The NFL In London

Last week, as the good folks in London prepared to experience their first NFL game of the 2015 season, a couple of political figures across the pond expressed their desire to see an NFL franchise housed in London. George Osbourne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK; the analogous position here in the US would be Secretary of the Treasury. Last week, Osbourne said he hoped the NFL would put a team in London within the next 5 years. After meeting with NFL moguls and team owners last week, he said:

“The real prize, the touchdown for London, would be to get a team based here. I want London to be the global sporting capital.”

There will be 3 regular season games in London this year; the Jets and Dolphins played there last weekend; the next game there will be on October 25 when the Bills and Jags seek to entertain the London crowd; I am sure Rex Ryan is already working on something provocative to say then. I have not been a huge enthusiast of putting a team in London purely for logistical reasons but if I assume those logistical barriers can be overcome/ameliorated sufficiently, here are two things Chancellor Osbourne said last week that I found very positive; first:

“I am supporting the NFL to bring one of their 32 teams to London permanently and will work with them to make this happen.”

The positive part of that comment is that he is talking about bringing an existing team to London and not an expansion team; the NFL does not need to expand. In other remarks, Chancellor Osbourne said that he and his departments were looking at any sorts of barriers that might make putting a team in London more difficult. While one might think that would mean finding money to build a new stadium for an NFL team, other events would indicate that his message was less mercenary and more constructive.

The NFL already has a deal in place to play two game per season at the new stadium already under construction for the Tottenham Hotspurs of the English Premier League. That deal runs for 10 years and is scheduled to start in 2018 when the new stadium is finished. Wembley Stadium has housed NFL games for about a decade now and there are no plans to tear it down. The facilities to house the games would seem to be in place.

I must admit that I get off the train at the point where Chancellor Osbourne says that a study indicated that the 2 NFL games in London last year contributed £32-million (about $48-million) to the local economy. I never believe those studies that set out to figure the value of a sporting event to a city/region nor estimates of future revenues to be generated. They are always hugely over-stated and assume the rosiest of scenarios. However, on balance, Chancellor Osbourne’s statements were positive.

Chiming in was the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who expressed his “high hopes” for a permanent NFL team in London in the near future. And so, with all of this pomp and circumstance flavored with “high hopes”, I started thinking about how the NFL might accommodate all of this stuff in the context of its existing 32 teams. Remember, it is pretty clear that Roger Goodell and the suits on Park Avenue would love to tap more deeply into the revenue streams that would exist in a city as large as London.

I think the resolution lies in all of the posturing and gesturing that has gone on with regard to putting a team back in LA. There are three teams poised to move to LA because they have “stadium issues” in their current locales. The overriding issue is that each plays in a stadium that not nearly as posh as it might be meaning there are dollars being left on the table by those teams. There is no way on the planet that the NFL is going to put all three of those teams in LA. Moreover, there are two teams in Florida (Jax and Tampa) that are not drawing well in their home venues. Therefore, the NFL has a pool of 3 definite teams one of which could move to London and 2 others that would likely make more money for the owners in London than they do in Florida.

My suggestion here:

    Stan Kroenke (Rams’ owner) wants to build a downtown stadium in LA. The league should get behind that move with one condition.

    The Spanos family and Mark Davis (owners of the Chargers and Raiders) want to build a stadium they would jointly occupy in Carson, CA. The league should tell all these folks that the league is not behind this plan at all.

    The condition for Mr. Kroenke is that his stadium has to be the home for 2 teams in LA until such time as one of the two teams proves to be financially not viable there. He can pick his “partner”; he can be the owner of the stadium and arrange a lease with that “partner” but he will only get league support if he has a “partner”. That puts 2 teams in the LA market in a stadium that an NFL owner wants to build anyway.

    The California team above who is not selected as Kroenke’s “partner” would have to make a choice rather quickly. That “outcast” team would have 4 options:

      1. Stay where they are

      2. Move to St. Louis in the vacated stadium there.

      3. Move to London

      4. Finalize a deal to move elsewhere in record time.

The beauty of my suggestion is that it scratches the immediate itch of getting at least one team – and preferably two teams – back into the LA market posthaste. Moreover, it gives the “outcast” team some maneuvering room to find a way to upgrade the facility that it plays in. What it does not do is to provide any answers to the attendance problems and the fan apathy that exists for the two Florida teams – unless of course the “outcast” team above moves to St. Louis or stays put. In that case, either of the Florida teams could become the new London Whatevers. Consider that Jacksonville has a population of less than 900,000 folks; Tampa/St. Petersburg has a population of about 800,000; London has a population of about 8.6 million.

