The Only Headline Today Is ‘WTF?”

There is this thing called credibility.  And there is this other thing called competence.  You can concoct circumstances wherein someone or something is competent but still not credible.  It is far less likely that a lack of competence would yield an aura of credibility.  And this morning we have an example of that last situation.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

  • Major League Baseball.

Spring Training shut down on March 12, 2020 because of COVID-19.  Given that MLB always had the intention of re-constituting its teams for a delayed start to the 2020 season, it is fair and reasonable to suggest that they had 110 days between March 12 and July 1 to avoid the utter incompetence that was on display as of yesterday.  Lots of MLB players were born and raised in the Dominican Republic; given the lack of a baseball season, it is not mind-bending to realize that some of them went back to the D.R. to await whatever restart was going to happen.

MLB and the MLBPA frittered away most of those 110 days fighting over money; forget heaping blame on either side for that nonsense; that is what management and unions do.  However, do not forgive MLB in particular – and the union to a lesser extent – for allowing the following act of amateurish ineptitude to happen:

  • Two chartered aircraft took MLB Dominican players to Miami on 1 July so that they could then join their teams to get busy with Spring Training 2.0.  [No problem here…]
  • The players and the MLB staff members who were on those flights were not tested for COVID-19 before boarding the aircraft according to a report in this morning’s Washington Post[Are you kidding me?]
  • “Multiple players” on those flights have subsequently tested positive.  [Surprise!]

Asked to explain this exacta of stupidity and incompetence leading to a total lack of credibility, here is what an MLB spokesperson had to say after noting that tests are less available in the Dominican Republic than they are in the US and that:

“… shipping saliva samples from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. was not possible due to governmental restrictions.”

MLB had 110 days to figure out minor obstacles such as:

  • Availability of tests in a country whose health system and resources are not considered “gold standard”.
  • How to mitigate that problem either by bringing your own tests or quarantining the players for a time before putting them on the aircraft untested.

Here is the link to the report in this morning’s Washington Post.  The author is ever so polite there by saying that this goat rodeo merely lends “more skepticism to baseball’s restart plan.”  I should say so…

The distance from Santo Domingo in the D.R to Miami is 828 miles; an aircraft can make that flight in about 90 minutes.  Add in time to load the plane, taxi to the runway, taxi around the airport in Miami and unload the plane and those folks were in a confined space with recirculated air for at least 2 hours and probably 2.5 hours.  Airplanes use HEPA filters for the recirculated air – as well they should.  The problem is that the diameter of the coronavirus is three times smaller than the pore size of the best HEPA filters.  The folks on those flights were in close contact with and breathing the same air with one another for at least 2 hours and no one knew that at least one person got on the plane with the virus in his system.

[Aside:  This is precisely why I am not about to get on an airplane to take a trip anywhere in the foreseeable future.  For the record, we have already canceled our annual autumnal pilgrimage to Las Vegas.  We did that prior to the breaking of this news; I am not about to put my health status in the hands of a couple hundred other people whose fastidiousness I have no way to measure.]

For baseball – and baseball fans – this should evoke a double face-palm simply because humans only have two arms and hands.  Supposedly, MLB has a health and protocol in place that is more than a hundred pages in length – – and it did not have a way to prevent this kind of abject stupidity to occur?  This is not about the difficulty of acquiring testing materials in the D.R.; this is about the lack of foresight regarding an obvious disease vector.  No one is going to nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine this year because (s)he figured out that traveling on an airplane with an infected individual – or more – might spread the virus among the other passengers.

Since the subject here is baseball and  I have my adrenal glands pumping, let me say that if/when there are MLB games in 2020 there are two rules that will be in effect that I simply do not like:

  1. The DH will be in effect for all games.  Let me say this as politely as I can.  If a player is a big fat guy who can hit the ball a mile and do nothing else on a baseball diamond at a skill level greater than a walrus on roller skates, he does not belong in the major leagues.
  2. In games that go to extra innings, the team at bat will begin their innings with a runner on second base.  For the stat mavens, he will be there based on an error – – but no error will be charged to anyone.  The stat mavens should have a ball with that one.  [Aside: They should make the big fat guys who are the team DHs be that base runner…]

Finally, staying with today’s baseball theme, here is a comment by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald recently:

“Cubs pitcher Jose Quintana lacerated his thumb while washing dishes. Jose. You make big-league money. Look into this really neat invention. It’s called a dishwasher!”

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

 

 

College Football This Year?

With all the attention being paid to the NBA’s restart and the delayed opening of the MLB season and the perpetual focus on anything and everything related to the NFL, the situation regarding college football for 2020 has not gotten a lot of attention.  Many Division III schools have canceled their 2020 fall football season; the Ivy League canceled fall sports including football yesterday; major conferences see some teams involved in regulated practices and that those regulated practices are still producing large numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections; Ohio State has “paused” the “voluntary workouts” for the football team.  These are not good omens.

About a month ago, I was pointed to a report by Bill Rabinowitz in The Columbus Dispatch.  This is a lengthy article that goes over many of the challenges facing college football programs; the headline for the article says it all:

“College football has hurdles to clear in making safe return this fall”

Rabinowitz focuses immediately on the impossibility of any sort of “social distancing” in football; he points out that the only sport with more close contact would be wrestling but in wrestling there are only two participants at a time and the encounter is much shorter than in a football game.  Here is an assessment from the medical director of the Ohio Department of Health quoted in that article:

“You have people lining up at the line of scrimmage and the offense and defense are inches apart.  You have to tackle people. Wearing masks would be difficult.

“And when you look at the respiratory droplet transmission, if you’re out of breath and breathing really hard, you can see that’s going to probably expel more respiratory droplets than others would. If you’re yelling out calls and signals instead of talking, that again is something that can emit some of those.

“So a lot of work would need to be done on this. But we also have a lot of really smart people in Ohio and elsewhere in the country that have a lot of capabilities that can figure things out.”

