Tone Deafness…

One of the major stories from last week involved the cheerleaders for the Washington Skins.  According to several former cheerleaders as reported in the New York Times, there was a trip to Costa Rica in 2012 where the team invited some of its big-spending suite purchasers and other sponsors to come along as the cheerleaders were there to do a photoshoot for a calendar.  At least some of the posed shots were topless; at least one allegedly involved only body paint for clothing; the assertion is that the big-spenders and the sponsors – – all males – – were invited to look on and watch those proceedings.  Then there were social events in the evenings and the cheerleaders were asked to accompany/escort the men to those events although all agree that there was no sexual angle to any of this.

Obviously, there are counter-stories from others on this trip – – including the cheerleaders’ leader back then.  However, the official statement(s) from the team were unabashedly tone deaf – as if one could expect anything else from the folks who run that team.

  • They started out on the right foot.  Team President, Bruce Allen, said that they were doing a full investigation.  However, he could not stop there; he had to add that, “We’ve heard very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict many of the details of the May 2 article [in the New York Times.”   Even if you have heard such things, why not keep your mouth shut until you are finished with your full investigation that you said was ongoing?
  • The momentum today is clearly in favor of women speaking out about prior incidences where they were harassed – or worse – in the workplace.  How could the Skins’ communication folks not recognize that this was not the time to cast aspersions on the credibility of these team employees without an investigation?
  • For the record, Bruce Allen is the president of an NFL franchise only because he is the son of a former great coach in the NFL.  Basically, he won the sperm lottery
  • Given the “difficulties” that the NFL has had with cheerleaders for various other teams, the league needed this pimple to burst like New Orleans needs a return visit from Katrina.

I await the results of the “full investigation” that Bruce Allen asserted was ongoing.  I will be interested to see how “thorough” it is made to appear to be.  I will withhold comments until then.  However, you should read the column written by Jerry Brewer in the Washington Post last week as this story broke.  Here is the link; you should read it in its entirety.

I have said for years that the NFL Combine is the most over-hyped part of the NFL year.  I still cannot understand why anyone would watch this on TV as a bunch of players go though close-to-meaningless drills that are timed and measured.  Even worse, there are people who pay good money to sit and watch this stuff; it is less interesting than a track meet because at a track meet all the events actually involve real competition with winners and losers.

The point about over-hype was driven home to me when I read a report over the weekend saying that the NFL invited 334 players to participate in this year’s Combine.  There are 7 rounds and 32 teams, so there are only 224 picks to be made in the draft; when you throw in some compensatory picks and you wind up with 256 selections in this year’s draft.  So, even if every player taken this year had been one of the Combine invitees, there would have been 78 players on the outside looking in.  However, there were 117 Combine attendees who never “got the call” from an NFL team over the 3 days of the Draft.

That means that 35% of the guys that the league thought highly enough of to offer an invitation were of no interest to any of the teams in the league.  Even the so called “insiders” and “professionals” are not in the know on this kind of stuff.  Keep this in mind next year when you are tempted to tune in to see how high an offensive lineman can jump…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot about the TV coverage of the Kentucky Derby:

“TV Timeout:  Because it is unavoidable, NBC’s five hours of Kentucky Derby coverage will again include fawning tableaus of the horsey set’s one-percenters.  That and also stupid hats.  You know, the stuff with which the masses can easily identify.”

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



Can The Kickoff Be Saved?

The NFL Competition Committee has been at work trying to make kickoffs safer in NFL games.  There are myriad aspects to their suggested changes in what sort of blocking will be permissible and how formations for the kicking team will be regulated.  You can find descriptions of the proposed changes in this report by Mark Maske in the Washington Post.  It seems as if the Competition Committee recognizes that kickoffs are problematic regarding “player safety” but the Committee wants to try to legislate ways to keep kickoffs in the game.

There was a recent study cited by ESPN which concluded that kickoffs in the NFL were 5 times more dangerous to players in terms of concussions.  Moreover, the study also found that many of the concussions incurred on kickoffs that went out of the end zone or on kickoffs that were not returned by the receiving team.  If that is factual, that means that the collisions that create concussions happen even on plays that are seemingly benign because there is no runback.

[Aside:  I have not reviewed the study in question here or its methodology or its “counting rules”; therefore, I am in no position to comment on the confidence one should put in the results.  Nevertheless, it is indeed logical for a football fan to conclude that kickoffs create more violent collisions that most other plays and that those plays might be somewhat more dangerous to participating players.]

I will say that if indeed the probability of a concussion goes up 500% for every kickoff in a game, then there is at least sufficient reason to consider the possibility of removing the kickoff from the game.  I am not suggesting a move that will begin an inexorable march toward the “sissification” of pro football; this is not something that will lead to an inevitable situation where football players take the field wearing tutus.  Thinking about the possibility that football might continue to exist without the kickoff as part of the ritual may be the common-sense thing to do.

Presumably, the NFL kickoff rule(s) will change this year – along with the “what is a catch rule” – and we will see if the changes make an innately violent game just a tad safer.  I suspect that it will not take long for special teams’ coaches to figure out ways to get around these rule changes in order to try to pin opponents back in their territory on kickoff plays.  When they do that, big kickoff collisions will be back even if these rule changes make them drop on a temporary basis.

Thanks to, we are aware of a very strange story involving a high school superintendent in New Jersey.  Here is the first paragraph of that report:

“A high school superintendent in New Jersey is in deep doo-doo after being caught pooping on another high school’s football field. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence, either.”

