Happy Valentine’s Day …

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  If the good folks at NPR.com are correct, we should take a moment today to celebrate and appreciate how folks in the US deal with this holiday in the 21st century.  According to NPR.com, Valentine’s Day probably originated in Roman times as the Feast of Lupercalia.  Here is what went down as the Romans did their celebrating:

“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.”

Now before you think that is the end of the egregiousness of the festivities consider that:

  1. The men were naked.
  2. The women lined up to take turns getting whipped.

You can find more details about the evolution of this holiday and its celebration here.  Even if you do not take the time to check out the link, I suspect that we can all agree that chocolates and roses are a more refined way to commemorate the 14th day of February than was practiced by the Romans…

Having mentioned the tradition of Valentine’s Day, allow me a moment here to break with tradition in these rants and make two statements that are sort of political in nature.

First, I have seen at least a dozen reports/commentaries in the last week about players on the New England Patriots who have announced that they will not go to the White House as part of the celebration of their victory in the Super Bowl.  In addition to the reports, there are “analyses” of what this might mean regarding those players’ continued affiliation with the team and speculation about how the Pats’ owner and coach feel about all of that.  Enough already…

The politics of the US in 2017 is so fractured that if Donald Duck were the President, some athlete somewhere would refuse to go visit him in the White House because that athlete was a Mickey Mouse fan.  I get it.  Everyone with an IQ equal to or higher than the speed limit on the Interstate highway system gets it.  I would like to make a plea for rationality here:

  1. If an athlete does not want to attend, he/she should feel free to do something else on that day.
  2. An athlete should not delude themselves into believing their absence is anything more than their personal choice.  Think about it; when was the last time you scrutinized one of the posed pictures where the President is holding up a jersey with his name on it to see which of the team members are present and which are not?
  3. I know there is pressure on reporters to fill space and to put content on websites, but these sorts of reports are thin gruel.

Second, while I am on my abnormal path and commenting about political matters that abut sports matters, let me anticipate an upcoming event.  For the last several years, ESPN asked President Obama to fill out a March Madness bracket and then televised the act of filling out the Presidential Bracket.  The first time they did that, it was sort of fun; the second time they did that, it was stale; after that, I could not help but wonder how it could be that the President did not have something better to do than to take the time to produce this taped event.  I understand that President Obama was a big college basketball fan and would probably have filled out a bracket for the “White House Staff Bracket Challenge” anyway.  But the televised “program” had lost its luster.


Memo to ESPN:  Please do not make any attempt to carry this “tradition” forward into the 45th Presidency.  It was a clever idea when you thought of it but it is now time to move on to something else.


Parallel Memo to President Trump:  If they call to ask you to fill out a bracket on TV, do not take the call.  You can get TV coverage almost any time you want it; you do not need this at all and the people do not need this at all.


In a column in the Miami Herald last weekend, Greg Cote reminded me that in addition to the “major sports” that attract the clear majority of media attention and fan enthusiasm, there are second tier and third tier sporting events that normally fall outside the scope of our attention.  Here are two of his short observations regarding such sports:

“BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Tour stop in Fort Lauderdale ends Sunday: The Fort Lauderdale Major, an FIVB World Tour pro event, wraps up Sunday with the women’s gold medal match. Which answers the question, ‘What? You mean beach volleyball is played more than once every four years at the Olympics?’”

And …

“GOLF: Allianz Championship wraps Sunday in Boca: Don’t call it the Senior Tour anymore, but the PGA Tour’s older division completes its event in Boca Raton today. Entering Sunday’s final round, Fred Couples started only one stroke behind four guys only their families have heard of.”

Finally, before I ponder the social dangers involved with trying to revive the traditions of the Feast of Lupercalia here in Northern Virginia this afternoon, let me close with a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A group of former cheerleaders has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the NFL and 26 teams, alleging that management actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries.

“The plaintiffs are reportedly seeking somewhere between two bits/four bits/six bits and 300 million dollars.”

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



Hither Thither And Yon…

Previously, I told you about the surprisingly bad season that Leicester City was having in the English Premier League.  After surprising everyone and winning the league title last year, Leicester City has been flirting with relegation – finishing in the bottom three of the league – this year.   A league champion has only once been relegated in the following season and that was back in the late 1930s before it was called the Premier League.

The EPL season is two-thirds over; here are the teams at or near the bottom that will need to worry about relegation:

  • Bournemouth   26 points
  • Swansea City   24 points
  • Middlesbrough  22 points
  • Leicester City    21 points
  • Hull City   20 points
  • Crystal Palace  19 points
  • Sunderland   19 points

Over the weekend, Leicester City lost a game to Swansea City by a score of 2-0; for the moment, Swansea’s 3-point lead over Leicester is a result of that victory.  Even more ominous is the fact that Leicester has been shut out in its last 5 EPL games.  Leicester’s coach is Claudio Ranieri and here is what he had to say after the loss to Swansea:

“We have two problems; we concede goals and don’t score.  We have to stick together and find a solution. It’s not possible to continue this way.”

Let me break that down for you:

“We have two problems; we concede goals and don’t score.”  That statement is an acceptable thesis for the degree of Master of the Obvious.  The confluence of those “two problems” is THE definition of lack of success.

“We have to stick together and find a solution.”  You do not really have much of a choice but to stick together – – unless they fire you as a coach in which case the team will go on without you.

“It’s not possible to continue this way.”  Oh, but it is possible and if the team does that the result will be that you will be looking for work elsewhere.

Tonight, the UConn women’s basketball team will seek its 100th consecutive win.  I know it is “fashionable” to point out here that the level of competition in NCAA women’s basketball is very thin and that this accomplishment needs to have an asterisk to put it in perspective.  I think that is horse hockey.  The Harlem Globetrotters’ winning streaks and winning percentages need an asterisk simply because no one should take those as serious games.  The Globetrotters’ opponents are “part of the show” and are there to help put the act over with the audience.  That is NOT the case with teams that take the court against the UConn women.