He forgot to mention “huddles” and “sideline interactions with assistant coaches to adjust strategies” and “the exchanges of viral loads during the flesh piles that happen after tackling”.  Indeed, a lot of work needs to be done – although I do not see a lot of it having been done between the time this article was written in late May and today.  But in addition to the structural issues involved in how the game of football happens on the field and the need for creative means to mitigate some of the more robust viral transmission vectors, there is another issue in play here:

  •  All these mitigation strategies and these creative solutions to problems are going to cost money – – and not just three easy payments of $39.95.

One idea here is to create cohorts within the team.  Groups of players would be put together and they would stay together in something like a “group quarantine” to the greatest extent possible.  Sounds like a good idea and one that might be enforceable to a large extent and then come the details:

“That approach would include expanded testing and contact tracing for players, which involves monitoring everyone with whom they have been in close physical vicinity. They also strongly advocated the concept of cohorting as teams begin to return. That involves separating players into small groups that attempt to be as self-contained as possible. That way, if a player becomes infected, the exposure is limited to only his group.”

Expanded testing and contact tracing for as many as 150 people associated with a college football program who have been “out and about” for months is a daunting task.  Imagine interviewing a single player returning to campus and trying to get from him all his contacts and behaviors for the previous two or three weeks.  Then go and try to confirm those recollections to see if any of those contacts tested positive and when.  Just that first level screening could take several days – – and meanwhile, the player must be put into a cohort without knowing of his previous exposure(s).  The only way to speed that up is to have more tracers and that translates into lots more costs.

Oh, and please do not think that the “expanded testing” stops once the cohorts are formed.  That testing will need to happen throughout the season; players need not be tested daily, but they surely would need to be tested more than weekly.

I will not be surprised to hear that lots of schools – maybe even conferences – decide to forego a 2020 college football season and try to figure out how to squeeze one into the early weeks of 2010 simply based on costs.  The big-time programs – – the ones whose boosters can come up with $10-15M on the spot to buy out a coach who loses a few too many games – – may be able to stay afloat fiscally.  Maybe if they play in the fall of 2020, they will need to concoct schedules where the big-time programs fill out a schedule by playing other big-time programs in other conferences?  Another negative development yesterday came from Stanford – a big-time football school.  Stanford announced it will cut 11 non-revenue sports this year for financial reasons.

Here is the link to the article in The Columbus Dispatch to which I have referred here.  It was published on May 24th and if any of the serious hurdles described there have been resolved to the satisfaction of scientists and medical folks, I do not know what those resolved hurdles might be.

Finally, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“The ESPN documentaries on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong were interesting. Now how about a documentary or two on people who become superstars without being bullies and jerks? Just to show the kiddies that it can be done that way.”

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

 

 

An Email Exchange Produces Today’s Rant

Fifty-four years ago today, my then-fiancée and I exchanged wedding vows and she became my long-suffering wife.  Happy anniversary …

Yesterday, I wrote about an NBA team that looked to benefit from the season restart in the “Orlando Bubble” and another that seemed to lose out.  Those statements generated an email question from a friend that took off in several directions.  He began with a simple question:

“Which baseball teams do you think benefited from the delayed start of the season and which ones were hurt by the delay?”

I think the team that was hurt the most was the LA Dodgers.  Back in February, the Dodgers traded away 3 young prospects to the Red Sox in exchange for David Price and Mookie Betts.  Price will not participate in the shortened 2020 season and the Dodgers will only have the services of Mookie Betts for a maximum of 60 games before he becomes a free agent.  On top of that major transaction flopping like a dead fish for 2020, the Dodgers stand to lose more revenue than other teams simply because they normally draw the most fans of any franchise in MLB by a sizeable margin year after year.

Two teams that benefited from the delayed start to the 2020 season are:

  1. The Houston Astros were the pariahs of MLB – and maybe of all US sports – for their sign stealing escapades back in February as Spring Training began.  COVID-19 and the prolonged spitting match between MLB and the MLBPA has allowed some of the heat associated with that scandal to dissipate.  The Astros will still be the targets of scorn away from home this year, but there will be fewer games and I think the edge has been taken off just a bit.
  2. The NY Yankees will benefit simply by the passage of time.  Back in the Spring, they had three good players who were recovering from injuries who would not have been ready had the season begun in March/April.  They were Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.  It appears that all three  are ready to begin the season at the end of July.

The email exchange took a few diversions – involving some attempts at scatological humor – until I mentioned in passing the old saw about the NFL, “On any given Sunday …”  My friend and email correspondent is a Jets’ fan and he took that comment in a far less constructive manner than it was intended:

[Bleep] [Bleeping] parity.  It’s bullsh*t.  The Jets haven’t won anything for 51 years…”

My retort was that the Jets had won a Super Bowl (after the 1968 season) and that there were teams that had never won a Super Bowl or an NFL championship.  If he wanted to rail against NFL parity as a sham, he could have picked a better example.  We closed the exchange of emails with a pair of insulting suggestions for each other and that sent me to do some research.

The Jets have indeed had 51 years intervene since their Super Bowl win over the Baltimore Colts.  But the Jets – and the Jets’ fans – are not nearly in the worst condition around the league.

  • Bengals:  The team began play in 1968 – the year the Jets won the Super Bowl – and the Bengals have never won an NFL championship or a Super Bowl.  Their fans have been disappointed for 52 years.
  • Bills:  The team won the AFL Championship in 1965; the cupboard has been bare since then.  Their fans have been disappointed for 54 years.
  • Falcons:  The Falcons’ first season was in 1966; they have never won a championship of any kind.  Their fans have also been disappointed for 54 years.
  • Browns:  Their last championship was the NFL Championship in 1964.  Their fans have been disappointed for 55 years – – except for those few years in the 1990s when there was no Cleveland Browns team to disappoint them.
  • Chargers:  They won the AFL Championship in 1963 – and nothing since then.  Their fans have been disappointed for 56 years.
  • Titans:  Back when the team was in Houston playing as the Oilers, it won the AFL Championship last in 1961.  Their fans have been disappointed for 58 years.
  • Vikings:  The team first played in 1961 and has never won an NFL Championship or a Super Bowl.  Their fans have been disappointed for 58 years.
  • Lions:  The Lions were NFL Champions in 1957 and have on nothing since then.  Their fans have been disappointed for 62 years.