Here is link to that story where you can read all of the gory details.  I think the best part of the saga is that the pooping perpetrator has been charged with “lewdness” and “littering”.  I guess the “littering” charge is there because the area does not have an “anti-dumping” ordinance…

Over in England, Arsene Wenger has been the coach/manager of Arsenal in the English Premiere League for more than 20 years now.  However, he will be replaced at the end of this season; Arsenal has 3 games remaining in the 2018 season.  The Gunners are in 6th place in the 20-team English Premier League and have only a mathematical chance to advance and finish in 5th place for the season.  Notwithstanding that place in the EPL Table, Arsene Wenger has been an icon in EPL football for the last two decades.

Wenger is one of the coaches who took over for a “legendary figure” at Arsenal and managed to succeed and hang around for a while – 22 years to be more precise.  Feelings and loyalties regarding EPL teams are even more intense than similar circumstances for teams here in the States.  Arsenal’s rivals did not take kindly to Wenger due to his success and his candor regarding opposing players or managers.  Nevertheless, his was a successful time at the helm for Arsenal and his successor will have large shoes to fill.  As of today, his record at Arsenal is 705 wins, 280 draws and 247 losses.  Even counting draws as unacceptable as losses, his winning percentage at Arsenal is .572.  Arsene Wenger is retiring at the age of 68.

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

“All 22 ESPN experts predicted that Portland would beat New Orleans in their NBA playoff series – only to have the Pelicans sweep the Blazers in four.

“Even Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat didn’t produce that many foul tips.”

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



Kentucky Derby Talk

This Saturday, two cultural events collide.  It is the first Saturday in May and that means it will be the day that they will run the Kentucky Derby.  It is also May 5th and that means that there will be Cinco de Mayo celebrations everywhere.  And before anyone dares to ask, that calendar confluence does NOT mean that you can make mint juleps with Dos Equis beer in place of good bourbon.  I assume that readers here are all adults and so I will not get into any moralizing about how one must consume alcohol responsibly at a Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I take it as axiomatic that adults reading these rants know about such admonishments.

However, these are sports-related rants and so I will take a moment here to pass along some advice regarding the Kentucky Derby.  I am doing this 3 days in advance of the race so that anyone interested in serious handicapping will have some time to make that happen.

Here is what we know about the Derby on Saturday.  It will be a mile-and-a-quarter race for 3-year olds and there will almost assuredly be 20 horses in the starting gates.  There is an Also Eligible named for the field just in case one of the currently entered horses succumbs to an early scratch.  Handicapping a 20-horse field is a royal pain in the posterior and so I will try here to give racegoers and race bettors a head start.

I have divided the 20-horse field into 3 categories.  Here in Category 1 are the horses that I do not think have a chance to win the race on Saturday.  I say this knowing that the Derby has produced more than its share of longshot winners; these horses just do not seem to measure up to several other entries and so I would throw them out and not waste any more time looking for arcane clues in their past performances.  Here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Blended Citizen  Morning Line = 50-1 (He is the “Also Eligible” horse)
  • Enticed  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Firenze Fire  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Flameaway  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Hofburg  Morning Line = 20-1
  • Instilled Regard  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Lone Sailor  Morning Line = 50-1
  • My Boy Jack  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Noble indy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Promises Fulfilled  Morning Line = 30-1

That cuts the field in half meaning you need to focus your handicapping energy and reasoning on only half of the field.  But I’ll make it even simpler.  Here are 4 horses in Category 2 who are better than the 10 listed above but who do not give me much confidence that they can win the race.  Maybe they can finish in the money; maybe they can fill out a Superfecta; maybe they will run “up the track”.  In any event, here are my Category 2 horses – – ones that I cannot throw out but ones that I do not particularly like:

  • Bravazo  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Combatant  Morning Line = 50-1
  • Free Drop Billy  Morning Line = 30-1
  • Mendelssohn  Morning Line = 5-1

To my mind, if you have subtracted these horses from consideration in the winners’ circle, that should leave you with 7 contenders.  That is a manageable number of horses to deal with in terms of serious handicapping.  Here are my Category 3 horses – the serious contenders to win the 2018 Kentucky Derby:

  1. Audible  Morning Line = 8-1
  2. Bolt d’Oro  Morning Line = 8-1
  3. Good Magic  Morning Line = 12-1
  4. Justify  Morning Line = 3-1  (Likely the race favorite at about 8-5)
  5. Magnum Moon  Morning Line = 6-1
  6. Solomini  Morning Line = 30-1
  7. Vin Rosso  Morning Line = 12-1

Just for the halibut, here is my superfecta box for the race.  At the $1 level, it risks $24.  The horses in the box are Free Drop Billy, Justify, Magnum Moon and Solomini.  Whatever…

The 2019 MLB schedule is still very much up in the air – – except for one fact that has been nailed down.  The Oakland A’s will open “at home” against the Seattle Mariners but the game will be played in Tokyo.  That will give the A’s the attendance equivalent of two “home openers” – – the one in Tokyo and then the one in Oakland.  Given the A’s attendance woes over the past several years, having two “Home openers” cannot possibly hurt.

Finally, here are two comments from Brad Dickson – formerly with the Omaha World-Herald – on the importance of spring football in Nebraska:

“In the rest of the world the big story is Kim Jong Un saying he’s gonna disable his nuclear weapons. In Nebraska, however, the big story is a third team linebacker being moved to second team for today’s spring game.”

