The NBA free-agent season starts this weekend. Due to the huge new TV contract, the salary cap for each team has gone up by a bit more than $20M and I read somewhere that some teams like the Sixers will have to spend $50M just to get to the salary floor. [Aside: There is a floor and a cap in the NBA.] What this means is that there will be some players who will get contract offers that will make you shake your head in disbelief. However, even before the NBA’s silly-season gets underway, the NFL has a staggering contract announcement.

    The Indianapolis Colts signed Andrew Luck through the 2021 season to a contract with a total value of $140M with $80M of that contract guaranteed and with $75M of that contract going to Luck in the first three years.

    That is the biggest contract in NFL history with the largest guaranteed money ever.

What this means is really pretty simple. Franchise QBs are a rare commodity in the NFL and when a team has a young franchise QB, they need to dig deep into the pockets to make sure they have him locked up for a while. Andrew Luck just set the bar for contracts that young franchise QBs are going to aim at. There will likely be more of these sorts of deals down the road.

Do not weep for the NFL owners here; this contract – even if it becomes commonplace – will not send them to the poorhouse. While the financial specifics for 31 of the teams is not known outside the world of tax accountants and the IRS, there is one team that is publicly owned and therefore has to share its fanatical with the world. Here are some data points:

    The Green Bay Packers scored a record profit of $48.9M last year.

    The revenue-sharing they got from the NFL (from the TV deals and other league-wide deals) was $222.6M. [Aside: Since teams share equally, that means the NFL revenue stream was sufficient to pass along $7.12B to the teams after the league kept a smidgen for itself to run the Front Office and pay for things like the Wells Report.]

    Revenue should be up this coming year over last year as there are expanded network telecasts of Thursday Night Football games.

I wonder if there is actually a way for an NFL owner to run his team such that it loses money for a year – and I do not mean “lose money” as a result of some accounting legerdemain. It seems to me as if that would be very difficult to do.

Speaking about NFL owners and profits, there appears to be some sort of movement in Las Vegas with regard to where they might put a stadium in which the Raiders would play. Matt Youmans had a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal recently that outlined the pros and cons for what he calls the “final four stadium sites.” In addition to the site that had been touted before right next to McCarran International Airport, there are three other possibilities. One of the alternate sites is the field where the Las Vegas 51s – the Mets’ Triple A affiliate – play their home games. The reason that site is on the radar is that the 51s are planning to move to a new park out on the western edge of Las Vegas sometime soon.

Rather than go through the pros and cons here, let me give you a link to the report in case you are interested in the details.

I am not sure I understand what this next item is supposed to do, but I read a report that there is a joint venture between the NFL, the NFLPA and Cirque du Soliel to put on an “NFL experience” exhibit. I do not know the common denominator among those three entities but supposedly things are moving ahead and you will never guess where they plan to put this “thing”. If you said Times Square in Manhattan, you would be correct. I would have needed at least 72 hours of guessing before I got to that site.

There will be a theater with a 360-degree multimedia “experience” for fans that will be produced by NFL Films. As is always the case when something like this is announced, there are statements made by managers that demonstrate what I like to call a “value-subtracted process”. You read the statement; you can define every word in the statement; nevertheless, when you read it as a whole, it makes little sense. Consider this statement from Dawn Hudson, the NFL chief Marketing Officer:

“The NFL and Cirque du Soleil are two iconic global brands. We are pleased to team with this industry leader to set the new standard of excellence in sports and entertainment. We are thrilled to re-imagine what it means to authentically engage with fans by providing them an immersive, innovative experience celebrating football and available year-round. We hope to bring fans of all ages and avidity into the huddle and give them an all-access pass to players and teams.”

Can someone explain to me the difference between “authentically engaging” with fans and “dubiously engaging” with fans? Someone must know all about that because the NFL is re-imagining” it here and that means they imagined it in the past and must know what the heck it means.

The President of NFL Players, Inc. was not to be outdone. Here is what Ahmad Nassar had to say about all of this:

“We are happy to facilitate an experience that brings NFL players closer to football fans from around the world. This will be a unique and innovative showcase of professional football and an example of how our business can be a unifying force.”

Now that you have read that statement do you feel you know anything more than you did 30 seconds ago?

Of course, the big cheese at Cirque du Soliel, Daniel Lamarre, had some cogent remarks to offer:

“Our new venture with the NFL signifies the next phase of Cirque du Soleil, and we see tremendous opportunity in working creatively with the League as well as other world-class brands throughout the world. No other brand in professional sports is as strong and popular as the NFL and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase the NFL from a whole new perspective.”

Having heard all of those statements, I still know nothing more than the fact that there will be a multimedia presentation/experience produced by NFL Films.

Finally, Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald with regard to happenings in the NHL off-season:

“Wheelin’-dealin’ Florida [Panthers] signed all-star defenseman Keith Yandle to a seven-year, $44 million deal, traded Dmitri Kuliokov, and had the 23rd and 33rd picks early in NHL Draft, according to analyst Pierre Kiper Jr. I bet big they’d draft two white teenagers you’d never heard of. How’d I do?

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

RIP Buddy Ryan

Buddy Ryan died at the age of 82 yesterday. He was more than just a defensive coordinator extraordinaire; he was a defensive innovator. To say he was a “colorful character” would demean all the colors of the spectrum. He was a no-nonsense guy who – even more than Howard Cosell – told it like it was. I remember he said about one player who was not performing the way Ryan wanted that he would trade the guy for a six-pack and he would not demand that the six-pack was cold. In terms of his defensive philosophy, here it is in his words in a nutshell:

“No quarterback has ever completed a pass while laying flat on his back.”

