Changes Upon Changes …

For NFL fans who follow the sport primarily on TV, the lyrics from an old Bob Dylan song seem appropriate:

“The times, they are a-changin’ …”

When you go to the ballpark, the guy hawking programs often says that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.  By analogy, fans will need new lists of cast members to learn to recognize all the new faces on their TV sets.  Let me start with the fact that John Lynch left his role as a FOX color analysts to become the Niners’ GM several months ago.  That opened a slot and when Tony Romo went to CBS, the slot remained open.  Well, now we know that Jay Cutler will retire from the NFL and take the job as the analyst on the “#2 telecast team” on FOX working with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis.

Bears’ fans have not had a warm relationship with Cutler during his 8 years as the Bears’ QB even though his record in Chicago was 52-51.  Cutler’s demeanor and even his body language were off-putting to Bears’ fans.  Some have categorized him as “surly” or “sullen” and those adjectives do not immediately project him to be successful as a TV talking head.  However, Cutler is smart and he is articulate; like Tony Romo, he will have to learn his new craft quickly because neither of them has a long broadcasting background to call upon in this opening season.

Moreover, it is not just Bears’ fans who have issues with Cutler.  The Sporting News published a piece with this headline:

“Jay Cutler hire by FOX Sports is an affront to football fans”

Steve Rosenbloom had this to say in the Chicago Tribune about Cutler when the hiring was announced:

“The largely uninteresting and uninterested Jay Cutler has been hired by Fox an as NFL analyst, and I’m thinking, Cutler must have an endless need to get ripped for what he does on Sunday.”

I suspect this topic will one that engenders “conversation” once the NFL season begins…

Another change in a TV lineup happened over at CBS.  Recall that Phil Simms landed on the set of The NFL Today after Tony Romo took his place as Jim Nantz’ sidekick.  [Simms took the empty seat left behind by Tony Gonzales who appears to have left the program on his own.]  Now, CBS has replaced Bart Scott on that show with Nate Burleson meaning The NFL Today will now feature:

  • James Brown
  • Nate Burleson
  • Bill Cowher
  • Boomer Esiason
  • Phil Simms

By no means did I think that Scott “carried that show” nor do I think he was the best guy on the set; but he did bring something to that program that is now missing.  He played defense in the NFL.  Now, the panel consists of 2 quarterbacks, a wide receiver and a coach.

Over at ESPN, the wide-ranging purge from a couple of weeks ago may not be over.  Recently, Jerome Bettis got the axe at ESPN; he had been there doing studio show work since 2013.

Changing subjects abruptly …  I heard a recording of an interview of Draymond Green on the radio; I do not know who did the interview because what I heard was only Green’s commentary.  The subject was Celtics’ center/forward Kelly Olynyk a “dirty player”.  Green is an exciting and a volatile player on really good Warriors’ team; he properly gets a lot of media attention for his play and for his antics.  I am not surprised that someone would have gone to him seeking an interview nor am I surprised at Green’s candid and out-of-the-box commentary.

Having said that, I just do not think that I want to put too much credence in Draymond Green as an assessor of who is and who is not a “dirty player” – – unless, of course, one were to use the old playground retort, “…takes one to know one.”

Draymond Green is unquestionably a serial crotch kicker.  His feet magnetically find their way to the nether parts of the anatomies of his opponents.  As soon as I recall those facts, I think it is time to tune out anything and everything Draymond Green has to say about Kelly Olynyk and/or dirty players in general in the NBA.

Finally, I included an observation from Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune above.  He was mightily unimpressed with the Bears’ overall draft strategy this year.  He had nothing good to say about their trade-up to draft Mitch Trubisky and he does not think all that much of Bears’ second round pick Adam Shaheen.  However, this observation about their fourth-round pick demonstrates his overall disdain:

“Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, one of the Bears’ fourth-round picks, is coming off a broken left leg last season and a torn right ACL in 2014. I’m guessing the Bears would have drafted him higher if he had shown up at his pro day in a neck brace.”

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

 

 

NFL Off-Field Stuff Today …

A fundamental premise in sports journalism is that “Winning cures everything”.  A fractious locker room can become a circular tape of Kumbaya when the team is winning; a sullen fanbase – like the folks in Philly who threw snowballs at Santa Claus – will cheer the local heroes if they win.  Winning is a panacea.  If things go as they look to go this Fall, we may have an interesting test of that premise.

The Oakland Raiders will be the test subjects.  The team has one foot out the door in Oakland and ownership went so far as to hold the Raiders’ draft party this year to introduce the new crop of players to the public in Las Vegas.  The team plays in a horrible venue – perhaps the worst in the NFL – and the folks who operate that venue have made it clear that they would be perfectly happy to see the Raiders pick up and go elsewhere instead of playing out their lease on the stadium.  In 2016, the Raiders had the lowest average home attendance in the NFL; on average, the Cleveland Browns with their 1-15 record outdrew the Raiders by almost 10,000 fans per home game.

The Raiders made the playoffs with a 12-4 record last year despite losing their starting QB late in the season; their tenure in the playoffs as a wild-card team with a fill-in QB was brief.  However, they made positive moves in the off-season and in the draft and Derek Carr’s leg should be completely healed by the time training camp begins.  The Raiders will be the pick in a lot of places to win the AFC West and will likely be in contention to get a bye-week in the playoffs.

So, it will be interesting to see the degree to which “Winning cures everything” in Oakland this season.

  • Raiders’ home attendance has room to grow by about 9,000 fans per game based on last season.  Will fans show up to see a winning team that all but has the moving vans packed?
  • The Raiders had traditionally been in the Top 5 in the NFL with regard to sales of “team gear” such as jerseys, hats, mugs and the like.  Sales last year dropped a bit with all the uncertainty about the future of the team.  Will sales return to normal levels in 2017 if the team wins as much as most folks think it will?