And …

“In Lincoln Saturday Earth Day will be observed by releasing 80,000 environmentally damaging red balloons into the air after someone scores a touchdown at a football game that doesn’t count.”

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



Baseball And Stats Today…

A recent column by Joel Sherman in the NY Post contained some interesting baseball stats.

  • In April 2018, MLB had its first month ever where there were more strikeouts in all the games (7,335) than there were base hits in all the games (6,992).
  • The collective MLB batting average for April 2018 was .244 and Sherman points out that this is the lowest since 1972 – the year before the American League introduced the designated hitter.
  • For April 2018, walks per game and hit batters per game are also at historically high levels.

From this data, Sherman summarizes:

“April concluded with 35.6 percent of plays ending in a strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch — hence, not in the field of play creating consistent action.”

Now, one could look at that data and that conclusion and say that the lack of “consistent action” is the reason that baseball is a game that attracts a significantly older clientele.  I have a problem with that logic on two fronts:

  1. If “consistent action” was the sine qua non for widespread fandom among millennials, then the NHL should be leading the pack in terms of sports interest in the US – – and it is not.
  2. Baseball is a game of action – – and it is a game of strategy and tactics.  The four “outcomes” noted by Joel Sherman above – strikeout, walk, homer or hit by pitch – all create new strategic and tactical challenges for both the offense and the defense.  Excitement comes to baseball games in many different flavors; when the ball is hit into the field of play, that creates excitement; those other outcomes from an at-bat can also produce baseball excitement.

This was an interesting column from Joel Sherman who is a well known and highly respected writer on baseball.  Here is a link to this column.  I suggest you may want to read it in its entirety.

The winter of 2017/2018 was a disappointing one for many MLB free agents; that state of affairs was widely reported as Spring Training began with lots of hopeful free agents left hanging out to dry.  Some folks even used the “C-Word” in hushed tones; you know … collusion.

I would like to point out here how three different teams are currently suffering under stifling guaranteed contracts that they doled out to free agents who were deep enough into their careers at the time of the signing to assure that there would be bleak times ahead for the teams and the players:

  1. Chicago Cubs:   They signed Jason Heyward in 2016 to an 8-year contract worth $184M.  He will make $21.5M this year and then another $106M in the years up to the end of the 2023 season.  Heyward has been a .261/.344/.412 hitter over his 8+ years in MLB and that is hardly an eye-popping stat line.  In his first two years in Chicago, he did not even live up to that career standard.  I guess Cubs’ fans can take solace that he is still a really good defensive outfielder and they can hope that aspect of his game continues to obtain through 2023.
  2. Detroit Tigers:  They signed Miguel Cabrera in 2016 as the Cubs did with Jason Heyward.  Cabrera’s deal is also for 8 years through 2023 and it was for a whopping $248M with options in 2024 and 2025.  Cabrera will make $30M this year; he will make $31M from 2019 through 2021; then, he will make $32M in 2022 and 2023.  And if the Tigers want to drop him in 2024, it will cost them an additional $8M to do that.  Last year, Cabrera hit .249 which was his worst year at the plate in his 15-year MLB career.  He is 35 years old now and will be closing in on 41 years old when the Tigers buy out the 2024 season for $8M.
  3. LA Angels:  They signed Albert Pujols in 2012 to a 10-year contract worth $240M.  Pujols makes $27M this year and will make $28M next year, $29 M the year after that and $30M in the 2020 season.  In addition, he will collect a $3M bonus sometime this year when he collects his 3000th MLB hit.  It will take a catastrophic event to prevent him from reaching that milestone this year since he had 2996 hits as of May 1st.  In 2 of the last 3 full seasons, Pujols has hit less than .250; in half of his 6 full seasons with the Angels, he has hit fewer than 30 home runs for the year.

Every dime of those three contracts – and every other MLB contract signed – is fully guaranteed and in these three cases it is fair to say that the players have not been living up to the lofty expectations the clubs had for them as the ink was drying on the contract.  That is not a reason to eschew signing free agents; it is a reason for the clubs to think twice about how long a deal – and how much guaranteed money – they will offer to a player who is near the age of 30 at the time of the free agency

Finally, here are some random observations from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“Scientists studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is four times the size of California, were surprised to find it contains three Trump hotels.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than France, but the Patch’s wine region can’t carry France’s wine region’s Jacques.”

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



What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I am not going to pretend to know with any degree of certainty greater than homeopathic concentration levels about the future successes/failures of QBs taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.  Nonetheless:

  • How do you think Tyrod Taylor feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Browns only to see the Browns spend the overall #1 pick on Baker Mayfield?
  • Similarly, how do you think Sam Bradford feels today having signed a free agent deal with the Cards only to see the Cards trade up to acquire Josh Rosen?

Notwithstanding any and all of the stress and agita that might arouse from such draft circumstances, there may indeed be more pressure on the incumbent QB in Baltimore than there is elsewhere among established starting QBs.  Joe Flacco is the starter for the Ravens; that is a fact and that is not going to change over the next several months so long as Flacco is not involved in a traffic incident that leaves him as a multiple amputee.  Ravens’ fans can take opposing positions on the “question” posed above; but I think that question is settled and unworthy of appeal.  Here is what the Ravens and Joe Flacco have to look forward to in training camp the year:

  • Recall that the Ravens signed RG3 to an incentive laden contract merely 2 weeks ago.  RG3 can run; no one can dispute that statement.
  • In the first round of the draft, the Ravens traded up to take Lamar Jackson.  That means they have two “running QBs” on the team behind Joe Flacco who is more mobile than an elm tree – – but not much more.

