UConn Returns To The Big East

UConn has returned to the Big East – and that is potentially big news because none of the schools in the Big East play Division 1-A college football.  [Villanova and Georgetown field football teams but they compete at lower levels than Division 1-A.]  This is a small “reversal of trend”; colleges have made conference change decisions in the past completely based on advantage for the football program; UConn has chosen to take things on another vector heading.

When UConn left the Big East to stay with its football program in the American Athletic Conference in 2013, it made a “football-focused choice”.  The so-called Catholic 7 left the AAC and re-created the Big East as a basketball-focused conference; UConn took the football route.  In its 6 seasons in the AAC football conference, UConn’s cumulative record is 18-54.  I think it is fair to say that the “football option” did not work out all that well for UConn athletically.

Another former Big East school made a football-focused choice when leaving the Big East and – like UConn it has not worked out all that well on the football field.  I am referring to Rutgers who was offered a slot in the Big Ten and jumped at the chance to be part of that financial juggernaut.  The on-field results for Rutgers has been equally dismal as compared to UConn.  Rutgers has been in the Big Ten for 5 seasons and its cumulative record there is 16-42.

It is not clear what UConn will do with its football program; it could try to make it as an independent; it could try to drop down to Division 1-AA; it could drop football altogether (not likely in my mind).  It is also not clear what the AAC is going to do now.  UConn’s “defection” leaves the AAC with 11 schools and according to a report I read, the loss of a school from the conference triggers a clause in the AAC deal with ESPN that allows ESPN to renegotiate the terms.  I have a sense that there is more to come regarding UConn’s decision to return to the Big East.  Consider:

  • Is there a conference out there that would want UConn as a “football-only member”?  I cannot think of one; the conference with the fewest teams is the Sun Belt Conference and they have been shedding low-grade football schools not adding them.

While UConn was rejoining the Big East – and in so doing paying homage to geography – another school and conference made an announcement that makes little if any geographical sense at all.

  • Arkansas-Little Rock has joined the PAC-12 as an “affiliate member” for wrestling.

There must be a reason for this action; no one woke up on a Tuesday morning and realized that PAC-12 wrestling had been missing the boat on this participation for the last 50 years.  Here is the deal:

  • Most PAC-12 schools – the ones who play PAC-12 football and basketball – do not have wrestling teams.  Arizona State, Oregon State and Stanford are the only ones that do.
  • The NCAA has a rule – no surprise there – that a conference must have six teams in it in order to qualify automatically for the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
  • Until 2017, Boise St. Cal-Bakersfield and Cal Poly-SLO were the “affiliate members” that filled out the PAC-12 Wrestling Conference.  Then Boise St. dropped wrestling and the PAC-12 needed another “affiliate member”.

The UConn story involves the two biggest intercollegiate sports – football and men’s basketball.  As that story unfolded, there was another one that involved the newest of the intercollegiate sports – esports.  The University of North Texas will offer esports scholarships to current and future students at UNT.  The scholarships will be worth $20K each and will require the recipients to put in 15-25 hours a week on the various esports games for competition.  In addition, the students will be required to maintain a 3.2 GPA to retain their scholarship.  Here is a link to the report providing more details on this new scholarship opportunity.

Finally, Brad Rock had this depressing comment in the Deseret News a while back:

“A recent study says men think more about sports than physical intimacy.

“Kinda makes you wonder how lonely it is being a Miami Marlins fan.”

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



The NBA Thinking Out Of The Box…

Yesterday, ESPN programs were filled with reports that the NBA is considering some changes to their schedule.  One of the talking heads said that something had to be done because the schedule as it stands is “grueling”.  With all due respect to that particular talking head – who I did not recognize – the NBA schedule is not grueling; it is merely too long.  According to the reports yesterday, the NBA’s “scheduling considerations” include 3 elements:

  1. Reducing the number of regular season games
  2. Instituting a mid-season tournament
  3. Adding “play-in games” for the NBA Playoffs

Let me address these ideas in order.  I have been a proponent of cutting back the NBA schedule from the current 82 games since the day these rants came into existence.  My preferred number for the regular season schedule would be 58 games wherein every team plays every other team twice.  The team schedules would be balanced; the season could be shortened if that is one of the objectives; regular season games would become more meaningful, and – who knows? – maybe star players might actually play in every game instead of taking random nights off.  Count me as a strong supporter of a shorter NBA regular season.

However, as “Deep Throat” advised Woodward and Bernstein:

  • Follow the money …

Money is the enemy of shortening the season.  Currently, owners get 41 home games where they can fill the arena, sell beers, collect parking fees and the like.  Cutting out games on the schedule means cutting out home games for every team and that reduces one of the revenue streams.  I cannot imagine that a majority of NBA owners will like the idea of losing those revenues.

That would seem to be where the “mid-season tournament” would come in.  But here is the problem with any sort of evaluation of the “mid-season tournament”:

  • I have not run across any description of what it might be or when it might happen.

This concept works in English soccer; the FA Cup games are woven into the schedules of the teams playing in the various levels of English soccer.  The “tournament” has comparable status with winning a league championship – particularly in the leagues below the Premier League.  Since there are only 30 NBA teams, the NBA’s version of a “mid-season tournament” cannot be a simple bracket of all the teams.  There will have to be byes given out – – or maybe this would be a real way to generate interest:

  • Invite two international teams to participate creating a 32-team field and then go bracket-crazy.

