The College Football Playoff – – Reimagined

Last year, the folks who stage the College Football Playoff (CFP) had an idea. You could call it a “bold idea” or you could call it a “dumb idea” depending on the level of charity in your soul. They decided to play the semi-final games of the CFP on New Year’s Eve and said at the outset that they were hoping to create a new tradition in America with regard to how people would celebrate New Year’s Eve. Let me be charitable here and say that did not work very well.

I like college football as much as anyone and probably more than most. I had other plans for New Year’s Eve last year and so I set my VCR up to record the games and I watched them when I got home. Lots of other people went to New Year’s Eve parties and could only watch the game out of the corner of their eye and with the sound on mute. Still others were hammered beyond measure and would not have known they were watching a football game as opposed to driving a milk wagon. The result was that TV ratings were horrible – and TV ratings are critical to the CFP concept.

    At the core, the CFP was sold to the various football conferences as a way to rake in a ton of money from the TV deal that the CFP could demand. Without TV money as the underpinning, the BCS system would still be in place.

    Any serious drop in ratings has to be taken very seriously by the CFP mavens because continued low ratings will mean smaller TV dollars from advertisers and therefore smaller TV dollars from the networks to the schools.

The “bold idea” of changing the American tradition with regard to the celebration of New Year’s Eve is looking like a “dumb idea” for the moment. But give the CFP folks credit; they recognize that they have dealt a losing hand and they are looking to try to fix it. Here is the new idea:

    College football is associated with Saturday in the US. [Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain selling you games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights…] Thus, the default option will be to play the semi-final games on the Saturday before New Year’s Eve.

That sounds like an easy solution until you recognize that Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are exactly one week apart and that means the games could take place on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – and the CFP folks realize that is a non-starter.

In 2016, New Year’s Eve is a Saturday; playing the games on the Saturday before New Year’s Eve would put the games on Christmas Eve. That will not happen but the games will start an hour earlier than they did last year (3:00 PM and 7:00 PM EST) with the idea that this will fit better into the party schedule of many people. It is a move in the right direction – – but it probably ought to be moved back even earlier in the day since it is not a workday.

In 2017, New Year’s Eve is a Sunday and the CFP does not want to compete in a 3-way goat-rodeo with the NFL and New Year’s Eve parties. Next year, the game will be played on Saturday 30 December. And so it goes…

The CFP idea is a good idea. It may someday need to be expanded to 6-teams or 8-teams; if that time comes, we can deal with it then. What the CFP has to avoid is to damage itself with self-inflicted wounds. The New Years’ Eve scheduling idea was potentially a self-inflicted wound and the mavens in charge chose to move off their initial idea quickly. Take that as a good sign.

Moving up the ladder a step, the NY Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick finally reached a deal. It would seem from the outside that both sides got much of what they wanted after about 5 months or wrangling.

    The Jets did not want to be saddled with a big long term deal given that Fitzpatrick is 33 years old and that last year was – by far – the best year he ever had. If last year is really a true indicator of his career arc he is the latest of late bloomers. Should he equal last year’s performance and not regress to the mean, the Jets should be happy campers indeed. The deal they gave Fitzpatrick was for 1-year and $12M guaranteed.

    The Jets had offered 3-years and $24M with either $10M or $12M guaranteed depending on which reports you read. Other than starting QBs working on their rookie contracts, $8M per year as a starting QB in the NFL has become akin to chump change. Fitzpatrick did not want to be painted into that corner for what could be the rest of his career. So, he gets about 50% more this year and then can be a free agent and go through all of this again next off-season depending on how well he plays in 2016.

Truth be told, neither side had much leverage here. No other NFL teams were burning up the phone lines calling to offer Fitzpatrick a long-term deal at any sort of annual number he might like. On the other side, the Jets faced the possibility of heading into the season – coming off a very productive 2015 – with a QB depth chart that read:

    Geno Smith
    Bryce Petty
    Christian Hackenberg

Speaking completely about 2016, that depth chart is a losing proposition; the Jets have playoff aspirations in 2016 and if those are the 3 QBs who will divvy up the 16 games on the schedule, those aspirations will turn to desperations. The Jets needed Fitzpatrick and no one else made him any viable offers. Finally, the two sides managed to sit down and make all of this work.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald from about a month ago:

“Shaquille O’Neal spent four days in Cuba this week as a U.S. State Department ‘sports envoy.’ There is a phrase for that: ‘Waste of tax dollars.’”

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

Changing the NBA Regular Season

In late April, Jason Whitlock posted an interesting article on his blog I do not always agree with Jason Whitlock but his work is always well-reasoned and well-written; that makes his work interesting and thought-provoking. After Steph Curry’s knee injury, Whitlock wrote that this was the demise of the 82-game NBA regular season. His point was that more and more teams would move to follow the Spurs’ model of playing star players in fewer games rendering the regular season games even thinner gruel than many of them are. I do not know if other teams will react that way; but if I were an NBA coach, I would give my top guys a few days off in the middle of the season.

However, what Whitlock did next was not to lament the soon-to-be-dilapidated state of the NBA regular season. Instead he had a bold idea for how to make it all work. You can – and should – read it in its entirety here but I will summarize it anyhow:

    1. Cut the regular season to 70 games; start in mid-October; play a 40-game schedule to end on New Year’s Day.

    2. Top team in the East and Top Team in the West after 40 games play a single game at a neutral site.

    3. Create a mid-season classic tournament among 4 teams and offer $20M to the winning team to split up however the team chooses.

    4. Play the remaining 30 game schedule in a 15-week period. Pay “win-bonuses” for those final 30 games to keep stars involved and to keep teams from tanking.

