RIP Ed Sabol And Billy Casper

The sports world lost two more folks. Ed Sabol died at age 98. He was the person who had the idea that became NFL Films. Every fan of pro football has consumed what Ed Sabol created.

Billy Casper died at age 83. Casper was a major contender on the PGA tour in the 1960s and locked horns with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead. Despite that level of competition, Casper managed to win three PGA majors.

Rest in peace Ed Sabol and rest in peace Billy Casper…

People say that things “happen in threes”. Well, last night we had the third basketball coach in the past month to win his 1000th game. Greg Popovich joins Mike Krzyzewski and Herb Magee in reaching that milestone. Popovich got there in fewer seasons than the other guys largely because MBA teams play 82 games per season and college teams play 35 these days and used to play only about 25. Popovich does not get the credit that he deserves as a coach; some say he just “got lucky” in drafting both David Robinson and then Tim Duncan. Surely, that good fortune did not hurt his chances of winning games, but I think he has shown over the years that he is an outstanding coach.

By the same token, Greg Popovich seems to get a pass from reporters with regard to his surly and uncooperative in-game interviews. Let me be clear; I wish these things did not exist; none of them are particularly insight-producing. Nonetheless, they exist by contract. And in the context of that contractual obligation, Greg Popovich does exactly what Marshawn Lynch does; he turns the moment into a meaningless and annoying episode. Reporters jump all over Lynch; reporters are far less generous with their vitriol toward Popovich.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from a reader with the following paragraph:

“Also, perhaps some material for a future rant, the proliferation of suffixes on the names of professional sports figures recently. Coming first to mind is the Raven’s Steve Smith Sr., who needs some differentiation from the other Steve Smiths on the Raven’s roster. How about RGIII? Certainly there are exceptions, Ken Griffey Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc.”

Indeed, this proliferation can be a bit silly. I think the silliness meter began to move its needle to the right back when “Ochocinco” appeared on the back of a jersey and it continues to register today. Here is when you will know that this “trend” has gone round the bend:

    Our favorite player, Joe Flabeetz, decides that he needs for his jersey to read “Flabeetz I” in order to indicate clearly that his father had a different name than he does. When we get to that level of specificity and differentiation, we will know that it is time to find some other way to act silly.

Major League Soccer is facing a labor issue. The CBA with the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) has expired and the 2015 MLS season is scheduled to begin on 6 March. According to reports, the two sides are still far apart on issues and nowhere near a deal. It seems that the major sticking point in the negotiations is – – free agency. Like their counterparts in MLB, the NBA and the NFL, players in MLS want the ability to attain free agency. MLS asserts that free agency would escalate salaries at a pace that the league cannot accommodate. That does not sound like a pair of positions that can reach reconciliation between now and 6 March.

Of course, the two sides can agree to an interim deal of some kind that would allow the season to proceed but I would not expect to see any movement in that direction until very close to 6 March. Alternatively, we could also see the MLSPU go through the process of decertification – as the NFLPA did – and then file a suit against MLS under the anti-trust laws. It was a long time ago, but my recollection is that the NFL/NFLPA lawsuit that created free agency in the NFL took 3-5 years to wend its way through the legal processes to a resolution. That would indicate to me – and remember that I am not an attorney – that a similar legal action here would not be something that came to an end quickly.

Moreover, there is another “problem” here. MLS has grown nicely in the past 5-10 years; the league has stable franchises and television exposure. If an official of MLS had been in a coma since 2005 and woke up today, he/she would be pleased with the growth of the league and its general direction. Having said that, MLS is nowhere near what the NFL was in the 1980s and it is possible – not certain but possible – that indeed an anti-trust win by the players and full free agency might topple the league itself. That was never a real possibility for the NFL or for MLB when those entities faced similar challenges. This situation could be a bit dicier…

Rather than choosing litigation or playing under an interim agreement, the players can obviously choose to go on strike and just not play the 2015 season. We have seen that in the past in other sports. One “wildcard” in making such a decision is FIFA. When NFL or NBA or MLB players think about striking against their league, they do not have to consider what a world governing body might or might not do in response to a strike. Given the seemingly random nature of FIFA decisions, rulings and actions, players might want to tread carefully lest they somehow wind up with some kind of sanction from FIFA that would apply to their ability to play just about anywhere in the world.

For perspective here, the average MLS player makes $140K per year plus benefits. By comparison to other pro players in other team sports in the US, that is a low number; by comparison with top-shelf futbol players in Europe, that is a low number. The fact of the low number cuts two ways:

    Like their counterparts, these players are pro athletes and entertainers. Perhaps that average number should “move up a bit”…

    Unlike their counterparts, these athletes have not had the luxury of salting away large incomes over the past few years giving them a financial “pad” to absorb the shock of no income for a while.

Finally, Gregg Drinnan reacting to the news that Sports Illustrated had terminated all of its photographers and eliminated the photo department posted this in his blog, Keeping Score:

“How is it still Sports Illustrated if it has dumped all of its photographers?”

Good question; wish I had thought of it first…

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