Random Stuff Today

Yesterday, I focused on some comments from Kirk Herbstreit regarding the possibility that there will be no football season – or perhaps a truncated football season – in the Fall of 2020.  As someone who depends on happenings in college and professional football for material to write about, you may be certain that I hope Herbstreit is wrong and it would seem that I am joined in that hope he is wrong by the folks at William Hill – a sports wagering entity.  The folks there have published their win-total proposition bets for the NFL 2020 regular season, and it has an interesting feature.

  • If you add up the win-total lines for all 32 teams, it comes to 255 games.

The NFL regular season has 256 games AND the propensity of the betting public is to bet “Overs” and not “Unders” in these sorts of prop bets.  Often, if you add up the win-totals this far in advance of the season, the sum will be a few games higher than 256 meaning that the average bet spread out over the entire league will fall under the total line.  This year, it is much closer to 256 games than usual and it is Under the actual number of games.  [Aside:  Since the wagers pay out on the total number of wins, if there is one tie game in the regular season, it is possible for the win-total lines to equal the number of games won during the season.]

  • The Ravens and Chiefs have the highest win-totals on the board at 11.5.
  • 19 of the 32 teams have win-totals of 8 games or more.
  • The Jags have the lowest win-total on the board at 4.5 games.

There is a report this morning that the NBA is considering a variety of playoff options as a way to determine a champion for its truncated season.  Given current circumstances, it is doubtful that the league could – or would – begin such an endeavor before late June or even mid-July.  But reports say that the thinking involves the following factors:

  • Prior to the playoffs, some “postponed regular season games” may be necessary simply to get players back and game-ready.  Those games would clarify playoff seedings.
  • The early rounds of the playoffs will be 3-game series and not 7-game series.
  • The length of the final round of the playoffs is still TBD.
  • If restricted travel is still in place in the US, the playoffs could be held in one city – presumably a neutral site.
  • Reports say “neutral site cities” under consideration include Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Louisville.

In the world of tennis, reports say that the good folks who run Wimbledon have chosen the non-equivocation route there.  According to those reports, Wimbledon will be cancelled for 2020 and not merely postponed while people scramble to see what logistical arrangements can be made to cobble together some sort of delayed competition.  I don’t know if that is the best decision they could have made, but it is definitive as was the NCAA’s decision to cancel March Madness.  In these days where folks need to adapt their behaviors and their life rhythms, there is a lot to be said for certainty in decision making.

Staying with the idea of making decisions with certainty, the IOC announced today that the Olympic Summer games will begin in Tokyo on July 23, 2021.  If you had hotel reservations in Tokyo for this summer, maybe you can roll them over to next year?

There is an interesting irony regarding the now-postponed 2020 Summer Games and a Japanese government decision announced today.  The government raised the level of a travel advisory for people in Japan urging them to cancel plans to travel to more than 40 countries as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.  That makes a lot of sense – – just as it made a lot of sense for the government of Japan to have told the IOC to postpone those Summer Games wherein athletes and fans from many of those 40 or so countries would be coming to Tokyo and spreading the virus all over that densely populated city.

The English Premier League is on hiatus for now; Euro 2020 has been wiped out.  Reports say that the EPL hopes to complete its season by playing later into the summer than usual; the cancellation of Euro 2020 should help with that endeavor – – assuming of course that the league can see a way forward to starting the games once again and playing them in empty venues.  Teams have played 28 or 29 of their 38 scheduled games for this season.  If the season ended now, Liverpool would be runaway champion with a record of 27-1-1 in its 29 games.  The three teams that would be relegated if these are the final standings would be:

  • Norwich City  5-18-6  21 points
  • Aston Villa  7-17-4  25 points
  • Bournemouth 7-16-6  27 points

[Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham all have 27 points, but Bournemouth would be the team relegated based on total goal differential.]

Finally, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot with which I totally agree:

In passing: What I wouldn’t mind missing this month are media and others telling me what they miss about the NCAA tournament.”

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



Wash Your Hands

A former colleague retired and moved to California; he is the one who routinely asks me why there is no Tennis Tuesday if there is to be a Football Friday.  Last weekend, I got an email from him suggesting that I change my sign off line for these rants:

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

His suggestion was to make the sign off line more in tune with the times.  He suggested that I end these rants with:

Now, go wash your hands………

While I do like that as a closing line, I can’t bring myself to drop the one I have been using since these things began back in 1996 – well before the Internet saw its first one.  Somehow, I feel as if changing the closing line here would be like seeing a rerun of an old Red Skelton show and having him say something other than “Goodnight and God bless,” at the end.

Kirk Herbstreit is a thoughtful and analytical sports commentator whose focus is college football.  Last week, he said something that sounded out of character for him because he is normally not one to sensationalize.  Here is the surprising part of what he said:

“I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football. I’ll be so surprised if that happens, just because, from what I understand, people that I listen to, you’re 12 to 18 months from a [coronavirus] vaccine. I don’t know how you let these guys go into locker rooms and let stadiums be filled up and how you can play ball. I just don’t know how you can do it with the optics of it.”

There are huge swaths of geography in this country that went into shock when they heard/read those words.  Everyone knows what a big deal college football is in the southeastern part of the US.  Well, it is a big deal in other places too…

  • When there are 85,000 people in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE to watch a football game, the “population” of the stadium is the third largest city in the state of Nebraska.
  • Beaver Stadium in State College, PA has a seating capacity of 106,572; don’t try to walk up and buy a ticket for a Penn State game at the box office window.
  • The Red River Showdown (Texas/Oklahoma) fills the Cotton Bowl every year with more than 92,000 folks every year.

