The Las Vegas Black Knights …

It surely looks as if the NHL will approve an expansion team in Las Vegas at their next league meeting later this month. The cheering has begun in Sin City and pundits around the country – and in Canada too – are starting to take stock of what this might mean. Let me stipulate that my knowledge of hockey is about an eighth of an inch deep but I do have some questions about this decision which will lead me to pay attention to the fate of the Las Vegas Black Knights (that is the rumored team name) in the coming years:

    1. There are about a half-dozen NHL teams in the so-called “Sun Belt”; there are seven teams in Canada. If the league looks at those revenue streams individually, I strongly suspect that the seven Canadian teams – none of which made the playoffs this year – all dominate the “Sun Belt” teams. I have long been an advocate for a pro sports franchise in Las Vegas, but the fact of the matter is that Las Vegas is a “Sun Belt” venue.

    2. The question for any expansion franchise is this:

      Can it build a loyal fanbase?

    The Black Knights claim to have more than 14,000 pledges for season tickets in hand. Their arena will seat 17,000 for hockey so even before the team formally exists, the arena is going to be about 82% full. Sounds good … Now the question morphs into something a bit different:

      Is this wave of support sustainable? Is it based on the novelty of the NHL coming to Las Vegas or is there a core fanbase there for the long haul?

    3. The Black Knights will be the 31st franchise in the NHL. Odd numbers for teams in a league are complicating factors. I would not want to be the guy who has to figure out how to schedule 31 teams for a season if there is a mandate that each team plays a balanced schedule. My intuition says that is not going to work. Ergo:

      What does this franchise portend for the future NHL?

It would seem to me that finding a 32nd venue for a team would make life easier for the NHL. It would also seem to me that they should “follow the money” and put that new team in Canada. I am nowhere near conversant enough with Canadian economics and society to proclaim where the best place for a new NHL team might be, but here are cities that come to mind just based on travels in Canada:

    Halifax: Population about 350K but geographically “inconvenient”.
    Quebec City: Population about 500K but a team failed there in the past.
    Regina: Convenient location but population is much smaller here
    Saskatoon: Convenient location but population is smaller here.

Then there is always the option to put a team in “Southern Ontario” where there are sizeable population centers but there is also the presence of teams in Toronto, Detroit and Ottawa. Nonetheless, the municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton, London and Hamilton might be considered.

The Black Knights would begin play in the 2017/18 season. I hope it succeeds as a franchise because it might open the way to put the NFL and/or the NBA in Las Vegas too.

In my grazing around the Internet to find topics to rant on, I ran across two things related to the Olympics. The first had to do with the games in Rio and how spending on the athletic venues and on security have left some of the poverty areas there in really bad shape. The slums in Rio are called the favelas; if you do a “Google Images” search on “Rio favelas” you can see some pretty grim living conditions for huge numbers of people in extremely overcrowded conditions. Then do a “Google Images” search for “Rio de Janeiro Olympic venues”. If you flip from one to the other and recognize what might have been done with the billions of dollars that were spent on glitzy sports stadiums and on bribes and on corruption and on security, you will want to go and wash the hand that moved the mouse and clicked on the links to give you those images.

The other item related to the Olympics is depressing because of its silliness. The IOC is poised to approve a package of 5 new sports for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The Executive Board of the IOC in making these recommendations to the committee as a whole said that approving it would be the “most comprehensive evolution of the Olympics in modern history”. Given that description, one might expect some momentous recommendations here. You make the call:

    Karate: OK, that is a martial art; it fits with the idea of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”; it has its origins in Okinawa which is part of Japan. No problem here …

    Baseball/Softball: OK, that is a popular sport in Japan which is the host country but haven’t the Olympics been there before? “Evolution” implies a movement in the forward direction and this seems to be a movement back to the past

    Skateboarding: Oh swell, another sport with judges handing out numerical scores to make it appear as if one skateboarder is better than the other one.

    Surfing: Seriously, now … “Most comprehensive evolution…” You cannot be serious … [/ John McEnroe]

    Sports Climbing: Now they are just making stuff up, right?

Oh, just wait… At some time in the future, they may expand this list to include “Synchronized Surfing” and “Team Sports Climbing”. I can’t wait.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times possibly foreshadowing yet another Olympic sport in the future:

“Eighteen two-man teams — wielding shovels, rakes and pick-axes — convened in plot 37A of a cemetery in Debrecen, Hungary, to take part in the national grave-digging contest.

“The winning team of Laszlo Toth and Janos Racz needed less than 34 minutes to card the day’s first 6-under.”

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

The Tail Wags The Dog

In far too many circumstances, we see examples of the tail (big time athletics particularly football) wagging the dog (a university nominally in place to provide educational opportunities). The late Dr. Myles Brand for whom I had little regard as the head of the NCAA said that it was time for the university presidents to reclaim authority at their institutions from athletic directors and coaches. Let me just say that has not happened yet.

Yesterday, reported that the University of Tennessee has cancelled classes and will close most of the campus offices on Thursday September 1 because that is the date of the opening football game of the season against Appalachian State. According to an e-mail from the school, they will add a day to the end of the semester to “keep the number of days in the academic calendar consistent”. They did not say “consistent” with whatever but I will assume they mean consistent with however long a semester has been at Tennessee recently.

Of course, the reason given is that there will be traffic congestion and parking issues on campus for that weeknight game and canceling classes will somehow make it easier for people to get in and out of the parking lot at the football venue in mid-day to begin their “preparations” for the game. For the record, I found 11 college football games that will be played on Thursday 1 September all of which will start between 7:00PM and 9:00 PM and none of the home teams decided they needed to cancel classes to ease traffic congestion on that day. Here is a link to that list. Oh by the way, there are lots of games scheduled on weeknights on plenty of campuses around the country this year. What is the OVER/UNDER on the number of schools that will cancel classes and close the campus offices on the day of the game for traffic reasons?

