high in the draft. DeAngelo Russell went #2 last year and he has had his fanny on the bench for all of or the majority of the fourth quarters of most Lakers’ games this year. Julius Randle was taken at #7 in the 2014 draft and he sat out last season with an injury. He had been a starter for much of this year but was recently demoted to coming off the bench. If the Lakers swung and missed on both of those guys – hard to believe after seeing them play in college – the franchise may be a while until it returns to an upper echelon NBA team. I will say one thing about Russell, he has a whole lot to learn about playing defense against NBA quality opponents and there are times that he does not look all that interested in said learning…

Another young player for the Lakers is Jordan Clarkson; I have only seen the Lakers play about 5 quarters of games this year but I think Clarkson might become a good player. Note I said “good player”; he is not the second coming of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor but he might be a “good player”. Here is an interesting strategic situation the Lakers find themselves in:

    The Lakers owe the Sixers their first round pick in the June 2016 draft – unless that pick is in the Top 3 of the draft. In that circumstance, they would then owe the Sixers their first round pick in 2017 draft no matter where it is.

    Question:

      Do the Lakers tank to protect that pick this year as best they can in a lottery situation or do they “play it straight”?

      Keep an eye on the meaningful minutes played by Clarkson, Russell and Randle for your answer here.

To bring to mind another tidbit of news from last weekend, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“They announced Alabama running back Derrick Henry as the Heisman Trophy winner Saturday. I thought I saw Nick Saban almost smile but it may have just been indigestion.”

Derrick Henry is a really good player; he averaged 6.2 yards per carry over his three year career at Alabama; this season, he fell only 14 yards short of gaining 2000 yards. Now let me pose a rhetorical question:

    Would Derrick Henry start at RB if he were at LSU?

    I do not have a definitive answer for that one. As I said, Henry is really good and he had a fantastic season; as I have said before, Leonard Fournette is the best RB that I saw this year.

You make the call…

Finally, let me close out today with one more item from Greg Cote last weekend:

“The week-long Orange Bowl International Junior tennis tournament ends Sunday in Plantation. It’ll seem so quiet without all those boorish parents yelling.”

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

Dipping Into Inventory…

My writing rhythm for football season changes this week. With only NFL flavored Mythical Picks left to do, I have to find material for an additional daily rant each week. That is why I keep a document called “Clipboard” in my computer memory; I need to dig a bit deeper into the inventory starting right about now.

Not that football is off-limits for commentary here… The Linfield College Wildcats needed a second-half comeback last week to beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 38-35 advancing Linfield to the quarterfinals of the Division III NCAA football tournament. On Saturday, the Wildcats venture east to play the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. The Tommies have a 13-0 record so far this season and every victory has been by 19 points or more. It should be a good game… Go Wildcats!

In the continuing saga of the NFL’s glacial pace to put a team in the LA market, there was a report late last week that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke was open to the idea of having a second team occupy the stadium he wants to build in downtown LA. That seemingly changes the dynamic of the league decision because until that news broke, the choices seemed to be Kroenke putting the Rams in a downtown stadium or the Chargers/Raiders jointly building and occupying a stadium in Carson, CA.

When I read that report, what came to mind was that Kroenke had counted up the votes he was likely to get for his original proposal and knew that he was short of the 24 votes he would need for approval. Therefore, he wanted to float another idea to:

    a. Give his fellow owners another option to consider
    b. Keep the heat on the folks in St. Louis who want to try to keep him there.

However, this new proposal is such a departure from his original plan – he would go it alone and wanted to develop the area around his new stadium by himself – that it felt to me as if there was more to it than slight feint for a minor advantage in the process. I just had a sense that there was more to this…

Then, someone dug up some more information and it would appear that Mr. Kroenke is still playing hardball on his proposal. Yes, he would accept a “partner team” who would occupy the stadium but his terms for the “partnership” are just a tad skewed:

    The Partner Team would pay half the costs to build the stadium. OK…
    Partner would not have control over design or construction of the stadium. Uh…
    Partner would not have control over development of surrounding area. Uh…
    Partner gets none of the non-football revenue from the stadium. Wait, what…?
    Partner gets no revenue from the development of surrounding area. WTF?

Obviously, I do not have nearly the resources to pretend that I might be a “partner” in a deal of this magnitude. Nonetheless, this seems more like a “Master/Apprentice” relationship than it does a “partnership”. So, I doubt I would be interested in such a deal for very long. However, it might be sufficiently intriguing to either the Raiders or the Chargers to drive a wedge between them and their Carson, CA joint venture.

The “NFL-to-LA saga” is not over; the fat lady may not even be loosening up her vocal chords just yet. I do believe, however, that the NFL as an entity has to start to move toward a decision in the next couple of months if not make their decision then. Here is why:

    There are 3 cities (San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis) where the league risks losing some of the fanbase because the team is threatening to move.

    That drives down revenue; that will ultimately drive down TV ratings.

I think the NFL needs to stop the music and find out which teams are left standing without a seat so that the teams NOT moving to LA can figure out what to do in their home cities to “mend fences with the fans” or to find some other place to move (San Antonio, London, Ulan Bator…)

In NBA news, there have been several videos played and replayed hundreds of times on ESPN and FS1 showing James Harden “loafing” on defense and not exerting himself in rebounding situations. Confronted with the idea that he might not be playing hard at both ends of the court, here is how Harden responded to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Forty [minutes] a night is pretty tough, especially if you want to get efficient on both ends of the floor. We got to figure it out. We have to figure out how to give guys more minutes and be more effective on the court so as a team we can get better.”