Forget any “training cam controversies”.  The Ravens are set up to create shouting matches among their own fanbase after every loss and maybe after some of their wins too.  It should be “fun and games” in Crabtown…

With the Draft in the rearview mirror, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have posted the futures bets for the 2018 season.  According to them, 19 of the 32 NFL teams will win 8 or more games this year. That can happen of course, but it requires a few teams to win a lot less than 8 games and the oddsmakers do not have any teams lower than 5 wins for the season.

Fear not; the oddsmakers have not lost their minds.  Remember, they are not posting numbers that necessarily reflect reality; they are posting odds that – hopefully from their point of view – will balance their books.  Fans of teams tend to be overly optimistic at this point of the season; and so, the sportsbooks taking futures bets want the win totals for 2018 to reflect that optimism.

The person who I refer to as the “Chief Logistics Officer” for our annual Las Vegas sojourn thinks it might be a winning strategy to bet all 32 teams UNDER their posted win totals at this point of the year.  Here is the link to those totals.  I will check this out and report back in December.

Switching to baseball, I realize that the season is only one month old.  Nevertheless, the Miami Marlins do not have the worst record in MLB at this point of the season despite their team-gutting activities over the winter.  In fact, at the start of May, there are 5 teams that would fall below the Marlins if MLB had a single ranking of teams.

  • Marlins  10-18  Win percentage = .357
  • Padres  10-20  Win percentage = .333
  • White Sox  8-18  Win percentage = .308
  • Orioles  8-20  Win percentage = .286
  • Royals  7-21  Win percentage = .250
  • Reds  7-22  Win percentage = .241

Is this the start of a “grand race to the bottom”?  Or, are there really 6 teams in MLB that are fielding the moral equivalent of a AAA team for the year in hopes of getting the first pick in the MLB Draft next year?

The Marlins project today to win 58 games; that means they will lose more than 100 games.  By projection, 6 teams in MLB will lose more than 100 games this year; even worse, the Reds project to win only 39 games for the season meaning they would lose 123 games – – clearly a modern record for failure.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, describing a truly frightening scenario:

“I  woke up in a dead sweat the other night from a dream in which I was the sideline reporter at a pantomime competition.”

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



Retrospective On The 2018 NFL Draft

I want to talk about the NFL Draft at the outset today – – but I promise that I am not going to pretend to be able to “grade” any team’s draft even before any one of their draft picks has reported to training camp.  I prefer to look back at the draft from a different perspective.

There was something new about the 2018 NFL Draft.  It was covered by ESPN and by FOX.  You had a choice this year regarding which football gurus you preferred to listen to as you were waiting for the next pick to be announced.  As I bounced back and forth between coverages, I noted these observations:

  • None of the experts on either channel was particularly adept at forecasting the upcoming pick.
  • On FOX, Joel Klatt and Troy Aikman were on-field quarterbacks.  I found their commentary about the plethora of QBs selected early in the first round to be more interesting than the commentary on ESPN at the same time.
  • Once the “QB-wave” had crested, Troy Aikman’s observations were pretty superficial.
  • According to all the “analysts”/”gurus” on these programs, every player picked is super-talented and could become an All-Pro player down the line.

It is that last observation that grinds my gears more than just a little bit.  History tells everyone who pays attention that somewhere between a third and a half of the players picked in the first two rounds of any draft do not amount to a drab of donkey dung in the NFL.  Just because they are picked high in the draft does not mean they will do anything meritorious in the NFL.  I would greatly prefer to hear the “analysts”/”gurus” be a tad more critical/discerning in their exultation of each and every pick.  The fact that all these guys say that every pick is a great one and that the guy taken is going to be really good is lazy and sycophantic.

I have another over-arching view of the draft as it pertains to the New England Patriots.  For at least the last month, all that I have heard about the Pats is that there is discord in the locker room and that they will have to find a way to draft Tom Brady’s replacement in this draft because Brady is the leader of the locker room rebellion.  Well, maybe Brady is and maybe he isn’t; in fact, maybe there is a locker room rebellion and maybe there isn’t.  Looking back however, here is what I see:

  1. The Pats were AFC Champions last year and played in the Super Bowl.
  2. They achieved that stature without much of a contribution from their draft picks last year.  They had no picks in the first two rounds and both of their third-round picks sat out the season on IR.  Both are expected back this year meaning that a team that was good enough to get to the Super Bowl is going to add two high draft picks from last year who contributed nothing to the team getting that far.  Derek Rivers is a DE – – a position identified as a team need this year – – and Antonio Garcia is an OT – – another position identified as a team need this year.
  3. In this year’s draft, the Pats added an offensive lineman from Georgia, a running back to replace Dion Lewis (lost to free agency), a highly regarded CB and as a result of a trade with the Niners, they landed Trent Brown who might be a long-term starter at OT.

[Aside:  I really like the Pats’ 7th round pick of Braxton Barrios from Miami.  I think he may be the next Julian Edelman/Wes Welker/Danny Amendola for the Pats.]

