College Football Chaos

As of this morning, college football is a mixed bag.  Among the “big boys”, the Big-10 and the PAC-12 will not play any football this year; meanwhile, the Big-12, the SEC and the ACC will attempt to play a fall schedule in 2020 albeit one that starts a bit late.  The “little guys” in Division 1-A are also a mixed bag with some playing and others spectating.  The world of college football has set itself up for a major Twitter war somewhere down the line.  Consider:

  • If the teams/conferences that choose to play finish their seasons with only minimal COVID-19 impact on players, the fans of those teams will point at the conferences that chose to sit out and say they were wrong and that they are all a bunch of wusses.
  • If the teams/conferences that choose to play have major COVID-19 problems or maybe have to terminate their seasons in medias res, the fans of the teams that sat out the season will point fingers and chant, “Told you so…”

And the sad part is that no matter the outcome, neither side in that upcoming Twitter war will be a real winner.  But stand by, the social media shaming slogans on either side are already under construction.

The Big-10 has broached the idea of playing the 2020 Fall football season in the Spring of 2021.  I have read over some of the outlines for how that would happen and can see strengths and weaknesses with all the proposals.

  • The idea of a Big-10 season beginning in mid-January seems to me to ignore the climate in many Big-10 cities.  January and February are mighty cold in places like Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Madison, State College and Chicago.  Moreover, none of the other Big-10 cities derives any economic benefit as a “spa city” for folks seeking asylum from winter.
  • The idea of a Big-10 season starting in March and running through late May would give players precious little time for recovery before going to practice again for another football season in the Fall of 2021.
  • I am not saying Big-10 spring football is impossible; I am saying that the plans I have heard about all have more than a couple of problems associated with them.  To make this work will take careful thought and planning – – and there has not been a lot of evidence of those things in the world of college football since COVID-19 came onto the scene.

As of now, the SEC will play in the Fall of 2020.  The SEC has 14 teams and 12 of those 14 teams are in states where COVID-19 cases are more than 20 per 10,000 population based on a 7-day trailing average.  Those states are in the “top categories” for COVID-19 cases in the country.  Meanwhile the Big-10 – also with 14 teams – has none of them located in states with more than 20 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 population and the Big-10 has canceled football and other fall sports.

I would wish for a “normal college football season” as much as anyone but my rational mind says that is not going to happen in 2020.  That is not because there are some school administrators who don’t love football enough; that is because COVID-19 is a serious threat and we do not have a long track record to analyze in order to understand what it is doing and how we can counter it.  Rational decision making is easy when “all the facts are known”; it is easy to plan a trip 5 years in advance to go to a place to see a total eclipse of the sun; we know exactly when and where that will happen.  Such is not the case with COVID-19; and so, rational decision making is part science and part gut reaction; the challenge here is to make a good decision in an environment that is chaotic and not stable.  That is not an easy task.

There is an ominous presence orbiting all this chaos over college football – and college athletics in general.  A bunch of Congressthings has bigfooted their way into the spotlight here and have suggested there be a “College Athletes Bill of Rights” and one of those “Rights” would be “revenue sharing … that results in fair and equitable compensation”.

I have no idea where that sort of thinking/acting might lead – – but if the US Congress is the actor, I am highly skeptical.  Given the choice to do something “righteous” or something that will assure re-election, every Congressthing will choose to be re-elected.  I am not the first person to think that way; here is an observation from H. L. Mencken from about 80 years ago:

“A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office, he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.”

[Aside:  I suggest that keeping that thought in mind in circumstances other than ones related to college athletics is not such a bad idea for an informed citizenry.]

Meanwhile, Bob Molinaro had a cogent observation about college football in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

Idle thought: Something’s wrong with the business model at many American universities when the cancellation of a football season threatens to wreck a school’s budget.”

Last week, I mentioned that NFL officials had the ability to opt-out of the 2020 season without having to forfeit their jobs for 2021 and beyond.  The deadline for that decision came and went; seven NFL officials opted out; five are on-field officials and two are replay officials.  The NFL had 121 on-field officials on its roster prior to the opt-outs (4% opt-out rate) and the league said it would hire officials to take the place of those opting out.  I read one report that was chilling.  Supposedly, the NFL is working contingency plans to use only 5 on-field officials for a game if conditions demand it.  The standard crew is 7 officials; a game with only 5 officials could be a frightening spectacle.

Finally, here is a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Edgy:  An otherwise normal person or work of art deemed provocative or daring by virtue of a little profanity, self-mutilation, or both.”

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



Just Bouncing Around Today …

I shall begin today by sharing a text message I received from #2 son recently as his commentary on a bit of local sports news:

“The Washington football team announced today that they would be playing all of their home games to an empty stadium with no fans in it.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t a statement of policy, rather just a heads up as to the situation of their team.”

It used to be that tickets to games around here were hard to come by and all the games were real sellouts – not sellouts where the team “papers the house” with free or heavily discounted tickets.  Those days are way back in time; for the last decade or so, the team has been removing seats from the stadium and still you can look on game day and see that the place is not nearly at capacity.  Moreover, for more than a few games in the past several seasons, fans from visiting teams have bought up tickets on the secondary markets in such numbers that they have come close to outnumbering the home team supporters.  It used to be prestigious to have tickets to those games – – but no longer.

Speaking obliquely about a sporting situation that demonstrates a significant decline from the past, I noticed a comment by Tiger Woods in the aftermath of the PGA Championship where he finished tied for 37th  place, 12 shots behind the tournament winner.”

“I think what I got out of this week is that I felt competitive. If I would have made a few more putts on Friday early on, and the same thing with Saturday, I felt like I would have been right there with a chance come today. It didn’t happen, but I fought hard, and today was more indicative of how I could have played on Friday and Saturday if I would have made a few putts early.”

Can you imagine the “old Tiger Woods” saying that what he took away from a major tournament was that he “felt competitive”?  When I read that comment, the only thought that came to mind was, “How the mighty have fallen.”