That sort of wrinkle might generate interest in the early round games of the “mid-season tournament” but as for the rest of the idea, count me lukewarm at best until I see the details.

There is another detail to be worked out for the “mid-season tournament”:

  • When would it take place?

If the NBA schedules it during January when the NFL playoffs are ongoing, it will be lost in the wilderness.  It cannot be earlier than January for it to have any meaning so it will have to happen after the Super Bowl.  It could fit into the February sporting calendar nicely – – except that the NBA already blocks out a full week of that time with its silly All-Star Game nonsense.  By the time March rolls around, it is getting a bit late in the season and teams will be focused on playoffs and not some tournament that might or not might not mean anything to anyone.  This is not a trivial issue…

Then there is the idea of adding 4 play-in games for the playoffs.  Essentially the teams that finish 7th and 8th in each conference would not get automatic playoff slots; they would have to play a single elimination game against the teams that finish 9th and 10th in the conference to get in.  This adds 4 “games of consequence” games on the table for networks to cover; you know the networks will hype the games as important when – in reality – teams that finish between 7th and 10th in the standings will have little to no impact on the playoffs about 10 days after the play-in games.  This idea seems harmless.  Play-in games will be more interesting than regular season games between two mediocre teams but let us not get overwhelmed here.

Kudos to the NBA for pondering these sorts of things.  It will be interesting to see if any of these ideas get any traction in the light of revenue reduction for the teams as a whole.

ESPN had another piece of news yesterday.  Bob Ley announced that he is retiring at the end of June after 40 years at ESPN; he was there when they turned the lights on.  Ley was never one of the “bombastic” presences on ESPN, but he was always enjoyable and informative.  His stewardship of Outside the Lines will be a standard for his successors there – and it will not be an easily achievable standard.

Bonne chance, Bob Ley.

Finally, consider these two definitions from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Bar:  A place where lonely, desperate people go to get hammered enough to find other lonely, desperate people suddenly irresistible.

Bartender:  A psychotherapist who keeps a damp rag slung over a shoulder.

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



When Politically Correct Ideas Collide …

I have been an advocate for equal rights and equal opportunities since the 1960s.  I have recognized the need for some things to be codified into law in order to achieve equal rights and opportunities even when I wished such legislation were not necessary.  I have never been particularly fond of political correctness and I still recoil a bit when things like Title IX are painted in politically correct portrayals; Title IX can stand on its own without rhetorical support.

Here we are in 2019 with all the benefits of politically correct living and #metoo awareness and a longed-for “post-racial society” – – and we have to see the collision of the politically correct version of living in 2019 colliding with the politically correct version of living in the 1970s.  Title IX came into existence in 1972 and it made it mandatory for any institution that received Federal funds to provide equal access to athletic competition for women as compared to men.  Title IX is not an unmitigated success; it requires – without saying so explicitly – that the revenue sports which are almost always male sports must share the revenues in a way that gives females an equivalent access to “the sporting experience”.  That is the law; so be it…

Now, we find ourselves in 2019 with a situation wherein the idea of which human being is a male and which one is a female is not nearly as clear as it was when Title IX sprang to life in 1972.  Let me be graphic for a moment:

  • Back then, if you were born with a Y-chromosome and exhibited a penis and testicles, you were a male.  Your “gender-identity” did not stray from those evidentiary circumstances despite whatever feelings or viewpoints as to your gender might be.
  • Most importantly, the folks who enacted Title IX seemed to recognize that there comes a time in the physical maturation processes of the human animal that males are more athletically inclined as compared to similarly aged females.  Therefore, they never saw the need to express with legislative precision that the women’s sports necessary to provide equal access to girls needed to be shielded from male participation.

Here in 2019, however, we have a societal tendency to allow each maturing and mature individual to identify for himself/herself the gender they believe expresses themselves as a whole.  In most situations, this “gender-latitude” does not hurt anyone even if it may generate a tad of confusion in the minds of some observers who may not be totally on board with such latitude.  Until we arrive at a situation such as the one that is ongoing in Connecticut today:

  • A female track athlete who excelled in her field of competition and who anticipated scholarship offers based on her statewide dominance in her events now finds herself relegated to “deep also-ran” status because what would have been male athletes in 1972 are now allowed to compete on female teams in 2019 because “female” is their gender identification.
  • This athlete has filed a Federal complaint saying that the Connecticut law that allows “biological males” to compete against her and other “biological females” defies the fundamental precepts of the Federal legislation that created Title IX.

Were I the judge hearing this case – – be secure in the knowledge that such a situation will never obtain – – I would demand that the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendants define for me what they think Title IX is all about:

  1. If it is about equality and nothing more, then there should never be women’s teams and men’s teams.  Equality is like uniqueness; equality is either the same thing for everyone or it is not the same thing for everyone and there are distinctions that need to be made.
  2. If it is about equal opportunity and access to sport as an adjunct activity to education at the high school and collegiate level, then separate teams are OK.  But if the teams are separate, does that mean that there need be separation in terms of the genetic make-up of the eligible individuals on those teams.

I tend to be much deeper in the camp of Category 1 above.  I would rule that the Connecticut law that opens up women’s teams to biological males defeats the purpose of the laws that created Title IX in the first place.  We shall see how this one turns out – – but it is fun to sit back and see folks who have invested tons of their personal energy to the cause of “equality” having to take sides here with regard to where the boundaries of “equality” should be drawn.