Let me say from the start that I really hope Herbstreit is wrong – – but I fear that he could be right.  He is right to say that an effective vaccine for the coronavirus will not be available prior to the normal starting time for the 2020 college football or NFL season; he is also right to say that an effective vaccine is really necessary for the protection of the players – – and the fans.  The coronavirus can spread through the air – – that is why “social distancing” is strongly recommended and insufficiently practiced.  It can also spread by contact with contaminated individuals and/or the surfaces that those individuals have touched.

Now, picture a football game between two teams in any of the venues above – – or at one of the games at your alma mater.  The game of football cannot be played with anything that resembles “social distancing” nor can players avoid contact with other individuals or the surfaces that those other individuals have touched.  Indeed, the majority of plays in a football game end up with a pile of bodies on the field.

Oh, and while you are contemplating those aspects of this imaginary game, take a peek into the stands to watch how closely packed the fans are and the degree to which they will be high-fiving one another and or shouting in to the face of a neighboring fan.  Put a dozen infected individuals randomly in a stadium packed with 90,000 “clean” individuals and there will be hundreds of infected people leaving the venue at the end of the game.

The NFL has the same problems that college football has; they are intrinsic to the game.  But the NFL enjoys an advantage here.  The NFL could survive financially playing in empty – or virtually empty – stadiums because it is the TV money that keeps the NFL afloat.  Owners will not like the loss of “gate revenue”, but teams will not be going belly-up.  College football has a strong TV revenue stream but it is not as big as the NFL and it does not represent as large a fraction of the total revenue as it does in the NFL  College football does need money from game attendance to provide for the football program and for the other sports that survive financially only because of the revenue brought in by football.  If the average ticket for a Penn State game is $40 – – remember there are lots of student tickets – – then the ticket revenue alone for a single game at Beaver Stadium is $4.5M.

Football – and basketball – are not ideal activities until there is either a coronavirus vaccine or a treatment regimen that makes recovery from a coronavirus infection probable.  [Aside:  That seems to be the case with Ebola now; the WHO and NIH announced about a year ago that treatments now “dramatically raise survival rates”.]  MLB is a middle ground case.  For much of a baseball game, social distancing naturally occurs – other than between the home plate umpire and the catcher.  Little of the game involves contact between players although the ball itself might be a disease vector if the pitcher or catcher were to be infected.

Moreover, baseball has had some experience dealing with crowds where social distancing can be maintained:

  • Spread out the attendees at a typical Miami Marlins home game and social distancing is not a challenge.
  • Look at the fans sitting behind home plate in Yankee Stadium.  The cost of those seats has effected social distancing by economic measures and not medical ones.

Interestingly, it seems as if I should end today’s rant by saying:

  • Now, go wash your hands………

But I’ll stick to tradition here and say, don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



Rest In Peace, Curly Neal

“Curly” Neal died this week at the age of 77.  He was a Harlem Globetrotter for more than 20 years known for his exotic dribbling skills and his shaved head.  “Curley” Neal entertained millions of people over his career in 97 countries.

Rest in peace, “Curly” Neal.

ESPN reported yesterday that the Cowboys and Dak Prescott’s people are back at the negotiating table regarding a long-term deal for the QB.  Recall that the Cowboys put the “exclusive rights franchise tag” on Prescott about 10 days ago.  According to the ESPN report yesterday, these negotiations would likely wind up making Dak Prescott the highest paid player in the NFL.  If that turns out to be the case, then Dak Prescott is a great example of a person being in the right place at the right time.

  • Prescott is a valuable commodity.  He is a good, young NFL QB with experience; there are not a lot of them standing around.
  • His rookie contract is up just at the time when there is a new CBA that will raise the cap significantly AND will allow the NFL to negotiate even bigger TV deals very soon – – meaning another rise in the salary cap.
  • Is Prescott the best player in the NFL?  Clearly not, but he is in the right place at the right time.

Another NFL QB finds himself at loose ends this week.  The Panthers have released Cam Newton making him an unrestricted free agent.  Three years ago, that would have been unimaginable but pro football is a game that changes direction because of injuries more than any other team sport.  Newton had a shoulder injury two years ago that clearly diminished his ability to throw the football; he had surgery to remedy that.  Last year he had a foot injury that made him miss virtually all the season.  That was a double whammy:

  1. The second injury provides teams with another area of concern when it comes to signing him and expecting him to be healthy enough to play 16 games this year.
  2. Missing almost all of last year did not let teams see the extent to which that shoulder surgery was successful in restoring his ability to throw the football.

About an hour after Newton’s release had been announced, I got an email from a former colleague asking if I thought Newton would sign on with the Skins to be reunited with his coach from Carolina, Ron Rivera.  At the time, I said that I doubted that, and Rivera has pretty much confirmed that assessment subsequently.  Here is what I said regarding why I thought the Skins were not in Cam Newton’s future:

  • The Skins handed Rivera a young team with the intent that he would build it into a contending team.  Cam Newton will be 31 years old before teams show up for Training Camp; he does not fit the profile.
  • The Skins have invested draft capital in the QB position.  Last year they took Dwayne Haskins in the first round of the draft – at the insistence of owner Danny Boy Snyder.  If Haskins in not the starting QB for the Skins this year and is not injured, that is a clear signal that Ron Rivera and his staff are totally convinced that Haskins is a bust and cannot play NFL football.  Oh, and by the way, the Skins also sent a 5th round pick to the Panthers this week to obtain Kyle Allen who was Newton’s backup in Carolina last year.
  • The Skins do not really need a “veteran QB to mentor” Haskins.  Still with the team is Alex Smith who can provide that service even though it is virtually certain that Smith will never again play in an NFL game.