Returning now to an item related to the Washington WTFs, there are reports that the team’s owner, Danny Boy Snyder has filed a lawsuit against an online media company for defamation.  I do not know what was written/said by this company that generated the lawsuit; I have not gone looking for the material.  I have read in many places that the standard for defamation of a public figure is higher than the standard for defaming Joe Flabeetz and I assume that information is correct.  In that case, I would have to imagine that whatever was written/said had to be pretty outrageous because there is a significant body of commentary out there about Snyder and some of his actions and much of that commentary is less than flattering.  It will be interesting to see how and if this lawsuit proceeds.

In more mainstream reporting, had a report yesterday saying that the three minority owners of the team are not only trying to sell their interests in the team, but they are trying to pressure Snyder to sell the franchise itself.  The report indicates that the minority owners believe they could get a significantly higher price if the entire team were up for sale instead of just their pieces of the team which would leave any new buyer to deal with Daniel Snyder.  Here is a link to that report.

There are going to be lots of changes/accommodations made by NFL teams when it comes to “the stadium experience” this year.  Many stadiums will be empty; others will be populated with small crowds that are “appropriately separated”.  I did read one report that will be a plus in my mind.

  • The NFL will not have the National Anthem sung on the field before games this season.  The Anthem will be played but there will be no live vocalists on the field.

Supposedly, the impetus behind that decision is to minimize the number of people who will be on the field in a position where they might infect players, coaches and/or officials.  The league is also considering limiting the numbers of people who might present the colors prior to the playing of the anthem.  I have to say that I will not miss that part of the pre-game experience.  Far too many of the folks invited to sing the anthem turn the performance into something almost as long as a TV mini-series – and that might have been an interesting interpretation of the song 25 years ago when it was not routine.  From my perspective, this is addition by subtraction…

The time has passed for NFL players to opt-out for the 2020 season.

  • The Chargers, Falcons, Rams and Steelers had zero players opt out.
  • The Patriots had 8 players opt out – – the most in the league.
  • Make of those numbers what you will…

And then, there are some items that write themselves.  According to this report in the Toledo Blade, the athletic director at Woodward High School in the Toledo area stands accused of “improperly touching students” and will be tried on charges related to those alleged actions later this month.  According to the police, the defendant is accused of:

“… hugging a female student and tapping her on the buttocks. He is also accused of sliding his hand down low on students’ backs while hugging them, and of becoming visibly aroused.”

The name of the athletic director, who is on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of his trial, is Richard Hug.  You cannot make that up…

Finally, here is an observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Michael Jordan, after becoming president of the Wizards, traded Laron Profit in retaliation for Profit trash-talking Jordan in practice during their days as Washington teammates.

“In a related story, rumor has it that Jordan’s TV set still has rabbit ears.”

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



Sports Media Doings …

Last weekend, the Houston Astros and the Oakland A’s engaged in an old-fashioned baseball brawl.  As with almost every baseball brawl, there were no significant injuries; in terms of physical damage done, it was less than in a run-of-the-mill pro ‘rassling encounter. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy in the days of COVID-19.

  • If MLB’s health and safety protocol were applied, an awful lot of players coaches and staff would be in deep yogurt.  There was no social distancing; no one put on a mask in order to confront someone else; people were screaming at one another in close proximity.

As noted in previous rants, the MLB health and safety protocols have no teeth and there is no reason for anyone to worry about violating those protocols.  And by the way, the newly mandated “protocol compliance officers” – aka chaperones – were monumentally ineffective here.

There is another issue involved in the backdrop of this brawl.  It involves beanballs.  The Astros’ players are being “punished” via the unwritten rules of baseball for the sign-stealing scandal.  Recall that MLB punished no players because the only way it got the information it needed in the investigation was to guarantee amnesty.  Now pitchers are throwing at Astros hitters – – and, Astros’ pitchers are retaliating by throwing at opposing hitters.  MLB needs to put a stop to that quickly.

MLB is entertainment.  In a season where most of the games will be played in empty stadium venues, the medium of entertainment is radio/TV.  I have no credentials as a television producer, but I feel confident in making these pronouncements:

  1. MLB will not benefit as a TV presentation if one of its players is hit in the head with a 95-mph fastball and dies on the field.
  2. MLB will be reviled after someone points out that this “headhunting” has gone on unabated and unpunished for weeks or months thereby giving tacit approval to such recklessness.

For the record, that scenario has almost played itself out in baseball history.  Ray Chapman was hit by a pitch to the head; he did not die on the field; he made it to a hospital where he died of the injuries caused by the blow to the head late that night.  Google is your friend…

Just so there is no misunderstanding here:

  • Sign-stealing is cheating, and cheating must be punished lest it become commonplace.
  • Tolerating repeated headhunting by pitchers is worse than sign-stealing, and headhunting must be stopped by any means possible.

Having mentioned that MLB is an entertainment property for radio/TV, let me segue into some other stuff about sports media now.  Plenty of the MLB games I check out on TV use cardboard cutouts of “fans” sitting in the seats that are often visible on camera.  When I first heard the idea, I thought it would be so hokey that it would be off-putting; however, I learned quickly that I do not pay attention to the “fans behind home plate” because there are more interesting things to focus on.  So, “cutout fans” were easy to ignore.

Having said that, I do think that a few teams have been creative with some of the cutouts:

  • At a game in NYC, one of the “fans” was “Bernie” from the movie Weekend at Bernie’s[A quick search at will show you why this is a fun spoof.]
  • The Phillies put a cutout of Bob Uecker not in the “front row” but in the last row at the top of the stadium in the nosebleed seats.
  • Another interesting placement was a cutout of Steve Bartman in a seat in the outfield near the left field line.

I surmise from the following comment that Dwight Perry also thinks its OK to have fun with cardboard cutout fans at MLB games:

“Something else we’re missing out on with no baseball in Toronto this season: Cardboard cutouts of frolicking guests in the Skydome Hotel windows.”