There is one very real problem with the dominance shown by the UConn women that I had not recognized until Bob Molinaro pointed it out in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Tough job:  How do sportswriters who cover UConn ever write a decent game story?  What was the game’s turning point?  When the teams got off the bus?”

I want to pose a hypothetical question here.  Recall the latest dust-up between Knicks’ owner James Dolan and former Knicks’ player Charles Oakley and the announcement that Oakley has been banned for life from Madison Square Garden – – also owned by Dolan.  Now, just suppose that another NBA team – – say the Brooklyn Nets – – hired Oakley as an “Assistant Coach for Intimidation”.  On March 16, the Nets are scheduled to visit Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks.  If Oakley were an Assistant Coach for the Nets, could Dolan actually ban him from entering the arena and sitting on the bench with the team that is employing him?

Someone would have to wake Adam Silver from his long winter’s nap to deal with that situation.  If I owned an NBA team and wanted to needle James Dolan, I would be looking to see the next time my team had to go to the Garden so that I could set this up.

Speaking of things that the NBA Commish and the Front Office would prefer not to address, let me talk about tanking for a minute.  The NBA acknowledged the existence of teams tanking to get the top draft picks when it instituted the draft lottery in the first place.  When teams continued to play lethargically despite the existence of the lottery, the NBA moved to discourage that by adjusting the number of ping-pong balls allotted to each team in the hopper.  There is no way that the NBA can represent that tanking has not occurred in their league or that it continues to occur.  Fans in Philly need only hear the words “Trust the process…” to understand what happened with the Sixers for 3 or 4 seasons.

So, why is it that the NBA is worried about sports gambling possibly undermining the “integrity of the games” when it is clear to any rational observer that there are teams seeking to lose certain games on purpose in order to protect draft picks or to acquire more ping pong balls in the hopper for the draft this year.  Moreover, it is going to happen again next year too.  Just asking…

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Several L.A. County businesses stepped forward to help bail out the struggling Lennox Little League, including a $1,200 donation from the Jet Strip club.

“What, you’ve never seen a baseball field with brass foul poles before?”

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



Sour Stuff Today …

Unless you are just returning to consciousness from a comatose state – – welcome back, by the way – – you must have heard/seen/read about the Charles Oakley incident at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening.  The whole thing was a mess and there appears to be no conclusive video evidence that would justify Oakley pushing and shoving security guards at the arena.  However, being that this happened in NYC and that it involves the Knicks and their owner, James Dolan, the simple and preferred way to deal with the situation was off the table from the outset.  There was a moment when – if all parties could just STFU – this mess could have receded into dim memory in about 2 hours.  But, no…

Oakley was arrested and charged with a bunch of stuff.  The Knicks’ PR staff issued a statement saying that the team hopes that Oakley “gets help soon”.  Players around the league and commentators in various cities have expressed contempt for the way the Knicks treated one of the franchise’s former star players.  All this could have been avoided but now it is out there and it will fester because one of the actors is James Dolan.

A former colleague at work was a graduate of West Point.  He would often say that every group or team of people benefited from having a “s[p]it magnet”.  That is a person who – whenever anything went wrong – attracted all the blame and accreted all the s[p]it that came as a result of the error.  My colleague used to say that the presence of this “magnet” allowed other team members to go about their business efficiently and effectively and that made the “magnet” a valuable member of the team.  When I asked him if he ever ran into those sorts of folks at West Point, he said that he had and he was glad to have them in his squad.

Among the NBA owners, James Dolan is a “s[p]it magnet”.  I doubt that he ever aspired to that status, but there he is…

Moving along to baseball – as pitchers and catchers are starting to pack up their gear to head to Spring Training – the Commish announced that baseball will propose a rule change to the MLBPA and will try out two other new rules in the low minor leagues.  The purpose here – nominally – is to increase the pace of play for games and/or to make the games more exciting.  Here they are:

  1. Intentional Walks:  No more four pitches to the catcher standing there with one arm out like a school crossing guard; the umpire simply waves the batter to first base.  Yes, this removes the possibility of a wild pitch that could dramatically change the game strategy.  No, that does not happen sufficiently frequently to matter.  By the way, I do not think intentional walks happen frequently enough that saving the 30 seconds that it takes to throw those four intentionally wide pitches matters very much.  Baseball purists may not like this but I don’t think this matters one way or the other.
  2. Raise the lower limit of the strike zone:  Instead of the lower limit being the “bottom of the knee” change it to the “top of the knee”.  The idea here is to make the pitcher put more pitches in the “hitting zone” with the intention of having more balls put in play making for more action/excitement.  I read a stat somewhere that 30% of the plate appearances last season resulted in a walk or a strikeout meaning 30% of the plate appearances did not put the ball in play.  If I were convinced that this was a problem that needed resolution, I would do it differently.   I would raise the upper limit of the strike zone and have the umpires call strikes on pitches as high as the armpits.  What that would do would be to get batters to swing at more pitches instead of waiting out the pitcher for every at bat.  But that is just me…
  3. Put a runner on second base to start each extra inning game:  The idea here is to make the extra innings more exciting and to avoid the “marathon games”.  MLB’s chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, said that it is not fun when a team has used up its pitching staff and has to bring in a utility infielder to pitch in “marathon games”.  Here is the problem and here is a hat-tip to the Washington Post for these data.  There just aren’t that many “marathon games”.  In 2016, 2,243 MLB games were played in 9 innings or less; 176 games were played in 10-14 innings; 8 games went 15-18 innings and 1 game took 19 innings to play.  Only 8% of the games went to extra innings and only 0.4% of the games could possibly be called “marathon games” (longer than 14 innings).  This is a solution desperately seeking a problem to resolve…

I would object to the new “extra inning rule experiment” on two grounds in addition to the fact that it would only come into effect a few times a year for most teams.  First, it gives an even bigger advantage to the home team – batting last – if the visitors do not score in the top half of an extra inning.  They would start with a man on second and can bunt him to third base and win with a sac fly.  That does not add loads of excitement to the game but it does provide an added home-team advantage.