In the wake of the Baylor football mess – and that story is not yet concluded as there are now reports that some high rollers at Baylor want Coach Art Briles back next year after serving only a 1-year suspension – many folks have called for reforms to athletics and athletic departments. Only a fool would try to argue that the status quo is the best that it could possibly be. Some folks have called for a “College Football Czar” or College Football Commissioner” to set things right. Really? Let me toss out the names Roger Goodell, Bud Selig, David Stern etc. Are you trying to tell me that those men have handled disciplinary matters and scandalous behaviors in a model fashion? The existence of a “Commish” is not a panacea.

What we really need is an outbreak of common sense and common decency. In 2016, that is about as likely as finding a unicorn but that is what we need. Let me give you one example:

    The SEC – and the PAC-12 – to their credit have rules in place that forbid an athlete to transfer into any school there if that athlete left behind “serious misconduct issues” at his/her previous school. That is a positive step; there is no doubt about that. I will assume that as time progresses, there will be constantly improving levels of reporting of such incidents and more vigilant investigations by member schools to uncover any such incidents of “serious misconduct.” Kudos to the SEC and the PAC-12 here. Except …

      Mississippi State – an SEC school – just admitted as a freshman a top-shelf football recruit who punched a woman sometime before he enrolled. That was OK with the school and with the conference because he was not a transfer student and therefore was not covered under the existing rule. Puhleeez …

That is what I like to call a distinction without a difference. A football athlete who punches a woman has been involved in something akin to “serious misconduct”. If that “serious misconduct” happens at another college, then the perp cannot transfer to Mississippi State; if that “serious misconduct” happens at Mississippi State, the school will part company with him; however, if it happens while the perp is a “free agent” then – – – it’s all good.

If we had an outbreak of common sense and/or common decency, however…

One step in the right direction would be to institute the following restriction at every college in the country that participates in intercollegiate athletics at any level:

    No assistant coach, coach, factotum in the athletic department or athletic director should ever be part of the process that investigates allegations of player misconduct nor should any of those folks be any part of the decision process to mete out discipline to an athlete when an investigation turns up evidence of misconduct. Period. No exceptions.

If any of those folks are involved in any of these processes, you have built in a conflict of interest situation that cannot help the process come to a fair, reasonable and logical conclusion. If the NCAA had the ability to do anything akin to organizational introspection, they might come to realize that they have a principle that underlies many of the eligibility rules in their tome of a rule book. That principle is:

    No athlete should have access to benefits or privileges that are not available to all students at a member institution. This is a foundation element to the ideal of the “student-athlete”.

Well, that ought to mean that an athlete ought not have access to the benefit of an athletic director or a coach of his being part of any disciplinary processes that involve him when that benefit would not be available to any random student on campus.

The late Dr. Myles Brand was a university president before he took over as NCAA major domo. He wanted the university presidents to assert their authorities over coaches and athletic directors. It did not happen then and it surely is not happening now. In 2016, university presidents agree that it is OK to cancel classes because football season is about to begin. The tail continues to wag the dog.

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

TV Time …

Last night, I watched the maiden voyage of FS1’s new program, Speak For Yourself, hosted by Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock. It was a good program; it has plenty of potential; it also had a few rough edges. In terms of its competition in the time slot – 6:00PM ET – there is not a big threat out there. In the sports domain, ESPN is running SportsCenter at that time and SportsCenter is eminently missable because you can see it over and over again almost any hour of the day on one of the ESPN channels. Here is what I liked about Speak for Yourself last night:

    When people disagreed with one another, they did not shout at or over one another.

    The positions taken by the participants were rational and were explained clearly.

    Everyone with a speaking role was intelligent and articulate.

Here is what I think the program mavens at FS1 Need to work on with regard to Speak For Yourself:

    I wonder if the program would be better suited to a half-hour time format as opposed to the current 1-hour format. Last night, they had the NBA Finals and the Draymond Green suspension to float the discussions. I wonder if they can fill an hour during some of the “sports droughts” that happen at various times of the year.

    The show can exist and can flourish even if there are some topics where neither host injects controversial opinions into the discussion. I had the idea that they were stretching some points to make sure there was something a bit outlandish in each discussion. Forcing that kind of stuff can create a bad environment for the show – – see ESPN’s First Take as Exhibit A.

    Jason Whitlock should not wear a hat on the show. He is indoors; you are supposed to take your hat off indoors.

Enough television reviewing … Yesterday, I happened to have a conversation with a man who does not read these rants because he is not a sports fan. Nonetheless, he knows that I write them on a regular basis and he asked me what I had written about Brock Turner – the Stanford swimmer who infamously got a light sentence from a judge in a sexual assault case. I told him I had not written anything on the matter and he was surprised because in his mind that was a major happening that touched on the sports world. So, after I got home, I thought about what he said and here is why I had not written about it in the past:

    1. The story was extensively reported and there are not a lot of nuances in it. This is not a “he said/she said” matter; the facts are no longer in doubt as a result of a trial in a court. There was a sexual assault and Turner was the perpetrator.

    2. According to reports, under California law, the judge has the leeway to apply leniency to sentencing in cases of this type. If those reports are accurate, then the judge made his decision and that is what he gets paid to do. You can agree with it or disagree with it, but you should not demonize the judge; he did what the law allows him to do.