The NY Post had a report recently saying that Deion Sanders will be leaving NFL Network over a “pay squabble”.  There might be more at play here.  There were reports last winter that Deion Sanders was involved in the search/selection process that brought Mike Norvell from Memphis to Florida State as the football coach to replace Willie Taggert.  Many of those reports suggested that Sanders himself wanted to be considered for the job as a prominent Florida State football graduate.  If indeed, Deion Sanders wants to try his hand at coaching – perhaps with an eye at replacing Mike Norvell one of these days? – one of the things he will need to do is to put some successful coaching on his résumé and that would be impossible if he were also tied to NFL Network programming.  Sanders reportedly has a net worth of $40M; somehow, the idea that he might be leaving NFL Network solely over a “pay squabble” seems tenuous.

There was a report recently that FOX Sports might be interested in a TV rights deal with the XFL now that the league has been purchased by a new consortium headed by The Rock.  FOX was part of the media team when XFL 2.0 debuted back in February 2020; COVID-19 put a quick end to that experiment.  However, reports say that FOX is trying to reposition itself with a greater focus on live sports events and that could make the “new XFL” – shall we call it XFL 3.0? – a place for FOX to make a deal.  Obviously, there are lots of twists and turns in the road that leads from the bankrupt XFL 2.0 to a place where XFL 3.0 is on the field and on your TV set.  However, this report says we ought to keep an ear to the ground on this one.

Finally, there was supposed to be an MLB game televised from the “Field of Dreams site” in Iowa.  That too fell victim to COVID-19, but the fact that it had been on the schedule provided Dwight Perry this opportunity for comment in the Seattle Times:

“This year’s Cardinals-White Sox game at Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, has been canceled.

“A bunch of those old ballplayers out in the cornfield apparently didn’t social-distance and tested positive for the Spanish flu.”

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



NFL Issues Today …

I need a respite from collegiate sports today; consider today’s rant an International NCAA-Free Zone.  Let me begin today’s comments with what I believe is an under-reported aspect of whatever the NFL does or tries to do with its 2020 season.  We have heard about the difficulties teams had with the draft and not being able to interview all the players they wanted to interview; we have heard about the difficulties that new coaches have installing their ‘new systems” using Zoom chats instead of practice sessions and Organized Team Activities; we have heard about player choices to “opt-in or opt-out”.  Here is something we have heard almost nothing about:

  • The NFL officiating crews.

Like NFL players, the officials have the choice to “opt-in or opt-out”.  Unlike the players, NFL officials have other employment; and while NFL officiating pays well, NFL officials have professional salaries to fall back on if they choose to “opt-out”.  Moreover, as a result of bargaining with the union that represents the officials, any one of them can get a $30K payment from the league and take a season off without jeopardizing their job status for future years.  On the surface, this should be an economic choice for individual officials and then everything can sort itself out as the season gets set to begin.  I think that is an overly simplistic way to look at the situation.

Just as players use OTAs and training Camp to get ready for a season, so do the officials.  I am sure all the officials have been studying their rulebooks – and particularly any changes that might be incorporated for 2020 – for at least the last several months.  I am equally confident that all the officials are on pace to be in proper physical condition to take the field in a real game in September – or whenever the 2020 season begins in earnest.  But wait; there’s more:

  • Officials use the meaningless Exhibition Games as a say to get themselves and their instincts/reactions back into the groove of game action.  There will be no Exhibition Games this year; for some officials, they will not have “done a football game” of any sort since New Year’s.  NFL officials are very good – – but a little warm up/practice has been part of their routine for all their career.  They will go without that in 2020.
  • Officials use OTAs and Training Camps as an opportunity to meet with coaches and players to go over rules and rules changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming season.  I suppose those could be accomplished via Zoom chatting, but my suspicion is that live interactions would be preferable.

Every NFL fan over the age of 25 can remember the fiasco of “Replacement Refs” about 10 years ago.  The NFL tried to put officials on the field who were not prepared to officiate a professional game played at competitive speed.  I am NOT saying that NFL officials will be similarly unprepared because these officials have done NFL games before, but I would not be surprised to see the first week or two contain some botched assignments.

There are other officiating hurdles for 2020.  The NFL has relied on fixed crews for its games and those officials on a crew come together from various parts of the country every weekend.  Travel restrictions within the US could put a crimp in that system; if Joe Flabeetz is on a crew and cannot travel to the game site without a mandatory quarantine period, what would the league do?  Do the game with one fewer official than usual?  Bring in a “newbie” from the bullpen?  Having done a lot of basketball officiating in my younger days, I can say with confidence that continuity is an important part of the chemistry in an officiating crew.  That too will be “different” in 2020.

Do not infer from the above that I believe the NFL will be a clown show in 2020 because the officials will be like the “Replacement Refs”.  At the same time, recognize that an important element of NFL competition other than players and coaches will also need to adjust to novel circumstances in 2020 – – if there is a season in 2020.

Moving on … running back, Derrius Guice, of the Washington WTFs turned himself in to police on charges of felony domestic violence – – supposedly to include attempted strangulation – – and battery and a bunch of other stuff.  He was released on bail and now will meander through the judicial system defending himself against those charges.  The WTFs issued a statement saying that they were aware of the arrest and were gathering information.  Very soon after that, coach Ron Rivera announced that he had decided to release Derrius Guice and that it was his decision alone.

Guice’s lawyer was not pleased with that move at all.  He said that the team’s action was hasty and was taken without asking him even a single question about the defense that he will mount on behalf of Derrius Guice.  The lawyer said that there was not even a smattering of due process in the team’s decision.  I am not an attorney but my citizen’s understanding of “due process” is that it protects a citizen from the government taking away a citizen’s access to life, liberty, property or pursuit of happiness arbitrarily.  I do not ever recall reading or hearing that the “due process clauses” contained in the US Constitution protect citizens from actions taken by the Washington WTFs or the NFL whether they are arbitrary or not.