Here is a link to a report about the complaint that was filed regarding all of this.

Whilst on the subject of lawsuits and things of that ilk, I see that MLB is encouraging teams to extend the safety netting on MLB fields beyond the ranges that are covered today.  There have been several injury incidents this season – some of them quite serious – and given the litigious society we live in; you can crassly conclude that MLB is simply trying to limit legal exposure.  And maybe that is all that is involved here…

Except, if I were trying to limit legal exposure, I would ALSO ban all cell phones and tablets from the ballpark and I would never think of providing free Wi-Fi to anyone in the facility.  I recognize that fans can be injured – sometimes severely – by flying baseballs and bat fragments that go into the stands.  I also recognize that many fans injured by such malevolent missiles were not paying attention to what was going on in the game at the time their body and the flying object intersected.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are tons of “fans” who are there to take pictures of themselves and their companions at the game only to post those pictures on the social media outlet of the moment.  Having sat in the vicinity of many such agglomerations of “fans”, I have no idea if any of them could name the teams involved in the game on the field on front of them without peeking at the scoreboard.  Here is an uncomfortable fact of life in any MLB stadium:

  • If you are more attuned to laughing and gassing with your friends and taking pictures and pasting them to Facegram and/or Flipbook and/or WhoCares, you put yourself at risk at being hit by a flying all ball or bat much the same as a driver who is texting puts himself/herself at risk of a traffic accident.

There are not enough fans like me to make this a sustainable business strategy, but I would be happy to see a team ban cell phones and tablets from the venue and then take down the nets – except for behind home plate – with a warning to fans to pay attention to the action on the field – – – or else.

Finally, since today’s rant has focused on laws and potential litigation, let me close with a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times related to new legislation in a country neighboring on the US:

“Quebec’s provincial legislature passed a controversial immigration bill that screens migrants based on their labor skills.

“Question No. 1 on the new application form: How good is your slap shot?”

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



NFL/NFLPA Negotiations Ongoing…

According to reports, the NFL and the NFLPA have begun preliminary discussions regarding a new CBA even though the existing one runs through the 2021 season.  Some reports say that the league would like the new deal to be finalized by the beginning of this 2019 regular season so that the league could then go about the business of negotiating new network TV deals with “labor peace and labor certainty on the league’s side of that negotiating table.  The 2019 regular season begins the week after Labor Day which is about 10 weeks from now.  All I can say is, that makes for an awfully tight deadline – – if indeed it is any sort of deadline at all.

I have portrayed these sorts of discussions/negotiations in the past as a tug-of-war between partners and that is precisely what the two sides will do over the next 10 weeks or the next 20 months.

  • The NFL and the NFLPA are partners in producing the most successful and the most watched TV series in the US.

If you think I am over-simplifying or mischaracterizing, consider some of these data:

  • Game of Thrones was one of the most talked-about and cult-followed TV series ever.  Its final episode was discussed, predicted, analyzed and awaited to the same extent as the season-opener of Dallas where the world would find out “who shot JR.”
  • Reportedly, the finale of Game of Thrones attracted 13.5 million live viewers.  If that is accurate, that means that 71 NFL regular season games from last year drew more viewers than the Game of Thrones finale did.
  • TV money is the top-level driver for NFL revenues that lead to the calculation of the NFL salary cap.  Since 2014, the NFL salary cap has risen 38%; that money comes from television revenues and that salary cap money goes into the players’ pockets.  TV money feeds the owners and it feeds the players.

So, what might be the burning issue between the league and the union that would shut down the floodgates of revenue from TV that the league and the players are living off?

  • Last time around, the players bargained for less mandatory practice time in the off-season and for leas arduous practice regimens in training camp.  Would they want to give up another percentage point of revenue going toward salary cap calculations to continue that reduced workload?  Would they shut down the gravy train over it?
  • The players – and much of the media – think that having Commissioner Roger Goodell installed as the prosecutor, judge and jury over every disciplinary action is odious.  [Aside:  I too have argued that the Commish has duties that go well beyond being the league disciplinarian and I have suggested other ways to recognize such a “disciplinarian”.  Nonetheless, Roger Goodell is the judge, jury and executioner as we speak.]  How many percentage points of the revenue that goes to calculating salary cap values might the players want to sacrifice to change the way discipline is handed out in the NFL?

Lots of people – players, media and fans – think that 4 Exhibition Games are too many Exhibition Games.  The owners make money on those games so they will be reluctant to give them up.  But what is the concession the owners may want from the union that makes the players happy to take a reduction in those meaningless games that present injury hazards in exchange for …?  Perhaps the owners might cede to the pleadings of their coaches and ask for more mandatory practice time in exchange for fewer Exhibition Games?

I wish it were possible to say how all these sorts of things – and the many other issues that will present themselves as bones of contention – will find resolution in the next 10 weeks.  I don’t think that is anywhere near the realm of possibility – but will happily be proven wrong here.  We shall see…

Changing from the NFL to youth sports is about as wide a chasm of US sports as one can try to cross, but I will do so here.  I ran across a report that said that parents at a youth baseball game for 7-year olds began to “brawl with one another” over a disputed call by the umpire who was a 13-year old kid himself.  Here is the link:

There are a couple of things wrong with this report that need to be stated explicitly:

  1. Why is a 13-year-old in charge of a game by himself?  I have officiated more than a few basketball games with kids of that age – but would never have sent one or two of them out on the court alone without an adult to provide “cover”.
  2. How unsuccessful do the lives of the adults involved in this “brawl” have to be for them to think that participation in that brawl justifies their categorization as “adults”?
  3. Youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to play whatever game is involved AND to teach kids about success and failure and how to deal with each of those things.  How were any of those objectives obtained in this situation?

