Bits And Pieces…

I will spend time this afternoon cleaning up the area here in Curmudgeon Central so let me keep with that theme and clean up my clipboard of stored up bits and pieces…

Everyone likes affirmation.  Seeing someone other than oneself take a position that one has previously taken feels good.  It is particularly positive reinforcement when that “someone else” is a respected individual.  I am basking in that glow at the moment because of a piece that Len Elmore wrote on last week.  Elmore said that even though several top-rated high school prospects have opted to go to the G-League this year instead of going to play college basketball on a “one-and-done” basis, he thinks that college basketball will survive – – and indeed thrive.  Back on April 22nd, I took that same position when only Jalen Green had chosen that path for his career.

Here is a link to Len Elmore’s piece.

Here is a link to my rant.

In the realm of college football, Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh was in the news last week with an idea related to college football eligibility.  The current situation is that players must be 3  years out from their high school graduating class to be allowed to opt for being part of the NFL Draft – – and if they make such a choice, they lose any remaining college eligibility they may have.  You may recall that Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett challenged that rule in court and lost his case and his college eligibility.

Harbaugh’s suggestion is that a player can declare for the NFL Draft at any time but if he is not selected, he can return to college and continue to play college football.  In addition, Harbaugh’s “plan” would allow a player to consult with an agent during the process of deciding to enter the NFL Draft and for the player to retain college eligibility if he is not selected in the draft with the condition that the player did not receive any compensation from the agent.

Here is a key part of Harbaugh’s suggestion:

“There are ‘early bloomers’ capable of competing in the NFL and earning a livelihood at an earlier age.  The goal would be to create a scenario that makes adjustments for all current and future student‐athletes that puts the timeline for transition to professional football at their discretion and that of their family. I propose an option that allows them to make the decision that is best for them.”

The “Harbaugh Plan” and the situation created by high school basketball players opting for the G-League are similar but not identical.  The basketball players are immediately being paid for their time in the G-League meaning they forfeit their college eligibility immediately and completely.  There is room in the “Harbaugh Plan” for a player to continue his college career – – and presumably his college education.

Moreover, the “Harbaugh Plan” recognizes that there are a few college players who would indeed be ready physically for the rigors of NFL football before spending three years at the college level.  Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson and Randy Moss leap to mind.  Note that I said they would be “physically ready” for NFL football; the question of maturity and/or socialization is another dimension.  On balance, I like the “Harbaugh Plan”.

Here is my assessment of the likelihood that it will be adopted by the NCAA and the college football mavens:

  • You will see a horse climb a tree before this plan is adopted as proposed.

Back when the top story of the week was Tom Brady’s decision to leave New England for the sunny Tampa climate, I read somewhere that he and his Patriots teammates had been the Vegas favorites in 74 consecutive games.  It was not worth the aggravation to go back and see what that “75th game” was or how it turned out; I just made a note of it to use whenever the Bucs wind up as an underdog this year – – assuming there is a “this year”.  Just for giggles, I checked the Vegas line for Week 1 of this year about 10 minutes ago and here is what it is 4 months in advance:


Tampa Bay at New Orleans – 4.5 (49.5):


Trust me; I know that the line on this game could move wildly between now and September 13th.  However, I think it is interesting to note that not only would that streak be broken but that it would be broken in a division game.  That did not happen to Brady and the Patriots very often in the AFC East…

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

“President Trump pardoned former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., 73, who was convicted in a gambling fraud scandal.

“But the president did, however, refuse the Niners’ request to commute the last nine minutes of Super Bowl LIV.”

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



A Micro Step Long Overdue?

About two weeks ago, USA Gymnastics – the organizing and oversight entity for gymnastics in the US – suspended coach Maggie Haney for 8 years.  The suspension came after a hearing into charges that Haney “verbally and emotionally abused her gymnasts”.  The next day, the Washington Post had a story that called this suspension a “micro step long overdue”.  Haney’s accuser won an individual silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and was part of the US women’s team that won the team gold medal.

Since I did not witness any of the alleged incidents of abuse here nor do I follow gymnastics at all, I do not know if this was either a “micro step” or if this is “long overdue”.  What I will say is that an awful lot of successful coaches (for both male and female athletes) have behaved in ways that were not always totally supportive or uplifting for the athletes on the receiving end of the coaching.  Maybe it is indeed a micro step but is it necessarily one in a positive direction?  Time will tell…

Last week, the NCAA Board of Directors for Division 1 chose to table a recommendation for a full vote on a recommendation from a working group set up by the NCAA.  That recommendation would allow athletes in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and men’s hockey to change schools and be eligible to play immediately.  The current rule is that these athletes must sit out a year at their new school unless they are granted a specific waiver from the NCAA allowing them to play immediately.  The sports identified here are the so-called “revenue sports” meaning that colleges take in some revenue because of the games played in these sports.  It is interesting to note that most of the athletes in the “non-revenue sports” can transfer and participate immediately.  So, why the distinction here?

Far be it from me to assert that I have mind-reading skills sufficient to plumb the depths of the intentions of the folks who create the NCAA rules.  I would need the combined powers of Rasputin, Wolf Messing and The Amazing Kreskin to be able to do that.  However, here is an indicator of why the rule exists and why it is not a candidate for change:

  • Coaches – highly regarded by alums and donors – are almost unanimously against relaxing that rule.

If I set out to try to convince you that most college coaches in the “revenue sports” are control freaks who do not like surprises, I do not think it would require the persuasion skills of Clarence Darrow for me to accomplish that objective.  Allowing athletes to transfer at will would diminish their control over a critical aspect of their programs and I doubt there is a single coach out there in the “revenue sports” who thinks more randomness in the program is likely to breed more success into that program.  Of course they do not like the idea of easy transfers.