The bit about having to figure it out and get better as a team is standard pabulum; I would have been shocked not to hear that roll off his lips. However, the part about 40 minutes a night being tough if you have to play both ends of the court may get by some millennials who are not aware of anything that did not happen during the span of time when they were sentient. However, we old-timers recall an NBA player named Wilt Chamberlain. Here are some of his numbers that James Harden – and some of the millennials who bought into his excuses – need to consider:

    On offense, Wilt once scored 100 points in a single game and for one entire season (1961/62) he averaged more than 50 points per game. He played a bit on offense.

    On defense, Wilt averaged 22.9 rebounds per game over his 15-year career. In one game he took down 55 rebounds; that record has stood for 55 years. He played a bit on the defensive end of the court too.

    In terms of minutes played, over his 15-year career in 1045 games, Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game. For the entire season in 1961/62, he averaged 48.5 minutes per game. Remember, there are only 48 minutes in an NBA game so he played just about all the time in every game and then some OT minutes too.

Perhaps James Harden finds “forty a night” tough. However, we should acknowledge that it is not beyond the limits of human endurance.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from earlier this week:

“Curry, Warriors reach 22-0: NBA scoring leader Steph Curry and Golden State made it 22-0 Sunday at Brooklyn. I think we finally discovered a team that could beat the Carolina Panthers.”

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

Bowl Game Reviews…

Back in the 1960s, there was a genre of movies that enjoyed widespread – though brief – popularity. These were the “Spaghetti Westerns” produced in Italy and featuring gratuitous violence at every turn. It seems that the film that was the apogee of that art form was The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In a sort of homage to that cult classic, I want to present to you some of the 40 college bowl games for this year grouped under those headings. By default, you may consider any bowl game not mentioned here as “The Irrelevant”.

The Good:

Las Vegas Bowl: 12/19 BYU 9-3 vs Utah 9-3 [Big rivalry game here]
Camelia Bowl: 12/19 Appalachian St. 10-2 vs Ohio 8-4
Sun Bowl: 12/26 Washington St. 8-4 vs Miami 8-4 [About halfway between the campuses]
Russell Athletic Bowl: 12/29 UNC 11-2 vs Baylor 9-3 [Bet the OVER]
Orange Bowl: 12/31 Oklahoma 11-1 vs Clemson 13-0
Cotton Bowl: 12/31 Alabama 12-1 vs Michigan St. 12-1
Citrus Bowl: 1/1 Florida 10-3 vs Michigan 9-3
Rose Bowl: 1/1 Stanford 11-2 vs Iowa 12-1

The Bad:

Idaho Potato Bowl: 12/22 Akron 7-5 vs Utah St 6-6 [Starting to snore already]
Pinstripe Bowl: 12/26 Duke 7-5 vs Indiana 6-6 [Cannot give tix away for this one]
Independence Bowl: 12/26 Tulsa 6-6 vs Va Tech 6-6 [Guaranteed losing season here]
Arizona Bowl: 12/29 Nevada 6-6 vs Colo St. 7-5 [Two MWC teams in one bowl game?]

The Ugly:

New Mexico Bowl: 12/19 Arizona 6-6 vs New Mexico 7-5 [A border war; who cares?]
Cure Bowl: 12/19 San Jose St. 5-7 vs Georgia St 6-6 [Somniferous or soporific?]
Quick Lane Bowl: 12/28 Minnesota vs C. Michigan 7-5 [Bad Big 10 vs MAC…]
Cactus Bowl:
1/2 W Va 7-5 vs Ariz St 6-6 [Game starts 10:15 EST; ends ~ 2:00AM]

All 40 of these bowl games are sanctioned by the NCAA and generate revenue for the member institutions and conferences that make up the NCAA. Since the games here are only about money, consider a potentially negative aspect of money that could befall the NCAA as a result of a courtroom action. Recently a California Appeals Court ruled that a defamation of character lawsuit brought against the NCAA by Todd McNair, a former assistant coach at USC, can proceed. The assistant in question was at USC during the “Reggie Bush Investigation” and the NCAA announced that it was issuing sanctions against USC because this assistant knew of the improper benefits that Reggie Bush received. This may all sound pretty vanilla at this point but it seems to me that the three judges on the Appeals Court Panel made it pretty clear that they think the NCAA played “fast and loose” with the facts here:

“This evidence clearly indicates that the ensuing [infractions committee] report was worded in disregard of the truth to enable the [committee] to arrive at a predetermined conclusion that USC employee McNair was aware of the NCAA violations … To summarize, McNair established a probability that he could show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence based on the [committee’s] doubts about McNair’s knowledge, along with its reckless disregard for the truth about his knowledge, and by allowing itself to be influenced by nonmembers to reach a needed conclusion.”

I think that translates roughly into something like this:

    It is pretty damned clear that you folks figured out what the answer was supposed to be and then contorted whatever process you sort of established to make sure that the “right answer” came out over the signature of the investigators. Good luck with that…

I do not think this is nearly the first time the NCAA has pulled a stunt like this. In the Nevin Shapiro fiasco at Miami, there was the aroma of at least a smidgen of pre-ordained outcome. Moreover, in the Duke Lacrosse Mess, the NCAA stood by allowed one of its member institutions to fire a coach and defame more than a few of its student-athletes on false accusations and then on actions by the prosecutor that were so atrocious that the prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail.

