Bud Selig Is In The Hall Of Fame

A little less than 5 years ago, I wrote that Bud Selig was an excellent Commissioner of Baseball.  That was a minority view at the time and it is certainly not widely held today.  Notwithstanding that sentiment, Bud Selig is in the Baseball Hall of Fame – as he ought to be.  Here is a link to what I wrote in 2012 about his tenure as Commissioner of Baseball listing his accomplishments, comparing him to the previous Commissioners of Baseball and comparing him to the commissioners in the other major US sports.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced his retirement from NASCAR racing earlier this year and recently signed on with NBC as a commentator.  Not surprisingly, NBC says it will use him to do color commentary and analysis for NASCAR events.  However, in the announcement regarding Earnhardt joining NBC, the network said it will also look to include him in “other parts of NBC’s programming outside of racing.”  Here is an off-the-wall prediction:

  • The final NASCAR event for this season will be Sunday Nov.19th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
  • Earnhardt is widely known to be a rabid Washington Redskins’ fan and NBC will telecast the Giants at Washington game on Thursday night November 23 (Thanksgiving night).
  • I predict Earnhardt will have a speaking role in the pre-game walk-up to the game and will do a “drop-in” to the booth during the game to chitchat with Al Michaels and Cris Colinsworth.

A friend asked me recently if I thought that the movement of 3 NFL franchises in a year’s time might be detrimental to the league.  I said the league might come to regret putting two teams in Los Angeles at the same time but that the league could remedy that “problem” if and when it materialized by moving the Chargers again.  My friend then said that the owners must not have been foresighted when they voted to allow all of these movements.

That sent me to do a bit of research and here is what I believe is the situation with regard to the 29 NFL owners who are not moving their franchises and who voted to approve the movements of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders:

  • After the NFL front office takes its cut of the relocation fees charged to these teams, each of those 29 other owners will pocket somewhere between $53M and $55M.  All those 29 owners had to do was to raise their hands to vote “YES”.
  • I suspect that was all of the foresightedness that most of the owners needed to vote the way that they did…

In international soccer news, the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) won the CONCACAF Gold Cup beating Jamaica in the final game 2-1.  About a year ago, the USMNT was in the doldrums to say the least; they were struggling with early games in the World Cup qualifying rounds and the team played “dispiritedly”.  A change of coaches has seemingly changed whatever ailed the team back then.  In 13 games since Bruce Arena took over, the USMNT has not lost a game.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup is contested every other year and involves the national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean region.  In terms of using this tournament as a benchmark for FIFA worldwide competition, recognize that the South American teams do not participate.  That means that Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia – all four ranked in FIFA’s Top Ten worldwide – were not involved.  Three other South American teams – Peru, Mexico and Uruguay – are ranked between #10 and #20 in the FIFA rankings.  And obviously, none of the European national teams – good or bad – participated.

This is not to diminish the victory by the USMNT in any way; it is simply meant to provide a bit of context with regard to the CONCACAF Gold Cup event itself.  Winning this tournament does not advance the USMNT to the World Cup tournament to be held in Russia in 2018; earning a slot in that tournament is the next hurdle for the USMNT.  Here is how the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying stands now:

  • There remain 6 teams in the running for 3 guaranteed entry slots in the World Cup Tournament.  A fourth slot is possible based on a play-in game against a team from the Asian Federation.
  • Each team has played 6 games and the USMNT is in 3rd place trailing Mexico and Costa Rica.  For the moment, they lead Panama by 1 point, Honduras by 3 points and Trinidad and Tobago by 5 points.
  • The USMNT has 4 games left in this round; the next one is against Costa Rica and the rest are against the teams trailing them in the table as of today.  In the matches leading up to now, the USMNT lost to Costa Rica, drew with Panama and beat Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

Finally, let me close with a soccer note that came from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On, in the Deseret News:

“McDonald’s is reconsidering its sponsorship of next year’s World Cup, due to ethical questions regarding FIFA.

“Meanwhile, FIFA is considering ending the agreement based on the taste of McDonald’s fish sandwiches.”

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



Bouncing Around Today …

Yesterday was all about one subject – – CTE and football.  Today will be more like an anthology – – except not nearly as literate.  Let me begin with the release of results from a recent poll done by JD Power & Associates, a highly regarded polling and market consulting firm.  According to the summary of the data, it was the “national anthem protests” that caused the major portion of the drop in TV viewership for the NFL last year.  Let’s do some math here as we contemplate the interpretation – not the results – of this polling:

  1. JD Power polled 9200 people (a good sample size) who had attended at least one sporting event last year if they tuned in to see less NFL football last season and if so, why did they do so.  (These questions are layered and are addressed to a segment of the population likely to watch NFL games on TV.)
  2. Of the ones who said they watched less of the NFL on TV, the highest response as to why they did so was some version of “Colin Kaepernicks’s national anthem protest”.  That was the answer given by 26% of the fraction that said they watched less NFL football on TV.
  3. That sounds as if the protest had a major effect – – – until you also notice that according to the same JD Power survey, only 12% of this audience said it watched fewer NFL telecasts last year.  So, it was 26% of the 12% who watched less football who did so because of the protest.  That is about 3% and that is a far less dramatic result.
  4. Going slightly deeper into the numbers, 27% of the respondents said they watched more NFL football last year and 62% said they watched the same amount.  So, based on this survey, for every person who watched less NFL last year, there are more than 2 other people who watched more.

The people who believe deeply in Colin Kaepernick and the cause he espouses want very much to be able to say that they and he have “started a movement” and that it has been manifest in diminishing the popularity of the most popular sport in the US.  The problem is that wishing it were so does not make it so.  NFL ratings were down last year significantly up until the election of 2016; from that point forward NFL TV ratings were down only 1% year-over-year.

Two events earlier this week gave those folks who are outraged by Colin Kaepernick’s lack of an NFL job reason to howl at the moon.