Rest in peace, Buddy Ryan.

The news reports leading up to the Olympic Games in Rio continue to be “less than positive”. The Olympic mavens put golf back into the Olympics after a hiatus of 112 years. The top golfer in the world at the moment, Jason Day, announced that he will not participate in the Games this summer due to “concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus”. The top stars of the NBA are one-by-one finding reasons to opt out of playing for the US national team. I am sure that I have missed some of the players who have opted out but here is a list of the ones I was able to cobble together:

    Steph Curry
    Anthony Davis
    James Harden
    LeBron James
    Kawai Leonard
    Chris Paul
    John Wall
    Russell Westbrook

Here are some of the players who will represent the US in Rio:

    Carmelo Anthony
    Harrison Barnes (!!)
    Jimmy Butler
    DeMarcus Cousins
    DeMar DeRozan
    Kevin Durant
    Draymond Green
    Kyrie Irving
    Kyle Lowrey

I think the “opt-out squad” is the better team. Just saying…

There should be no stigma attached to any of these athletes choosing to sit out these Olympic Games. In the case of a PGA Tour pro or an NBA player, the Olympics are not the pinnacle of his sport; nor does he need a good showing in the Olympics to break through financially. Fundamentally, the Olympics needs the starpower those players bring a lot more than the players need the Olympics.

That is not the case for athletes in swimming, sailing, gymnastics, Greco-Roman wrestling and the like. Those athletes have trained for and pointed toward Olympic participation for years; if they opt not to participate in these Games for fear of the Zika virus, they may never have another chance at the pinnacle of their sports. The motivations and pressures on athletes vary from sport to sport with regard to these questions.

Meanwhile the Acting Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Dornelles, told a Brazilian newspaper that these Games could be a “big failure” due to budget constraints that undermine security efforts and the ability to move people and equipment around from place to place in the city during the games. Rio has yet to receive a promised payment from the national government of $860M for a variety of purposes; the games begin on 5 August and you don’t even need an abacus to realize that is 5 weeks and 2 days from today.

Rio was to build a Metro line to one of the areas where competitions would happen; that was to be a main mode of transit between those venues and places like the Olympic Village. The Metro is not yet finished and one of the problems is that the national government has not yet coughed up the $290M it promised for that project. That brings the total of national money not delivered to $1.15B. Imagine the situation where the Brazilian government finds $1.15B hidden in coffee cans somewhere in the Treasury and delivers it to Rio tonight. How effectively could that money be spent in the next 5 weeks and 2 days to do things like finish the Metro?

Just in case anyone missed the point on how serious things might get, Dornelles also said that without an infusion of cash from the national government, police patrols and security efforts may have to be curtailed at the end of June due to – wait for it – insufficient gas money. Living in the DC area, I am used to politicians crying wolf and prognosticating apocalyptic consequences if they do not get their way in some struggle. Lack of money to buy gasoline to maintain police patrols goes beyond anything I have ever heard around here…

You can read more about this situation here.

Now let me put a cherry on top of this lovely sundae… For the Rio Games, the only anti-doping lab facility in the city has been closed for economic reasons. The accommodation will be to take the samples from the athletes and fly them to other labs in other places for testing.

    Somehow, I am not convinced that this is a cost-cutting measure.

    Somehow, I am not convinced that all those logistical handoffs will necessarily assist the anti-doping authorities in keeping things on the up-and-up.

    Somehow, this pandemonium situation will have to be resolved or we may learn ex post facto that the winner of the 100-meter sprint event has been drinking cheetah urine for the last two months…

Finally, I need to end this on a lighter note. So, please consider this commentary from Brad Rock in the Deseret News recently:

“Stephen Curry’s wife Ayesha, who has a TV cooking show, tweeted last week that the NBA Finals are rigged.

“Speaking of rigged, how does she time it so her persimmons cookies come out perfectly, right after the commercial break?”

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

RIP Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt died yesterday. She dominated women’s college basketball in the era before Geno Auriemma dominated women’s college basketball. Over the course of her career, her women’s teams at Tennessee won 1,098 games. Pat Summitt was 64 years old.

Rest in peace, Pat Summitt.

Yesterday, I wondered aloud about what effect Brexit might have on the EPL. While those costs and benefits are still to be known, England is in shock over another version of “Brexit” in the world of soccer. Iceland eliminated England in the first of the knockout round games in euro 2016; Iceland advances to the European equivalent of the “Elite Eight” while England will go home. I said about a week ago that Iceland was the Cinderella of the tournament simply by hanging in during the early matches in group-play; now, they are the “Official Cinderella” of Euro 2016.

The result was sufficiently shocking that the English coach, Roy Hodgson, did not wait to be fired for this stunning loss. He resigned as coach of the English National team immediately following the game in the regularly scheduled press conference. Hodgson had been under fire at home; his resignation simply preempted what was going to happen anyway.

Iceland now moves on to play France – the host nation for Euro 2016 – on July 3rd. The games for the round of 8 are set with:

    Poland vs. Portugal June 30
    Wales vs. Belgium July 1 (Wales has an aura of “Cinderella” too.)
    Germany vs. Italy July 2

Late last week, Johnny Manziel’s father, Paul Manziel, told ESPN that his son is “a druggie”. As surprising as that comment may be, he also added that jail “would be the best place for [Johnny Manziel].” That comment was part of the fiasco created when one of Johnny Manziel’s attorneys accidentally sent a text or e-mail to the Associated Press containing information about Johnny Manziel’s assault case. Part of that message said that the attorney was worried about his client’s ability to “stay clean”.