So, where should Cam Newton land as a free agent?  I have seen plenty of arguments saying that going to LA to play for the Chargers is the right match.  I agree that the Chargers are a talented team – albeit one that was devastated by injury last year – but the Chargers have a hole at QB.  Philip Rivers is in Indy now; the guy on top of the depth chart for the Chargers this morning is Tyrod Taylor.  Meaning no disrespect to Taylor at all, a healthy Cam Newton is a better QB than Tyrod Taylor.  Having said all that, I think there is a better fit for Cam Newton and a team but that fit will only come to light after the NFL Draft:

  • IF the Dolphins manage to draft Tua Tagovaiola in this year’s draft, I think it would be smart for them to sign Cam Newton to a 1-year contract with a team option for the second year.
  • In Year One, Newton could play QB with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his backup while Tua never sets foot on the field.
  • At the end of Year One, the Dolphins can then reassess their situation, Tua’s health and decide what is best for the 2021 season.

I mentioned the NFL Draft above; it is on the schedule for a month from now; it was supposed to be a Las Vegas extravaganza until the coronavirus put the kibosh on such large gatherings.  Earlier this week, the NFL GMs expressed their desire to postpone the Draft in light of the virus and how it has affected their scheduling regarding

  • Individual pro days with draft candidates
  • Meetings with scouts
  • Interviews with draft candidates.

The Commish nixed that idea; the Draft will go on as scheduled and I think that is the right decision.  Frankly, the processes that have evolved that lead to the NFL Draft have taken on an “Alice in Wonderland” air.  There is lots of hustle and bustle and dashing about – – and still the odds on a first-round pick being far less than what was expected is close to 50/50.  Maybe this year will convince the GMs to cut back on some of the “showy stuff” and rely on game film analysis to answer what is the seminal question facing them:

  • Can the guy whose name you are about to send to the podium play football at the NFL level?

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times a while back and it relates to the problems that face NFL GMs:

“The average male cries 5 to 17 times a year, according to the American Psychological Association.

“What, you think it’s easy running a fantasy football team?”

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



No Opening Day Today

Today was supposed to be MLB’s Opening Day; there is a good reason why that will not happen today, but that does not mean that I can’t be sad about its absence.  There are all sorts of reports out there speculating on when the season will start.  One says that the owners and the union want to start in June which means that teams would have to reassemble for some sort of Spring Training by late May.  Because players will earn a pro-rated portion of their salary for 2020, the players and the owners both want to get in as many games as they can.  One idea floated out there is to have double-headers on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Several of the projections call for the regular season to end in mid-October.  That makes me a bit uncomfortable because the MLB playoffs and World Series as currently configured take a month or so to complete.  There are too many cities with MLB franchises whose weather as you approach Thanksgiving does not blend with baseball.

Scott Boras took off his super-agent hat and put together an idea for a 2020 MLB season that would run either 144 games or 162 games with this wrinkle:

  • Game 6 of the World Series – if there need be a Game 6 – would take place on Christmas Day.

The Boras Plan would have all the playoff games take place in warm weather stadiums in southern California or in domed stadiums.  There are seven of them at the moment and the Rangers are about to get one, so the Boras Plan has eleven venues available for hosting games even in mid-December.

I will be surprised if the Boras Plan is adopted but I like the fact that he is thinking about the idea of moving playoff games to recognize the reality of weather conditions on the games.  I don’t know if way back in the deep history of MLB if a playoff game has ever taken place in a park that was not the home field for either team.  I was pretty sure that even the San Francisco earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series did not result in a change of venue; a Google search confirmed that recollection.  Nonetheless, the Boras Plan has elements within it that ought to be considered inside and outside the confines of his specific proposal.

Notwithstanding the suspension of Spring Training and the absence of regular season games, there are injuries to MLB players still in the news.

  • The Yankees must have scoffed at the injury gods and are being punished for that slight.  Two starting pitchers were on track to miss most or all of the 2020 season; Gary Sanchez was hurt early in Spring Training; Aaron Judge had a stress fracture of his rib AND suffered a punctured lung (Ouch!) and Giancarlo Stanton had a calf injury that is reportedly still bothering him.  Imagine if the team were actually playing baseball every day…
  • The Red Sox will play 2020 without Chris Sale.  He needs Tommy John surgery.  In addition, Dustin Pedroia has a knee injury.
  • The Mets will play 2020 without Noah Syndergaard.  He also needs Tommy John surgery.
  • The Astros will have to do without Justin Verlander for at least part of the 2020 season.
  • The Nats have Max Scherzer “on the shelf” for now with an unspecified injury to his side.

Those are just some of the contending teams and their recognizable players who are injured.  And theses injuries happened without the stress and strain of a full MLB schedule…

Another sport that is in limbo due to the coronavirus is golf.  I am sure that the golf mavens are working diligently to figure out how they can salvage as much of their season as possible.  But in the world of sports journalism related to golf, that sort of reporting is blasé.  Here is the headline at CBSSports.com today related to professional golf:

  • “Tiger Woods is facing another lost season”

As if on cue, the golf story of the day must focus on Tiger Woods.  Come on, now; every golfer on the PGA Tour is “facing another lost season”.  Every PGA golfer has to adjust his preparation for what is an uncertain season due to events beyond his control or anyone’s control.  Tiger Woods is hardly alone in this dislocated period of time.