I think there is another force at work here that may not be as obvious as the one above.  There is a pecking order on college sports.  Take men’s basketball for example:

  • Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan St. and UNC are on one level.
  • Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisville and Villanova are on a lower level
  • Gonzaga, Ohio St., Syracuse, Tennessee and Wisconsin are on a still lower level…

The teams closest to the top of the hierarchy can “poach players” from teams lower on the pecking order.  The three levels I listed above may not be sufficiently far apart to allow a lot of such poaching, but remember there are more than 350 Division 1 basketball schools and lots of them have one really good player who is “toiling in anonymity” at a place like Whatsamatta U.  The big time coaches can – should they choose to do so – poach players from the schools that are way down on the totem pole but might have more difficulty doing that in an environment where they have to defend their flock in addition to “go out hunting”.

Rather than just identify problems, let me try to offer a solution here.  I would like to use such an opportunity to pay tribute to something that the NCAA pretends to hold in high esteem – – the student-athlete.  And I suggest that in this matter we put the emphasis on “student”. So, suppose the NCAA would allow the transfer and the immediate eligibility of a “revenue sport athlete” under these circumstances:

  • The student-athlete must have achieved class status equal to the number of years it has been since his high school graduation AND (s)he must be carrying a GPA of 3.0 or better AND (s)he must be majoring in an academic subject.

Or …

  • The head coach who recruited the player to come to Wherever Tech has left and gone to some other job.

If those were the two open-door transfer policies, coaches would no longer have the “control argument” in their favor because once they leave Wherever Tech, they should not care what decisions their former players make.  In addition, if the path to a transfer demands academic achievement in addition to athletic achievement, then the NCAA golden calf – the student-athlete – might make a comeback on some college campuses.

Having offered those suggestions, let me be sure to note that neither of them will happen…

Finally let me close today with an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Endangered species:  an organism that faces the risk of becoming extinct.  Among the most widely known endangered species are the Siberian tiger, the blue whale and people who still have a landline.”

And – maybe – the “student-athlete”?

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



As If On Cue…

I want to begin this morning with a reference to Cassandra in Greek Mythology.  Cassandra was given the gift of seeing the future by Apollo; but when she did not “deliver her favors to him”, Apollo added a curse to her gift:

  • She could see the future, but no one would ever believe what she foretold.

[Aside:  Most of her prognostications fell into what we would call the “gloom-and-doom category making her acutely aware of her “gift”.]

With that brief introduction, let me assure everyone here that my middle name is not Cassandra.  The following juxtaposition in time is purely coincidental:

  • Yesterday – writing about MLB’s possible reopening – I said that MLB and the MLBPA must not get into a public spitting contest over pay issues when MLB’s fanbase is in a far more economically precarious state than either the owners or the players.  I stand by those remarks.  If you want to re-read them, you can scroll down below this rant and find yesterday’s rant directly below.
  • As if on cue, the Washington Post currently reports that “… the union is already rejecting MLB’s economic proposal before even receiving it.”

One of the buzzwords of the day is “optics”; we talk about the “optics” being wrong when some public figure does something outrageously gross or something that is highly privileged.  Even though I have no idea what the MLB proposal might be – and even if it is something that would make Ebenezer Scrooge look generous – it is BAD OPTICS to reject something before you know what it is.  I said yesterday that MLB and the MLBPA “have a history of finding ways to shoot themselves – and each other – in the foot.”  In this instance, it seems to me that the union could have waited until the proposal arrived on their desks to let it be known that they disagree.

Please take a moment to read Thomas Boswell’s column on this mater in today’s Washington Post; here is the link.

Obviously, this situation is going to be messy.  Even the ongoing pandemic cannot get these two sides to come to their agreements privately, constructively and expeditiously; both sides are hopeless.  Having the recent memory of watching a Senate Committee receive testimony from Dr. Fauci and three other medical folks regarding the state of play between US citizenry and COVID-19, I can easily picture in my mind what “feckless” and “meaningless” and “pompous” mean.

  • The only way the MLB/MLBPA situation can get worse would be for the Congress to convene a hearing on that matter and to have it televised nationally.
  • The owners and the players will have already aggravated the fans.
  • The Congress has aggravated political partisans – and could use those hearings to aggravate baseball fans turning partisans from both sides against them.

If there are any adults in positions of responsibility at MLB HQs and at the top of the MLBPA, please come to an agreement quickly and keep the story as an internal one instead of a media circus.

All during the time of the pandemic spread – and the suspension of sports events worldwide – there have been speculations about reopening sports without fans in attendance.  There has been a UFC event without fans; there are horse racing events without fans at the racetrack; stretching the definition of sports, Wrestlemania happened without fans in the arena; the English Premier League is planning to play games in June without fans in the stands.  Here in the US, leagues have acknowledged that such may have to be the case for their return to action but only the NFL seems to have said clearly that if that is the price of playing a normal season then that is how it will have to be.

  • Translation of the NFL position:  We can make do with the money we take in from TV, radio and “corporate partnerships”.

The fact that other pro sports here have not made the same sort of commitment made me wonder why the NFL figured it could get by but entities such as MLB or the NBA might not.  The following are not accurate calculations; they are guesstimates and nothing more.  I have tried to use reported values for TV rights contracts along with estimates of total league revenues based on team salary caps as a percentage of that total league revenue and guessed at “sponsorship fees” to arrive at what portion of league revenue comes from fans in the stands.  Here are my guesstimates:

  • NHL:  50-55% of the revenue is from “fans in the stands”
  • MLB:  45-50% of the revenue is from “fans in the stands”
  • NBA:  45-50% of the revenue is from “fans in the stands”
  • NFL:  15-20% of the revenue is from “fans in the stands”

Note: I could not find enough data even to come up with a guesstimate for MLS.