There are plenty of “ifs” and “maybes” and “projections” in the commentary above; nevertheless, for a team that is coming off a Super Bowl level of performance in 2017, I would say that the future is not nearly as foreboding as many pundits/rumor-mongers would have you believe.

The other story that relates to the NFL Draft only because of its timing is that Jason Witten will be leaving the Dallas Cowboys to take the job with ESPN as the color analyst for Monday Night Football.  Congratulations to ESPN for “breaking the mold” and putting someone behind the microphone who did something other than play QB in the league.  From listening to Witten speak in interview settings, he is articulate and bright; if he can find a way to work harmoniously with play-by-play guy, Joe Tessitore, he should be just fine on MNF.  And from my perspective, “just fine” will be a monumental improvement over the departed – but not lamented – Jon Gruden.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times interprets recent medical findings to the NFL here:

“Adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day according to a new international study.

“With the obvious exception, say, of Browns’ fans.”

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



Basketball And Baseball Today…

Yesterday, I wrote at length about the College Basketball Commission’s recommendations to the NCAA.  Obviously, there was a lot of commentary on that subject around the country yesterday and I am glad to see that most writers/analysts recognize the situation for what it is:

  1. There is widespread violation of the extant NCAA rules.
  2. The current enforcement mechanism is inadequate.
  3. Schools/teams have assessed that the risk of “capture” is worth taking.
  4. The NCAA as constructed cannot fix this by itself.

The reason I am glad to see this sort of widespread recognition is simple.  If there is a problem to be solved, one must first acknowledge that there is a problem and then one must identify the scope of the problem.  It seems as if we have done that with regard to many of the ills of college basketball; now, if there is to be progress toward some solutions, there are identified goals to be achieved.  Things may actually improve…

There was another “basketball related” bit of news from earlier this week.  Lavar Ball had been uncharacteristically quiet for several weeks but emerged from his cocoon in Lithuania to announce that he is pulling his two sons off their Lithuanian team with two games left in that team’s season.  Lavar Ball had gotten crosswise with the Lithuanian coach particularly about the playing time allotted to the youngest son, LaMelo, and said that the most important thing now was to get the middle son, LiAngelo, ready for the upcoming NBA Draft.

[Aside:  Please tell me you are not surprised that Lavar Ball got crosswise with the Lithuanian coach.  Anyone surprised by that circumstance would probably also be surprised to learn that you do not need a brain transplant to change your mind.]

There was, however, a small angle to this story that was buried in one of the middle paragraphs.  This Lithuanian team has two games left in its season and it is facing relegation.  Yes, in Lithuania, they have a tiered system of basketball leagues and teams can be relegated and promoted just as teams can in soccer in England.  So, the question that flashed into my mind here was this:

  • How is it possible that this team – with two future NBA stars on it – is anywhere near relegation in a secondary level Lithuanian league?

Forgetting the snarky remark, here is a serious thought about the Ball Family Odyssey.  It appears as if LiAngelo and LaMelo could run out of places to play basketball.  By playing for a pro team in Lithuania, neither will be eligible for NCAA competition; LaMelo is still in high school – nominally home-schooled – and his professional exposure would make him ineligible at that level too.  Reports say that LiAngelo is not highly regarded as an NBA prospect meaning that his future would be in the G-League or in another overseas venue.  However, the recent rupture with the Lithuanian team/coach might constrain the demand for the services of the Ball Brothers.

You may recall that Cubs’ infielder, Anthony Rizzo, made news recently by saying that there are too many MLB games and that there should be a shorter season which would mean pay cuts for the players.  If you look at the weather conditions that have impinged on MLB so far this season, you would probably agree that things could be improved.  After Rizzo’s remarks and the initial flurry of comments about his remarks had calmed down a bit, there was a thoughtful column at written by Bradford Doolittle about cutting the MLB season back to 154 games.  Here is the link to that column; I suggest you read it in its entirety.

It would seem as if reducing the schedule by 8 games would not do a lot to shorten the season – and presumably play baseball in better weather conditions.  However, the idea here is to mix in double-headers with the 154-game season to reduce the time from Opening Day until the end of the World Series.  [Currently, the MLB season could be as long as 187 days.]  Here is one of the important suggestions in this column:

“By shortening the regular season, and mixing in at least one doubleheader per team per month — always in advance of an off day — we could easily avoid these ultra-early starts at the beginning, and kill the specter of November baseball at the end.”

I must admit that until I read this column, I did not know of Bradford Doolittle or his work.  I am going to be alert for his byline in the future; he seems to be a passionate baseball fan who is also very analytical.

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

“Professional bowling, an ESPN staple since the network’s founding in 1979, is moving to Fox for a ‘multi-year, multi-platform’ deal beginning in 2019.

“Things got so quiet around the ESPN studios when the news was announced that you could’ve heard . . . nah, too easy.”

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



The College Basketball Commission Report

Last Fall when news broke of the FBI investigation of “criminality” in the college basketball recruiting world, the NCAA created an independent commission to be headed by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to come up with recommendations for reform.  Yesterday, that report and those recommendations hit the street.  Not surprisingly, the recommendations are a mixed bag; the problem is that too many of the recommendations cannot be implemented by the NCAA even if every person at every member institution favored them.

Before I dive into the recommendations themselves, let me reiterate my position that I do not share the FBI’s assertion that there were criminal acts uncovered by their investigation.  There were clear and blatant violations of NCAA recruiting and eligibility rules in what the FBI found, but to my mind that is not equivalent to criminality.