One of these days, the PGA will announce when and where it will begin to stage its events.  If today’s headline is any guide, here is what to expect from the golf coverage once we know the revised schedule:

  • A report that Tiger Woods used the golf hiatus to study mindfulness to control his reaction to a missed putt.
  • Another report on Tiger Woods’ new breakfast choice – organic granola.
  • Tiger Woods changed his pedicurist and now is more comfortable walking the course.

Please, stop this…

New Orleans Saints coach, Sean Payton, tested positive for coronavirus and went into self-quarantine.  The latest news there is that Payton has been retested and the latest test is negative.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times offered this perspective on the seriousness of the coronavirus:

“Three sure signs the coronavirus is serious stuff:

  • The U.S. scuttled March Madness.

  • Canada canceled hockey.

  • Ireland closed its bars the day before St. Patrick’s Day.”

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



The Summer Games Have Been Postponed

The IOC finally recognized the reality of the 2020 Summer Games and postponed them.  Actually, it is probably more accurate to say that the action of the Canadians jolted the IOC out of its blissful state of denial and into the present.  The Canadians announced that they would not be sending any athletes to Tokyo in July of this year.  Immediately after that, the Australians and the Poles informed the IOC of the same thing.  US institutions tied to the Olympics did not go quite that far, but they did urge the IOC to postpone the Games.  So, sanity prevailed in the end.

I feel sorry for the athletes who have devoted so much time and energy to training for these Summer Games.  But the games will likely take place in 2021; so, many of those athletes will get to compete in the Olympics on a different time scale.  The Olympics have never been “postponed” although the Olympics were cancelled during WWI and WWII.  The difference between a “postponement” and a “cancellation” is simply the time interval between games.

From the data I can find on the Internet, Japan does not have nearly as many coronavirus cases as many other countries.  At first glance, one might think that Tokyo would be a “safe space” for the athletes until you realize that many of those athletes and many of the spectators who would come to see the events would be coming from places where coronavirus is much more prevalent.  Tokyo would no longer be a “safe space”; it could well become a hotspot of its own.

I have used the absence of March Madness and MLB Opening Day from the calendar this year to think about possible ways to make sports better.  I have suggested changing the MLB playoffs to a double elimination tournament to mimic the College World Series; I have suggested that the NBA regular season should start on Christmas Day and should only be 58 games in length.  Well, the more time I spend in self-imposed isolation here in Curmudgeon Central the more ideas I get for changes that might improve sports in the US.  Today MLB is in the spotlight:

  • The beginning of the baseball season should see as many games as possible played in a “warm weather city” or in a domed stadium.  Baseball is not a game that is best played when the temperature is in the 30s and if the season continues to kick off around April 1 – give or take a few days – there is certainly going to be cold weather at night in the northern cities that host MLB teams.
  • [Aside:  Of course, another approach to this would be to start the season later and play double-headers every weekend to narrow the time of year when games will take place.  By the same logic, having the World Series games take place in venues where there is a potential for snow makes no great sense either.]
  • During the MLB playoffs – no matter what the format may be – there will always be weekend games.  There should be a rule in place mandating that at least one playoff game scheduled for a Saturday should be played in the afternoon.  If MLB seeks to attract “the next generation of fans” to the game, it would make sense to put at least a few of their signature games on TV at a time when kids can watch the whole game.
  • Tanking in MLB is a serious problem; not every team is seriously competing in 2020 – – assuming that there is a 2020 season.  Tanking is a palatable strategy from an owner’s perspective for financial reasons.  Yes, attendance will drop; but team payroll drops too.  One estimate for the Orioles’ team salary on Opening Day – had there been one – was $44M.  To address the tanking problem, maybe MLB should institute a rule mandating a salary floor for every team.  Suppose every team had to have a roster on Opening Day slated to make a minimum of $100M – or maybe even $120M.  With that on the expense side of the ledger, owners might not accede to a strategic plan that involves tanking for several years.  Indeed, if teams had to spend that kind of money, it might be more difficult for them to be confident that they will wind up with a top pick in an upcoming draft.
  • [Aside:  The MLBPA would have to be consulted on a rule change but I doubt they would put up much of a fight over this one.]

I have read reports that MLB is contemplating rule changes involving the use of electronic means to steal signs.  I have no objection to the baseball overlords working on that “problem”, but I would prefer that they spend some time looking at other aspects of the game besides the hot topic on top of the inbox.  A former colleague often said:

“When we spend all of our time working on what is urgent, we never have time to work on the things that are important.”

Enough with rule changes and schedule changes, I have a stat question for the baseball seamheads.  Some folks have proposed that extra inning games should place a baserunner on second base to start an inning.  This proposal aims to prevent games from going 15 or 17 innings with a middle infielder being the final pitcher for one of the teams.  Let me assume that such a rule is adopted and now imagine that the following situation obtains:

  • A pitcher has thrown a perfect game for 9 innings, but the score is still tied 0-0.  In the 10th inning, this pitcher appears on the mound with a runner on second base through no fault of his own.  Question:  Is he still pitching a perfect game?

Finally, I think that I can draw the following conclusion without fear of contradiction:

  • When a child is born in the US in mid or late December 2020, its biological parents were not adhering to “social distancing” guidelines promulgated in March 2020.