  • First, the LA Chargers invited RG3 to come and work out for them but did not extend a similar offer to Kaepernick.  Most neutral observers would agree that Kaepernick is a better QB than RG3, but it was RG3 who “got the call”.  The Chargers did not sign RG3, but they “kicked the tires” …
  • Second, the Chargers then traded for a backup QB sending a conditional draft pick to Buffalo for Cardale Jones.  Let’s just say that Jones’ résumé as an NFL QB is a tad thin.  He has appeared in 1 game; and in that game, he was 6 for 11 for 96 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT.  Colin Kaepernick led a team to the Super Bowl.

Since I mentioned the NFL and its telecasts above, let me now let you in on the way ESPN will structure its programming on Sunday mornings leading up to the NFL telecasts at 1:00PM ET.

  • At 7:00 AM, ESPN will air a 3-hour version of SportsCenter
  • At 10:00 AM, ESPN will air a 3-hour version of its Sunday NFL Countdown; that is an expansion over previous years.  Chris Berman will not be at the helm as he had been for decades and the other studio hosts will be different too.  Samantha Ponder – wife of NFLer Christian Ponder – will be in charge replacing Berman.  The core group of studio hosts will be Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan and Charles Woodsen.  The standard cast of NFL Insiders at ESPN will make regular appearances here too.
  • At 10:00 AM, SportsCenter will shift from ESPN to ESPN NEWS going until game time.  That means, in effect, there will be a 6-hour SportsCenter produced every Sunday morning.
  • At 10:00 AM, ESPN2 will air a 3-hour program on Fantasy Football.  I understand that I am one of a dwindling minority of people who ignores Fantasy Football completely; nonetheless, I am gobsmacked that there could possibly be 3 hours of relevant commentary on that subject for even one Sunday let alone for 17 of them.
  • At 10:00AM, ESPNU will rebroadcast College Football Final from the day before giving the highlights of college games played on Saturday.  That is a 1-hour program and it will be repeated back-to-back-to-back 3 times taking ESPNU up to 1:  PM.

Let me channel Hank Williams, Jr. here – who will be back on MNF this year after a 5-year hiatus:

  • “Are you ready for some football?”

I read a report citing data from NFL ticket resellers about the average price for a ticket on those sites for various teams.  Looking at the list, it is not surprising to note that the teams at the top are ones who are successful on the field.  The Pats’ tickets are the most expensive on average at $360 per seat.  Then come the Broncos, Falcons, Packers, Seahawks, Steelers … you get the idea.  However, in the “Top Ten” – in the #7 slot to be exact – I found the Chicago Bears.  Since the 2006 season when the Bears lost in the Super Bowl to the Colts, the Bears have been to the playoffs exactly one time.  In the intervening 10 years, the Bears’ cumulative record is 75-85.  Nevertheless, if you want to buy a ticket on the resale market for a Bears’ game at Soldier Field, be aware that the average price is $209 per fanny-receptacle.

Finally, Falcons’ resale ticket prices are through the roof but the team is going to provide low-cost concessions to fans this year.  That news led to this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“The Atlanta Falcons are rewarding fans this year by offering soft drinks, bottled water, hot dogs and fries for $2 each, and cheeseburgers for $5.

“This is apparently to counter the taste of Super Bowl LI, which is known among Atlantans as ‘Barf in Your Mouth Day’.”

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



CTE And The Future Of Football

The topic for today is chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  From now on, I shall refer to it familiarly as CTE.  Depending on your particular mindset, CTE is either:

  1. A church bell tolling to indicate the imminent death of American football as a sport – – or – –
  2. A legal/financial liability that is an annoying burr under the saddle of Roger Goodell, NFL owners and NCAA Athletic Departments.

As with most things, I believe that reality lies somewhere between the extremes.  Let me start with what I think I know about this subject.  CTE is a degenerative brain disease; it manifests itself with symptoms such as dizziness, reduced attention span, memory loss, headaches, disorientation and suicidal thoughts/actions; there is no known way to cure the condition; it is progressive; it comes on as a result of a person suffering repeated blows to the head with or without full-on concussions because of those blows to the head.

Medical science has – currently – a severe limitation when it comes to diagnosing CTE.  The only real diagnosis comes from examining the brain tissue of a dead person; as of July 2017, there is no way to examine a living/breathing person to determine that he/she has CTE in an early stage or in an advanced stage.  That means there is no way to “screen” athletes before/during/after events that involve them taking repeated blows to the head to see if CTE has begun or has advanced.

Medical science has advanced to the point that there can be a post-mortem diagnosis which can then lead to correlation studies which can illuminate the potential dangers of playing football.  What it has done is to provide athletes with sufficient information that they might make informed decisions regarding their participation or continued participation in a sport like football.  Just this morning, the Ravens’ OL, John Urschel announced his retirement at age 26.  Urschel is not your normal NFL player; he was pursuing – and will continue to pursue – his PhD in mathematics at MIT.  Although he made no public pronouncement about the reasons for his abrupt retirement just as training camp began, the fact that a major study related to CTE and deceased football players became public only a few days before makes one suspect how he reached that decision.

The big news earlier this week was that a lab study on the brains of 111 former football players showed that 110 of them had some degree of CTE.  You can read reports of that study in this Washington Post article.  As a person trained in science, I know that correlation and causation are two different things but when the correlation is 110 out of 111 cases, one must sit up and take notice.

There is one aspect of this study that must be recognized.  There is a built-in sampling bias here that favors the correlation of CTE and playing football.  The brains that were examined came from players and or their families when either the player or members of the family had some reason to believe that the deceased had suffered some sort of brain injury.  That does not negate the study in any way; it does mean that this is not a “definitive” study that has explicated the entire situation.

Obviously, CTE has existed in Homo sapiens since the time when early men hit their heads on cave walls; the technology to detect CTE and the understanding of human brain structure and function have expanded since then, but the condition has persisted.  I have written before that people knew that boxers suffered from being “punch drunk” as they got older and people loosely attributed that condition to their history of being repeatedly punched in the face and head.  Football players similarly take repeated blows to the head albeit not in the form of punches.  Former head coach at Michigan State, Duffy Daugherty famously described football this way:

“Football isn’t a contact sport; It’s a collision sport.  Dancing is a contact sport.”