While I do not subscribe to all of the details here, I do think this is a creative way to look at the problem of boring regular season NBA games and to try to minimize the boredom going forward. Since I read that piece about 3 months ago, I have been trying to come up with some ideas of my own related to this subject. Here is what I came up with:

    1. Cut the regular season from 82 games to 58 games. Each team would play every other team twice on a home-and-home basis. By concentrating the regular season, each game will mean more to each team.

    2. Start in mid-October as Jason suggests and have the 58 games over and done with by Feb 10.

    3. Start the playoffs proximal to Valentine’s Day and make the playoffs double elimination with five and seven game series between teams to determine who moves on and who is eliminated.

I am sure that my idea is imperfect but it is another way of looking at making the regular season a tad more meaningful and increasing the number of playoff games – the ones that are far more interesting to start with – for TV consumption.

Switching gears here, last year there was a short Internet buzz about a high school kid in California who was playing high school football and was 7-feet tall and weighed 450 pounds. People said he was the biggest football player in the world. The buzz died down as the Internet moved on to become fascinated with pictures of kittens and the dating status of various celebrities. Well that young man’s name was John Krahn and he is back in the news.

Krahn graduated from high school last year and received a couple of “walk-on invitations” from Division I football schools and “some Division II offers”. Obviously, I never saw him play; I would suspect from his size that speed would not be one of his great assets. So, instead of giving up football or taking one of the Division II offers, Krahn has enrolled in Georgia Prep Sports Academy in Decatur, GA where he can work on 2 things simultaneously:

    1. He will take advanced high school courses to make himself academically attractive to Division I schools.

    2. He will work with a trainer to get his weight down to about 350 lbs and he will work on his blocking technique(s).

According to reports, he is already down to about 400 lbs and he works out daily with a former NFL defensive end. His routine is to do strength and conditioning work on weekdays and then to take part in a 2-hour “technique training” session every Saturday. If successful, Krahn might land himself a Division I scholarship and still have 4 years of eligibility left instead of going to a school, walking on and using up part of his eligibility getting into football shape and learning the techniques of his craft.

That sounds rather mature and dedicated to me and it does not have a whiff of “entitlement” in it. As I said, I have no idea what this kid’s God-given talents may or may not be. However, if he works at this to the point where he gets a Division I scholarship to play football, I will be rooting for him.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“Jose Altuve, the Astros’ mighty-mite second baseman, is getting his own bobblehead night on Aug. 27.

“Just wondering: Has a guy ever been able to see eye-to-eye with his bobblehead before?”

Question for Dwight Perry … Ever heard of Eddie Gaedel?

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

More Rio Olympics Nonsense …

The Rio Olympics will begin in just over a week. I am sure you read that the Australian team refused to take their place in the Olympic Village a couple of days ago because when they saw their quarters they noticed some wetness on the walls and it turned out to be a “sewage leak”. The mayor of Rio tossed off their protest by saying he would get them a kangaroo as a pet for their stay in the Olympic Village. I do not know about you, but I think the mayor of Rio has fundamentally missed the point here.

If that were some sort of isolated event, you could ignore it and assume it will all be fixed and in working order by the end of next week. However, reports in the Washington Post point to a bigger problem. As of this morning, only 12 of the 31 buildings – they are 17-story structures – in the Olympic Village have passed safety inspections. Think about that for a moment. You would think that the Australians would have been directed to quarters that had passed safety inspections and look what they found.

The Post also cites an official of the Australian Olympic Committee saying that when they performed a stress test of their own by turning on all the faucets and flushing toilets simultaneously, here is what they experienced:

“Water came down walls, there was a strong smell of gas in some apartments and there was shorting in the electrical wiring.”

I guess the only thing to say in that situation is:

    Enjoy your stay.

The Australian team is not alone in experiencing problems in the Olympic Village. The team from Belarus refused to move its athletes into the quarters assigned to them due to a “lack of hot water and a failing sewage system”.

    Enjoy your stay.

In other Olympics news, the IOC did not take a stand on doping. When the anti-doping agencies recommended that the Russian team be barred from the Games because there was evidence that the doping was “state-suggested” if not “state-sponsored”. The IOC could have taken a stand here and actually seized the moral high ground on this issue – a perch they rarely if ever enjoy. However, taking that position would put them squarely in opposition to the Russian IOC and the Russian state system that clearly greased more than a couple of palms to secure the put on the Sochi Winter Games. Not surprisingly, the IOC chose not to take the high road here and deferred judgment to the international federations that oversee the various sports to determine the eligibility of each Russian athlete.

Compounding this travesty of justice, the one individual who is personally banned from the Olympics is the Russian 800-meter runner who blew the whistle on the whole “state-encouraged” doping system that caused all of this. She is banned; she cannot compete under a non-national flag as can athletes from countries that are war-torn and cannot send athletes to the Games. Her name is Yula Stepanova; she was not likely to medal in these Games; now she will not be able even to show up and try.

I rarely have anything good to say about the IOC. It is tempting to blame them for the failure of Brazil to live up to the promises it made to the IOC to secure these Games. However, I will give them a pass on that; the blame there belongs to the Brazilians. However, given the way this “state-encouraged” doping situation has unfolded and has concluded, it is absolutely fair to ask a simple question:

    If Russian athletes who were part of the “state-encouraged” doping system are allowed to participate and the individual who brought it all to light is not allowed to participate, what is the anti-doping program of the IOC all about?

This is the time of year when NFL teams come together to prepare for the upcoming season and when news nuggets emerge from the individual teams:

    Browns: Josh Gordon was conditionally re-instated by Roger Goodell subject to a 4-game suspension. That is good news for the Browns; they need all the help they can get. The bad news is that Gordon has a quadriceps injury that will need at least 2 weeks of rehab before he can get back to working with the team.