[Aside:  After winning that NFL Championship, the Lions traded away QB, Bobby Layne, who was not pleased with the trade at all.  He “put a curse on the Lions” saying they would not win another championship for 50 years.  He underestimated the ineptitude of the franchise.]

  • Cardinals:  The Cardinals won the NFL Championship in 1947 and have won squadoosh since them.  They have the longest drought in terms of championships among the current NFL teams.  Their fans – in Chicago, St. Louis and in Arizona – have been disappointed for 72 years.

I must admit that I was surprised at how many teams have gone longer without winning a title than the Jets.  I knew the Cardinals, Lions and Chargers would be on “the list” but I did not think there would be a total of 9 teams on “the list”.

Finally, here is something from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter column in the Seattle Times about a sporting event that was done in by COVID-19:

“This year’s John Deere Classic, scheduled for July 9-12, has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In lieu of a news release, the PGA Tour announced the breakup in a John Deere letter.”

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

 

 

An Erratum, Some Enlightenment, Then Sports Today…

Before I get to the “story of the day”, let me handle some pending items.  First there is an erratum that needs to be acknowledged.  I said that I could only think of two instances where an NFL team changed names while staying in the same city.  An email from a reader pointed out that the Decatur Staleys became the Chicago Staleys who then became the Chicago Bears.  That adds a third team to the list.  I knew that the Decatur Staleys had become the Chicago Bears, but I did not know until yesterday that they were also the Chicago Staleys at one point.

The other pending item is a response to a reader comment/question regarding the removal of Marge Schott’s name from the University of Cincinnati baseball stadium.  Here is the reader’s comment/question:

“If a donor makes contribution to a building fund WITH THE STIPULATION that the building be named after him (essentially naming rights) wouldn’t the school be obligated to retain the name? They took his/her money. hate it that much? Buy the rights back, or knock it down.

“BTW, check out the timeline. The school took her money years AFTER the anti-black, anti-gay, and pro-Hitler statements, and after she had been run out of baseball.”

I posed that question to several attorneys of my acquaintance and got back several responses.  I will excerpt them and/or blend them here:

“ … though never having had the opportunity to represent someone with enough money to donate in exchange for naming rights, for sure the deal is memorialized in a written document, and I suspect that document has an escape clause or three. Or maybe a clause that reduces repayment by a certain percentage every year after the first 10, or 20, or 50.”

“Then there’s the issue of who’s going to fight to enforce the stipulation … Of course, views are often affected by the availability of large amounts of money, but I don’t know if Marge left any family, or who or what were the residual beneficiaries of her estate.  For all I know she was a cat lover who left the remainder of her estate to the Cincinnati SPCA, and an organization like that would probably not want to be on the other side of this kind of issue.”

AND …

“I think the answer would depend on whether there was an enforceable agreement (for example, a written contract) that accompanied the gift.  Sometimes a donor makes a gift and the grateful recipient offers to name a building, or  gallery, or whatever after the donor but this offer by itself may not be a binding promise. If there was no written agreement an agreement can still be enforced but it is far more difficult since there are likely to be differing recollections as to what was agreed to.

“Even if there is a written agreement, it would depend on what all the clauses in the agreement say.  Institutions often leave themselves wiggle room to account for future events – For example  sometimes buildings, especially on college campuses, are torn down to make way for new ones, park benches are blown away in storms, etc.  And art galleries often store a donated work of art in the basement after agreeing to exhibit it with a plaque naming the donor because the donated art is no longer of public interest.  And if a recipient institution includes a clause in the gift contract that a building can be renamed when it is “in the best interests of the institution or the public”  it has wiggle room to rename the building even when it is not torn down.  The agreement may also provide that even if a building is to be named after a donor, the donor’s gift can be returned and the name removed.  So, there is no simple answer to your reader’s question of whether the stadium has a legal obligation without knowing more about what was agreed to.”

AND – – as a footnote…

“I’m sure you’ve noticed the increasing trend to name not only buildings but also parts of buildings after donors (e.g. the lobby, the theater, the event room, etc.).   Not being rich I am aiming more simply –  a Joe Flabeetz Toilet Stall perhaps.”

[Aside:  We all know that Joe Flabeetz is not an attorney; his name appears here to protect the anonymity of my correspondent.]

THE story of the day – – and perhaps a story that will provide folks with a week’s worth of commentary – – is the Patrick Mahomes Contract.  It is so big and extends for so long that even the details are difficult to grasp.  I first heard that it was a 10-year deal worth $400M; then Adam Schefter said it was worth $450M as an extension on Mahomes’ current two year contract meaning that the total deal was 12-years and $477M; this morning, there is a report that the deal – including incentives could be worth $503M through the 2031 NFL season.  Let us try to cut through the hyperbole and minimize the superlatives here:

  • This is the largest potential value for a sports contract that I can recall in any of the major US sports.  [Yes, there is a superlative there; it is unavoidable.]
  • This is an awfully long contract for a player in a sport where injuries often cut short careers.  Reports say that the guaranteed money in the event of an injury is $141M.
  • Mahomes is only 24 years old; barring injury, he is probably not yet at his prime.
  • Andy Reid is 62 years old; he will be 74 years old when Mahomes contract expires.  Andy Reid may have signed his “quarterback for life” regarding his coaching career…

As the NBA players begin to assemble in the “Orlando Bubble”, there has been plenty of attention paid to the results of COVID-19 tests and which players have chosen to sit out the isolation games in Orlando.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, I went looking for teams that were advantaged or disadvantaged by the idea of playing in empty gyms in the “Bubble” as opposed to teams that were hit by a bunch of virus cases or players who opted out.