Former NFL players have sued the league successfully seeking compensation to cover the aftermath of their careers based on CTE symptoms.  That suit along with revelations like the ones in the study cited above have led more than a few commentators to suggest that the NFL and American football as a sport are on a downward arc.  That may ultimately be true but let me point out that CTE ought to be present in plenty of other sports as well.  If CTE is going to serve as the Grim Reaper for American football, then what about:

  • Boxing
  • Ice hockey
  • MMA
  • Rugby

Rather than conclude that football and these other sports are doomed to extinction based on the expanding awareness regarding CTE, I believe that the sports will continue to exist and will maintain a loyal fanbase but that there will be fewer athletes in the pool for teams to choose from.  Some parents will indeed refuse to allow their kids to participate in these activities but the number will not dwindle to zero so long as there are ample financial and social rewards for participating in those sports.

I suspect that the NFL – as the sport most closely located in the bull’s eye of this study – will address the results in a properly constructed legal and public relations manner.  I expect them to say inter alia:

  1. The league feels great sympathy for those former players who suffered in their later years and for the families of those players.
  2. The league supports further investigation into CTE and looks forward to a time when there is a diagnostic test for CTE that can be administered easily, and reliably during one’s playing career.
  3. The league has made player safety a priority as knowledge of CTE has expanded and will continue to do so.

The last point on that list needs to be expanded just a bit.  Recalling Duffy Daugherty’s assessment of football as a collision sport, it is not something that can be made “completely safe’.  I do not care what new rules are installed or what level of protective gear is invented and applied to players; football will be more dangerous to one’s brain than chess.  I think football is similar to NASCAR and/or Indy car racing in this aspect.  In both of those motor sports, there have been safety advances over the past 3 decades that have made those sports much safer than they were in the past.  But they are not “completely safe”; and as long as drivers are barreling around a racetrack at 200 mph, they will never be “completely safe”.

Auto racing execs and football execs need to recognize that safety is a real issue and it is important to the future economic well-being of their sport.  They cannot and should not ignore it; nor should they be paralyzed in their thinking by ‘safety fears”.  The CTE study announced earlier this week ought to make a broad spectrum of society take notice and begin to think about sports and athletes and economics and societal norms.  In today’s hyper opposition environment, I fully expect to be labeled as a societal cretin because I provide economic incentive to athletes to go out and injure their brains purely for my enjoyment.  Someone will identify me as akin to the folks who sat in the seats at the Roman Coliseum and watched gladiators fight to the death.

Obviously, I do not see myself that way and I do not think every sports fan should think of himself/herself in that way.  At the same time, I cannot control how everyone else sees me and if it is out of my control, I guess the best thing to do is to ignore those other folks.  Fighting/arguing with them is not likely to be productive; I doubt that I am going to reverse the course of my life regarding how I spend my leisure time.  So, arguing is going to lead to nowhere and I would prefer to do other things than engage in fruitless arguments.

Finally, there has to be a kernel of truth/reality in satirical commentary for it to be relevant.  So, let me close today with an observation by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the ardor of some football fans in 2017:

“During the Husker football Fan Fest last Friday a tornado warning was issued for Lancaster County and still virtually nobody left. That one sentence perfectly encapsulates Husker football.

“During the first Husker football Fan Fest free pizza and Chick-fil-A was served. Husker football, free pizza, free Chick-fil-A. I believe the unofficial attendance was 13 million.”

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



Something New Every Day

There are certain things that have happened in the sports world that you assume you will never see again such as:

  1. An NBA player scoring 100 points in a game
  2. Secretariat’s dominance of the Belmont Stakes
  3. A team trailing in the Super Bowl by 25 points in the 3rd quarter rallying to win the game in OT.

I also thought that I would never again see one of José Canseco’s ignominious moments in the outfield – – the one where a ball hit him in the head and bounced over the fence for a home run.  Scratch that off the list as of this morning…  Here is a link to an item on CBSSports.com this morning with a short video clip of a minor league outfielder named Zach Borenstein taking a shot off his noggin and seeing the ball go over the fence for a home run.  Unlike Canseco who was close to the wall on the warning track, Borenstein is a good distance from fence.  It is worth a quick glance.

Also at CBSSports.com this morning is a note by Pete Prisco naming Kirk Cousins as the NFL’s most overrated player.  The gist of the argument here is that Cousins is a “top 10-15 quarterback” in the NFL but that he is being paid more than anyone else in the league this year.  My problem with labeling Cousins that way is that it confuses “overrated” with “overpaid”.  Pete Prisco is correct; Kirk Cousins is not the best QB in the NFL; he is better than the majority of other starting QBs, but he is not at the top of the list nor is he real close to the top of the list.  However, his salary is not based on some hyper-inflated view of his abilities by the Skins’ management; in fact, it is just the opposite.

Kirk Cousins will make about $25M this year because the  Skins undervalued him 2 years ago but still put the franchise tag on him.  That meant he had to be paid at the average salary of the top 5 QBs in the NFL and when the Skins’ still tried to low-ball him this year, the second franchise tag demanded a 20% raise from the previous year’s already inflated figure.  The Skins did not overrate him; they underrated him and are now paying the price for their misappraisal.