    Cowboys: Randy Gregory was already suspended for the first 4 games of the 2016 season for multiple substance-abuse violations. The report now is that he has failed yet another test and may not play at all in 2016.

    Falcons: The team released Devin Hester who holds the NFL record for returns for a touchdown. Hester missed much of last season with a foot injury and had off-season surgery; his release indicates to me that his recovery has not been complete. In reading the report, I learned that Hester is 33 years old; if you had asked me how old I thought he was, I probably would have guessed 28 or 29.

    Niners: Anthony Davis – the offensive tackle that retired in June 2015 – now says he has sought reinstatement from the league by rescinding his retirement letter. That is good news for the Niners in that they need OL help and Davis was a quality player when he chose to retire to promote his “mental health”. Davis and Niners’ GM. Trent Baalke have had their issues in the past; it will be interesting to see what level of détente can be achieved there.

Finally, here is a comment from late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon:

“Happy Birthday to legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who turned 60. You can tell he’s getting older by his new name — Splenda Ray Leonard.”

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

Some Of This And Some Of That …

A while back, there were rumors circulating that Chris Berman was going to leave ESPN at the end of his contract at the end of this NFL season. Those rumors were denied and things quieted down quickly. Well, now there are also rumors that Tom Jackson will be leaving ESPN at the end of this NFL season. My only response to all of this is:

    Holy Housecleaning, Batman!

The Sunday night ESPN program, NFL Primetime, was a pioneer in its field and it remained a top-shelf program from the time it started sometime in the late 80s until it morphed into The Blitz about 10 years ago. If I recall correctly, Berman, Jackson and the late Pete Axthelm were the hosts when NFL Primetime made its debut. If these rumors turn out to be true, all of them will be gone at the end of the 2015/16 NFL season. I would not want to be the studio host(s) who got the assignment to step in and make that program continue on its high level of acceptance; those are indeed big shoes to fill.

I guess I sort of knew this but had never focused on it directly until I had a recent conversation with a Cleveland native who is a long-term fan of the Browns. We were talking about the Browns inability to find a solid QB ever since returning to the league in 1999 and he said that in 3 different drafts, the Browns had or acquired the #22 pick in the first round and used all 3 of those picks to take bad QBs. I went back and checked and it appears that is the case.

    2007: Brady Quinn
    2012: Brandon Weeden
    2014 Johnny Manziel

Let me put as polite a face on those picks as possible and say that none of them worked out nearly as well as the Browns might have hoped for. In fact, Joe Btfsplk had better luck than the Browns had with the overall #22 pick and good ol’ Joe did not have enough luck to have any vowels in his name. [Google is your friend…]

Of the three, Brandon Weeden has the most starts as a QB with 25. His teams’ record in those 25 starts is 6-19. Quinn has started 20 games and his teams’ record in those starts is 4-16. If Manziel does not sober up and never plays another NFL game, his record will show 8 starts and a 2-6 record.

As the dust begins to settle on NBA free-agency, there are three teams whose moves bear scrutiny for next year:

    The Chicago Bulls signed Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo and they still have Jimmy Butler. Assuming they get 65-70 games from all three of these guys, that gives them a solid rotation at the guard position. However, there are two question marks:

      1. What about the other positions?

      2. Can those three players co-exist?

    The Atlanta Hawks welcomed back native son, Dwight Howard after Al Horford took his talents to Boston. Dwight Howard has not been a happy camper for a long time now. He wanted out of Orlando; he wanted out of LA after clashing with Kobe; he wanted out of Houston saying that Harden would give him the ball enough. The question here is simple enough; how long will Dwight Howard stay happy with his teammates in Atlanta and how long will the home crowd be welcoming to the return of their native son?

    The Miami Heat hoped to sign Kevin Durant; they did not get that done. They expected to resign Dwayne Wade; that did not happen either. Perhaps Chris Bosh can still play in Miami, but given his medical condition, he runs the risk of collapsing on the court at almost any moment. I do not think that the Heat have a lot going for them for the 2016/17 season except this:

      They should get a nice high draft pick and they will have a ton of cap room available to them to sign some free agents next summer.

Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned by any NFL team. After posting the best year of his career with the Jets last year, he and the team have not been able to close a deal. Supposedly, the Jets’ offer on the table is for 3 years and $24M with $10M of that guaranteed. That seems a tad on the low side to me not because I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to be a late bloomer and start to chase Tom Brady for QB honors in the AFC. Rather I think it a tad on the low side because of what the Jets have at QB other than Ryan Fitzpatrick:

    Geno Smith: At least he never suffered a butt-fumble
    Bryce Petty: Has yet to see the field on a Sunday
    Christian Hackenberg: Has yet to see the field in an Exhibition Game.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“RB Karlos Williams showed up overweight for the Bills’ offseason workouts, saying he packed on some sympathy pounds due to his wife’s pregnancy.

“But Karlos, to his credit, vows to be in game shape by the season’s first trimester.”

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

Fixing Baseball ?

Sometime last week, MLB Commish, Rob Manfred, went on WFAN radio in NYC and said that he would consider limiting the number of pitching changes that can be made in a game. Notice, he did not say he would implement it by fiat or even make it a central piece in the upcoming CBA negotiations; he said he would consider it. Loads of people went teaspoons as soon as they heard/read that comment. Here is exactly what he said:

“Relief pitchers have really changed the game. The use of relief pitchers — obviously every time you have a pitching change, it goes contrary to our pace-of-game efforts. And the other thing it does — and hats off to them — our relievers now are so good that they actually make the back end of the game — seven, eight and nine — with less action in it. And when you think about keeping people engaged, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is this a good thing for the game?'”

