Transgressions …

Late last week, I ran across a report related to a suspension for Juventus player, Paul Pogba.  He had a random drug test last August after a game and his testosterone levels were in a range considered “not to be created naturally” and the test revealed “non-endogenous testosterone metabolites present.”  He was suspended after that test and then a subsequent analysis last October of the “B Sample” from the offending test confirmed the elevated testosterone levels.  Last week the national anti-doping authorities in Italy banned Pogba from competition for 4 years.  That is not a typo; as things stand now, Paul Pogba will not play soccer for 4 years.  Pogba will turn 31 years old in about two weeks; a suspension of that length might just be the end of his career.  Naturally, he will appeal the decision as it stands to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which is centered in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Paul Pogba may not be a household name here in the US, but he is a top-shelf footballer in Europe; he is a star and a leader for Juventus which is a top-shelf team in the Italian Serie A.  You can go to Wikipedia to read about the honors and the accomplishments in his career; if you do not want to do that, please take my word that this is not some minor figure in European football.  He is also not a multi-time positive tester; and yet, he got a 4-year suspension.

  • I have to wonder how many American pro athletes would take the risk of a 4-year suspension if that were the norm for a first offense.   

Moving on …  As I was grazing around Internet sports sites looking for material to use in these rants, I ran across this headline:

“Johnny Manziel will boycott Heisman ceremony until Reggie Bush gets his trophy back”

I don’t know how you feel about Reggie Bush having his Heisman trophy “repossessed” by the Heisman organization.  I recognize that it is their award, and they can issue it to whomever they please, meaning they should be able to repossess it on whatever basis they establish for said repossession.  On the other hand, Bush won the award for his play on a football field isolated from off-field happenings that were not criminal or sociopathic.  I have never lost a moment’s sleep pondering the events and the consequences of that whole business.

But I did react to that headline – – not in the way the headline writer or the article author might have preferred.  I did not click on the headline to see what the report had to say.  Rather, I made a note on my clipboard asking the following question:

  • Who cares if Johnny Manziel boycotts or attends Heisman ceremonies anytime between now and the Twelfth of Never?

For the record, I care even less about Manziel’s “boycott” than I do about who ought to be in possession of the Heisman trophy previously awarded to and then rescinded from Reggie Bush.

Switching gears … Bob Molinaro had this item in his column last week for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Money for nothing: The arrogance of NFL owners is on display again, this time with the Carolina Panthers’ David Tepper raising ticket prices after his team’s 2-15 season. But he’ll get what he wants — all the owners do. Don’t waste sympathy on paying customers who cave to the new prices.”

The increase is not outrageous; according to reports it averages out to 4% stadium wide.  Molinaro mentions the team’s NFL-worst record of 2-15 last year but he preferred not to point out in addition that the Panthers were shut out in both of their final two games last season.  Those two shutouts put a perfect bracket on the Panthers’ season since they were also shut out in the Opening Game back in September.  In a less malevolent universe, Panthers’ season ticket holders would be getting a small rebate from last season’s purchase rather than a price increase for next season.

Oh, and speaking of the Panthers and their owner, David Tepper, let me offer a small bit of advice to the new head coach of the Panthers, Dave Canales:

  • The best predictor of future human behavior is past human behavior.
  • Ergo, rent – – don’t buy…

The following is the text of a Tweet by Tom Pelissero widely considered to be an NFL Insider:

“No surprises: The new kickoff rule crafted by NFL special teams coordinators would allow teams to attempt an onside kick only when trailing in the fourth quarter — and require them to declare it in advance, per sources. Language still being finalized and owners must approve.”

Teams would have to declare in advance that they are going to try an onside kick?  Is there any other play in a football game where the team must declare what it is going to do before they try to do it?  Using this reasoning, teams should also declare their intention to run a fake punt or a fake field goal before they break the huddle.

Look, there are precious few onside kicks in NFL games under the current rules.  There are 272 games in the NFL’s regular season; I would be shocked if there were more than 50 such plays attempted in those regular season games last year.  It seems to me that Special Teams Coordinators ought to have better things to do with their spare time in the offseason than this.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with an assessment of a novel in a book review written by Dorothy Parker:

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown by great force.”

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

 

 

The Integrity Of The Games

A seemingly minor kerfuffle surfaced late last week and over the weekend.  Someone asked Mecole Hardman – – the receiver of the game-winning TD pass in last month’s Super Bowl – – if in this year’s free agency, he might be going back to the Jets where he signed a deal last year.  Hardman’s time in NY was less than productive and he was traded by the Jets in mid-season back to the Chiefs where he had begun his career.  Hardman said he did not enjoy his time in NY and that he definitely would not consider an offer from the Jets this time around.

The reporting on that exchange between Hardman and a writer qualifies as a “Nothing-burger”.  But then someone on the Jets suggested that Hardman may have leaked the Jets’ game plans to the Eagles and the Chiefs while he was still in NYC.  [Aside: for the record, the Jets beat the Eagles and lost a close game to the Chiefs last season.]

And that assertion/allegation/accusation changes to entire ecosystem for this kerfuffle.  If the NFL is indeed as fixated on maintaining the integrity of its games – – as it should be since those games produce more than $20B in revenue annually- – , they need to get the unvarnished facts here and make those facts known.

Obviously, IF Mecole Hardman – or any player for any team in the NFL – deliberately gives away his team’s game plan to an opponent prior to that game, that player needs to be suspended for life from the NFL.  Such a behavior is about as bad as a player taking a bribe to throw a game; the NFL cannot tolerate it.  The “integrity of the games” is severely jeopardized by such behavior.