After observing the promotional tour for the Mayweather/McGregor fight and reading about some of the subsequent actions/ events, I now understand why Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus had to close.  When the circus came to town, it meant binging a couple hundred people plus animals along with various mechanical devices just to put on a show.  The Mayweather/McGregor Circus put on their show with 4 clowns – add Bob Arum and Dana White to the two participants and you have the full cast of characters.  There is no way the economics can possibly work out for Ringling Bros. here…

In case you are interested in the wagering aspects for the upcoming fight, here is how the early betting has been going in Las Vegas;

  • When the fight was announced, Mayweather was an overwhelming favorite at “minus-2500” and McGregor was the underdog at “+1100”
  • At the Westgate Superbook so far, the money and the action is heavily in favor of McGregor.  At one point the Super book said that 93% of the tickets outstanding were for McGregor and 75% of the money was on McGregor.
  • After “several low-five figure bets” went down on McGregor last week, the odds fell to their lowest point since wagering opened.  Mayweather was then “minus-550” and McGregor was “+425”.
  • At the South Point Sportsbook a prop bet offered 6-1 odds on McGregor winning by a KO.  According to a spokesperson for the casino, one bettor took that proposition and put $35,000 down on it.

The Jaguars’ DE/OLB, Dante Fowler, made the news last week in a non-football manner.  Fowler was the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Jags; he missed his entire rookie year with a knee injury; he appeared in all 16 games in 2016 recording 4 sacks and 23 tackles.  Those are not eye-popping numbers, but they are respectable.  Last week, Fowler was arrested after an “incident with another driver”.  Here are some of the reported “highlights”:

  • The other driver made some comment about Fowler’s driving.  Assuming that actually happened, I believe we can infer from the following that the comment was not any form of praise.
  • Fowler then got out of his car, exchanged words with the other driver, hit the other driver, knocked the other driver’s glasses to the ground and then stepped on the glasses and broke them.
  • According to the police report, this was the point where Dante Fowler channeled celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, and took it up a notch.  The police report says that Fowler then “took the victim’s grocery bag, with recently purchased liquor, and threw it in a lake.”

If you are going to go caveman on someone else, I guess it makes sense to go “full Alley Oop” on him.  The “groceries into the lake” seems like a good way to put a punctuation mark on the emotional outburst here.  Nonetheless, I suspect that people who are counselors for others with “anger-management issues” might see this opera with a degree of concern.  Perhaps, Roger Goodell might too…

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding the upcoming college football season:

“The new Oklahoma head coach is Lincoln Riley, 33. You know what you call a 33-year-old at Nebraska? ‘Redshirt freshman offensive lineman’.”

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



The Clippers In LA …

Billionaires do not call me seeking my advice; not surprisingly, even my kids do not call me asking for my advice.  I’ve grown accustomed to this station in life.  Nonetheless, every once in a while, I rise above my lowly stature as an advisor and presume to tell a billionaire what he should do to spend his money.  Today is such a day.

I read a report that LA Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer, is “chagrined” that his team is still the “also-ran” in Los Angeles when it comes to basketball interest.  Yes, the Clippers have had a significantly better record than the Lakers in the time that Ballmer has owned the team; yes, he can properly claim to be the guy at the helm of the franchise that has found a way not to embarrass the team or the city quarterly; yes, he is a visible, enthusiastic and generally attractive owner as opposed to his predecessor.  Notwithstanding the veracity of all those things, NBA basketball in LA identifies as the Lakers – not the Clippers – and it would take at least a decade of Lakers’ bumbling ineptitude even to begin to put the Clippers into the alpha role there.

And so, I have a piece of advice for Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer:

  • Forget the idea that you will build yourself a new arena in LA and that edifice will project you and your team into the top-dog position in the minds of LA basketball fans.  What you need to do is simpler – and yet more radical…
  • You need to build yourself a state-of-the-art/knock-your-socks-off new arena in Seattle and move your Clippers there and re-name them the Seattle Supersonics.

First, Seattle is where you were while you made your billions of dollars that allowed you to buy into the NBA ownership society in the first place.  Second, the folks in Seattle will love you to death if you give them back the NBA team they believe they are entitled to have.  Third, as you have rightly noticed, most of the fans in LA will not care that you have left town – assuming that they notice that you are no longer in town.  Fourth, you can afford to build the edifice and own it (Forbes says you are worth something north of $30B.) and reap whatever rewards come from that ownership.  Fifth, if the city turns down your deal to build the venue and provide the city with something other than an expansion franchise, you – and the NBA in general – can tell the fans and the city fathers there to go pound sand; they will get a team on the Twelfth of Never.

Please do not conclude from the preceding paragraphs that anything like this is going to happen at any time in the future.  As I indicated, my advice on these sorts of things is about as useful as a “STOP sign” in the Grand Theft Auto game.

Speaking of NBA teams and ownership thereof, reports say that the Houston Rockets are for sale.  Forbes says the team is worth $1.65B; reports say that the asking price is $2B.  There have been reports that Dikembe Mutombo has been trying to put together an investment group with sufficient resources to make a bid for the team.  If I were to say that this undertaking is a tall order for Mutombo, you would be perfectly justified to groan loudly and tell me to go to my room without supper…

Seattle Seahawks’ CB, Richard Sherman is no stranger to “the headlines”.  One of his more recent utterances that got him there was a statement that NFL players must be ready to go on strike if they want to avail themselves of contracts like the ones being handed out to NBA players these days.  In a way, he is absolutely correct and in another way, he is barking up the wrong tree.

  • As I pointed out in a previous rant, the pool of money that an NFL team has to hand out to players is approximately double that of the money an NBA team has to hand out.
  • NFL teams have to pay 61 players; NBA teams have to pay 15.  Therefore, players in the NFL have less money per player to be allocated.  This is simple math, folks…
  • HOW-EVAH, if the NFL players want the luxury of guaranteed contracts – even if those will necessarily be shorter in duration than current contracts due to the specter of injury in the NFL – they are going to have to negotiate that into the next CBA and that will not come easily if at all.

There is a segment of football fandom that just does not like Richard Sherman probably because he does not comport himself the way other NFL star players tend to do.  That perception/assessment is accurate and those fans are perfectly within the purview of their fandom to think that way.  Notwithstanding any of that, Richard Sherman is completely correct on this issue.  He is not – yet – urging a strike; he is not demanding a strike.  What he has done is to put the NFLPA and the NFL on notice that if/when this issue becomes a sticking point in future negotiations, he is on record now with the idea that this is a worthy goal to seek in a CBA even if it means a players’ strike/lockout/work stoppage.