The announcement by Coach Rivera about his decision was interesting in juxtaposition with another action taken recently by him as part of his program to change the culture of the WTFs.  Remember, Guice was released after being charged with felony domestic violence.  Within about 48 hours of that personnel action, the WTFs announced the activation of Reuben Foster who spent last year on the Disabled List after blowing out his knee in Training Camp.  How did Foster come to be a member of the WTFs in the first place?

  • He was released by the SF 49ers after Foster was arrested multiple times including one – – wait for it – – for domestic violence.

The distinctions between the Foster case and the Guice case are:

  1. The domestic violence charges against Foster were eventually dropped.  The charges against Guice remain in place.  The Niners, however, did cut Foster when the charges against him were still in place.
  2. Most scouts believe that Foster is a player with a “high ceiling”.  Players with that label tend to be treated more positively/leniently than “good players”.

That second distinction may not seem fair – – but it is the way of the world…

Finally, since I was speaking about a player losing his job over alleged improper behavior, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times along a similar line:

“St. John’s fired assistant fencing coach Boris Vaksman after video surfaced of him saying Abraham ‘Lincoln made a mistake’ when he ended slavery in the U.S.

“In other words, foiled himself on that one.”

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



A Seamy Side Of Collegiate Sports

The 2020 college football season continues to wobble.  The Mountain West Conference shut itself down yesterday; the Big-10 and the PAC-12 will supposedly vote later today regarding the status of their 2020 football activities.  Rather than rehash the issues in question there, let me spend today dealing with an even seamier side of college sports than the craven chasing of money.

Last week, I mentioned in passing that there was controversy at Colorado State where some members of the football team alleged that they were told not to report symptoms that might be COVID-19 related and that the team was not following the stated COVID-19 protocols.  Other players on the team refuted those allegations and the team halted its activities pending some fact-finding.  After that news broke, there were other allegations made charging some staff members with verbal abuse and racism.  In the social environment of 2020, that certainly upped the ante…

The Athletic Director and the President at Colorado State lost no time staking out the moral high ground there.  Here is part of a statement from the AD:

“While we have been working hard towards playing football this fall, the holistic well-being of our student-athletes is our unequivocal top priority. We must and will address these allegations before we focus on playing football.”

[Aside:  “Holistic well-being” might become the next Holy Grail for college athletic programs to seek.  “Holistic well-being” would also be a great name for a fantasy baseball team.]

As with the allegations of failure to follow COVID-19 protocols, there is a group of players on the football team that have explicitly stated that these charges are baseless.  The school has hired an outside firm to investigate and report to the school administration about these matters.  At the very least, I think it is fair to say two things even before any facts are revealed by the investigators:

  1. “Unity” is not prevalent among the members of the Colorado State football team when it comes to various aspects of the behaviors of the coaches and the staff there.
  2. Steve Addazio is a first-year coach at Colorado State tasked with changing the on-field performance of the team.  These circumstances do not make that task any the easier.

If you think there is turmoil and trouble at Colorado State, let me tell you what has gone down at Texas Tech regarding the women’s basketball program there.  The school has fired head coach Marlene Stollings after players alleged verbal, mental  and physical abuse from Ms. Stollings and the staff.  Here is just one of multiple allegations of abuse:

  • Players were required to wear heart-rate monitors for every game, practice and workout.  These data were recorded and tabulated.
  • Players whose heart rate dropped below “90% of capacity” [whatever that means and however that might be determined] were subject to extra conditioning drills and harder practices.

Another potential problem area might have been the lead assistant coach who was previously the head women’s basketball coach at New Mexico State.  The potential problem with that is that this assistant coach was terminated there after an investigation into:

“allegations of mental and physical abuse, and other conduct that has jeopardized the health, safety, welfare and education of student-athletes under [her] charge.”

There must have been something “unpleasant” going on inside the program because Stollings had been on the job for two seasons and in that time 12 players left the team including 7 players who had just been recruited by Stollings.  I would think that data alone would have raised an eyebrow or two in the Athletic Department; evidently, it did not.  The fact that a team trainer left the program several months ago under a cloud of sexual harassment and “improper touching” allegations also had to contribute to what was characterized as a “toxic culture” there.

The Athletic Director ordered an investigation when the allegations surfaced; that is good news.  The findings from that investigation were reportedly given to him verbally; there was no written record; that is a bad thing.

Here is the link to an in-depth article from USA Today that lays out the full scope of the charges made by players and the initial responses from the athletic department and Coach Stollings.  There is some chilling stuff in that report; it is worth the time it takes to read it.  A couple days after that report, Texas Tech and Marlene Stollings “went in different directions.”

I wonder what the next coach at Texas Tech will face as (s)he takes over the program.  Clearly, there was some talent on the 2019/2020 team which had a record of 18-11 when things shut down in the Spring.  Just as clearly, there are some of those team members who will be happy to see a new regime come in.  Nevertheless, the new coach will enter a situation filled with chaos – not made any simpler by the overlay of COVID-19 concerns and protocols – and an environment where familiarization between coaches and players might be uncomfortable in light of recent events.  After all, the same Athletic Department that recently hired Stollings will be the ones to hire the next coach…

The next women’s basketball coach at Texas Tech will experience some interesting times – – and in Lubbock, TX to boot.

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

Embalming:  The chemical treatment of a corpse to forestall its decay.  Used regularly on Larry King.”

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



College Football In 2020?

The topic today must be college football – – but where to begin?  At the macro-level, there are plenty of reports that cast doubt on the very existence of college football in 2020.  Division 1-AA conferences have canceled their seasons; the MAC canceled its football season late last week; there are rep[orts that the school presidents in the Big-10 are leaning toward cancelation; some players have banded together in the PAC-12 and Big-10 to demand expanded protections for teams regarding COVID-19; other players have banded together to urge schools to play football in 2020.  That is the landscape; what might it portend?

