Daily Fantasy Sports In New York…

Recently, the folks who oversee legal sports betting in Nevada ruled that daily fantasy sports are a form of gambling that needs to be licensed in that state. Many people dismissed that ruling as protecting the casinos’ turf. Yesterday, the Attorney General of New York announced that he has determined that daily fantasy sports are a form of illegal gambling and he has ordered Draft Kings and FanDuel to stop taking bets in New York. Representatives of the daily fantasy sports industry say this is a publicity grab on the part of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The daily fantasy sports advocates deny that their activity is gambling because it relies on skill to assemble a successful fantasy team.

No one who has read more than a few of these rants could possibly conclude that I am opposed to gambling in general or more specifically to gambling on the outcomes of sporting events. My position there is consistent and transparent.

    People are going to wager on sporting events; laws that seek to prohibit wagering on sporting events will not stop that activity. As examples please think about the effectiveness of Prohibition as a way to stop drinking or the myriad drug laws as a way to end drug usage and addiction.

    Since wagering on sporting events is going to happen under any circumstances, the government should regulate it as a form of interstate commerce and tax it accordingly.

My problem with this issue is that some folks in the US Congress seemed to find it necessary to try to define what is and what is not gambling as it regards the Internet; and in so doing, they decided that wagering on daily fantasy sports and horse racing was “OK” but wagering of the outcomes of individual games or poker was “Not OK”. Rather than use whatever contorted logic led to those distinctions, let me offer a relatively simple definition of gambling:

    Gambling involves two or more people putting something of value to them at risk pending the outcome of an event.

Using that definition, daily fantasy sports and horse racing are not distinguished from poker or wagering on individual games in any way. In all circumstances, people put up money at the outset and collect more money than they risked at the end if they are successful in “winning the bet”. Reduced to utter simplicity, if you wager $100 that the next person to enter the room we are in will be wearing a hat and I wager $100 that the next person will not be wearing a hat, we are gambling if in fact one of us walks away with $200 after someone enters the room.

In this ongoing and seemingly escalating brouhaha regarding daily fantasy sports, I am really on neither side of the argument because I do not think either side is right.

    Daily fantasy sports are indeed gambling.

    Enforcing laws that outlaw gambling is a feckless activity that wastes resources that could be used to better enforce laws that are far more important.

Recall, much of the current posturing here goes back to the Congress and its attempt to define what is and what is not gambling. Look at the revenues generated by daily fantasy sports – one company says it will pay out $2B this year so you may be sure they are taking in more than $2B – and recognize that the Congress will not undo the problem it created. The moneyed interests do not want things to change because that would be gambling on their part; they would only continue to be successful if the change went the way they prefer that it go and they will cease to be as successful if the change went “another way”. That is high stakes gambling…

Yesterday, I wrote about the change in the administration at the University of Missouri. The national attention commanded by the events there overshadowed another change of personnel at another institution of higher learning. The University of Illinois fired its Athletic Director, Mike Thomas, after an investigation into the treatment of the school’s football and women’s basketball players. Based on the report of that investigation, the chancellor said that this firing was necessary “in order to move forward”.

Before the football season began, Illinois fired its head coach based on player allegations of mistreatment. The investigative report said that the former coach interfered with doctors treating injured players and “building a culture that tended to blame players for being injured.” Here is a link to a report in the Chicago Tribune with more details on these sorts of happenings and in that report there is another link to the full text of the investigative report. Be forewarned, the investigative report with attachments/appendices is 1267 pages in length.

Several women on the basketball team have sued the school alleging maltreatment in that program too. The investigation found their claims of a racially abusive environment to be unfounded; given the lawsuit, a judge is likely to determine if the investigation came to the proper conclusion.

The investigation did not connect Mike Thomas to any of the abuses that it found – and obviously assessed him no blame for the racially abusive environment that it found did not exist. That makes the Thomas’ firing worth a look:

    If the university is confident that the investigation was done professionally and thoroughly such that its findings are self-evidently true, why did Thomas have to be fired “in order to move forward”?

    If Thomas is blameless, his resignation – with a settlement of course – should suffice here.

My guess is that the university has no such confidence in that investigation and that there may be a degree of polarity on campus with regard to this issue that would only be assuaged with some “punishment” being handed down. I also believe that the folks at Illinois are really glad to have the media focus so intensely focused on what is going on at Missouri just now…

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

According to a report, the Minnesota Vikings lead the NFL in player arrests over the past five seasons. Minnesota is now known as “Land of 10,000 Player Busts.” I remember that time when three Vikings were arrested during a long booth review.

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

Hither, Thither And Yon…

I am going to be cleaning up the clipboard today and jumping around from issue to issue and from sport to sport. Fasten your seatbelts, please…

The college basketball season is about to get underway and teams are playing exhibition games just to do something different from scrimmaging against themselves. These games do not count and to call them meaningless would be very generous. Having said that, one of them may prove to be very meaningful.

Recall that St. John’s convinced their Hall of Fame alum, Chris Mullen, to come home and to reconstruct the basketball program there. There was a time when St John’s was always part of the discussion with regard to top-shelf college basketball programs; that has not been the case for at least the last 10 years. Well, the first “game” that the Johnnies played against someone other than themselves was an exhibition against St. Thomas Aquinas College and the Johnnies lost that game by 32 points.

In case you are not familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas College, this is a Division –II program whose schedule for this year includes inter alia:

    Felician
    Goldey-Beacom
    Molloy
    Mercy
    University of the District of Columbia

Too bad Chris Mullen does not have any collegiate eligibility left…

Drew Magary wrote a piece for GQ magazine saying that the NFL should get rid of Thursday Night Football and put the games on Friday night instead. I do not think the article is a great piece of exposition – or that the idea is particularly germane – but I will provide a link here for you so that you might judge for yourself if you want to.