Raiders’ fans and supporters have shown interest in the upcoming season at the betting windows in Nevada as reported in this piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Does this support indicate a strong belief in the Raiders as a serious Super Bowl contender in 2017 or is this a “local phenomenon” because the team is about to become part of Nevada?  The NFL season is interesting by itself; this year, there will be off-the-field stuff that will be interesting to watch.

If fans in Oakland harbor ill-will toward the Raiders, it is understandable; most divorces involve a healthy helping of ill-will.  However, there is ill-will in Cincy toward the Bengals now stemming from the team drafting RB, Joe Mixon – he with the baggage of assaulting a woman.  The local ABC affiliate in Cincy wants fans to boycott the Bengals’ home games in 2017.  The Bengals’ home attendance average in 2016 was 29th in the NFL; it would not take a huge boycott to put them at the bottom of the league in 2017 even if the Raiders do not get a bump in their attendance because of their “Winning cures everything” aura.

Here is a link to the report of this suggested boycott – and a suggestion that the fans take the money they would have spent on Bengals’ tix and donate those funds to a charity that protects women from violence.  Interestingly, in that report, you will find the fallback position that winning will cure everything for the Bengals and team ownership.

As Arte Johnson would intone on the old Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In:

“Verrry interesting …”

While I am in the mode of discussing NFL issues that are not directly related to on-field happenings, let me address another one.  About a month ago, a couple dozen NFL players took part in an arm-wrestling competition that was held in a casino in Las Vegas.  Evidently, this was a “made-for-TV event”; no, I have no idea when it will be on the air.  The NFL is going to fine those players for violating its policy regarding “making promotional appearances at gambling-related establishments”.  You may recall a couple of years ago that the NFL put the kibosh on Tony Romo participating in a fantasy football convocation/event because it was also in a Las Vegas casino.

I am certain that somewhere in the CBA there is some sort of language that justifies this priggish and Puritanical position.  I am equally certain that the celebrity arm-wrestling event poses exactly no threat to the integrity of the NFL games or to the NFL brand.  This position by the league goes beyond nonsense and leaves bunk, balderdash and baloney in the dust; this is pure poppycock.  Please consider:

  1. The NFL is about to put a team in Las Vegas meaning an awful lot of players will be housed there and will be required to visit there.  In case the NFL has not figured this out, the casinos in Las Vegas are not going to close down once the NFL arrives.
  2. With regard to “protecting the brand”, the NFL has been the employer of folks who have committed murders, who have abused women, who have abused drugs and distributed drugs, who have driven while impaired and who have violated various firearms laws.  That list omits the myriad bar fights and the like that seem to find NFL players with regularity.  Each and every one of those sorts of situations threatens “the brand” a whole lot more than a celebrity arm-wrestling event in a casino.  This is as “self-evident” in 2017 as were the truths that Thomas Jefferson labeled as “self-evident” in 1776.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times that seems to fit today’s rant perfectly:

“A Nevada brothel owner says he plans to open a Raiders-themed bordello in 2020.

“And for an extra $50, they’ll even throw a penalty flag for excessive celebration.”

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

 

 

Maintaining Interest …

I have noted in previous rants that the obsessive and exclusionary focus of the golf world on Tiger Woods has created an “interest deficit” in the sport.  If this week sometime, Woods were to call a press conference to give an update on his recovery from his most recent surgery and to muse about how he and his new swing coach were “tweaking his game”, that event would get more coverage in the golf media than anything else.  Last weekend, the PGA Tour event was the Wells Fargo Championship – one of the myriad whistle-stops on the Tour.  The winner was Brian Harman who beat Dustin Johnson by one stroke by sinking a 30-foot putt on the final hole.  Johnson had won 3 tournaments in a row.

This event got normal coverage for a whistle-stop event and I suspect that most sports fans have no idea who Brian Harman is nor could they pick him out of a lineup with Justice League of America.  [Hint: He’d be the guy wearing normal clothes and not a superhero costume.]  However, since there is no way to tie the story of his win to Tiger Woods, he gets the reportorial “pat on the head”.

In fact, the more ballyhooed golf note from last weekend demonstrates the media focus for golf.  If it is not Tiger Woods, then it has to be something either maudlin or outrageous.  Last weekend we had something bordering on outrageous happen.  John Daly won a Senior Tour event – – oh, yeah, they now call it the Champions Tour.  The last time John Daly won any kind of tournament was 2004; if Max Patkin was the Clown Prince of Baseball, then John Daly is the Clown Prince of Golf.  His win is a big golf story this morning; Brian Harman’s win is at the “ho-hum level”.  Too bad …

The standard narrative regarding waning fan interest in the NBA regular season was that all of that would be cured by starting the playoffs.  In fact, TV ratings did rise when the playoffs started as they always do.  However, I wonder if this is sustainable.  Consider:

  1. The NBA regular season saw TV ratings down about 10% for this year; and simultaneously, avid fans as well as casual fans came to realize that the players do not care much about those games either.  Players rested; teams tanked; fans paid attention to other things.
  2. Now, we are well into the second round of the playoffs.  Indeed, one of the second-round series is already over and another stands at 3-0 meaning the team on the short end of the record needs a quick trip to Lourdes if they are to have any hope of advancing.  Question for all:  Have there been any great games in the playoffs yet?
  3. The NBA has come to the point where at the outset of the season, fans can pretty much know what the Finals are going to look like.  Back in October 2016, it would have taken a good imagination or a lot of wishful thinking to imagine how the Cleveland Cavaliers would be out of the playoffs before the Finals.  At the same time in the West, fans realized that there would be more competition to get to the Finals but the betting odds had Golden State going there as odds-on favorites.
  4. So, when nothing major happened during the regular season to get folks to doubt that preconceived outcome, interest waned.  Why get even mildly excited – nay even mildly interested – in a March game between the Sacramento Kings and the Orlando Magic?  Okay, those are both bad teams so how about a March game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks?  I think I’ll spend my time sorting out my paper clip collection…