But I want to take this a step further.  Again, IF Mecole Hardman actually revealed the Jets’ game plan to someone associated with the Eagles and/or the Chiefs, the NFL needs to find out who those persons are and banish them too.  Receiving such information prior to a game against the Jets and not reporting the fact of receiving it makes the receiving party as culpable as the transmitting party to the assault on the “integrity of the games”.

There is an item posted at nbcsports.com/nfl/profootball/rumor-mill saying that Pro Football Talk had contacted the NFL and that the league had “no comment” even to the point that it would not acknowledge the existence of an investigation.  The folks at Pro Football Talk say the NFL should conduct such an investigation; I will go a few steps farther and say that the NFL absolutely must investigate here, and it needs to do so in the light of day.

I am not the least bit surprised that the NFL would prefer to sit back and see if this whole business dries up and blows away.  However, what is needed here is a real investigation done by an outside entity with a promise from the outset that all findings and evidence will be revealed to the public.  And if you and I never hear about such action(s), keep all of this in mind the next time the NFL worries about players or coaches or owners gambling at things like slot machines or casino table games or the like.

  • Memo to NFL Execs and “The Commish”:  If you want people to take you seriously when you bloviate about the “integrity of the games”, you had better get to the bottom of this.  And you cannot get to the bottom of this by simply waving it off and saying that there is no problem at all here after conducting a sham “investigation” with no publication of findings.

The NFL Gambling Policy says that the sharing of “confidential, non-public information regarding any NFL game or event” is a no-no.  Clearly a team’s game plan for an upcoming game is confidential and non-public.  So, even IF no one involved in the alleged exchanges of game plan information used that information to bet on the game(s), it is still a violation of league policy.

I have emphasized the word IF” above because it is possible that the person on the Jets who made the initial statement that set this whole issue on a negative vector has nothing related to “evidence” of such a clandestine exchange.  In that case, it would behoove the NFL to close all this out with a simple declarative statement plus an admonition to players and coaches that such accusations are akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Moving on …  Don’t do this in India Ink but take a pencil and lightly circle the date March 27 on your calendar.  If you look at the NBA standings this morning, you may notice that the Washington Wizards and the Detroit Pistons both have records of 9-51.  There are still plenty – – maybe too many? – – games for these teams to play in the regular season but each team needs to win another game to avoid the ignominy of joining the Sixers as the most inept team in NBA history.  Recall back in the 70s that the Sixers completed a season with a 9-73 record.

Here is why you need to circle March 27 on your calendar:

  • On that auspicious occasion, the Detroit Pistons will visit Washington DC to take on the Washington Wizards.
  • Regardless of how bleakly both teams may play over the course of the final 22 games in this regular season, one of them WILL win at least their tenth game of the regular season and escape disgrace.

Finally, since much of today’s rant involves an issue potentially tied to the “integrity of the games” for the NFL, let me remind the NFL pooh-bahs that “integrity” is like “virginity”.

  • One only gets to lose it once.

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

 

 

A Little Spring Cleaning …

As the month of March arrives, one of the tasks facing many households is the dreaded Spring Cleaning.  If you looked in on Curmudgeon Central with its “files” masquerading as “piles” of papers, you might think that the best cleaning process would be a flame thrower – – and my long-suffering wife would likely agree.  However, my clipboard with notes about things to rant on in the future is in a state where cleaning it up is more like spiffing it up and could easily be accomplished by devoting two rants to that process.  So, I shall do a half-way Spring Cleaning on my clipboard today.

  • [Aside:  It would be unmannerly of anyone to suggest that this is a half-assed cleaning as opposed to a half-way cleaning.  Just saying…]

First up is a local story of sorts.  The Washington Commanders have played their games in FedEx Field since 1999; the naming rights deal ran through 2026.  This week, the shipping company pulled out of that deal meaning new Commanders’ owner Josh Harris’ projections of team revenue for 2024 could come up $7.5M short – – unless a new deal comes along quickly.  According to a statement from the Commanders:

“We have already started the process of identifying our next stadium naming rights partner — a partner who will play a crucial role in ushering in the next era of not only Commanders’ football, but also a robust slate of top live events and concerts.”

I know nothing about the inner workings of either party here or how the decision to truncate the agreement came to be, but I will say that the stadium facility itself in Landover MD is not something I would want my name on.  In the late days of their existence, Shea Stadium, The Vet and RFK Stadium were – at the very best – eyesores.  FedEx Field had degraded to that status and was not/is not a jewel to be associated with one’s name.  Any new naming rights deal would have to include some transition rights to whatever new stadium the Commanders get because the most appropriate naming rights partner for the current facility would be Waste Management Inc.

Moving on … Fed Ex Field is not the only off-field aspect of the Commanders’ franchise that needs replacing; in the annual NFLPA survey of players regarding their working conditions, once again the Commanders finished dead last in the league.  Here is how the Washington Post summarized this situation:

“The survey included 11 categories: treatment of families, food/cafeteria, nutritionist/dietitian, locker room, training room, training staff, weight room, strength coaches, team travel, head coach and ownership.

“Among those categories, Washington’s locker room and training room ranked last. Only 26 percent of Commanders players who voted said they felt they had enough room for their lockers, and some cited multiple sewage leaks. Washington ranked 31st in treatment of families, training staff, team travel and head coach.”

 

If you thought that Josh Harris and his minority partners had a lot of work ahead of them to get the on-field product up to an acceptable level, add a new stadium and a total revamp of the team facilities/practices to that “To Do List”.

Next item …  I tuned in to see part of a Nats Spring Training game earlier this week and I want to go on record now with this statement:

  • James Wood is 21 years old, and he is going to be a force majeure in MLB.

Wood is a huge human being; depending on where you look, he is listed as 6’5” or 6’ 7”.  Do not picture in your mind this young man as a tall string-bean; he is built like a tight end or a power forward.  He hit a home run in the game I watched that may not have come down yet but even more impressive to me is his approach to the game.  This was a meaningless Spring Training exhibition game and Wood was hustling and playing as if it were an elimination game in the playoffs.