Magary undercuts his argument in the second paragraph; the reason that Thursday Night Football is here to stay is this:

“The problem, of course, is that the NFL has no inclination to stop airing Thursday Night Football because it WORKS. It’s the third most popular show on network television, right behind Sunday Night Football (#1, of course) and Fox’s Sunday-afternoon NFL postgame (how much Terry Bradshaw do people REALLY need?).”

No television exec wants to ditch the show that gets the third highest ratings of the week because that means he/she would be ditching a program for which the network can charge premium ad rates. Moreover, the NFL is uninterested in ditching the programming that draws that sort of fan attention. Ergo, the whole idea is pie-in-the-sky at best…

However, I wanted to check out my thinking here and “consulted with” – actually “exchanged e-mails with” – an old friend who has covered the NFL professionally for more than 4 decades. Basically, his assessment was similar to mine:

“For one thing, it will never happen for a very simple reason: No one sits home and watches TV on Friday night. People DO sit home and watch TV on Thursday night. The NFL goes where the eyeballs — and advertisers — are.”

He added something to his note that summarized my inherent frustration with Thursday Night Football but I had never thought of it in this way:

“… it doesn’t change the real problem which is screwing up the normal schedule. One thing that helped make the NFL so popular was its rhythm. Games were played on Sunday with a full week in between. There was a natural arc to it and it allowed the players to heal and the coaches to prepare. Now the schedule is staggered and it is impacting the quality of play all across the board. The Thursday night games are usually lousy but the league will keep playing them because (a) people tune in and (b) the ad money is huge.”

Moreover, there is one other thing that is wrong with the idea of Friday Night Football. The NFL has two franchises in Texas. Friday night in Texas is focused on high school football; if you are not familiar with Texas high school football, it is a sporting phenomenon that would be difficult to explain to people in other parts of the country. Darrel Royal – former Texas football coach – once said that in Texas the top sport was football (college football) and the second sport was spring football. What he forgot to add was that #3 was high school football…

If the NFL put on real games to compete with high school football, the fans in Texas would not take kindly to it and that would not be a good thing for the two franchises there…

Barcelona is the soccer team where Lionel Messi plies his trade. According to CBSSports.com, Barcelona might wind up playing in the French League instead of La Liga in Spain. Geography teachers all over the country just felt a twinge in their neck as I typed that last sentence but they do not know why…

The Catalunya Region of Spain is seeking independence and should that succeed, the thinking is that La Liga will undergo reorganization and that Barcelona would be booted out of La Liga along with another team from the Catalunya Region. In such an event, the French league has said it would welcome Barcelona into its association. Obviously, this is all very iffy and it involves world politics along with internal FIFA politics. The combination of those two dynamics means that it is also possible that Barcelona will play in some intergalactic league sometime in the next few years…

Finally, I ran across these two items in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score:

“LeBron says that Kevin Love will be the ‘focal point’ of the Cavaliers’ offence,” reports Bill Littlejohn, our South Lake Tahoe, Calif., correspondent. “Someone tell him what it was like when Ringo sang lead.” . . . “The Dallas Cowboys have brought in Charles Haley to talk to Greg Hardy,” Littlejohn writes. “Isn’t that like bringing in Freddy Krueger to talk some sense to Jason?”

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

Another Legal “Situation”…

Yesterday, I mentioned Pierre Garcon’s suit against FanDuel. It turns out that is not the only legal action that involves the Skins these days. The team itself is in court filing to appeal a ruling that says its team name is an offensive racial slur and therefore should not be afforded trademark protection. The Legal Eagles representing owner Danny Boy Snyder can surely come up with at least a dozen and a half arguments to justify their appeal that the banishment of this trademark is legally improper. It seems to me as if those Legal Eagles have chosen to take the low road in this battle.

    [Aside: I guess the advantage of taking the low-road is that they will not encounter Denny Green at any point on their journey. He is, after all, always on the high road…]

To do a quick reset here, the folks in the government who rule on the viability of trademarks decided last year that “Redskins” was a racial slur and therefore could not be given trademark protection by the US Government. The team appealed that decision and at some point earlier this year encountered a federal judge who agreed with the folks who make trademark decisions in this matter. So, the team is now in the appellate process – and the Supreme Court remains a possible option no matter which side prevails at this level. Whether or not “The Supremes” want to deal with an issue as moldy as this one remains to be determined.

Given the uncertainty of any sort of Supreme Court review, perhaps the background music for all of this should be by Diana Ross and The Supremes as they sing, You Keep Me Hangin’ On. Alternatively, should Danny Boy and his Legal Eagles lose this battle, maybe the background music should be The Supremes singing:

    Things Are Changing – or –
    Some Things You Never Get Used To – or –
    I’ll Try Something New.

In any event, what the Skins’ legal representatives chose to do in their appellate brief was to sink to the level of a school-yard argument making the case that the team nickname is not worse than a whole bunch of others. They found more than a couple dozen offensive trademark names that have been approved by the trademark mavens in recent times; the direct implication is that those names are in the same genre of names as “Redskins”. Here are a couple that they cite:

    Cracka Azz (a skateboard brand)

    Gringo Style (a kind of salsa)

    Hot Octopuss (an ointment to prevent premature ejaculation)

    Laughing My Vagina Off (a website for “Chicks and Giggles”)

    Midget Man Condoms (do we really need any more clarity here?)

    Redneck Army (a line of clothing)

With the possible exception of “Gringo Style” as a kind of salsa, these names may be offensive to some but none are of the flavor of a “racial slur”. Like it or not, that is the basis of the trademark denial by the trademark mavens and by the federal court judge that got us here. By the way, that same federal judge also included in his ruling that denying this trademark on the basis of what it is does not infringe on the team or the owner’s First Amendment freedom of speech.