Fans love “super-teams” that can dominate their sports.  However, the NBA asks a lot of its fans to love – or hate – its two or three “super-teams” enough to pay attention to the exploits of the other 90% of the teams for almost 9 months.  I am a basketball fan but even I have only marginal interest in the NBA until the end of January in most seasons.  This year, I watched some games in February and March but really did not get invested in anything in the regular season until the final week when the final playoff slots were up for grabs.  And now I find myself bored by the less-than-exciting playoff games so far.  I want to fast-forward to the Finals but the league will not let me do that…

The English Premier League is sort of like the NBA in the sense that before the season starts fans pretty much know the contenders for the top of the table.  [Yes, I remember Leicester City last year.]  However, the EPL has relegation and that means there is interest in games involving teams with no prayer of getting to the European Champions League.  This year the relegation race could go down to the final weekend of games.  Here is a summary:

  • Crystal Palace:  38 points with 2 games left to play
  • Swansea City:  36 points with 2 games left to play
  • Hull City:  34 points with 2 games left to play
  • Middlesbrough:  28 points with 3 games left to play
  • Sunderland:  24 points with 3 games left to play.

Sunderland is guaranteed to be relegated.  A win in their final 3 games would only get them to 33 points (each win is worth 3 points and a draw is worth 1 point) so Sunderland must finish in the bottom 3 of the EPL.  Two of the other four teams will also drop down to the Champions League next year but there is no certainty there.  Today, Chelsea – the EPL winner this season – faces Middlesbrough in a game that should be of no interest at all save for the relegation race.  Swansea City’s next game is against Sunderland; that game matters even though both teams are in danger of relegation.  Crystal Palace’s next game is against Hull City; once again, the game has meaning.  Relegation may be harsh and it does have significant economic consequences for the teams dropping down but it does maintain fan interest.

Finally, since I began today with golf, let me share with you a definition of golf that I ran across somewhere.  I would like to cite the source, but I did not keep a record of where I found this:

“Golf: An endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle, followed by a good bottle of beer.”

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

 

 

Mental Meanderings …

Happy Cinco de Mayo.  Take it easy on the tequila shots…

As a public service announcement, allow me to remind you that the first Saturday in May is something other than the day they run the Kentucky Derby.  The first Saturday in May is officially World Naked Gardening Day and the goals, objectives and traditions of this day are explained at this website.  So, what might one do to honor and celebrate this day?  Here is what the website suggests:

“First of all, on the first Saturday of May, find an opportunity to get naked and do some gardening. Do so alone, with friends, with family, with your gardening club, or with any other group collected for that purpose. Do it inside your house, in your back yard, on a hiking trail, at a city park, or on the streets. Stay private or go public. Make it a quiet time or make it a public splash. Just get naked and make your part of the botanical world a healthier and more attractive place.”

See how simple that is?  Let me suggest, however, that if you decide to join in these festivities tomorrow, you will need to apply sunscreen to parts of your anatomy that normally do not get such attention.  Same goes for insect repellent.  A word to the wise…

In the world of sports, the first Saturday in May does indeed bring us the running of the Kentucky Derby.  Tomorrow will be the 143rd time the Derby is contested but there does not seem to be nearly the normal level of anticipation for the race this year.  I do not have any strong feelings about any of the entries this year and so I will offer up this unenthusiastic prediction:

  • McCracken and Always Dreaming as an exacta box.
  • McCracken, Always Dreaming and Girvin as a trifecta box.
  • McCracken, Always Dreaming, Girvin and Classic Empire as a superfecta box.

I have routinely referred here to José Canseco as “the gift that keeps on giving” because at least a couple times a year he does or says something sufficiently off-the-wall that I can comment on it here.  The great thing about Canseco is that there is no way to predict what might be coming next.  One time, he is involved in a celebrity boxing match; then he may be trying to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher in an independent league; then he may be trying to sell you the privilege of just hanging out with him for a day and he might even suggest to then candidate Donald Trump that he (Canseco) should be the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  Sit-com screenwriters should be so creatively goofy.

There is a possibility that there may be a second “gift that keeps on giving” emerging in the sports world and that new entrant could be LaVar Ball.  There is no doubt that LaVar Ball has achieved a level of outrageousness that would qualify him for that label and he is certainly prolific in the number of off-the-wall things that he says and does.  The only quality that I think LaVar Ball would need to certify himself as a “gift that keeps on giving” is a little variety in his egregiousness.

José Canseco’s “stuff” is all over the map.  Would anyone be really surprised to learn that Canseco would be a participant in a pro ‘rassling “extravaganza” somewhere down the road?  Would it be totally out of character for Canseco to announce his candidacy for mayor of some metropolis somewhere?  Any activity that is not blatantly illegal would surprise me if it were associated with Canseco.  However, with LaVar Ball, the scope of his off-the-wall pronouncements is limited to his declarations of his own personal greatness and that of his kids.

The latest startling event is the announcement of Lonzo Ball’s first signature shoe.  Lonzo has yet to play a minute of pro basketball and he has a new shoe ready for sale – – actually if you order it you will not get it right away but shipping is guaranteed to be prior to November 30, 2017.   There are no refunds on the deal and the cost of the pair of shoes is $495 – – unless you have a really big foot and need a really large size in which case the shoes will set you back an additional $200.