The Nats acquired Wood – – along with CJ Abrams and Mackenzie Gore and a couple other guys – – in the trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres.  Soto is now with the Yankees and Bell is now with the Marlins.  I do not think it is premature to say that the Nats fleeced the Padres on that deal…

Switching gears …  About a month ago Old Dominion basketball coach, Jeff Jones, “stepped away” from the position following a heart attack.  That health event came on top of ongoing treatment Jones was receiving for prostate cancer.  Earlier this week, Jones announced his retirement.  Previously in his career, Jones was the coach at American University for 13 seasons.  I never met Jeff Jones, but every time I saw him interviewed – – in defeat or in victory – – he impressed me as genuinely gracious and civil.  Bob Molinaro covering sports for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot saw Jones far more often and far more closely than I did and here is what Molinaro had to say about this retirement announcement:

“Old Dominion’s men’s basketball team has lost too many games over the past five years, but judging from the attendance at Chartway Arena, many of the staunchest fans haven’t abandoned the program. I’m guessing that this, in part, is because of Jeff Jones’ temperament and dogged professionalism. May his successor pick up that mantle while giving the diehards a brighter bottom line.”

Finally, let me close today with another cogent observation by Bob Molinaro:

“One way to stop entitled college kids from court-storming is to surround the floor with wire mesh, the way it was done 100 years ago, more to keep players out of the stands than anything else. It’s where the now-antiquated term “cagers” comes from. Of course, I’m being facetious. But equally ridiculous are the voices in media and elsewhere celebrating court-storming as a worthwhile student rite and a public relations win for schools. The enablers should be ready to own this in the event of a catastrophic injury.”  [Emphasis added…]

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

 

 

Money, Money, Lots Of Money …

I’ve been thinking about collegiate athletics and the effect that college football has had on the overarching structure of collegiate athletics.  And I believe that what college football has caused to happen is not necessarily good for college sports.  I have no interest in posturing here about the wages of sin and how money is the root of all evils.  The folks who administer college football saw the opportunity to bring in millions and millions of dollars into their individual and collective organizations.  Naturally, they took that opportunity.

College football will have in 2024 nine conferences, one conference with only two members, and three “independent schools”.  What used to be the PAC-12 will now be more properly called the PAC-2 and the three independent schools are:

  1. Notre Dame – – just because they have always been an independent
  2. UConn – – who cares?
  3. UMass – – who else cares?

The addiction of American sports fans to American football provided the opportunity to make mega-dollars and with that incentive out there, the semi-logical geographically consistent football conferences began to expand and swallow up schools from other conferences creating geographically ridiculous conferences.

  • The Atlantic Coast Conference will include the California Golden Bears, the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Stanford Cardinal.
  • The Big 10 will have 18 teams competing stretched from Rutgers and Maryland in the eastern US to USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington in the west.

The CFP will expand to 12 teams this year and surely beyond that number after 2026.  Football will bring in truckloads of cash and will cause problems elsewhere in college sports.  I am not going to wail about the loss of traditional rivalries as rival schools go to different conferences.  Frankly, if the rivalry is strong enough to be a “moneymaker”, that rivalry will survive.  Rather I want to take up the cause of the college athletes in a non-revenue sport such as baseball/softball, gymnastics, swimming, et. al.

Just look for a moment at the two conferences cited above.  These non-revenue athletes will have travel schedules imposed on them that make no sense outside the Venn diagram that is dominated by a circle labeled “Football Revenue”.  Your average college gymnast or swimmer is not looking for a great NIL deal or a ten-million-dollar pro career in his/her sport.  Most of those athletes are using their athletic abilities to get partial scholarships that ameliorate the costs of a college education.  And that travel scheduling cannot be of assistance there.

College football changed the landscape of college athletics in the past decade or so culminating in the structure we have starting in 2024.  Not all change is for the better…

And speaking obliquely about NIL, here is another fallout from that money-driven sector of college athletics.  For athletes who are going to school with “six-figure” NIL deals – – or more? – – what does the concept of “eligibility” mean?  When there was the grand delusion of the “student-athlete” there was a logic to something like “4 years of eligibility” since that was the expected duration of the “student” portion of “student-athlete”.  Now, in the revenue sports – and particularly in football – there are few if any pure “student-athletes” so:

  • Why can’t a player stay as a “college football participant” for as long as any team will have him if he can find NIL deals to support himself?
  • Why can’t a player enroll in a grad school and pursue a legitimate advanced degree – – and play football at the same time?
  • Why does the player need to be enrolled at a school at all?

Just wondering …

And just as the pursuit of money has created seismic changes in college sports, there seems to be a similar pursuit that is getting underway in MLB.  Stories are beginning surface about the owners pondering expansion by two teams.  Let us strip away any PR nonsense here about the fervent desire for baseball in certain expansion sites; that was the narrative here in DC to get the Expos here and the Nats’ fans – – the ones who were starved for baseball for lo those many years – – only draw well when the team is in contention.  Many is the season, the Nats do not sell out Opening Day.

MLB expansion is about money and nothing else.  The carrot in front of the owners is the hefty “admission fee” they will charge to 2 new ownership groups.  To keep this in round numbers, assume the entry fee is $2B for each new team – – just a tad more than the last franchise sold for.  If the MLB front office took $100M off the top for its expenses, that would leave the 30 current owners with $3.9B to split up.  Here’s the math:

  • $3.9B  ÷  30 owners  =  $130M apiece

Obviously, that is enticing.  At the same time, there might be other consequences that are not so appealing:

  • Three franchises were ‘on the market” in the past couple of years.  Two came off the market when they could not attract what the owner wanted for the team.  In the Nats’ case, that number was reported to be $2.4B.
  • The third franchise on the market was the Orioles and they just sold for $1.75B.