    3. You can criticize the self-serving letter that Turner’s father wrote to the judge seeking leniency in this matter. At the same time, I wonder how many parents would not have done essentially the same thing in the same circumstances. You can also look at that letter to the judge as one more foundation piece in an edifice that surrounds Brock Turner with a sense of entitlement. If you do that, I would probably agree with you.

    4. The victim also wrote a letter to the judge regarding the sentencing and she – not surprisingly – did not seek any leniency in the matter. That long letter was read verbatim on television by a reporter. That was a sensational TV moment but I wonder if having that letter read on TV – and then again replaying it a jillion times on the Internet – is helping the victim to heal from her suffering. I hope it did; I wish I were more confident that it did.

Damn! I circled back to television reviewing … OK, I have one more TV-related item on my clipboard this morning so let me get it out of the way. I found this in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score, yesterday. Too bad we don’t do TV Bloopers anymore; this would be a good one:

“Here’s what Harold Reynolds, an analyst for the MLB Network, offered up when outfielder Kyle Lewis was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the free-agent draft on Thursday: ‘He’s 20 years old. That’s what stands out. Most people are 21 at that age.’ . . . You can’t make up stuff like that.”

About a week ago, Madison Bumgarner said that he would like to participate in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. Reporters ran with that and lots of people chimed in saying he should do it; someone actually suggested having two different Home Run Derbies – one for pitchers and one for position players. Giant’s manager Bruce Bochy let it be known that he did not want his ace pitcher involved in any such nonsense.

Bochy is right. Rather than TWO Home Run Derbies, what we really need is ZERO Home Run Derbies. The idea has run its course; it was fun while it lasted. It has become a waste of oxygen; it is time to put it six feet under.

Finally, here is an observation regarding fan behavior from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Rory McIlroy was almost hit by a golf ball thrown from the gallery. You look at this incident, drunk NFL fans, NBA fans tossing debris on courts, baseball fans running on the field – the best behaved people in sports now follow the WWE.”

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

RIP Gordie Howe …

Gordie Howe passed away last Friday at the age of 88. He is known as “Mr. Hockey” and his career spanned 1946 – 1980. In his final NHL season, he was 52 years old and in that season he scored 15 goals and had 26 assists in 80 games. Gordie Howe was also a tough guy; over his career he spent a total of 2084 minutes in the penalty box. His toughness led to the creation of something that came to be known as the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”:

    A goal and an assist and a fight in the same game.

Rest in peace, Gordie Howe.

Believe it or not; I want to talk about Deflatgate once again. The thing I want to say about the matter is that Roger Goodell and the NFL ought to find a way to settle this matter in a face-saving way for everyone and they need to do that now. The reason I say they need to do that now can be summed up in two words:

    Casey Martin

Recall that Casey Martin was a golfer who had a congenital problem with his leg such that while he could still play PGA quality golf, he could only do so if he rode in a cart; his legs could not take the walking of the course. Here is a summary of his dispute with the PGA:

    PGA rules say no carts; players have to walk.

    Martin asked for a waiver. The PGA said, “No.”

    Martin sued the PGA citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The PGA won at the US Court of Appeals level. The PGA could have settled for that and granted a one-time exemption to Martin at that point and secured legal precedent for themselves but did not.

    Martin took the case to the Supreme Court where the Justices ruled decisively – and properly in my mind – that Federal Law supersedes the rules of golf and the rules of the PGA.

    The PGA not only had to allow Martin to use a cart; it also now has a significant legal precedent hanging over its head with regard to the sacred “Rules of Golf”.

The NFL is where the PGA was with a win at the US Court of Appeals level. It has legal precedent to support the idea that the NFL Commissioner can indeed discipline players in the NFL as he chooses. If that stature is nearly as important to Roger Goodell as he says it is, then the last thing he ought to do is to risk losing it.

The worst thing that might happen to Tom Brady and the Patriots is that Brady will sit out 4 NFL games at some point in his career – assuming that he does not simply retire before that suspension can take effect. The likelihood that Goodell can add to the penalty is infinitesimal so the Commish is now sitting at the peak of victory in this matter. His powers have been sanctioned by Federal Courts and he can now bask in that glory. There is nothing more for him to gain here.

And that is exactly why he ought to find a way to make this whole matter go away. Suspending Tom Brady and/or punishing the Patriots ought not be nearly as important to Roger Goodell than the affirmation of his power of discipline. So, unless this has morphed into an ego-stroking situation for him, he should be the one leading a charge to settle the matter and to move on to whatever the next issue is to face the league.

Is this going to happen? Probably not. However, it would happen in a flash if I were the Commissioner…

Now I have 2 things to say about the NBA Finals:

    1. Draymond Green needs counseling. He got himself suspended from a Finals game. Ostensibly, the suspension is for a flagrant foul involving him punching LeBron James in the “man-zone”. However, that is NOT the reason he is suspended for this game. He is suspended for this game because he has accumulated a boatload of technical fouls and flagrant fouls – other times where one of his limbs found itself in contact with an opponent’s “man-zone”. The issue is one of simple self-control.

    2. Cavs’ coach Ty Lue said after Game 4 that LeBron James does not “get a fair whistle” and that the officials are not giving him the calls he deserves. If true, that would be precedent-setting for the NBA; star players have gotten nothing but deference from officials going back to the days when I began to watch the NBA. Moreover, I will say as a former basketball official and a neutral observer here that if officials called Lebron James for every offensive foul he commits by pushing off, James would never make it to the second quarter of an NBA game.

If you watch NBA games on network TV, you have certainly heard Mike Breen doing the play-by-play. I like Breen’s easy going way of doing a game; he gets excited when excitement is called for but he does not dominate the program. Katie Baker wrote a very interesting biographical piece on Breen for I commend it to your reading.

Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week. I can find no way to dispute his point:

“TV timeout: Saw a headline this week that read, ‘NBC Sports Network to present 330 hours of Rio programming this August.’ To most people, this may look like a simple promo. To me, it’s a mental health warning.”

Finally, consider carefully this point made by Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

Last month, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake released a list of wasteful and distasteful government expenditures.

Among the revelations was a $1 million grant, part or all of which went to learning what music monkeys like. Another $1 million helped study why yawning is contagious. If you want to know whether cheerleaders are more attractive as a group, $1.1 million should help the cause. And a $3.9 million grant funded research on what makes goldfish feel sexy.

All of which pale in comparison to the Houston Rockets spending $87 million to find out whether Dwight Howard can play.

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

A New NFL Rule For 2016…

The NFL – demonstrating once again that the acronym might stand for the No Fun League – has a new wrinkle in the rule book for the 2016 season. The basis for the rule change goes back to a game last year when Green Bay Packers’ WR, James Jones, wore a green hoodie under his jersey and had the hood sticking out over the back of his jersey when he was on the field wearing his helmet. Jones said that the reason he did that was because it was cold and he wanted to keep warm. For the record, there is meteorological evidence that it does indeed get cold in the late Fall and early Winter in Green Bay Wisconsin.

That solution to the cold will be against the rules as of this year and the reason is simple, incontrovertible – and at the same time sort of silly. Hoodies under jerseys cannot be worn because the hood obscures – at least partially – the nameplate on the back of the player’s uniform. As I said, “simple” and “incontrovertible”. Also “silly”. Then again, it is a part of the league’s “uniform policy” meaning that “silly” is a standard feature.

Fear not. The uniform rule only applies to players. Bill Belichick will still be allowed to dress like a homeless vagrant on the sidelines so long as there is a Patriots’ logo on the hoodie he sports…

To read about some of the other rulebook tweaks the NFL has put in place for the upcoming season that have nothing to do with the rules of play, check them out here.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times dug up this tidbit about an athletic “dress code” and it makes the NFL policy look reasonable:

“The Iran soccer federation’s ‘morality committee’ has suspended national-team goalkeeper Sosha Makani for six months for wearing inappropriate off-field attire — specifically, loud yellow pants reminiscent of SpongeBob SquarePants.

“And you thought the NFL fashion police were tough?”

Maria Sharapova has been suspended by the tennis mavens for 2 years for using a banned substance and failing a drug test. She has claimed that she took it under doctor’s orders for a heart condition and that she had been taking it for many years on that basis. She also claimed that she was unaware that the drug had been added to the “no-no list” and therefore she continued with what was her medical regimen. Who knows if any or all of that is true?

The original recommendation was for her to serve a 4-year banishment but the tribunal that heard her appeal reduced it to a 2-year hiatus. This will be a tough thing for her to come back from; she will be 31 when her suspension ends; for most tennis players, that can be the twilight of the career.

I do not follow tennis assiduously and – as I have stated many times before – I do not read minds. Nevertheless, I wonder if some small part of the lengthy banishment here is a way for the tennis mavens to demonstrate that they are going to “be tough” on Russian athletes who test positive for PEDs/banned substances. The stories about Russian athletes doping for the Winter Games in 2014 and for other recent international competitions are myriad. Maybe this is a grandstand play on the part of International Tennis Federation?

Once again, let me turn to Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times for a summary of the Maria Sharapova situation:

“Tennis grunt queen Maria Sharapova has been suspended two years for using a banned substance.

“Here’s guessing she didn’t take the news quietly.”

With all the news of on-air talent “defecting” from ESPN – or being asked to leave – and rumors of retirements, there is one broadcasting icon at the network who is not going anywhere. Brent Musburger has signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN and will continue to call SEC football games on the SEC Network with Jesse Palmer as the color analyst. In addition, Musburger will continue to do college basketball games after the football season is over.

Musburger turned 77 a few weeks ago and he started his broadcasting career with CBS Radio in 1968. He stayed with CBS until 1990 when a change in management there found him “expendable”; he signed on with ESPN in 1990 and has been there ever since. I have not read any reports on how long the contract extension is.

Speaking obliquely about college football, there was news recently that the Sun Belt Conference will hold a Conference Championship Game starting in 2018. If you give me a couple of weeks to think about it, I may come up with something equally inconsequential as the determination of the Sun Belt Champion. The conference itself is in a state of turmoil at the moment; let me review the bidding:

    Two members (Idaho and New Mexico State) are “football-only members” and they are being kicked out of the conference at the end of the 2017 season.

    Coastal Carolina – graduating from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A – will join the conference in 2018.

If you Google “Sun Belt Conference”, you find that there are no powerhouse programs there. In fact, what you will find are a lot of teams that serve as Homecoming Opponents for powerhouse programs.

I pay attention to college football but I have to admit that I had no idea who the Sun Belt Champion was last year – or the year before that. So I went and looked. My guess is that you too were not aware that:

    Arkansas State has won or shared the conference title 4 times in the last 5 years.

    Georgia State was the conference champion in the year that Arkansas State was not.

Finally, let me close with one more comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Federal agents set up a fake university — the University of Northern New Jersey — to break up a ring that sold more than 1,000 bogus non-immigrant student visas.

“The ruse was so convincing, insiders say, that eight SEC teams already had them on next season’s nonconference football schedule.”