Folks, that announcement is sufficiently outrageous to put LaVar Ball squarely in the same neighborhood with José Canseco.  Now if LaVar Ball can only diversify his pronouncements and actions just a bit.  Maybe he could suggest that he and Lonzo be named as Ambassador-Without-Portfolio by the President so that he and Lonzo can go to the Middle East and explain to all the folks there why a peaceful solution to their differences is beneficial to all.  That would be all I would need to confer upon LaVar Ball the title of “gift that keeps on giving” …

You may recall that I recently pointed out how the so-called “draft experts” on TV covering the NFL Draft never criticized any of the draft selections by any of the teams despite the certainty that as many as 40% of those selections would never see the field in a real NFL game.  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had a similar/parallel comment regarding the demonstrated expertise on those telecasts:

“Recent history: Draftniks would be wise to remember that they’re receiving analysis of this year’s quarterback crop from the same people who determined last year that the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott was a fourth-round pick.”

In case you are planning to take in a D-Backs game at Chase Field this weekend, let me alert you to one of your culinary possibilities there.  It is called The Churro Dog – not to worry, there is no hot dog in here:

  • Start with a cinnamon churro and stuff it into a cylindrical chocolate covered glazed donut.
  • Slather that in frozen yogurt and top it all with chocolate sauce and/or salted caramel sauce.
  • [There’s gotta be 1000 calories in this bad boy…]

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding another ballpark cuisine item:

“The Seattle Mariners are selling out of a new item — toasted grasshoppers covered in chili-lime salt. These are the first baseball games where you have to bring insect spray to protect you from a concession item.”

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

 

 

First Here – – Then There – –

I am going to be bouncing around today so let me start with a recent report from the FIFA Independent Ethics Committee.  It is actually difficult to input those words via a keyboard without giggling, but that is indeed an existing committee and it would appear as if it ,might be taking its  responsibilities semi-seriously.  Anyhow, this entity has something called the “adjudicatory chamber” which may be akin to the Court of the Star Chamber or may be an incarnation of dunking folks to see if they are witches or not.  This “adjudicatory chamber” has handed down a ruling that bans FOR LIFE any involvement in any “football-related activity” for a former President of the Costa Rican Football Association.

The investigation leading up to this decree began in May 2015; in October 2016, the individual who has been banned FOR LIFE pleaded guilty to:

  1. Racketeering conspiracy
  2. Wire fraud
  3. Conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Unless I do not understand the calendar system in use by most of the world, those guilty pleas were entered about 6 months ago.  So, I wonder if it is fair to ask what took the FIFA Independent Ethics Committee so long to figure out that this dude was up to his earbrows in stuff closely related to bribery and shake-downs and other stuff that is of a similar nature.  I guess that only someone who thinks that the FIFA Independent Ethics Committee is no more powerful or effective than the Trilateral Commission would wonder how 6 months could have passed before the FIFA Committee decided to do what it chose to do.

I want to take a moment here to talk about a variety of injuries that have befallen some quality MLB players already this season.  I do not think there is some sort of cosmic message contained in all of this, but there have been some strange happenings so far this season.

  1. Noah Syndergaard – NY Mets:  He was “scratched” from a start and then he refused to undergo an MRI exam – – which is his right under the extant CBA.  Then he started against the Nats and had to leave the game very early with a “partial tear in his lat”.  A subsequent MRI – which Syndergaard chose to undergo – showed some muscle/ligament damage that could put the pitcher on the shelf for 10-16 weeks.
  2. Yeonis Cespedes – NY Mets:  He “tweaked his hamstring” about 2 weeks ago but instead of the Mets putting him on the newly established 10-day DL, the team chose to keep him active and to play games with only 24 players physically ready to perform.  When he was put back in the lineup, one of the worst things happened – – he aggravated the injury – – and now the Mets have to put him on a longer-term DL.
  3. Adam Eaton – Washington Nats:  Eaton had been performing about as well as anyone could have expected at the top of the Nats’ batting order until he came down with a torn meniscus and a high ankle sprain from trying to leg out a play at first base.
  4. Madison Bumgarner – SF Giants:  His is a self-inflicted wound; he injured his shoulder while riding a dirt bike.  Shoulder injuries are always tense situations in MLB; a shoulder injury to the pitching shoulder for a top-shelf pitcher has to be cause for a reaction closer to panic than to laissez faire.

Lots of other teams have suffered early-season injuries; listing these four is not an attempt to demean any other player who may not be able to participate so far this year.

With the Raiders poised to remain in Oakland for the next two seasons – and perhaps beyond that depending on the speed with which the new stadium in Las Vegas can be built.  Roger Goodell decreed that the team is indeed the Oakland Raiders now and going forward until such time that the franchise can move to Las Vegas and play home games there.  That sounds simple and straightforward until you think that the marketplace for selling “Las Vegas Raiders” gear might not be a legal potion until 2020.  Meanwhile, it is not difficult to imagine that the market for “Oakland Raiders” gear might be drying up.

Each NFL team gets to market its own “stuff” which seems like a fair arrangement.  However, in this case, the Raiders need to be able to acknowledge that the franchise is in a temporary locale for now but will “settle down” in the Nevada desert once construction details are ironed out.  If the Raiders cannot sell LV Raiders gear until near the start of the 2020 season, the team will miss out on a meaningful revenue stream.  Getting fans in Oakland to buy Raiders gear over the next couple of years will not be trivial; in fact, it may be a final exam question in a course labeled Marketing 505.

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald about the support shown for Nebraska University football:

“The announced turnout for the Red-White game was 78,312. Picture a Creighton home baseball game only with 78,300 more people.”