That tells me there was no clamor of bidders driving prices upward for three existing teams in the near past.  Expanding the leagues will take two of the possible purchasers for baseball teams out of the marketplace; they will have their expansion franchises and cannot own two teams at the same time.  So, is MLB expansion an unalloyed good thing?  I don’t think so.

And by the way, the current CBA between MLB and the MLBPA will need renegotiation soon; the agreement expires in December 2026.  So, ask yourself this:

  • If you had something like $2B lying around to invest in owning a baseball team, would you buy one before you knew the terms of the new CBA?
  • If you have $2B just lying around, you probably have a level of economic savvy that would tell you to “wait and see”.

Finally, today has been about money so let me close with these items related to money and other things in life:

“Always remember, money isn’t everything – but also remember to make a lot of it before talking such fool nonsense.”  Earl Wilson

And …

“I learned in school that money isn’t everything.  It’s happiness that counts.  So momma sent me to a different school.”  Zsa Zsa Gabor

And …

“Money isn’t everything but it sure keeps you in touch with your children.”  J. Paul Getty

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

 

 

The Clock Struck Twelve …

Recall about a month ago when Maidstone United – – in the lowest tier of English football – – upset Ipswich Town – – in the second tier of English football – – to reach the “Sweet 16” of the FA Cup tournament.  Well, that Cinderella story came to a grinding halt earlier this week.  Maidstone United had to win qualifying matches just to get into the tournament and then it won 4 games in FA Cup competition relying on its defense.  In the last of its qualifying games and then in the four wins in the FA Cup tournament itself, Maidstone United had allowed only two goals.

On Monday of this week, Maidstone United took on the team from Coventry – – another team in the second tier of English football.  The Maidstone United defense was not nearly as stingy as it had been in previous tournament games and Coventry prevailed easily by a score of 5 to nil.  The last time a team ranked as low as Maidstone United made it to the “Sweet 16” in an FA Cup tournament was in 1978; so, even in defeat, the “Stones” as they are known, can take pride in their achievement.

Switching gears …  I ran across a stat at CBSSports.com over the weekend that surprised me.  They listed the teams in the NFL with the most regular season losses over the last 20 years.  The team with the second most losses surprised me; I would have guessed for quite a while before I got this.  I will post here four of the top five and then, later the “surprising-to-me team” that is second on the list:

  1. Browns:  Most losses with 221
  2. Mystery Team:  This squad has lost 215 games in 20 seasons.
  3. Jags:  209 losses
  4. Lions:  208 losses
  5. Commanders:  202 losses

Were I guessing the order, I would have had the Browns and Lions as #1 and #2 in no particular order.  The Jags would have been on the list somewhere and where are the Jets in the Top 5 listing?  [Aside:  The Jets are 6h on the list having lost 199 games in the last 20 seasons.]

In current NFL news …  Matt Araiza was known as “The Punt God” in college after he unanimously won the Ray Guy Award as the best punter in college football back in 2021.  The Bills drafted him in the sixth round, but he never suited up for the Bills because just before their first Exhibition Game in 2022, Ariaza was accused of being part of a gang rape on an underage girl.  The Bills certainly did not need that sort of negative energy around the club involving a punter and they released Ariaza almost immediately.

The authorities investigated the accusation here and determined that “the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges.”  Notwithstanding that finding by the District Attorney’s office, the alleged victim and Araiza each filed civil suits against each other.  Back in December 2023, those suits were both withdrawn; neither party admitted any wrongdoing and no money changed hands in either direction.  With that mess seemingly settled, the Kansas City Chiefs signed Araiza to a 1-year contract at minimum salary ($795K) last week.  I was surprised that the Chiefs made this move because the Chiefs’ punter, Tommy Townsend, was a first-team All-Pro as recently as 2022.  A little searching showed me why the Chiefs did this:

  • Townsend will be a free agent this year and counted almost $3M on the Chiefs’ cap last year meaning he would likely be even more “expensive” from 2024 onward.
  • Ariaza has a résumé suggesting he could be a low-cost replacement.
  • Ergo he is both an insurance policy against Townsend signing elsewhere and a leverage asset for the Chiefs in their negotiations with Townsend.

Back to the Mystery Team on the listing above.  The team that is second on that list is the Raiders.  I know the Raiders have had some “lean years” since they won the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden on the sidelines, but I would not have thought they averaged almost 11 losses per season since then.

Moving on …  Stop me if you have heard this before, but Ben Simmons is injured again.  Simmons hurt his leg over the weekend in a game against the T-Wolves.  The Brooklyn Nets announced that Simmons experienced soreness in his left leg and needed to get “imaging” to determine the nature and the extent of the injury.  Simmons has been with the Nets for 2 seasons – – from mid-2022 through mid-2024.  In that time, he has appeared in a total of 56 games.

Finally, since I began today with a report on the ending of a Cinderella story, let me close with this analysis of fairy tales by author Jennifer Donnelly:

“Fairy tales give it to us straight. They tell us something profound and essential – that the woods are real, and dark, and full of wolves. That we will, at times, find ourselves hopelessly lost in them. But these tales also tell us that we are all that we need, that we have all we need – guts, smarts, and maybe a pocketful of breadcrumbs – to find our way home.”

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

 

 

Peter King Is Retiring

The news from yesterday was that Peter King is retiring at age of 66 after writing a Monday column about “all-things NFL” for the last 27 years.  His column in Spots Illustrated was called “Monday Morning Quarterback”; when he left SI for NBC Sports, the only real change was in the title, “Football Morning in America”.  He wrote an excellent “sayonara column” yesterday that you can find hereIt is lengthy, but it is worth reading.