I have wondered for some time now just why it has taken the NCAA so long to finish whatever it is doing with regard to the academic fraud situation that was ongoing at UNC for about a decade. Perhaps the problem is that so much of the evidence in that matter is in the public domain already that it has been very difficult to sculpt the outcome that is in the best interests of the NCAA. Would love to be a fly on the wall…

In another legal proceeding not having anything to do with the NCAA but one that might be fun to watch, Jonathan Papelbon has filed a grievance against the Washington Nationals who docked him 4 games pay for the time the team suspended him after his “dugout choking incident” with Bryce Harper. Given that the confrontation was replayed on national TV at least a bazillion times, one might wonder what the grievance is all about.

According to reports, there is no precedent under the history of MLB CBAs for a team-initiated suspension to carry with it a loss of pay. That seems counter-intuitive to me; but if that is the case then Papelbon ought to fight to get back the money the Nats took from his pocket. My rough calculation is that it comes to about $275K which may seem like a whole lot of nothing considering MLB salaries these days. But there are two things to consider here:

    1. If indeed there is no precedent for any of this, then the MLBPA surely does not want to set such a precedent outside the umbrella of a collective bargaining scenario.

    2. Papelbon has a reputation for being “difficult to get along with” and this is the sort of thing a person who actually is “difficult to get along with” might do over a long and boring offseason.

Seriously, if Papelbon is still on the Nats’ roster when Spring Training starts, it will be fun and games for the reporters assigned to that beat for about 6 weeks.

Finally, Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle a while back. Maybe the folks at the NCAA who do investigations and write disciplinary reports could take note:

“Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says of the massive doping allegations against his country, ‘We admit some things, we argue with some things, some are already fixed, it’s a variety.’ You fellas out there, memorize that speech and try it on your wife or boss next time you get caught doing something really stupid.”

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

Officiating Problems…

The 2015 NFL season has had its share of officiating blunders and I am not merely talking about questionable actions on replays where the officials can slow the motion down to stop action for inspection. There have been rules interpretations that have been mistakenly applied leading to suspension of an official for a game and leading to an entire officiating crew being taken off the Sunday Night Game. If there has been a full season of poorer officiating in the NFL’s past, I must have missed it.

I do recall a time when the mantra was that “instant replay” would resolve all controversies and get all the calls right. Well, the current system of coaches’ challenges has been in place for about 15 years now and they still do not get all the calls right. I do recall a time when the NFL officials were locked out and the league used “replacement refs” who butchered games badly until they completely blew a call on national TV (Seahawks/Packers) that changed the outcome of the game and the labor dispute miraculously settled in about 48 hours. That was supposed to assure that they get the calls right too…

Let me ask; how many times this year have you heard this statement or a small variant on this statement:

    “I just don’t know what a catch is anymore…”

That is a telling comment because it usually comes from a color analyst who is nominally an “expert”; if that comment was merely the screeching of Joe Fanboy somewhere, you could ignore it. However, we are getting to the point where the NFL may not be able to ignore this kind of thing much longer. I say that because the narrative seems to be changing.

On PTI about a week ago, Michael Wilbon said that the Patriots “were hosed” by the officials in the Pats’ loss to the Broncos. There is more than a semantic difference between “the Pats’ lost on a blown call” and “the Pats were hosed by the officials”. The first comment speaks to officials’ competency; the second intimates officials’ intent. Now, as soon as there is even a whiff of “officials’ intent” in the conversation, you begin to think about “integrity of the game” and stuff like that.

The NFL loves to stand tall and announce its commitment to the integrity of the game – because it has to do that. Never to be admitted in public, the NFL suits know that their game enjoys its 800-lb gorilla status to the fact that people gamble on the games legally and illegally. If there is any perception that the outcomes of said games are scripted in any way, the public’s gambling interest will dwindle and the NFL’s product will be less attractive. The “officiating problems” from 2015 have to be corrected.

I believe that replay has made officials lazy. They know in the backs of their minds that they might get a buzz from the booth to review a call or that a coach may challenge one they make so there is no need to invest the physical and mental energy in getting it right with the toot of the whistle. After all, Big Brother Replay, can set things straight at a more leisurely pace…

In the past, the NFL, the NFLPA and the officials have tried the single-focus solution to problems such as “replay” or “get rid of the replacement refs”. What 2015 has shown, is that the problem(s) are more complex than that.

Now since I mentioned the word “hosed” a couple of paragraphs above, consider please that North Carolina was hosed by the officials in its loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game last Saturday. Trailing by 8 points late in the 4th quarter, Carolina executed and recovered an onside kick giving them a chance to tie/win the game. The officials threw a flag and said Carolina was offside on the kickoff when replay showed clearly that they were not; no Carolina player was even close to being offsides. Why might this be a “hosing” rather than a “blown call”?

Well if you love conspiracy theories consider:

    Carolina had been ranked about #10 in the CFP polls going into the game; Clemson was #1.

    If Carolina wins and is the ACC Champion, it is possible – even likely – that neither team would make the CFP meaning the ACC would be out of the spotlight for those games.

    And who employs the officials? Why the ACC itself. How convenient…

Let me be clear, I do not believe for a moment that conference moguls sat around in a closed room two days before the Clemson/North Carolina game and assigned someone to let the officials know that Clemson had to win that game. Clemson did not have to cover – which they did anyway –; but they had to win – which they did. If you want to make a “hosing argument” that erodes the integrity of the game, you can do so with the video replays from that game.

Reports have it that the Super Bowl halftime act will be a rock group named Coldplay. It should surprise exactly no readers here that I do not know Coldplay from Hotwork or The Hot Toddies. Since this is Super Bowl 50 and the NFL will be flogging the nostalgia angle for that game for all it is worth, I wonder why they did not go back to Super Bowl 1 and invite the Grambling State University marching band to perform. I do not know what fee the NFL will pay for Coldplay’s appearance, but I suspect that the folks at Grambling can use the money more than the rock group can use the money. If you want to make it even better, do a “Battle of the Bands” at halftime with Grambling against Southern.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment after the Cavs and LeBron James visited Miami for a regular season game:

“Half of NBA fans are talking about Steph Curry’s unbeaten Warriors and the other half are talking about Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, the Heat on Saturday hosted the Cavaliers and ol’ what’s-his-name.”