Regarding the school presidents feeling pressure to cancel athletics in the Fall, I think that “health people” and “legal people” have provided some sobering advice to the administrators.  If there were to be football AND IF there is a COVID-19 outbreak centered on the football team that then spreads among the student body, it will be very difficult for the administrators to argue that “they didn’t know that was possible”.  The scenario above could expose the school to major lawsuits and even if the school might win some of those suits, the president who led the school into that situation would find his position far less secure.

Ergo, school presidents just might be viewing the cancellation of Fall athletics from a position of “enlightened self-interest”.  I cannot think of a more highly motivating environment than enlightened self-interest…

The cancellation of the football season by the MAC over the weekend is significant in that the MAC is a Division 1-A conference.  The MAC was clearly hurt when the Power 5 conferences started paring schedules down and eliminating out-of-conference games.  Those actions took 9 potential moneymaking games away from MAC teams almost overnight.  I wonder what sorts of “economic impact assessments” are ongoing in the office suites of other minor conferences in Division 1-A…

Before you find yourself feeling overly sorry for the MAC players who will not have an excuse to ignore academics in the Fall semester, think about the angst that must be flowing through ESPN headquarters this week.  Without the MAC, what will ESPN do for sports programming on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the Fall?  Toledo, Bowling Green and Akron football teams were mainstays of ESPN programming on those nights.  I am only a bit surprised that none of the MAC schools ever got an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor(s) in a TV series…

Brad Dickson took a different view of the MAC cancellation of football:

“If you built your life around MAC football this is going to be a disappointing fall. Actually, if you’ve built your life around MAC you’re probably used to disappointment in life.”

Hawaii is a member of the Mountain West Conference.  Before any sort of scheduling adjustments had to be made, the schedule called for Hawaii to play 6 games on the mainland and 8 games at home.  Here’s the rub:

  • Hawaii requires a 14-day quarantine for people coming to Hawaii from the mainland.
  • How will visiting teams accommodate that into their schedules?
  • How will the Hawaii football team accommodate that into their schedule after they return to Hawaii from the mainland after their first visit there?

They say it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.  Well maybe there is a smidgen of good emanating from the ill wind that represents the potential loss of college football in 2020.  Mississippi was one of the States that had rising numbers of COVID-19 cases but had not implemented mask-wearing as a controlling measure.  Last week, Governor Reeves issued a statewide mask-wearing mandate and explained that part of the impetus for his decision was:

“I want to watch college football.”

Who cares about listening to epidemiologists?  The desire “to watch college football”  represents a deep sense of enlightened self-interest.  And that is a powerful motivator, indeed…

There are reports out there saying that the NFL is poised to play some of its games on Saturdays if college football is canceled.  That makes plenty of sense from an entertainment and from an economic perspective.  It does lead me to wonder, however, if XFL 2.0 had survived the pandemic, might not XFL 2.0 have tried to fill that void?  I do not think the NFL would want to “bigfoot” XFL 2.0 in that situation having already lost an anti-trust case to the USFL about 30 years ago.  Interesting to imagine…

Over the weekend, I got an email from a reader with the following logical question that I will paraphrase here:

  • If schools cancel all athletic activities for the Fall Semester, that will knock out the start of the college basketball season.  If that happens, might colleges just push the entire season back 6 or 8 weeks and have the tournament in May instead of in March?

My answer was straightforward.  If CBS is willing to pay the same TV rights fees for “May Madness” as it is for “March Madness”, then the NCAA could give that serious consideration.  If not, forget it.

Finally, there are lots of other college athletics happenings out there – and some of them are sordid indeed – but they shall have to wait until tomorrow.  I will close today with an observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Futurewatch: The University of Texas hopes to allow 50% seating capacity at its football games. So Texas has a plan. COVID-19 laughs at plans.”

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



The Fix Was In – – Sort Of…

There is a story in the NY Post today about the sentencing of a man in NY who plead guilty to a count of trying to fix a college basketball game between St. Johns and Wagner in 2018.  The story in the paper goes into the details of his planning and into how the plot came unglued; that is not the takeaway for me.

The man in question is 25 years old.  He intended to bet $50K on the game he thought he had fixed; he did not make the bet nor did the game turn out the way the “fix” was supposed to have it turn out.  Trust me, the path from beginning to end in this story is a tortuous one indeed.  Here is the thing that is important to me:

  • The perpetrator here will likely spend six months in jail per his plea agreement in the case – – assuming the judge goes along with that agreement.
  • The maximum penalty the perpetrator could face in the matter is 5 years in jail.

Assume for a moment that this guy had been doubly successful here and had fixed the game properly and won a series of bets worth $50K without being caught.  Basically, what I am asking you to imagine are the actions of someone with the access, the money and the conniving nature to make such a scheme work.  It has happened before; it could happen again; all I want you to do for a moment is to think about the outcome if this plot had been successful.  Now ask yourself this question:

  • Is a six-month jail sentence any sort of deterrent here?

Remember, none of this “fixing” actually happened; the plot did not materialize.  But, if it had succeeded, would the threat of a 6-month jail sentence be sufficient to convince the guy who just made a quick $50K that he should not try to do this again?  Five years “up the river” so to speak might make someone think twice; but six months?

About 30 years ago, Congress passed PASPA – the Pro and Amateur Sports Protection Act – which was subsequently declared unconstitutional.  It sought to eliminate sports gambling because it was a threat to the integrity of the sports.  In the ruling by the US Supreme Court that declared PASPA unconstitutional, the Court left open the possibility of the Congress legislating something else in that area that might meet Constitutional standards.  Here is a thought for the 535 Congressthings who cannot seem to be able to find their way out of a toilet stall without a map:

  • Maybe a mandatory minimum sentence – no plea agreements below the minimum allowed – where the duration is at least 5 years long would be a way to put a caution sign in the mind of a future ne’er-do-well plotting to fix a basketball or football game.

I was already primed to take the “sports betting avenue” as one of the items for today’s rant before coming across the NY Post story this morning.  The false positive – and/or inconclusive/ambiguous –  COVID-19 test results for Matthew Stafford in the NFL and for Juan Soto in MLB made me think that the current environment for sports in the US has opened up another vulnerability for a betting coup.