If I am even close to accurate here, the reason the NFL can be as resigned about playing in empty stadiums is because that revenue source is not nearly as critical to the NFL as that revenue source is to the other sports.

Finally, I mentioned above that I had spent some time today watching Senate hearings involving Dr. Anthony Fauci and three other health experts from the US government.  In light of that, let me close with this Tweet from humor writer, Brad Dickson:

“I wouldn’t say he’s on a lot of TV shows but it turns out Dr. Anthony Fauci was this week’s Masked Singer.”

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


Sports In The Days After COVID-19

My brother-in-law and two other regular readers of these rants have communicated with me in the last week or so suggesting that I expound on a specific topic.  I have blended those three suggestions to come up with a composite “request”:

  1. What might sports be like in a “post-COVID-19 world”?
  2. Are sports important with regard to the country’s “return to normalcy”?

I am flattered to think that anyone else would think I have anything particularly cogent to say on such weighty matters; so, I feel compelled to declare:

  • No government official will read this – – and if (s)he does read it, that government official will immediately forget anything written here.
  • No sports commissioner at any level of any sport – nor any flunkie at the NCAA – will care about any of the content here for more than a millisecond.

Let me start with the second question from the “request” above.  Because sports provide jobs and income for thousands more people than just the players and owners, those enterprises are clearly part of the process of returning to “economic normalcy”.  I do not think sports will be at the foundation of the economic return because much of the revenue derived by sporting enterprises devolve from fans having discretionary income to spend.  Until people who have been economically dislocated by COVID-19 get their finances back into a semblance of order, sports revenues will not rebound to previous levels.

So, in a sense, the economic importance of sports as part of the “return to economic normalcy” might be as a measuring stick for the general financial well-being of its fans.  When we have a vaccine for COVID-19 and we have control over the virus – as opposed to our current state of play – we will know that fans are feeling good about their finances when they return to the sorts of behaviors they exhibited regarding sports before all of this began.

In electrochemistry, there is a device known as the Weston Standard Cell.  It is a device that is constructed precisely and carefully and can be calibrated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  When that is done, the electrical potential of any other electrode or electrochemical cell can be measured very accurately because the Weston Standard Cell is a very stable device.  [Aside:  Not to worry here, I am not going off into a treatise on electromotive force and the like.]  In a sense, sports will be like an economic version of the Weston Standard Cell; we have seen what sort of fan-generated revenue comes from the public in good times and in not-so-good times; by comparison as we recover from COVID-19, economists may be able to have an indicator of the complex calculations that people make subconsciously balancing:

  • Money available to spend
  • Confidence that money spent today will be reliably/readily replaced next week
  • Commodity purchased by that money is worth the expenditure.

In another sense related to sociology rather than economics, sports will be an important part of the “return to normalcy” in the sense that the “normalcy” we used to enjoy had a rhythm provided by sports.  Examples:

  • The College Football Playoff championship will be decided in early January.
  • The Super Bowl is the first Sunday in February
  • Guess when March Madness happens – and the Final Game is the first Monday of April.
  • MLB Opening Day is not a fixed date – but it is a reliable harbinger of Spring.
  • The Masters – a tradition unlike any other except for when COVID-19 strikes.
  • The Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May and the other Triple Crown races are set in accordance with that date.
  • NFL Training Camps open in mid-July; the season starts on the Thursday after Labor Day.
  • If it’s a Saturday in the Fall, it’s college football time
  • If it’s a Sunday in the Fall, it’s NFL football time.
  • The World Series is at the end of October.
  • The Breeders’ Cup is in early November.
  • The Cowboys and Lions will play on Thanksgiving Day
  • The NBA will play on Christmas Day.

That rhythm is a background cadence for sports fans in the US.  We do not often recite it or commit it to a list as I have done here, but we know it is the case and we acclimate ourselves to its regularity.  Just as background rhythm does not make the song, this rhythm of sports will not cause the “return to normalcy” – – but we will probably begin to start to recognize that rhythm once it begins, and I think that will make the road back to normalcy a tad smoother for its being there.

There is another way for sports to be reassuring on the road to our reclamation of our social order.  This year, 2020, is clearly unusual; everyone hopes that it is unique.  The disruption of that sports rhythm continues to remind sports fans that this year is out of whack and as sports attempt to come back online – so to speak – those events can be guideposts on the way back to normal.  For example, the 2020 MLB season hopes to start sometime in June/July and the league hopes to get 80-90 games in before starting the playoffs.  That is a good news/bad news proposition:

  • Good News:  They are playing baseball again; that represents progress.
  • Bad News:  The 2020 season will never be considered a “real MLB season” and whatever they do will never “feel right”.

Similarly, the NBA’s “season-interruptus” (and the NHL’s too) cannot be patched back together to convince fans that 2020 was a real season.  Maybe if the NFL can actually get started on time and stay on schedule for 17 weeks, people will begin to accept that the light up ahead is truly the end of the tunnel and not a gorilla with a flashlight.  We shall see…

Moving on to the more difficult question posed by my brother-in-law and other readers, I think sports will be different for a while even after we return to “normalcy”.  Here are two reasons why:

  1. In sports with salary caps – and floors – tied to league revenues, there is going to be a significant revenue reduction now and that means cap ceilings will come down too.  Existing contracts may not fit under various caps; there may not be room for all players who have big contracts.  This situation could impinge on the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS.
  2. In MLB, they do not have “cap considerations” but the leagues and the players have a history of finding ways to shoot themselves – and each other – in the foot.  See the 1994 World Series for example…  This week the leagues will put forward a proposal regarding pay for players in a season shortened by a virus that no one could have forecast at the time of the signing of the CBA.  It will not surprise me in the least when the two parties here get into a public spitting contest over the money issue.