The “issues” he cites are observably true; if you are going to give this idea serious consideration, you have to begin by acknowledging what is true and then decide for yourself if any of the possible “solutions” to these “issues” are worth the trouble. With regard to the “pace-of-the-game” issue, I suggested several months ago a change that would assist in that dimension.

    If a pitcher comes into a game, he has to face at least 3 batters. That change would probably reduce the number of pitching changes in a given inning.

    Oh, and to protect the integrity of the game from seeing how often a pitcher would come into a game and suffer an injury that forces his replacement, any relief pitcher in that circumstance would immediately be put on the 15-day DL.

With regard to “lack of action” in the back end of games due to the excellence of relief pitchers these days, I have a problem with trying to “fix” that problem. First of all, there is plenty of action in the final innings of games as pitchers and batters face each other – each with clearly opposite intentions. Secondly, I do not think it is a good idea to punish one class of players because they seem to excel at their craft. Back in the “Steroid Era” when home runs were flying out of ballparks at record rates, I do not recall anyone suggesting that certain hitters use balsa wood bats or that the fences be moved back another 30 feet.

The other news events that put Rob Manfred in the spotlight are the nascent negotiations with the MLBPA on a new CBA. The players have expressed an interest in having a few more off-days built into the schedule particularly around games involving major time zone changes. Those are not unreasonable requests but the most obvious way to provide such a thing is to cut the season back to 154 games as it was for many years until the 1960s. The problem with that is that cutting the season cuts the number of TV events meaning revenue would be cut. Eight games represent 5% of the MLB season; I suspect that the players would not be willing to take all of their contracts and shave 5% off the gross just to get a few days off.

However, there is another way to look at this. Suppose each team built 5 home double headers into their schedule on designated dates. To minimize the revenue hit for teams – not eliminate it but minimize it – teams could charge 50% more than usual for tix to those doubleheaders. And with people in the park that much longer, think of the increase in concession sales… Each team would play 5 home doubleheaders and 5 away double headers; it will balance the schedule and create 10 “off days” for the players. It may not be a perfect solution, but it should be considered…

Green Bay, Wisconsin is a small market; there really is not any way to pretend otherwise. Nonetheless, the folks there – and throughout Wisconsin – do love their Packers and come out to support them. Last year, 67,000 fans showed up at Lambeau Field on a summer day to watch a Packers’ practice. This year, the team sold out the stadium at $10 per ticket – 76,000 tix – for a practice. Basically, this event is a day in training camp with 76,000 onlookers.

Now, if you are a Packers’ fan and you did not get a couple of those tickets, you need not worry. The practice will be televised all over Wisconsin and to parts of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Oh, did I mention, this is just a practice – the kind where the QBs are wearing bright red jerseys. I do not want you to be disappointed should you tune in…

One other note about Lambeau Field comes from the Milwaukee Business Journal. Patrick Cudahy brand bacon is the official bacon of Lambeau Field – and the Green Bay Packers too. One of the important things to come of this arrangement is that Patrick Cudahy brand bacon will provide a “bacon-themed concession stand” in Lambeau Field. The full menu for this bacon-themed concession stand is not fixed yet, but two items were described:

    The Pigskin: This is a baked potato smothered with chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives. What makes this a Pigskin is that the potato is then wrapped in bacon. You know, if you hold the sour cream there, that actually sounds pretty good…

    A second item has not been named yet but it will be deep-fried bacon-crusted cheese curds. That sounds very good – and it also sounds like an embolism waiting to happen.

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald channeled Johnny Carson and Carnac the Magnificent with this item over the weekend:

Answer: A new sport called “footvolley” — soccer meets beach volleyball; no hands allowed — will debut as a demonstration sport at Summer Olympics.

Question: What do you mean there are too many ridiculous, made-up sports?

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

College Football In July …

Earlier this week, I wrote about college basketball in July; today I want to lead off with news about college football. Anyone who has read these rants for any period of time knows that one of the things I do not like about college football is the “cupcake scheduling” that many of the power schools set up. I do not care how rabid a fan of Humongous State anyone might be; it cannot be “exciting” or even “entertaining” to watch a game that is 52-0 at half time and 69-7 at the end of 3 quarters. The fewer of those sorts of games that there are on the college football landscape the better.

A few of the big schools are starting to move in that direction and I think that is a good idea. Auburn and Penn State have agreed to a home-and-home pair of games for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Kudos to both of the athletic directors at Auburn and Penn State for making that happen. This meeting between solid teams in two major conferences should be the model for out-of-conference scheduling for all the schools in the major conferences. I am certain that someone somewhere will complain about this saying that this will deprive two smaller schools the opportunity to go and “get a payday” from Penn State and/or Auburn so that the smaller school can lose a game by 50+ points. I can imagine that some folks will suggest that this is a way for the “big guys” to make sure that the “little guys” are squeezed to a point where they will not rise up to challenge any of the “big guys”. To that argument, let me use one of H.L. Mencken’s favorite words:


There are also reports that Notre Dame and Michigan will renew their rivalry with two games scheduled on a home-and-home basis for 2018 and 2019. This too is a positive step for college football and those two athletic directors should be applauded for making that happen.