Prior to the publication of those sorts of comments from his attorney, Johnny Manziel was probably on a list of folks who are persona non grata on NFL rosters. With this new information, he probably moves from that list to a list of people who are radioactive within the NFL’s General Manager community. I do not know what it would take for an NFL team to invite him to training camp now.

Yes, I do recall that Andy Reid and the Eagles gave Michael Vick a second chance after he served his time in the dogfighting mess. However, at the time Vick had two things going for him that Manziel does not:

    1. Vick had been a successful and productive QB in the NFL prior to his time in prison. There was some reason to believe that he might regain his form and be a productive NFL player somewhere down the line. Manziel’s NFL appearances on Sundays have been mediocre-at-best and generally-insufficient. The idea that he has the potential to be a productive NFL QB is surely more far-fetched.

    2. There was no reason to suspect that Michael Vick would relapse into dogfighting again. That means that if he ever regained a meaningful position on an NFL team, that team could count on his being in uniform on Sundays. If Manziel is indeed “a druggie” – and we have seen pictorial evidence that he takes a drink on a more than occasional basis – that makes him “less dependable” in the eyes of a team. So, even if a team thought he might be good on the field someday, they would also have to worry about his availability for many of their games.

I think this is the end of the line for Johnny Football as it pertains to a pro football career. I hope he gets whatever sort of help he needs and buys into that help such that he sets his life on a more positive course than being “a druggie”.

Kentucky coach, John Calipari, has a habit of saying some “off-center” things. That should not, however, lead you to believe he is unintelligent. Calipari has lots of good ideas but good ideas rarely attract a similar level of public attention as compared to off-center ideas/remarks. Several weeks ago, Calipari suggested that the SEC should not hold a conference championship tournament at the end of the basketball season. His idea is that the regular season conference champion would claim the guaranteed NCAA Tournament bid and then the Selection Committee could pick and choose from the other schools in the conference to fill out the field. He believes that late-season losses in the SEC Tournament hurt teams in the conference with regard to selection and with regard to seeding.

In its place, he suggested that the SEC hold an early-season tournament that was not a single-elimination format. With 16 teams, every team would play 4 games; there would be an early-season tournament champion and every school would get 4 games under their belts early on. He thinks that would be a way to get lots of fans to engage with their teams. Here is Calipari’s general outline for this early-season tournament:

“You have to do it in November. Play a game or two and then, out of the gate, you have a conference tournament. You know you have it for one week. Maybe you have two sites in the same city. Maybe it’s in Atlanta. You’re doing it every year. Let’s all [have] our fans go to Atlanta and everything is geared for the SEC.”

Remember, the ACC and the Big-10 have had that inter-conference challenge for a while and the games have been generally well received. Calipari’s idea might be a different take on a similar track. The one question that I would have asked Calipari if I had had the opportunity is this:

    Will the wins and losses in the early-season tournament count in the conference record that determines the SEC Champion for NCAA Tournament purposes?

    I think the games would be a lot more meaningful if the results mattered…

Finally, here is a frightening thought expressed by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“John Daly turned 50 last week. The frightening thing: He’s now at an age where a lot of men begin to wear weird looking clothes.”

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

Brexit – In And Among These Sports Rants?

Usually when sports and politics intersect, the only meaningful issues involve the degree to which the taxpayer will have his pocket picked so that a team can get a new tax break or a new stadium/arena. Every once in a while, they will intersect as some politician pulls a grandstand play taking a stand on some social issue or principle that involves a major sports team or figure. Other than those scenarios, sports and politics tend to go their separate ways.

However, the Brexit vote in the UK last week might shove sports and politics together in a protracted mating dance. Let me review a couple possible intersections here:

    The NFL will play multiple games in England each year in the next several years and there are “contemplations” regarding putting a team there permanently. With the UK now needing to enact laws with regard to taxation of monies earned there by foreign entities whatever deals that had been made between the “UK as part of the EU” will need to be renegotiated/validated with the “UK in Brexit mode”. You just know that there have to be “other considerations” involved here besides the NFL finding a stadium to rent for a game.

    The British soccer leagues – particularly the English Premier League – have plenty of players who are not British-born. One of the issues in the referendum that involved Brexit was the status of and approval of “foreign workers.” Well, those players might just become “foreign workers” and there may be new standards and new rules about their eligibility for that work. Oh, and there are foreign-born coaches in the English soccer leagues too… Here is part of a statement from the EPL regarding the Brexit referendum:

    “Given the uncertain nature of what the political and regulatory landscape might be following the ‘Leave’ vote, there is little point second-guessing the implications until there is greater clarity. Clearly, we will continue to work with Government and other bodies whatever the outcome of any process.”

    Here is my translation of that statement:

      We have no idea how any of this will affect the EPL but we will try to stay on top of it with the folks who are in charge of working all this stuff out.

Here is one example of how this can get complicated very quickly. FIFA rules prohibit players under the age of 18 from being transferred to other countries – except in the EU because there is an EU regulation that says that no countries in the EU can restrict the movements of any person over the age of 16. So, the UK and the European clubs can transfer players around at the age of 16. So, what impact might the FIFA rule have on the UK now that they are not part of the EU – and/or will that regulation be part of whatever agreement is reached between the EU and the UK as the Brexit process moves forward?

This business is FAR from over…

No matter what happens there, I suspect that the EPL will continue to be a highly successful and profitable sports enterprise. Things may get a bit messy and may need to jiggle around a bit before it all settles in to a stable situation. But the EPL is not on the brink of implosion. Such is not the case with the entity here in the US known as Major League Football.