  • Looks to me as if the Sixers are the biggest losers in this concept.  When the NBA pulled the plug on the regular season almost 4 months ago, the Sixers had a home record of 29-2.  There will be no “home games” in the “Bubble”…
  • [Aside:  The Bucks will get hit with a similar disadvantage in the “Bubble”.  Their home record back in March was 28-3.]
  • Looks to me as if the Lakers are the biggest winners in this concept.  The Lakers “road record” for the season is 26-6 and it seems to me that every game for every team in the “bubble” is the moral equivalent of a “road game”.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times recently.  It probably applies to lots of sporting events and particularly to the upcoming NBA games in the “Bubble”:

“Here’s one sports cliché you might not be hearing for a while: ‘We just wanted to take the crowd out of the game.’”

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

 

 

It Feels Different This Time

  

It is certainly not without precedent for me to write about a kerfuffle regarding the name of the Washington team in the NFL.  What feels different this time around, is that the real missing ingredient from all the rhetorical and moral skirmishes of the past is in the mix this time.  That missing ingredient, the one that I have always said would be the sine qua non, is money.  So long as Danny Boy Snyder and the NFL do not see a disruption in their revenue streams, the advocates for a name change are pissing into the wind.

What is different this time around is that two major NFL sponsors, Nike and Pepsi, are on the side of changing the name to the point where Nike has taken all of the Skins’ apparel items off the Nike website and Pepsi saw a letter from shareholders who control more than $600B in assets asking the company to withdraw all support to the team.  That is the start of “economic pressure” and it adds to a direct statement from FedEx to change the team name.

FedEx owns the naming rights to the Skins’ dilapidated stadium and FedEx founder Fred Smith is also a minority owner of the Skins’ franchise.  Since FedEx owns naming rights, I guess it would be possible for them to change the name to FedUp Field; I am sure the NFL image sentries would love that.

Danny Boy Snyder has instituted a thorough review of this entire matter.  [Translation: He is going to try to find a way out of this mess such that he does not look like a giant sphincter.]  Good luck to him in that endeavor.  It was about 5 years ago when this same kerfuffle was in the news that The Onion had a great headline to one of its articles.  Sadly, it will not be a way out of the box for Danny Boy Snyder in 2020:

“Washington Redskins change team name to D. C. Redskins”

NFL teams have changed names over the history of the league but normally a name change accompanies a city change too:

  • Cleveland Browns become Baltimore Ravens
  • Houston Oilers become Tennessee Titans
  • Dallas Texans become KC Chiefs

[Aside:  City changes sometimes retain team names such as the Colts, Rams and Raiders.]

I can only think of two NFL teams that changed names and stayed in the same city.

  1. The Boston Braves became the Boston Redskins then the Washington Redskins.
  2. The NY Titans became the NY Jets.

I said above that economics was squarely in the mix this time the name change argument was front and center.  Here is an example of the misapplication of economics to the issue.  Last week, the President of the National Congress of American Indians requested that the players threaten a boycott if the name was not changed.  Using rough numbers, there are 2000 players who will be in the NFL in 2020 – – assuming there is a season in 2020 – – and those players would take down approximately $6.4B in salaries.  The President of the National Congress of American Indians did not suggest any means by which even a portion of that forgone $6.4B might be recouped.

The time for rhetoric here has long since passed.  Just change the name and put this issue to a merciful death.  Lots of folks are out there suggesting new names for the team and some people feel compelled to keep “Red” as part of the team name.  Some of those suggestions include “Redhawks” and “Redtails”; I guess this follows in the path trod by St. John’s University which changed from “Redmen” to “Red Storm”.  One team name that should offend no one because it is so obviously correct would be:

  • Washington Gridlock

That would honor the traffic situation here and the political situation nationally…

One positive bit of NFL news is that the league and the players’ union are negotiating some of the details regarding a 2020 season in the days of COVID-19.  The league wants to cut the Exhibition Games from 4 down to 2; the players union wants to cut the Exhibition Games from 4 down to ZERO.  I can be happy with any outcome from this negotiation that results in fewer than 4 Exhibition Games.

Reports have revealed some of the details of Cam Newton’s contract with the New England Patriots:

  • The Base Salary is $1.05M with $500K guaranteed
  • Roster bonuses and other performance incentives could make this worth $7.5M
  • Contract term is 1- year
  • Patriots retained the right to put the franchise tag on Newton after the 2020 season – – if there is one.

That last item is interesting.  Dak Prescott just signed a 1-year contract under the franchise tag with the Dallas Cowboys worth $31.41M.  If Newton “gets tagged” next year, that would be a significant year-over-year pay raise…

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this thought in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week.  It goes along with the idea we all must keep in mind regarding the 2020 NFL season; there may not be one:

Caveat emptor: The NFL, which plans to have fans in the stands, reportedly has broached the idea of requiring customers who attend games to sign liability waivers absolving the league of responsibility for contracting COVID-19. This could open the way for a new NFL slogan: ‘On any given Sunday … you might go home with coronavirus.’”

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

 

 

Pat Forde Realigns College Football

A couple of days ago, a reader asked in a comment to the daily rant if I had any comment on Pat Forde’s radical suggestion to restructure college football.  I did not at the time for the simple reason that I had not seen it, but now I have and so I will comment.

Forde’s article appears on SI.com.  In the broadest overview, he proposes limiting “Division 1 College Football” to 120 teams that are regionally organized into 12 conferences of 10 teams each.  Every one of the current football conferences is shattered in his proposed realignment and he proposes that 11 of the current teams in what we call “FBS Football” are relegated/demoted to “FCS Football”.  Aligning the new conferences regionally/geographically intends to reduce travel times and costs as well as developing new potential rivalry situations.