In that column, he writes about things he will miss from his 44 years as a sportswriter, and he writes about things he will not miss.  One of the things he will not miss is a pet peeve of mine and I will cite Peter King as an authority who agrees with my pet peeve:

“I think I won’t miss:

“a. Mock drafts. Busywork. Waste of time. Blight on the football planet. One mock draft, the week of the draft or close to it, after listening to sources and people you trust in the game—fine, and even good. Mock drafts in February – laughable; you don’t know anything. Mock drafts in October – worse, because you don’t have any idea who’s picking where. What a total waste of time.”

Bonne chance, Peter King in your retirement.  You have more than earned it.  Nevertheless, I will not be surprised to see you writing again without a regular beat or a recurring schedule and if that comes to pass, I will once again be one of your readers.

Sticking with NFL-related stuff for now, the Combine is underway in Indy.  The Combine is an “invitation only” event; this year, the NFL invited 321 prospects to the Combine; if the NFL Draft were constrained only to Combine participants, that would still leave more than a few prospects undrafted.  The early days of the Combine are devoted to what I call administrivia; prospects are measured, weighed and examined to record their exact physical dimensions which often differ significantly from the PR flack put out by their collegiate athletic departments.  When you hear some commentary on “hand size” for a QB, the data comes from these Combine measurement occurrences.

In addition to the on-field workouts and the athletic measurements such as vertical leap and number of reps in a 225 lb. bench press, teams can schedule and conduct up to 60 interviews of 15 minutes duration with any prospects in attendance.  This is the setting where prospects might take the Wonderlic Test or some variation on that and this is where coaches and coordinators quiz the prospect to find out if he is “dedicated to football”.  The Combine began yesterday and will disband on Monday March 4th.

One other tidbit of NFL-related news came out over the weekend when FOX Sports announced formally their #1 TV announcing team for the 2024 season.  To no surprise, that team will be Kevin Burkhardt and Tom Brady.  Rather than leave the question hanging as to the fate of Burkhardt’s partner from the last two years, Greg Olsen, FOX also said that their #2 TV announcing team would be Joe Davis and Greg Olsen.

I am not a “Tom Brady hater” by any definition.  However, I am on record as being skeptical about his announcing career coming close to resembling his playing career.  I do not want that to be the case; I do not know that will be the case; I just want to wait and see how he does in the booth.  Peter King thinks Brady will be great on TV as he said in his column yesterday:

“Tom Brady’s going to be very good in the Fox booth. Well, he should be for $37 million a year, or whatever it is. Quietly, Brady’s been working over the last five months, getting used to doing games in the booth, and learning from people he admires in TV. Remember one thing about Tom Brady: He was handed nothing in the NFL. Everything he got he earned. And he knew when he signed this ridiculous contract, he’d have every eye in football on him when the job began in September 2024. Do you think he hasn’t knocked himself out to be sure he knows the rhythm and the cadence and the information patterns of doing color? Now that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be good. I just think he’s smart, and he knows what it’ll take to be good, and when he has to call out a friend in the game, he’ll find a way to do it.”

Let me keep the focus of this rant on the NFL.  The league has embraced “emerging technology” in many areas, and it seems to have been a positive relationship.

  • Players can wear tech devices that monitor their health signs, sleep patterns and physical performance in the workout room providing data that can be used to tailor their diets and their schedules and their workout content.
  • Expanded use of “analytics” has altered somewhat the way the game is coached from a strategic and a tactical standpoint.
  • Skycams and field microphones have enhanced the visual production of the game for fans at home.

I will not be surprised to learn that a team or two has figured out how to use virtual reality as a part of their training and their game preparation in the near future.  And because of all that constructive relationship with “tech”, I am surprised that the league has not at least experimented with ways to determine where the ball should be placed other than an official running toward the tackle and planting his foot in the turf.  And don’t get me started on the “low tech” nature of measuring for a first down with a chain and a pair of sticks – – unless you also include surveyors gear to assure that the chain is extended exactly perpendicular to the yardlines.  Here is where I will cue up Ruby and the Romantics singing:

“Our day will come.

And we’ll have everything …”

Finally, I will close today with one more passage from Peter King’s column from yesterday:

 “… the innovative newness of TV products like Red Zone and the Manningcast make the game so much more interesting and informative. Scott Hanson’s a treasure. Peyton and Eli, same. They make football more fun. Rich Eisen suggested a Coachcast, with Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, somewhere in 2024. Agreed. How fun and informative could that be?”

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

 

 

The Backup QB Market …

Last week, a friend made a request for a rant.  He reminded me that I had previously said that NFL GMs needed to pay more than passing attention to the “backup QB position” when they did roster construction; my friend said he had been skeptical about the importance of my assertion until last season when “backup QBs” were making significant contributions to playoff teams.  So, his request was for me to present the free agents who might be available to GMs as they did their roster construction for 2024.

I said that I would try to fulfill the request but as soon as I started digging, I realized that there had to be constraints put on my search lest I not get it done before the season started in August.  Here is what I did NOT do:

  • I did not research the contract status for any QBs in the CFL or the UFL who might be considered for backup positions in the NFL this year.
  • I did not consider any QBs who have only played in college and may make their way to training camps this year as late round picks or undrafted free agents.
  • I did not consider free agent QBs who are seeking starting jobs in the NFL such as Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson et al.

Here is an alphabetical list of QBs who are in the job market.  I will have a short comment about some of them.  If you want a deeper dive into their qualifications let me recommend that you visit www.pro-football-reference.com and enter the name of the player you are interested in.