Finally, here is a comment by Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a different sporting event housed in London:

“According to a report, seven London Marathon winners in 12 years recorded suspicious blood scores. Henceforth the London Marathon will be known as ‘The Tour de France Without The Bikes.’ ” .

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

Confused By A Court Ruling…

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the Ed O’Bannon/NCAA lawsuit last week saying that the NCAA rules which restrict payments to athletes violate antitrust laws but it also found that the District Court Judge was wrong in ruling that athletes could receive $5K in compensation for the NCAA using their likenesses to generate revenues. Normally, at this point, I would try to expand upon that statement; but to be frank, it seems self-contradictory to me. Even worse, people who have written about it have claimed that the Appeals Court decision is a victory for both sides. I do not understand that either.

I barely know how to spell Sherman Anti-Trust Act but it sure does seem to me that the NCAA is a “combination in restraint of trade” and I do recall from my high school history classes that such entities are forbidden by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. I will stand corrected if someone argues that it is not the NCAA that is the “combination” here but it is the various conferences that are amalgams of NCAA members that are the entities doing the “restraining”. So, if indeed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that NCAA rules are somehow in violation of the anti-trust laws, I do not see how that can be a “victory” for the NCAA. Here is a portion of the ruling from last week:

“The NCAA is not above the antitrust laws, and courts cannot and must not shy away from requiring the NCAA to play by the Sherman Act’s rules. In this case, the NCAA’s rules have been more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market. The Rule of Reason requires that the NCAA permit its schools to provide up to the cost of attendance to their student athletes. It does not require more.”

To me, that sounds as if the court is telling both sides that they lost. The NCAA has a new set of standards to operate under and the athletes get scholarships as their ”compensation” for going to a school and playing sports there. That sounds to me as if neither side got what it wanted out of this matter. In fact, it sounds as if the athletes lost some important ground in terms of seeking payment for their services by colleges:

“…in finding that paying students cash compensation would promote amateurism as effectively as not paying them, the district court ignored that not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs.”

Frankly, it is a bit sad to me to learn that it took folks at the appellate level of the Federal Judiciary to figure out that not paying the players is the essence of amateurism…

Surely, this is not over and there will be more to come from this lawsuit. Hopefully, the next ruling will be a tad clearer for those of us who are interested in sports but not steeped in the legal construct of anti-trust law. Here is a summary article from CBSSports.com last week; perhaps it will make things clearer than I can make them here

I am not one who goes to a sporting event and revels in the antics of team mascots. To my mind, the best of the mascots rise to the level of “mildly annoying”. Those comments set the stage for my reaction to a story from last week about Ragnar the Viking. He is the guy who rides his motorcycle out in the stadium during Minnesota Vikings’ games; his costume consists of furry boots and vest, a metal helmet with horns and a huge beard. I guess the word I would use to describe him – never having seen him in person – would be “harmless”. Last year, the Vikings paid Ragnar $1500 per home game ($12K per season) for his services; this year, Ragnar wanted a raise to $20K per game ($160K per season). You need not get out your calculator to realize that is more than a “cost of living increase” in percentage terms. Also, not surprisingly, the Vikings did not accede to his demand and unless there is some kind of negotiated settlement, the Vikings will have to go forth this year without Ragnar and his motorcycle.

At some point, I suspect that someone will write some kind of sappy story about how a certain element of attending Vikings’ games has been missing now that Ragnar is not on the premises. When you read such a story, please recall the numbers here and ask yourself:

    If you owned the Vikings, would you pay a mascot $160K a season – and more if the team has a home playoff game or two?

I do not think I need to spell out what my response would be…

Picking up on another story from last week, the Washington Nationals fired Matt Williams as their manager because the team did not come close to living up to expectations for this season. Williams just finished his second year as manager of the team and – interestingly – he was the NL Manager of the Year in 2014. Juxtaposing the two seasons, one might draw different conclusions:

    A. Williams got awfully stupid awfully fast in 2015 to go from “Manager of the Year” to “Expendable Scapegoat of the Year” – – or – –

    B. “Manager of the Year” is pretty much a meaningless honor despite that significance that the folks who vote on it attach to it.