Now, if I am correct about that second item above, I think MLB is going to emerge from COVID-19 much worse off than it was before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.  The reality of today is that 25% of the people in the US who can work and want to work do not have a job.  Those people do not know where their next influx of money is coming from to buy food or pay the rent; some of those people are the baseball fans that MLB wants to get back on board with baseball in 2020.  How to make sure that will  NOT happen:

  • Get right back into the middle of a fight between billionaire owners and mulit-millionaire players over amounts of money that would likely pay off the mortgages of most of those putative baseball fans.
  • These jamokes have done it before; they really must not do it again, now!

All the pro leagues in the US are guilty of this – – but MLB has taken it and made it into an art form.  They take the fans for granted and they also take for granted that they can dip into the wallets of those fans with impunity.  If MLB and the MLBPA are going to maintain that set of behaviors, they had best do said maintenance with a whole lot of trepidation.  Lots of their fans are going to be cash-starved as much as they are going to be baseball-starved.  Lots of their fans are going to be leery of stadiums with big crowds, potentially infected “surfaces” and lack of the ability to effect social distancing.  Fans are simply not going to be back in the numbers that they were last year; and if the owners try to gouge them in the parking lot and at the concession stands because the players are sticking it to the owners in  negotiations, even fewer fans will show up in August and September.

MLB – and the NFL if it indeed starts on time – will be the benchmarks for how professional sports win back the live audiences that make up an important ancillary part of those games.  For MLB the challenge is bigger than it is for the NFL because the demographic for a baseball audience is older than it is for a pro football game.  As people age, they become more susceptible to the truly adverse aspects of COVID-19; and as people age, they become more conservative with their spending habits relative to their personal assets.  MLB looks as if it will be first up on this front and here is what I think the clubs need to do immediately and broadly:

  • Get rid of outrageously expensive ticketing.  The Yankees specifically should not charge anything near $1K per ticket per game.   Period.
  • Make sure the stadium that fans arrive to is spit-polished clean.  Hire a Marine boot camp drill sergeant to inspect every seat, every counter-top, every rest room before, during and after the games.
  • There is no such thing in 2020 as a $12 bottle of Bud Light poured into a plastic cup.
  • No one will pay $50 to park their car in the lot proximal to the stadium.

Teams could get away with ignoring those “fan-courtesies” over the past decade or so, but times have changed, and teams better recognize that fact.  There did not need to be any hooks to draw crowds in the last ten years; but in 2020, it would behoove teams to give every fan that shows up in the stadium for a game a voucher that will provide some benefit for a game in the future – say within 3 weeks.  Maybe it would be reduced parking rates or maybe it would be a free cheesesteak (in Philly) or – – you get the idea.  Here is what is NOT going to work:

  • Teams try to sell the fans on how tough life is for the team and its owner(s).  They have lost sooo much money in 2020 that they need to raise prices on everything just to get their heads near the surface of the water.

That – ladies and gentlemen – is pure unadulterated bulls[p]it.  Owners are going to be losing money or making a whole lot less money in 2020 than they had in their budgetary planning, but those billionaires are not about to be showing up in the 5-mile long food lines to feed their families.  AND those multi-millionaire players need to get it through their oversized egos that without the fans to open those wallets to pay the owners, those humongous player salaries are not “certain unalienable Rights” endowed by their Creator.  The MLBPA can be stubborn asshats here – but it will not redound to their long-term benefit.  Players are always trying to establish and enhance their “brand”.  Behaving like an entitled asswipe here is not an “brand enhancing strategy”.

Forty years ago – the Middle Ages had ended recently – all of the major US sports were experiencing seemingly constant labor strife.  The scenario was always the same:

  • Management cried poor.
  • Players lamented their exploitation.
  • Government mediators demonstrated that they could not resolve a spat between Bert and Ernie.

I said then – and it remains true today – that there is a voice missing from those sorts of interactions and that voice belongs to the fans who pay the freight for the owners, players and government mediators.  Their voice was never at the table – and it will not be there when MLB and the MLBPA start and finish their wrangling.  However, this time the fans have a real way – – and a real reason – – to demonstrate their primacy here.

  • Stay home.
  • Do not watch every game on TV – keep the ratings under control.
  • Call local sponsors – excuse me, “corporate partners” – for local teams and tell those “partners” directly that you will not buy their products because they are associated with an entity that is out to gouge you.
  • Write a letter to each and every company/organization that a player endorses and tell that entity that you will take your business elsewhere because that player is part of a union that only looks out for its own.

There are 30 MLB teams; if only 1000 fans for each team did what is outlined above, there would be economic ripples – and media stories about those ripples which would encourage another thousand or so fans per team to join in.  And then…

What might sports look like post-COVID-19?  It could be a Fan-Friendly Era.  Except it will not because the fans that cannot afford to go to games will stay home and drive up TV ratings, and the fans that can afford to go to games will do so because it will be a signal of their economic stature.  I believe the current jargon for the makeup of the fanbases is “Sheeple”…

As I said at the outset here, I do not expect anyone in a position to effect change in the way we bring sports back into society in 2020 to consider what is here with any degree of credibility.  Nonetheless, I really believe that the folks in MLB and the MLBPA have a significant probability of over-playing their hands here.  Hopefully, the folks in the NFL and the NFLPA can see what goes down here and “go to school” on what happens so that we do not go through it twice with pro football.