There are also reports that the Big 12 is looking to expand by 2 and perhaps by 4 teams. The Big 12 coaches seem to be onboard with the idea of expansion and Bill Snyder at K-State said that he hoped that the conference would not “get spread out all over the country” and that he hoped the footprint of the expanded Big 12 would be similar to the footprint of the old Big 8 conference. That is probably a good idea. Obviously, speculation on which teams would be under consideration for an invitation to the Big 12 began as soon as the announcement of the intent hit the streets. Here are the usual suspects – with my off-the-cuff commentary on what I think about each one:

    Boise State: Good football program but remotely located and a small stadium.

    BYU: The second most logical choice on the list

    Cincy: Interesting market

    Colorado St: Good location but program would need a major upgrade

    Houston: The most logical choice on the list

    Memphis: Meh

    Tulane: Kansas would no longer be the conference cupcake

    UCF: Remote location and no ties to any existing schools

    UConn: Seriously…?

    USF: See comment for UCF above.

According to a report in the Birmingham Business Journal, anyone attending a home football game at Alabama this year will need to get some new tote bags. Starting this year, anyone planning to enter Bryant-Denny Stadium will have to be carrying their stuff in a clear plastic bag with the size limited to 12” X12” X 6”. As usual, when a team makes an announcement about a change of this type, the PR folks get to weigh in. Here is part of what Alabama said about this new policy:

“This is about both safety and improving the overall fan experience…”

So, somehow my overall fan experience is enhanced based on the size of tote bags brought into the stadium and based on the transparency of the walls of that tote bag. This is a security and safety issue primarily and if the school wants to say that a secure environment in the stadium adds to the fan experience, that would be fine. This is also likely a way to make it more difficult for folks to “smuggle” contraband food and drink into the stadium thereby increasing the take at the concession stands; somehow, I doubt that sentiment would find its way into a roll-out announcement.

I have never been in Las Vegas while the Olympics were ongoing so I did not realize that the sportsbooks there did not take action on the Olympics. That must have been the case because reports say that for the Rio Games in 2016, there will be betting action on the Olympics for the first time. Proposition bets are already up; here are samples:

    Country to win the most gold medals:

      USA: 1/5
      China: 5/2
      Great Britain: 20/1
      Russia: 50/1
      Germany: 60/1
      The Field: 50/1

    Total gold medals won by USA:

      Over 41.5: – 110
      Under 41.5: – 110

I suspect that Baron Pierre de Coubertin did not have this in mind when he “resurrected” the Olympics at the end of the 19th century…

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

“June is being called an ‘important month’ for Husker football. In a nutshell, this has been the problem with Nebraska football recently. Too many important Junes, not enough important Novembers.”

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

A Step Forward For ESPN…?

With the exodus of Skip Bayless from ESPN’s program, First Take, the network needed someone to “debate” Stephen A. Smith on the program. Even though the “debates” are staged – it cannot be that Stephen A. and his partner disagree on EVERY situation – there need to be two people there to present two points of view. While I was away, ESPN resolved that problem by assigning Max Kellerman to the role of Stephen A. Smith’s “adversary”. I like Max Kellerman certainly more than I like Skip Bayless who normally could get me to change the channel in about 90 seconds of his monologues. Kellerman is bright and articulate; I think he will make First Take easier to take.

    [Aside: The woman who “hosts/sets up” the “debates” on First Take is Molly Qerim. The fact that she has been able for all of the time she has been in that role to sit there and not grab a baseball bat and do damage to either or both of the “debaters” speaks to her equanimity.]

The WNBA season began in mid-May and the final regular season game will be on September 18. In terms of the calendar, their season is half-over. Already, two teams in the Western Conference – the LA Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx – have clinched playoff berths. On a calendar basis that is equivalent to a team in MLB clinching a playoff spot right around now. League advocates might point to these two teams as examples of excellence in the WNBA; league detractors might say that the talent imbalance in the league is a joke. Take your pick – if you care enough to do so.

The LA Sparks’ record after 21 games was 20-1; they have hit a rough patch and have lost their last two games so they sit atop the West with a 20-3 record. During last year’s NBA season the Golden State Warriors started the year with a 24-0 record. By the time the Warriors were 15-0, they were a big enough story that they got lots of attention in the midst of the NFL season. The Sparks started their season similarly; so I ask you to stay away from Google and do the following:

    Name 3 of the starting players for the Sparks.

    OK, name any 3 players on the Sparks’ roster.

    Name the Sparks’ coach.

Last December when the Warriors were on their season-opening win streak, almost anyone could have aced that quiz. The WNBA has been around for 20 seasons now and it simply has gained no traction in the US sports assembly. In fact, for the regular season in 2015, the WNBA had its lowest average attendance in league history. In 2015, average attendance for a WNBA game was 7,318. Back in 2009, average attendance was just over 10,000 per game so the league has seen attendance drop about 27% in the last 6 years. Somehow, I do not think that the hugely unbalanced results to date this year are going to help those attendance numbers and reverse the downward trend.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that UFC fighter and WWE ‘rassler, Brock Lesnar, had failed a drug test proximal to his last UFC fight. A report yesterday said that his “B Sample” also came back positive so it would appear that there is not a “laboratory error” there. Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times viewed these circumstances through his customarily unique lens:

“USADA says rassler and MMA fighter Brock Lesnar might have violated the UFC’s anti-doping policy.

“Translation: They found a foreign object in his urine sample.”

In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett (UNLV) with the first overall pick. He lasted one year in Cleveland, went to Minnesota for a year and then on to Toronto for his third season. He was a free agent again this summer and the team he signed with was the Brooklyn Nets. That signing screams “Desperation” on both sides of the transaction.

    The Nets’ roster is a mess. Bennett is nominally a power forward and the other power forwards on the roster today are Trevor Booker, Chris McCullough, Thomas Robinson and Luis Scola. Let me be kind here; if Bennett as a former overall #1 pick in the draft cannot find a spot in the rotation for that team, he may need to call it a career at age 23.