The entire coaching staff for the team has also been sent packing but the GM who assembled this team of underachievers is still in place and the activist owner of the team has not yet figured out neither the manager nor a single coach ever blew a lead in the 7th or 8th inning to lose a game and that the players were responsible for each and every runner left in scoring position all season long.

With regard to the MLB playoffs:

    Take the OVER in games between the Rangers and the Blue Jays.

    Take the UNDER in games between the Mets and Dodgers when Kershaw or Grienke pitch for the Dodgers.

    I will go with an avian World Series – Blue Jays versus Cardinals.

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

“I’m sorry, but there are too many records in Major League Baseball. The other night a game was halted to announce a player just tied the mark for most stolen bases on a Thursday by a guy named Gary.”

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

NBA Training Camps Begin…

NBA teams are heading to training camp – – already. In news that cannot be a surprise to anyone who follows the NBA even a little bit, Derrick Rose is injured. In a practice, he took an elbow to the face and suffered a fracture to the orbital bone that will require surgery. I will not pretend to be a surgeon, but any sort of procedure that happens near one’s eye socket cannot be considered “minor”. Obviously, there is no recovery prognosis yet since the surgery is not scheduled until later today.

The Chicago Bulls are obviously a much better team with a healthy Derrick Rose on the floor – even though he has had trouble staying on the floor for much of his career. For this season, it is probably much more important for the Bulls to have him active in training camp than it was before because the Bulls have a new coach this year (Fred Hoiberg) and that means a new system that will nominally be orchestrated by the point guard.

According to several reports I read, if the surgery goes well, Rose might be expected back sometime around 1 December and would play with a mask for a time after that. Allowing him time to get into game condition and to adjust to the mask/injury under game conditions, the Bulls might be ready to run on all cylinders around Christmas. On Christmas Day, the Bulls play at Oklahoma City; that will be the 27th game of the season for the team meaning the season is just about one-third done at that point. Absent a major collapse in November and early December, the Bulls ought to be able to get themselves positioned for a playoff berth. After all, they are in the Eastern Conference…

A couple of other teams start training camp with a variety of “issues” in the air. Out in Sacramento, everyone seems focused on the interpersonal dynamic between Coach George Karl and center DeMarcus Cousins. To be sure, that will be fun to watch because those two men have broadly different views of what it means to be in/play in the NBA. As much fun as it might be to stand back and observe those two folks as they seek to coexist without committing any felonies one upon the other, there is another actor in Sacramento who might get a few solo numbers in the opera there. During the offseason, the Kings signed Rajon Rondo.

Rondo has clashed with coaches and teammates in his prior venues and was basically asked by the Dallas Mavericks to stay away from the team in the midst of the playoffs last year. Not only that, but when it came time to share in the playoff money the team earned, the Mavs stiffed Rondo. Ask yourself these questions:

    Just how big a pain-in-the-ass must he have been in Dallas?

    What might convince the geniuses who run the Kings that the serenity that encircles the Kings’ franchise might mellow out such a pain-in-the-ass?

The Kings may or may not be a relevant team next year, but they should be fun to stand back and observe…

In another offseason addition that makes me shake my head in wonderment, the NY Knicks signed Robin Lopez for $54M over 4 years. I understand that the Knicks need someone on the court who can and will play defense and that Robin Lopez can and will do that. Nevertheless, there is also some need on the Knicks for a center who might frighten the opposition should the ball ever find its way into his hands in the forecourt – – not a foregone conclusion on that squad. Over his career, Robin Lopez has averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds per game. With that sort of offensive production, Lopez might have to be the second coming of Bill Russell on defense to be worth 4 years and $54M…

The LA Lakers will also be interesting to watch this year even though they are not likely to be a championship caliber team. The Lakers get Kobe Bryant back from injury and it will be interesting to see if he has much gas left in the tank. As interesting as that might be, the Lakers will be interesting for a variety of other reasons:

    Nick Young is on the roster. To say that Young has no conscience when the ball is in his hands would be an understatement. Last year with Bryant in the stands, Young sort of had free rein. That is not going to happen this year…

    Metta World Peace is on the roster. The Lakers signed him to a 1-year deal. He says that the fact that the Lakers gave him a chance shows that the Lakers are “going for it” this year. I am not sure what he thinks the team is going for…

    Roy Hibbert is on the roster. One of the assets Metta World Peace brings to the team is his ability to mentor Hibbert. Excuse me, but Roy Hibbert is 29 years old and has been in the NBA for 7 years. He should be “the mentor” and not “the mentee” by now…