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

Strange Doings Today …

Well, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned things around last night. They dominated the Warriors about as thoroughly as the Warriors had dominated them in the first two games. Perhaps an interesting final series is on the menu …

Until yesterday, I believed that everyone over the age of 12 realized the professional wrestling was a fantasy and not actual carnage and brutality. Then I read a report about a woman in Georgia who was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after she pulled a loaded gun and pointed it at the “bad guy” in a match. Yes, she did that…

This was a match put on by the American Wrestling Federation between Paul Lee (the bad guy) and Iron Mann (the good guy). At one point in the match Lee had managed to tie Iron Mann up and was hitting Iron Mann with a chair. The lady in the audience had exchanged words with the bad guy during the match but at that point she had had all she could take. She entered the ring with a knife and cut Iron Mann free and pointed the loaded gun at Lee. According to reports, there was a round in the chamber and the safety was off.

As things evolved – before the gendarmes arrived and restored a semblance of order – the woman also pointed the gun at the “commissioner” of the American Wrestling Federation in attendance. The fact that the commissioner was identified as “Robbie Rude” would lead me to suspect that he was part of plot for the evening that wound up with Iron Mann tied up and taking chair shots.

Lest you think I am making this up – or embellishing the story – you can check out the newspaper report of the incident here.

OK, that was outrageous enough and on a normal day, it would be the only outrageous item to report. However, there is another report that came out yesterday in the Seattle Times that scores highly on the Scurrilous Scale. As I go through the explanation of what happened here, please do not forget that this is a HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PROGRAM. This is not big time college football or professional football where revenue streams amounting to tens of millions of dollars are involved.

Bellevue High School is in a northern suburb of Seattle and the football team has been a powerhouse over recent years; it has been the state champion 11 times in the past 15 years. It now faces a 4-year ban on any postseason play on the basis of an investigation that uncovered “significant and long-standing violations”. Here are some of the issues:

    Families provided false addresses to have players eligible to play for that school and that team.

    Some players were “directed” to an alternative school where they took courses that guaranteed them good grades so they could stay eligible. One of the players told investigators that a teacher provided him with the answers to tests and that the alternative school was “day care” for the players.

    The head coach gave cash – collected from team boosters – to the family of at least one player.

Remember, this is HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

The school has the right to an appeal; it is not clear to me at the moment if they will do that. Here is a link to the report in the Seattle Times about this matter and in that report you can find the full investigative report. It is more than 60 pages long; I did not read all of it but the part that I did read indicates that the investigators were competent and dedicated to their task. I suggest you read the summary report in the Seattle Times if you do not have the time or the stomach to read the full investigative report.

The fact of corruption and payoffs related to FIFA is not mysterious. While I was on hiatus in the UK, I read a report in the Sunday Telegraph that shows the level of concern that has been generated about that. We saw the defrocking of Sepp Blatter and then we had the name of his successor show up in the “Panama Papers”. FIFA has not cornered the market on sleaze but they do have a large inventory of it.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, England could be forbidden to host future World Cup Tournaments, European Championships and/or Champions League Finals if the English Football Association (FA) “continues to resist reform”. The way that would be enforced is that the government would refuse to sanction the FA hosting action. The English government has a position titled Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; that is far too cumbersome for newspapers and so it is known there as the Culture Secretary. The current incumbent is a Member of Parliament, John Whittingdale, and he said that the FA would stop getting the £30M it receives from the government every 4 years if the FA did not reform its governance structure.

I mentioned that the English government was poised to block any move by the FA to host a major soccer event. The way they can do that is to refuse to allow various lucrative tax breaks that are important conditions that FIFA or UEFA demand as part of the deal to place those events in the selected countries. Evidently, the government has been pushing the FA for reforms for a while now. Back in 2005, the FA received a report that it commissioned from Lord Burns recommending wide-ranging reforms and changes to the FA structure and governance. In the intervening years, the members and the governors of the FA have resisted all attempts to implement any changes.

Finally, since I mentioned a serious report in the Seattle Times above, let me close with a not so serious observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Ex-Washington QB Robert Griffin III’s mansion in Aldie, Va., is up for sale, with an asking price of $2.75 million.

In keeping with the theme, it’s actually $3 million, but you get a quarter back.

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

Speak For Yourself?

According to a report in the Washington Post, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock are going to team up on FS1 to do a “debate show” akin to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. The working title for the new show is Speak for Yourself and it is supposed to hit the air sometime this month.

The time slot for the new show was not mentioned but I would think that FS1 would find a way not to put its new show up against Pardon the Interruption directly. According to ratings, PTI is ESPN’s most popular program other than game telecasts. Moreover, Colin Cowherd does a radio/TV simulcast program for FOX from noon to 3:00 PM every weekday and the reports are that he will continue to do that program. That being the case, it would seem logical that the new program would best start several hours after the radio program ended in order to allow for prep time with Whitlock for the program.

Interestingly, both Cowherd and Whitlock used to work for ESPN and both of them left recently “under a cloud”. Cowherd made some remarks on his ESPN program that many folks took as derogatory toward baseball players from the Dominican Republic. Whitlock was supposed to be the guy in charge of ESPN’s site but problems arose in that enterprise supposedly related to Whitlock’s managerial style. All of that is water under the bridge; these two commentators will try to re-create the style that makes PTI so successful. [Aside: It has been on the air for 15 years now.]

I will tune in to sample the program once it is on the air. I realize that some folks will tune in to see these two innately polarizing figures collide with one another. Both of these guys have loyal followers/acolytes and both of them have dedicated antagonists who would find fault with either one even if he announced that he had a cure for cancer. In my case, the reason I want to tune in is that both Cowherd and Whitlock are interesting figures for a very simple reason:

    Both of them make me think about events in the sports world beyond the initial reaction that is governed by emotion. Often, they can each provide a viewpoint that reminds me that thinking is best done by one’s brain and not by one’s glands.