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



Not Necessarily “Either”/”Or”…

The movement of Tom Brady from New England to Tampa Bay during this period of NFL free agency would have been a humongous story in any year.  With all the seasonal sports shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19, that event became even bigger – – because there were no other things to write about/talk about.  The commentary fell into two bins; if you read through most of the stuff, Brady’s decision will wind up as an “either/or” decision:

  • Either he will make the Bucs an instant Super Bowl contender in the NFC and that he and the team will likely win a Super Bowl in the next couple of years a la Peyton Manning…
  • Or he is too far past his peak performance years to make that kind of a difference anymore and his end game will harken back to John Unitas as a San Diego Charger.

If you look at those two men as historical precedents, I think it is important to look at their situations more completely.

  • Manning did not go to a team that was on a playoff drought for a dozen years; nonetheless, he did not lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl until his 4th year in Denver.
  • Although coming to Denver off a season lost to neck surgery, no one would have thought to write that his passing skills had eroded at age 36.  Some might remember that he led the NFL in passing yards (5477) and TDs (55) while in Denver; it is important to remember that was NOT in the Super Bowl winning season.
  • Unitas was much more clearly on the downslope of his career when he left the Colts and joined the Chargers in 1973.  He had only started 5 games in each of the two seasons prior to the move and the Colts record in those 10 games was a mediocre 4-6.  He bottomed out in San Diego starting the first 4 games and then being benched for inability to make plays.

My point is that there is a ton of room on a spectrum between “Peyton Manning as a Bronco” and “John Unitas as a Charger” and that the ultimate fate of Tom Brady does not have to be at either extreme.  I would argue that two other “face of the franchise QBs” left to go to other teams late in their careers and that both of them performed in a way that would put them between Manning and Unitas on a “performance spectrum”.  Those QBs would be:

  1. Brett Favre
  2. Joe Montana.

Switching subjects and sports, the NBA has been hit with an economic one-two this year.  As the season began, the NBA had to deal with the issues created by Daryl Morey’s Tweet that did not sit well with the folks in power in China.  The Chinese put economic pressures on the NBA and most estimates say it has cost/will cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.  After trying to figure out how to absorb those lost revenues, the coronavirus hit the NBA again with game cancellations and lost revenues.  It is still not clear when the NBA might be able to start up again given that players have tested positive for the virus and playing basketball guarantees that players will not be abiding by the social distancing guidelines.  Not to worry; I am not about to try to make you feel sorry for NBA owners who might not make nearly as much money this year as they did last year.

The issue facing the NBA is that the salary cap is tied to league revenues.  A couple of years ago when the league had just signed a humongous new TV deal, the owners proposed to the NBPA that they phase in the escalation on the salary cap over a couple of years; the union would hear none of that and the surge in the cap for every team set off a spending spree.  Now there is a huge drop in revenues, and I doubt the owners would consider a multi-year phase in for the drop in the cap.

[Aside: It was that huge spike in the salary cap that gave the Warriors the cap room to add Kevin Durant to their roster to form that championship winning team.]

A new trend for player contracts has been for them to sign on to max contracts that peg their annual salary to some percentage of the cap for that season.  I recall that Ben Simmons signed such a deal with the Sixers; I cannot recall any other specific players who have worked such deals, but I do recall that sort of thing happening more than once.  So, those players and their agents are going feel a pinch here too.

In addition, the NBA has in its CBA a league calendar which specifies when players whose contracts will expire become free agents.  We can’t know how that will impact teams and players because we can’t know at this time when/if the 2019/2020 season will restart or if there will be some sort of playoffs for the season.  I would imagine that players with expiring contracts this year and their agents are considering strategies for what to do come free agency.  Here is a situation that would present an interesting dilemma:

  • Suppose Joe Flabeetz has an expiring contract this summer.  Joe had been over-playing his deal back in November and December and folks had him pegged for s substantial raise and a long-term deal come this summer.
  • In addition, that expiring deal has a “player option clause” in it albeit for only one year and at the same salary level as this year.

Imagine you are Joe Flabeetz’ agent; what do you tell your client to do?

Finally, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel is not one of the folks who thinks the Bucs have a history of smart decisions regarding QBs:

“Here’s all you need to know about Tampa Bay’s track record with quarterbacks: In the Bucs’ 43-year history, they have NEVER drafted a quarterback and then signed that quarterback to a second contract. They didn’t sign Doug Williams to a second contract because they were too cheap and then he went on to win a Super Bowl with the Washington Native Americans. They should have signed Steve Young to a second contract, but they thought he was a bust and he went on to become and NFL Hall of Famer in San Francisco.”

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



The “Seventh Teams” In The NFL Playoffs

Last week, I was writing about the new NFL CBA and how it would add another wildcard team from each Conference to the playoff menu.  I made this comment at that time:

“… the addition of that seventh team will almost always put a mediocre team in a playoff game and that is not appealing to me at all.”

A reader sent me an email suggesting that I go back and figure out who those “seventh teams” would have been in recent years to see what sort of teams we might expect in the future.  That sounded like a good idea; so, I started doing some digging.  Let me say that this research was not nearly as simple as I thought it was going to be – – and that is why it has been a week since I got that suggestion.

I think I have this right, but my uncertainty is based on the fact that many of the teams I think would have been the “seventh team” achieved that status after considering NFL tiebreakers.  I am pretty confident in my understanding of the tie-breaking hierarchy – – but some of the cases required digging deeply into the season’s game results.