In case you do not recall, Major League Football (MLFB) was supposed to be a spring football league that would provide football games to football junkies in that “downtime” between the Super Bowl and the start of NFL training camps. The original idea was to put MLFB franchises in cities where there was no NFL team and no MLB team. That would give the MLFB team a chance to develop a fanbase without a major competitor in town. At the same time, that “business model” also consigns the MLFB franchises to minor cities. The consignment to minor cities does not portend good things for the MLFB when it comes to getting a TV deal with a major network. The league reported that it did reach an agreement with the American Sports Network to televise games. The American Sports Network is not part of my cable channel package…

The league was supposed to begin play in February 2016 but one of the financial backers pulled out at the last moment leaving the league to try to cobble together financing for a shortened season to start in April. That didn’t work either and the league announced that it would cancel its inaugural season and be back next year with finances in order.

The latest news regarding MLFB is not nearly so encouraging. The league is being sued for unpaid rent since March 2016 on the league headquarters in Florida. The amount of rent in arrears is less than $100K and the league contends that it has a financing deal in the works with a foreign investor for $20M. Obviously, if that financing comes through, MLFB will remain solvent and can consider a season for the Spring of 2017. Personally, as a developmental league, the model might actually work because people in the US do love football. However, the words of caution here for the folks at MLFB and any scribes and fans who really want to see the league succeed are:

    World Football League
    United Football League
    World League of American Football
    Fall Experimental Football League

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from a few weeks ago:

“Former NFL punter Steve Weatherford says he got kicked out of a Planet Fitness for grunting too hard.

“On the plus side, odds makers just installed him and Maria Sharapova as the mixed-doubles favorites at Wimbledon.”

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

Daily Fantasy Sports Betting Approved In Nevada

Recently, I wrote about a company in Nevada who sought approval to install one of their products in Nevada casinos that would allow daily fantasy sports betting on a pari-mutuel platform. Well, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, US Fantasy just got unanimous approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission to move forward here. According to Vic Salerno – owner of US Fantasy – the pari-mutuel platform will be available in August and will be ready to roll for this year’s football season. He hopes to have 80% of the casinos in Nevada linked in to his system. On a personal level, what this means to me is that there could be another wagering avenue available for our annual autumnal visit to Las Vegas this year.

There has been this debate regarding daily fantasy sports; is it gambling or is it a game of skill? As you know, my position is that daily fantasy sports are the same as poker; if one is a game of skill then so is the other. If one is gambling …

I thought that Vic Salerno had an interesting way to look at those questions from the report in the Las Vegas Review Journal:

“If you and I get into a free-throw shooting contest, it’s a game of skill. When we start betting money on it, it’s gambling.”

The move by the NHL to put a team in Las Vegas has put that city in the spotlight with regard to any realignments in sports leagues or any expansion plans. The Oakland Raiders are making nice with city officials in an attempt to get a stadium built there for the team; Adam Silver has thrown away the “bugaboo of gambling” as a barrier to having the NBA in Las Vegas; even MLB Commish, Rob Manfred says that is a “viable alternative” for an MLB franchise and that the casinos there would not be a barrier.

Actually, I think there are three significant barriers between now and the time when an MLB team calls Las Vegas home.

    1. MLB has one existing franchise that needs a new stadium and another that needs something to boost attendance. The Oakland A’s play in a dilapidated facility that suffers random sewage backups into dugouts and/or locker rooms. The Tampa Bay Rays do not draw flies and some folks attribute much of that to the stadium in which they play. No matter what happens, MLB has to find ways to prop up those two franchise situations. Maybe that means moving one to Las Vegas; maybe that means using Las Vegas as a prod to get some civic money set aside for stadium constructions. Those two situations come first…

    2. MLB and the MLBPA have a new collective bargaining agreement to negotiate. The other way to get a team in Las Vegas would be via expansion and my guess is that expansion would become a bargaining issue in the upcoming talks. Ideally, MLB and the MLBPA would find a way to use the new CBA as a way to accomplish assistance for the A’s and the Rays while simultaneously pointing the path to any expansion that might occur during the time allotted to the new CBA.

    3. Mother Nature has a part in this opera. Baseball is played in the summer; I have spent time in the summer at Nellis Air Force Base which cannot be more than 15 – 20 miles from the heart of The Strip. [I was there for a weeklong technical conference in late July/early August.] In the 8 days I was there, the high temperature every day was in the range of 110 degrees – and one day it was 114 degrees. Do not tell me about “dry heat”; at 110-114 degrees, it is mighty uncomfortable outside. And even in the early evening – when baseball games would start – the temperatures were still in the mid-90s. All this climatological talk means to me that any baseball stadium in Las Vegas would have to be domed and air-conditioned. The cost of the stadium would not be trivial…

Speaking of new stadiums, it could be that the Buffalo Bills are next in line for some kind of upgrade/new playpen. Bills’ owner Terry Pegula told a local radio station that he has not reached a decision yet on that issue but that the NFL has asked him if he has any plans to do something about the aging Ralph Wilson Stadium venue. According to a report at, the Bills lease with the local government for the stadium runs through 2022 and the stadium just got $130M worth of “upgrades” in 2014. Nevertheless, Ralph Wilson Stadium is 43 years old. Based on the report, Pegula has heard the comments of fellow owners about modernizing his facility and he has acknowledged a chat with Roger Goodell on the subject but he is not going to roll over and play dead. His answer to all of that for now is “We’ll look into it.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates will assault your taste buds – and alimentary canal – with a new sausage concoction this year. Here is the deal:

    One sausage is placed on one piece of flatbread. Said sausage is then smothered with mac-and-cheese and cracker jacks. You then add condiments of your choosing to include things like jalapeno peppers, onions – – you get the idea.