In the last couple of days, the Chicago Bears have done two unusual things. It is not common at all for teams to trade players in the middle of an NFL season; nonetheless, just this week, the Bears have made two separate trades in which they have sent players off their roster elsewhere in exchange for low-round draft picks. DE, Jared Allen went to the Panthers for a conditional 6th round pick and LB, Jon Bostic went to the Pats for another 6th round pick (pending Bostic passing a physical in New England). The Bears have a new coaching staff and a team that is overmatched this year; they do not need a mere rebuilding process; they need to pour a new foundation first and then rebuild the structure of the team. Nonetheless, these trades are interesting for reasons other than their novelty;

    1. The Bears’ offense stinks like a cheese factory in July. So, why trade away defensive players?

    2. If all the Bears can get for those two players are 6th round picks, what is the point? Here are some recent 6th round acquisitions by the Bears; see if there are any difference-makers here?

      David Fales QB San Jose St. 2014
      Pat O’Donnell P Miami (Fl) 2014
      Cornelius Washington LB Georgia 2013
      Isaiah Frey DB Nevada 2012
      JT Thomas LB West Virginia 2011
      Dan LeFevour QB C. Michigan 2010

Yes, I know that Tom Brady was also a 6th round pick. Nonetheless, 6th round picks are much more likely to be minor players on a team or scrubs who do not make it out of training camp.

By the way, do the Bears still retain the rights to Dan LeFevour? If so, they should give him a call…

Finally, here is some sidebar NBA news courtesy of Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle and Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

Talk about an athlete making a sacrifice for his team: Rockets guard James Harden agreed not to wear his prized Nike Air Jordans in public after Oct. 1, in deference to his new shoe sponsor, Adidas. Incredible loyalty by a guy who will earn only $200 million for wearing Adidas.

Harden incurred the displeasure of Adidas when he was photographed wearing the Air Jordans while on a date with Khloe Kardashian. Harden’s contract with Khloe stipulates that he won’t date either of the Olsen twins. [Scott Ostler]

And …

“Parting thought: I close by presenting the following without comment because some things are so absurd they require no punch line: Adidas is paying James Harden $200 million to wear its sneakers.” [Greg Cote]

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

The Pro Football Hall Of Fame…

I ran across a report enumerating the 100+ Finalists on the list this year for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and that list caused me to stop and think about the election processes there. Be assured, I am not part of the Committee that will cut that list down the 18 players on whom the Committee will actually vote nor will I be part of the final winnowing process. If I were part of that process, I would probably understand why one of the players on the list this year for the first time was a long-snapper.

I watch a lot of football; I think I understand a bit about the game. I have to say, however, that it never occurred to me until last week to think of long-snappers in terms of a hierarchy or in terms of them being sufficiently outstanding at their craft to be worth Hall of Fame deliberations. This year, Ethan Albright will be part of those deliberations. For those of you who do not recognize the name, Albright played from 1995 through 2010 and holds the record for most consecutive games played by any long-snapper at 224 games.

The outline for the Selection Process – and the identities of the 46 members of the Selection Committee – are here on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website. I find one part of that document particularly interesting:

“Any fan may nominate any qualified person who has been connected with pro football in any capacity simply by writing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The only restriction is that a player and coach must have last played or coached at least five seasons before he can be considered. For example, a candidate for the 2015 class must have concluded his career not later than the 2009 season.”

I was not aware that I could nominate anyone for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – or that Freddy Fanboy could either. My guess is that you did not know that until now; armed with this knowledge, you may choose to exercise your newly-found empowerment in future years…

A few of the first-timers on the list of 100+ folks under consideration this year include – in addition to Ethan Albright – Brett Favre, Terrell Owens and Darren Sharper. I will find it interesting to see the fate of these players in the voting this year and in future years because their fates will speak directly to the issue of “on-field performance” versus “whole person factors” when it comes to enshrinement in Canton.

    Brett Favre: No one can doubt that his performance on the field mandates his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His late-career “Hamlet portrayals” regarding his retirement might not have sat well with some of the members on the committee and it takes an 80% positive vote of the Committee Members present and voting to get in.

    Terrell Owens: Again, no argument regarding his stats… However, he was not always a great teammate nor was he always cooperative with the “ink-stained wretches” who covered the NFL and/or the teams he was on.