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

 

 

National Honesty Day

Where were you on Sunday 30 April and what were you doing?  Be honest; it is important.  Sunday 30 April 2017 was National Honesty Day; if you don’t trust me, a simple Google search will confirm that statement.  So, the important question we all need to reflect upon is this:

  • What did we all do to encourage, preserve and promote “HONESTY” last Sunday?

The Congress of the United States did their part to honor this day; they were not in session on Sunday meaning that honesty was not abused on Capitol Hill on that day.  As we all learned in Algebra II, the absence of a negative is a positive…

Groucho Marx had the perfect observation for National Honesty Day – – even if it did not exist while he was still alive:

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

All 535 members of the US Congress know exactly how to do just that…

With that Public Service Announcement out of the way, let me publish a Correction/Erratum.  Yesterday, in speaking of the potential purchasers of the Miami Marlins, I said that Jared Kushner – – the “First Son-in-Law” of the US – – had been rumored to be a buyer of the team in times past.  Oftentimes here, I have cited the “reader from Houston” who sets me straight on matters related to sports stats and history.  Well, the “reader from Houston” expanded his purview yesterday and pointed out to me that I was incorrect in my statement.  Here is the correct statement:

“It’s his younger brother, Josh, that was interested in the Marlins, not Jared.”

Mea culpa …

According to reports yesterday, Adam Jones – – the CF for the Baltimore Orioles – – was the recipient of racial epithets from at least one fan and perhaps more in Fenway Park and was the target of a bag of peanuts from a fan during the game.  Some folks have chosen to be “VS-ers” – – Virtue Signalers – – by loudly decrying the history of difficulties in Boston during the Civil Rights struggles and citing the Red Sox as “late adapters” of Black players in the modern era.

If this statement puts me on the wrong side of history with regard to these Virtue Signalers then so be it:

  • That was then; this is now.  What happened in Fenway Park was despicable and the perpetrators need to be named and shamed.  Then, they need to be banned from Fenway Park in perpetuity.
  • Having said all the above, nothing that happened in Fenway Park earlier this week is an indictment of the citizenry of Boston or of the majority of Red Sox fans.  The person(s) who did this is/are a cretin/multiple cretins; that is not true of the citizenry of Boston or of Red Sox fandom.
  • In matters such as this, there is no real need to exhibit one’s righteousness by demonizing the improper behavior of others.  When someone has staked out a position on the side of “right” and “good”, there is no real need to wag a finger at others who are not similarly positioned.  If one is indeed where righteousness and good reside, that fact will become abundantly apparent soon enough.

When a fan buys a ticket to see a sporting event, he/she has every right to cheer for his/her team and to try to disrupt the actions of the opposing team.  That right – like just about every other right – is not limitless but it does extend a good long way.  As soon as a projectile is thrown in the direction of a player on the “other team”, the “right to express oneself” has gone around the bend.  The same goes for fans of one team choosing to beat down/attack fans of the opposing team.  Don’t try to tell me that does not happen; there are too many incidents of serious injuries related to that scenario and even a death or two.  That kind of stuff is not “fandom”; that kind of stuff is sub-human.

At the NFL Draft earlier this week, Philly fans booed Roger Goodell and anything associated with the Dallas Cowboys because that is what Philly fans do.  That is perfectly OK because booing is harmless.  Flinging racial epithets at people wearing Cowboys’ gear or ganging up to beat down someone wearing Cowboys’ gear goes WAAAY over the line.  Fortunately, that did not happen but the analogy to what did happen in Boston with regard to Adam Jones is a good one.

I have a very good friend – who is also a long-term reader here – who is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan.  He has nothing good to say about any of the other teams in the AFC North and takes great pleasure in the futility of the Cleveland Browns.  He probably has at least a half-dozen – – and probably closer to two dozen – – Terrible Towels in his home.  Members of the Rooney family itself would not question his devotion to the Steelers’ franchise.

Nevertheless, I will go out on limb here and say with no fear of contradiction that my good friend would never engage in “fan behavior” similar to what was reported in Boston earlier this week nor would he try to shield others who did engage in such “fan behavior”.

Buying a ticket to a pro sports game in the US confers a wide latitude of “acceptable” behaviors on such fans – – far wider than what would be acceptable while walking down the street or while sitting in the living room of your fiancé’s family.  However, that latitude is not infinite and we are getting to the point where too many fans seem not to recognize the boundaries of “acceptable fandom”.

I am just trying to be honest here as an homage to National Honesty Day just three days past…

Finally, I need to get out of here on a lighter note and so I will leave you with this item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times.  Professor Perry found this item elsewhere – – but that really does not matter here:

“At SportsPickle.com: ‘Middle East promises sustained peace after U.S. threatens to send Skip Bayless.’”

[That ought to scare the s[p]it out of them.]

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

 

 

Derek Jeter As An Owner In MLB?

Today, I am going to bounce around from one sport and one item to another so let me begin in the world of MLB with the reports that Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush are the headliners in a team of financiers who are set up to buy the Miami Marlins.  Recall that six weeks ago, the designated buyers were a consortium led by Jared Kushner – – the “First Son-in-Law” of the USA.  The current owner is Jeffrey Loria who is hardly beloved in South Florida and the latest evaluation by Forbes is that the franchise is worth $950M.  The reported “going price” for the deal on the table is for $1.3B.  Here are two things to consider:

  1. If you believe Forbes valuations, the Jeter/Bush consortium would be paying more than 40% over the “intrinsic value” of the franchise to become MLB owners.
  2. I read one report that said the Marlins was a money losing franchise.  I have a problem believing that is the case unless current owner Jeffrey Loria agreed to take all of his national TV money in wooden nickels.