I went back 10 seasons meaning there would have been an additional 20 teams in the playoffs – one per conference – had the new structure been in place over that period and I found the following:

  • Five of the “seventh teams” had a record of 8-8
  • One of the “seventh teams” had a record of 8-7-1
  • Eight of the “seventh teams” had a record of 9-7
  • One of the “seventh teams” had a record of 9-6-1
  • Five of the “seventh teams” had a record of 10-6

Note that none would have had a losing record and five of those “seventh teams” would have gone 10-6 which is sufficiently respectable.  I would conclude from these data that we will not be seeing a flood of teams with .500 records – or worse – making it into the NFL playoffs.

The data show three other things that I find interesting.

  1. The population of the 20 “seventh teams” over the last 10 years is spread out over 15 different franchises.
  2. Only 3 teams would have been the “seventh team” more than once (Titans twice, Bears twice and Steelers 3 times).
  3. Two of the NFL’s three longest playoff droughts would have been relieved by having “seventh teams” as part of the playoff mix over the past 10 seasons.  The Bucs and the Jets would each have made the playoffs once in the past 10 seasons.  The Browns would still be on the outside looking in.

Moving on …  Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

Hoop du jour: With everything else going on, much of the criticism over Iona’s hiring of Rick Pitino fell through the cracks. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Pitino, kicked to the curb by Louisville in 2017, is back in the game. That he’s starting over at a relatively small program dampens my objections.”

I want to take a different tack on this issue.  Rick Pitino was fired at Louisville in the early days of breaking news about the FBI’s probe into college basketball recruiting activities.  As I recall the tone and tenor of the news back then, much of it came from very specific and very dire statements from the investigators and the prosecutors about how much evidence they had.  Much of the media commentary suggested that the probe would expose the seamy underbelly of college recruiting and change the entire way it was going to happen in the future.

Pitino maintained his innocence back then – and continues to do so – but his proximity to one of the more nefarious aspects of the investigation made him sufficiently toxic that Louisville decided to fire him.  Two and a half years or so ago, that seemed perfectly logical.

Now, with the perspective of time, I look back on the prosecutions of the shoe company folks and the assistant basketball coaches and wonder where all the blockbuster events are.  I thought these revelations were going to be monumental in scope because that is what I was told repeatedly. In actuality, the passage of time has produced something slightly more than “small potatoes” but nothing that is much more than “Ho-hum”.

Rick Pitino has not been charged with any of the crimes alleged by the prosecutors let alone convicted on those charges.  [Aside:  Please recall that I was, and I remain, skeptical about the criminality of the recruiting machinations.]  By this time, I would have expected those vigorous and cock-sure prosecutors to have grabbed another opportunity to go on camera and levy against Pitino the sorts of charges they have levied against others.  But they have not – – and that makes me wonder if they have nearly as much evidence as they have claimed to have from the outset here.

I think we can stipulate that Rick Pitino is an accomplished and competent basketball coach.  [Aside:  Readers with a good memory may recall that I suggested Pitino as someone who might be a sensible hire by the NY Knicks to get them out of their miasma.]  Given the totality of the events of his life, he may not be a top-shelf character witness that one might seek out for oneself, but he can coach basketball.  Unless there is something in his contract with Iona that has not been publicized, they are hiring him to coach basketball and not hiring him to teach courses on ethics, morality and philosophy at the school; they have professors to do that.  And by the way, those professors are not being asked to coach the basketball team either.  It seems to me that Iona has asked the people on its staff there to do what they are good at doing – – and that makes more sense to me than the whole FBI investigation into basketball recruiting.

Finally, I want to address the air of surprise that came from some folks when they heard that Tom Brady had signed on with the Tampa Bay Bucs.  I don’t think it was shocking at all.  Here you have a man who has spent the last 25 winters of his life in either Michigan or New England; he now has more money that he will ever be able to spend.  Therefore, given those circumstances:

  • Can you really be shocked that he decided to move to Florida?

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




A Correction From Yesterday

I begin today with a correction from yesterday.  I said then that Tom Brady’s record against the Jets was 28-7.  The reader in Houston who is a sports stats maven extraordinaire sent me the following email:

“Actually 29-7 in the regular season and 1-1 in playoffs for 30-8 overall. He never faced the Bills and Dolphs in the playoffs.”

My apologies for the misinformation and thanx to the Houston reader.

For the record, it did not occur to me to look at Tom Brady versus other AFC East teams in the playoffs, but now that the subject has been introduced let me pose a rhetorical question about the playoffs and teams that do not make the playoffs regularly.

  • With the addition of two more teams to the playoffs starting in 2020, should there be an asterisk next to a team that breaks a longstanding playoff drought by being the third wildcard team in its conference?

If you think that is a reasonable idea, let me suggest that any team with a double-digit playoff drought receive “the dreaded asterisk”.  Currently, there are only 3 NFL teams that would approach that level of frustration.  As of this morning:

  • Browns have not made the playoffs for 17 seasons.
  • Bucs have not made the playoffs for 12 seasons.
  • Jets have not made the playoffs for 9 seasons.

The next longest drought is 4 seasons shared by the Bengals, Broncos, Cardinals and Skins.

The Olympic Torch Relay has been interrupted; the torch was lit in Greece earlier this week, but the runners never made it out of Greece.  Too bad; the Olympic mavens had arranged for it to be ever so environmentally correct this time; no fossil fuels would be used; the torch would have burned hydrogen.

  • Memo to the IOC:  Time to postpone the 2020 Games.  You can put them in Tokyo in 2021 or even in 2022 – – but not this year.