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

Erratum

I must begin today with an erratum. Last week I was writing about Mark Richt’s firing at Georgia and mentioned that his winning percentage of 74% put him in the company of Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops. That statement is absolutely correct – but it is not as inclusive as it should be.

I received an e-mail last Friday from a former colleague who is a devoted football fan and an alum of TCU. The e-mail informed me that “this proud Horned Frog” knows that I did not omit the name of Gary Patterson intentionally but that I would “give offense to all who follow TCU” if I failed to correct my error. Not meaning to give offense, my former colleague is exactly correct. Gary Patterson’s record at TCU – his only head coaching job at the collegiate level – is 142-47 and that winning percentage is just north of 75%.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa…

Yesterday, the Portland Timbers captured the MLS Cup by beating the Columbus Crew in Columbus. The fact that two “small market teams” played in the final game surely did not enhance the TV ratings for that game going up against a full slate of NFL games. However, the presence of two “small market teams” in the final game does present MLS in a positive light with regard to the competitiveness of the league and the ability of any city to field a team that can compete for a championship.

Let me say one other positive thing about MLS here. The league has spent a lot of money and effort on player development. Youth academies continue to open and operate putting young players in a skills-learning situation as opposed to an environment where much of the time is devoted to games. In addition, MLS and the United Soccer League (USL) have created a third level of US soccer as another way to develop players. MLS is the top-tier of professional soccer in the US; the North American Soccer League is one level down from MLS; the USL is a third tier of pro soccer in the US consisting of 28 teams. Just as MLB incurs costs for developing young players in the minor leagues, MLS is involved directly with teams in the USL to develop talent that one day could show up in MLS or other professional leagues.

The NBA and Anheuser-Busch have extended their marketing agreement. I was glancing through a report about this extension and ran across this paragraph:

“A number of Anheuser-Busch’s flagship brands will activate as part of this partnership. Starting this season, Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time, with each brand owning year-round platforms and different marquee league events, including NBA All-Star, NBA Playoffs, The Finals, NBA Draft, and WNBA All-Star.”

I am pretty sure that I could define every word or phrase in that paragraph. Nonetheless, I am positive that I have no idea what that paragraph means. This is a value-subtracted process – as opposed to a value-added process. Here we have words I understand arranged in sentences that make no sense.

    What does it mean for a flagship brand to activate? Does that mean that cans of Bud Lite will open themselves and pour themselves into mugs?

    What is the significant change that I will notice now that “Budweiser and Bud Light will run NBA marketing activations at the same time”?

    What does it mean for a brand to “own year-round platforms”? Should I expect to see Budweiser trucks floating on barges in lakes? Maybe the Clydesdales will be on the roof of an arena near me?

Here is something I am sure that I do know about all of this. None of this management-speak is going to change the fact that Bud Light is undrinkable…

After the Arizona D-Backs signed 32-year old Zack Greinke to a deal reportedly worth $206M over the next 6 years, someone went back through the myriad records kept for baseball games and figured out that Greinke had thrown “more than 33,000 pitches in his major league career”. Talk about a pitch count… I checked his minor league stats and found that Greinke has had a couple of “rehab assignments” to the minor leagues and he threw 333.1 innings in the minor leagues as he was coming up to the major leagues. Seems to me that is an awful lot of pitches for an arm or a shoulder but then I did one other calculation:

    Nolan Ryan struck out 5714 batters in his career. If I estimate that it took him 4.5 pitches per strike out – probably a low estimate but good enough – that means Ryan threw 25,713 pitches just to his strikeout victims.

    Ryan pitched a total of 5386 innings meaning he got 16,158 hitters out. That means 10,444 hitters were retired in some way other than a strikeout. Conservatively, that is another 20,000 pitches…

    Ryan walked 2795 batters. At 5 pitches per walk, there go another 13,975 pitches.

    Ryan gave up 3,923 hits in his career. Round that off to another 10,000 pitches

    Using conservative estimates for all of these situations, Nolan Ryan threw at least 68,900 pitches in his career. By that measure, Greinke could be only in the mid-day of his career…

Finally, since I mentioned the NBA and Anheuser-Busch and their new marketing agreement, let me close with something from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times at the intersection of sports and beer:

“Canadian Lewis Kent broke the world record for the beer mile — four laps around a track, and downing a bottle of ale before each one — running it in 4:51.9.

“In terms of miles per gallon, though, that makes a Winnebago look like a Prius.”

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

Coaching Stories

Last week, when news reports had it that Les Miles was on his way out at LSU, I wrote that it is not so simple to replace a coach who wins about 70% of the games played along with a national championship. I stand by those remarks as LSU folks seemingly have come to their senses. Les Miles will be back at the helm in Baton Rouge next season.

However, in the frenzy of “football coach firing season”, which occurs in late November and early December every year, the folks at the University of Georgia have climbed out on a limb by firing their head coach, Mark Richt. Here is a brief overview of Mark Richt’s tenure at Georgia – the only school where he has been the head coach:

    Head coach from 2001 through 2015
    Bowl eligible every season
    Overall record is 145-51 (74% wins)
    SEC East Division Champion 6 times
    SEC Conference Champion 2 times
    SEC Coach of the Year 2 times

For the record, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops are the only other current college football coaches I found who had winning percentages of 74% or higher. Mark Richt is in rather good company there…

Coach Richt will be 56 years old early next year; his coaching days are not done if he decides that he wants another position. The résumé that I summarized above will surely get him offers from other schools unless he makes it known that he is not open to such offers. Meanwhile the folks at Georgia will now figure out at whom they will throw money to come to Georgia and surpass Mark Richt’s record there.