There have always been – and will always continue to be – vulnerabilities for athletes and officials and coaches/managers to take a bribe to pre-determine the outcome of a game for a gambler.  In 2020, you can add to that list someone like “the guy who does the COVID-19 tests for star players the day before a game but several days after the insiders have gotten down on the game”.

Take the two player examples I mentioned above:

  • The Washington Nationals can win games without Juan Soto, but they are more likely to win with him in the lineup than back in the team hotel “in quarantine”.
  • If the Detroit Lions are playing the Chicago Bears on Sunday and the line has been Bears – 2.5 all week long, any bettors who took the Bears at that price would have a leg up on any of the bettors who wanted to back the Bears after the news of a positive test for Matthew Stafford’s positive test and subsequent inability to play in the game.  Now if that “Matthew Stafford positive result” did not break until late on Saturday evening, bettors with “the inside story” would have had plenty of time to get down lots of small to medium sized bets at lots of sportsbooks in order to raise only minimal suspicion.

Please note: I am not saying this is going to happen.  I am merely pointing out that the coronavirus has introduced a new vulnerability with regard to the “wagering integrity” of games in 2020.  Football and basketball would seem to be more susceptible to these kinds of shenanigans than baseball, so I wonder how the “guardians of integrity” in those areas have prepared themselves to protect that link in the “chain of integrity”.  For the record:

  • I would be surprised if anyone in the NCAA football or basketball world has even considered this yet.  The “integrity cops” for collegiate sports are always like the aggrieved husband whose wife is out having affairs all over town; like him, the NCAA “integrity cops” are always the last to know.
  • The NBA has had its awareness jolted by the Tim Donaghy Saga.  Presumably, they have monitoring methodologies to make a repeat of that nonsense “less than likely”.  The NBA is protected by the magnitude of the salaries earned by its players.  To “buy off” a couple of NBA starters to adjust a game score to a spread value would make the up-front costs very unlikely.  So, what about the testing personnel …?
  • The NFL has not had a long history of players caught throwing games.  Perhaps that is because – like baseball – more than a couple of players would need to take part in the plot.  However, the NFL has not covered itself in glory when it comes to “investigative matters”.  They did not get the “Ray Rice tape” for example.  So, have they an “integrity measure” in place for the COVID-19 testers?   I will bet that they would say they do if asked in a public forum…

Finally, Dwight Perry posed an interesting question regarding a possible aftermath of the World Series in this year of COVID-19:

“If the Blue Jays win the World Series, will they be treated to a championship parade through the vacated streets of Buffalo?”

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



Minor League Baseball and “Minor League” Football

Yesterday, I spent some tine talking about MLB and its less-than-fully-successful health and safety protocol.  Down in the minor leagues, there is no such thing as a baseball season; minor league teams are shut down and are hoping to find ways to survive until a “normal” baseball season returns in 2021.  I was reminded of that “survival effort” recently when I received an email from the Pawtucket Red Sox offering me the opportunity to purchase $50 or more of PawSox apparel or novelties with the enticement that orders of $50 or more would get me a free replica of McCoy Stadium – the Paw Sox home field.  I chose not to place an order.

That offer reminded me that I have received several emails from the Altoona Curve this season telling me about events they are holding online and socially-distanced at their park such as Trivia Night and a regularly scheduled local farmers’ market.  In addition, the Curve has a sponsorship with a local business to recognize health workers in the area for their efforts in dealing with COVID-19.

Another email from the Richmond Flying Squirrels informed me that I can go to the stadium for a movie night.  The team has transformed its field, The Diamond, to an outdoor movie theater

I have read reports that other minor league teams took the opportunity to covert their fields into 9-hole golf courses once they knew that this season was kaput.  The Portland Sea Dogs were one of those teams and you can now play a round in their stadium for $30.  The Pensacola Blue Wahoos have listed their park as an “Airbnb” for an overnight stay and use of the field and the batting cages.  Evidently, that has generated some interest such that the Blue Wahoos have now added a disc-golf course to that field for its guests.  The Columbia Fireflies have fashioned an outdoor restaurant in their park that allows for socially-distanced dining.

I mention these examples to demonstrate that minor league teams are dealing with a scenario that is more desperate than MLB teams.  MLB teams still bring in some not-so-insignificant revenues from sponsorships and media rights; minor league teams do not have those revenues to start with; minor league teams survive with a few meager local sponsorships and with revenue from the live gate and concessions.  For that reason, minor league teams have always been highly creative with their promotions and many of those teams are putting that creativity to work in 2020 hoping to make it through to 2021.

The first time I attended a minor league baseball game was in the early 1970s; I was on a business trip to Appleton, WI for several days and read in the local paper about a game one night for the Appleton Foxes.  With nothing better to do, I went to the game and had a great time for about $10.  I was hooked – – and went back the next night to see another game.  The early part of my career took me to a lot of “micropolitan areas” in the US where minor league baseball was a fundamental part of the community and I partook of many games around the country in those times.  Even now in a normal season, I try to see several minor league games because I find the fan experience there to be more enjoyable than the fan  experience at an MLB game.  [Note:  I did NOT say the games are better; there is a clear and obvious diminution of talent on display in a minor league game.]

Just in case I have not been sufficiently clear, I am rooting for minor league baseball to survive this financial drought and make it back vigorously in 2021…

Turning attention now to “minor league football”, the XFL was sold earlier this week to a consortium featuring The Rock.  Interestingly, The Rock began his journey to celebrity status as a pro ‘rassler in WWE; he purchased the XFL from Vince McMahon who is the major domo of WWE.  The sale price for the league was reported to be $15M.  The XFL returned to the field in February of 2020 and ceased on-field operations soon after that.  The league filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy action with the intention of reorganizing its finances and trying a return to the field in 2021 or maybe even 2022.  Any public statements proffered at the time of such events need to be taken with a gain of salt but there was one part of The Rock’s statement that caught my eye:

“With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL, and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.”