    Darren Sharper: His 14-year career included 6 All-Pro selections and a place on the All-Decade Team for 2000-2009. However, he has also plead guilty to being a serial rapist in several different states.

Next February, the Super Bowl game will take place in Levi’s Stadium – the new playpen for the SF 49ers – in Santa Clara, CA. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this advice for folks living in the Bay Area:

“Get ready for the Goodell, the bad and the ugly.”

With regard to “the ugly” here, I have not seen any reports yet regarding the artiste who will provide the halftime entertainment for that spectacle. Since I find all of the halftime acts irrelevant at best and lame all of the time, here is a suggestion for a spectacle I would watch:

    February 2016 will see the Presidential primary races in full gear in both parties. Invite all of the candidates who dare to speak to the 100 million folks watching for 5 minutes – with the proviso that the mouthbreathers on the field who get access to the field by a lottery process – will all be carrying rotten fruits and veggies.

    It is one thing to talk tough about what you will do as President; it would be another to agree to that kind of potential confrontation.

The Niners’ fans who attend games in Levi’s Stadium seem hell-bent to replace Raiders’ fans and Eagles’ fans as the hands-down leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to boorish antisocial behavior. There have been a series of beat-down incidents at Niners games in the past year or so where the recipient of the beating merely committed the sin of wearing a jersey of a team other than the Niners. It has gotten to the point where the Santa Clara City Council is considering stopping the sale of alcohol at halftime of Niners’ games.

I understand that drunken fans in large numbers morph quickly into a mob and mobs do things that individuals – sober or inebriated – would think twice about doing. Nonetheless, stopping beer sales at halftime is a relatively impotent response to the problem. I have never been to a Niners game – in any of their current or previous venues – so what I am about to say here applies to their fans only as an extension of what I have seen elsewhere:

    After 3 to 6 hours of tailgating prior to a game – often with beer companies having tents in the area where one can purchase extra beer if one’s own supplies run out – at least 30% of the people who enter the stadium prior to kickoff would not be able to operate a motor vehicle legally. Moreover, what a large fraction of those folks who are already “half-lit or worse” do the minute they clear the ticket scanning site is to get in line to buy more beer – and not just one.

The teams – and the owners of the concession rights – make a lot of money selling beer at NFL games. Cutting fans off at halftime will diminish the flow of a revenue stream but it is not likely to assure sobriety at the end of a game. To make a real difference here, teams and venues would need to add a breathalyzer test to the metal detectors as screening devices to determine who can and who cannot enter the stadium in the first place.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times that is appropriate in terms of the upcoming Pro Football Hall of Fame selections:

“One thing to be thankful for: Selfie sticks hadn’t yet been invented when Terrell Owens and Deion Sanders were choreographing their end-zone celebrations.”

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

QBs And The Law Of Supply And Demand…

There is still time for another NFL set of weekend games in the month of September; it is not even BYE Week time yet. Nevertheless, we can already see how thin the supply of NFL caliber QBs is. Consider the following situations:

    Dallas Cowboys: They will have to do without Tony Romo for about 8 weeks. The only other QB on their roster as of Tuesday morning was Brandon Weeden. They will get to go shopping on the Free Agent Quarterback Market.

    Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler has a hamstring injury that will keep him out a “couple of weeks”. The QBs on the roster now are Jimmy Claussen and David Fales – a 6th round pick from San Jose St. who is on the practice squad.

    Philly Eagles: Sam Bradford has looked horrible and horribly confused in two starts this year. Behind him is Mark Sanchez who will consider the label of journeyman as his next career achievement.

    NY Giants: Eli Manning has played poorly – physically and mentally – at the end of the first two games this year. Behind him is Ryan Nassib – meaning that Eli’s job is perfectly safe.

    New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees says he has a sore shoulder. Luke McCown might get his wish from the Verizon ads and get to show how good he can be – or not. Behind those two is Garrett Grayson whose claim to fame is that he is Colorado State’s all-time leading passer – ahead of Kelly Stouffer.

Not only are those situations dire, but consider what might happen to teams with really good QBs should the injury bug strike:

    Denver would put Brock Osweiler under center.

    New England would go with Jimmy Garappolo.

    Indy would turn to Matt Hasselbeck.

    Green Bay would hand the reins to Scott Tolzien or Brett Hundley.

    Atlanta would start Sean Renfree – a 7th round pick from Duke.

    Arizona would relive last year’s nightmare with Drew Stanton and/or Matt Barkley.