    The only thing missing here is chocolate sauce – – no?

Finally, with Derrick Rose being traded to the Knicks, his health/durability becomes a key concern for the fans and the tabloids in NYC. A while back, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News but it is still timely:

“Tennis star Roger Federer underwent the first surgery of his career after tearing a meniscus.

“The injury happened while filling the tub for his twin daughters’ bath.

“Note to Derrick Rose: Don’t even think about taking a shower.”

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

The 2016 NBA Draft …

The NBA Draft is tonight. Over the past several weeks, there was some buzz around the question:

    Who will the Sixers take with the first pick? – – or alternatively – –

    Who will suffer the fate of having to play for the Sixers?

That “controversy” went the way of all flesh earlier this week when the Sixers announced that they will take Ben Simmons with the #1 pick. Simmons is a gifted player; if you happened to see the game he played against Kentucky when LSU beat the Wildcats handily, you know he has skills. People have questioned his “passion for the game”. Not having had the opportunity to do a Vulcan Mind Meld with the young man, I cannot assess his passions or his nonchalances. I do know that one aspect of his game that has yet to develop is an outside jump shot; basically, he is not much of a threat from outside 10 feet.

The Lakers have the second pick and they should take Brandon Ingram in that slot. Ingram is a better scorer than Simmons at this stage of their development but Ingram needs to add strength if he is going to survive in the NBA.

After those two picks, the Celtics are up – and the Celtics really control what is going to happen tonight. Boston has 8 picks in this two-round draft; three in the first round and 5 in the second round. What the Celtics do with all of those picks will determine how the draft goes.

I have a few comments about specific players – ones who get mentioned in reports about team workouts and the like. I will put them in alphabetical order lest anyone impute some meaning to the order here:

    Kris Dunn (Providence): I read one report that said he might go as high as #2 to the Lakers. I will be most surprised if that happens. In fact, after watching Providence play a couple of times last year, what I recall is that Dunn was clearly the best player on the Providence team and was a good defensive player; however, going #2 in the draft? Sorry, I do not see that or anything really close to that…

    Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): I said this several months ago and I’ll say it again here. He has a great outside shot and great range. However, he does not create shots for himself and his defense is mediocre. I think he might be this year’s version of Jimmer Fredette.

    Donta Sabonis (Gonzaga): I love this guy. No one can question his “passion for the game”. And he has what commentators like to call “a high basketball IQ”. He passes very well from the post; he rebounds well and he defends well.

    Denzel Valentine (Michigan St.): He has plenty of talent and he is a solid all-around player having had 4 years of top-flight coaching from Tom Izzo.

I have no doubts those 4 players will all go in Round 1 of the draft tonite so let me now turn to my “sleeper pick” for the draft.

    Fred Van Vleet (Wichita State): He is not the best “fill in the blank here” as compared to other guards in this draft. There are better shooters, passers, ball handlers etc. However, Van Vleet is very good at everything you want a guard to do – and some of that derives from the fact that like Denzel Valentine, he got 4 years of good coaching in college. I think that a team in need of a point guard – a backup for the first year or two to be sure – would do well to pick up this guy tonight.

There remains some doubt about the Russian track and field team’s participation in the Rio Olympics. The International Track Mavens suspended the Russian team because of widespread doping – and demonstrable involvement by the Russian Track and Field Overseers in providing the drugs and covering up any positive tests. It is a sordid mess indeed.

The IOC seemingly is wavering with regard to allowing the Russian track and field athletes to compete. Technically, the IOC lets the various international federations determine compliance with World Anti-Doping Agency rules and standards. Nonetheless, we all recognize that the IOC answers to a “higher authority” – that being the “highest bidder” for their favors. So, there remains some uncertainty.

This situation is akin to the one we often see with regard to colleges who violate NCAA rules so flagrantly that the NCAA has to impose sanctions on the sports program(s) involved. What happens there – and what seemingly is happening here – is that the real ne’er-do-wells are not really punished but a bunch of athletes are.

The real “bad guys” in the Russian Track and Field Fiasco are the people in the national organization that has been providing PEDs to athletes and then falsifying/covering up test results. Yes, the athletes have probably derived performance benefits from using whatever they tested positive for; but they were not the orchestrators nor the cover-up coordinators. Those miscreants will not be punished in any meaningful way should the Russian team be disinvited to the Rio Games.

Brad Rock found a way to inject a bit of humor into this messy situation with this recent comment in the Deseret News:

“Russia’s track team has been banned from the Olympics due to doping issues.

“IOC officials suspected testosterone was involved when they learned everyone on the women’s team refused to ask for driving directions.”

Finally, Brad Dickson had these two comments about the recent NFL Draft in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The Miami Dolphins are confident they got the best gas mask-wearing, bong hit-taking, accepted-money-from-Ole Miss player available in the draft.”

And …

“A Cleveland Browns fan started a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for therapy for the team’s draft picks. I have nothing to add here.”

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

Off The Beaten Track Today …

There are two international soccer tournaments in progress at the moment. The Copa America has reached the semi-finals round where the US team met Argentina last night. Argentina is rated as the #1 team in the world at the moment – whatever that means – and the results last night showed pretty conclusively that the US team is not anywhere near the #2 squad in the world. The final score as 4-0 in favor of the Argentines; I am not sure the game was that close.

Let me not pretend to be an expert when it comes to soccer because I am not. In addition, as I have pointed out here many times, I cannot read minds. With those caveats, let me tell you what I sensed as I watched the Argentina/US game last night:

    Soccer is a game of passes; the ball moves from player to player as the team seeks to build up an offensive attack that will result in a shot on the goal.