I am rooting for this to go to the Supreme Court for a final decision. It really does not matter to me which way the decision goes in the final confrontation; the world will continue to go from day to night and back to day again in the event that either side prevails. What I want to witness is the commentary by the media folks who report on Supreme Court proceedings as to the oral arguments and then as to the parsing of the various opinions that will surely come forth from the Justices. I have zero legal training, but that will be enjoyable listening and reading indeed…

We are on the cusp to begin the college basketball season. Like in college football, many teams open the season with patty-cake opponents. Greg Cote of the Miami Herald took note of one such “game” scheduled by the University of Miami:

” ‘Soft opening’ this week for Canes men: Jim Larranaga’s guys host an exhibition game vs. Dowling this Wednesday night as they prepare to open the season Nov. 13. Free tickets to anybody who knows who or what ‘Dowling’ is.”

And speaking of college basketball, let me offer a few comments regarding the allegations that recruits and players at the University of Louisville were provided “escort services” and “sexual encounters” that were arranged for and paid for by a member of the Louisville coaching staff. Many commentators have focused on what Coach Rick Pitino knew or did not know; more than a few folks have called for him to be fired. Here is my thinking on the matter:

    As the Head Coach, he should have known what was going on in the “recruiting arm” of the basketball program. However “should have known” and “knew” are two very different things in this case.

    Please keep in mind the “Duke Lacrosse Case” and the “fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia” here. Do not fall victim to the train of thought that says “we all know this kind of sleaziness goes on” and therefore, the link to the head coach has to be true. “The Narrative” does not trump “The Evidence”.

    If it can be shown that Rick Pitino knew about any of this – even in general terms – and did not take steps to stop it, he should be fired from his job and the NCAA should put a 10-year “show-cause” order on him lest some other school tries to hire him to coach basketball there.

    If what is contained in the paragraph above cannot be shown, then each and every member of the media who has called for him to be fired or sanctioned in any way needs to apologize publicly as a condition of keeping his or her job.

I do not know what Rick Pitino knew or did not know. I also admit that I am not sufficiently aware of how the basketball program is managed at Louisville to opine as to what he might have known or should have known. What I know is that in cases like this:

    Sometimes the accuser is stone-cold right. See José Canseco and steroids/PEDs in MLB as an example.

    Sometimes the accuser is stone-cold wrong. See Crystal Magnum and the Duke Lacrosse scandal as an example.

Finally, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot and I tend to agree on the vast majority of sports topics out there. In this case, it would appear that Messr. Molinaro has made up his mind a bit before I think it is prudent to do so. History may prove him to be perfectly correct – even prescient. I will choose to wait for more evidence to come forth:

“Catch-22: Rick Pitino is trying to survive what would be a lose-lose proposition for most any other coach. Even if you take him at his word that he wasn’t aware of the Louisville recruiting parties that reportedly featured strippers and prostitutes, is there any plausible excuse for why the head coach shouldn’t have known? I wouldn’t bet against Slick Rick hanging onto his job, though. This is college basketball in Kentucky, after all.”

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

Another NFL Coaching Change

Ken Whisenhunt has followed Joe Philbin into the ranks of unemployed NFL coaches fired in mid-season 2015. In 23 games as the coach of the Titans over the past season and a half, the record was 3-20 which seems to be a reasonable basis for “taking things in a different direction”. You may remember that Whisenhunt was the coach of the Arizona Cardinals the year the Cards went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Steelers in the final seconds of the game. You may be wondering how a Super Bowl caliber coach can have had such a bad run with the Titans…

As I often try to explain here, coaching – and managing in baseball – are overrated in 90% of the cases. Yes, there are some inspirational leaders as coaches who create winning attitudes that flourish on the field; yes, there are some coaches who create some new wrinkle on offense or defense that translates into wins on the field. In most cases, the effect of coaches and managers is “Meh”.

Ken Whisenhunt did indeed take a team to the Super Bowl one year. Nonetheless, his overall NFL record in head coaching positions is 48-71. I think that record reflects that Ken Whisenhunt is a typical NFL head coach:

    Give him mediocre or bad players to coach and his teams will lose.

    Give him a set of players having better than average years in their careers and his teams will win.

Mike Mularkey will take over the helm for the Titans. If history is any indicator here, Mularkey’s record as an NFL head coach is hardly awe-inspiring. He coached the Bills and amassed a 14-18 record there; then he coached the Jags for a year and went 2-14. His overall record of 16-32 is actually worse than Ken Whisenhunt’s 48-71…

Over the weekend, I read reports that Skins’ WR, Pierre Garcon has filed a class action lawsuit against FanDuel claiming that the daily fantasy sports website has misappropriated his name and his likeness – along with the names and likenesses of all other NFL players on any NFL roster since 2013 – for the profit of FanDuel and without compensation or permission from Garcon or the players. To my untutored eye, this appears to be a pro-sports action akin to the one that Ed O’Bannon is pursuing against the NCAA. If I am wrong in that thinking, I am perfectly willing to be corrected. Here is a link where you can see the entire complaint that has been filed in the US District Court, district of Maryland.

At the end of the complaint, it expresses its “prayer for relief”. Two of these prayers caught my eye:

    “An award for disgorgement of all profits earned by Defendant from
    promoting its daily fantasy sports contests using Plaintiff’s and Class
    members’ names and/or likenesses.”

      If that prayer is answered in full, that would effectively award profits to NFL players made by similar misappropriations of the names and likenesses of MLB and NBA players. That does not seem fair…

    “An injunction enjoining Defendant from the future use of Plaintiff’s and
    Class members’ names and likenesses to promote its daily fantasy sports
    Contests.”

      I suspect the effect of an injunction forbidding future use would merely give time for the players individually or in concert to negotiate a deal with FanDuel wherein the players get a share of the profits without an investment risk.