Obviously, I have no interest in seeing “replacement players” in NFL games any more than I want to see the return of the ”replacement refs” to NFL games.  However, Richard Sherman has laid out fairly clearly here the parameters for one issue in future CBA negotiations and he has done it sensibly and articulately.  There is exactly no reason to be angry with him for doing that.

Finally, here is an observation from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding Big 10 Media Day leading into the college football season:

“Iowa players attending Big Ten media days include Josey Jewell. This is believed to be the highest honor ever for a human named ‘Josey’.”

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



A College Football Coach Steps Down

It is not as if a head football coach at a major school in a major conference has never had to step down from that job “unceremoniously”.  A few that come to mind are:

  1. Woody Hayes – Ohio State – assaulted an opposing player with a forearm while a game was in progress.
  2. Bobby Petrino – Arkansas – had a motorcycle accident that revealed an inappropriate relationship with someone who worked for him.
  3. Mike Price – Alabama – got into his cups in a strip club before he ever coached a game there.
  4. Kevin Wilson – Indiana – had “philosophical differences” with the Athletic Director.

Add Hugh Freese to the list.  Freese resigned as the head coach at Mississippi under an unusual set of circumstances.  The team has been highly successful during his time at Ole Miss beating Alabama in consecutive years (2014/15) and winning a Sugar Bowl game.  I remember when Ole Miss was a football powerhouse in the 1960s when they won national championships based on polls; their football fortunes more recently had tended toward “break even seasons”; then Freese arrived and the Rebels won a bit more than 60% of their games.

Opposing coaches and fanbases were – and probably still are – convinced that Freese used some “recruiting shortcuts” to assemble the talent he put on the field and the NCAA had already been peering into possible infractions that may have happened under Freese’s predecessor, Houston Nutt.  Freese professes to be a man of great faith and asserts that he ran his program in accordance with those high principles and values.  Whenever he was questioned about possible wrongdoing, he pointed to the faith that he wore on his sleeve and denied everything.

What came to light recently was a phone call placed from Freese’s phone – supplied by the university – to an escort service.  For a man who repeatedly used his faith and his piety as an explanation for his behaviors, that would have been most embarrassing but he simply said that it was a wrong number.  That story might have held because it was a short call and there was only one of them.  However, juxtaposed with the ongoing NCAA investigation(s), this became a burden too big for the school to bear.  So, Hugh Freese was given the opportunity to resign but the school made it clear that they were willing to invoke a “moral turpitude” clause in his contract as the basis to fire him.

Here are a few observations related to this matter:

  1. If indeed that call was a “wrong number” that was accidentally dialed, it would be ironic to learn that a “butt dial” to an “escort service” led to this resignation.
  2. Football coaches at every level are not always “truth-tellers”; lying, obfuscation and dissembling are skills that football coaches need and use; it is “professionally acceptable behavior”.  Having said that, rampant hypocrisy is much more difficult to take – even from a successful football coach.
  3. The interim coach is Matt Luke who was the OL coach and offensive coordinator under Hugh Freese.  In keeping with Freese’s piety theme, note that his name consists of half of the writers of the Gospels in the New Testament.  It may take someone of that stature to hold this program together this year…

As someone who enjoyed Batman comic books as a kid, the Hugh Freese matter has an interesting linkage.  One of Batman’s old arch-enemies was Mr. Freeze; his name is homophonic with Coach Hugh Freese.  Another of Batman’s villainous adversaries was Mr. Two Face; that seemingly describes Coach Hugh Freese quite well.  If you had told me when I sat down to compose this rant that I would tie together Ole Miss football with old-time Batman comic books, I would have been skeptical…

The other big news from late last week was the announcement that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded from the Cavaliers with 2 years left on his contract.  Reports indicate that Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James.  Let me assume those reports are completely accurate for a moment; if that is the case:

  • Do not forget this circumstance any time in the future when Kyrie Irving or one of his representatives tries to tell the world that the only thing Kyrie cares about is winning championships.  If you are a basketball player and that is indeed your primary motivation, playing on the same team with LeBron James puts you in good stead to achieve that end.

I will not pretend to know the genesis of this trade demand from Kyrie Irving nor will I pretend to know where he might want to go for the next installment of his basketball career.  Naturally, there were knee-jerk analyses right after this story hit the streets suggesting either or both the Lakers or the Knicks as his next team.  The Lakers might be an interesting choice but the Knicks would likely be an unpleasant stop for him.  There is no way Kyrie Irving has asked for my advice and there is no reason for him to value it even a little bit, but if I were able to wave a magic wand and put him on another team where he might flourish, I would consider these options:

  • New Orleans Pelicans:  They have plenty of talent at the “big positions”; there is room for improvement at “shooting guard”; Irving might be the catalyst for a big step forward for the Pelicans.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves:  This team is loaded – with the recent acquisition of Jimmy Butler – and Irving might be what they need to become the #1 challenger to the Warriors in the NBA West.

Given that this would have to be a trade situation, I think the Cavs would be most likely to send him to the West and not to another East team.  However, there is an interesting aspect to all of this.  Remember, that Dan Gilbert fired GM David Griffin and then low-balled Chauncy Billups as his replacement.  Now we hear that Kyrie Irving wants out.  LeBron James has only one year left on his deal before he can opt out.  So, riddle me this – continuing my focus on Batman’s opponents:

  • If LeBron also “wants out”, is it possible that Dan Gilbert is the common denominator” here and that he is the chaos creator?  If he is indeed the burr under everyone’s saddle there, would that make him the ownership equivalent of Donald Sterling minus the racism?  Just asking…

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding fan fervor in SEC country:

“An Auburn fan showed up at SEC media days with his dog painted blue and orange. This work of art is widely considered to be the Mona Lisa of the South.”