Having said all of the above, the 2015 season was disappointing for Georgia fans. The SEC East was a mess this year; South Carolina imploded; Missouri fell apart; Florida had a new coach; Tennessee was improved but still middling. Nonetheless, Georgia found a way to lose 3 conference games and finish 2 full games behind Florida. Personally, I think the reason for that poor showing goes beyond the coaching staff.

On October 10th, Georgia lost RB, Nick Chubb, to a season-ending knee injury. The Georgia offense was designed to feature Chubb as the main weapon and the passing game as the icing on the cake. This offense was supposed to be akin to Rex Ryan’s “ground and pound”; and like Rex Ryan’s NFL teams, Georgia had QBs for whom the top aspiration was that they would “manage the game” as opposed to stink out the joint. Here is what I wrote about the loss of Nick Chubb in NCAA Mythical Picks the week after his injury:

“Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending knee injury on his first carry of the game and Chubb is more than just a really good RB; he is what makes the Georgia offense go. Georgia led 24-3 in the first half and managed to lose 38-31. The Vols ran up 512 yards of total offense on a Georgia defense that has not looked nearly that bad all season long. Some folks may want to ascribe this loss to the hangover sustained from the clobbering that Alabama put on Georgia 2 weeks ago; I think it was more about the loss of Nick Chubb. And, that has implications for Georgia and the SEC East going forward.”

Indeed, those implications going forward seem to have encompassed the coaching tenure of Mark Richt. Yes, this was a year when the SEC East was ripe for picking and Georgia did not do the picking. Yes, that makes fans/boosters/administrators frustrated. No, that is not justification for them to take leave of whatever they have that passes for common sense. Here is what Nick Saban had to say about Mark Richt, his firing at Georgia and what it means for the college coaching profession:

“I don’t know what the world’s coming to in our profession. Mark Richt has been a really good coach and a really positive person in our profession for a long, long time. … We all get it. We know we have to win games. But winning nine games is not bad.”

At the NFL level, recall that the Miami Dolphins fired head coach, Joe Philbin, a couple of months ago and took the opportunity to fire the defensive coordinator too. The team had a brief “resurgence” if you count beating the Titans and the Texans as pivotal events for your team. Nonetheless, the Dolphins now find themselves at the bottom of the AFC East; they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they have as much chance of winning the Powerball lottery as they do of making the playoffs. So, what did the Dolphins do next?

    They fired their offensive coordinator.

People have looked at that and interpreted it as a sign that the owner will do a total restructuring and reorganization of the football operation in the off season. Good for him; the team needs it. The problem he has to face up to is that the players on the field are also in need to a total restructuring; the Dolphins have bigger problems than just the coaching staff.

By the way, the Dolphins made another announcement recently that is not likely to make their fans real happy. In the wake of this unsuccessful season and the bloodletting of the coaching staff here is what the Dolphins will do next year:

    They will increase ticket prices for about half the seats in Sun Life Stadium.

In the world on international soccer, there is a coach in place who is facing a revolt from his players. Fifteen members of the Venezuelan national team have said they will quit the team unless the coach and some folks in the Venezuelan Federation are removed. Venezuela has never made it to the World Cup Tournament and has been a traditional doormat in South American international soccer play. This is not nearly the sort of seismic news that it would be if such a threat came from the Brazilian or the Argentine teams; however, it does speak to the idea that sometimes the players believe the coaches are incompetent just as coaches often believe certain players are incompetent.

And for the record, one of the Venezuelan Federation folks – an overseer of a traditional doormat of a program – was one of the FIFA officials who was arrested in Switzerland about 6 months ago as part of the US/Swiss investigations and prosecutions of FIFA execs who just might have been involved in some corrupt activities.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times. Yes, he should be ashamed of himself for this groaner…

“Former Olympic 1,500-meter champ Sebastian Coe of England defeated former 20-foot vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, 115-92, to become president of IAAF, track & field’s governing body.

“Moral of the story: It doesn’t pay to run against Coe, even if you are No. 1 in the poles.”

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

A Race To The Bottom Tonight

Sports fans always look forward to “Games of the Year” whereby two teams considered to be “The Best” meet on the field/court/ice/pitch to determine the superior squad. However, there is inherent symmetry in the world and tonight will provide fans with a chance to glance at the other end of the stick. Tonight, at 7:00 EST, the Los Angeles Lakers tote their 2-14 record to South Philadelphia to play against the Philadelphia 76ers and their 0-18 record. You might be surprised to learn that the Sixers are favored by 1.5 points in this Race-to-the-Bottom Classic.

The fact that Kobe Bryant – who went to high school in suburban Philly before jumping to the NBA – has just announced that this will be his final season as a player will likely goose the attendance for the game. Might it actually be a sellout? If it is, it could be the only sellout of the season for the Sixers.

Philly fans like basketball; they generally support teams well even if those teams are “not fully functional”. Nevertheless, the Sixers of the past few years have been well below the descriptor of “not fully functional”; for the past several years, the Sixers have been “painfully pathetic”. Most folks identify the arrival of GM Sam Hinkie a little over 2 seasons ago as the start of the “painfully pathetic” era; I happen to think that the origin of this giant puddle of dog-barf began with the idiotic trade the Sixers made to acquire Andrew Bynum. However, that is quibbling so I will move on.