My other objection is parallel to my dislike for the way the NHL and the FIFA World Cup games resolve ties.  The shoot-out is a different game than the one that led to the tie situation in the first place.  Reverse the process and you will see how dumb this is.  Imagine that the sport of hockey or soccer consisted of a whole bunch of penalty shots/penalty kicks and at the end of that competition, the score was tied.  How dumb would it be for the teams now to resort to playing hockey or soccer as we know it to resolve the tie?

The baseball game that produced the tie situation at the end of 9 innings did not involve starting each half-inning with a runner on second base.  So, why should the winner of that game come from this newly imposed game situation?  I will not go so far as calling this idea a “crime against humanity” but it is about as useful as the reinvention of the flat tire.

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times about long baseball games:

“A report says that, 180 million years from now, the pull of the moon’s gravity will make days on Earth 25 hours long.

“And MLB games will be 6½ hours long.”

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



The NFL Off-Season Has Begun…

Evidently, all the precincts have reported in and we now know how much money FOX pulled in regarding advertising on Super Bowl Sunday.  Let us agree that it was more than a tidy sum as we look at some of the numbers:

  • For the entire day – pre-game, in-game and post-game – FOX revenue exceeded $435M.
  • There were 62 different sponsors and 89 different ads aired.
  • The overtime in the game allowed 4 additional ad slots to happen and that goosed the revenue total a bit.
  • Revenue from the in-game ads was $350M; revenue from the pre-game was $73M and revenue from the post-game was $14.6M.
  • The sponsor spending the most money during the game was T-Mobile at $30M with Alfa-Romeo spending the next most money at $20M.
  • For the pre-game, the biggest spenders were sponsors more traditionally associated with football telecasts.  Ford, Coca Cola, Lifelock, AFLAC and McDonalds were the big spenders there.

I mentioned in my commentary about the Super Bowl game that I thought the Falcons’ play calling in the second half – – and particularly in the final 5 minutes of the game – was tactically flawed.  That position has been taken by many others and there has been some direct criticism of Kyle Shanahan as he moves to take over the head coaching duties in SF.  Some have suggested that his poor tactical decision making against the Pats should be worrisome for Niners’ fans and the Niners’ brass.  I disagree for one fundamental reason:

  • For at least the next year – and probably for the next 3 years – Kyle Shanahan is not going to be faced with the challenge of holding onto a 25-point lead over a highly competent opponent.  By the time he has to deal with such an issue, he should have learned a lot about game management and play calling.  Niners’ fans and the Niners’ brass have far more imminent and for more important issues to worry about.

The NFL is now officially into its off-season but it will stay in the sports news spotlight with things like the Combine and the Draft and a bunch of concocted storylines related to player moves.  Here are two storylines that are sure to be overdone:

  1. Whither Tony Romo?  I suspect this storyline will be bludgeoned to death over the next couple of months.
  2. What price will the Pats demand for Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade?  This story has already started to be bludgeoned to death and I think the narrative developed to date misses the critical element of the story.  I think the critical element here is Bill Belichick’s level of comfort with Jacoby Brissett as Tom Brady’s backup QB next year and as Tom Brady’s heir-apparent in the long term.  If Belichick is not convinced that Brissett is suitable, then Garoppolo may not be going anywhere for any price.  If my hypothesis here is correct, then the answer to the question requires delving into the mind of Coach Belichick and I must say that I will be VERY skeptical of anyone who asserts that they have the ability to do that.

There are three storylines for this NFL offseason that I will be interested in following because I think there are multiple end-states that are possible and/or because they have not yet received a surfeit of attention:

  1. Whither the Oakland Raiders?  The reason this is interesting is because there are so many moving parts to the puzzle.  I think that those who have declared the “Las Vegas option” dead in the aftermath of Sheldon Adelson’s withdrawal and Goldman Sachs withdrawal have missed one important point.  The State of Nevada has put $750M of taxpayer money on the table to build a football stadium for an NFL team.  It is not like the NFL to abandon that sort of largesse.  I get a hint that there is another dimension here that has not yet gotten a lot of attention.  I get the idea that there are more than a couple of owners who would like to see the Raiders in the hands of “someone not named Davis”.  I wonder if there will be decisions made here with the intent of “putting the squeeze” on Mark Davis.
  2. Whither Adrian Peterson?  If he stays with the Vikes, his contract says they owe him $18M to play next year.  Over the last 3 seasons, Peterson has missed 28 of the 48 scheduled games; he will be a 32-year old RB at the start of next season who has carried the ball 2418 times in his career.  That is not exactly the sort of thing a team would want to see associated with an $18M annual salary.  Will there be a renegotiation of the contract in Minnesota or will he be released?
  3. Whither Jay Cutler?  It surely seems as if his time in Chicago is over – but what if the Bears cannot land themselves a real NFL QB?  In addition to Cutler, the Bears have 4 QBs on the roster – Matt Barkley, David Fales, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw.  Is there a “real NFL QB” on that list?  We shall see …

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

“A Buffalo Bills linebacker reportedly had his paychecks garnished because he owed $4,045 to The Fish Guy for moving his aquarium. Well, those courses teaching pro athletes how to manage their money are certainly paying off.”

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



Meanderings On A Wednesday

Lots of folks claim – mostly correctly – that the college basketball season is not all that interesting and that the tournament in March is all that matters.  I must reluctantly agree with that assessment; and to some extent, I think the over-the-top success and appeal of March Madness has contributed to the diminution of the regular season in college basketball.  Meanwhile, not everyone shares my view that the regular season of the NBA is mostly useless and uninteresting although most folks will agree that the real focus of the regular season is in the final 15-20 games for each team.  Absent a game in November that produces a major injury to a star player on a potentially contending team, there is no gravitas associated with much of anything in the NBA prior to March 1.