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



The Juice Is Loose – – Almost

OJ Simpson was granted parole yesterday; this was front page news in the Washington Post today.  I am confident that there is no other person incarcerated by the State of Nevada whose parole would make it to the front page of the Washington Post.  In fact, the only other people currently in jail that might achieve that status that come to my mind are:

  1. Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber)
  2. “The Underwear Bomber” (cannot recall the name)
  3. Bernie Madoff
  4. Charles Manson
  5. Terry Nichols

Reverting to the sports world…  When I was in high school, one of my classmates of the female persuasion was an athlete and a big sports fan.  We would catch up at periodic reunions and she has been a reader of these rants almost since the day they hit the Internet.  Having lived for a time in NYC, she is a Knicks’ fan.  I will pause here so that you may offer your condolences now.

Right after the Knicks fired Phil Jackson, she sent me an e-mail saying that she would love to get the job as Knicks’ president so that she could put the team on the right path.  I responded by asking her if I could be one of the team’s collegiate scouts if she got the job.  Making me a college basketball scout would allow me to realize what Mark Twain identified as the path to a truly happy life.  He said it involved 2 simple steps:

  • First, find what it is that you truly love to do.
  • Second, find some damn fool who will pay you to do it.

Alas, my classmate did not get the job and my hopes to lead a truly happy life will have to continue to be what I derive from these rants.  This all goes to show that Groucho Marx was correct when he noted:

“Man does not control his own fate.  The women in his life do that for him.”

Scott Perry got the job as the Knicks GM having most recently served as the VP for Basketball Operations for the Sacramento Kings.  If Scott Perry is the intersection of the Kings’ organization and the Knicks’ organization, perhaps we should refer to him as “Dysfunction Junction”.  The Knicks must be very enamored with Perry’s abilities because they gave the Kings a second-round pick and “cash considerations” to hire Scott Perry.  Until the announcement of this hiring, I was not aware that it was Perry who “masterminded” the Kings’ draft and their free agent signings this year; now that I know that I have to say that he deserves kudos.

  • In the draft, the Kings got De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason.  Giles is the biggest question mark here because he comes off an injury last year but the other 3 picks look rock solid.
  • In free agency, the Kings signed George Hill and Zach Randolph – two solid NBA players who should provide leadership and stability for the rest of the young roster.

I am not ready to pretend that the Kings are a threat to the Warriors in the NBA West just yet, but the franchise has needed rebooting for a while now and this off-season seems to be a reasonable start along that path.  Like the Kings, the Knicks have been in need of a roster reboot for a while now.  Starting with the 2001-02 NBA season, the Knicks have been over .500 exactly twice and one of those times finished the season with a 42-40 record.  In terms of on-the-court issues, Scott Perry and coach Jeff Hornacek have to deal with:

  1. What to do with Carmelo Anthony once and for all.  Now, he says he would waive his no-trade clause for specific teams; can the Knicks make a reasonable deal for him?  Whatever their decision, they need to make it and take that soap opera off the air.
  2. How to repair relations with Kristaps Porzingis.  He is a talented player and he was clearly not happy with the “prior management”.
  3. Do they have an NBA level point guard on the roster?  They did not have one last year; they drafted Frank Ntilikina who played in Europe for Strasbourg in the French League last year.  Scouts say he was the best pick of the foreign players in the draft; the calendar says he will turn 19 years old next week.

If you are a Knicks’ fan like my classmate, you can look at the glass as half full and under a running faucet.  No one would blame you if you looked at the glass here as half empty and under a faucet dispensing water from the Flint Michigan water system.  There is a discordant note in the background here.  Prior to hiring Scott Perry, the Knicks were in negotiations with David Griffin for the GM job.  Like Perry, Griffin had experience in a dysfunctional organization whilst he was GM for the Cavaliers.  However, Griffin did manage to deal with the egos on the court and the mercurial owner sufficiently to deliver a championship and appearances in the NBA Finals.

Griffin removed himself from consideration for the job and it was reported that a sticking point was that he would not have hiring/firing authority.  I can’t point to specifics, but given the way the Knicks have been run for the last 15 years, there are likely some folks in the organization that would be better off in the unemployment line.  Unless, of course, all the dysfunction belongs to owner, James Dolan, in which case any GM from Planet Earth is doomed from the start.  The final chapter has not been written yet…

Finally, here is an observation from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle regarding an off-season move in the NBA:

“With Chris Paul and James Harden sharing a backcourt, every Rockets game will be a flopping clinic. There will be times when one of them takes a shot and both of them fall down.”

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



Windfall Profits

If you ever visit Las Vegas and venture into one of the casinos on The Strip, all you have to do is to look around at the facilities/accoutrements there to realize that “The House” does not lose over the long run.  That is not a complaint or a protest of any kind; it is an acknowledgement of reality.  Earlier this week, I ran across a report in the Las Vegas Journal-Review detailing how some winners in some casinos have voluntarily forfeited their winnings to “The House” giving the casinos a windfall profit at the expense of its customers.  Here is the deal:

  • The Chicago Cubs have a large national following and for years – 108 of them to be precise – the Cubs’ fans rooted for a World Series.  In the casino era in Las Vegas, those fans would bet on the cubs to win the World Series every year and the house would bank the bets.
  • Last year, there were lots of bets on the Cubs as usual – – except the team actually did win the World Series.  Some fans with winning tickets did not cash them; instead they kept them as souvenirs.
  • Sportsbook bets typically have a 6-month lifetime once the winner has been determined.  World Series bets had to be settled a couple of months ago so now the accountants in Las Vegas recognize how much the sportsbooks have “saved” in terms of payouts.

The details are in this report and the amounts naturally vary from company to company but here is the bottom line:

  • More than 1,000 winning tickets on the cubs to win the world Series remain uncashed at casinos serviced by CG Technologies.
  • At the Golden Nugget sportsbook, two $600 bets on the Cubs at 5-1 odds were not cashed.