Having said that, the bar for success here is rather high. The reason PTI is so entertaining is that there is a long-standing and genuine friendship between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon going back to their days as columnists at the Washington Post for about 35 years. That friendship comes through in the midst of their “debates” and it is noticeably absent when either of them is replaced on the program by some other ESPN figure. The challenge for Cowherd and Whitlock will be to create a similar atmosphere such that their “debates” do not appear to be contrived.

You probably read reports from last weekend that Broncos’ CB, Aqib Talib, had been shot in the leg outside a nightclub in Dallas and had been taken to a hospital. As of this morning, the Dallas police do not have a suspect in custody in the case and there are reports that Talib has not been particularly helpful. According to a TV station in Dallas, Talib told the police that he was too drunk to recall any details of the incident and that he was shot in a park and not outside a nightclub. Whatever…

    [Aside: Let us hope that he had a designated driver with him or was sober enough to call a cab for his transportation home that night…]

Surrounding all of this fluff are some hints that Talib may have shot himself in the leg. If that is true, that would put him in an exclusive NFL club joining Plaxico Burress in the Self-Inflicted Wound Society. The Dallas TV station also reported that the bullet took “an interesting path”; given that the venue is Dallas, the idea of a bullet taking an “interesting path” is hauntingly familiar. Supposedly, this bullet entered the rear of Talib’s thigh and exited through his calf. He has been released from the hospital and is expected to recover fully; this is not going to be career threatening or life threatening. However, the matter is not yet ready to conclude…

Also over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox acquired pitcher, James Shields, from the Padres in exchange for two minor league prospects. The White Sox started the season like gangbusters and were on pace to win more than 100 games this season for a while there. The recent weeks have not been nearly as kind to Sox fans; as of this morning, the team is at .500 and they sit in 4th place in the AL Central. The reason they are not in 5th place is that the Twins have already staked their claim on that position in the standings for 2016.

The Sox can use help in the rotation. Mat Latos started the season looking as if he would contend for the Cy Young Award; he allowed only 2 earned runs in his first 4 starts. However, he has regressed to the mean and has an ERA of 4.62 as of this morning. Miguel Gonzales has only pitched 34.1 innings in 7 games this year; that puts the bullpen for the Sox in play and the fact is that they do not have a great bullpen. The addition of Shields should help because he is an “innings eater”. Since 2007, he has thrown more than 202 innings in every season and he carries a career ERA of 3.76.

There is an interesting angle to the trade beyond the help the Sox hope to get from it. One of the minor league players they gave to the Padres is Fernando Tatis, Jr. His father is also named Fernando Tatis, Jr. and “Father” Fernando holds a distinction in baseball history. “Father” Fernando did something that I suspect will never happen again.

    In 1989, playing for the Cardinals, “Father” Fernando hit two grand slam homeruns in the same inning off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park.

    “Father” Fernando had an 11-year career in MLB as a shortstop hitting .265 with a career OPS of .785. More than likely, the Padres hope that “Son” Fernando can duplicate “Father” Fernando’s accomplishments.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is engaged to Kate Upton. Just when you think a guy who’s paid millions of dollars to work every five days couldn’t get luckier.”

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

The NBA Finals So Far…

The NBA Finals are underway and the Warriors have dominated the first two games; actually, “dominated” is an understatement. From what I have seen – I saw the first game after the fact because of a social engagement – the Cavaliers look absolutely overmatched in this series. It is hard to understand how that can be given how good the Cavs have looked during most of the regular season and in the earlier rounds of these playoffs. Nonetheless, that has been the case.

The Cavaliers have one “all-time great” player and two “really, really good players” as the core of the team. Normally, that makes a team competitive with anyone else in the league but the Cavaliers have been anything but threatening in either Game 1 or Game 2. The Cavs cruised to having the best record in the NBA East this year and swept two of their previous playoff opponents. Now they look only marginally better than the Knicks.

To make things worse, the Warriors are dominating the series without getting any super-human production from either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. They are, however, getting super-human production from Draymond Green (the MVP of Games 1 and 2 without much doubt) and from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Let me give you a couple of cumulative stats to demonstrate what I mean by “domination”:

    Warriors 55 assists – – Cavs 32 assists

    Warriors’ points in the paint 104 – – Cavs’ 82

      Note: This is the area where the Warriors are supposed to be “vulnerable”.

    Cavs shooting from the floor is below 37% (60 for 163).

In Game 2, the Cavs tried to play up-tempo with the Warriors; whoever thought that was a good idea is living in a delusion. The Warriors have beaten the Cavs in their last 7 games now; that means the Cavs face two significant challenges:

    1. How are they going to win a couple of games to make this series look respectable?

    2. How are they going to find a way to blame this debacle on David Blatt?

The NBA gave the teams an extra day off between Game 2 and Game 3 so perhaps the Cavs should use that day to fly someone to Lourdes and back. There are probably good connecting flights through JFK Airport…

Notwithstanding all of the above, the line the morning for Game 3 of this series – to be played in Cleveland tomorrow night – is Warriors – 1. It will be interesting to see how much if any that line moves over the next 36 hours…

Changing the subject to the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, here is an item from the May 30 issue of Sports Illustrated:

    Forty-two (42) condoms per athlete will be available at the Rio Olympics. 450,000 condoms will be placed in the athlete villages – more than triple the number than at London Games in 2012.

    [Insert your own punchline here…]

News Flash! There has been a Keith Olbermann sighting. Evidently, he will be writing for; he has a piece there related to his interactions over the years with Muhammad Ali. I thought it was a good read; you can find it here.

You can find “listicles” on loads of websites with some variation on the theme:

    Which NFL teams have the worst QB situations?

