Recently, I wrote about the surprising presence of Leicester City at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League table ahead of teams with far more recognizable names here in the US such as Manchester United or Liverpool or Chelsea or Arsenal. I focused so much on the presence of Leicester City in first place that I had not noticed that Aston Villa was very solidly in last place – a full 7 points behind Sunderland which is in 19th place. The teams that finish 18th through 20th in the Premier League get relegated for next year to the next lower level of competition; barring a humongous reversal of form, Aston Villa will be downgraded to the Champions League next season.
If you look at the table, you can see that Aston Villa has only won 3 games out of 26 starts this year along with 7 ties. They have only scored 20 goals in 26 games and have a goal differential for the season of minus-26; not so surprisingly, that is the worst goal differential in the league.
So, things are looking bleak for Aston Villa – a team that has been in the Premier League for as long as I have been tracking the league from afar on a sporadic basis. I cannot sit here and tell you how or why this monstrously bad season has come to be in Birmingham where Aston Villa resides. However, this morning I can tell you that as bad as things looked a week ago, they cannot be looking any better now.
Last weekend, Aston Villa had a “Bye Week” in the sense that it had no scheduled game because it was a week set aside for FA Cup matches and Aston Villa had been eliminated from that tournament a while ago. So, the team scheduled what I would call an “internal friendly”. Aston Villa played its own Under-21 developmental team. By analogy, this would be like the NY Yankees taking on their AA affiliate, the Trenton Thunder.
You guessed it; the Under-21 team won the game. Oh, but it is even worse than that. The Under-21 team beat the “varsity squad” by a score of 3-0. That is about the same as the Thunder beating the Yankees by 11-0. Here is a link to an article in a British paper about what the paper calls “an embarrassing encounter”.
In other soccer news – much more uplifting than focusing on the failures of Aston Villa – soccer organizations here in the US just picked up a new sponsor. Tag Heuer – manufacturer of fine Swiss watches – has signed on to be a “long-term partner” with US Soccer, Major League Soccer and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) which manages the referee programs in soccer leagues in the US and Canada. This is an important partnership for soccer here because Tag Heuer represents a very upscale brand.
Of course, the announcement of this wide ranging long-term partnership was filled with management-speak platitudes. Looking through the fog of platitudinous claptrap, Tag Heuer is associated with the Bundesliga in Germany and has Cristiano Ronaldo as a “Brand Ambassador”. Look, I am not professing to be a soccer maven nor am I a marketing guru, but it sure seems to me that US Soccer and MLS are moving into a higher “social circle” than they had before with this new deal.
About a week ago, CBSSports.com reported that the NCAA will consider this Spring the idea of putting NCAA events in Las Vegas. According to the report, the “NCAA events” in question are not things like Athletic Directors’ meetings or plenary sessions to figure out ways to make the NCAA rulebook even less intelligible than it is today.
[Aside: A former colleague once said that the NCAA Rulebook was written in no known language.]
No, the CBSSports.com report said that the “protectors of amateurism in and integrity of intercollegiate sports” will consider putting championship events in Las Vegas including NCAA Tournament games and perhaps – one day – a Final Four weekend. The moment those words were typed in that order, Walter Byers and Dr. Myles Brand both felt a shudder run down their spines wherever they may be in cosmos or the spirit realm. The NCAA has – for as long as I can remember – refused to put any of its events in Nevada let alone Las Vegas because the state allows and even encourages wagering on college sporting events. NCAA president, Mark Emmert said that he expects a “robust discussion” about changing the policy regarding events in Nevada at the Spring meeting of the NCAA Council.
Since the momentum for this idea comes from the Mountain West Conference – as opposed to say the Big 10 or the SEC – I would not be surprised to learn that the action taken by the NCAA Council was to have their “robust discussion” and then to create a special committee to investigate secondary ramifications and other important factors that will need to be understood before any final decision could be made. What the Council will not do is any of the following:
1. Make a final decision on the matter after their “robust discussion”.
2. Call the action of sending this idea to a committee for further study what it really is, Kicking the Can Down the Road.
3. Put the director of any of the major sportsbooks in Nevada on this committee as subject matter expert.
Nevertheless, this is a step in what I think is a good and proper direction. To demonstrate how enthusiastic I am about this, allow me to present to you wisdom preferred by others in times past:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Mao Tze-tung.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with going to the airport and taking off your shoes.” Bernie Lincicome
Finally, here is a comment regarding gambling activities in another part of the country from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:
“Gulfstream in Hallandale opened its winter meet on Saturday. You know Gulfstream. It’s where you’ll find a casino, dining, shopping, entertainment and, time permitting, horse racing”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports……….