Might it be that The Rock will be part of the presentation of the games themselves?  Pro ‘rasslers are comfortable behind a microphone in attempts to generate interest in their spectacles; movie actors are comfortable in front of audiences.  The Rock has more than a little bit of “star-power” and that might be a valuable intangible asset for what will have to be known as XFL 3.0.

This transaction requires the approval/assent of the bankruptcy court overseeing the restructuring of the XFL as an entity.  In the original filing the league said it had assets worth about $10M and liabilities of about $50M.  Those “unsecured creditors” who make up much of that $50M liability for the league protest that the price here is well below “market value” and have objected to its approval.  I know nothing about bankruptcy proceedings, but it seems to me that if something is openly put up for sale and the highest bidder for it is $15M, that sets the “market value”.  But what do I know…?

There is a story out there regarding the football team and the athletic department at Colorado State that has the potential to be more than important.  According to the Washington Post the university president has promised an investigation into allegations that football players were “discouraged” from being tested for COVID-19 and that the team was purposely violating the NCAA COVID-19 procedures and quarantines.  I must point out right here that there has been pushback to these allegations from other football players.  This is a fluid situation; I am not comfortable that we have nearly all the facts in hand today.

Notwithstanding the lack of certainty as to what has happened and is happening at Colorado State, let me list here the prominent allegations:

  1. Players were told not to report symptoms that might be associated with COVID-19.
  2. Players were threatened with reduced playing time if they went into quarantine.
  3. Unnamed individuals at Colorado State were altering the contact tracing reports to minimize possible exposures to the team.

This bears repeating; I have no idea whatsoever if any or all of those allegations have any basis in reality.  However, if they are true, then an awful lot of people need to lose their jobs and every one of them needs to get one of those NCAA show cause orders to make them difficult to hire in the collegiate sports business area for the next decade or so.  These allegations are not at the same level of wickedness as slipping a few thousand dollars to an athlete’s family under the table.  This action potentially jeopardizes the short-term and the long-term health of the players and the people who come in contact with players.  Hiding symptoms and falsifying tracing reports would not be “accidental” nor would they be “harmless”.

Pay attention to the upcoming chapters in this story; it just might be a blockbuster – – or a gigantic fizzle.

Finally, here is a positive observation about the sporting world today from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Up front: It’s unclear what other NFL teams have decided, or whether a league-wide mandate is forthcoming, but the Steelers just announced that for games played at Heinz Field even under reduced capacity rules and with social distancing, patrons will be required to wear masks. A high-five to the Steelers for not masking their intentions.”

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



Summer 2021 – – Things Are Back To Normal?

One year from now – theoretically – the Tokyo Summer Olympics will be coming to an end.  I say theoretically because there is precious little time to achieve a measure of control over COVID-19 such that an assemblage of athletes and spectators from around the world would make even a shred of sense at that time.  I mention this today because I read something recently saying that the postponement of the 2020 Games – which would be ongoing now – for one year has cost the Japanese sponsors approximately $6B.  Obviously, I have not audited the numbers here, but let me assume it is about right.

Hosting the Olympics is a financial disaster for cities/countries whose economies are not on the top rung of the world’s economic ladder.  China’s economy continues to roll on notwithstanding the unused Olympic Village it built and the under-utilization of the “Bird’s Nest Stadium”; London used the Olympics there as a way to gentrify a portion of the city and that has worked; Los Angeles actually posted a net profit for the hosting of the Games themselves in 1984.  However, that is not the story for cities and countries lower on the economic ladder or ones that over-spent prudent limits that were in good economic situations.  Financial “problems” have befallen these Olympic venues:

  • Montreal 1976:  The city funded the Olympic Games there by floating bonds and it took them 30 years to pay off that debt.  The Games themselves did not provide nearly the requisite cash flow to do so nor did the “persistent economic growth” materialize from the “investments” made to host the Games.
  • Barcelona 1992:  The story here mirrors Montreal’s story.  The incurred debt to prepare for the Games required debt service that was not nearly covered by any “economic boom” from the Games and taxes had to be raised significantly for the city to remain solvent.
  • Sydney 2000:  The legacy for the city is abandoned facilities/under-used facilities and debt.
  • Greece 2004:  The massive economic loss here contributed significantly to the near collapse of the entire Greek economy about 3 years after the Games.
  • Rio de Janeiro 2016:  One of the massive soccer stadiums built in the hinterlands for these Games is now used as a parking lot for busses.  ‘Nuff said?

Tokyo – and Japan in the larger sense – is a large and stable economy.  Even with the global disruptions caused by COVID-19, Japan is not teetering on insolvency in 2020 the way Greece was in 2004 or Rio in 2016.  Nevertheless, maybe it would be worth a moment to look at the up-front investment estimates that have gone into the now postponed 2021 Games.  According to various reports:

  • 7 Billion Dollars:  That was the original commitment made to the IOC when Tokyo won the right to stage the Games.  That was the “investment” that was represented to the good folks in Tokyo for the privilege of being the host city.
  • 18 Billion Dollars:  This is the mid-range of reported over-runs incurred in the process of preparing for the games to have begun in July 2020.  I have seen some reports saying the over-runs are only $16B and others that say it is just north of $20B
  • 6 Billion Dollars:  This represents the cost of postponing the Games for a year.  Please do not ask me to enumerate how a delay can cost that much; I leave that to the economists and the accountants.

If these numbers are even close to correct, Tokyo now has $31B invested in the 2021 Summer Games – and they may not happen at all.  [Aside:  I am sure that velodrome they built to host the cycling events will find a good and profitable use as something else.]  However, even if the Games do take place, it is difficult to see how those Games will bring anything close to $31B to the city in a little over two weeks – – and that assumes that those Games would be “normal Games” with fans in attendance.  Holding the Games with limited or no fans in the venues might be financially worse than no Games at all.