    Last night it looked to me as if the Argentine players knew what they were going to do with the ball as it was on the way to their foot and they seamlessly executed the physical act that made the ball do what was already in their minds.

    Meanwhile, the US players seemed to focus on receiving the ball and controlling it. Then, they would seek to determine what to do next.

    Argentina played a fluid game; the US played mechanically.

Argentina will play the winner of the Chile/Colombia semi-final game and the US will take on the loser for third place in the Copa America. Chile got to the semi-final game by beating Mexico 7-0 a few days ago. As outclassed as the US team looked last night, they put up much more of a fight against Argentina than Mexico did against Chile. Remember, I do not read minds, but it sure looked to me as if the Mexicans quit against Chile; I never got the sense that the US team quit last night.

In a very small way, I will be rooting for Colombia in their semi-final game against Chile. That has nothing to do with any ties I have to Colombia or any enmity I have towards Chile. It is just that Colombia and the US have already played in this tournament and Argentina and Chile have already played in this tournament. Rather than have two “rematches” to end the tournament, I can root for a semi-final outcome that will produce two fresh matchups.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Europe, the Euro 2016 tournament is coming to the end of Group play and heading into the knockout round. In the Copa America, there have only been a few shocking results – the early dismissal of Brazil, the magnitude of the defeat suffered by Mexico, Costa Rica beating Colombia in the Group phase – but there have been a bunch of surprises in Euro 2016.

    Wales and England were in the same Group and Wales was the Group winner. This is the first major international tournament where Wales has advanced since 1958 and the Welsh play the English frequently in “friendlies” or in less prestigious tournament settings. In a total of 112 meetings, England leads the series 67-21-14. Playing to form here, the English beat the Welsh. Nonetheless, Wales won the Group with England finishing second.

    Reigning World Cup Champion, Germany won its Group but only scored 3 goals in 3 games. They won because they did not allow a single goal in any of those games.

    Croatia beat Spain head-to-head to win that Group. Spain dominated the first 30 minutes of that game and then Croatia seized control. Croatia trailed 1-0 early on but scored in the final minute of the first half and in the final 2 minutes of regulation time to win 2-1.

    With one game left in Group play, Iceland is in second place in that group having played 2 tie games. Considering the other national teams in Euro 2016, you would have to call Iceland the outlier or the Cinderella. Their final Group game is against Austria; if they win they are sure to advance to the knockout round.

The games in these tournaments are being shown on ESPN and on FS-1. They are definitely worth checking out…

I watched some – certainly not all – of the TV coverage of the US Open golf tournament last weekend. I have a question for those of you who pay much closer attention to golf than I do:

    Is Jordan Speith a significantly slower player than the rest of the guys out there or is it just me?

    I felt as if I could go and make a sandwich and eat half of it in the time it took him to line up either a chip shot or a putt.

Since I am off on a track today that passes by sports I normally do not write about, let me ask rhetorically if anyone has paid attention to the WNBA standings early on in this season. The teams have played 12 or 13 games so far in 2016; the regular season in the WNBA consists of 34 games so the season is a bit more than one-third finished.

    In the East, there is a race. Five of the six teams there are within 3.5 games of one another.

    In the West, there are two winners and the rest of the Conference. Minnesota’s record is 13-0; Los Angeles’ record is 11-1 (guess who they lost to…) All of the other 4 teams are below .500.

Finally, as women’s golf takes on more and more of an international dimension, newspaper copy editors and TV announcers will need to step up their games. Two young Thai women on the tour this year are Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong and Pornanong Phatlum. Good luck fitting those names into a one-column wide headline or saying them in sequence three times.

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

The World Is More Than 30 Years Old …

All of history has not occurred since sometime in the mid-1980s. In the world of sports, that realization often gets lost as people focus on whatever happened in the previous 72 hours and try to proclaim that it is the greatest whatever that ever happened. As I mentioned yesterday, the focus yesterday was on LeBron James and the Cavaliers and their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to become the champions. The adulation hopefully reached its peak on ESPN’s Around the Horn yesterday afternoon. All of the participants used every superlative they could think of to describe what LeBron had done in leading his team to this title.

One panelist said that James and his teams are now 4-2 when they play a Game 7 of a playoff series. In the midst of all the ongoing adulation allow me to point out something that has seemingly been forgotten:

    The Boston Celtics – led by Bill Russell – faced a Game 7 on 10 different occasions in the NBA Playoffs.

    The Boston Celtics – led by Bill Russell – won all 10 of those Game 7s.

Those of you who have been reading these rants for a while know that I am a big fan of Ichiro. I like the way he focuses on the game, the way he plays the game and the results he gets on the field. Last week, he accumulated enough hits in MLB such that if you add his Japan League hits, the total surpasses Pete Rose’s record of 4,256 base hits. I am not going to argue that Ichiro is now the “Hit King” – or as Rose so inelegantly put it demote Rose to the status of “Hit Queen”. The level of competition in the Japan League is not what it is in MLB on a day to day basis.

Nonetheless, what Ichiro has done – and continues to do – is extraordinary. Consider:

    Ichiro came to MLB at the age of 27. In his first year in MLB, he got 242 hits in 157 games.

    In his 15.5 seasons in MLB, he has collected 2,980 hits and he had 200 or more hits in each of his first 10 MLB seasons. In those first ten seasons, he averaged 224 hits per season.

    In 2004, he had 262 hits. That broke the all-time record for hits in a season (257) held previously by George Sisler since 1920.