All of this sounded simple and organized until reports surfaced that the Jeter/Bush consortium denied that it had agreed to pay $1.3B for the team.  I am not going to pretend here that I have some sort of “inside line” to the negotiations here but if you want to read about the various stages of this story, you can go here for reports about the sale as originally configured or here for reports about how this is not a done deal.

The Marlins have never been a big draw in Miami.  Last year, the Marlins averaged just under 22,000 fans per game; that put the Marlins 25th in MLB in terms of home attendance.  To put it positively, they drew more fans on average than 5 other MLB teams – including the Indians who eventually represented the AL in the World Series.  However, the Dodgers’ average attendance was more than double what the Marlins drew and the Cardinals’ average attendance was almost twice as high.  I have no idea if this new consortium of potential buyers – – or a new ownership group – – can make the Marlins’ games into events that must be seen in person by South Florida residents.  If anyone figures out how to do just that, there is plenty of unused capacity in the home stadium to accommodate the crowds.

This story is nowhere near over.  My guess is that Jeffrey Loria will indeed sell the team but that decision is not necessarily going to be made nor is the sale going to be finalized any time during the ongoing MLB season.

Since I am on the subject of MLB this morning, let me share with you an e-mail from a friend who is a Dodgers’ fan from back in the days when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.  I have not even considered verifying the statistic he sent me because even though he is a long-term fan, he is also a man of integrity:

“[Clayton] Kershaw has been the starting pitcher for the Dodgers 87 times when the team has gotten him 4 or more runs in the game.  In those [87] starts, his [Kershaw’s] record is 87-0.”

That is what you could call “scary good” …

Switching gears here to talk about the NBA and their ongoing playoffs, the Utah Jazz eliminated the LA Clippers in a 7th game “win-or-go-home” situation.  The Jazz did this despite having their single best defender and rebounder – – Rudy Gobert – – on the bench with foul troubles for more than 30 minutes in a 48-minute game.  The Jazz are prohibitive underdogs to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs [versus the SF Warriors] let alone to win it all, but they did what they needed to do – and more – to win their first-round series.

Reporters and commentators have taken the opportunity of the Clippers’ futility here to speculate about the future of team president/GM/Head Coach, Doc Rivers, and to consider the possibility that the team may blow itself up and start over with a new constellation of stars in LA.  As a general rule, I do not like a situation where the head coach is the teams’ GM; those jobs require a different focus; the GM and the head coach have to work together constructively, but I am not a fan of putting one person into both roles.  Obviously, I have no idea how owner, Steve Ballmer will deal with the current situation inside the team but here is a stat I got from listening to Max Kellerman on First Take on ESPN yesterday:

  • The Clippers have had the lead in five playoff series in each of the last five seasons and have come from ahead to lose all five of them.
  • That is the first time in the history of the NBA such a thing has happened.

Ouch!!

Finally, I commented recently about the terminations at ESPN and how the revenue constrictions combined with escalating TV rights’ fees for various sporting events has put the network in a bind.  Recognizing the reality of those opposing forces/trends, please consider this item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.  Not only is Professor Molinaro’s point completely valid; the underlying events here make you wonder if the budget-mavens at ESPN are awake at the switch:

“Bottom line: On the day ESPN announced cost-cutting layoffs of 100 employees, including familiar on-camera faces, the network had reporter Marty Smith in Rome to cover a visit to Pope Francis by Jim Harbaugh, his wife and Michigan football players. Is that a real story or simply more free publicity for a marquee coach and program that don’t need it?”

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

 

 

The NFL Draft Is History … We Are Doomed to Repeat It

The NFL Draft is over.  It has been the focus of attention for so many folks over the past month or so that its recession into history is important because it now allows lots of Americans to focus on other issues that have been pushed to the background by the Draft – – e.g. world hunger, the threat of nuclear war and who actually put the “ram” in the “ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong”.

About 40 years ago, Howard Cosell said that the NFL Draft was an over-hyped manufactured event receiving too much attention.  This year, the Draft basically shut down a large piece of Center City Philadelphia for 3 days; 70,000 folks showed up on a Thursday night to watch someone walk to a microphone and announce which college football player would be trying to make which pro football team come summertime.  Seriously.  Those folks could have been just as productive in terms of service to humankind if they had been searching out who put the “ram” in the “ram-a-lam-a-ding-dong”.  One report said that over the 3 days of the Draft, approximately 250,000 people – some repeat visitors to be sure – were part of this extravaganza.

I refuse to play the game of “grading the draft” for each team because you really will not know how well things went here for any team until the end of the 2019 season giving us 3 seasons to evaluate which of these players is any good.  I read one analysis that said the Cleveland Browns got themselves 4 very good players in this draft.  Here is what that means.  The Browns still have Joe Thomas on the roster; that gives them 5 very good players leaving them more than a dozen short of the number needed to be a playoff team.

Nonetheless, I do want to put a punctuation mark on this event if only to put it behind us for the next 6-9 months.  Sports fans accept the idea of an amateur draft; it is – nominally – a way to add competitive balance to pro leagues by allowing the worst teams from last year to pick ahead of the teams that did well last year.  That does not happen elsewhere and I suspect that lots of people would not accept it happening elsewhere.  Imagine this:

  • Of all the technology companies in the US, National Veeblefetzer did the worst last year; it’s stock was down 11% while the average for all tech companies was +13%.
  • Therefore, National Veeblefetzer gets to select which electronics engineer graduating from whatever school in the US will come to work for them two weeks after Commencement Exercises.