The QB Free Agent Market has commodities such as:

    Jason Campbell

    Rex Grossman – he was actually in the Falcons’ camp this year.

    Matt Flynn

    Kyle Orton

    Christian Ponder

    John Skelton – – and of course – –

    Tim Tebow.

In case you get upset the next time you read about a contract for a “better-than-average NFL QB” and think that the team must be out of its mind, think about the Law of Supply and Demand from when you took Econ 101. The demand is fixed at 32 starters and 32 – 48 backups. The current supply is far less than that plus the colleges are not turning out “NFL-ready” QBs at more than about 1 per year – sometimes 2 – maybe.

I mentioned Brock Osweiler above and I think he is in an interesting situation in Denver. He is behind Peyton Manning there and is not likely to get a lot of time on the field this year absent an injury situation. Nonetheless, Osweiler’s rookie contract will expire at the end of the 2015 season and he will be an unrestricted free agent at age 25 – unless someone in Denver takes total leave of his/her senses and makes Osweiler their franchise player. As of today, Osweiler has been in the NFL for 3 years plus 2 games; in that time he has hit the field in 13 games all as a substitute. He has thrown 30 passes completing 17 of them for 159 yards. He is not much of a runner; in 19 rushing attempts, he has a net of minus-11 yards.

So, you are the GM of an NFL franchise and you need either a starting QB or a competent backup. Over the winter Brock Osweiler’s name goes on the list that has those seven players above – plus plenty of others of even less renown.

    Would you make Osweiler an offer? For what kind of job and at what salary level?

    Do you have any reason to believe he can or cannot play adequately in the NFL? After all, it has been a long time since those tapes of his games at Arizona St. that you can watch.

    Do you look at what he has done in exhibition games and put credence in whatever he did there?

The supermarket shelves are bare and there is no reason to believe a truckload of new QBs will be arriving anytime soon. The shelves may be bare but no one has found a way to repeal that damned Law of Supply and Demand. This is an interesting time to be an NFL GM…

Have you noticed the new team jackets that coaches are wearing on the sidelines this year? Is that a zipper up the back of the jacket to the neck? Is that a zipper pocket on the sleeve for carrying one’s smartphone – which you are not supposed to use on the sidelines? Is this all some kind of new fashion design initiative by the league?

Here is an idea for another NFL extravaganza:

    Introduce the new coaches’ attire in a fashion show format and have all the coaches “walk the runway” to show off the designs and the new colors.

    Hey, it would provide some programming time for NFL Network and it does not take a genius to realize that they need the content.

    Sheesh…!

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald demonstrating that some football coaches may indeed be from another galaxy:

“A football assistant coach at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, took a high-voltage shot from a Taser gun last week in a morale-boosting stunt to increase team unity. It worked, as afterward players unanimously agreed the coach was an idiot.”

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

NFL Opening Week Excess…

If you are anything like me, you look forward to the first week of the NFL season simply because the NFL starts its season with – no surprise here – excess. There is a Thursday Night game; then, I can see the standard 3 games on Sunday followed by a Sunday Night game; and of course, the opening weekend has to culminate with a Monday Night Football doubleheader. It does not take a calculator to recognize that makes 7 games on TV for the opening weekend meaning that I can get a look at 14 of the 32 teams in the league right out of the gate. Trust me, I do not want the NFL to think about trimming that excess even a little bit.

Having said that, I do have a quibble with the presentation of the late Monday Night Football telecast. Regular readers here know that my fondest wish is for Jon Gruden to get an offer to come back and coach in the NFL that is so outlandish that he cannot turn it down. Most folks seem to love Gruden on MNF; I do not; I recognize that I must be in the minority here. However, looking back on the first Monday night extravaganza, the announcing booth for the second game was Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer. Oh, my …

Chris Berman is very good as a studio host/analyst. He is a big persona and he is clever; he knows how to draw out the folks he is working with and does it seamlessly; in that setting he does an excellent job just about every week. Nevertheless, doing play-by-play is not his milieu. If you are of a certain age, you can play this in your imagination:

    Think of listening to Howard Cosell doing play-by-play for a 3-hour sporting event. How long might it take you to realize that – whether you loved him or hated him as a color analyst – doing play-by-play was not his long suit?