Before I get to the listing, let me define the qualities of a backup QB in terms that no coach or GM would ever use in public.  A backup QB is an insurance policy; like an insurance policy, the preferred course of business is never having to use the QB or the insurance.  Backup QBs, therefore, need to be ”good locker room guys” who stay out of the “news/limelight” unless they need to be called upon in an emergency.  It is that last condition that keeps players such as Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton off my listing here.

  • Brandon Allen:  Five years in the NFL but did not appear in a game in 2023.
  • Kyle Allen:  Meh!
  • Matt Barkley:  In 10 seasons, he has appeared in 20 games and started 7 times.  He must be a great locker room guy …
  • Jacoby Brisset:  A proven backup QB on the field and supposedly in the locker room.
  • Sam Darnold:  Once a highly regarded QB prospect.
  • Josh Dobbs:  Been in the NFL 4 years and has been on 5 teams; clearly, he is a “quick study”.
  • Jeff Driskell:  Career backup.
  • Blaine Gabbert:  Twelve years in the NFL; appeared in 69 games; 51 TDs and 50 INTs.
  • Will Grier:  Started 2 games for the Panthers in 2019; 0 TDs and 4 INTs.  That is the extent of his NFL career so far.
  • Tyler Huntley:  His style of play makes him a perfect backup to Lamar Jackson.
  • Drew Lock:  A second round pick in 2019.
  • Joe Flacco:  Maybe too old for a team to sign as its starter, but his performance in 2023 says he can be a valuable backup.
  • Nick Foles:  Has not filed his “retirement papers” and is a former MVP of the Super Bowl.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo:  Rumors say he will be released by the Raiders.  He must serve a two-game suspension for PEDs.  Good enough for a backup role somewhere.
  • Marcus Mariota:  Good guy to fill in for a game or three if needed.
  • Gardner Minshew:  He might be hoping for a starting job, but I think he is a prime candidate for a backup position.
  • Nate Peterman:  Career stat here – – 4 TDs and 13 INTs …
  • Brett Rypien:  Meh!
  • Mason Rudolph:  He might compete for the starting job in several places, because he has shown well in the backup role.
  • Trevor Siemian:  Meh!
  • Easton Stick:  A late round pick in 2019; started 4 games in 2023 and the Chargers lost them all.
  • Nate Sudfeld:  Meh!
  • Ryan Tannehill:  Loads of NFL experience; could step in and start if needed.
  • Tyrod Taylor:  Not good enough to be a starter but has played well as a backup for 5 teams since 2011.
  • Mitchell Trubisky:  Once a highly regarded prospect.
  • PJ Walker:  Meh!
  • Carson Wentz:  Showed great promise early in his career.
  • Zach Wilson:  Rumors say he will be released by the Jets.  He was the #2 overall pick in 2021.
  • Jameis Winston:  He can throw a team out of a game and/or back into a game – – often in the same game.
  • John Wolford:  Three years in the NFL, he did not appear in any game in 2023.

There is a potential for at least one and possibly two QBs to be added to this list in the next month or so.  In 2023, the Falcons alternated starting QBs with Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder.  Frankly, neither is any great shakes as a starter and both can be perfectly useful as backups.  Rumors have it that the Falcons – – with a new head coach – – will be in the market for a starter; some rumors have them trading with the Bears for Justin Fields; other rumors have them trading up in the Draft for one of the prime QB candidates in this year’s Draft.  If the Falcons acquire a starter, one or both of Heinicke/Ridder could easily be inserted onto this listing.

The NFL free agency season begins – legally – on March 11th; nothing official can happen until then.  However, with the convocation of agents and scouts and coaches and GMs at the NFL Combine that begins today, there will be lots of sub rosa negotiating and posturing among the attendees.

So, if your favorite NFL team needs to dip into the backup QB market, I believe that this is the universe of candidates for your GM to consider signing – – with the caveats listed above.

Finally, I began above by drawing the analogy of an NFL backup QB to an insurance policy.  So let me close with these observations about insurance policies:

“Both terrorism and insurance sell fear – – and business is business.”  Liam McCurry

And …

“If you look at how the federal government spends our money, it’s an insurance conglomerate protected by a large standing army.”  Ezra Klein

And …

Fun is like life insurance; the older you get, the more it costs.”  Kin Hubbard

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

 

 

Habits And Changes

Some habits die hard.  One of my enduring habits is reading a hard copy newspaper in the morning.  I even have a coffee mug that says:

  • “I Love the Smell of Newsprint in the Morning”

A subroutine that derives from getting the paper in the morning goes back to the time when I worked Mondays through Fridays.  Every Friday morning, I would turn to the sports section because the Washington Post would always have a listing of all the sports telecasts and broadcasts for the upcoming weekend.  I still do that, and this morning’s listings reminded me of how over-exposed college basketball is on television.

  • Tomorrow in my local area, there will be 42 men’s college basketball games available for viewing plus 4 women’s college basketball games.
  • As if that were insufficient, on Sunday there will be another 14 men’s games along with 16 women’s games.

Nothing exceeds like excess …

Speaking of college basketball as one of the collegiate “revenue sports”, I have commented here in the past that the NIL revolution in college sports is right and proper at its core but is problematic in its implementation.  According to a report at 247Sports.com, the University of Michigan has hired a person, Sean Magee, to fill a position there with the title “Senior Associate Athletic Director and General Manager for Football.”  The person plucked to take this job comes from the Chicago Bears where his title was “Chief of Staff”.  Here is how the Maize & Blue Review portrayed the new Michigan position:

“A college General Manager oversees all of the roster construction for a program. A decade ago, a program could work with a recruiting coordinator alone, but that is not the case anymore. Moore wants to increase the recruiting staff at Michigan, put more resources towards NIL, and still keep a focus on player retention and the transfer portal. As General Manager, Magee will oversee all of that.”

If that sounds to you as if the college football program at Michigan is morphing into a business entity that closely resembles the way NFL franchises are structured, I will violently agree.  And the evolution is not limited to football.