I will resist any temptation to do anything like that until much closer to the NFL regular season when injury situations and starting QBs are known. However, I must say that I find two of the NFL QB situations more than a bit strange:

    The NY Jets impasse with Ryan Fitzpatrick: Look, it is not as if either party in this squabble has any other legitimate options. Fitzpatrick has said he will play on a 1-year contract for $12M; there are no reports out there indicating that any other NFL team has made him an offer anywhere in the neighborhood of that number. On the other hand, the Jets have 3 QBs on the roster and none of them should get fans’ juices flowing:

      Geno Smith: Getting sucker-punched last year thereby opening the door for Fitzpatrick to start was his greatest contribution to the Jets in his career.

      Bryce Petty: Has never seen the field in a real NFL game.

      Christian Hackenberg: Has never seen the field even in an NFL exhibition game.

    The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning retired; Brock Osweiler took a huge contract offer from the Texans. Currently on the roster:

      Mark Sanchez: Really? For all 16 games? Mark Sanchez?

      Trevor Siemian: In one game last year he attempted zero passes and ran the ball 1 time for minus-1 yard.

      Paxton Lynch: Just drafted this year, he probably has a bit of a learning curve moving up to the NFL from the American Athletic conference.

    Yes, I realize that the Broncos won with their dominating defense last year but even the greatly diminished Peyton Manning inspired more confidence than any of the trio above. Oh, and that dominating defense has been weakened to some extent by players signing elsewhere and by Aqib Talib getting shot in the leg in a barroom fight.

As I said, those QB situations look a tad off-center to me…

Finally, I found this item in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score, recently:

“Richmond, B.C., blogger TC Chong weighs in on the fight of the week: ‘Odor was handed an eight-game suspension for his part in the brawl with the Blue Jays. This will give him enough time to sign an endorsement contract with Hawaiian Punch. Not to be outdone, look for Bautista to sign a contract with Odor Eaters.’”

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

RIP Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali died last week. His passing was properly “above the fold” news on the front page as well as on the sports page in most US newspapers. There are celebrity/athletic/cultural icons whose passing is important news across multiple segments of our society. Ali was such an icon.

Many of the best writers of the day wrote a eulogy for Ali and/or memoirs of their interactions with him over the weekend. I will not even try to add anything to their words and their memories.

Rest in peace, Muhammad Ali…

In the beginning of May, the NY Yankees were in last place in the AL East. At that time, they were on pace to lose more than 100 games this season and no Yankees team had done that since 1912. As a reference point, William Howard Taft was the President in 1912.

The Yankees’ GM, Brian Cashman, was majorly displeased with the team record and the team performance at that point and he told the NY Times that there was just so long that one could put up with that sort of nonsense and at some point it had to stop. When I read about this a few weeks ago, I was not sure if this was some sort of “Cover Your Ass” maneuver on the part of Cashman as he sought to focus blame on the players and the manager for the un-Yankee-like performance to start the season. Or perhaps, this malaise was a coded message to the Yankees’ roster that any or all of them could be shipped out to “the hinterlands” of MLB if things did not get better.

I made a note to myself at the time I read the reports about this that perhaps Brian Cashman was getting ninth-dimensional communications from George Steinbrenner about doing something with the current Yankees’ roster – even if it meant trading away hugely over-paid players to other teams and having the Yankees eat a majority of the salary that the player would get with his new team.

That was then; this is now. In the intervening weeks, the Yankees have escaped the cellar in the AL East; at the moment, the Yankees are solidly ensconced in 4th place in the AL East which is made up of 5 teams. [Outside NYC people will note that they are precisely one-half game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, but that puts them in 4th place in the AL East and not 5th place.] However, the Yankees are the only team in that division who sports a sub-.500 record against the other teams in that division. For the record, that is not a good thing…

You can blame the Yankees’ players on the field for most – if not all – of this mess; the lack of performance is something the players need to own; the Yankees’ record to date is not a fundamental shortcoming of manager Joe Girardi. You could also – if you were cynical bastard – lay the blame at the feet of the GM who assembled the roster that manager Joe Girardi has to put out on the field every day. Here is how I see the Yankees’ problems.

In previous years, the Yankees behaved like – well, the Yankees – and signed god players who were well into their careers to huge contracts that spread out over long periods of time. When a team does that, the realistic expectation ought to be that the player will do well for the early and middle years of that contract but “underperform” in the later years as Father Time catches up with him. It appears to me that is the case with the 2016 NY Yankees; their opening day payroll was $225.9M; the team is performing like a bargain-basement squad. Consider:

    CC Sabathia: Signed in 2012 to a 5-year deal, he is making $25M this year. His record is 3-4 with a respectable 2.58 ERA. The problem is that he is not performing at the “$25M-level” at age 36. For the record, Sabathia has a vesting option in his contract that will guarantee him another $25M next year if he:

      1. does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury,

      2. does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or

      3. does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury.

    Mark Teixeira: Signed in 2009 to an 8-year contract that runs out at the end of this season, he is making $22.5M this year. For that, the Yankees are getting a guy who is hitting .180 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs in 48 games.

    Alex Rodriguez: His contract also runs through the end of the 2017 season. He is making $20M this year – plus incentives – and will make another $20M next year – plus incentives. A-Rod is 40 years old; he is hitting .211 so far this year in only 29 games. He has struck out 36 times and walked only 7 times.

    Brian McCann: Signed in 2014 to a 5-yeqar contract, McCann is making $17M this year and will do so through the end of the 2018 season. He is 32 years old and in 45 games this year he is hitting .220.

    Brett Gardner: Signed in 2015 to a contract that runs through the 2018 season, Gardner is making $13M this season. He is 32 years old and in 51 games this year he is hitting .237 with 5 HRs and 12 RBIs.