That is what the NFL Draft – and the drafts in all other sports – come down to and the courts have said it is OK for sports leagues to do that because the Draft is collectively bargained by the league and the players’ union.  Please, do not mention the fact that the collegiate players who are selected in the draft have never been members of that union that bargained to arrive at that collective bargaining agreement prior to their selection…

The NFL Draft encourages – and perhaps even rewards – behaviors that would not be acceptable in everyday life.  Coaches and GMs routinely lie about their draft plans so as not to “reveal their hand”.  They lie to prospective draftees; they lie to reporters; they purposely and purposefully create “Fake News” – – as if we need that sort of virus to spread.  Then, after about a month of that sort of anti-social behavior, 70,000 folks show up on the first night of the draft to validate everything those lying weasels have done for the past month or so.

Let me pose a question to anyone who sat and watched the Draft on TV at home for extended periods of time:

  • Did even one question or answer contained in the interviews with any of the draftees give you any insight or inspiration?

If so, I feel sorry for you.  I watched the draft in small doses – and truth be told, I spent much of my viewing time reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen as a way to catch up on “who went where” since the last time I had tuned in.  Nonetheless, I can give you a relatively accurate flavor of the interview with the recent draftee:

  • Q:  It has been a long journey for you from Beaglebreath, Nebraska to this point and now you are the first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills.  What is going through your mind right now?
  • A:  I am blessed to be here; God has a plan for me; He wants me to be in Buffalo.  I am ready to work hard and do whatever the coaches want me to do for the team.  My coaches and my grandmother have been my inspirations and I am going to play hard so that they will be proud of me.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a content-free exchange of words.  After you listen to one of those exchanges, you feel dumber for having had the experience.

Let me pose another question here:

  • Did you hear any of the “draft experts” on any of the networks covering this extravaganza say this about even one draftee?  “I don’t understand that pick at all; this guy can’t play dead in a John Wayne western movie.

Here is the deal.  Approximately 250 players were taken in this draft; About 50 will not make it out of training camp; perhaps another 75 will be on a practice squad and never see a moment of NFL action.  That means, the players cannot play – – but the “draft experts” cannot discern that fact.  So, what makes them such experts?

Oh, by the way, a corollary to that last question is this:

  • If a judge sentenced a convicted child sex offender to listen to Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay “debate” the merits of potential draft picks for even 3 weeks, the sentence would be overturned on appeal on the basis that it would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald about another sports event that garners more TV coverage than is necessary:

“CBS devoted 18 hours of coverage to the Masters. Hours 9 through 12 were a segment called ‘history of the sand trap rake.’ ”

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

 

 

What Do I Know …?

When I present my NFL pre-draft analysis, I always go out of my way to let everyone know that it is hardly an authoritative exposition on the subject.  In last night’s first round, teams traded a lot of their future for QBs that I did not even mention and the first offensive lineman taken – Garrett Bolles (Utah) – was someone I had to have seen because I thought one of his teammates on the OL was worth mentioning as a 3rd or 4th round pick.  Shows what I know …

At the same time, the Bears and the Chiefs had better be right on the QBs they traded up to get.  Both teams paid a steep price; the Bears gave up a third round pick and next year’s first round pick to the Niners just to move up one slot in this year’s draft to take Mitch Trubisky.  My guess is that both teams will be drafting pretty high next year meaning that the Niners will have two early picks in the first round next year.  Trubisky had better be good…

The Chiefs paid a similar price to jump up a bunch of spots to grab Patrick Mahomes II.  The Chiefs have a solid roster so most of the analysts think this is a developmental situation for Mahomes and the Chiefs.  However, the Chiefs will not be part of the first round of the draft next year as a result of this trade.  Mahomes had better develop…

As has been the case for the last 30+ years, ESPN covered the draft last night.  ESPN has been in the news for its internal convulsions over the past week or two; the “Four-Letter Network” has gone through a pogrom and many of its visible on-air talents/reporters were let go earlier this week.  The total reduction in force for the network was 100 people and it comes at a time when ESPN is seeing a reduction in revenues generated by subscription fees paid by cable operators and an increase in costs generated by rising TV rights fees charged by leagues.

This is not a new situation for ESPN.  Just a couple of years ago, they parted company with more than 100 employees – including 3 “big-ticket items” in Colin Cowherd, Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons.  Chris Berman’s swan song was the end of the NFL season and Tom Jackson retired just before the NFL season started last year.

ESPN seems to be in an analogous situation to the newspapers in the country.  There is news/entertainment out there to be delivered but the mode of delivery seems to be changing underneath both ESPN and newspapers.  This shift is going to have an effect on media companies, journalists, fans AND on the players/owners.  ESPN and the other “broadcast partners” of the NFL are the ones that pay the freight allowing the NFL salary cap to reside in the neighborhood of $160M per team.

For more detail on who will no longer be with ESPN, you can check out this report in the South Florida Business Journal.

While ESPN and other news/sports outlets are managing a “revenue-squeeze” there is a sector of the sports economy that is growing nicely.  The various league commissioners and the ostrich-like NCAA do not want to hear it, but sports wagering is booming.  Just to give you an idea of the changes ongoing there, various sportsbooks posted proposition bets on the outcome of the NFL Draft last night.  Here is an example:

  • Number of QBs taken in the first round.  Over/Under 3.5
  • If you had the UNDER, you won…

The handle for that sort of wagering was not huge but it does represent new areas of proposition betting related to the sports world and people are participating.  Growth in this industry sector is not driven by new sorts of prop bets; there is what the Wall St. analysts call “secular growth”.  People are simply betting more.  And there is data from this year’s March Madness to support that statement.

Based on data from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, March Madness had a record handle in 2017.  People – punters as they are called in the UK – pushed $429.5M through the betting windows on games and propositions in the state of Nevada for the 67-games in the tournament.  Not too surprisingly, with the handle at a record high, the profits for the sportsbooks were also at a record high – $41.28M.