Villanova University has hired someone to do – essentially – the same job for the basketball program there.  Baker Dunleavy is the “General Manager of Villanova Basketball”.  Here is how the Villanova Athletic Director characterized this position at the time of Dunleavy’s hiring in 2023:

“The dramatic changes in college basketball over the past several years have brought new challenges and forced us to collectively think differently.  I believe the creation of the GM role, particularly with Baker at the helm, positions Villanova well competitively for the future. It will allow Villanova to be even more forward-thinking and bring an innovative and seasoned perspective to the ever-evolving college basketball landscape.”

Here is how the Villanova Staff Directory summarizes the responsibilities of this position:

“The General Manager supports William B. Finneran Endowed Men’s Head Coach Kyle Neptune and Women’s Head Coach Denise Dillon in managing a myriad of responsibilities that impact both programs, including opportunities and education around Name, Image and Likeness; the transfer portal; student-athlete brand-building and marketing; and advancing institutional fundraising in partnership with University Advancement. The General Manager reports directly to the … Director of Athletics.”

Cue Bob Dylan here … “For the times they are a- changin …”

I began this morning scanning the weekend sports on TV listings and I saw that the Sixers/Bucks game on Sunday will be telecast here.  I will tune in to that one for several reasons:

  • The two teams are separated in the standings by only 2.5 games.
  • The Sixers are “injury depleted” with Joel Embiid still on the mend.
  • The Bucks have not been playing well at all over the last month or so.

On January 23 – one month ago – the Milwaukee Bucks’ record was 30-13 (win percentage = .698) and they fired their head coach Adrian Griffin.  The Bucks had  added Damian Lillard to their roster this year and the expectations were NBA Finals at least.  But despite the gaudy record, the team’s lack of defense threatened those expectations.  Hence the firing of the coach and his replacement by Doc Rivers.  At first glance, that makes good sense.  Rivers has won an NBA championship in his coaching career, and he brought a 24-year coaching history with him to the job in Milwaukee.  In those 24 years as a head coach in the NBA, Rivers only had one full season where his record was below .500.

As of this morning, the Bucks’ record is 35-21 meaning that the team has gone 5-8 (win percentage = .385) since Rivers took over.  Yes, I know that is a very small sample but the difference in the two win percentages is stunning.  Should be a game worth checking out on Sunday afternoon…

Finally, I mentioned Bob Dylan’s famous song about changing times above; so, let me close with another famous quote about changing times from President John F. Kennedy:

“Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

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

 

 

Just Stuff Today …

A visit from a friend and a reader yesterday yielded an amazing stat and a requested topic for a future rant.  The topic requires a bit of preparation; so, it will be forthcoming later on – – probably next week.  But here is the stat he provided:

  • Background:  Ichiro Suzuki was in MLB for 19 seasons; he played in 2,653 games and had 9,934 at bats.
  • The Amazing Stat:  Ichiro went 2 for 9 in his first nine at bats in MLB.  He singled in his tenth at bat thereby raising his “career batting average” to .300.  His career batting average NEVER dropped below .300 after hitting that single in his 10th career at bat.

No, I have not personally verified that statistical assertion; but it is not so outlandish that I have trouble believing it.

The Summer Olympic Games will take place in Paris starting on July 26th and running through August 11th.  Back in 2012 when the Olympics were in London, the Opening Ceremony featured “Queen Elizabeth II parachuting into the stadium in the company of James Bond”.  It was a clever and a culturally appropriate way for the Games to get started.  The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro had an Opening Ceremony featuring lots of colorful dancing.  The 2020 Olympics took place in Tokyo at the height of the COVID pandemic and those Opening Ceremonies focused on how the Games might get the world to move ahead and adjust to the pandemic’s existence.  I mention all this to show that the Opening Ceremonies have focused on a wide range of themes and expressions.

For 2024, the Opening Ceremony in Paris will take a note from John Cleese:

“And now for something completely different…”

To begin with, the Opening Ceremony will not be confined to a stadium venue.  The Opening Ceremony will take place along the Seine River.  If you have not been to Paris, the Seine traverses through the heart of the city and is an important part of city life there.  The parade of athletes will take place on the river with each delegation on a different vessel.  Instead of “taking a lap” around a stadium, the athletes will “take a cruise” for about 2 miles along the river winding up at the Place du Trocadéro across the Seine from the Eifel Tower.

In addition to some reserved seating along the river route, there will be the opportunity for large numbers of folks to “attend” the Opening Ceremony along the banks of the Seine.  The organizers are expecting more than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries to take part in the “river cruise” and “hundreds of thousands” of spectators for that portion of the Opening Ceremony.  [Aside:  There are more countries taking part in the Paris Olympics (206) than there are countries in the United Nations (193).]

There are still some tix available for the Opening Ceremony once the boat route has taken place.  As you might imagine, those tix are “pricey” even at the Official Ticketing Website for the Games.  You can go there and get yourself a seat for €2,700 (2,920 in US $).  I have not looked to see what the “secondary market price” might be for a seat at the Opening Ceremony.

Changing sports – – and continents – – there is news today from the world of college football.  The overseers for the CFP, known formally as the College Football Playoff Management Committee, are meeting.  That Committee consists of the Commissioners of all the Division 1-A football conferences plus the Notre Dame Athletic Director.  The Committee has already announced that it has adopted a “5+7 Model” for the 2024 and 2025 CFP Tournaments.  There will be five automatic bids and 7 at-large bids then.  The Committee has been charged to plot the future of the CFP beyond those two years and – – no surprise – – there is already talk of expanding the field to 14 teams in 2026.