“The House” wins in the long run; Cubs’ fans gave them a helping hand last year…

Yesterday, I mentioned that I am not one of Billy Beane’s acolytes and made some critical remarks about the Oakland A’s as a team.  Two readers told me via e-mail that I was being too hard on Beane and the A’s and that there were worse GMs and worse teams in MLB.  That may be the case over the past year or two, but there are significant distinctions in my mind.

First, Billy Beane has been the GM in Oakland for about 20 years.  I cannot think of another MLB GM who – when criticized for not being half the genius he has been made out to be is supported by the argument, “Well there are worse ones,” AND that GM has been around for 2 decades.  Moreover, fans in Oakland seemingly have recognized that the team is dismal and are finding other things to do with their time and money.  Consider:

  • The A’s attendance reflects three factors and the A’s attendance is dismal.  Let me review some numbers here.  Since 2007, the A’s total attendance has gone over 2 million exactly one time and in that year, they exceeded 2 million fans by the grand total of 3,628 folks.  In that 10-year stretch, the A’s attendance has been 12th or worse in the AL 8 out of 10 years.  So far this year, the A’s are on pace to draw a little over 1.5 million fans.
  • Yes, the Oakland Coliseum is a miserable venue; it adds to any repulsion fans may have regarding the team.  However, there is another team-related factor that hurts attendance.  There is no continuity there.
  • If the A’s trade away Sonny Gray – as is widely speculated – in the next few days as the trade deadline approaches, the longest tenured players on the roster will have been there since the 2015 season.  There is no “face of the franchise” because no one stays around long enough to establish nearly the identity needed to assume that role.  The troika of bad stadium, bad team and revolving-door roster explains why the A’s have to scramble and scratch to try to be competitive.
  • The GM has some control over two of those three negative factors.  He gets a pass only on the noxiousness of the stadium.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am not a huge fan of movies; in general, I would much rather spend a couple of hours reading a book than going to see a movie.  Nevertheless, I am a fan of Al Pacino as an actor; I would not make it a point to go and see a movie simply because he is in the movie, but I do enjoy his acting when I happen to see him on screen.  Recently, I read that Al Pacino will play the part of Joe Paterno in a movie about Penn State and Penn State football.  My immediate reaction was:

  • Does the world really need this?

The Jerry Sandusky matter was outrageous, scandalous and barbaric.  There was ton of blame to be handed out to myriad folks regarding that whole business – – and in fact, the justice system seems to be trudging along in handing out that blame and the punishments that go with it.  It surely appears as if the university has moved on to a new place with regard to what happened and I wonder if there is a real value in re-hashing that mess.

[Aside:  I make a distinction here between a “documentary” and a film that “examines” the situation through the eyes of a screenwriter or team of screenwriters.  What happened was a fact – a horrible fact.  Is there really a benefit to be derived from a sort of historical fiction here?]

            Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that rings true to me:

“Sarcasm ahead: I don’t know how anybody could have enjoyed watching Babe Ruth without knowing the launch angle and exit velocity of his home runs.”

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



Must-See TV? Not For Me …

ESPN bills itself as the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”.  Ignoring the ESPN channels in foreign countries about which I know nothing, I believe the ESPN “family of networks” has 5 different channels that are on the air 168 hours per week.  That demands a lot of “inventory” and/or reruns to prevent dead air or a test pattern for periods of time.  Execs at ESPN must be vigilant in their search for programming to fill up all those hours; later this week, they will get a smidgen of help from the US jurisprudence system.  You read that right…

Tomorrow, in Nevada, OJ Simpson will be up for parole and he will go before the parole board to see if he can get out of prison there.  That event will be televised on ESPN – and other networks too – as it happens; the schedule calls for it to begin at 1:00 PM EDT.  Then, ESPN will air a special 90-minute version of Outside the Lines anchored by Jeremy Schapp.

You may be sure that I will have something else to do at 1:00 PM EDT tomorrow; I have been meaning to find time to arrange the paper clips in my desk drawer…  However, you may be enticed to tune in to see the results of this hearing because – – wait for it – – you can bet on the outcome of the hearing at offshore Internet sportsbooks.  As of this morning, here are the odds at one of those sites:

  • Granted parole in 2017:  Miinus-475
  • Not Granted parole in 2017:  +325

The proposition will not necessarily be determined tomorrow because even if the parole board thinks it is OK to release OJ, the earliest he would hit the streets is in October.  To fulfill the proposition “Granted parole in 2017” means that OJ must get a favorable decision tomorrow AND that the process leading up to his release comes to fruition before December 31, 2017.

  • Memo to Anyone Making This Wager:  Get yourself into a 12-step program … quickly.

Last week, there was a headline at SI.com that has to be nominated as the most self-evident headline of the year.

“MLB Rumors:  Multiple teams interested in Marlins’ Stanton”

That would be Giancarlo Stanton.  He is 27 years old; this is his 8th year in MLB where he has a career OPS of .901; he is a 4-time All-Star.  Looking at those stats, even someone who does not follow MLB closely would have to ask himself/herself the following questions after reading that headline:

  1. Why would the Marlins want to trade him?
  2. How many of the other 29 teams in MLB have 3 outfielders better than Stanton?
  3. Is there another “MLB Rumor” out there to the effect that Babe Ruth was a pretty good ballplayer?

Here is what would be really surprising to see as a headline at SI.com or anywhere else:

“Marlins cannot find any MLB team with interest in acquiring Giancarlo Stanton”

While on the subject of baseball, anyone who has been reading these rants for a while knows that I am not a believer in Billy Beane as some sort of baseball savant who knows more than everyone else combined about how to construct a roster.  I will point to the A’s record over the last decade if need be.  Recently, we had another Billy Beane “outside the box move” when he traded two relievers to the ultra-needy Washington Nationals for “prospects” or “assets”.  If you believe in the assessment of baseball prospects, what the A’s got back was more than a bag of hair – – but not much more.