Ahh!  I think my meds have just kicked in…

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



Schedule Stuff…

Yesterday was the he tenth of May – that day should always be remembered as “Woolworth Day”.  If you are under the age of 30, Google is your friend…

Last Friday, I offered up a couple of quick observations about the NFL schedule that was released late last week.  Over the weekend, I certainly did not have any live sports action of any consequence to distract me; so, I looked more carefully and deeply into the NFL schedule for 2020.

Before we get to specifics, let me be clear that I give the NFL kudos for producing a schedule for an entire season – – 256 regular season games that will lead to a 14-team playoff schedule in January.  I really hope they can pull that off; I am not convinced that will be the case, but I am rooting for them.

Here are six more schedule specifics that I noticed/found interesting:

  1. The Seahawks will play in NYC two consecutive weeks – – against the Giants and Jets.  Why go home?
  2. The Pats see the Seahawks schedule anomaly and take it one step further.  The Pats fly to LA to play the Chargers on Sunday and then have the Rams scheduled in LA for the following Thursday.  No way they are flying home and back for that second game against the Rams…
  3. Thursday Night Football will have one of its games on Friday night this year.  That Friday would be Christmas night.  Whatever NBA game(s) are scheduled head-to-head with the Vikings/Saints game in that prime-time slot will not do nearly as well as anticipated.
  4. In both Weeks 15 and 16, there are 5 designated games where the date and time are listed as “TBD”.  What that means is that as many as 3 of those 5 games may be played on the Saturday of that weekend and not Sunday.  The NFL is going for even more “national exposure games” – – assuming there are games that weekend…
  5. The Jets travel to play the Dolphins.  The next week, both teams have BYE Weeks.  The week after the BYE Week, the Dolphins travel to play the Jets.  Strange…
  6. In Week 17 – the final week of the season in the first week of January – all 16 games will be division games.  That should mean more games will “matter” when it comes to playoff berths.

I would also like to point out a soupçon of hypocrisy on the part of the NFL.  For decades, the NFL vehemently opposed legalized sports betting on pro football arguing that it would corrupt – even destroy – the “integrity of the games”.  The NFL encouraged the passing of PASPA in 1992 and fought the legal challenges to PASPA undertaken by the State of New Jersey a few years ago once again trying to convince the Supreme Court that the integrity – the very existence – of pro football required limiting gambling on those games.  The Supreme Court eighty-sixed those pleadings; now you can gamble on sports – including pro football – in more than a dozen States, and there has been no crumbling of NFL football as a sports attraction in the US.  And now … in 2020:

  • The NFL will have a team in Las Vegas – – that den of iniquity where sports betting has been legal all along and where bettors weekly threatened the “integrity of the games”.
  • Moreover, the NFL will showcase that team – the Las Vegas Raiders – as the hosts in 4 of the league’s national telecasts.

And if you confronted Roger Goodell with that hypocrisy on live TV, I am sure that he would immediately revert to his animatronic suit-dummy mode and say that the NFL has always thought that Las Vegas would be a great place for a franchise because of the passion of the fans there…  Give me a [bleeping] break!  A United States Marine Corps Honor Guard could not execute an about face any more quickly.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this observation regarding the recently revealed NFL schedule for 2020:

Truth teller: Lest some fans get too excited over the release of the NFL’s 2020 schedule, Saints coach Sean Payton tactfully reminds people that only ‘10 or 11 teams are relevant each season.’ I don’t think he cleared that statement with NFL headquarters.”

Preach on, Brother Molinaro…

While on the subject of professional football in the US, there were reports over the weekend that the XFL is “For Sale”.  Axios reports that Vince McMahon has sought the services of an investment bank to solicit letters of intent and ultimately formal bids to purchase the XFL in its entirety.  If you are thinking that it might be a hoot to put in a bid for “3 easy payments of only $39.95”, let me offer a word of caution and suggest that you might wind up as the owner.  There might be a really rich guy out there who is not quite rich enough to buy an NFL team when one hits the market or maybe one who knows he will not pass the muster of 24 affirmative votes from the current owners, so maybe that guy steps up and tries to buy “the next best thing”.  I have my doubts – – but I do not hob-knob with folks in that sphere of society, so I do not know.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had a great comment that marries the release of the NFL schedule with its inherent uncertainty:

“How soon before we see these odds listed among the tiny type in the sports section: ‘Sept 10: COVID (-19) vs. NFL opener?’

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



V-E Day Recalled…

Seventy-five years ago today was V-E Day – it was the day that Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces in Berlin.  The world is suffering today from COVID-19; however, if the world can be cleansed of the likes of Adolf Hitler, it can also be cleansed of COVID-19.  World War II took the better part of a decade to resolve itself; hopefully, the current struggle will not be as long.

Soon after the signing and the subsequent ratification of the NFL’s new CBA with the players’ union, two players launched legal challenges to the agreement.  One was a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board filed by Russell Okung claiming that the union – not the league – had engaged in an unfair labor practice.  That challenge always surprised me because Okung had been part of the union’s executive committee during much if not all the negotiation process, but I figured that it would all become clear with time.  Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board rejected the complaint filed with it and so I guess clarification is not going to happen unless Okung appeals yesterday’s denial.

The other challenge came from Eric Reid.  I do not know its status at the moment, but its allegation was simple to understand.  Reid asserts that the CBA that was ratified by the players – in a very close vote – is not the same document that now exists as the CBA.  He alleges that changes in the wording in some sections was changed after the ratification vote.  Obviously, I have no idea if that happened, but the basis for the complaint there is pretty easy to understand.