The good folks in Las Vegas recently issued a new set of odds related to the NBA that makes my point.  Here are the odds – posted before the season started and revised odds posted this week – for who will win the NBA Championship in June courtesy of the Westgate LV Sportsbook.  Remember, there are 30 teams in the NBA playing 82 games each meaning there are more than 1200 regular season games.

  • Opening odds = 3-2  Current odds = 5-7  Golden State Warriors
  • Opening odds = 5-2  Current odds = 7-4  Cleveland Cavaliers

Currently, the next team on the board would be the San Antonio Spurs at 6-1 and they are the only teams out of the 30 teams in the NBA at odds below 20-1 as of this week.  [The Clippers are at 20-1; then come the Celtics, Raptors and Rockets at 25-1 and then we get into stratospheric odds very quickly.]

The NBA will start their playoffs with 16 teams.  Even the oddsmakers are suggesting that the first two rounds – at least – of those playoffs are nothing more than window dressing.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will have 7 new members in August 2017.  The loudest debate about the selection process centers around the exclusion of Terrell Owens for the second year in a row.  You can check his career stats here if you need to convince yourself that his on-field performance merits induction into the HoF.  And yet, he is still on the outside looking in…

Terrell Owens is today’s focal point for the ongoing debate regarding how much a Hall of Fame should be about accomplishments within the sport itself as opposed to how much it should be about “character” and “locker room presence” and all that sort of stuff.  This is the NFL version of the ongoing “debate” that MLB has regarding players who may or may not have used PEDs.  If you look at those career stats I linked to above, you will also note that T.O. played for 5 teams in his career and that he fundamentally wore out his welcome in at least with 3 of the 4 teams that let him walk.  Does that diminish what he did on Sundays?  If you say that it does, is it a sufficient diminution to keep him out of the hall of fame as compared to some other WRs there who were ”good guys”?  You make the call…

When he missed out on the vote, T. O. quickly turned to Twitter to vent – as is the current custom – and he said that the voting process is “flawed” and that he does not care if he is ever voted into the HoF.  Here are two predictions:

  1. T.O. will eventually be voted into the Hall of Fame when the voters believe that he has been sufficiently chastened from snubs in the prior balloting which inevitably lead to another round of public re-hashing of what a “bad teammate”/”locker room cancer” he was.
  2. When he is voted in, T.O. will not rail against a “flawed process” and – more importantly – he will not decline the invitation to be part of the Hall of Fame.

Here are two reasons to keep an eye on the Pro Football Hall of Fame balloting over the next couple of years.  These two players are soon to be eligible and both have prodigious on-field accomplishments and some “outside-the-lines flaws”:

  1. Ray Lewis
  2. Randy Moss

There are reports that the NFL is considering a punishment for the Seattle Seahawks because the team did not put Richard Sherman on its injury report for most of the year after Sherman admitted that he played most of the second half of the season with a knee injury.  I realize that the “Deflategate Discombobulation” established that the NFL Commish can hand down just about any punishment short of “off with his head” and that punishment will stand up with or without substantial backup evidence.  Nevertheless, a punishment in this case would be more than a miscarriage of justice.

Richard Sherman has a bad knee and he says he has had it for half a season but the Seahawks never put him on an injury report.  There are rules that say the team is supposed to do that.  However, Sherman never missed a practice because of the injury nor did he miss a game.  The only conclusion to draw here is that he may indeed have an injured knee, but it was not sufficiently injured to keep him out of practice of a game.  At that standard for reporting, would a wide receiver need to be on the injured list for a hangnail?

The irony here for me is that the league has this rule on the books only as a way to make it more difficult for gamblers – you know, those bad guys – to uncover such a tidbit and to use it to the advantage of the gamblers – you know, those bad guys.  That is the basis for the rule; and in this case, if Sherman had been on the injury reports – and then played virtually every defensive snap for the remainder of the season – the league could easily have been ridiculed because one of its teams was making a mockery of the injury reporting system.  Oh yeah, one other team in the league has been accused of doing just that too…

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the TV ratings for the NFL Pro Bowl:

“Numbers game: The TV ratings for Sunday’s Pro Bowl were down for yet another year – a demonstration of good taste by a segment of the American TV audience.”

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





Baylor Football And Niners’ Football

Surely, you have heard and read about the allegations of sexual assault and other lawless behaviors attributed to members of the Baylor football team and about how the coaching staff, athletic department and school administration did less than one should expect to curb those activities and to report them to the authorities.  In matters of this nature, I have been sensitized to wait until the process works itself out before diving headlong into the discussion; the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case remains embedded in my memory.  That is why I have not been commenting on this matter as it has been in and out of the news over the past year or so.

To be sure, this whole matter is not settled.  There are still lawsuits pending against the school by alleged victims and by members of the coaching staff and there are lawsuits for defamation of character that are out there and …  Trust me; this is not over by a long shot.  Nonetheless, as a result of the discovery process in one of the lawsuits, some text messages sent by former Baylor coach, Art Briles, have come to light.  While these messages do not confirm or deny any guilt by any of his players in terms of criminal activities or sexual assaults, the texts indicate to me that he knew that there were multiple issues of behaviors by his players that are socially and legally unacceptable.  Those text messages indicate he knew about them and that he was part of a process that intended to keep these behaviors from coming to the attention of the local police in order to keep players eligible to play football.

On the assumption that those text messages are real and have not been concocted to frame Art Briles, they are sufficiently odious to bring me to the following conclusion:

  • Art Briles should not be allowed to coach football – or any other sport – at an educational institution in the US again.