From the fans’ perspective the problem with the Sixers these days is that they are not only losing but they are losing every way you can imagine.

    Sometimes, they get blown out from the start and lose by a huge number.
    Sometimes they lead in the 4th quarter and then lose.
    Sometimes they rally from behind to take the lead late and then lose.

There is no fixed script for Sixers’ games except for the outcome. They lose. Moreover, one has to wonder if there is anything more than rhetorical gas behind the pronouncements that there is a master plan behind all of this. The front office plan/philosophy is to tear down the team to nothing and then proceed to use the assets gained by the tear down to rebuild the team. Indeed, they been wheeling and dealing for draft picks and foreign players. The problem is that the product on the court after 2 full years of restructuring is abjectly awful – or painfully pathetic if you prefer.

GM, Sam Hinkie, is trying to implement an NBA version of Moneyball; he is a devotee of advanced analytics for the game and he believes – probably correctly – that if/when he assembles a team with 5 or 7 outstanding young players at one time, that the Sixers will become a dynastic team. As Hamlet said, “Aye, there’s the rub…” So far, Hinkie’s top picks in the draft have been:

    Nerlins Noel: Good defensive player but no offense
    Michael Carter Williams: Traded away to Bucks and now benched there
    Joel Embiid: Has yet to see the floor due to foot injuries/surgeries
    Jahlil Okafor: Good offensive player but no defense

In the 2+ seasons of the Hinkie Master Plan, the Sixers cumulative record is 37-145. One need not resort to advanced analytics to recognize that is beneath miserable. The Sixers potentially have as many as 5 first round draft picks for next summer. Hey there, that has to be the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, if you look at the prior draft picks (note that three of the four top picks all play center) you have to wonder if that light at the end of the tunnel might actually be a gorilla with a flashlight.

And just when it seemed as if the Sixers were due for just a smidgen of good news, we learned that the latest top pick, Jahlil Okafor has had 3 “off-court incidents” in the last month to include an altercations where punches were thrown, a gun outside a club in the late-night hours and a speeding ticket on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge where the vehicle was clocked at 108 mph. Okafor is only 19 years old but that speeding ticket indicates to me that he knows that his future lies in getting out of this situation as fast as possible.

There is a report on CBSSports.com this morning that the Sixers will provide Okafor with a security guard “whenever he goes out”. Obviously, the Sixers want to protect the value of their asset; not so obviously, the Sixers seem not to understand the difficulty of protecting anyone from oneself.

However, all of that drama regarding the Sixers will be on hold tonight as the Lakers come to town with their “local kid made good” who is on his farewell tour on a team so bad that the Sixers might actually win the game. For one night, Philly basketball fans might actually enjoy going to the arena for a game – unless and until the Sixers find a way to lose at the end yet again.

Meanwhile, the world of college football finds itself in the situation whereby they are not going to have 80 bowl-eligible teams available for the 40 stupid bowl games that will transpire. As of this morning there are 75 teams with 6 wins. Of the teams with 5 wins, only 3 of them (Georgia State, Kansas State and South Alabama) have another game to play this weekend. Ergo, the NCAA will have to name at least 2 and as many as 5 ineligible teams “good enough to participate in a bowl game.” Never an entity to miss an opportunity to perpetuate a fiction, the NCAA will determine which ineligible teams to anoint with pixie dust by using:

    The Academic Progress Rate

I am not going to try to explain what this is other than to say it is a concoction of the NCAA that tries to hold schools accountable for having athletes take courses and progress toward degrees. And if you think that is effective, you have already bought into the fiction of the student-athlete in revenue sports and do not need to have your eyes diverted by smoke and mirrors. If you care to know more about that nonsense, here is a link to Wikipedia’s explanation.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Wisconsin fans hurled snowballs at their own cheerleaders at last Saturday’s football game.

“Coincidence? Irate school officials immediately announced they will no longer accept student applications postmarked Philadelphia.”

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

NFL Dollars And Sense…

In something far below the level of Earth-shattering news – in fact even below the level of marginally important news – CBS Sports today announced that it will have a new logo and new on-screen graphics coinciding with its telecast of the Super Bowl in February 2016. The new logo is described as “newer” and “sleeker” than the old one. Please raise your hand if the logo that a network uses on its sports telecasts has any bearing on whether you choose to watch that event on that network.

I thought so…

I read another report regarding CBS recently. For the telecast of Super Bowl 50, CBS is charging $5M for the “prime” 30-second spots in the game and that almost all of the “prime” spots have already been sold. If that is the case and we are not quite into December yet, I suspect that the price of the unsold “non-prime” spots might see a slight increase as December proceeds into January.

Large sums of money and the NFL get mentioned together lots of times these days. As the league owners march toward a decision regarding whether to put a team or two in Los Angeles, some folks have begun speculating about the “relocation fee” that the non-moving owners will split up as collected from the owner(s) who receive approval for such a move. Speculation about the “relocation fee” started at $500M for each team that earns approval for a move and some estimates have been as high as $600M per team. Let me put that into perspective for you here:

    The Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore as the Ravens in 1996. In order to gain league approval for that move, Art Modell paid the NFL a total of $29M – $20M up front and $9M in deferred payments over the next 15 years.

    Therefore, in roughly 20 years, the relocation fee jumped about 1700%.