I mention those legal situations involving the NFL here because the league unveiled its 2020 schedule yesterday.  As presented, the schedule calls for a full 16-game season that will begin at the normal starting time of 10 September – the Thursday after Labor Day.  Outside events may cause schedule disruptions but this is the NFL’s baseline plan; given the bleak nature of most news today, maybe we should be glad to see the NFL being optimistic.  It can’t hurt…

With the schedule on the table, there are a couple of things that jump out at me:

  • The Ravens have a relatively easy schedule given that they are a defending division winner.  They face the other three AFC division winners and get both the Chiefs and the Titans to come to Baltimore while the Ravens travel to play the Pats in Foxboro.  I am not going to forecast a complete fragmentation for the Pats, but they should be more vulnerable this year than in recent seasons.  Moreover, the AFC North rivals appear to be a few strides behind the Ravens.
  • Of course, I looked at the Bucs schedule.  We will get to see Brady vs Brees twice this season – starting in Week 1 no less.  In addition, we will see Brady vs Rodgers (Week 6) and Brady vs Mahomes (Week 12).
  • The Niners will need to fight the “Curse of the Super Bowl Loser”.  They need to travel to New York in consecutive weeks to play the Jets and then the Giants and they have a very tough mid-season stretch between October 18 and December 7.
  • The Colts schedule is pillow-soft at the front end; they could begin the season with a 6-1 record.  Then they get Ravens, at Titans, Packers, Titans at Texans, Raiders, Texans at Steelers; they could go 2-5 in that part of the season.  Interesting…
  • The Bengals had the #1 overall pick in the Draft a couple of weeks ago and the Skins had the #2 overall pick.  Those teams will meet in Washington on Sunday November 22.  Oh thrill; oh joy…
  • The Bengals will host the Jags on Sunday October 4.  I suspect we will all be able to find something better to do than pay attention to that game.

Parallel with announcing the 2020 schedule, the NFL also set out the protocols that will allow the teams to open their practice facilities and begin to hold “team events”.  These protocols are serious and may be difficult to achieve.  The thumb-nail list of hurdles faced by the league and its teams is:

  • Permission from local and state governments to open.
  • Establishment of a robust infection test and response plan.
  • Temperature checks for all people entering and leaving the facilities.  Club employees – not players – would always be masked .
  • Social distancing rules including limiting the number of players and staff permitted in the facilities at any given time.

Finally, since I mentioned the Niners need to fight the “Super Bowl Loser Curse”, consider this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“San Francisco has been named the healthiest city in the US according to WalletHub number crunchers.

“At least until the final nine minutes of Super Bowl LIV.”

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



Minor League Baseball Contraction

Back in January – when “global pandemic” was a phrase only used in movie scripts about some sort of future dystopia – there were reports that MLB wanted to reduce the number of minor league teams affiliated with major league clubs rather drastically.  Reports at the time said that MLB wanted to trim the 162 existing minor league affiliates down to 120.  The motivation for MLB here is cost savings; the result for minor league teams that might lose affiliation is almost assuredly going out of business.  To the surprise of no one, the minor league clubs opposed this plan and they had some powerful allies in the fight – – the local members of the House of Representatives in areas that might lose a team and other State level legislators.

Since that plan was revealed, the sports world had changed dramatically.  If anything, the loss of revenues that MLB teams will incur in 2020 due to missed games has only intensified the interest the teams must have in cutting costs.  Meanwhile, the balance has shifted away from the teams in the lower minor leagues.  MLB teams derive plenty of revenue from media rights deals; the parallel revenues coming to minor league teams from media rights are a pittance.  MLB teams can sell sponsorships and naming rights for tidy sums to major corporations; minor league teams sell billboard-like advertising on the outfield wall to local hardware stores.

The way minor league teams survive is through ticket sales and parking/concession revenues.  So far in 2020 there has not been any of that and it could well be that the start of any baseball season – major leagues or minor leagues – will happen without fans in the stands.  That would be financial disaster for many minor league teams.  Coupled with that adverse set of circumstances is the fact that legislators at the State and Federal levels now have much bigger issues confronting them than the fate of a minor league baseball team in Wherever USA.

Time is also working against the minor league teams.  Most minor leagues play 140 games or so in a season; that means each team gets to host 70 games and that translates into 70 days out of the year when most of the income flows into the accounts.  Normally, minor league teams would have started play in the first week of April – so they have already lost 5 weeks of “revenue time”.  Seventy games translate into 10 weeks of “revenue time”; each team would have played half of the time at home and half on the road by now, so each team has lost 2.5 weeks if “revenue time”.  It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to see that some minor league teams are going to have to fold – – and that will help the MLB teams achieve their goal of cost cutting all by itself.

There are later reports that negotiators for the Minor League clubs are now willing to consider minor league contraction in exchange for a new deal that will provide some sort of “financial certainty” in the future.  There has been no public acknowledgement from MLB or the minor league clubs of such a step in the negotiations, but there are multiple reports to that effect.

I just want to point out here that one important long-range objective for MLB is to attract new fans to the game; baseball fans skew old and old people die off at a greater rate than do young people.  It is not clear to me how removing baseball from as many as 42 small markets in the US advances the goal of “attracting new fans to the game”.  This story is not over – – but in terms of the tug-of-war that was in effect back in January 2020, the momentum is completely one-sided at this time.

Shifting gears …  There is a video out there on the Internet showing Mike Tyson working out with a boxing trainer very seriously.  According to reports, Tyson is “training” for a 4-round bout that will be staged to raise money for charity.  Yesterday, there were reports that an Australian promoter had offered Tyson $1M to stage that bout somewhere in Australia.  We shall see…

Boxing has a longstanding tradition of hyping its events.  I have often said that the lead up to a big fight is not much different than the staging of a pro ‘rassling event; boxing is sort of like pro ‘rassling except the punches are real.  With that in mind, please decide how many grains of salt you might want to take this with:

  • His trainer in that viral video says, “… I did not expect to see what I saw.  I saw a guy with the same speed, same power as guys 21,22 years old.”