Forde proposes a 10-game season where every team plays the other 9 teams in its new conference plus one other game out of conference.  Note, there is no room here for Powerhouse State to schedule a glorified scrimmage against The National Rehabilitation School for Multiple Amputees.  I am beginning to like this idea…

None of the conferences will have a championship game; each conference champion will be determined within the regular season schedule using tiebreakers presumably.  Those 10 conference champions along with 2 other wild card teams would be seeded  into a 12-team playoff grid to determine an on-field College Football Champion.

There is one paragraph in the article that I particularly like:

“There still will be bowl games for the teams that don’t make the CFP. Just fewer of them, which nobody should mind.”

Indeed, I would not mind at all…

The Forde Plan – – it must have a name if anyone is going to take it even moderately seriously – – would provide consistency to college football scheduling and that is definitely a plus.  The hurdles to adopting such a plan are numerous and they are high hurdles indeed.  Here are what I think are the two biggest ones among those he mentions:

  1. This radical an idea would need to be undertaken with the imprimatur of a centralized “command structure” for college football.  That does not exist.  Please do not delude yourself into thinking that Mark Emmert and the jamokes at NCAA HQs can or do fill that role.
  2. This works only if all the 10 new conferences share the revenues from media rights and the expanded college football playoff system.  That means the current “Power 5” conferences will have to share money with schools from the “Other Guys”.  That idea will go over like an anvil in a cesspool.

Please read the article in its entirety as linked here.  There are plenty of benefits and problems associated with the idea and Forde lays them out without too much obvious bias.  Even though I doubt the idea will ever be taken seriously by any of the current conferences, there are some very appealing aspects to it.

            One very interesting aspect to Forde’s Plan is that I proposed something along the same lines back in January 2017.  My college football universe was 128 teams broken up into the “Big Boys Category” and the “Little Boys Category”.  Each “Category” would have 4 conferences of 16 teams and each conference would have 2 divisions.  The regular season would be 11 games – – 7 against the division foes and 4 against half of the teams in the other division in the conference.  (That “half” would rotate every year.)

My wrinkle was to have the “Little Boys Category” have a playoff system too and for the top 4 teams in the “Little Boys Category” to be promoted while the bottom 4 teams in the “Big Boys Category” would be relegated.  There are differences between the Forde Plan and my vision for reinventing college football, but we agree on more things than we disagree on.  In any event, here is the key point of commonality between the Forde Plan and “My Plan”:

  • Neither one is gonna happen.

Just for fun, here is the link to my rant from January 2017 if you would like to see how similar the foundations for the two proposals are.  I guess it shows that great minds run in similar channels.  Then again, so does sewer water…

While on the subject of college football, Boomer Esiason said something recently that I hope is completely wrong.  Esiason hosts a morning radio show in NYC; it is on WFAN in the time slot that used to be occupied by Imus in the Morning a long time ago.  According to a report in the NY Post, Esiason suggested that teams reporting large numbers of players who tested positive for COVID-19 had the players get it on purpose.  Here is what he supposedly said:

“I gotta be really careful here, because I don’t want to say that this is an accusation.  I don’t want to … I just was thinking the other day about what is going on with the SEC teams down south. And Clemson included, who’s obviously an ACC team. A lot of their players are coming down with COVID-19, oddly enough. So are they trying to herd immunity their teams?”

I have no insight into any college football programs nor do I have any idea if Esiason has access or sources that led him to say that.  However, I will say that if any college football coach is intentionally infecting members of his team to develop localized herd immunity, that is hugely irresponsible behavior.  About the only thing related to COVID-19 that might be worse would be to find a way to infect most of the players on your upcoming opponent without the other guys knowing about it.

Another problem with Esiason’s comment – without some sort of sourcing – is that it fuels just the sort of speculation on which sports talk radio feasts.  In 2020, people love to hear about and ponder “conspiracy theories” and Esiason took his comment above one more step down that sort of path:

“So these guys can get sick now as opposed to getting sick during the college football season if, in fact, there is one.  And I’m telling you right now I wouldn’t put it past any of those guys down there. I think it’s going on. I honestly … the numbers coming out of like Alabama, LSU and Clemson, all these teams? It’s too much of a coincidence. I don’t think it’s that crazy either.”

That is classic conspiracy theory thinking.  Coincidence becomes evidence and the lack of hard evidence becomes an element of proof for the conspiracy…  I hope he is dead wrong, and I hope that coaches like Nick Saban, Les Miles and Dabo Swinney call him out for that.

Finally, let me stay with today’s theme of college football with a little COVID-19 tossed into the mix with this Tweet from Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald:

“Good guy Scott Frost has a new PSA where he tells ppl to keep up with routine medical visits during the pandemic. He doesn’t get paid for this. But, after listening to his deadly dull monotone during this brief speech I now know why Nebraska usually plays bad in the third quarter.”

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

 

 

Hall Of Fame Players As Head Coaches

I have long had a theory regarding Hall of Fame quality basketball players being less-than-fully capable as NBA head coaches.  My theory is that they excelled at the game because much of what they did was instinctive and because it was instinctive, they probably did not know how to express it is such a way that some younger player might do what got the coach to the Hall of Fame.  Here is a partial data set for Hall of Fame players as NBA head coaches broken down into three categories:

  • Highly successful head coaches
  • Meh!
  • Not-so-good head coaches.

In the category of Highly Successful, I will start with the exception that proves the rule and offer Lenny Wilkens name.  He was indeed a Hall of Fame player and then went on to an NBA coaching career that involved winning 1332 games and an NBA championship with the Seattle Supersonics.  No one I will mention from here on will have a coaching career equivalent to Wilkens’ career.

  • Billy Cunningham:  Over eight seasons with the Sixers, he won 69.8% of his games and an NBA championship.
  • Bill Russell:  His three seasons with the Celtics produced two NBA championships so I have to put him in this category even though a large measure of that success is due to the fact that he was a player-coach for those teams and his play was as integral to the success as was his coaching.  Later on, his time with the Sonics was mediocre; in four-plus seasons there, the best record was 43-39.
  • KC Jones:  With an overall record of 552-306 plus two NBA Championships and three conference championships, he may have had a better coaching career than playing career.  Maybe?