    Here are Bennett’s stats over the past 3 seasons:

      Cleveland: 12.8 minutes/game; 4.2 points/game; 3 rebounds/game
      Minnesota: 15.7 minutes/game; 5.2 points/game; 3.8 rebounds/game
      Toronto: 4.4 minutes/game; 1.5 points/game; 1.2 rebounds/game

Any time a team has the overall #1 pick in a draft, it runs the risk of taking a player who does not live up to the potential ascribed to him. On rare occasions, the overall #1 pick contributes to the team the way a cadaver might. I am not going to spend the time and effort to look over the history of NBA drafts to look at all of the overall #1 picks but two really bad ones come quickly to mind:

    Michael Olowakandi – drafted sometime in the mid-90s
    LaRue Martin – drafted in the early-70s

At age 23, Anthony Bennett still has a chance to elevate himself off this ignominious list. However, the Brooklyn Nets may be his last serious chance to become a regular in a substitution rotation that will get him the time on the floor to do something with his game.

Finally, here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that points out something I did not know – and would not have guessed:

“Numbers Crunching: Much was made this week over World Series results favoring teams with home field advantage – won again at the All-Star Game by the American League. But in the age of wildcards, isn’t the more dramatic trend that the team with the best regular-season record has won the Series only five times in the past 30 years?”

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

Unusual Subject Matter Today …

The sports world has a natural ebb and flow. In mid-July there are things that I can count on to be “in the news” and there are things that ought to be “quiescent”. So, it is a bit surprising for me to spend today on two items involving – – college basketball.

No, I am not going to talk about some 5-star recruit who has decided to play for some school after he had made a commitment to some other school a month ago. Commentary on those sorts of events only encourages more kids to do that in order to have multiple moments as the focus of media attention. Rather, I want to comment first on Larry Brown’s resignation as the head basketball coach at SMU a week or so ago. Let me be clear; the fact that Larry Brown quit a job as a head basketball coach is about as surprising as learning that Tuesday came after Monday this week.

The ostensible reason for his resignation was that he wanted a “long-term contract extension” from SMU and they would not give it to him. While I do not doubt for a moment that Larry Brown wanted such an extension and that the school was reluctant to sign up to it, it seems not to ring right to me.

    Larry Brown is 75 years old; he started coaching as an assistant at UNC in 1965. In his career, he has had 13 head coaching positions; the longest tenure anywhere was a 6-year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Those data tell me 2 things:

      1. The only long-term contracts in sports offered to 75-year olds are ones that make the person “coach-for-life”. No one who follows basketball would think of making peripatetic Larry Brown “coach-for-life”.

      2. SMU realized that it has already received what I call “The Larry Brown Dividend” and figured that it could move on.

Let me explain what I mean by “The Larry Brown Dividend”. Larry Brown is a great basketball coach and has been for just about all of his career. When he takes over a bad team, the team gets better quickly; when he takes over a mediocre team, the team excels quickly. The man knows how to recruit players and how to teach them to play basketball. When Brown arrived at SMU in 2012, the program there was moribund – to be polite about it; the team had had only 1 season over .500 in the previous 9 seasons. After one year of rebuilding and a 15-17 record, SMU went 79 – 22 over the next three seasons.

The downside of “The Larry Brown Dividend” is that it comes with “NCAA problems”. As happened to Brown’s teams at UCLA and Kansas in the past, there were NCAA violations at SMU and the mavens in Indianapolis suspended Brown for a bunch of games last year and made SMU ineligible for the NCAA tournament despite a 25-5 record for the season.

When SMU hired Larry Brown in 2012, one of the conditions of his hiring was that he would hire an assistant who was designated as “Head coach in Waiting”. The school already realized that the odds of Brown hanging around for a long time were slim; therefore, I am not surprised that the school would not give him a “long term contract” now at age 75 and after being the beneficiary of “The Larry Brown Dividend” and after being thrust back into the mainstream of NCAA basketball.

At least, Brown did not resort to the old chestnut that he needs to feed his family and he needs job security. I have to give him credit for that.

The other college basketball issue for today is an announcement from the NCAA about next year’s March Madness that has me confused. Earlier this week, the NCAA announced that the team with the overall #1 seed in the men’s basketball tournament will be allowed to select from among the various venues for its first two games in the tournament. My question here is really simple and straightforward:


The overall #1 seed is done by a Selection Committee who already is the subject of plenty of scrutiny and criticism. Every year, people complain about teams left out (snubbed is the favorite word here) and teams that get seedings that are too high and/or too low. The Selection Committee needs more controversy like Helen Keller needed a mirror.

Next year, the venues for opening round games are:

    Salt Lake City

Suppose one of the “Tobacco Road teams” in the ACC gets the overall #1 seed. Is there any mystery where they will choose to play? Suppose Indiana is the overall #1 seed; suppose Utah or BYU gets that honor? Why give that team yet one more advantage if indeed they are already considered to be the best team in the field? Frankly, if the NCAA thought it had to make a change – and I do not think any change is needed at all – they should have made it that no team seeded #1 or #2 can play any of its games prior to the Elite Eight round closer to campus than 200 miles. But that’s just me…

Here is what can happen. Imagine that Duke and Kansas both have fantastic seasons and the Selection Committee decides to rank them #1 and #2 overall. Some folks will of course favor one team over the other for the “top slot”, but in previous years, that would be tossed off in a few moments as people raged on about who got snubbed and then moved on to figuring out their brackets. Now imagine that the Committee names Duke as the #1 seed over Kansas in my hypothetical. Not only does Duke get an obvious choice of venue but it opens up a huge can of worms for all the conspiracy theorists out there.