Personally, I think 12 teams is too many teams; I am afraid that the first-round games – – and maybe some of the second-round games – – will be mismatches as was the Oregon/Liberty Fiesta Bowl game about 7 weeks ago.  [Aside:  Oregon 45 Liberty 6].  I also understand that more teams mean more games means more revenues to split up.  And because I understand that revenue is dominant here, let me offer this suggestion to the Committee:

  • Don’t stop at 14 teams.  The more natural number for a single elimination tournament format is 16 teams.  If you are going to dilute the product to get more revenue, just increase to 16 teams and be done with it.

Reports say that both the SEC and the Big-10 are expected to propose that those two conferences each get two automatic bids to the CFP as it expands to 14 or 16 teams down the road.  In most of the recent seasons, that guarantee would not have been necessary since there have always been at least two teams from those conferences ranked in the Top 14 or Top 16.  For example, in 2023:

  • The Big-10 had 3 teams in the Top 14 – – Michigan, Ohio St. and Penn St.
  • The SEC had 5 teams in the top 14 – – Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss and LSU.

Finally, since much of today’s rant dealt with the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, France, let me close with this observation by the novelist Anatole France:

“The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever.”

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

 

 

The NBA Regular Season Resumes Tomorrow …

The NBA will resume its regular season tomorrow night after its pause to stage the All-Star Fiasco.  Teams have played about 55 games meaning there are a little more than 25 games left for each squad.  Adam Silver and the PR honks at NBA HQs will turn themselves inside out denying this, but from here on out, most of the teams and players will take the games a lot more seriously than they have since the season began last October.  So, I decided to look at the standings to see what’s what as of today and to think about outcomes down the road.

Let me start at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.  You can comfortably write off the Hornets, Wizards and Pistons.  As of this morning, the combined record for those three misery sites is 30-132 (win percentage = .185).  Five teams (Knicks, Sixers, Pacers, Heat and Magic) are bunched within three games of one another in the middle of the pack; they will be part of the playoff picture when the time arrives.

The only serious question related to the NBA Eastern Conference in my mind is this:

  • Is there a team that will present a serious challenge to the Celtics for the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs?

As of this morning, the Celtics lead the Conference by 6 games over the Cavs and by 8.5 games over the Bucks.  The Celtics have 27 games left to play, so that lead is hardly insurmountable; but I have little to no faith in the Bucks and only a smidgen of faith in the Cavs.

Out west, it is a different story.  Indeed, there are three bottom feeders there as there are in the East; no one will blame you if you simply ignore the Spurs, Blazers and Grizzlies.  Their combined record is better than the combined record of the Eastern Dregs, but it is still an unimpressive 46-119 (win percentage = .279).

Unlike the Eastern Conference where there is a logjam in the middle of the standings, the Western Conference standings have the top ten teams separated by a total of 11 games.  The Top 4 teams (Timberwolves, Thunder, Clippers and Nuggets) are separated by only 3 games.  Here is my “Bottom Line” for the balance of the NBA regular season:

  • A random game involving two Western Conference teams is more likely to be an entertaining/intensely played game than a random game involving two Eastern Conference teams.

Switching gears …  I guess that there have always been doomsayers and conspiracy theorists in the world.  In the Bible, Job cried out:

“Therefore, I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

However, the Internet seems to have given folks of that bent a megaphone to spread their views far and wide.  [Aside:  It would be uncharitable for anyone here to point out that I am using the Internet as a megaphone to spread my views far and wide.]  And one of the “Conspiracies du jour” is that NFL games are rigged.  You need not have the Internet searching abilities of an AI algorithm to find “video evidence” of the referees – – as agents of whoever is masterminding the “Conspiracy du jour” – – having unambiguously blown a critical call that changed the course of game history.  I say “Feh!” to those assertions for two reasons.

First, the force that “polices” the natural order of the games is highly motivated to keep things on the up-and-up.  That police force is the sportsbook industry itself which makes billions of dollars annually and is not going to take kindly to anything that threatens to kill that golden goose.  Just looking at legal betting outlets in the US, the money bet on NFL games – – Exhibition Games through the Super Bowl Game – – is in the range of $50B.  The annual profit for the books is in the 7-8% range so the profit is about $3.75B.  To put that in perspective, the Baltimore Orioles franchise just sold for a valuation of $1.75B; the sportsbooks’ profits for one year could possibly buy two MLB franchises.

And the folks who run the sportsbooks are not going to lose out to “rigged games” at the betting window or to “rigged games” destroying the credibility that leads folks to make their wagers in the first place.  Those sportsbooks have “skin in the game”; I have a lot more confidence in their watchdog abilities than I do any local police force or even the FBI.  [And if anyone asks why I am so sure that it is not the FBI that is rigging the games, I will ask them – politely to be sure – to take their eyeballs elsewhere.]

The second reason I do not believe any of the “rigged games assertions” is captured in the adage known as Hanlon’s Razor:

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

I would replace the word “stupidity” there with “human error”.  Do NFL officials make erroneous calls?  Yes.  Do NFL officials miss penalties thereby allowing an advantage to the offending team on that play?  Yes.  Do they make those mistakes on purpose and/or because they have been “directed to do so”?  No.

I believe that those officials simply made mistakes and were not making or missing any calls with any sort of motivation behind those mistakes.  I have said here before that I spent a lot of spare time officiating basketball when I was younger.  There is an important adage that all officials have been told and all officials have come to accept:

  • There are two kinds of referees; those who have made mistakes and those who are just about to.

The Trilateral Commission have not joined forces with the Illuminati to rig NFL games.  I am sorry if the team you root for or bet on did not win or cover “on any given Sunday”, but that is not because the game was rigged; it was because your team lost/did not cover.

Finally, George Orwell once offered a parallel to Hanlon’s Razor (above) when writing an essay Confessions of a Book Reviewer:

“In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless …’”

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