I was not surprised in the least to learn that the Commission thinks that the one-and-done rule is no good.  My guess is that one-and-done enjoys the same favorable ratings among basketball fans as does cannibalism; it takes a while to find someone who likes it and is willing to stand up and say that they do.  I hate the one-and-done situation but there are two things related to the current report that bother me:

  1. Secretary Rice mentioned in remarks yesterday that recruiting shenanigans increased after the creation of the one-and-done situation about 12 years ago.  I agree that we have seen more evidence of and more details surrounding the seamy side of recruiting in recent years, but I would need to see some proof that the situation got worse.  As far back as the glory days of UCLA basketball under John Wooden, there were some “irregularities” surrounding some of the athletes who played there.
  2. The NCAA did not create the one-and-done situation; the NBA and the NBPA did.  The NCAA can no more eliminate one-and-done than it can summon up the Tooth Fairy and use her to fund any of the other recommendations made here.  Until and unless the NBA and the NBPA alter their existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, one-and-done is here to stay.  The good news is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to want to get rid of that CBA provision, but that still does not put any authority or power in the hands of the NCAA.

There is another problem with using one-and-done as a punching bag.  While it may feel good and it may get heads nodding in agreement, it is not the thread that when pulled will unravel the entire mess.  One of the central figures in the FBI investigation – Christian Dawkins – allegedly funneled money to high school recruits AND to upperclassmen.  By definition, upperclassmen are not “one-and-doners”.  The problems here are not simple nor are they easily localized.

A key element here is that top-shelf recruits have different values to different people and institutions.  For college administrators and educators, they have one value; for coaches they have a different value; for boosters yet another value and for apparel companies one more value.  That environment creates a “black market” where shady characters can effect transfers of value among the different institutions.  In such a situation, the deal goes under the table – or as an uncle of mine used to say, the money goes “down south”.

There are some good ideas offered up.  They are easier said than done, but the NCAA ought to make a serious effort to make them happen:

  • The Commission says that schools who are caught cheating should get sanctions that last 5 years and that they would not share in any of the revenues generated in those 5 years.  The NCAA’s “broadcast partners” are not going to be happy to learn that a school or two guaranteed to draw big ratings will be on the sidelines for March Madness for the next 5 years.  Does the NCAA have the fortitude to stand up to that?  I would like to think so, but …
  • The Commission suggests banning coaches for life if they are found guilty of major violations.  This resonates with folks who believe in retribution and who think that all stories should end with everyone living happily ever after.  The problem here is the meaning of “found guilty”.  By whom?  In what tribunal?  To what standard of proof?  This one could take a while – – maybe even a lifetime.
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft and to return to college as eligible players if they are not selected in the NBA Draft.  That makes a lot of sense – except to the coaches and assistant coaches who are doing the recruiting.  For them, this change will mean that they do not know if a player who declared will be back the next season until after the NBA Draft in June.  Frankly, I think that is a level of discomfort and inconvenience that coaches can tolerate given the annual salaries they are pulling down.

There are other recommendations from the Commission that are akin to the one about eliminating the one-and-done situation; they sound great, but one has to wonder how the NCAA is going to pull them off.

  • The Commission wants the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball to wrest control of “summer basketball camps” from the AAU and make things pure.  First, the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball would be an unholy alliance; second, this is going to cost a lot of money and it will provide little if any benefit to either the NBA or US Basketball; ergo …  The reality is that the shoe/apparel companies fund the AAU summer camps and as long as they choose to do that, the AAU summer camps will go forward.
  • The Commission also recommends that the NCAA demand more transparency and accountability from the shoe/apparel companies regarding their expenditures of promotional funds.  Secretary Rice said that CEOs and Chairmen of the Board for public companies ought to be on top of how such funds are dispersed.  That sounds so good and so simple that it makes me tingle.  I am afraid however that the two operative words here are “Not” and “Happening”
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to deal with agents without losing their eligibility.  If the NCAA could find ways to keep that process from spinning out of control that would be a good idea.  Then again, regulating what agents may and may not do or provide for regarding athletes seems like rewriting the recruiting rules which clearly have not worked all that well or the FBI would not be investigating.

The Commission suggested that the NCAA expand its Board of Governors to include outside/independent members who would be voting members of the Board.  I like the idea but wonder just how “independent” a new member might be given that he/she would be nominated and vetted by the NCAA and its Board of Governors before taking a seat.  I know that is a cynical stance and I need to stifle it because putting a few “outsiders” on the inside is a step in the right direction.  It may not be perfect, but it is better than what exists today.  After all, this works for public corporations and non-profits…

The Commission suggested that the NCAA create a robust and independent investigative and adjudicative entity to do serious enforcement of whatever rules are on the books.  Again, I wonder about the “independence” of such an entity if it ever were to come to pass given that its budget would have to come from the NCAA itself.  Also, without the ability to compel “testimony”, the robustness of such an entity is open to question.

The Commission recommended – and I think this is a great idea – that the schools create a fund that would guarantee any athlete who left school to turn pro after two or more years and who was a student in good standing at the time of his departure scholarship status to return to school and finish his degree.  Given the potential costs involved here, I doubt there will be a lot of schools rushing forward to make this happen, but it is a great idea.