Finally, here is comment from Academy Award winning actor, Jack Lemmon:

If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.”

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



The Tampa-Montreal X-Rays?

Late last week, press reports said that the geniuses who run MLB agreed to allow the folks who own and run the Tampa Bay Rays to explore the possibility of having the team split its home games between two cities – Tampa and Montreal – starting sometime in the next 5 years or so.  [Aside:  If there were ever to be a Tampa-Montreal team, then to pay homage to the old Montreal Expos, the new team should definitely be called the Montreal-Tampa X-Rays or even the Montreal-Tampa Ex-Rays.]  Lest anyone be unclear at this point regarding my position on this idea, let me be as candid as I can:

  • In the Pantheon of Stupid Ideas related even tangentially to baseball, this belongs right next to the idea of naming José Canseco the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
  • If I were to challenge you to come up with a dumber idea than this one, you might need 72 hours of sleep deprivation to meet that challenge.

This idea is so lame that I have to think that it is out there merely as a stalking horse for some other concept that will – at some future point – emerge as an alternate to this split-city entity and will necessarily seem to be a significantly better idea.  After all, MLB is a gigantic commercial enterprise with annual revenues in the range of $9-10B; the people who run that sort of enterprise cannot be such dolts lest the enterprise be in danger of imminent collapse.

I have no difficulty at all understanding why the Rays’ owners want to have some elasticity in the locale of their franchise; the fact remains that the Rays’ home attendance is embarrassingly small when the team is good and vanishingly small when the team is not so good.  The Rays suffer from a double-whammy here:

  1. Tampa/St. Petersburg is a small market to begin with.
  2. Within that small market, there are not a lot of dedicated fans who show up regularly to see the team play.

The reality is that the Rays home attendance this year is smaller than the average attendance for 28 of the 30 NBA teams last year.  That is what I mean by home attendance being “embarrassingly small”.  Remember, the Rays won 90 games last year and are in second place in the AL East at this very moment.

I understand the ownership’s motivation and I even agree with it.  I have said here before that I think MLB should abandon the Tampa/St. Petersburg market – along with the Miami market but that is another story – and relocate the Rays.  However, the idea of two home cities is not the answer.  [Foreshadowing: I will provide my answer to this situation later in this piece.]

Let me try to unwrap some of the issues/challenges here:

  • Some people say the Rays cannot draw crowds because their stadium is either poorly located or is a dump – – or both.  I have never been inside Tropicana Field so I will not pretend to know the conditions there.  I have driven by the facility on the Interstate and I can say that it has easy access from that Interstate but is – by no means – located in a population center where folks can “walk to the ballpark”.
  • My personal opinion is that the reason there is a franchise in that area at all is that putting a team there precluded a lawsuit against MLB.  At one point in history, the White Sox flirted with the good folks on the Gulf Coast of Florida and then jilted those folks when new stadium money became available in Chicago.  Folks in Tampa threatened a lawsuit; MLB responded with a search for expansion franchise locations and – SURPRISE – Tampa won one of those expansion franchises.  The fact is that the franchise was crippled by its home venue from day one.
  • In addition to being a small market to begin with, Tampa/St. Petersburg is not a part of the country where there is a concentration of wealth or a concentration of commercial interests that can support a baseball team by attaching to it.  Ironically, that is a similar situation to the one that existed in Montreal where the Expos existed off the largess of the Bronfman family until they lost interest leaving the team in a situation where it was abandoned and run by MLB itself.  The big difference between the Montreal small market and the Tampa small market is that the Expos were able to draw crowds until such time as the facility there became “alienating”.

Until recently, the Tampa owners were trying to work with the politicos in Tampa/St Petersburg to get a new stadium built in “downtown Tampa”.  Earlier this year, they announced that they had abandoned that idea.  Might this trial balloon be a way to re-ignite such an effort?  I would not be surprised if that were the case.  I would also not be surprised if the folks who run the cities and counties that comprise the Tampa/St. Petersburg area do not fall all over themselves to find public monies to build a new playpen for the Rays.

And that would seem to go double for the good folks in Montreal.  Those folks in Quebec spent 30 years paying off the bonds they floated to host the 1976 Olympic Games and saw first-hand that the purported long-term benefits of spending tax dollars on sports facilities do not come close to what proponents suggest they will be.  Olympic Stadium turned into the home field for the Montreal Expos and the facility was a mess during the last decade or so that the Expos used it up to the time when they decamped for Washington DC.  That was at the end of 2004; only in some fairy tale world would that stadium have improved in the intervening years with the benign neglect that it has received.  It would likely take a couple hundred million dollars to upgrade that facility and I just cannot see the people in Quebec and/or Montreal jumping at the chance to get themselves back into debt to acquire a part-time baseball team.