I have no dog in that fight; I have no interest in daily fantasy sports and I remain unconvinced that pro athletes are an oppressed class of people. However, it will be interesting to follow the progress of this action. It is also interesting to note that the suit is only against FanDuel and not Draft Kings. The cynic in me says that the reason for keeping Draft Kings out of the action is that the NFLPA and Draft Kings have a contractual relationship and FanDuel does not. This might get interesting…

Speaking of things getting interesting, here is the headline from a report on CBSSports.com the day after the Ravens lost to the Cardinals in Arizona:

“Ravens say headsets went out during final drive in loss to Cardinals”

Please note that this did not happen in Foxboro. Please also note that even with the NFL in charge of the communications equipment(s) that link the coaches on the sidelines with the “coaches upstairs”, these things continue to happen. Moreover, they always seem to happen to the visiting team and not the home team. Strange, no…? Even stranger is when the malfunction occurred according to the CBSSports.com report:

“Trailing 26-18 and with just under two minutes to score a touchdown and pull even on the 2-point conversion, the Ravens’ headsets went out.”

I got a note from a friend just after the Royals had taken a 2-0 lead in the World Series beating both Matt Harvey ad Jacob deGrom. It is an amazing stat:

“I saw a great stat today – of the 84 fastballs Harvey and deGrom threw the Royals hit or made contact with 82.”

Finally, Dwight Perry caught this line and included in in his column in the Seattle Times:

NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, on a study claiming that David Beckham and his wife Victoria Beckham are richer than Queen Elizabeth: ‘In other words, Posh Spice is doing better than Old Spice.’ ”

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

The Royals Win The World Series

On the Monday Night Football telecasts, one of the features is the naming of the “Gruden Grinder”. This is a guy who is not a star player but someone who always works hard and hustles thereby making significant contributions to his team. Well, the Kansas City Royals are not only the Champions of the baseball world, they are also the “Gruden Grinders” of the baseball world. In the deciding game of the World Series last night, the Royals trailed going into the top of the 9th inning but there was no “aura” around the game that hinted that they would go meekly into the night. Indeed, they did not; they scored 2 runs to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The Royals stole 4 bases last night; it seemed as if they had some sort of “tell” on the Mets’ pitchers letting they know when to run.

The other thing about the World Series as a whole that doomed the Mets beyond the no-quit attitude of the Royals was the Mets’ bungling in the field. Not only were there errors to allow baserunners (six recorded errors in five games) but there were plays that should have been scored as errors that were not. The prime example came on the tying run in the top of the 9th inning. When Eric Hosmer made his dash home from third, Luke Duda had him stone-cold out with an accurate throw and the Series would be heading back to Kansas City for Game 6 as of this morning. That throw from first base was not in the same area code with home plate and/or catcher Travis d’Arnaud. The official scorer did not call it an error; I guess it would have had to have gone over the screen behind the plate for him to think the throw went where it was not supposed to go.

Kudos to Frank Thomas after the game on Fox Sports. In the aftermath of the Royals’ win and their first World Championship in 30 years, everyone seemed upbeat and focused on praise for the grittiness of the Gruden Grinders of baseball. Thomas dropped this line about the Mets in the Series:

“The Mets have nothing to hold their heads down for – except, they didn’t play that well, and they gave away this World Series.”

That may not be an uplifting thought at the end of a World Series, but it is on target. The Mets had been about the hottest team in baseball for the final 6 weeks of the regular season and were on top of their game playing the Dodgers and the Cubs. Against the Royals, they played only marginally well. Frank Thomas gave us a Howard Cosell-like analysis but without any bombast or seeming nastiness. All he did was to cut to the chase…

Back in the summer, ESPN and Bill Simmons “went in different directions”. Simmons adopted the persona of The Sports Guy in many of his writings and he was the founder and guru for Grantland.com. The website lived on for 6 months without him but ESPN shut it down last week.

I liked Bill Simmons’ writing – particularly when he wrote about the NBA. Having said that, I must admit that I had become tired of some of his literary devices that stretched some of his essays north of 5000 words. I also liked several other regular writers there including Bill Barnwell, Matt Hinton and Graham Parker and read them regularly. My favorite writer there was Charles P. Pierce and I like him enough that I have already started to search for whatever new Internet haunt he might contribute to.

Grantland.com was different from the other writing that appears on ESPN outlets. There was very little “cheerleading” there and many of the articles looked analytically – not stat analytics but thought analytics – at a variety of issues. I may not have read it every day, but I did check out what was new there every day.

I doubt that it was profitable for ESPN or Disney but I also doubt that whatever losses it incurred were not covered in the “rounding off error” within Disney’s Statement of Earnings. I for one will miss it…

Speaking of folks who have parted company with ESPN in the past few months, Colin Cowherd has moved to FOX and has a new show simulcast on FS1. He can be a pompous jerk at times; but for the most part, his ideas have a rational base beneath them. Every once in a while, he has something on his program that makes you sit up and ask yourself if you really heard what you thought you heard.

An example of that was on a recent program when Len Dykstra made this claim:

    Dykstra said he had hired private investigators to follow MLB umpires around when they were on the road to get some dirt on them. That dirt would nominally be used to get Dykstra an expanded strike zone in exchange for keeping the dirt under the rug.

    As outré as that may sound, Dykstra also claimed that it had worked for him. That can only mean that he blackmailed/extorted/coerced an MLB umpire or umpires to add some subjectivity into their calls. I have two things to say about that:

      1. If true, this is far worse than what Tim Donaghy did.

      2. Given Dykstra’s history of prevarication, I would need a bit more evidence that this sort of “transaction” ever took place.

Here in the US, we often hear of situations where a player – or a parent of a player if we are talking about youth sports – goes berserk over being cut from a team or not being selected for some team or honor or thing of that nature. After the person doing the ranting and raving calms down, we all remember that he was a jerk during the ranting and raving but it is over and we move on. That is not the way things happen in Abu Dhabi.