    Memo to the NCAA: This change was unnecessary. This change creates controversy and suspicion where none is needed. This change provides no benefits for the tournament at large.

    What the Hell were you thinking?

Finally, Brad Rock had this item in the Deseret News earlier this week tying together sports media and current socio-political events:

“U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attacked Donald Trump, calling him ‘a faker’ and saying she fears for the country if he becomes president.

“She later said she regretted making the remarks.

“It might have been out of line as a high court justice, but she can always get a job in sports radio.”

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

The Upside And The Downside Of Technology…

Reports say that the NFL will put computer chips in footballs to be used in Exhibition games this year and in Thursday Night Football games in the regular season. The primary purpose is to gather data to determine if the goal posts should be narrowed in order to make field goal tries and PAT kick attempts a bit less “automatic”. I do not pretend to have any codified data here, but I have advocated narrowing the goal posts in the NFL for about 20 years now and I continue to believe that would be a good idea. Let me outline my reasoning here:

    Plays where teams have a kicker try to kick the ball through the uprights are far less exciting/interesting than offensive plays against real defensive players. There are few fans anywhere who would try to argue against that assertion.

    Ergo, the more times teams line up and run real offensive plays as opposed to place-kick plays makes the game more exciting/interesting.

    Ergo again, motivating teams to run real plays as opposed to place-kicking plays is beneficial to the game experience.

    How to do that? Make the place-kicking more difficult. Increase the risk of failure without increasing the reward for success.

Currently, the goal posts are 18 feet and 6 inches wide and the crossbar is 10 feet high. In arena football the goal posts are only 9 feet wide and the crossbar is 15 feet off the ground. I would not advocate – without data in hand to justify it – changing the NFL goal post to the arena league goal post. However, narrowing the goal post and raising the crossbar should both be given serious consideration once data is compiled.

There is a downside to this data collection effort. One other thing that a ball-with-a-chip might do is to provide more accurate placement of the ball in situations where a play ends proximal to a first down marker or when a play involves “breaking the plane of the goal line”. In fact, it would be hard to argue that the ball-with-a-chip could possibly be less accurate than the current system is. Having said that – and being fully in favor of accuracy in this endeavor – please contemplate the delays in the game that will ensue from such placement technology. This will be like having a challenge flag thrown on half the plays in a game as officials seek to adjust the ball-with-a-chip exactly to a spot on the field of play. And then they will do the measurement with sticks and chains ignoring the need for the chains to be at precisely 90 degrees to the yard markers which have been place on the field without benefit of lasers to assure they are all parallel and perpendicular to the two sidelines which too must be parallel to one another. Sigh …

Switching gears here, I am not a follower of UFC or any of the MMA promotions. I have tuned in to see a few of the programs on TV and I do not particularly like them. I mention that only to make it clear that the following remarks come from someone who does not follow the sport nor has any fondness for it.

UFC had a big pay-per-view event on July 9; I did not see it; that happened in the middle of my most recent hiatus. One of the most hyped bouts on the card featured the return of Brock Lesnar to UFC. Lesnar had fought there in the past but had been participating in pro ‘rassling for the last several years. [Aside: Given the way UFC creates furious animosity between fighters before bouts, I have said before that UFC is just like WWE except that in UFC the punches land and the blood is real.] Lesnar won his fight that night.

Subsequent to the results, we now know that Brock Lesnar failed a drug test on 28 June. That means that 10 full days came and went between the time the sample was analyzed and the time of the fight. Once that information came to light after the pay-per-view event was over and the money was counted, the UFC mavens claimed that this was all news to them. Wow …

Oh, did I mention that UFC as a business has just sold itself to a new owner for a price reported to be in the range of $4B? I guess the UFC mavens were so busy handling that transaction and celebrating the closure of the deal that they never got the memo regarding the failed drug test for their pay-per-view headliner.

To be fair, there will be a confirmatory test on Lesnar’s “B-Sample” to see if that testing shows the same result that the first test did. There is indeed a chance that this is a laboratory error – but that does not explain how for 10 days the event promoters managed to avert their eyes and ears from such results. The UFC Word for Today is:

    C R E D I B I L I T Y

Several weeks ago, had a report about booze coming to college football stadiums in greater amounts. No, they were not talking about hip flasks smuggled in by students and used to stay warm during cold weather games. The report was about more and more NCAA institutions selling alcohol in stadiums as a revenue generator. And it is not just for football games; this year at the College World Series and at the Women’s College World Series (softball), fans could purchase wine and beer in the stadium venues. This Fall, about 40 colleges and universities will sell beer – and in some cases beer and other alcoholic beverages – in the stadia where football games happen.

I am anything but a fan of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; I have been known to imbibe an adult beverage on more than a few occasions. Nevertheless, in college football stadium, there is a significant fraction of the attendees who are underage. On college campuses around the country, there are more than a few problems that involve underage drinking and involve over-consumption by young adults who seem to have insufficient self-restraint. And so, the institutions of higher learning who put on these events think it is a good idea to add yet one more source of alcohol to that audience.

    What could possibly go wrong?

Obviously, the motivation to sell beer and such in the stadia is revenue. Here is some data from the report:

    West Virginia made $600K from selling beer and wine last year.

    Texas made $1.8M from selling beer and wine last year.

Here is a rationalization offered for selling beer in the stadium:

It will cut down on the binge drinking in the parking lots during pre-game tailgating.

Honestly, one of the college officials said that to I wonder how long it took him to be able to say that without giggling.