There is another issue to consider here and that is the effect such a split-season existence might have on the team itself.  Tampa – because of its small market status – is not one of the spendthrift teams in MLB.  According to spotrac.com, the Rays had the lowest Opening Day payroll in MLB this year at $48M for 25 players.  Obviously, the team has not been “a player” when it comes to courting any of the top-shelf free agents over the past few years.  Nonetheless, a split-season would have to make signing free agents even more difficult for the team:

  • Players with families would need two residences – or have a single residence in one venue with a rental in the other.  Players’ wives do not have a union to represent their interests here, but wives everywhere do have ways to let their husbands know what is a good living situation, and what is not a good living situation.
  • The currently situated Rays do have one nice advantage to hold out in any sort of free agent discussions.  The State of Florida has no state level income tax; that means players can keep more of their contract dollars in their pockets.  Montreal has an income tax.  Therefore, whatever portion of players’ salaries that are earned there will be taxed there; that means players will keep less of their contract dollars in their pockets.

[Aside:  The choice of Montreal as the theoretical co-home for the Rays is ironic.  In the last couple of years of the Expos’ existence, the team there tried something similar playing a couple dozen games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  That did not work either…]

Earlier on, I promised that I would offer up a solution to this problem.  I believe that the Rays are contractually obligated to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg until 2027.  As of that date, the Rays can and should move away from that area and just admit that it was a bad place for an MLB team from the get-go.  MLB should make it clear that this team is ready to negotiate its long-term future with other venues in the US that would like MLB to be part of the community.  And here is the first locale that I would contact and the one that I would focus my greatest effort on:

  • The Research Triangle Area in North Carolina

Here are some of the reasons that would be my new home for the Rays:

  • Yes, it is a small market as compared to places like Atlanta and Charlotte in the same general vicinity, but it is an area where people do have disposable income and have an interest in sports and their teams.
  • It is far enough away from both Atlanta to the south and from Washington DC to the north to have a minimal impact on team support for either the Braves or the Nats.
  • Corporate/commercial interests in the Research Triangle Area are in place and may be enticed to align with and support the Rays in that area.
  • Minor league baseball has been a staple in the sports calendar for people in North Carolina for decades.

The Rays are – barring some sort of Divine intervention – going to be in Tampa/St. Petersburg for the next 8.5 seasons.  That should be plenty of time to work out the details of where they will move and how they will finance the construction of a new stadium wherever that is.  The NFL has a “building fund”; if MLB does not have one, they ought to move quickly to establish one and finding a new home for the Rays should be its big priority.

Finally, the governance and the strategic thinking for MLB is obviously a male-dominated situation.  That fact juxtaposed with the existence of this latest “new idea” on how to resolve the Rays’ attendance woes brings to mind a statement made by Julie Foudy, former star on the US Women’s’ National Soccer Team.  This is a paraphrase because I cannot find a link to the exact statement:

“Girls are willing to admit that they can’t do something and then don’t try to do it.  Boys, on the other hand, tend to go for it – even when it is probably a bad idea.”

Vive la difference!

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



NBA Sleeper Pick 2019…

My first task this morning was to find out which NBA team drafted my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.  It turns out to be the 76ers who took Matisse Thybulle out of the University of Washington.  Unlike just about everyone else in the draft who brings gaudy scoring stats to the table, Thybulle is not much of a scorer and really does need time to develop his shooting and offensive skills.  However, what he does as well as or better than everyone else in the draft is to play perimeter defense; he led the nation in steals last year (3.5 per game) and he averaged 2.2 blocked shots per game too.  As NBA teams continue to “spread the floor” on offense, the value of perimeter defense is going to increase – and Thybulle is the best that I saw at that aspect of the game.  Ergo, he is my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.

When I left for vacation, the issue of Robert Kraft’s alleged dalliance(s) at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa focused on statements by the police/prosecutors that they would reveal covert surveillance tapes from inside the spa to show that there was “improper hoochie-coochie” going on in there.  For the record let me say unequivocally:

  • If such video evidence exists, I have precisely zero interest in watching it.  Sex is not a “spectator sport”.

Subsequent to that declaration by the prosecution, the judge in this matter ruled that the tape in question was obtained improperly and could not be used in court.  Who knows if that evidence will ultimately be admissible or not – and frankly, who cares?  Look, I have no interest in trying to navigate the waters where any questions are of this ilk:

  1. Why is prostitution a crime?
  2. If a woman has an inalienable right to choose what to do with her body, why can she not choose to sell sex acts with it for money?
  3. Why would a man of Robert Kraft’s means choose to go to a Day Spa for “relief” instead of “ordering in”?  [That was my question the day the original story broke.]

What I do want to say here is that the police and the prosecution in this case begin to seem overly zealous here.  Recall, on the day of the revelation of these arrests and charges, the police said that there was “human trafficking” going on in that Day Spa and that the women there were akin to sex slaves.  Now that would change the equation a whole lot.  Human trafficking is a totally despicable situation; sex slaves are not choosing to sell their sex acts for money, they are being coerced into doing so.  Human trafficking in sex is a form of rape in my mind where the rapist is not necessarily the person performing the sex act.

The problem is that no one has been arrested or charged with human trafficking in this matter for the last 4 months.  If it were in fact ongoing there – as was declared without any modifiers back in February – you would think that the gendarmes would have made an arrest or filed charges against the ne’er-do-wells by now.  The only logical conclusion to draw here is that there was no human trafficking going on notwithstanding the fact that the activities in that Day Spa were maximally sleazy.

The parallel that keeps coming to mind here is the infamous and disgusting “Duke Lacrosse Case”.  Just as the prosecutor in Durham, NC played fast and loose with public statements and various bits of evidence, it seems as if the prosecution here has been “less than candid” regarding how and why there was covert video surveillance in that building.