Given the information in those text messages and their timing, I think I am also ready to say that the folks who were in charge at Baylor University at the time – they have since been replaced – should also be barred from holding equivalent positions of authority at an educational institution in the US.  A quick Google search here will give you an overview of the sordid behaviors that these folks sought to cover up/minimize in order to keep a top-rated football team on the field.  Just to focus on one of the allegations here, one Baylor co-ed alleges that she was gang-raped by two football players and that she can identify 52 instances of sexual assault perpetrated by 31 different Baylor football players.  Those are allegations; none has been proven.  However, juxtaposed with the text messages involving other matters, the situation at Baylor was about as ugly as a barrel of hot cat vomit.

If you are too lazy to use Google, here is an espn.com overview of some of the lowlights here.  If you want to read a report on some of the behaviors of the coaching staff and at least one of the boosters for the Baylor football program, check out this report from SI.com.

What interests me here – in addition of course to resolving the outstanding criminal charges at the basis of all this – is the behavior of the good folks at the NCAA.  I would like to think that those folks have been quiet and careful regarding this matter because they learned a lesson; that may be the case – or it may also be the case that they are tone deaf.  Let me explain…

Remember back to the days of the “Sandusky Affair” at Penn State.  Long before the judicial processes finished, the NCAA swooped in and levied a whole bunch of sanctions against Penn State.  One merely violated the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a judge saw to it that the sanction was reversed; others took away scholarships and another performed the feckless task of vacating victories.  In that case, Penn State gained no material on-field advantage in football – which is the fundamental reason the NCAA and its rule book exist in the first place.  But the NCAA was out-front in terms of punishments…

In the Baylor case, this hot mess has been around for well over a year now and the NCAA is still pondering.  If what they are doing is waiting for all the evidence and all the charges to become known so they can make an informed decision in this matter, then bully for them.  I am typically not one to offer praise for the folks at the NCAA; but if that is what they are doing here, they are doing the right thing.  However, if they fail to come down on this institution and these adults who were in charge at least as hard as they tried to come down on Penn State and the folks there, then it is time for the villagers to bring their torches and pitch forks to NCAA Headquarters and to slay the monsters therein.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has called on the NCAA to invoke the “Death Penalty” on Baylor football.  I am not there – yet – simply because there are still events in the world of jurisprudence that are pending.  However, I will say this:

  • If the bulk of the allegations of sexual assaults and rapes and other sordid illegal behaviors are proven to have happened, then the “Death Penalty” for Baylor football should definitely be strongly considered.

Moving up one level of football competition and the coaching aspects therein, the Niners did announce that Kyle Shanahan will be their new coach and that he and John Lynch will be the football mavens to restore the Niners’ franchise to a status above “laughingstock”.  Congratulations to those two folks; they have a steep hill to climb.  Moreover, one of the handicaps they will have to carry up that hill is the Niners’ CEO, Jed York who is the son of the team’s principle owner, Denise DeBartolo York.  Jed York is a Niners’ fan who was given the keys to the car in 2008 and who enjoyed early success by hiring Jim Harbaugh to coach the team.  However, when Harbaugh and then GM, Trent Baalke, crossed swords, York could not restore order and then clearly picked the “wrong side” in the argument letting Harbaugh walk.

From that moment forward, nothing that Jed York has done has made football sense – including his coaching hires, his reliance on Baalke to do the drafting for the team, etc.  He has alienated the fanbase and – most importantly – he has shown that he is averse to any sort of public humiliation.  Press criticism and fan demonstrations do not make him a happy camper…

Ergo, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan not only have to do a lot of work to restore a football roster than is severely talent-deficient, they also have to do that in a way that allows some of the reflected glory to shine on Jed York plus they have to do it in a time-frame that will make the fans and the press see that progress is being made to the point that they do not continue to ridicule Jed York.  I have read that both Lynch and Shanahan have 6-year contracts; I think that they had better show some progress in the first two years and they had better be relevant in the NFC West in the third year or they will be sitting home and collecting on the final years of those deals.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald last week:

“The Winter X Games have been going on. The question is, WHY!?”

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



A Great Super Bowl 51 …

When I was in high school – yes, we had discovered fire by then – I had a classmate of the female persuasion who was an avid sports fan.  After college, she moved to the Boston area and has been there ever since; not surprisingly, she quickly became an ardent fan of the Red Sox and the Patriots and … you get the idea.  Yesterday, I attended a Super Bowl party in Philadelphia and drove back to Northern Virginia after the game and decided to check my e-mail before heading upstairs to feed the cat and then hit the sack.  There was an e-mail in my inbox from this lovely woman that I will reproduce for you here in its entirety:


Given all of the superlatives and all of the hyper-ventilating commentaries that attended the post-game analyses of last night’s game, I believe that my high school classmate captured the moment accurately, succinctly and eloquently.  Please let us not contort ourselves into a meaningless argument about whether this was the best Super Bowl of all time; it was indeed a great game and there is no reason to poke holes in it – or in any other great Super Bowl game one might consider – just to make a meaningless point.

As I noted above, I spent two and a half hours after the game driving home from Philadelphia and I passed at least some of those miles by listening to whatever sports radio station(s) I could pull in on my car radio.  Somewhere around Baltimore, I came across a must have been a nationally syndicated show that took calls from different states; and of course, the topic of the night had to be the Super Bowl game.  At first I was glad to hear that the “debate” would not be about the greatness of this game vis á vis other Super Bowl games; my delight, however was short-lived.  The “debate topic” for the evening was this:

  • Were the Pats “lucky” or did the Falcons “choke”?