    This season – at age 42 – he is hitting .349 in his first 58 games.

    Oh, by the way, he is an outstanding defensive outfielder; and even at age 42, a runner takes a risk challenging his arm.

Just because Ichiro is in the midst of doing something outstanding and we get to see it now does not mean that what Pete Rose did a few decades ago should be – or needs to be – degraded in some way. This is exactly the reason I do not like arguments about “the greatest of all time”. In order to make points in favor of one player or one team as the “greatest of all time” one has to find fault with some other player or team to undermine their claim to “the top spot”.

Pete Rose and Ichiro are both great hitters; there is no need to find reasons to denigrate either one. Michael Jordan and LeBron James are both great players; there is no need to find reasons to denigrate either one. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem are all great centers; there is no need to denigrate any of them. John Elway, Joe Montana and Tom Brady are all great QBs; there is no need to denigrate any of them – or to try to justify why John Unitas is not on the list I just provided.

Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week and it demonstrates what I mean about downplaying the achievements of others in order to prop up a claim to greatness:

“Throwing shade: The manner in which Ichiro and Rose moved to the top of the hit list – playing small ball and hitting ’em where they ain’t – recalls what Mickey Mantle said when Rose broke Ty Cobb’s record: ‘If I’d a hit that many singles, I’d a wore a dress.’”

Meanwhile, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times ran the numbers and arrived at this conclusion last week:

“Entering play Friday, Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki — just 21 hits shy of 3,000 — could go 0 for his next 448 and still be a career .300 hitter.”

Whatever …

Last week, I mentioned that the Detroit Lions will add sideline cheerleaders to their “entertainment experience” starting this season. If I have counted correctly, that means there are only 6 of the 32 NFL teams who do not have cheerleaders.

    The Bears, Browns, Giants, Packers and Steelers do not have cheerleaders and never have.

    The Bills do not have cheerleaders now but had a cheerleading squad from the time the team came into existence (1960) until 2014. Several former members of the squad sued the Bills claiming they were not paid for time spent on the job. The Bills responded by suspending operations/cutting ties with the cheerleading squad.

    Then again, the Bills do have Rex Ryan as their coach and many of his pronouncements about the team and its prospects can be considered cheerleading.

Finally, here is Brad Dickson’s summation of the recently concluded Belmont Stakes in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Heavy favorite Exaggerator finished 11th at the Belmont Stakes. However, he told everyone he was fifth.”

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

The Cavaliers Are NBA Champions

Now that we know that the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship, can we put to rest how this one game and this one series affects the “grand scheme of things” in the history of basketball?

    This series does not “validate LeBron James” as the greatest NBA player of all time. He is obviously one of the best players ever; that was evident before this series began and it remains the same now that it is over.

    This series does not “validate” all of the statements from “old-time players” that the Warriors are a soft/jump-shooting team who only got lucky last year. The Warriors won 73 games and lost only 9 all season long; they are a great team.

    This series does not expose Stephen Curry as some kind of “fraudulent star”. His team lost to another team led by a great player. One team had to lose…

    However, most of all, the results of this series does justify putting an end to the hand-wringing columns about the downtrodden Cleveland fans yearning for a championship. They have one; we need not read any more pabulum about their “plight”.

One more note about the NBA playoffs in general … I have watched some of the early games in the College World Series on TV and would like to pose this rhetorical question.

    What is worse in 2016:

      The calling of balls and strikes in the College World Series – – or – –

      The officiating in the NBA Playoffs?

That would be a tough call to make, indeed.

With the playoffs over the NBA looks ahead to the draft later this week – I shall have something to say about that down the line – and then a short off-season where there will be consideration of rule changes for upcoming seasons. In general, I think Adam Silver is a good and positive force as the NBA Commissioner; he is a significant improvement over his predecessor, The Sultan of Smug. However, there are reports that he wants to make a change in the rules that I think is a really bad idea.

According to reports, Adam Silver wants to change the rulebook to eliminate the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy some teams use by fouling opposing players whose free throw percentage is around 50%. The Commish alleges that this strategy slows the game down (no argument there) and said slowdown is bad for TV (where the NBA derives the vast majority of its revenue). I note that The Commish only “alleges” this to be true since NBA Finals’ ratings were higher than ever this year and advertisers paid more to obtain ad slots on NBA telecasts this year than ever before. That data would seem to indicate that viewers are not tuning out nor are advertisers taking their dollars elsewhere

Basically, changing the rule here done to protect three players from embarrassment and to – nominally – shorten games in which their teams play. Those players are:

    Andre Drummond: Career free throw percentage of .380
    Dwight Howard: Career free throw percentage of .568
    DeAndre Jordan: Career free throw percentage of .421

In a sense, changing the rules here is a reward to these players for their ineptitude at one aspect of the game. If that becomes a basis for rule changes, I surely hope that The Commish did not watch any of the Sixers’ games last year because they had loads of players who demonstrated a high level of ineptitude at many levels of the game.

I can understand that the NBA changed the width of the free throw lane when Wilt Chamberlain was playing simply because he was so big, strong and agile that he turned some games into a dunking display. In that case, the rule change was done to increase competitive balance and to make it more difficult for a great player to dominate games. Here is what I mean by dominate:

    In 1961-62, Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game, played in 80 games and averaged 48.5 minutes per game.

    In the first 12 years of his career, he averaged 21.1 rebounds per game or higher.

At the same time, Wilt Chamberlain was a poor free throw shooter (career average was .511) and teams would often resort to fouling him intentionally. There was no hue and cry back then to change the rules to prevent that tactic. In fact, it was a strategy that made a lot of sense back then– as does the current strategy.