A mid-fielder named Abdullah Qassem was not selected to be on the UAE National Team. According to The Daily Mail, Qassem made indecent gestures and ranted at the coach who selected the team; another player recorded on video the rant and the commentary; the recording made it to the Internet. A court in Abu Dhabi found both players guilty of:

“… using telecommunications services to offend and hurt the feelings of others, and displaying a recording that breached public ethics through the web”.

The two players were each sentenced to 3 months in jail for this societal breech. Here is the link in case you think I am kidding. Recall this story the next time you read about some parent going nuts over some real or imagined slight directed at one of his/her offspring…

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup which will culminate in the Miami suburb of Homestead:

“This is 14th year we’ve hosted the grand finale, and I still can’t believe they have it in Homestead. It’s like the NFL putting a Super Bowl in Fargo, North Dakota.”

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

RIP Flip Saunders…

Flip Saunders, coach and GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died over the weekend of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The commentary of people on his passing sounded to me more authentic than is typical in situations like this one. It sounded to me as if the person on the screen reading the copy related to this passing genuinely wanted me to know that Flip Saunders was a good person. In addition, NBA coaches will wear a lapel pin honoring and remembering him all season long. That sort of tribute does not obtain for everyone.

Rest in peace, Flip Saunders…

Unless you are a Mets’ fan or a bettor who took the Mets to win Game 1 of the World Series, you had to like last night’s game. If you are into omens, you got one in the bottom of the first inning with an inside the park home run; the last time that happened was in 1929.

    [Aside: The last inside the park home run in a World Series game happened in October 1929 and the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. Since tomorrow is October 29, we shall have to hope that last night’s “omen” was only related to an exciting baseball series and not to world financial conditions.]

Then the momentum swung back and forth between the teams sending the game into extra innings becoming on the third World Series game ever to go to the 14th inning. The game featured some solid pitching, “normal” home runs and manufactured runs. If you watched last night’s game and could not find something to fit your taste, you just do not like baseball – and there is nothing wrong with that. For baseball fans, however, last night’s game was a great game played well by two good teams. We baseball fans will be happy to see six more just the same…

One interesting stat emerged from last night’s game. Mets’ outfielder, Michael Conforto drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. That is a pretty ordinary play except …

    Conforto is the only player ever to drive in a run in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the MLB World Series.

How cool is that?

I appreciate the value of free speech in the US and I accept the fact that guaranteeing free speech to everyone requires that I must hear from time to time things that I find reprehensible and vile. Frequently, such utterances come from the folks in charge of the Westboro Baptist Church. To anyone who pays attention to the news, it is obvious that members of that congregation believe that homosexuality is an abomination and that sin will be the downfall of mankind. Whether or not you or I agree with that creed is immaterial; that is their belief and they must be free to practice it and to preach it.

Having said that, I would greatly prefer if they would find venues for their free expression that do not make me cringe. Last weekend, a driver plunged a car into the Oklahoma State Homecoming Parade in Stillwater, OK. Four people including a toddler were killed and dozens had to be treated at local hospitals for serious injuries. The driver of the car allegedly was driving under the influence and could face charges of murder for the event. The families of the victims here seem to have suffered enough since they and their loved ones did nothing to incur the wrath of anyone else.

Not so, say the leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church. The congregation plans to picket the funerals of these victims; and if they do, their behavior can only add to the suffering of the mourners. I understand that the Church members believe they are doing God’s work; at the same time, I wonder if they derive some sort of perverse enjoyment from inflicting their extra measure of suffering to victims’ families at funeral services. If indeed any of them do derive such enjoyment, that perversion ought to be at least as great an abomination as the sin that they decry so loudly…

With Al Golden’s firing as the head coach at Miami, there are already three major college coaching openings available and the season is not over yet. Maryland, South Carolina, Southern Cal and Miami are the big schools we know will be looking for new hires at the end of the season and there will surely be more come December as final records for 2015 are written in India ink. I bring this up because of a report that I read yesterday regarding the Houston Texans.

According to that report, QB Ryan Mallett missed the team charter flight to Miami and had to catch a commercial flight to get to the game. Evidently, this is not the first time that Mallett has not been on time for team events and coach Bill O’Brien wanted to release Mallett but he was over-ruled by the GM. On the assumption that report is accurate, that tells me that O’Brien is not in charge of the team and most coaches are not going to be happy with that state of affairs for very long. Football coaches are control freaks.

Bill O’Brien got the job in Houston because of the exceptional job he did in keeping the Penn State football program from going into the sewer in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky miasma. If I were an Athletic Director at one of those major schools that needed a coach, I would quietly contact O’Brien’s agent to inquire if – perhaps – he might be interested in returning to the college ranks where “higher ups” would not question his decisions regarding who is on the team and who is not on the team. After all, it is not as if the Texans are bound for any sort of football glory this season – and perhaps the next few also…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the team the Mets eliminated from post-season play:

“Futurewatch: Traumatized Cubs fans can take comfort in believing that with so much young talent on the roster, their team’s championship prospects should be even better next season. Of course, that’s what everybody said about the Washington Nationals two years ago.”

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

Finally – The World Series…

The World Series starts tonight. Back in Spring Training, folks could have imagined seeing the Royals appear here for a second year in a row. They were surprises last year but made it to the Series and showed well there; an encore performance was not out of the question. The Mets, on the other hand, were not considered seriously in any World Series discussions outside of Queens, Brooklyn and towns along the Long Island Expressway. Nevertheless, here they are. One of the wonderful things about the World Series is that teams that make it to the Series are not “flukes”. Grinding through a 162-game season followed by at least two elimination usually assures that the teams there are worthy of their status.