And now I have the opportunity for a relatively smooth transition to the next topic of the day – – Tom Brady, who works for Robert Kraft, is entering the final year of his contract with the Patriots.  I cannot imagine that he will become a free agent in February 2020; there will have to be a new contract or an extension of his current one in place before that.  Kraft said back around Super Bowl time that he foresaw Brady as the Pats’ QB for “quite a while”.  If I have interpreted the various salary numbers correctly regarding how one calculates the franchise tag, I believe it would cost the Pats a guaranteed $32.5M for a one-year extension if they use the franchise tag.  That would still leave Brady well below the annual salary for several NFL QBs and put Brady about on the same annual salary level as Carson Wentz.

However, the franchise tag would seem to work against the interests of both Brady and the Pats.  We know – because Brady has said so – that he has taken lower values on his contracts for the team to be able to sign other players for the benefit of the team.  The franchise tag does not allow for any salary cap relief; the entire amount goes on the books as a guaranteed deal for a single season the minute the ink dries on the dotted line.

This situation will find a resolution – probably before the start of the 2019 season…

Oh, by the way, two other “elder-statesman QBs” are in the final year of their contracts.

  • Philip Rivers will finish up a deal that had a total value of $83.3M over 4 years with the Chargers.  The Chargers have 3 other QBs on the roster at the moment – Cardale Jones, Easton Stick and Tyrod Taylor.  My assessment is that the Chargers do not have an “heir-apparent” in the wings and will find a way to get a new deal done with Rivers before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in February 2020.
  • Eli Manning will finish up a deal that had a total value of $84M over 4 years with the Giants.  The Giants have 4 other QBs on the roster as of this morning – Eric Dungey, Daniel Jones, Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.  [For the record, Eric Dungey is double-slotted as a QB and as a TE.]  Given that the Giants took Daniel Jones with the overall #6 pick in this year’s draft, you would have to say that they think they have an “heir-apparent” in the wings.  It will be interesting to see what the Giants do with regard to signing/extending Eli Manning as this season progresses.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding the possibility that the Orchids of Asia Day Spa video tape was going to be made public:

“Florida prosecutors say they’ll release videos of Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, with certain parts pixelized.

“Even the refs who jobbed the Saints are saying, “Bad call!’ ”

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



More Racing Blues…

While I was gone, a few more horses died – or more accurately had to be euthanized – at Santa Anita.  I believe the number of fatalities at that track now comes to 30 horses since Christmas 2018.  The LA Times has called for the track to cancel the rest of its meeting which the track has not done.  That “difference of opinion” is small potatoes compared to one that could arise very soon.

A little more than 4 months from now – on November 1 and November 2 – the Breeders’ Cup Races are scheduled to take place at Santa Anita.  The Breeders’ Cup attracts the best thoroughbreds in training every year and the races provide for two days of TV pageantry and spectacle.  Now consider two ‘possibilities”:

  1. You are the owner of one of the 50 best horses in the world; you have a chance to win several million dollars in a Breeders’ Cup race; your horse is one of the top 3 Morning Line favorites in his race.  You also know that your horse is going to haul in several million dollars in stud fees even if he does not win this Breeders’ Cup race.  Question for you, Mr. Owner is simple: Do you ship your horse to Santa Anita even to work out on the track and risk that he becomes another notch in the barn door there?
  2. The horses are in the gate for one of the races on Saturday.  You are at home watching on TV and have been regaled with all the important – and non-important- stuff about this race for the past hour.  The gate opens and sometime in the first furlong, right there in the middle of the screen, one of those horses breaks a leg and goes down.  On national TV, one of those “noble steeds” effectively dies in front of everyone watching the races.

Horse racing is a sport in serious decline.  If a bunch of owners decide not to “risk” their prize horses on this pinnacle of the racing year, how can that possibly help put the sport on a more positive vector heading?  Even worse, if one of the top horses in training breaks a leg on this track that has seen such an abnormal breaking of equine legs this year, might the hue and cry that arises take horse racing from a sport in serious decline and send it into a death spiral?

  • [Aside:  Do not underestimate the fallout from an equine death on TV.  Remember when Barbaro broke its leg in one of the Triple Crown Races and the controversy it generated.  And, Barbaro’s demise predated the time when every yahoo with Wi-Fi access who wanted one could have a Twitter account to announce whatever comes to mind in the heat of any moment.]

Since the powers-that-be at Santa Anita still have no idea what is the root cause of these equine deaths, these questions loom over what is left of the sport for the next 4 months.  Imagine you had the deciding vote as to where this year’s Breeders’ Cup Races should take place.  Would you keep them at Santa Anita – or move them somewhere else?

In tracking down some of the info about Santa Anita and racing there, I also ran across something else that should concern the folks who are proponents of thoroughbred racing; this does not indicate good health for the “industry” as a whole.  Suffolk Downs will cease to have live racing at its facility as of the end of this month; it will stay open as a simulcast facility where folks can bet on races taking place elsewhere.  Suffolk Downs is in Boston close by Logan Airport; it has been the top racetrack in New England for about 75 years.  Suffolk Downs never achieved the recognition that Saratoga did nor was it ever comparable to the NYC tracks in prestige.  Nevertheless, it hosted its fair share of “great racehorses” over its time.  Now, it is going to be a simulcast facility and the land will be developed into a new Boston neighborhood.