Seemingly, the A’s are always in “selling mode” when it comes to the trade deadline and this year is no exception.  The A’s are 20 games out of first place in the AL West and have the next-to-worst record in the AL.  So much for all the “prospects” and “assets” that have been acquired over the last decade…

Sonny Gray has been with the A’s for 4.5 seasons now and he is the longest-tenured player on the team; if you believe the rumors, he is on the trading block; there are teams that need him and are interested in him; the A’s want to get “prospects” or “assets” back in return.  Let me assume that the A’s find a way to make such a deal.

That would mean that the longest tenured player on the A’s roster – if I have calculated correctly – would be either INF Marcus Demien or C Josh Phegley.  They both came to the A’s from the White Sox in 2014 as “prospects” in exchange for Jeff Samardzija.  I have no intention of figuring out which of the two showed up in a game for the A’s first; that is the reason for the uncertainty here.  What that means is that all the prospects/assets that had been acquired from all the trade deadline fire sales over the past decade did not produce the core of a solid – let alone contending – MLB team.

Billy Beane has been the GM in Oakland since 1998; he has been the architect of the A’s for a long time now.  From the start of the 2007 season to this morning the team record is 838-875.  It will take you a while to convince me that record over the last 10 years is laudatory.

Finally, here is a college baseball item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Iowa’s baseball team under coach Rick Heller has won 141 games the past four seasons — the best four-year run in program history.

“Or as the hot stretch is now known around Iowa City, Heller high water.”

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



NFL GMs And Agents In The News …

If you follow the NFL, you know that every team seeks to have its franchise QB in place and secured under contract.  Here in Washington, things are never that simple; consider:

  • Kirk Cousins is the best QB the Skins have had in at least 30 years and probably more.  The team has him playing under the franchise tag for the second year in a row; he and his agent have huge leverage in this situation.
  • Yesterday, the Skins’ “braintrust” – and I put that in quotation marks because there seems to be little rational thought extant in that assemblage of humankind – decided to tell the world that the reason no long-term deal was reached was because Kirk Cousins and his agent never even responded to the Skins’ contract offer.  And then they proceeded to go into “full-spin mode” and made the contract sound overly generous to Cousins & Co.  Skins’ GM, Bruce Allen issued a statement that sets the standard for “tone deafness”.

If you live outside this area, you might read this news and wonder how Kirk Cousins – a guy who made $20M last year under the franchise tag – could pooh-pooh an offer of $53M at signing and more than $72M guaranteed in the deal.  Well, here in Washington, we know in sports and in politics that the devil is in the details.  If you would like to understand why this situation is in the state that it is, I suggest that you read this analysis by Jerry Brewer in this morning’s Washington Post.  Brewer has only been with the Post for about 2 years but he clearly sees through the arm-waving PR that accompanies everything the Skins do and gets down to the core of the business.  I suggest you read his column in its entirety.

In other NFL QB news – having nothing to do with players and agents turning down “guarantees” of tens of millions of dollars – there is a sports agency that has a longshot exacta ticket in hand.  Select Sports Group is a Houston-based sports agency that represents about 50 players including Robert Ayers, Brent Celek and Andy Dalton.  According to recent reports, this agency also represents Colin Kaepernick as he seeks to find an NFL home and just recently added another wayward QB to the fold signing up Johnny Manziel.  As I understand it, Kaepernick and Manziel are represented by two different agents within Select Sports Group but things could get interesting within that agency.

There is not exactly a “hot market” out there for either Kaepernick or Manziel as of this morning.  It is virtually certain that no NFL GM or coach will wake up tomorrow morning and come to the realization that the key element to their ability to contend for the Super Bowl in 2017 is to have either of these guys be their starting QB in Week 1.  In fact, as of this morning, no GM or coach has even hinted that they would really like either of these guys to report to training camp just to be a “camp arm” to aid in the evaluation of the receiving corps.

However, let us suppose for a minute that a couple of season-ending injuries happen early in a mixture of training camps such that the search for a QB with some time on the field in an NFL game becomes a lot more difficult.  At that point, a team may consider either Kaepernick or Manziel meaning that they would sort of be in competition for a contract offer and at the same time be represented by the same agency.  There is nothing improper about that; but it could be more than a tad awkward during the weekly staff meetings at HQS in Houston.

So, that leads me to wonder …  If a team were to bring on one of these two players as a backup QB, which one would be the bigger “problem” from a PR standpoint?  Here is where I come out on that:

  • I believe Kaepernick would be the better player on the field AND I think he would be the bigger PR problem for the franchise.
  • Glad I am not an NFL GM who has to make that sort of decision…

It is not often that NFL GMs and agents create enough stories at the same time to fill up one of these rants but today is the exception that proves the rule.  The Carolina Panthers fired their GM, Dave Gettleman, yesterday.  With training camp about to open, this is not a typical time for a team to fire a GM – – although when you think about it, this is the time of year when the GM’s job goes quiescent for a brief interlude; the roster is assembled; there is not much scouting to be done; ticket sales have plateaued…  The interesting thing about Gettleman’s firing is the gleeful – almost vengeful – reactions from former Panthers’ players who were released by Gettleman.  These include Steve Smith Sr., Josh Norman and DeAngelo Williams.

Williams is a free agent RB looking for a team; recently, he listed several teams he would not play for under any circumstances and the Panthers were on that list because they released him unceremoniously in the past.  With news of Gettleman’s firing, Williams tweeted this:

“I want to publicly say @Panthers is off my list of teams I won’t play for due to the firing of that snake Dave gettleman (sic).  [Then four emojis follow]

I do not know Dave Gettleman from Donald Duck but I do recognize that Williams’ tweet and the reactions from other former Panthers’ players is unusually hostile.

Finally, let me close today with something that is a bit lighter and more upbeat than the rest of this commentary.  This comes from Brad Rock’s column Rock On in the Deseret News:

“Jimmer Fredette made 92 of 100 3-point attempts at a charity event.

“Warriors coach Steve Kerr is thinking: ‘Nice. But I have six of those guys.’”

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