The Mets’ young pitching staff will face a challenge in the Royals – the team that struck out the fewest times last season. The Mets’ pitchers have averaged 10 strikeouts per game in the playoffs this year; the Royals as a team only struck out 15.5% of the time for the season. In a game with 40 plate appearances, that equates to only 6 strikeouts. Just watching that will be interesting.

When we left Las Vegas, the oddsmakers had the Series as a “pick ‘em” proposition. Here are two key questions:

    Assuming the Daniel Murphy will revert to mild-mannered Clark Kent and become a newspaper reporter in place of a superhero, is there another Met who will assume the mantle of superhero?

    With regard to Johnny Cueto, will Johnny be good or will Johnny be bad?

I have no particular rooting interest in this Series and did not make a wager on it last weekend. My prediction is that the Royals will win in the end.

Since the World Series will end the baseball season, let me insert a Quick Quiz here that relates to MLB. What is more inconsistently called?

    A. The strike zone in MLB …

    B. Pass interference in the NFL.

Fifty words or less…

The NBA regular season also starts tonight. Three games are on the schedule and TNT will air two of them. I do love to watch basketball, but the only moments of those games that I will watch will be when the World Series game is between innings or when a relief pitcher is responding to a summons – from the manager and not a judge. Here are some predictions regarding what we will see from the NBA next April when the interesting part of their season begins:

    The Cleveland Cavaliers will dominate the Eastern Conference. They made it to the NBA Finals last year with two of their three best players on the injured list. Assuming they are back and uninjured, the Cavs will dominate again.

    The only serious competition for the Cavaliers in the East will be the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play most of the year and not to be in street clothes when the playoffs come around. The Heat need to be “rested and ready” once the playoffs begin. Even if those things come to pass, the Cavaliers ought to prevail.

    The Knicks will be significantly improved this year. They might even be on the fringe of making the playoffs.

    The Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers will both stink.

    The far superior Western Conference will not be dominated by anyone; there are too many good teams there. I like the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder to play for the championship of the West.

    Las Vegas had the LA Lakers’ win total at 24.5 for the season. I do not think the Lakers are nearly a playoff team, but I think they will do better than that.

    I think the New Orleans Pelicans with Anthony Davis may be the most fun team to watch this year.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers will have the worst records in the West but will not be nearly as bad as the Magic or the Sixers. Their bad records will be more a function of the fact that they have to play a lot more games against the large number of very good teams in the West as opposed to the mediocre teams in the East.

So let it be written; so let it be done… [/ Pharaoh Yul Brynner]

After Clemson disemboweled Miami 58-0 last weekend, Miami Coach, Al Golden got the axe. Golden arrived at Miami just as the NCAA dropped the hammer on the program in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro “untidiness”. He lived under the punishments imposed because of the actions of others. Obviously, Miami’s football fortunes are not what they were in the 80s and 90s, but to say that Al Golden is the reason for that retreat is unfair and incorrect. Nevertheless, 57-0 is an embarrassment normally reserved for second-rate football programs and/or homecoming patsy opponents.

According to CBSSports.com this morning, Ed Reed says that he and other former Miami players would like to be involved in the search for Golden’s permanent replacement at Miami. That is not a bad idea except that Reed seems to think that getting someone from the “Miami family tree” is important. Getting a competent coach and a good recruiter – now that the scholarship limitations from the NCAA are over – is far more important than being part of the “Miami family tree”.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald that is peripherally related to a competent college football coach:

“There is a new book out about Nick Saban by author Monte Burke. It is called Saban: The Making Of A Coach. Because, evidently, all of the even worse book titles already were taken.”

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

Pure Hedonism…

In the month of October, the batteries powering my TV remote get quite a workout. I flip back and forth between football games and MLB Playoff games more than just once in a while. Playoff baseball is different from regular season baseball just as regular season baseball is different from Spring Training. Playoff baseball is compelling to a much greater degree than any individual game in a 162-game season.

The great thing is that both football and baseball allow time for such channel commuting. When the football teams are not playing hurry-up offense, it is even possible to reach a state of synchronization where pitches and plays happen in real time such that you do not miss anything in either game. My long-suffering wife likes to characterize me as a Luddite and often reminds me that I can record one game and watch the other and not miss anything. I have tried to explain that there is something “delicious” about being able to catch it all in real time as opposed to catching it on replay.

I bring this up because I have a rooting interest in both the ALCS and the NLCS this year. It is not the typical rooting interest because I really do not care which team wins either series. I have said I wanted the Blue Jays to win in the AL only to see if a World Series Game might have to be postponed because of snow – as a way to tell MLB that even Mother Nature thinks baseball should not stretch into November. But that is not my rooting interest …

I want both the ALCS and the NLCS to stretch to at least 6 games and preferably to 7 games. The reason for that is purely hedonistic. This week is the annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas with “the regulars” and if those playoff series go to their final games, we will get to see them there on the big screen, in a sportsbook, amongst an energized environment – and with “a little something” on the game to root for. There will be other things going on in the sportsbooks while the games are on – but there will be no need to flip from channel to channel because there will be at least 2 dozen screens to cover all the action all the time. Like I said, pure hedonism…

About a week ago, there were reports that Browns’ QB, Johnny Manziel had been pulled over for driving at a high rate of speed on a road shoulder in Ohio and that he and his girlfriend had been involved in a roadside altercation which escalated to something physical. If those reports were accurate, it is difficult to see how this might be construed as a “good thing”…

Added to that sort of reporting, it appeared that Manziel had been drinking – although not to the point of impairment while driving – and given his long stint in rehab earlier this year for alcohol abuse, that was also disquieting…

Both of these aspects to the reports of this incident are important and bothersome. Domestic violence/abuse is abhorrent; let there be no cloud of uncertainty around or nuance associated with that statement. Drinking as a recovering alcoholic is tragic because it is a testament to the fact that the recovery is not real. I have several friends and former colleagues who are recovering alcoholics. Two of them that I know of have had to go through the start-up to recovery several times before recovery became central to their lives. Both of them said that as soon as they took “that first drink” they realized that their recovery had gone all the way back to square one.