While focused on events in the Boston area, let me turn to a comment recently by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton-Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Bottom line: Forbes has put out another list of the highest-paid athletes. It’s the usual dull cluster of dollar signs and numbers, but with one amusing twist. Strictly by salary, Tom Brady ranks fifth on the list — among Boston athletes alone. The top paid Beantown jock is Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, followed by teammates Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Red Sox left-hander David Price slips into fourth place. Not taken into account is the cash value of six Super Bowl rings.”

I had always marveled at the fact that Brady was not one of the top QBs in the NFL in terms of salary given his record of getting teams into the playoffs and the Super Bowl and then to win Super Bowl Championships.  However, I had never thought to compare his salary to other athletes who toil in the same city.  Here is a tip of the hat to Professor Molinaro for that perspective.

The NBA Draft will happen tonight.  Amidst and among all the reports about trade rumors and who will draft whom, there is a sidelight to the draft that seemingly has only drawn attention here in the DC area.

  • The Washington Wizards – soon to be nicknamed the Woeful Washington Wizards – do not have a General Manager who will run this draft with some of his “personal skin in the game” so to speak.

About 2 months ago, the Wizards fired Ernie Grunfeld from that job.  That was a decision that should not have caused the owner, Ted Leonsis, even a moment’s confusion.  An NBA team has an opening as its GM; even though the Wizards are not a good team and are in a salary cap Hell that even Dante Alighieri could not have imagined, this is still a GM position in the NBA.  Notwithstanding the title and the position, there have been no hirings and there have been no public expressions of interest in the job for the whole time it has been vacant.

By the way, the Draft is tonight AND the NBA free agency period will begin 10 days after the Draft.  Even in something less than an ideal organizational situation, you would think that having an incumbent GM to navigate the free agent marketplace for the team would be a good idea, no?

Finally, since I spent time today with regard to sporting stuff in the Boston area, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about another Boston athlete:

“Just-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski put a big dent in the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl trophy when he wielded it like a bat to bunt a pitched baseball before a Red Sox game.

“In fact, one could say the chrome football atop the Lombardi now looks a bit … deflated.”

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



Random Stuff …

Whilst I was on hiatus, an email arrived from Gregg Drinnan whose Taking Note blog is one of the links on the blogroll here.  He was formerly the Sports Editor of the Kamloops Daily News until that paper ceased to exist.  He knows that I enjoy describing here some of the outrageous culinary offerings that show up at sports venues and he sent along one from the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions.  [Aside: The 2019 CFL season has begun as of 13 June.]  Here is something you can buy – and try to eat – at a BC Lions game; they call it The Outrageous Burger:

  • 3 Beef Patties
  • 3 Chicken Strips
  • 6 Strips of Bacon
  • 3 Slices of Cheese
  • 1 Hot Dog
  • All that super-healthy goodness packed inside a large bun.

I had been saving this next item for the beginning of the college football season, but it seems appropriate to place it here in juxtaposition with The Outrageous Burger.  A former colleague was a visiting professor at the University of Texas – Austin.  Last year and he sent me a description of some of the eats available at a local eatery about a half-mile from Darrell Royal Stadium in Austin.  The restaurant is known as “Fat Sal’s”; that ought to be a foreshadowing.  One of their “sandwiches” comes on an extra wide roll and is known as the Fat Texas.  On that extra wide garlic roll, one can savor:

  • Barbecue Pastrami Brisket
  • Chicken Fingers
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Bacon
  • Grilled Onions
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mozzarella Fries
  • Mayo
  • Honey barbecue sauce

Pass the Rolaids, please…

With the NBA Draft nearly upon us, I need to dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back for a moment here.  As I noted yesterday, I did not get to watch even a moment of the NBA Finals and so I spent part of yesterday reading some of the accounts of those games and looking at some stats.  Fred Van Vleet was a significant contributor to the Raptors championship run and that reminded me that I touted him as a sleeper in the 2016 NBA Draft.  Here is what I said about him on 23 June 2016 – just before the NBA Draft in that year:

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

Van Vleet was not drafted by anyone in 2016 demonstrating that talent scouting is an art more than a science.

I ran across a report that OJ Simpson has set up a Twitter account and that he intends to “set the record straight” with that account.  Another report said that OJ had acquired more than 500,000 followers in less than a week.  Here is Brad Dickson’s Twitter reaction to this “news”:

“Good: to be followed by O.J. on Twitter.

“Bad: to be followed by O.J. home from a restaurant.”

A report yesterday said that David Ortiz’ condition at Mass General Hospital had been upgraded to “Good” after he was shot in the back in a bar/club in the Dominican Republic a few days ago.  News continues to dribble out about the alleged perpetrators and about potential motivations for that shooting.  Obviously, there will need to be some sort of trial to clarify many of the points here but even at this extremely early stage of the investigation, I believe there are two conclusions I might draw:

  • Allegedly, the “money man” behind all of this paid approximately $8000 to a cohort of people to pull off the shooting.
  • The gunman got behind Ortiz and at close range shot him in the lower back area.
  • Conclusion #1:  If you are the gunman and you are close to the back of your target in a crowded space where one shot is likely to be all you will get, why not shoot the intended victim in the back of the head instead of the lower back?  John Wilkes Booth knew he had only one shot to accomplish his end; he did not put a bullet in Abraham Lincoln’s lower back.  There was a planning gap here.
  • Conclusion #2:  You get what you pay for.  What else could you expect for only $8000?