Finally, here is an item from Gregg Drinnan’s Keeping Score at

“On Monday, Joey Chestnut downed 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes and was treated as an American hero for winning a July 4 eating contest. In my house, I got the stink eye when I reached for a second pork chop at dinner.”

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

Good To Be Back …

A couple thousand years ago, Julius Caesar victoriously returned to Rome after his conquest of Gaul. Last weekend I returned to my keyboard from a river cruise in southern France. Caesar used his trip to set himself up as Emperor of Rome. I used my trip to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary with my long-suffering wife. You have to look very carefully to see any real parallels there…

Lots of stuff happened while I was gone and I really did not pay that much attention until I got home last weekend. But I did notice that the American League won the All-Star Game meaning the AL champ will have home field advantage in the World Series. For the first time that I can remember, it might actually be appropriate. It has never made much sense to me use the All-Star Game in this way. However, this year might find the Royals in the World Series again and two of the Royals’ players hit home runs in the All-Star Game to provide the margin of victory. At least for once, the outcome of the All-Star Game can possibly have direct ties to some sort of accomplishment by members of the team in the World Series. As of this moment, I am rooting for the KC Royals to make it to the World Series for that reason alone.

    [Aside: Do not take the above to mean that I think Bud Selig did a smart thing or a useful thing linking the All-Star Game outcome to the World Series. I have said that was a dumb move since the day it was announced. However, this year I can root for a serendipitous ending to the AL season by having the Royals in the World Series – and then go back to saying this is a moronic linkage.]

I also noticed – thanks to an e-mail from a reader with a link in it – that Dwayne Wade expressed feelings of remorse about having to leave Miami to sign with the Chicago Bulls because of the “business aspects” of the game. It seems that the Heat offered him 2 years and $40M to play in Miami at age 35 but “business aspects” demanded that he take the Bulls’ offer of $43M for 2 years. At least he did not sink to Latrell Spreewell levels and declare that he had a family to feed as a way to denigrate the Miami offer.

At the same time, Tim Duncan retired from the San Antonio Spurs in a most understated way for a player who will surely go into the Hall of Fame down the road. His retirement announcement is perfectly in character for him. If you listed all of the adjectives in the English language in order of relevance to Tim Duncan’s demeanor and carriage over the past 20 years, I think it would take you a week to get down to “flamboyant” on that list. He is the most understated superstar I can recall in the NBA since the league started marketing its stars.

NBA Commish, Adam Silver, expressed some concerns/reservations about the trend to form “super-teams” in the NBA. The league had a “super-team” in Golden State last year until the NBA Finals and that season produced the biggest TV ratings ever. At first, some may think that the Commish is out of touch. I think over the long haul he has reason to be concerned.

    There are 30 teams in the NBA. I am certain that there are die-hard fanboys in every one of those cities who are convinced that their guys have what it takes to be NBA Champs next season. Those fanboys are living in a delusion…

    Absent crippling injuries or disasters like fatal plane crashes, there are only a half-dozen teams who have a prayer of making it to the NBA Finals let alone winning it all. That is reality…

Over the long haul, without competitive balance the league will not continue to flourish and grow. There are CBA negotiations upcoming for the NBA and the NBPA and it will behoove both sides to figure out how to keep money flowing to the enterprise so that it can be divvied up equitably between owners and players. Here is the outline of one idea to accomplish that end; clearly, it will need meat put on the bones:

    1. Fix the percentage of revenue coming to the league that is assigned to player salaries and divide that number by 30 (teams in the league).

    2. Make that number a hard salary cap for each team for each season.

    3. Get rid of the “maximum contract” concept. If the hard cap for a season is $100M (just to make math easier) and a team wants to spend 75% of that money on a superstar player, they should be allowed to do so and then fill out the team with 14 other guys who can divide up the remaining $25M.

In that system, the players get paid in aggregate the same as they would with the “max contract” in place but it would make it more difficult to assemble a 4-player “super-team” without all four of the players making the conscious decision to take tens of millions of dollars less to play together than they could make playing against each other.

Just a thought…

To give you an idea of NBA revenue streams, I ran across a report about the potential value that might accrue to teams by selling those “company logos” on their uniforms next season. Recall that the league decided that they would allow each team to sell one 6.25 square-inch patch on the uniform for next season. The Golden State Warriors have evidently let it be known that they are looking for somewhere between $15M and $20M from a sponsor for that privilege. The Warriors are going to be on national TV a lot next year; you can count on that. To some extent, the market for these company logos has been set from the lower tier of the league.

The first team to sell advertising rights on the uniforms for next year was the Philadelphia 76ers. You can be relatively certain that they will not be on many national telecasts next year unless there is some clause in the TV contracts mandating that every team must have some minimum exposure in such games. The Sixers logo for the next 3 years will be StubHub – the ticket reseller – and the revenue to the Sixers will be $5M per year. Here is a link to an report with details on this

Phil Mickelson finished second in the British Open yesterday at the age of 46. Recall that he won the British Open in 2013 at age 43. I want you to take yourself back to 2006 and think about how you would have answered this question:

    Which golfer – Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson – will be the bigger factor in major golf tournaments ten years from now?

Remember, back then, Tiger Woods was the fitness and conditioning freak and he is 6 years younger than Mickelson. Back then, the only thing anyone ever mentioned about Mickelson’s physique were his “man boobs”. Well, here we are in 2016 and Mickelson came within 3 shots of the winner, Henrik Stenson, and he was 11 shots ahead of the third place finisher. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods last win in a major was 8 years ago in 2008 and his last win in any tournament was in 2013.

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

“Bartolo Colon looks like the first runner up in a Fred Flintstone lookalike contest.

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