Mike Tyson is 53 years old; his last actual fight was in 2005.  If he gets himself into shape to stage an exhibition fight – – many of which barely raise a sweat on the combatants – – or even a series of such exhibition fights for charity, then good for him.  What I hope not to see is any hint that this exhibition bout – – no matter where it happens or when – – is some sort of steppingstone for Mike Tyson to try to get back into real professional boxing.

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

Europe:  A place where many local non-English-speaking residents will probably understand what it is you are trying to ask them if you ask it a second time only much louder.”

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



The NBA Awakens?

About 2500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu reminded everyone that:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

About a week ago, the NBA took a first – and halting – step toward reopening by issuing a set of guidelines by which teams might assemble – sort of – for workouts and training.  The caveats that came along with those guidelines were many:

  • Only in jurisdictions where stay-at-home orders had been relaxed.
  • No more than 4 players at a time.
  • No coaches or assistant coaches.
  • No scrimmages.
  • Players and staff must always be masked and maintain 12-foot separation.

Now comes word that the NBA will allow teams that can meet all those guidelines to open practice facilities on May 8th.  The Atlanta Hawks play in a state where stay-at-home orders have been relaxed so they are eligible to begin the reopening process.  A few new guidelines have been added to the mix:

  • Players may not use practice/training facilities other than the team facilities.
  • Players must take a resting EKG and a troponin test before starting training activity.

The NBA has been shut down for 58 days as of this morning.  If teams eligible to take these first baby steps do so later this week, there will have been a 60-day interruption to this NBA season, but a real problem exists for the league:

  • There are plenty of teams that do not have practice facilities in areas where stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted.  That means there could be some sort of competitive advantage bestowed on certain teams purely based on geography and that is not something that the league – or any league for that matter – would want to be the case.

Stay tuned…

The NBA 2019/2020 season is a mess, and nothing is going to make it other than a mess.  Perhaps the league should look to make some chicken salad out of this chicken spit and take the time to make a major revision in its scheduling.  If I could wave my magic wand, here is how I would get the NBA into a new cycle:

  • Be sure that whatever culmination there is to this season and its playoffs, that culmination is over and done by 20 September.
  • Open training camp for the 2020/2021 season on 20 November
  • Opening Day games will be on Christmas Day – 5 weeks after training camp opens.
  • The regular season is a perfectly balanced 58 games – every team plays every other team twice.
  • Those 58 games can be fit into a schedule that ends on 1 June.  That is 157 days in which to play 58 games so “load management” should not be a problem.
  • Playoffs can extend through 15 August (about 75 days) so plenty of action can be accommodated.
  • Then the players would have an off-season of 15 August to 20 November (at least 3 months) before they begin again.

So let it be written; so let it be done…

The death of Don Shula earlier this week spawned several expressions of “The Mount Rushmore of NFL Coaches”.  If you go by wins alone, the Fantastic Four would be:

  • Shula
  • Halas
  • Belichick
  • Landry

That would neat and tidy; surely all those gentlemen have reason to be on the short list for consideration here.  However, it does leave some questions unanswered:

  1. Why doesn’t Paul Brown’s 7 NFL Championships merit recognition here?
  2. Same with Vince Lombardi’s 5 NFL titles in a 7-year span?
  3. Joe Gibbs has more playoff wins that Halas, Brown or Lombardi; should he be there too?  [Aside:  Gibbs also had more opportunity to coach playoff games in the 1980s than Halas, Brown or Lombardi had when the NFL playoffs were “one-and-done”.]

For the record – as if anyone really cares – here would be my Mount Rushmore in alphabetical order:

  • Bill Belichick
  • Paul Brown
  • Tom Landry
  • Vince Lombardi

If someone wanted to replace Tom Landry with Don Shula, I would not offer huge resistance.  On the other three, I would be adamantly opposed.

Finally, here is a historical perspective on a previous NBA “issue” from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Pistons weren’t bad sports for not shaking hands with the Bulls after Chicago ended Detroit’s two-year title run in 1991.

“No, the Bad Boys were simply ahead of their time when it came to social distancing.”

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



Rest In Peace, Don Shula

Don Shula died yesterday; he was 90 years old.  Shula is the winningest coach in NFL football; his record in 33 years of coaching was 328-156-6 (winning percentage .677).  Don Shula also played CB in the NFL for 7 seasons before embarking on his coaching career with the Baltimore Colts.  In his 33 years on NFL sidelines, his teams finished below .500 only twice; that is an amazing statistic all by itself.  Another interesting angle to his coaching career is this:

  • It began in Baltimore where he replaced Weeb Ewbank who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • It ended in Miami where he was replaced by Jimmy Johnson who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

To put Coach Shula’s record in perspective with regard to current NFL coaches, Bill Belichick has the most wins of the active coaches with 273; Belichick is third on the list of all-time NFL coaches in terms of total wins.  Next among active coaches is Andy Reid with 207 wins; Reid stands seventh on the NFL All-Time wins list.  The next active coach in terms of wins is Pete Carroll with 133 wins standing 23rd on the All-Time wins list.

Rest in peace, Don Shula.

On the assumption that there will be an NFL season in the Fall, there will be a change in the CBS announcing booth necessitated by the fact that the network did not renew or extend its contract with Dan Fouts as a game analyst.  Fouts will be replaced with Charles Davis who was poached from the FOX stable and Davis will pair with Ian Eagle as the play-by-play guy.  Davis distinguished himself in broadcasting partnerships with Thom Brenneman and Kevin Burkhardt in the past; he is very good behind a microphone; pairing with Ian Eagle gives CBS a potent #2 announcing team behind Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.