Finally, let me put the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals into perspective here with comments from these two sports columnists:

“OK, so the NBA champ is from Canada and the NHL champ from the U.S.

“What everyone really wants to know is who gets to claim curling?” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

And …

“If the Raptors win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, will Canada hold it hostage to get the Stanley Cup back?”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



The Bad Penny Turns Up Again…

Poor Charlie is still riding the Boston MTA because he does not have that extra nickel to get off that train.  He is “the man who never returned” …  I on the other hand am like “the bad penny”.  No matter how often I go away, I always seem to turn up again.  Like today …

While I have been in the industrialized world for the past 3 weeks – – two in Switzerland and one in Ireland – – I have been pretty much off the grid when it comes to US sports.  In Switzerland tennis, skiing and golf seemed to dominate the sports news in the English language newspapers available.  In Ireland, the only US sporting thing that mattered was the US Open golf tournament.  As for things like the NBA Finals, only the injuries got any sort of mention; and with regard to MLB, they may just as well have been playing those games on one of the moons of Jupiter.  I did not learn of the Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers until yesterday when I got a carry-on copy of USA Today for my flight home to the US.

So, piecing together the top-level view of what happened since I have been gone:

  1. When I left, the Phillies were leading the NL East by 1.5 games over the Braves.  This morning, the Braves hold a 3-game lead in that division.  There is still some suspense left here.
  2. When I left, the Cubs led the Brewers by a half-game and led the Cardinals by 4 games in the NL Central.  Today the Brewers have a half-game lead over the Cubs with the Cardinals 2.5 games back.  This division is going to be the most interesting races in MLB this year.
  3. When I left, the Dodgers led the D-Backs and the Padres by 8 games.  This morning they lead both those teams by 10 games in the NL West.  Call that division race over and done with.
  4. When I left, the Yankees led the Rays by 2.5 games and the Red Sox by 6.5 games in the AL East.  Today the Rays trail by only 1.5 games and the Red Sox are 5.5 games out of first place.  This division is where the AL focus should be for the rest of this season.
  5. When I left, the Twins had a 10-game lead over the Indians and that situation still pertains today.  I guess the Twins might collapse but until this race gets closer than 5 games, I will pay a lot more attention to AL East than to this race.
  6. When I left, the Astros had a 6.5-game lead over the A’s – – and the A’s had just won 10 games in a row.  Today the A’s are in 3rd place in the AL West 11 games behind the Astros and the Rangers have moved into second place there trailing the Astros by 8.5 games.  The AL West race is – like the NL West race – over for the 2019 season.

The Women’s World Cup group play is underway, and the US Women have breezed through their first two games against Thailand and Chile.  Next up for the US Women will be Sweden and that game will not be a cakewalk.

Everyone has proclaimed that the Lakers are the clear and definitive winners in the trade with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis.  There is an adage in NBA circles that goes like this:

  • Whenever a superstar is traded from one team to another, the team that loses the superstar loses the trade.

Well, the Pelicans traded away a superstar in Anthony Davis and what the got in return are 3 good-but-not-nearly great players in return (Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram) and 3 first round picks from the Lakers that stretch out to the middle of the next decade.  No one can reasonably say that the trade makes the Pelicans into a formidable threat to win the NBA West.  The Lakers clearly improved – – but unlike most other commentators, I am not yet ready to announce that the Lakers are clearly the Best of the West.  Next season may show that they are the best, but let me offer up 2 reasons to pump the brakes just a bit:

  1. Anthony Davis has been in the NBA for 7 seasons.  In 2 of those seasons he played in 75 games meaning that he went through the season without any sort of injury.  In the other 5 seasons, he has missed more than 15 games in each one of them.  The Lakers need him to stay healthy enough to play well in at least 75 games.
  2. LeBron James’ season in 2018/19 can be viewed as an anomaly due to his groin injury or it might be seen as an indication that his career arc has leveled off.  Recall when James returned that he announced that he was going into “championship mode” with his play and that would propel the Lakers into the playoffs where – he hinted – there might be surprises for other NBA West teams.  That sounded great; problem is that it never came close to happening.  “Championship mode” produced more losing for the Lakers and led to James being “shut down” before the regular season ended.

Time will reveal the winner and the loser in this trade – and the degree to which the win and the loss had a lasting effect on the two franchises.  I do think, however, that there is a definitive loser in this trade and that loser is LaVar Ball.  His dream was to have all three of his sons playing for Lakers’ championship teams.  Lonzo got to wear the Lakers’ uniform but will not be doing so for the next several years; in terms of franchises and visibility, Lonzo Ball has just been sent to the NBA’s version of Elba.

Because ESPN’s NBA coverage dotes on the Lakers, there used to be a reason for ESPN to invite LaVar Ball to be a guest on one of their gabfests.  I don’t see that happening very much over the next several years.  I think the only way LaVar Ball’s dream of his three sons playing for the Lakers simultaneously would be if he sells a whole lot of those $500 sneakers and uses the profits to buy the Lakers and then signs up his sons to play for the team that he would obviously coach.  I shan’t be holding my breath…

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News had some bad news for some marathon runners recently:

“CNN says the Belfast City Marathon was more than a marathon. The lead car wandered off the official route, making the race three-tenths of a mile longer than regulation.

“Great. Now all those Volvo drivers have to change their window stickers from 26.2 to 26.5.”

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