Let me make a suggestion of my own here that departs from what the Commission recommended and would put a dent in the one-and-done world.  It will not cure the problem, but it might change some of the recruiting dynamics.  For me to be transparent about this, let me acknowledge that I have cribbed most of this idea from remarks made by Coach Bob Knight about 30 years ago.  Do not confuse the message here with the messenger.

  • Each school should have a fixed number of scholarships that they can issue at any given time.  They are all full scholarships; none of them can be sliced and diced and distributed to more than one player.
  • Once signed onto, that scholarship sticks to that player for 5 years – or fewer than 5 years if the player graduates from that college before the 5 years have expired.  If the player quits the team, he keeps the scholarship and the team cannot issue it to another player.  If he transfers and gets a scholarship from another school, he then has two scholarships stuck to him from two different institutions.
  • A player loses all eligibility if he transfers more than once.

A school that recruits a class consisting of 4 or 5 “one-and-done players” is going to be hamstrung when they leave because they will be down 4 or 5 scholarships for the next 4 years until the 5-year expiration date allows them to re-issue the scholarship.  That will possibly decrease demand for top players – or at least disperse them among the colleges.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is as good an idea as many of the Commission’s suggestions.

The biggest issue that the Commission failed to address is the hallowed NCAA concept of the “student-athlete”.  There may indeed have been a time in the idyllic past when people went to college to earn a degree and who also decided to play basketball for the school at the same time.  That may still happen in some corners of today’s game but do not fall for the rhapsodic pronouncements of the NCAA on this subject.  College basketball players are only amateurs because the NCAA demands that they appear to be so, and it is that demand that creates the black market that led to the need for this Commission in the first place.  I have no insight into any deliberations or any of the dynamics of the Commission; nevertheless, the fact that Mark Emmert – the head honcho of the NCAA – was a member of the Commission that reported out yesterday might lead one to wonder if his presence assured that “amateurism reform” was not part of the final recommendations.

Overall, the Commission did a good job.  They had a monumental task.  In the 12 Labors of Hercules, he was tasked to clean out the stables of King Augeus – a rich man with lots of cattle and livestock – in a single day.  The Commission had a huge mess on its hands and only about 6 months to come up with recommendations.  Hercules solved his problem by diverting the water from two rivers through the stables to clean them up.  The Commission did not have access to enough river water here.

To me, the things that could have the largest and most far reaching effects on the recruiting process are these:

  1. Create and fund the independent investigative and adjudicative body recommended by the Commission.  The members would have to accede to authorities granted to those bodies or suffer sanctions from the NCAA directly.
  2. Increase the penalties for getting caught cheating.  Maybe lifetime bans need to be reserved for those who behave like Dr. Larry Nassar or Jerry Sandusky or Dave Bliss but keeping a coach or an assistant off the coaching carousel for 10 years might just keep folks a bit more honest.

The NCAA takes in almost a billion dollars a year in television rights fees from college basketball.  That is not chump change; that is real money.  [Aside:  The amount of money here puts the lie to the notion that the players are “amateurs” and that college basketball is anything but a business enterprise for the NCAA.]  The independent investigative and adjudicative body will not come into existence cheaply nor will it ever be self-sustaining financially.  Whether the NCAA members step up to this “cost of doing business” will be a significant indicator of their seriousness in trying to clean up this mess.

This story is not over.  Stay tuned for further developments …

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



Sports Radio

A couple of days ago, the NY Post reported that Mike Francessa – of Mike and the Mad Dog fame – wants “desperately” to return to the radio and that a return to WFAN in NY is possible.  I have exactly no reason to doubt this report or to put any faith in it; I take it for what it says.

Mike Francessa and his former radio co-host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo are significant cultural figures.  WFAN was the first 24-hour all-sports radio station in the country; it hit the airwaves in 1987.  Imus in the Morning got good ratings for the station but the show that solidified the sports-radio identity for the station began in 1989 when Mike and the Mad Dog took over the afternoon programming.  Their success led to the overall success of WFAN and that spawned the myriad sports-radio stations that now populate just about every major market in the US.

Francessa and Russo had a messy split several years ago and Francessa retired last year after hosting the afternoon show as a solo act for several years.  In place of Mike and the Mad Dog – and later Francessa’s solo act – WFAN has a trio of hosts for the afternoon drive slot.  I have not been to NYC recently, but I have taken some time to tune into that program over the Internet just because I was curious to see how the new hosts would follow this iconic act.

  • Spoiler alert:  It is not pretty.

The new hosts are Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott.  The best thing I can say about this trio is that they minimize the time that they talk over one another on the air.  Here is my assessment based on listening for a total of 7 or 8 hours in bits and pieces:

  • Chris Carlin:  He is the adult in the room, but he does not seem to bring any personal passion to the program.  He is facile with stats and trends, but he does not come across as a guy who is on top of “sports stuff”.
  • Maggie Gray:  She is obviously an accomplished broadcaster, but I have no idea why she is part of this program team.  Other than the fact that she possesses a doubled-X set of chromosomes …
  • Bart Scott:  Let me channel the late Dick Enberg here; Oh my!  There is a style of radio known as “Easy Listening”; Bart Scott defines the genre of “Painful Listening”.  During one of my listening segments, I was starting to root for him to incur a virus that would bring on laryngitis.