The dynamic here is also interesting. Imagine that the final outcome is that the league owners vote to allow 2 teams to move to LA. For the moment, it does not matter which two make the move; just consider that there are 2 such teams. And merely to make the math come out in even numbers, assume that the “relocation fee” is set at $600M per team. In this imaginary instance, 30 teams will split $1.2B of “relocation fees” which comes out to be $40M per team. So let me pose a couple of questions here:

    1. If you owned a team that was not going to be affected in any meaningful way, why would you vote to oppose moving two teams to LA? NFL teams are profitable enterprises and just because you happen to own one of those teams, you now have the option to cash in a $40M lottery ticket just for raising your hand and saying “Aye!”

    2. Since the cold hard fact of the dynamic in my imaginary scenario above is that the “relocating owners” are going to pay significant money to the “non-moving NFL owners” in exchange for their votes to approve the relocation, why is this not thought of in terms of bribery? When IOC members and/or FIFA execs receive things of significant value in exchange for their vote on a specific matter, the word “bribery” leaps immediately into our vocabulary. In a broad sense, the 30 “non-moving NFL owners” are doing the same thing.

Now look back at the terms of the “relocation fee” imposed on Art Modell when he moved his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. He paid two-thirds of the fee up front and then paid off the rest of the obligation over 15 years. [Aside: He paid $9M over 15 years or $600K per year. That is an amount of money that I would love to see deposited into my retirement account annually, but in terms of the amounts we are talking about in the current relocation situation, that is chump-change.] Some commentators have opined that the terms of the relocations fee payments could have a significant impact on which teams can make this move. Specifically, some folks have said that if the entire $600M had to be paid upfront as an integral part of the deal, that specification would take the Oakland Raiders off the board. Reporters in the Bay Area have said definitively that Mark Davis cannot come up with that amount of money in a single chunk without selling off a fraction of the Raiders that could put his total command of the team in jeopardy.

Please note, I am not the one saying that for a very simple reason. I have exactly no knowledge of Mark Davis’ balance sheet or the details of the ownership arrangement for the team. What I do know is that the Raiders are owned by a partnership and that Mark Davis – and presumably his mother – are the General Partners in the ownership arrangement while any other owners are Limited Partners. Remember, I am not an attorney, but my understanding of limited partnerships is that the General Partner has complete and total control of the entity up to the limit of the General Partner committing illegal acts. What I do not know is whether the partnership agreement that prevails in the Raiders’ situation might allow the Davis family to decree that they and the other limited partners need to pony up cash should it be necessary to pay the relocation fee in a single chunk.

I am sure that some Raiders’ fan somewhere is going to read that and soar straight into Paranoia Mode wherein the NFL now has some way to “get even” with the Davis family for legal actions undertaken by patriarch Al Davis 30 and 40 years ago. Hey, it could happen. On the other hand, I do not think that it is imminently important for everyone in Raiderland to fashion for themselves a series of tinfoil hats to ward off the mind-control rays emanating from mahogany row at NFL Headquarters.

Here is one other way to look at the relocation fee issue. The Chargers, Raiders and Rams are the 3 teams “in play” for league approval to move to LA. According to Forbes’ valuation of those franchises, these three entities are worth between $1.43B (Raiders) and $1.52B (Chargers). To make the numbers come out even, consider that they are worth $1.5B. If that is the case, then the relocation fee is 40% of the franchise value. The Spanos fortune comes from real estate ventures; the Kroenke fortune comes from real estate and sports entrepreneurial ventures. Within both entities, there are serious “business folks” who use sophisticated understandings of markets and opportunities to project profitable decisions.

    In both of those ownership situations, they think it is worthwhile to pay a fee of 40% of the overall worth of the franchise to move to LA. Therefore, what ought we to infer from that analysis and conclusion about the increased profitability and value of the franchise itself simply by locating itself in LA?

Finally, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this hopeful view of sports finances recently:

“Bob Iger will be paid $1 per year to steer the Raiders’ quest to build a stadium in Los Angeles. Sheikh Salman, running for president of FIFA, says he will do the job for free. This trend can mean only one thing: Cheaper beer.”

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

Let’s Do Some Math Today…

The world is full of bad jobs. I would like to add one to the list today. Even though this job probably pays well and is related to a high-profile event, this is a bad job because it is highly stressful, and the only recognition one may get from it would be if one fails miserably. I am referring to:

    Head Honcho in charge of Security for the Super Bowl in Santa Clara

With no intention whatsoever of starting a political discussion relative to terrorism and terrorist events, it seems rather clear to me that there are folks out and about who would if they could do something to disrupt the Super Bowl in a violent way. I believe it was former CIA Director James Woolsey who said that the terrorist objective in one of their raids was to kill hundreds of people, injure thousands and frighten millions. If that is close to accurate, then the stadium in Santa Clara plus the iconic landmarks of San Francisco would be inviting targets for the first week of February 2016.

Someone with lots of help has the job to make sure nothing of that sort goes down then. (S)he will make a lot of money in that position and will likely spend some of that money on the Giant Economy Size bottle of Rolaids. If successful, no one will know who did the job; if unsuccessful …

Last week, I mentioned that there is going to be a professional rugby league starting up in the Spring of 2016 and that there will be yet another attempt to start a Professional Spring Football League to start around the same time. I hope both of the new leagues succeed even though I am not going to invest my life savings in a franchise for either league. I mention those new enterprises because it seems as if 2016 is going to be The Year of the Sports Start-Up. In addition to those two newcomers, get ready to welcome The Champions League next Summer.

The Champions League – as currently envisioned – will consist of 16 basketball teams whose rosters have “a strong preference for players who have competed in the NBA during the last three years.” According to reports, the team that will represent New York in the new league is already taking shape and some of the names on the roster are Al Harrington and Rasheed Wallace. Other former players who are reportedly on board with The Champions League are Rip Hamilton, Josh Howard and Brandon Roy. I mention these players only to give you a sense of what sort of competition you may expect from The Champions League.