Johnny Manziel has not been an endearing figure or an inspirational figure for his short time on the sporting scene. For much of that time he seemed to be the incarnation of the entitled spoiled brat to whom the rules that apply to others do not apply to him. It was easy to imagine a year or so ago him being confronted by any sort of authority figure and hearing him say, “Do you know who I am?”

Manziel brought out all of the euphemisms that reporters use to avoid negative commentary.

    He “made bad decisions”; he “showed immaturity”; he “refused to take accountability”.

What he was doing then was being an antisocial “starts-with-A-and-rhymes-with-glass-bowl”. Based on his need for rehab – and the length of his stay in rehab – we can at least consider that some of his antisocial behavior was directly tied to his alcohol consumption. If that consideration is closer to correct than to incorrect, the reports that he had been drinking proximal to the time of the traffic incident and the confrontation with his girlfriend are saddening and worrisome.

Since the police have not filed any charges in the matter and the girlfriend seems not to be interested in anything along the lines of a lawsuit or a protective order, the idea that the Browns and/or the NFL might punish Manziel is tenuous. None of the circumstances involved in the incident a week ago are laudable but I do have to wonder what good might come from a punishment. This is not over; stay tuned…

The Miami Dolphins spent two weeks acclimating to an interim coach and his new ways. Buried in the agate type was an announcement that the team also “promoted” special teams coach Darren Rizzi to the position of “Assistant Head Coach”. To be honest, I have no idea about Darren Rizzi’s coaching career or his credentials within that profession; so, please do not take the following comment as any kind of a swipe at him.

    What does it mean to be the Assistant Head Coach to a guy who is the Interim Head Coach?

    Should scribes refer to him as the Assistant-Interim Head Coach?

    If the Interim Head Coach goes down in flames, do you become the Neo-Interim Head Coach and inherit a new assistant?

    If the Interim Head Coach is a wild success and gets the job permanently, do you get to keep your “Assistantship” permanently too?

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald that is relevant to my channel commuting from baseball games to football games at this time of the year:

“The Iranian women’s soccer team must undergo gender testing after allegations that eight players are men. It’s low-budget gender testing. The players are handed a TV remote and if they haven’t lost it in five minutes, they are considered to be women.”

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

More On Daily Fantasy Sports…

Yesterday, I talked about the daily fantasy sports websites and their advertising presence on NFL telecasts. I mentioned that these sites had come under some criticism/scrutiny recently. Last week, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board ruled that daily fantasy sports is a form of gambling and therefore those websites will need to have a state- issued license to operate in Nevada. Here is a statement from the Chairman of that entity:

“We are saying that daily fantasy sports are a gambling game under the statutory definition. We’re also saying that these are sports pools, which is when someone is in the business of accepting wagers on sporting events through any system or method of wagering. We have found that it is a wager, and obviously, it’s on a sporting event, and DFS [Daily Fantasy Sports] companies are in the business of accepting those wagers.”

As you might expect, the folks who run the websites see this matter in a completely different light. Consider this statement from FanDuel:

“[FanDuel] is terribly disappointed that the Nevada Gaming Control Board has decided that only incumbent Nevada casinos may offer fantasy sports. This decision stymies innovation and ignores the fact that fantasy sports is a skill-based entertainment product loved and played by millions of sports fans. This decision deprives these fans of a product that has been embraced broadly by the sports community, including professional sports teams, leagues and media partners.”

Please note that this response hits at “plus-points” like “innovation” and “fun for millions of fans” while ignoring the fundamental issue. It is a form of gambling and that means it needs to be regulated. Note also, FanDuel calls this a form of “skill-based entertainment”.

Draft Kings has a PR/Communications Department too and issued this statement:

“We understand that the gaming industry is important to Nevada, and, for that reason, they are taking this exclusionary approach against the increasingly popular fantasy sports industry. We strongly disagree with this decision and will work diligently to ensure Nevadans have the right to participate in what we strongly believe is legal entertainment that millions of Americans enjoy.”

Once again the statement points to popular ideas that most will agree with – level playing field and opportunities for all – but seems not to address at all the Gaming Control Board’s assertion that these sites are running a gambling operation.

This entire situation stems from the actions of the US Congress and the US Department of Justice with regard to gambling using the Internet as the vehicle for the game(s). It is OK to use the Internet for daily fantasy sports wagering and wagering on horse races but not for wagering on the outcome of individual games or not to play poker for real money. It seems to me that if one is opposed to gambling, one should oppose all forms of Internet gambling; but of course, nothing is ever so simple or so definitive when it comes to Congressional actions.

Adding to the murkiness here is the fact that several players on daily fantasy websites have filed suit against the sites saying that the games are rigged because of alleged actions of insiders who know the betting patterns. Of course, the plaintiffs allege that they would never have played in the first place had they only known… Who knows? My strong suspicion is that no one who won money from the web sites is a plaintiff in such a lawsuit…

Another sports-related story has gotten a lot of coverage in the past week or so is the Lamar Odom health matter. Odom went to a legal brothel in Nevada – the Bunny Ranch – and reportedly binged on “herbal Viagra”, alcohol and possibly cocaine for hours on end. He was found in an unconscious and unresponsive state and rushed by emergency vehicle to a hospital in Las Vegas. He spent a few days in a comatose state fighting for his life; he is reported to be doing better and communicating with visitors as of the last report. My first reaction was to ignore the obvious opportunity here to make any snarky remarks about someone checking into a brothel and binging on “herbal Viagra” – sold under the trade name “Reload” no less. However, the massive reporting on this story requires me to ask:

    Why is this establishment always called a brothel and never a whorehouse?