There are several ideas floating around regarding possible starting time for the MLB season this year.  Just about every week between mid-May and the All-Star Game has received some attention for that event.  I do not have a firm position on the season starting date but I do have a suggestion for MLB to consider.  This is an idea that might work very well for a truncated season and maybe should be considered more permanently:

  • Change the existing playoff structure to the one used by college baseball – – use a double elimination tournament format.

Yes, that would probably reduce the number of games for TV, but it would increase the number of “win-or-go-home games” and those might generate much better TV ratings than some of the games in the current format.  Another potential advantage is that this new format could be squeezed into smaller time frame meaning the likelihood of al “World Series Game” in sub-freezing conditions is reduced.

The MLB sign-sealing scandal has receded from the headlines over the past couple of weeks but that does not mean the story is over.  However, I have used this respite in the public shaming of the Astros – – and likely the Red Sox to come – – by reading some articles about the history of sign-stealing in baseball.

Here is the link to a long and interesting look at sign-stealing in baseball 60 years ago and beyond that.  In this article, you will see a report in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in which NY Giants manager, John McGraw talks about sign-stealing and distinguishes between legitimate sign-stealing and nefarious sign-stealing,  Here is part of what he said:

“… the unfair method of getting signals is to employ artificial means such as field glasses and buzzers and other devices that have broken into baseball from time to time as first aid to the batter.”

John McGraw was referencing the use of “buzzers” more than 100 years ago.  So, what José Altuve is alleged to have done with a “buzzer” may well be considered to be nefarious and improper, but it would seem not to be novel.

Here is another revelation in the article that I did not know anything about:

“At the NL’s annual meeting in December 1961, NL owners had given league president Warren Giles the power to declare a forfeit if a game could be proved to have been won with signs obtained through mechanical means.”

I commend this article to your reading…

In addition, here is the link to another article by Frank Fitzpatrick in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how the Phillies stole signs with an electrical link all the way back in 1900.  Some of the shenanigans related here are comical – – but they do indicate that whatever the Astros did in recent years did not break ground in the cosmos of baseball cheating.  Fitzpatrick’s article is not nearly as lengthy as the one above nor is it intended to be as broad a look at the issue; but it is very interesting and well written.

One statistic from Fitzpatrick’s article is interesting.  The Phillies in 1900 led the NL in attendance averaging 4,313 fans per game.  Finding ways to cheat in baseball may not have changed but attendance certainly has.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times referred to an event that likely did not adhere to current exhortations regarding social distancing:

“Some 3,549 gathered at a carnival in Landerneau, France, to break the world record for most people dressed as Smurfs.

“Thus eclipsing the mark for all-blue get-ups set by the 2018 Boise State football team.”

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



A Sea Change In The AFC East?

Earlier this week in a Quick Quiz, I asked which AFC East team was best positioned to take over the AFC East if Tom Brady did indeed take his talents elsewhere.  Now, that is reality and not mere speculation.  To demonstrate how significantly Brady dominated the AFC East, I went to check records, and if I have counted correctly:

  • Against the Bills, Brady was 32-3.
  • Against the Dolphins, Brady was 23-12.
  • Against the Jets, Brady was 28-7.

For the first time in about 20 years, it is not axiomatic that the Patriots will have the best QB in the division – – although that still may turn out to be the case because the music accompanying this QB carousel has not yet come to quiet.  The Patriots will add to their QB roster in this off-season; the stats demand it.  Here are the QBs on the Pats’ roster as of this morning:

  • Cody Kessler:  He has started 12 games in the NFL.  His teams are 2-10 in those games.  He has thrown 2 TD passes and 2 INTs in those games.
  • Jarrett Stidham:  He has never started in the NFL.  He has thrown 4 passes in his career.  He completed 2 of them and one of the others was a Pick Six.

I am confident that will change – – relatively soon.

Actually, I think that Pats’ fans should be equally concerned by three other free agency losses this week.  Kyle Van Noy and Ted Karras signed on with the Dolphins and Danny Shelton will play for the Lions next year.  None of those three will ever be considered the GOAT at their position, but all three proved to be solid starters last season.

I do not want to comment on the myriad free agent signings in a piecemeal fashion but there is one other move that is worth noting.  Jason Witten will not play for the Cowboys next season; he has signed on with the Raiders.  Witten is not nearly the player he was, but he is still a reliable possession receiver and he ranks 4th in the NFL in total pass receptions for a career.  Witten has caught 1215 passes in 16 seasons in the NFL.  The three guys ahead of him in terms of career receptions is a distinguished list:

  1. Jerry Rice
  2. Larry Fitzgerald
  3. Tony Gonzalez

The other interesting twist on that free agent signing is that Witten will be playing for Jon Gruden – – the guy he partially replaced in the ESPN broadcast booth for Monday Night Football.  Wheels within wheels…

Meanwhile, the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has shut down in response to the coronavirus outbreak and some momentum is beginning to build to postpone the Olympic Games scheduled for this summer in Japan.  Obviously, the Japanese do not want to do that and the IOC position for the moment is that it is “fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020”.  Given the history of the IOC as an organization of high honor and persistent truth-telling, I believe that statement about as far as I can throw a piano – – with one hand.  Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this observation about this matter in a recent column:

Reality check: Don’t mean to be callous, but postponement or cancellation of the Tokyo Games wouldn’t ruin the summer. We got along fine without the Olympics the past three summers, didn’t we?”

Moreover, we got along without the Olympics in 1916 due to the ravages of World War I and we got along without the Olympics in 1940 and again in 1944 as World War II was being contested.  Added to that, there were faux Olympic games in 1980 when the US boycotted the games and then again in 1984 when the Soviet Union effected its own boycott.