While I am generally on the subject of NFL telecasts – and on sports telecast more broadly – there has been speculation that some or all of the sports in the US that we have come to love may return without fans in the stands.  That seems to be the case with NASCAR as it reopens and with the PGA as it plans to reopen.  Maybe that will have to be the case for MLB and the NBA, NHL and even the NFL.  If that is the case, let me suggest there is a silver lining there:

  • If there is no “crowd”, the producers and directors “back in the truck” will not be able to show us any “crowd shots”.
  • Perhaps, a month or so of such telecasts will wean them away from their obvious addiction to such diversions.  I for one would appreciate sitting down to a three-hour telecast focused exclusively on the players and the game situations.

Also on the assumption that there will be an NFL season in the Fall, the league made two announcements regarding its schedule:

  1. The full schedule will be released on Thursday 7 May.
  2. All the games will be played in the US; all the international games have been relocated.

Previously, the NFL had planned to play 5 overseas games in 2020; four would have been in London and one in Mexico City.  Those four “London Games” were to be divided between 2 venues there; two in Wembley Stadium where previous London Games had taken place and two in the new stadium built to be the home of the Tottenham Hotspurs in the English Premier League.  The Jags were supposed to be the “home team” for two of those four games; they will now take place in Jax.

I think this is a very smart move on the part of the NFL.  If there is – as some epidemiology folks predict – a “second wave of COVID-19” in the Fall/Winter, there could well be international travel restrictions in place that could ruin the NFL schedule in toto.  There may be travel restrictions in the US but the potential for disaster is reduced.  Imagine the situation where two NFL teams are in London to play on Sunday and on Saturday Night the UK closes its airports to flights going in and out of the country and holds onto that restriction for a couple of weeks.  The fact that I typed that sentence probably gave Roger Goodell a twinge in his shoulder…

Finally, let me close today with three NFL Draft observations:

But of course: As sung again this year by a chorus of media and team officials, ‘The NFL draft was so strong from top to bottom.’ Cut and paste.”  [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]


Quick hit: If every team gets the players it wanted, why are some franchises on their 12th consecutive rebuilding year?”  [Bob Molinaro again]

And …

“With stay-at-home orders in effect during the NFL draft, wasn’t every lineman technically an interior lineman?”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



A Thrown Out Lawsuit

About a year ago, the US Women’s National team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer asserting that its players had been underpaid as compared to the male players on the US Men’s National Team.  Last week a US District Court judge in California threw the lawsuit out in a summary judgment.  There are elements of that lawsuit that will continue through the courts – those parts dealing with inequities in terms of travel arrangements, training equipment and facilities, and medical staff.

While the cynic in me recognizes that the applicable slogan here of “Equal pay for equal work!” is not something that US society is ready to fully embrace, I am absolutely in favor of achieving that goal.  Like just about everyone who read and heard about the filing of this lawsuit, I was “rooting for” the women’s team to win – – but expected an out of court settlement so that neither side would take the risk of losing big.  Judge R. Gary Klausner has – at least for the moment – removed the “lose big aspect” of the case from the side of US Soccer.  [I say “at least for the moment – because I will be shocked if the women’s team does not appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.]

Remember, I am not an attorney; what follows here is my understanding of the status quo as reported in the general press.  As I understand it, a significant element of the basis for this summary judgment ruling is that there are fundamental differences in the pay structure between the men and women AND the pay structure for the women was collectively bargained for because the women did not want the pay model used for the men.  So, it seems that Judge Klausner’s decision says in legalese something equivalent to, “You made the bed; now sleep in it.”

[Aside:  Readers here know that I am a big fan of Sally Jenkins and agree with her perspectives on issues about 99% of the time.  This is not one of those times; she believes that the ruling comes down in favor of male entitlement and I do not believe that is the case.  Nonetheless, HERE IS A LINK to her column in the Washington Post on this subject.]

This ruling adds a layer to an area of legal confusion for me.  I am not going to say that I think the ruling is wrong – that would be an outrageous position for me to take – but there is a hierarchical status here that I do not understand.  Let me take a step back in order to explain:

  • It seems to me that a Collective Bargaining Agreement between a business entity (say the NFL or MLB) and its employees (say the players’ union or the umpires/referees) transcends the boundaries set on Federal anti-trust legislation.
  • I guess I can begin to see how that could be the case since at least part of the impetus for anti-trust legislation came from the labor movement that sought to earn the power of collective bargaining to favor the employees of those companies to be regulated by anti-trust measures.
  • Maybe that sort of hierarchical structure leads to the legal equivalent of “You made the bed; now sleep in it.” Maybe …?

This case seems to me to be different in a fundamental way.  In the case of anti-trust legislation residing below a negotiated CBA on the legal pecking order, it is the establishment of the laws governing CBAs that takes the higher rung on the ladder.  The basis for this lawsuit is gender discrimination and it seems to me that the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act are the ones contending with CBAs for loftier legal status.

I guess it is OK to allow players – for example – to accept a Draft by the NFL in exchange for some other concession by the league.  However, I do not see how the members of the Women’s National Team could have been construed to bargain away their gender in attaining the CBA that now exists.

I assume this case will continue to the point of an appeal and I continue to root for the women to win this case.  I think Judge Klausner’s ruling diminishes the likelihood of a negotiated settlement out of court for this matter – but we can continue to hope.

Finally, this note from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Tokyo Olympics have been rescheduled for 2021 but will still be known as the 2020 Games, organizers say.

“’We couldn’t agree more,’ said 12 of the Big Ten’s 14 athletic directors.”

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