    Do they offer soup or broth for sale there?

    What they do offer for sale there are …

Then yesterday, I saw a report that said someone got into Lamar Odom’s room while he was unconscious and stole his belongings. The report said he had a bodyguard with him at the building – not in his room obviously – and the bodyguard is mystified as to how this might have happened. Let me see…

    You are rather easily recognized and known as someone who has money and material possessions.

    You go to a “house of ill repute” which just might attract a clientele of under-developed consciences.

    Then you pass out in a room for a few hours and wonder how it might come to pass that some of your “stuff” has disappeared.

I do not think we need to resurrect Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the motive and the opportunity for skullduggery here…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from about a month ago:

“Shannon Briggs fought Mike Marrone at the Hard Rock near Hollywood on Saturday with the crowd advertised to include Evander Holyfield, Vladimir Klistchko and Lennox Lewis. It is seldom a good thing when the people sitting ringside are more interesting than the people in the ring.”

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

The Juggernaut Gets Bigger…

According to reports, the revenue generated by the networks televising NFL games is up again this year. For the first 5 weeks of the 2015 season, the total national TV revenue – this does not count the local TV deals that various individual local stations have with specific teams – totaled $947.7M from advertisers. Last year for the first 5 weeks, that total was 905.5M so 2015 revenue is up 4.67%. The NFL has encountered more than a bit of negative publicity in the last year with regard to Deflategate, domestic violence, bizarre on-field officiating calls and the like; none of that seems to have made its product less attractive to advertisers.

Deeper down in that data, I found that the largest single advertiser in terms of money paid for commercial spots in 2015 is FanDuel and they were not significant players in the advertising world even a year ago. Draft Kings is the third largest spender for advertising slots this year. Between the two of them, the two daily fantasy websites have spent $81M to buy time in the first five weeks of the NFL season during televised NFL games. While watching any NFL game, should you feel inundated with daily fantasy football ads, there is a good reason for that; the two sites have spent 8.6% of all the advertising money on that product.

By another measure, the NFL seems also to have weathered its storm of bad publicity. Ratings for the NFL games are up in 2015 once again. The largest gain in viewers is for Thursday Night Football which shows an increase of 10.4% in terms of the number of eyeballs on the screens. Here is the “measured” audience level for various NFL programming through 5 weeks of the 2015 season:

    Sunday Night Football – 23.9 million viewers
    CBS Sunday afternoon – 18.2 million viewers
    Thursday Night Football – 18.1 million viewers
    Monday Night Football – 13.2 million viewers

I can understand why MNF trails the field here since it is on a cable network and not “over the air TV”. I am a bit surprised at the difference between MNF and the other NFL programming but not nearly as surprised as I am at the rapid evolution of Thursday Night Football into a programming bonanza.

The NFL started Thursday night games in 2006 only for the second half of the season and telecast those games on NFL Network only. Since 2012, there have been Thursday night games for the full season and since 2014 the games are on both CBS and NFL Network. That is a very young product as compared to “Sunday afternoon football” which was the revenue source that made the NFL the TV juggernaut that it is. Nonetheless, the number of viewers is a dead heat as of the early stages of 2015…

Since I mentioned FanDuel and Draft Kings above, the fantasy websites have been under a bit of pressure recently – and I do not mean simply from TV viewers or Internet users who have been bombarded with the same ads over and over and over…

    Memo to FanDuel and Draft Kings: If you are going to buy 20 advertising slots on Sunday NFL games over the 12 hours of their broadcast, you need to have more than 2 ads that you will have run. At some point, you make me want to throw a shoe at the TV…

There were allegations that some employees of the website may have used “inside information” on betting patterns to playa the daily fantasy games for themselves and several states – including Nevada – are investigating the business practices of the companies to determine if they are indeed “gambling” as opposed to “games of chance”. The Congress of the United States in its minuscule wisdom and as an attempt not to criminalize the six bazillion fantasy football and baseball leagues that exist in offices and families around the country declared that fantasy sports would not fall under the auspices of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. That was a laudable move and a popular move; nonetheless, it now creates the situation where daily fantasy sports is not considered gambling whereas online poker is. Forget for the moment the legalities and the popularity of such games; they are both gambling; at the start of the “game” people put up some money and at the end of the “game” the one who has played by the rules and amassed the best outcome collects more money than he/she put in to start taking some or all of the money from those who had less than the best outcome.

Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time knows with certainty that I am not opposed to gambling. I am cynical enough to believe that with huge amounts of money at stake and the only interface between the bettors and “the pot” being a computer hooked to the Internet there is the opportunity for “shenanigans”. That applies to online poker, daily fantasy sports, and other wagering events. Recall that a group of folks hacked into a Breeders’ Cup Pick Six Pool and gathered for themselves the single winning ticket for that pool. That happened about 15 years ago and the prize then was on the order of $2M. Well, if FanDuel and Draft Kings can spend $81M between them in only 5 weeks just on advertising, you might expect that they are “handling” sums that are far in excess of $2M at any time.

My position on this matter has been simple and consistent for the last 30 years:

    People are going to gamble. They may bet on sporting events or dice or cards but they are going to gamble.

    Criminalizing gambling will have the same outcome as criminalizing alcohol did in the 1920s or drugs through until today. It will mean only that the profits from such enterprises will fall to criminals and that there will be no tax collected on said profits.

Finally, here are comments from two sports observers about a happenstance related to the form of gambling known as dog racing:

“Two greyhounds at Bluffs Run Greyound Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, have tested positive for potential PEDs.

“Which probably explains why the hounds’ back legs started smoking at the starting line.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

And …

“Two greyhounds at Bluffs Run racetrack in Iowa have tested positive for PEDs.

“Under questioning by authorities, one of the dogs said he didn’t ingest anything except regular Purina Dog Chow and water from his home toilet.” [Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald]

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