I am not trying to pick on those players; those are the stats and the salaries and I think it is fair to say that these 5 guys are underperforming their salary levels; in combination, these guys make $97.5M.

So, who created this situation? Was this Cashman’s doing to sign these guys to deals whereby they would all be here for “declining years” at the same time – and with contracts that would make them untradeable even if they did not have trade protection clauses? Or was this an “ownership” initiative?

Ultimately the fault lies with the players on the field. The manager, Joe Girardi in this case, might come in for some blame if he made bad in-game moves on a routine basis but he cannot be held responsible for the population of the roster. It will be interesting – at least to me – to see what the Yankees do with Carlos Beltran at the end of this season. Beltran is 39 years old now and is making $15M. Compared to the stats above, he is far closer to earning his money; he is hitting .269 and slugging .568. Might the Yankees be tempted to give him a 3-year deal?

Lest any Yankees’ fans think that I am picking on the team, the phenomenon of giving expensive long-term deals to players at points in the players’ careers where the final years would be “underperforming” the salary is not limited to the Yankees. Let me cite one other specific example to demonstrate that case.

    Ryan Howard (Phillies): Signed in 2012 to a contract that expires at the end of this season, Howard is making $25M this year. He is 36 years old and at the moment, he is on the bench much of the time because he is hitting .151 and slugging .336.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald got some mileage from a very reliable source – José Canseco’s Twitter feed:

“Jose Canseco tweeted that when a “yellow stone” park volcano blows it’ll destroy the continental U.S. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to get my scientific forecasts from people who know that ‘Yellowstone’ is one word.”

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

I Was Ahead Of My Time…

Back in the late 60’s, I was toiling away on research for my dissertation in a chem lab. There were moments of successful results mixed in with hours of tedium and lack of results and one of the things that a few of us grad students would do was to come up with ideas for a career that did not project to be a lifetime of that sort of laboratory plodding. I remember once coming up with the idea of starting a mutual fund – only it would not invest in stocks and bonds. I named my “fund” the Exacta Fund and its investment objectives would be to play exactas on horse races around the country and have the net asset value of the fund go up and down depending on the success from day to day. It did not seem to me to be such a radical departure from buying shares on the NYSE…

Of course it was all a fantasy and a way to deflect attention from our research travails – except now it appears as if something very much like the Exacta Fund is coming to reality. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal [where else?], Chris Connelly has founded Contrarian Investments LLC. It is a “sports betting entity” that became legal in Nevada last June. For the moment, Connelly only bets on pro football, college football, pro basketball and college basketball games.

There are now six such investment possibilities in Nevada. You can read about them and how this fits into the Nevada wagering industry here.

Anyone who has read these rants for any length of time knows that I think the Pro Bowl – and all other All-Star Games – are meaningless twaddle. Nevertheless, there is news regarding the Pro Bowl that deserves commentary.

    1. The Pro Bowl will revert to the format of AFC versus NFC in 2017. The idea of having Hall of Fame players choose up sides from the players who chose to show up for the game was supposed to increase interest in the game. It did not; the idea was stupid from the start; now the NFL is going back to the original format which is also stupid – but not as stupid.

    2. Starting in 2017, the home of the Pro Bowl will be Orlando, FL. Starting in the mid-70s the game was always in Honolulu – except for one time in Miami and one time in Glendale, Arizona. I have not been able to detect any cries of pain and angst from the good folks in Hawaii over “losing” this spectacle which indicates to me that they really don’t care all that much about the change of venue.

    3. Orlando is a perfect place to hold the Pro Bowl. It is city whose economy is driven by theme parks that deliver fantasy experiences to customers. The Pro Bowl will provide a fantasy football experience for anyone who buys a ticket and goes to the stadium for the game. It fits like a glove…

Last week, The Big Lead reported that Chris Berman would be leaving ESPN – retiring – at the end of the upcoming football season. Berman’s agent subsequently denied the report saying that Berman is too young to retire – he just turned 61 – and that Berman loves his job. Time will tell if the report was accurate or not but when I read the report it got me to thinking of some of the nicknames that Berman has given to athletes in his years on the air. Three that I remember and really enjoy are:

    Eric “Sleeping With” Bienemy
    Odibe “Young Again” McDowell
    Von “Purple” Hayes

Bill Simmons’ new website – The – has launched and it looks interesting. As with his previous venture,, the site features long-form articles on sports and entertainment. One of the early offerings is by Bryan Curtis under the headline “Meet Joe Buck”. I thought it was very well done and I commend it to your reading.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers and play their games in Appleton, WI. If you have never been to that part of the world, Appleton is about halfway between Green Bay and Oshkosh. The Timber Rattlers are worthy of mention here because of a few of their culinary offerings at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. [Seriously, that is the name of their ball park.] Should you find yourself in the neighborhood and in search of dinner, consider:

    The Meatlover’s Pizza Burger: Here is how you construct one of these. You take two pieces of pepperoni and sausage pizza; then, you stick a bacon cheeseburger between the two of them and eat it as a sandwich. For dessert, might I suggest 40 mg of Crestor…?

    Grilled Cheese Venom Cheeseburger: The ”bun” for this burger is comprised of two grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheeseburger between those two “bun components” also has four slices of pepperjack cheese, jalapenos and an optional shot or two of sriracha sauce. With all that cheese, you may not be regular until Halloween…

    Big Mother Funnel Burger: You guessed it. This bad boy features a bacon cheeseburger in a giant funnel cake – sprinkled with powdered sugar to be sure. I wonder if one should have a Bordeaux or a Burgundy with this concoction…

Finally, since I mentioned Contrarian Investments LLC and gambling entities above, let me close today with an observation from noted curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce:

“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.”

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