However, that only begins my problem with the decision makers at ESPN. Like Chris Berman, Trent Dilfer is perfectly acceptable as a studio analyst. Listening to him for 3 hours doing live color analysis definitely makes my teeth itch. There has to be someone in ESPN’s employ who can cover that assignment next year, right? Here is how bad I think it was:

    By the third quarter of the second game, I was hoping that Jon Gruden would appear in the booth having used the “Beam-me-up, Scotty-Machine” from Star Trek to finish the game.

    For a fleeting moment in the second half, I actually thought it might be acceptable to have Joe Theismann make a comeback on MNF. Shudder…

The opening weekend of the NFL season generated what seems to be a brief squall of controversy regarding the fidelity of the headset communications in the Pats/Steelers game. We know now that the equipment is provided by the NFL and not by the teams and we know now that the NFL will investigate the problem with the goal of resolving it. Swell… Lost in all of this, seemingly, is a relatively simple way to analyze the problem and resolve it:

    Major college football programs play in front of crowds as large as – and often larger than – the crowds at NFL stadiums. They have TV and radio coverage often from multiple outlets going on simultaneously. In the games I get to watch, all of the coaches on both sides of all the fields are using headsets to communicate with whomever they want and it seems as if problems are few and far between. When was the last time in a major college game that you saw the referees stop the clock and go tell one of the teams to take off their headsets because the ones on the other side of the field were not working?

Somehow, in virtually the same environment, the communications systems and protocols work at the collegiate level but the NFL cannot find a way to duplicate that. Seriously, does that make even a little sense to you?

Now ask yourself this question:

    How long will it be until the person(s) involved in the NFL “investigation” of this problem check out how this matter is handled at Michigan or Ohio State or Alabama or LSU or … ?

You may recall that there was drama surrounding the injury that RG3 suffered in the exhibition season and when he might be cleared to play again. [Aside: This involved RG3 and the Skins so drama is not surprising. Both he and the organization could find a way to add drama to an afternoon nap.] However, the dramatic situation went over the top even for those actors.

First, RG3 did not have a concussion and was cleared to play; the next day, the diagnosis was a concussion and he could neither play nor practice. That twist only set the stage for the physician involved here, Dr. Robert Kurtzke, to resign his position as one of the folks involved with the NFL and the NFLPA as an independent neurologist tasked with assessing players with head injuries. The use of independent medical consultants/evaluators is one of the means by which the league and the players union have addressed the issue of player safety. Team physicians in the employ of the individual clubs no longer make unilateral and unchallenged decisions on injury matters – particularly head injury matters. As best I can piece together the sequence of what happened here:

    RG3 was injured in an exhibition game against the Lions and from the team statements he had a concussion and then he did not have a concussion.

    Then the story was that he had a concussion but it was not severe and he was still going to be the starting QB.

    At a subsequent practice, a reporter asked RG3 if he had a concussion and RG3 declined to answer that question.

    The team announced that RG3 would start the next exhibition game – – and then the next day the team had to report that Dr. Kurtzke had never cleared RG3 to play.

If RG3 had a head injury of any kind and Dr. Kurtzke was to be the medical professional in charge of the evaluation of that injury, there is exactly no reason for the team or the coach to say even a word about the situation. RG3 can say whatever he wants about it because he is the patient and he can express his understanding of his situation however and whenever he wants to. Nevertheless, the loudest voice in the choir here has to be Dr. Kurtzke’s and his voice has to be tempered by doctor/patient confidentiality.

So, Dr. Kurtzke found himself in the midst of a situation where the team had a player practicing – and presumably ready to play in the next exhibition game – that he had not completed treating/evaluating. Coaches and team officials were making public pronouncements about the matter that he was nominally in charge of. Given that he has to have been an acceptable choice to both the NFL and the NFLPA, he must be a competent and recognized professional in his field which means that he does not need the drama and the potential to be caught in the crossfires created by said drama. No wonder he resigned from the independent evaluation program…

Finally, Gregg Drinnan in Keeping Score at newskamloops.com posed this question:

“With all of the money that Major League Baseballers make what’s with so many scraggly beards and bad haircuts?”

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

Enter The Attorney General Of Massachusetts…

Let me set the stage here for a moment. Last week, I saw reports that the Attorney General of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, is looking into the legality under Massachusetts law of daily fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and Fan Duel. It is important for me to state why I am interested in this review/investigation/whatever:

    1. I do not play daily fantasy sports or any other kind of fantasy sports. That is not because I am opposed to them; I simply do not find them interesting or engaging.