Because I do not view the coronavirus as apocalyptic or as a sign of the end times, I think the IOC should give serious consideration to changing “Olympic Games Tokyo 2020” to “Olympic Games Tokyo 2021”.  I suspect that is far too simplistic a suggestion for the great minds in charge of the “Olympic Movement” to deal with.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Congress of the United States has pending legislation called the Horseracing Integrity Act.  Demonstrating the knowledge, insight and profound wisdom that legislators at every level of governance can bring to bear on sports and athletics, please consider this:

  • The Legislature for the State of Florida proclaimed the Florida State University men’s basketball team as the 2020 NCAA National Champions.

Isn’t it good to know that all the problems facing society today as they impact on Florida have been resolved fully and satisfactorily?  If those jamokes have even a microsecond to devote to something that abjectly silly, it must be the case that there is nothing more important for them to do.

Finally, here is an entry taken from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Dentist:  A person to whom you provide boat payments as a way of thanking him for sending a shooting pain through your entire central nervous system.”

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



Something Different Today …

With the paucity of competitions ongoing now, most of the attention in the last several days has been on the NFL and its new CBA and impending free agency.  That is perfectly natural; the NFL is a focal point for sports coverage under normal circumstances and that focus is only sharpened now.  However, there are competitions out there that are generating news and today I plan to go to the fringes of the US sports world to talk about two of them.

The first item is a story of an opportunity blown.  The sport of horseracing has been in decline in the US for at least the last 20 years and maybe for the last 40 years.  In this time of scarce competition, horseracing could have made a minor comeback; consider:

  • Unless the governor of a state with a racetrack issued the government equivalent of a “cease and desist letter”, horseracing is a perfect sport to allow for social distancing.  There do not have to be spectators at the track nor need there be any workers there save for the grooms and jockeys – – and the grooms need to be there to care for the horses anyway.
  • There are TV networks in place to put the races on the air and online wagering platforms already exist.  They could put live racing on the air and not have to resort to showing “classic races from the past”.  [Aside:  If they showed the Belmont Stakes from 1973, we would know the Exacta; Secretariat won, and Twice A Prince finished second.]

Do not misunderstand; I am not suggesting that horseracing had a chance to re-emerge as a top-shelf sport in the US.  I am saying that it might have goosed up interest sufficiently for it to approach the stature of the WNBA or Track and Field.  But that is not going to happen – even if the racing mavens put on a promotional blitz and convince viewers to turn their TVs to the live events.  The reason for that is the sporting equivalent of self-immolation.

There have been stories about racing very recently but they have been buried on the back pages of the sports section and they deal with drug cheating and Federal indictments.  This does not involve some isolated trainer at a backwater track in Beaglebreath, AR, the indictments name 27 folks who are involved in the manufacture, advertisement, sales and promotion of PEDs for horses.  You can find lots of the details here; let’s just say these folks did not spend a lot of time and energy on “clandestinity”.

Clearly there is history of “shenanigans” in the sport of horseracing and events such as the number of horses breaking down – needing euthanasia – or more stories of illegal drugs being used on the animals proves to me that the “overseers” are not up to the task of “oversight”.  Moreover, I have become convinced that the problems here are intractable.

  • The current system involves State level “oversight”.  Notwithstanding the fancy titles given to the overseers such as “steward” or “commissioner”, many of these folks are put in those positions based on cronyism.  If someone was a fraternity brother of the Lieutenant Governor’s brother and also donated to Hizzoner’s previous campaign, that could well be sufficient qualification to be on the State Racing Commission.
  • This situation leads to multiple sets of rules and regulations across the State lines with each of the individual regulatory bodies looking like an old Benny Hill episode as they go about their “policing” and “enforcement” activities.
  • Some have proposed Federal oversight over those State bodies; there is pending legislation called the Horseracing Integrity Act.  [Aside:  I just giggled a bit typing out the name of that legislation.]  If anyone thinks that the US Anti-Doping Agency has resolved the problem of PEDs in human athletes, then you are invited to believe that this approach will work.  Count me out…

Will Rogers is famous for his humorous yet meaningful observations.  One of them seems to be appropriate for horseracing’s situation today; just change a word or two:

“A politician is just like a pickpocket; it’s almost impossible to get one to reform.”

Another Rogers’ observation seems to apply to the idea that any Federal legislation called the “Horseracing Integrity Act” will do much good:

“This country has come to fell the same when the Congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer.”

Oh, by the way, the Kentucky Derby has been postponed; it will not run on the first Saturday in May as usual.  No word yet on the rest of the Triple Crown events but the Derby will tentatively run in mid-September.

Moving on…  There was another ongoing competition that ended last night.  It was not televised, and I doubt it ever will be televised meaning that a large segment of people who think of themselves as sports fans will pay it no mind.  I am speaking of the 2020 iteration of The Iditarod.  A musher from Norway won the race and his entire existence over the nine days of mushing exemplified “social distancing”.  He was alone with his dogs.  The maneuver that won the race for him was a 12-hour overnight run of 85 miles that he and his dogs made by themselves.

After the race, he handed out treats to his dogs in the form of raw bacon.  No pharmaceutical concoctions; he gave them raw bacon.

Finally, in our times of the coronavirus, here is a Tweet from humorist, Brad Dickson, that may provide a health benefit:

“Here’s how health-conscious I am: you know how they say you’re supposed to be able to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while washing your hands? I use ‘Stairway To Heaven.’”

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