What Happened?

I have a simple question this morning:

  • What is wrong with you people?

I leave you folks in charge of the sports world for 3 weeks as I go on a road trip with my long-suffering wife and I come back to the sporting equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland.  If there are no re-starts in US sports over the next month, the best I can look forward to is the beginning of the Mongolian National Premier League – that’s soccer don’t you know – in April.  [Just so you know, Ulaanbaatar City is the defending champion there.]

Let me dispose of four minor items from the past several weeks before getting to the only major sports news of the day:

  1. I read that Alex Rodriguez “chastised” the Astros’ players for not showing sufficient remorse over the sign-stealing scandal.  That goes well beyond the pot calling the kettle black; that is akin to Dr. Mengele accusing a physician of malpractice.
  2. Tony Romo got a new contract with CBS paying him $180M over 10 years.  He is really good as a color analyst, but I doubt that many folks tune in because of him on the microphone; I think they tune in to see the “big game” that CBS has assigned him to do and then are happy to hear his commentary.
  3. While on the road, I succeeded in missing every second of the televised coverage of the NFL Combine.  Moreover, I do not feel like a lesser person for having done so…
  4. The NBA proved the old adage that it is an ill wind that blows no good.  Before deferring all regular season games, the NBA changed the coverage of its games to get rid of in-game interviews with coaches/players/fans.  That had to improve the telecasts and it had to make “appropriate social distancing” more easily attainable.

The big sports story of the day is the ratification of a new CBA by the NFL players.  The proposed agreement had previously been approved by the owners, so it is now a fait accompli.  There are loads of things to unpack in there, but I think a critical inclusion is this:

  • The agreement is in effect through the end of the 2030 season AND neither side has an “opt-out clause” prior to that time.  There will surely be squabbles and critiques along the way, but fans can look forward to ten years of as much peace as is possible in a labor-management situation.

In terms of the changes to the NFL under this new CBA, there is only one change that I don’t really like.

  • As of the upcoming season, the playoffs will expand from 12 teams to 14 teams.  That means there will be 6 games on “wildcard weekend” instead of the current 4 games on that weekend.
  • That my not sound like a big deal, but 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.

Other than that, there is plenty to like in the new CBA and there are things in there that are OK but not earth-shattering:

  • The addition of a 17th regular season game is OK.  It gives fans another weekly fix for their favorite sports league on TV and more wagering opportunities.  Many players opposed this for health/injury reasons, but it seems that the added money that will accrue to players via the increased salary cap levels prevailed.  One estimate I read said that players will receive an added $675M in salary in 2020 based on added cap room under the new deal.
  • The elimination of at least one Exhibition Game – and maybe two? – in exchange for that added regular season game is a huge plus for fans.
  • Reductions in practice time in training camp and limitations on practices in full pads could result in sloppier play – – but if coaches are really worth the salaries they are pulling down, they should be able to account for that.

I will dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back for a moment here.  The new CBA adopts – partially – a position I have advocated for the past 5 years.  Roger Goodell is the commissioner but not the disciplinarian under the league’s personal conduct policy.  As I suggested all the way back to the “Ray Rice Incident”, the initial findings of fact and issuance of discipline will be done by a third party appointed by both the league and the NFLPA.  Goodell’s disciplinary authority falls into two categories:

  1. If someone appeals the disciplinary decision of the “neutral arbiter” that appeal goes to the Commissioner.
  2. If the issue at hand involves a threat to “the integrity of the games”, that is the responsibility of the Commissioner.

Sounds like a step forward to me…

There is one potential fly in the ointment here.  Russell Okung has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFLPA.  Okung was until recently part of the NFLPA Executive Committee, so this is a very strange situation to me, and it sounds as if it could inject some uncertainty into all of this.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had these two comments about sports and the coronavirus recently:

“Because of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, five Serie A soccer matches — including the big Juventus-Inter Milan showdown — were slated to be played without any fans in attendance.

“‘Playing in an empty stadium? So what’s the big deal about that?’ asked the Miami Marlins.”

And …

“The phobia over spreading germs has reached such epic proportions, we hear, that college boosters have replaced $100 handshakes with gift cards.”

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