Here is the real solution to the “problem of slowing down the game” – if indeed such a “problem” exists:

    Make those guys work to learn to shoot foul shots.

How do you do that? Well, you do it through the power of the purse. If you want to change rules, penalize those players for poor free throw shooting in such a way that coaches will take them out of games and sit them on the bench in close games in the 4th quarter. That will diminish their value significantly the next time they are in free agency – and that will motivate them to spend lots of time with coaches in gyms practicing and learning to shoot free throws. Do not penalize a team for trying to exploit a weakness on their opponent; if you must “penalize” anyone or anything here, penalize the incompetence.

Finally, I ran across this last item somewhere but neglected to note where I found it so I cannot give credit to the originator:

    Q: Why doesn’t Pittsburgh have a pro basketball team?

    A: Because if they did, Philadelphia would want one too.

    BaDaBing! BadaBoom!!!

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

A New Twist On Daily Fantasy Sports

Sometime last Fall, the Nevada Gaming Commission issued a ruling that Daily Fantasy Sports (Draft Kings and FanDuel) classified as sports betting under Nevada law and that meant that the two companies needed to be licensed by the Gaming Commission. The two companies stopped taking wagers from Nevada residents – or as the companies would say they stopped allowing Nevada residents to play. I have seen nothing to indicate that the Gaming Commission has in fact licensed either of these entities and so I assume that Daily Fantasy Sports as represented by Draft Kings and FanDuel remains off-limits in Nevada.

However, the Gaming Commission is considering a proposal to allow people to bet on fantasy sports through the casinos. US Fantasy is a company that claims to have a system that allows for fantasy betting in a pari-mutuel environment. Please do not ask me for details here because it is not clear to me how all of this would work, but US Fantasy asserts that it could provide Nevada casinos with a “turnkey operation” soon after the receipt of an approval from the Gaming Commission.

There is also something in Nevada called the Nevada Governor’s Gaming Policy Committee. This body is comprised of state legislators, present and former members of the Gaming Commission and “industry leaders” from the gaming industry. That Committee is solidly in favor of adding fantasy sports betting to the menu of offerings in Nevada but they have made it clear in previous statements that they do consider fantasy sports to be gambling and therefore should be subject to regulation to protect the public.

Here is a link to an article from about a week ago that will give you an idea where all of this is now and where it might be heading. One of the things I find interesting here is that in addition to maintaining that Daily Fantasy Sports is not gambling, the folks at FanDuel and Draft Kings have also said that regulations would hinder innovation in that industry. Well, while they have been standing still and fighting “regulation” around the country, it would seem to me that US Fantasy has done a bit of innovating on its own and just may elbow its way into the mix as a competitor in the Daily Fantasy Sports wagering “industry”.

Aaron Hernandez is serving a life sentence as a result of his conviction on charges of murdering Odin Lloyd. Nonetheless, he still faces a double murder charge in a separate incident. He must not have been fully satisfied with his previous representation because he hired a new attorney recently. He hired the man who defended Casey Anthony in her trial involving the death of her 2-year old daughter. Anthony was convicted on charges of lying to the police but was acquitted on the murder charge. Her acquittal at trial determines the fact that she is not guilty of the crime; her status in the court of public opinion is very different; I would estimate that she finds herself somewhere between “Vile Hominid” and “Loathsome Creature” on the social spectrum.

I only mention Casey Anthony here because Aaron Hernandez hired the lawyer who got her off those murder charges to represent him in his double-murder trial. The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees anyone charged with a crime the right to “… the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” One consequence of that phrase is that some attorney somewhere has to assist Aaron Henderson in that case just as someone had to assist Casey Anthony in hers.

Let me now say something that will clearly disqualify me from ever serving on any jury in any matter involving Aaron Hernandez – – and/or Casey Anthony for that matter.

    I do not think there has been enough soap manufactured in the history of mankind to wash off the sleaze and the slime one would obtain from “assisting in the defence” of Aaron Hernandez.

Back in the 50s and 60s, Mao Zedong declared the Chinese Great Leap Forward. The idea was to change China rapidly from an agrarian subsistence economy to a more industrialized socialist economy that would be part of the international trade picture. I am not here to provide history lessons or economic analyses but let me just say that it did not work even a little bit. I mention this because it seems to me as if the Detroit Lions have just taken the Great Leap Sideways. The Lions have made a decision to do something different from anything they have done before – – and I doubt that it matters a whit.

    The Detroit Lions – for the first time in franchise history – will have sideline cheerleaders.

When I read that, this is exactly what I typed on my clipboard:


Naturally, such a “momentous” change requires a statement from team execs to put all of this in perspective. Lions’ team president, Ron Wood, stepped up to that responsibility with this pabulum:

“The Ford Family is unwavering in their commitment to improving the Detroit Lions fan experience on and off the field … After thorough consideration and receiving input from our fans through season ticket member surveys and focus groups, we believe that this is an opportunity to elevate our game day entertainment.”

If the Lions want to elevate the game day entertainment, they might start by improving on the team record since 2000. Cumulatively that would be 87-169; that means the Lions only win 34% of the time in this millennium. Forget the cheerleaders; I do not need focus groups to tell me that Detroit fans would prefer better teams on the field.

Finally, Greg Cote had these two comments in the Miami Herald recently. They will tell you all you really need to know about these topics:

“Florida Gators are renaming their football field as ‘Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.’ Not wordy enough. Throw in a ‘Ball Coach’ reference, too.”

And …

“Will Power won last week’s IndyCar race. Who was second? Dee Termination?”

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