According to reports, each team in the news league will have two former NBA All-Stars on its roster in addition to a Hall of Fame member in the team’s Front Office. For the 16 teams the league says it will employ a total of 250 folks and that the players will make about $200K each for the year. The season will consist of 30 games to be played in July and August when the NBA is dark. So, let me do a bit of math here…

    Each of the 16 teams should have 12 – 15 players on the roster. Let me assume the number is 14 per team meaning there will be 224 players in the league.

    If each player makes $200K, the player salary cost will be just under $45M.

    Each team will have to pay the Front Office folks something and will have to pay things like travel costs and rents for their game venues. Just for giggles, let me lowball that number at something like $500K per team or $15M for the league.

    Ignoring all other costs, the league needs to generate something in the vicinity of $60M during their 2-month season to break even.

One other featured item in the league’s announcement of itself is that they will offer “family-friendly and affordable entertainment during the NBA’s downtime.” Focus on the word “affordable” there as we do some more math:

    If there are 16 teams playing a 30 game schedule, that means there will be 240 games. Absent a TV deal, those 240 games would have to generate $250K per game to get to the $60M level.

    Most of the teams in the D-League play to average crowds of 2500 fans. A few teams average 4500; some teams average less than 1000 fans per game.

    For the Champions League averaging 2500 fans per game would mean that each fan would need to cough up $100 per game in total revenue for the team.

I admit these are ballpark numbers and average attendance for this product may exceed the average attendance in the D-League. Nonetheless, this does not make sense to me at all. I can see fans turning out for “Old-timers Games” – but not a dozen times in a two month span. Moreover, if each team is going to play 30 games in July and August as announced, that means they will play every other day; there are 62 days in July and August combined. That does not sound like scheduling that recognizes that many of the roster players – and particularly the ones that fans might know and recognize and want to see on the court – are in their late 30s/early 40s.

For basketball junkies, The Champions League will fill in the times of the year when there is no basketball competition other than the WNBA. However, the league will have to compete with the start of NFL training camp and the NFL Exhibition Season along with the jockeying for position among baseball teams as their season gets down to the sprint to the finish. The numbers for The Champions League as presented just do not add up in my mind unless there is a TV deal somewhere in the mix.

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

“And from the Sometimes These Items Just Write Themselves file comes word that organizers in Hawaii canceled the annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim, citing high surf and … rough water conditions.”

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

Some Prop Bets…

You may not realize it. The NBA regular season has not only begun; it is almost 20% over. The Golden State Warriors have yet to lose a game and sport a 15-0 record. At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia 76ers have yet to win a game and sport a 0-14 record. This has led some folks to suggest a prop bet:

    What will happen first?

      The Warriors lose a game or the Sixers win a game.

You should not be surprised to learn that there is one statistical category in which the Sixers lead the entire NBA. That would be turnovers per game. The Sixers – on average – turn the ball over 18.9 times per game; only one other team – the miserable Sacramento Kings – turn it over more than 17 times per game. Basically, the Sixers lead the rest of the NBA by almost 2 turnovers per game. To give you a perspective, the Lakers, Pelicans and Nets are also off to miserable starts this year. Compare the turnover per game stats here:

    Sixers 18.9
    Lakers 15.0
    Nets 14.7
    Pelicans 13.8

I would like to propose two other prop bets:

    What will happen first?

      The Sixers win a game or the Carolina Panthers lose a game.

      The Sixers win 12 games or the Phillies win 12 games.

Back in 1973 when the Sixers set the NBA record for futility with a 9-73 record, I happened to see them play a handful of games because a good friend of mine was working for a newspaper in Philly and covered that miserable excuse for a basketball team. I know that I will be spending a week in Philly in January/February 2016 and I am going to be sure to watch this year’s version of the Sixers just because they may pose a challenge to that 1973 team in terms of futility.

Some sportswriters have suggested that American Pharaoh should be the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Listing American Pharaoh’s accomplishments that support such a “nomination” is pretty simple:

    He won the Triple Crown – a feat that had not been accomplished since 1978

    He also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Since the Breeders’ Cup races did not begin until 1984, no horse has ever won this race and the Triple Crown in the same year.

Having now presented you with the reasons why American Pharaoh will – not should but WILL – be named Horse of the Year, let me say that I would not consider for even a moment naming him the Sportsman of the Year. The reason is contained in the name of the award; it is the SportsMAN of the year; that is easily extended to SportsHUMAN of the Year. It is not the SportsMAMMAL of the year or the SportsLIFEFORM of the Year.

Moreover, I do not need to hear any arguments about Secretariat and any “precedents” he may or may not have set with any awards he may have won years ago. Making a dumb decision in the past is not justification for making another dumb decision in the present. The Supreme Court of the United States made a dumb decision in the Dred Scott Case; that is not a reason for them to make another dumb decision in the current session of the Court.

Naming American Pharaoh the Sportsman of the Year makes as much sense as naming Kermit the Frog the Horse of the Year.

I have spent some time in previous rants on the subject of Daily Fantasy Sports and their relation to gambling. I will not bore you again with my views there. However, if you have not seen/heard John Oliver’s commentary from his HBO program Last Week Tonight on this subject, here is a link that will get you there. It is a long segment but it is worth your time.

    [Aside: Some of the language used here – remember, this is late night cable TV – is absolutely inappropriate for the workplace or for children. Please use discretion and volume control whenever and wherever you check this out.]

Finally, here is a brilliant observation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding fantasy football:

“Idle thought: Before believing the next NFL player who credits God for his success, I’ll need to know the lineup of the Deity’s fantasy team.”

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