Here are a couple of Hall of Fame players whose coaching career evokes the “Meh!” response:

  • Larry Bird:  His winning percentage is outstanding; he won 68.7% of his games.  However, his coaching career included only 2 full seasons and part of a third season.
  • Mo Cheeks:  Over all or part of 9 seasons, his coaching record was 305-315.
  • Richie Guerin:  In seven-and-a-half seasons with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks, he compiled a 327-291 record.
  • Kevin McHale:  Over three full seasons and parts of four other seasons, his record was 232-185 with no playoff accomplishments of note.
  • Bill Sharman:  Yes, I know he won a high percentage of his games and an NBA Championship with the Lakers.  However, that team had Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain Elgin Baylor and Gail Goodrich on the roster.  Hard to lose with that team…
  • Paul Westphal:  In all or part of 10 season, his record was 318-279 with a playoff record of 27-22 in 4 playoff appearances.

Finally, here are some great players who were not successful as head coaches in the NBA:

  • Wilt Chamberlain:  His single season on the bench was with the San Diego Conquistadores of the ABA and not the NBA.  Nonetheless, his record that year was a lackluster 37-47.
  • Bob Cousy:  In a little more than 4 seasons, his coaching record in the NBA was 141-207.  The best single season record was 36-46.
  • Dave Cowens:  Over all or part of 6 seasons, his coaching record was 161-191.
  • Jason Kidd:  In four-and-a-half seasons, his record is 183-190.  He will likely be back with another team in the future…
  • Magic Johnson:  To his credit, he realized that coaching was not his calling and he resigned the position after only 16 games on the bench.  The record was 5-11.
  • Dolph Schayes:  In four years as a head coach, his record was 151-172.

I can sense that some of you are wondering why any of that is interesting today.  Well, with more time on my hands than usual, I wondered – not aloud but in my head – if there was a similar pattern among great NFL players who advanced themselves into the ranks of NFL head coaches.  So, I indulged myself in some browsing through NFL stat world and came up with an interesting parallel.

  • [Aside:  I limited this “research” to modern NFL time since the merger of the NFL and the AFL.  I will leave the days of the Decatur Staleys and Curley Lambeau to real NFL historians such as Dan Daly.]
  • [Aside #2:  If you have some time on your hands and are looking for a good sports book to read, let me recommend Dan Daly’s excellent history of the old NFL called the National Forgotten League.  It is entertaining AND informative.]

I found 8 NFL Hall of Fame players who have had time on the sidelines as a head coach since the merger.  I would not categorize any of the eight as being great head coaches so let me just list them alphabetically here:

  • Raymond Berry:  In five-and-a-half seasons in New England, his record was 48-39-0 with an AFC Championship in 1985.  That was his first full season with the Pats, and it was pretty much downhill from there.
  • Mike Ditka:  He had plenty of time on the sidelines and racked up a 121-95-0 record plus a Super Bowl Championship – – where he beat Raymond Berry’s Patriots after the 1985 season.
  • Forrest Gregg:  In eleven seasons his teams went 75-85-1.  Ho-hum…
  • Dick LeBeau:  He was extraordinarily successful as a defensive coach and coordinator over multiple decades in the NFL as well as a Hall of Fame player in the 1950s.  However, his head coaching record was a less-than-laudable 12-33-0.
  • Mike Munchak:  In three seasons, his Tennessee teams compiled a 22-26-0 record.  Ho-hum…
  • Art Shell:  Over seven seasons with the Raiders, his cumulative record was 56-52-0.
  • Mike Singletary:  Over all or part of 3 seasons with the Niners, his teams were 18-22-0.  He also had a brief stint with the Memphis Express in the AAF.
  • Bart Starr:  He coached the packers for 9 seasons from the mid-70s to the mid-80s; those teams compiled a record of 52-76-3.

They say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop; in my case, letting my mind wander often leads to strange and unusual places…

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

 

 

It’s Bobby Bonilla Day

In the world of baseball, July 1 is known as “Bobby Bonilla Day”.  Even though Bonilla last played for the NY Mets in 1999 and that he has been out of MLB since 2001, Bonilla receives a check from the Mets every July 1st for a little more than $1.19M.  Sounds great – – but wait there’s more.  He will continue to receive a check from the NY Mets in that exact amount every July 1st through 2035.  To what good fortune does Bobby Bonilla owe this windfall?

Back in 2000, the Mets wanted to buy out Bonilla’s contract; he was 36 years old and his best playing days were over.  The cost of that buyout was $6M in round numbers.  But the Mets saw a way to make some money on the buyout and offered to defer payment to him – – sort of like an annuity.  The Mets agreed to pay him $1.19M every July 1st from 2011 until 2035 instead of paying him $6M on the spot in 2000.  Here was the Mets’ motivation to offer such a deal:

  • Mets’ owner, Fred Wilpon had invested a whole lot of money with Bernie Madoff and in 2000 those investments were flying high.  By keeping Bonilla’s $6M in Madoff’s funds, the Mets projected that they would rake in huge returns on that $6M and would more than cover the added expenses.

It all came apart at the seams in 2008 when Madoff’s enterprise was exposed as nothing but a Ponzi Scheme and Fred Wilpon lost a ton of money.  Some estimates have his losses as high as $700M; other estimates say he lost a mere $400M.  None of that is important to Bobby Bonilla on July 1st, 2020, because today Bonilla’s bank account will record a deposit of $1,193,248.20.

Staying marginally in the world of baseball for the moment, the folks in charge of the University of Cincinnati have removed Marge Schott’s name from the school’s baseball stadium.  Personally, I do not take nearly the same level of offense at many of the statues around the country that have drawn such ire in recent weeks, but I am not nearly motivated to try to protect those statues either.  However, in the case of Marge Schott – – and George Preston Marshall whose statue in DC was taken down peacefully by the city fathers recently – – I am in full agreement with the removals.  Schott and Marshall were outrageous individuals in their own times and by today’s standards would be categorized as “loathsome creatures” or possibly something lower on the evolutionary scale.  Congratulations to the people at the University of Cincinnati who made the decision to rename that baseball stadium…

Here is a follow-up note…  Yesterday, I said that an undrafted free agent who had signed with the Arizona Cardinals had lost his chance to make a good first impression when he drove his car into Lake Erie “under the influence”.  Last night, I read a report that the Cardinals had released him.