After listening to about 3 of the mouth-breathers who got themselves on the air, I let out an audible sigh in the car and hit the off-switch on my radio.  I get it; that sort of paradigm where one sets up two polar opposite camps can fill radio time.  However, it ignores the obvious possibility that the two teams played as well as they could and one of the teams prevailed at the end of a well-played game.  Sigh …

Let me present here some stream of consciousness observations about the game:

  1. I thought that the pass reception made by Julio Jones with about 5 minutes to play in the game to give the Falcons a first down deep in the Pats territory was a game-winning play AND that it was equal to Santonio Holmes catch against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl to give the Steelers a come from behind win.
  2. Then about 3 minutes later, Julian Edlelman made a catch that was just as good as the Jones catch and/or the Holmes catch.  Wow!
  3. I think Kyle Shanahan made a severe tactical error – and said so at the time – after Jones’ catch.  The Falcons led by 8 with about 4 minutes to play and were clearly in field goal range.  Instead of running the ball to chew up the clock – or get the Pats to use all their remaining time-outs – he threw the ball which stopped the clock, allowed Ryan to be sacked and created an offensive holding call that demanded a punt from the Falcons.  Instead of leading by 2 scores, they gave the ball to the Pats who still had 2 time-outs in a 1-score situation and about three-and-a half minutes on the clock.
  4. By the end of the game, the Falcons’ defense was gassed.  In the 4th quarter plus overtime alone, the Pats ran 35 plays and gained 263 yards.  Brady was16 for 27 for 241 net yards passing.  Those stats came from 19 minutes of football; normalized to a 60-minute game, you would break a whole lot of NFL records for offensive football.
  5. I think the unsung heroes for the Pats – overshadowed because of the monstrous comeback in the game – is the Pats’ defensive unit and the Pats’ defensive game plan.  The Falcons only snapped the ball 46 times in the game while the Pats had 93 offensive plays.  The Falcons had the ball only 23:27 in the game as compared to the Pats having the ball for 40:31.
  6. The Falcons had averaged almost 34 points per game in the regular season and 40 points per game in the previous 2 playoff games.  The Pats defense allowed 21 points yesterday – recall that one of the Falcons’ TDs came on a Pick Six.  Moreover, the Falcons’ offense that averaged 415.8 yards per game this season and ranked second in the NFL only managed to gain to 344 yards yesterday.  When you hand out the plaudits for the Pats’ victory here, please do not overlook the job the defense did.
  7. I thought the game was well officiated.  Yes, there were a few no-calls that might be criticized when you look at the replays in slow motion and with a close-up camera shot.  Notwithstanding that virtually inevitable set of circumstances, I thought the officials did a good job last night.
  8. I thought the ads during the game were OK but not great.  I must admit that it would have taken me a lifetime to guess that Morgan Freeman would be a spokesperson for Turkish Airlines in a Super Bowl ad, but no harm; no foul…

I began today telling you about my Boston-residing high school classmate.  In my response to her succinct summation of the game, I pointed something out to her.  There must be something in the air in NRG Stadium in Houston.  Consider this:

  • Last night, NRG Stadium was the site of an historical comeback in a Super Bowl game.
  • Ten months ago, NRG Stadium was the site of the Villanova/UNC final game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and you may recall that game was won on a three-point shot at the buzzer by Villanova.
  • With those two games on its résumé, perhaps we should hold a lot more sporting events at NRG Stadium.

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



Mythical Picks – NFL – Weekend Of 2/5/17


We have reached the end of the line for Mythical Picking for the 2016/2017 NFL season.  Two weeks ago, I made three picks in the two conference championship games and the record for the week was an unimpressive 1-2-0.  Notwithstanding that performance, the record for the year remains solidly in the mythically profitable range at 140-95-5.

The Best Pick from two weeks ago – the only correct one – was:

  • Packers/Falcons OVER 60.  Total score was 65.

The Worst Picks from two weeks ago – the ones that were wrong – were:

  • Packers +5.5 against Falcons.  Packers lost by 23 points.
  • Steelers +6 against Pats.  Steelers lost by 19 points.

Obviously, no one should use any information here when deciding which side to back in a real wager involving real money on this weekend’s Super Bowl game.  Here is how dumb you would have to be to do something like that:


You think “rebooting” means kicking someone in the ass twice.


General Comments:


There have been 10 games in the NFL playoffs so far this year and only 2 of those games have been tense/down to the wire games.  The Steelers’ 2-point win over the Chiefs to put the Steelers into the AFC Championship Game was a nail-biter throughout and the Packers/Cowboys game won on a field goal after Aaron Rodgers’ “miracle throw” was a game for the ages.  Other than that, the rest of the games have been room temperature pabulum.  Sheesh…  We have to hope for a much more interesting game this weekend than we saw in those “other 8 playoff games” this year.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been to the Super Bowl 6 times before the game this Sunday.  In 4 of those 6 games, the margin of victory was 3 points; in the other 2 games, the margin of victory was 4 points.  If the past is prologue, we ought to look forward to a tight game on Sunday.

Two weeks ago, I did point out that the Packers’ secondary had had difficulty dealing with/covering Dez Bryant in the win over the Cowboys and that dealing with Julio Jones would be an even bigger problem for them.  I will dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back here; I got that one right.  What the Falcons’ offense did to the Packers’ defense was about as pleasant to watch as a ritual disembowelment.

The Total Line for Sunday’s game opened at 57 points and then shot up to 60 points in less than 24 hours.  Since then, it has settled at 58.5 points and has not varied much from that level since the initial surge.  Like the Total Line in the Packers/Falcons game for the NFC Championship, this is a big number but there have been Super Bowl games in the past that went north of 58.5:

  1. Feb 2013:  Ravens/Niners scored 65 points
  2. Feb 2004:  Pats/Panthers scored 61 points
  3. Jan 2003:  Bucs/Raiders scored 69 points
  4. Jan 1995:  Niners/Chargers scored 75 points
  5. Jan 1993:  Cowboys/Bills scored 69 points
  6. Jan 1992:  Skins/Bills scored 61 points
  7. Jan 1990:  Niners/Broncos scored 65 points
  8. Jan 1987:  Giants/Broncos scored 59 points
  9. Jan 1979:  Steelers/Cowboys scored 66 points

On any given Sunday – to borrow a phrase – you can find proposition wagers for NFL games but for the Super Bowl, the proposition bets come out of the woodwork and play a prominent role in the wagering landscape.  Bovada is an Internet wagering site that offers sports betting; here you can find their list of prop best for this week.