This is not a trivial amount of growth.  Consider this data for the March Madness total handle:

  • March 2015:  $264.2M
  • March 2016:  $295.4M
  • March 2017:  $300.6M

These data represent a 14% growth rate over the past two years.  The folks who seeking to “grow the brand” for the various sports leagues and the folks at NCAA Hqs who need the influx of revenue from the TV rights to March Madness to pay the bills need to look at the this sort of data and realize that this is what will keep fans interested enough to pay attention to whatever media coverage is provided so that revenues to the sports entities is maintained.

One other comparison is interesting here.  If you look at the total handle for basketball (college and professional) in the Nevada sportsbooks this year, here are the numbers:

  • Feb 2017:  $212.8M
  • Mar 2017:  $439.5M

In March, college basketball stages all of its conference tournaments and then March Madness.  It does not take a Newtonian intellect to conclude that betting on tournament games for college basketball is a very popular pastime in the US.

For more details, check out this report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/betting/nevada-sports-books-win-record-amount-on-basketball-in-march/

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

“The first ESPN Football Power Index for 2017 gives the Nebraska football team 0.0 chance of winning the Big Ten. You think that’s bad? The odds of Rutgers winning the Big Ten are less than Pauly Shore becoming the first man to walk on Mars.”

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

 

 

The Aaron Hernandez Matter Is Ongoing …

If I am reading some of the “legal reports” correctly, the issues involving criminal activities/behaviors by and related to Aaron Hernandez are now settled but the story is not really over.  Civil actions can proceed well after the time when “criminal matters” have been resolved; consider the wrongful death suit against OJ Simpson which resulted in a guilty verdict against OJ well after he was found not guilty of the double murder with which he had been charged.  If I understand the reporting that is out there now, here are some potential “loose ends” that may enter our consciousness in the future:

  1. The NFL and the NFLPA agreed to put any grievances either may have had until after the resolution of Hernandez’ criminal proceedings.  With his demise, those are now ended.  The grievances will probably not make it to a courtroom, but there are legal processes to handle such things delineated in the current NFL/NFLPA CBA.
  2. The NFLPA will likely seek the portion of Hernandez’ signing bonus that was not paid to him subsequent to his contract signing and his charging in the murder of Odin Lloyd – for which he was convicted.  The amount here is more than $3M.
  3. The NFL – and the Patriots – will likely seek to recover that portion of the signing bonus that had already been paid to Hernandez.
  4. The NFLPA will likely seek payment of the “guaranteed money” that was specified in the contract Hernandez signed in 2012 – money to be paid in 2013 and 2014 – even though Hernandez did not play in those years because he was incarcerated.
  5. Any money that the NFLPA might “win” for Hernandez’ estate will be subject to wrongful death civil actions by the families of Odin Lloyd and the two men who were killed but Hernandez was not found guilty of their murders.  His presence at the scene of the crime makes this sort of action by those two families possible.

The double-murder trial for Aaron Hernandez may be over and indeed Aaron Hernandez’ life is over; nonetheless, the potential for legal actions and subsequent headlines related to those legal actions continues on.

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in the petty pace from day to day …”  [Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5]

If the commentary above leaves you with a slight feeling of melancholy, this next one will leave you with your head spinning.  Once again, it involves the NFL but this time there are no gruesome details or cadavers involved in the story.  You may recall that Dean Blandino resigned recently from the NFL as the Senior VP for Officiating meaning that he was the one who oversaw everything about the NFL referees from assigning crews to games to making sure that all the officials were up to date on the newest changes in the rules and the points of emphasis for this year.  Then, the NFL Competition Committee chose to add to his plate the task of being “The Guy” in the central replay room that would deal with all of the challenged calls and reviewed calls in all the games on a weekend.

Dean Blandino needed that added task as much as former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutrous-Ghali needs another Boutrous.  Forget all the prepared statements and posturing, I have to believe that a large measure of Dean Blandino’s motivation to leave that job had to do with that new set of responsibilities.

Well, if you are interested in taking that job for yourself, here is the online posting for the job vacancy courtesy of the NFL.  Please take a moment and go there to read the Job Responsibilities, Required Education and Experience and Other Key Attributes/Characteristics that the person holding this position needs to display.

OK; now that you are back from reading that job opening, I hope you came away from it with a couple of the same reactions that I had when I read through it:

  • There is no indication of the remuneration one might expect from that job.  Would you be remotely interested in that job if the going rate was – say – $150K per year plus per diem when you travel?  On the other hand, would you be willing to risk padding your résumé more than just a tad if the salary range was “high seven figures”?
  • Reading the responsibilities and the required education/experience sections of the job vacancy notice, I have to wonder if there are more than 2 people on the planet who might be able to pretend to have all of those qualifications AND are still unknown to the mavens at the NFL who will be making the hiring decision.  Does anyone believe that there are really any job candidates here who are currently earning their livings doing things like installing carpeting or serving as wealth managers for clients who would have a clue where to start in this endeavor?

My solution to this “conundrum” is rather simple.  The NFL needs to hire TWO people and not ONE person.  They need a guy to do all the officiating scheduling and all the quality control and all the media relations/education activities.  Then, they need a guy to run the replay center from Thursdays through Mondays from early September through early February.

I would be glad to be the person who was doing the replay center work along with the techs and engineers who make all that stuff work.  I would be willing to put in the time to learn to call up all the relevant views of the plays in question and to make the call and live with the consequences.  I would not take the job of organizing and being the “face of the NFL Rules” to the public even for the kind of money the NFL reportedly pays Hizzoner the Commish – – $30-40M per year.

Finally, here is an NFL note from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“NBC Sports.com headline: ‘[Tony] Romo hasn’t filed retirement papers yet (and it doesn’t matter).’  Um, so then why are you writing about it !?”

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