As I have mentioned here several times, the absence of live sports makes it more difficult to find things to write about here.  My long-suffering wife – who is the antithesis of a sports fan – has heard me say that to friends.  Demonstrating her desire to help where possible, I got an email from her yesterday with the subject line reading:

  • “JIC you didn’t see this”

The email contained a link to a story in the Washington Post with this headline:

“Ron Rivera says Redskins name debate is ‘a discussion for another time’”

The recurring debate about that team’s name has always devolved into a strategy to just kick the can down the road.  By delaying any direct encounters that could become confrontational, the vigor of the protesters has waxed and waned while the team name trudges on.  I do not think that is what Ron Rivera is espousing here.  In the same interview where he said the discussion is “for another time”, he also said that his time in football and his view of football is that it ought not to be linked to politics.  He says he supports the players and their involvement in sociopolitical issues, but that he is not necessarily comfortable being in the forefront of something that is so political.

It seems to me that if it is OK for some folks to choose to be “activists”, then it should be just as OK for others to choose to be something other than activists – – even to the point of being “opponents” which is not the case for Ron Rivera.  I think there is another element to his quietude here beyond his preference to stay away from ‘political stuff”:

  • Ron Rivera has been given more latitude and more decision authority that any previous Skins’ coach in the Daniel Snyder Era.  That includes Joe Gibbs who was a boyhood idol of Snyder’s; recall that Gibbs had to deal with and tolerate Vinny Cerrato as the team’s de facto GM and as an éminence grise having the ear of the owner.
  • Rivera has to install his “system” and his “culture” over an off-season where the only way to do that is by remote control.  That is a sufficient challenge for him without potentially getting into anything resembling a crosswise posture with the owner who said he will NEVER change the team name.
  • Even if Rivera is totally convinced that the team name should be changed immediately, he probably has more than a few “football issues” to resolve against upcoming deadlines and the team name debate has no such imminent deadlines.

Remember, I do not read minds; therefore, that analysis above is far more akin to speculation that real analysis…

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently regarding the ream name for the Skins:

Wondering: It’s been theorized that a fan boycott might convince Snyder to change the team’s name. But judging from attendance at FedEx Field the last few years, how could anybody tell if there was a boycott?”

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

 

 

Cam Newton And The Patriots

Back on June 19th, my rant was titled, A Tale of Three Quarterbacks; I opined on what might happen with Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Josh Rosen.  You can read it here.  I argued then that Cam Newton would be a logical fit with the Steelers; yesterday, reports appeared saying that Cam Newton had signed a 1-year deal with the Patriots that is laden with incentives and if they are all achieved, the contract would be worth $7.5M.

The reports regarding those terms cleared up one of the questions I had in mind when thinking about where Cam Newton might go; I wondered if he would “settle” for backup QB money; obviously, he was willing to do that.  Another major question in my mind was the degree to which Newton had recovered from two surgeries in the past two years.  Since he only played in 2 games in 2019, he has had ample “recovery time”, but there is always the uncertainty as to how much he will resemble the “pre-injured” Cam Newton when he hits the field again.  The engagement of this contract action with the Patriots would seem to indicate that the Pats and their medical people are satisfied that Newton is hearty enough to do what they want  him to do.

And that is the interesting question on the table now:

  • Cam Newton and Tom Brady are about as different as two successful NFL QBs can be.  The Pats’ offense for next to forever has been designed around Tom Brady who is an immobile, accurate short-range passer.  Cam Newton is mobile, agile, not nearly as accurate on short routes and a QB who likes to push the ball downfield more than once or twice a game.
  • So …  Are the Pats going to try to get Cam Newton to reinvent himself in the image of Tom Brady or are the Pats going to revamp their offensive approach?

[Aside:  Cam Newton had better come to realize quickly that he does not have a lot of speed burners at the WR position currently in New England and that he may need to stifle that part of his approach to the game.]

Obviously, I do not know which course of action Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel will take with Newton – – and I am assuming here that Newton will indeed beat out Jarrett Stidham for the starting assignment.  Having said that, I do believe that those two men have already decided how they will use Cam Newton this year.  I do not believe for a moment that they signed Cam Newton without having a plan in mind that they will seek to implement.

One thing that is clear to me is that there will be a new avenue of offensive attack available to the Pats this year.  That would be the run-pass-option play.  I said above that Tom Brady is an immobile QB; picture in your mind the mobility of an Easter Island statue; Tom Brady is probably a step-and-a-half faster than that.  Cam Newton can run, seemingly likes to run and is quite effective running the football.  At the very least, the Patriots will have a dozen run-pass-option plays that might be inserted into a game plan for 2020 that simply were not there in 2019.

The addition of Cam Newton to the Pats’ roster seems to me to be a low-risk step by the Pats because it is a 1-year deal at backup money.  It is highly unlikely that Cam Newton will perform at the level he did in 2015 when he was the NFL MVP and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl.  Nonetheless, if his injuries are healed and he stay healthy, Newton is more than merely a capable QB; he is better than a lot of the QBs other teams will have under center in 2020.

At the same time, I am surprised by one aspect of this deal.  I would have thought that there would be some sort of team option included here just in case Newton does flash the sort of brilliance he did 5-7 years ago.  In that circumstance, it is logical that the Pats would want to have some sort of “hook” in Newton for one more season.  I doubt we will ever know how or why such an option never made it to the final deal.

Here is another unknown.