Mike and the Mad Dog was vintage sports radio; it was appointment listening.  When Francessa went solo, the show was still good – – but not as good as when he and Russo were behind the microphone.  The current afternoon programming simply recalls the Biblical verse:

“How the mighty have fallen …”

The NFL Draft starts tomorrow night.  In this morning’s Washington Post, there is evidence that every story about the ramp-up to the draft has been written and there is no more to say.  On the front of the sports section, there is this headline:

“Redskins lay out plans as NFL draft approaches”

The sub-head for that article says:

“[Doug] Williams says selecting running back early, trading down on table”

I hope you agree that there is nothing in those headlines that would draw your interest at this late stage of draft prep.  Of course, the team is finalizing its plans; of course, the Skins would have to consider taking a running back; of course, they would consider trading down depending on the circumstances.  There is no indication of any “news” in this report.

Then, on page 3 of the sports section – after the jump – here is the next headline for that article:

“Williams says available players, other teams’ offers will dictate Redskins’ course”

And in an even semi-rational world, how might it be otherwise?

Fortunately, the draft is tomorrow night; and that means we can shift the focus from the now threadbare fabric of what teams will do in the future as the draft unfolds and begin the next meaningless exercise of giving grades to various teams’ draft hauls before any of the draftees ever sets foot on a practice field.

One quick note about the NBA Playoffs…  I watched most of the fourth game of the Jazz/Thunder series and have this to say:

  1. The Jazz are fun to watch.  They move the ball on offense and they play aggressively on defense.
  2. Donovan Mitchell has made the transition from college basketball to NBA basketball in his one-year in the league.
  3. Ricky Rubio still can’t shoot – – but he controls the offensive flow of the game for the Jazz.

Finally, since I mentioned the Utah Jazz above, let me close with an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On! in the Deseret News:

“International soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is now with the L.A. Galaxy — and he wants everyone to appreciate it.

“The Swedish striker bought a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times that said: ‘Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome.’

“LeBron James is thinking, ‘Rats! Stole my line’.”

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



Football Today …

While sports fans everywhere are seeking refuge from the final stages of the Mock Draft Hysteria, the NFL calmly revealed its schedule for 2018 leading to a small eddy of listicles along the lines of “The Five Most Important Games For The Patriots In 2018”.  Obviously, no one can know that sort of thing in April, so I tend to relegate such commentary to the same bin as the Mock Drafts.  What I noticed was the array of international games that the NFL will display this year:

  • Mexico City will host a game again this year; it will be a Monday Night Football game featuring the Chiefs and the Rams on November 19.
  • London will host 3 games in 2018.  The Seahawks and the Raiders will play on October 14 in the new Tottenham Stadium.  A week later, the Titans and Chargers will meet in Wembley Stadium and a week after that the Eagles and Jags will face off in Wembley Stadium.

That is a solid menu of “overseas games”.  The Rams are currently co-favorites to win the NFC Championship according to and the Chiefs are going to contend in the AFC West.  The Seahawks and Raiders have a longstanding rivalry dating back to the time when Seattle was in the AFC West.  The Titans/Chargers matchup has one playoff team from last year; but, truth be told, it is the plain vanilla game on this menu.  And the Eagles/Jags game features the reigning Super Bowl champs against a division winner from last year; I do not recall a London Game of that magnitude in the past.

The other interesting thing for me is that the NFL will play in London on 3 consecutive weekends.  If the league were ever to consider putting a franchise there, they would need to be convinced that fan interest in London is sustainable.  By playing on 3 consecutive weekends, the NFL pooh-bahs can get an indication of such sustainability.

Since I mentioned MNF in passing above, ESPN seems to be taking its sweet time naming a color analyst to replace Jon Gruden for next year.  Reports say that Peyton Manning turned down the job and that Brett Favre “flunked” an audition.  Then, Kurt Warner’s name surfaced as a leading candidate.  I know that the NFL is a copycat league but do the networks that cover the NFL have to behave in the same way?  I know that the top-shelf color analyst on FOX is Troy Aikman and that Tony Romo was a big success for CBS last year, but does that mean that ESPN has to find a QB to fill their slot?

Having been an NFL QB does not mean the individual will be a great color analyst.  To make my point let me offer two words:

  • Joe … Theismann

I will now proceed to contradict myself and tell you whom I would want in that job.  I think that Steve Young – – already employed by ESPN don’t you know – – would be an excellent color analyst.  There is only one minor problem with my choice.  Steve Young has already said he is not interested in taking that job.  Too bad…

Last week, I mentioned an NCAA rule change that was a solution in search of a problem.  There is another rule change that has caused agita in a segment of college football fandom.  Here is what Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had to say about it:

“There’s already been bellyaching about the new college football kickoff rule. Players will be allowed to fair-catch kickoffs anywhere inside the 25-yard line and the ball will be placed at the 25 as if it were a touchback. It’s being done with safety in mind by trying to reduce the number of violent kickoff coverage collisions. Hardcore football fans will really hate this when it goes into effect. But so what? Whatever the rules, we’re still talking football. People can’t quit it.”

Professor Molinaro has it right.  It is not difficult to find college football fan sites where this bellyaching is loud and prominent, and it takes the predictable path asserting that the next rule change will dress up the players in tutus.  Notwithstanding the anger/disgust expressed there, this is bellyaching and nothing more.  Once the rule in in effect, people will focus on the games and the rivalries and merely note the new kickoff rule as the way the game is now played.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, regarding some other NFL-related television programming:

“The Smithsonian Institute has petitioned CBS for the network’s library of ‘The NFL Today’ broadcasts for its ‘longest running worst programming’ exhibit at the National Museum of American History.”

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