If those are not enough to satisfy your curiosity, USA Today took the opportunity to list the 400 different prop bets posted at the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas.  You can find that list here.

Not to worry, I am not going to go over the multiple hundreds of possibilities here but I do think there are a few that are interesting to think about.  One prop bet that always shows up is the “Over/Under” on the length of time it takes the singer to complete the National Anthem.  This year’s performer is Luke Bryan – someone I could not distinguish from William Jennings Bryan were it not for the fact that William Jennings Bryan has been dead for more than 90 years – and the prop best says he will finish the anthem in 127.5 seconds.  If you are a Luke Bryan fan, you can also wager on what he will be wearing in terms of pants when he starts to sing the anthem:

  • Jeans:  – 200
  • Any other pants/shorts:  +150

How many times will “Gronk” or “Gronkowski” be said during the live telecast of the game – not to include any pre-game or post-game mentions?

  • Over/Under = 3

Since the game is in Houston, will anyone say during the telecast of the game, “Houston, we have a problem.”? [Again, this is during the live telecast of the game and not during pre-game, halftime or post-game commentary.  I wonder if it includes any of the ads…]

  • Yes:  +250
  • No:  – 400

Will either team make a field goal in the first quarter?

  • Yes:  – 120
  • No:  Even money

Total first downs by the Pats:

  • Over/Under = 23.5.  [That is a lot of first downs…]

Distance of Matt Ryan’s first TD pass:

  • Over/Under = 13.5 yards

And of course, there are the infamous “cross-sports propositions”.  For example, this year we have this prop:

  • Phil Mickelson’s fourth round score this week versus
  • Pats’ yards rushing minus 44.5.

If that were not enough, consider this one.  What will be higher:

  • Tiger Woods’ fourth round birdies versus
  • Total number of field goals made in the Super Bowl

That should give you an idea of how many ways you can put your money at risk on the Internet and/or at the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas.


The Game:


New England – 3 versus Atlanta (58.5):  The Falcons score points in their sleep; they averaged more than 33 points per game in the regular season and they have averaged 40 points per game in their 2 playoff games this year.  The Patriots allowed the fewest points in the league during the regular season and have only given up a total of 33 points in their 2 playoff games this year.  If you were to subject yourself to watching the whole pre-game “analysis” of the game, you would hear those stats beaten to death.  The Falcons are 12-6 against the spread this year; and given their prolific offense, they are 15-3 to go OVER this year.  Meanwhile, the Pats are 14-3-1 against the spread this year; and despite their stingy defense the Pats have a 9-8-1 record to go OVER this year.  I said several weeks ago that my curmudgeonly instinct was to root for the Pats to win it all this year just to make Roger Goodell have to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick.  I think it can happen so I’ll take the Pats and lay the points and I’ll take the game to go OVER.

Finally, let me close out the last of the Mythical Picks for this season with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Cleopatra:  Legendary hottie and Egyptian pharaoh, from 51 – 30 BC.  Known for her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and for committing suicide with a poison asp.  In twenty-one years of rule, you would think she might have been remembered for a few other accomplishments, but apparently schtupping two famous guys and offing herself with a snake was all they covered on Access: Egypt.”

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



Nothing Is Simple…

In the last 36 hours, the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas hit a washboard surface on the highway.  Sheldon Adelson and his family took their reported $650M out of the deal but the Raiders’ stance at that point was nonchalance because Goldman-Sachs had assured them of financing.  Indeed, Goldman-Sachs would not be “strapped for cash” if they did this deal but there was one little thing that still had to be taken into consideration:

  • Sheldon Adelson has a reported net worth of something near $30B and – not surprisingly – he does a lot of business in the world of financing projects here in the US and abroad.  When he could not reach a deal with Mark Davis, Goldman-Sachs saw this deal in a different light and they backed out too.

I said earlier this week that this story still had plenty of moving parts and actors who had not yet delivered their lines in the saga.  Well, at this point, you can call it a flat-out goat rodeo.  This report from espn.com announced the unraveling of the deal.

Later reporting on espn.com suggested that the Raiders had three options at this point:

“The Raiders could find another investment bank to replace Goldman Sachs in the deal or take on another partner to replace Adelson, in advance of the late-March owners meeting where their relocation to Las Vegas was to be considered. They could also return to Oakland.”

That sounds simple and straightforward – – except that the same report also says that the mayor of San Diego has inserted himself into this situation by telling the NFL that the Raiders could move to San Diego.  The NFL is supposed to vote on the Raiders’ application to move to Las Vegas in March of this year so keep your eyes and ears open here; it is going to be a wild ride.

NFL Commish, Roger Goodell held his regularly scheduled news conference the other day – the one they often call “The State of the League Address” – and there is one question that I wish someone had asked him related to this whole Raiders’ relocation situation.


Mr. Commish, the Raiders’ application to move to Las Vegas is in the hands of the league for consideration at your March meeting.  That application calls for construction of a new stadium that will be ready for the start of the 2020 season and that the Raiders would remain in Oakland from 2017 thru 2019.  Last year the Raiders had the lowest average home attendance and the lowest total attendance in the NFL by a significant margin.  How can the NFL expect the fans in Oakland to continue to pay major league prices to a team that has a countdown clock running?


The fact is that the Raiders played to an average attendance in Oakland of 54,584 last year; the team that ranked 31st in the NFL on that metric was the San Diego Chargers who drew an average of 57,024 at home.  The median average home attendance in the NFL last year was Seattle at 69,073.

Meanwhile, as we approach Sunday’s Super Bowl, it is time for another annual story.  It is illegal in the United States to wager on the Super Bowl except in the State of Nevada; that prohibition extends beyond casinos where legal gambling of other types is ongoing; that box pool where you pick squares to match with the score at the end of each quarter of the game is also illegal as is the $10 wager you make with your co-worker on the outcome of the game.  We all know that sort of thing happens and most folks shrug it off as “no big deal”.  However, when you add that sort of wagering to the amount estimated to pass through the hands of your local bookmaker and offshore Internet sportsbooks, the total handle for the Super Bowl is in the neighborhood of $4.5B.  The Nevada sportsbooks will probably handle between $100-150M on the game.