  • Does this acquisition mean that Belichick and his staff believe they have another shot at a Super Bowl this season?  If they do not, why not go with the much younger Jarrett Stidham to find out what he has to offer down the road for the team?
  • Or – maybe – does this indicate that Belichick and Company have already decided on that question?

The New England Patriots – and the AFC East as a division – have not been particularly interesting for the last decade or so.  We pretty much knew who would win the division and make the playoffs as soon as they kicked off in the season-opening game.  The reason for the lack of interest was the dominance of the Patriots.  As with many other aspects of life, 2020 is going to be a “different year”.

  • Are the Patriots – with the addition of Cam Newton – still the “Beasts of the East”?

For the record, even if the Pats do win the East and make the playoffs in January – assuming there are indeed playoffs in January – I do not think that the signing of Cam Newton puts the Pats at a level where they are equal to the Chiefs or the Ravens in the AFC.

Switching gears form a discussion of a former NFL MVP and Super Bowl QB to an undrafted free agent in this year’s draft, that undrafted free agent has demonstrated the value of an adage:

  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Jermiah Braswell signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals after the NFL Draft.  He has not yet reported to any of the team activities – – because there have not been any.  However, his coaches know one thing about him now.

  • He was arrested and charged with “operating a vehicle while intoxicated”  after he drove said vehicle into Lake Erie.

Finally, here is an observation by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“A U.S. Olympic boxer was cleared when it was determined her banned substance happened because of sex. Her name: Virginia Fuchs.”

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

 

 

An Abnormal Time…

2020 has been anything but a “normal time” in history.  Considering the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economic disruption caused by that pandemic and the social upheaval ongoing here in the US, it is hardly difficult to understand how and why 2020 is an “oddball year”.  Normally at the end of June, this would be the way things were always meant to be in the sports world:

  • We would speak of the Triple Crown in the past tense.
  • In baseball, the focus now would be on who got snubbed for the All-Star Game.
  • We would now know the NBA and NHL champions for 2019/2020.
  • March Madness would be a fond memory.
  • NFL teams would be getting training camps ready to open.
  • Wimbledon would be underway.
  • The Masters and The US Open would be history.

Exactly none of that is part of the sports commentary in the US.  We do know about how MLB and the MLBPA have found creative ways to piss off baseball fans.  We know that the NBA has a plan to play its games in the “Orlando Bubble”.  We know that MLB has a plan to return to action – – but there are as many question marks involved there as there were back in mid-March before the league and the players got into their little spitting match.  The NFL steadfastly holds that it will start its season on time and play it out until the Super Bowl in 2021.   Meanwhile whatever life force oversees COVID-19 on Planet Earth seems to be saying:

  • “We’ll get back to you on all that…”

I am on record with the following positions:

  • I doubt that the NBA can maintain the “Bubble isolation” factor for every team and every player and every “essential worker” that needs to enter and exit the “Orlando Bubble” over the next 3 months.  I would like to be wrong in that skepticism, but I will need to be shown that I am wrong.
  • I am more doubtful that MLB can keep players and teams healthy under its health and safety protocols.  We already know that any sort of “record” set in 2020 will have an asterisk on it the size of a planet; so, how many MLB players on a single team need to be sidelined by COVID-19 to take it out of the running – – meaning that the expanded playoffs may have been diluted even further?
  • I cannot imagine a scenario wherein the NFL starts on time and plays a full 16-game schedule plus expanded playoffs plus a Super Bowl without major disruptions.

So, how can we take even a bit of solace from all this even if it is only for a brief interlude?  Maybe the best way if to look back on an absurdity that was put forth since mid-March and to amuse ourselves with it.

Early on when MLB entertained the idea of starting up on June 1st, there was a debate about how many games would fit into its idea of a truncated season.  Scott Boras put out a “plan” for a full season that would extend into December where all late season games and playoffs and World Series Games would happen in neutral warm weather cities.  That is goofy enough, but he also had the World Series extending just beyond Christmas Day 2020.  My immediate reaction there was to ignore it as being way beyond idealistic and I put it into the bin of dusty memories.  And then I had a long “just catching up/checking in” phone conversation with a long-time reader of these rants…

He said that I had missed the point and that he was wondering if I was beginning “to lose my grip on delicious irony.”  Here is why:

  • If the World Series extended to Christmas, it would also be in play on 23 December and that is the celebration of Festivus.  As my good friend said, can you imagine a scenario on MLB where you had the “airing of grievances” – – many of which might be directed at Scott Boras himself – – just two days before Christmas?  Have the events of the last 3 months shown us that there are latent hostilities on both sides of the MLB squabble to make Festivus 2020 into an event only a tad more civilized than the Gunfight at the OK Corral?
  • My friend is correct; even Jerry Seinfeld and Jerry Stiller could not write a scene that might eclipse that one for “crash-and-burn potential”…

Meanwhile, Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Only kidding: At a time when some big earners are taking financial haircuts, ESPN notes that the highest-paid public employee in 40 states is a football or men’s basketball coach. Clearly then, the priorities of the other 10 states need adjustment.”

While that stat alone indicates that there is indeed a wrinkle in the space-time continuum in many states, I wonder how much more pernicious this could be.  Are there states where the Top 5 public employees in a given state are all football coaches and/or men’s basketball coaches?  Without doing any research here, I would not be even mildly surprised to learn that Dan Mullen, Mike White, Leonard Hamilton and Mike Norvell all make more in salary that does the governor of Florida.  So, might there be another coach in that state to fill out the “Top 5 Criterion”?

Finally, here is Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times filling us in on happenings in the life of Bob Uecker – the broadcast voice of the Milwaukee Brewers:

“’I’m doing what everybody else is doing, and that’s stay locked down, shut down and wear a mask if I do need one,’ the ex-catcher, 86, told MLB.com. ‘I went in the store a couple of weeks ago with a catcher’s mask, and they told me it was the wrong one. It helps when you get punched in the face, but that’s about it.’

“Punched in the face?

“’Yeah,’ Uecker said. ‘A lot of people are still living that saw me play.’”

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