    2. I am most assuredly not opposed to gambling and I am totally convinced that playing any fantasy sport system is a form of gambling as long as money changes hands.

    3. I believe that daily fantasy sports should be treated under the law exactly the same way poker and/or wagering on the outcome of individual sports games are treated under the law.

    4. I have indeed grown immensely tired of the non-stop ads touting both DraftKings and Fan Duel to the point that I want the ad agencies that produce them to burn to the ground.

Attorney General Healey is an elected official in Massachusetts and she campaigned in part on holding the gambling industry accountable and on assuring that any expansion of gambling in Massachusetts would comply with state law. Even if I ascribe the normal “bulls[p]it factor” to that kind of campaign rhetoric, it is difficult to find fault with the idea of making an industry comply with existing law.

It turns out that DraftKings is a Massachusetts company and that opens the door for Attorney General Healey and her minions to do their review/investigation. Some of the things that might be ripe for review are:

    Does the website block minors from participation?

    Does the website block players from other states where their participation would be illegal? [Aside: About a year ago, I was told by a friend who is an attorney that all fantasy sports are considered illegal in Arizona, Louisiana and Washington. I have not verified that statement because I do not know how to do so.]

    Do the daily/weekly fantasy leagues there represent a form of activity that is legal gambling or illegal gambling under Massachusetts law?

I am not an attorney – let alone an Attorney General – so there are likely a dozen other areas that could be reviewed/investigated here. I find the third one on the list to be the interesting one. As I understand it, the legal standard for “gambling” is threefold:

    1. Something of value must be at risk i.e. the player must put up an entry fee or a stake to play the game.

    2. The winner(s) must receive something of value at the end of the game i.e. a prize.

    3. The act of winning must involve chance/luck and not skill.

Under Federal Law – passed in 2006 – fantasy sports conducted over the Internet are deemed to be legal while things like poker or wagering on individual sporting events are deemed to be illegal. It seems to me that fantasy sports ought to be treated in exactly the same way that poker and wagering on individual games are treated. I believe it takes skill to win at fantasy sports just as it takes skill to win at poker or to “come out ahead” when picking winners in individual sporting events. Compare those activities with something like the Powerball lottery which involves no skill and only chance/luck.

[Aside: Here is a test of my assertion of fantasy sports involving skill and not chance. Collect from the websites the names of the winners. If certain people win “every week” while others “never win” that might indicate something more than a chance occurrence is involved in the winning.]

Obviously, I am not going to presume to predict the outcome of Attorney General Healey’s actions. In fact, I am not even going to try to presume what vector heading the investigation/review might take. I do applaud her action here and hope that it provides some clarity around the question of fantasy sports as a form of gambling.

Above, I suggested that the ad agencies that put all those commercials on TV about Daily Fantasy Leagues should burn to the ground. I am not inciting to violence here; I am simply expressing a personal opinion just as I also hope that each and every person who has ever been involved with producing such an ad would suffer at least two of the ten Biblical plagues that visited the Pharaoh in Egypt. Just to show that I am a sporting person, I would allow those two plagues for each person to be selected at random by said person…

Switching gears, Tiger Woods announced last week that he had undergone a surgical procedure on his back and that he would not be playing in any more tournaments in 2015. His intent is to return to the PGA Tour in 2016. He and the physicians involved pronounced the surgery as successful. When I read those reports, I started to think about this:

    When was the last time a professional athlete underwent surgery that the doctors pronounced as unsuccessful?

It took me a moment, but I do recall back in the 1960s that the KC Chiefs had a running back named Mack Lee Hill who was injured in a game and required knee surgery. He died on the operating table – I do not recall what went wrong – but he never came out of knee surgery. Obviously, I would categorize that as an “unsuccessful surgery”; however, I cannot think of any others.

Finally, speaking of knee injuries, here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin tore an anterior cruciate ligament while playing basketball.

“Doctors advised him to stick to safer pursuits — such as driving a stock car 220 miles an hour.”

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

Managing Expectations…

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

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

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

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

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

    1. The novelty has worn off.

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

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

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

    This would feature both Yeonis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.

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

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

Here is a stat I ran across over the weekend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports Media Stuff Today…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Moses Malone And Darryl Dawkins

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

Rest in peace Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Buster Douglas knocking Mike Tyson out.

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

    Villanova beating Georgetown in the NCAA Finals

.

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

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

    Low probability events happen every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And …

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

And …

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

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

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