The reason almost all of the betting on the game is illegal is something known as PASPA – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.  Yes, PASPA has been around for 25 years now and even if that $4.5B estimate is inflated by 25%, there is a ton of illegal gambling going on that PASPA has yet to find a way to curtail.  If gambling on sports in general – and the Super Bowl in specific – is a danger to sports and thereby puts them in need of PASPA’s “protection”, then the law has been a dismal failure.

I am sure you have read/heard about the challenge that the State of New Jersey has made to PASPA.  As things stand right now, several other states have joined New Jersey in that challenge and the case is under consideration by the US Supreme Court.  There is no chance of an imminent ruling because the Supreme Court has said it will wait until there is a new Solicitor General of the US who has had time to file his/her brief on this matter.  The Solicitor General is the person/office in the Department of Justice that represents the United States in matters before the Supreme Court.  At the moment, there is no Solicitor General because the tradition is that the incumbent resigns when a new Administration takes over in Washington.

It cannot be a mystery to anyone who has read these rants for even a short while as to what I would prefer as a decision from the US Supreme Court…

Finally, as the Super Bowl game approaches and people get in the mood to watch and rank the Super bowl advertisements, let me give you a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Advertisement:  A medium through which people who truly care about your welfare (and not at all about money) provide you with helpful, extremely subtle reminders that your bad breath, body odor, cell phone provider and make of car all have to go.”

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



Rob Manford Drops The Hammer ?

It would appear as if the hacking case involving the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals has come to its conclusion.  To summarize simply, it appears that the Cardinals’ organization accessed the computer records of the Houston Astros allegedly by using the passwords of the Houston GM who used to be in the Cardinals’ organization because he did not change them.  The former scouting director of the Cardinals, Chris Correa, pleaded guilty to 5 counts of “unauthorized access to a protected computer system” and was sentenced to about 4 years in Federal prison.

Here, you can read what the Houston Chronicle has to say about this whole mess and why baseball’s action this week is justified.

This week, MLB Commish, Rob Manford, delivered baseball’s punishment to Correa and the Cardinals.  Correa is banned for life from baseball; as I read it, he has the same status as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.  More importantly, Manford concluded that the Cardinals were “vicariously liable for his [Correa’s] misconduct” and on that basis the Commish docked the Cardinals their two top picks in this year’s MLB Draft and sent those picks plus the $2M that would be allotted to signing those picks to the Astros.  Reporters are saying this action is severe and unprecedented.

I guess you can call the loss of a second and a third-round draft pick “severe”; it would be much more severe if levied against an NFL team.  I think it is clear that this case is “unprecedented” simply because for the vast majority of baseball’s history there were no computer systems out there to hack.  There may not be a documented case where one team gained surreptitious access to another team’s scouting data, but to say that such a thing never happened in the history of MLB is a bit of a stretch.

I will give Commissioner Manford a lot of credit here for making the punishment relevant to the crime.  The purpose of the hacking was to gain information about the Astro’s scouting reports on prospects; in that way, sending the Cardinals’ picks – and the money to sign those picks – to the Astros is logical and relevant.

The reason I started all of this by saying, “It would appear as if the hacking case … has come to its conclusion,” is that the accounts of what has recently transpired are reported slightly differently by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  You can read their report and their points of emphasis here.

It will not be long until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and when I look at the list of baseball free agents who remain unsigned, some questions come to mind:

  • Matt Weiters:  He is 30 years old and did not have a good season in 2016.  However, each baseball team needs 2 catchers and with him unsigned, that means there are 60 catchers around who are better than Weiters.  I don’t think so …
  • Mike Napoli:  Yes, he is 35; and yes, he is much more valuable to an AL team where he can spend some time as a DH.  However, he hit 34 home runs and drove in 101 runs in 2016…
  • Jason Hamel:  He was 15-10 last year with a 3.83 ERA.  Each team needs a minimum of 7 starting pitchers to make it through the season; are there really 210 better starting pitchers than Hamel out there?
  • Angel Pagan/Jake Peavy/Chase Utley:  Is this the end of the line for them?

Switching gears …  I am convinced that there is no force on Planet Earth that can diminish the “Tiger Woods drumbeat” emanating from the golf writers and commentators.  I swear that after he dies, someone will write a piece suggesting that Woods will come back from “the other side” to play in some minor tournament somewhere and will cite “alternative facts” as the mechanism by which this will happen.  This story does not merely have legs; this story has roots that go to the core of the Earth.

Last week, Woods failed to make the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open.  Quick and no Googling here:

  • How long has the Farmers Insurance Open been in existence with that name?
  • What was this tournament called before that?
  • Who won last year?

My point is that you can be a focused sports fan and not know a whole lot about this PGA Tour event; it is not a critical tournament annually.  Tiger Woods missed the damned cut here and at least 50% – and maybe 66% – of the stuff written about the events of the tournament focused on him.  Just to give you an idea, he shot 76 in the opening round of the tournament and writers took that opportunity to point out that he shot better than his playing partners – Jason Day and Dustin Johnson – did in that round.

Woods is off to Dubai this week to play in an open tournament there and says he will play in two more tournaments in the three weeks after Dubai.  Stand by for a tsunami of coverage none of which will acknowledge a simple fact:

  • Tiger Woods once was the single best golfer on the planet – – just as Ben Hogan once was the single best golfer on the planet – – just as Jack Nicklaus …
  • The fact is that stories written about Woods today are nostalgia pieces and not anything related to news – any more than stories about Hogan, Nicklaus etc. today are related to news.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times last month:

“Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle got sent home just hours before Thursday’s Belk Bowl when he got caught shoplifting — from a sponsoring Belk department store.

“Or, as Razorbacks apologists prefer to put it: He had bad hands.”

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