Switching from the Olympics to college football, the Power 5 football conferences are coming up with schedules for 2020 that limit teams to conference games.  That means no games between Powerhouse U and a Division 1-AA team where the spread is set around 59 points.  I like that.  It also means that Power 5 teams will not be playing some of the straphangers in Division 1-A where the spread is set merely at 47 points.  I like that too.  However, there is fallout from those consequences of “only conference games” for Power 5 teams.

  • Economic Fallout:  Those Division 1-AA schools and the Division 1-A straphangers get paid to take their shellackings – sometimes more than a million dollars.  And that payment is a significant part of the athletic department revenue for the season.  The effect goes beyond football because football is a revenue producing sport and it contributes to the support of the non-revenue producing sports at the schools.
  • Athletic Fallout:  UConn became the first Division 1-A school to cancel its football season for 2020.  UConn is an independent and faced cancellation of several games because they would have been a “non-conference foe”.  The school prefers to call the “risks provided by COVID-19” as the cause for canceling the season, but the fact is that UConn only had 9 games on its schedule to begin with and at least three of those games were not going to happen.

Finally, here is a quotation I have had on my clipboard for an awfully long time.  It is not mine, but I do not have a notation to whom it belongs.  It deals with one of the unusual Olympic sports:

“Why is luge a sport?  You dress up like a giant sperm and go sledding really fast.  That’s hardly athletic.  Phallic and sexy, yes.  But hardly athletic.”

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



Major League Baseball Is A Hot Mess

One can apply lots of adjectives to the 2020 MLB season to date; none of those adjectives are complimentary.  From the time in March when MLB shut down Spring Training through today, the folks in charge have stumbled in random directions arriving where they are today which is in the vicinity of Bizarro World.

MLB – and the MLBPA because the union is equally culpable here – had 4 months to become as knowledgeable as possible about COVID-19 so that they could come up with an efficient, effective and manageable plan for the conduct of a truncated 2020 season.  Instead, they got into a 4-month spitting contest over money and relegated the logistics of the season to “Priority Seven”.  The health and safety protocol is more than 100 pages long; it was effective for 4 days at the most.

Let us look at one key point in that protocol:

“In order for a 2020 season to be conducted safely, Covered Individuals must exercise care while away from Club facilities to avoid situations in which the risk of contracting the virus is elevated, such as participating in activities involving large groups or indoor activities in which people are in close proximity to one another (e.g., crowded restaurants, bars, clubs). MLB will not formally restrict the activities of Covered Individuals when they are away from Club facilities, but will expect the Covered Individuals on each Club to ensure that they all act responsibly.”  [“Covered Individuals” are players, coaches, managers, team officials and etc.]

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the firewall between the coronavirus and Major League Baseball.  That is what 4 months of thoughtful planning and consultation with experts came up with to keep MLB players away from COVID-19 and healthy enough to play the games without the teams themselves becoming super spreaders in society.  If any of these jamokes were compensated on a “pay for performance” basis, they would fall below the poverty line for 2020.

On the fourth day of the season, the Marlins knew they had some players in the clubhouse who had tested positive.  The team voted to play their scheduled game that day and it was not until after the fact that it was known that almost half of the Marlins’ team was carrying the virus.  So much for “testing and tracing” because none of that matters even a little bit if teams can decide on their own to put known carriers out there on the field for a game.

MLB has taken about a week to “conduct an investigation” into how those Marlins’ players contracted the virus and spread it within the clubhouse.  Guess what that investigation determined:

  • The “Covered Individuals” who got infected did not obey the strictures of the health and safety protocols.
  • The “Covered Individuals” were congregating in the hotel bar and going out for other social activities.
  • It was the “poor decisions” made by the ‘Covered individuals” that caused the problems.

Excuse me, but that conclusion was a foregone conclusion before the investigation began – and by the way it was probably conducted by Inspector Clouseau.  Were the findings otherwise , the value and the efficacy of the 100-plus pages of prose that make up the health and safety protocol would be exposed as worthless.  It seems to be that the Mensa Members who created that document neglected to put any enforcement mechanisms in there.  [Aside:  That omission lands equally in the laps of MLB and the MLBPA!]  There are probably 1500 “Covered Individuals” spoken to by the protocol and the best that the mavens can come up with is that they will all “exercise care” and “act responsibly”.

Now, ask yourselves what sort of remedy/change of procedures MLB and the MLBPA might have come up with as a result of that “investigation”.  Here it is:

  • Teams need to have a designated “compliance officer” who travels with the team to make sure that the “Covered Individuals” begin to exercise care and act responsibly.

There is a perfectly good word for “compliance officer” that every high school kid knows.  That word is “chaperone” – – and the compliance officers in MLB are not likely to be significantly more effective than the chaperones at your run-of-the-mill high school junior proms.

There are baseball rules and there are health and safety protocol rules and those rules are of no value if there is no enforcement mechanism.  Take the umpires off the field and let the players decide who is safe and who is out on close plays at the bases.  It will not work.  The same is true here; there are protocol rules that were awfully loose and had zero enforcement mechanism attached; players flouted those protocol rules and got sick and then got others sick.  Everyone is to blame here; no one comes out looking like anything but an [rhymes with “glass bowl”].

Want another example of a protocol rule that makes sense but is being ignored with no consequences?  According to the protocol, players are not supposed to spit.  Have you watched any of the games on TV?  What are the consequences for players – or umpires – who spit during the games?  There exists “indisputable video evidence” – to borrow a phrase from the NFL rule book – that the spitting rule is not being followed and there have not been any punishments handed out.  The lack of enforcement there points up a double problem:

  1. Spitting is an act that assists the spread of the coronavirus.  More spitting means an increased probability that an infected “Covered Individual” can infect another as yet uninfected “Covered Individual”.  For the record, that is the antithesis of the purpose of the health and safety protocol.
  2. When a rule exists and it is so obviously violated without any punishment or sanction at all, that creates an environment of contempt for other rules in the protocol.  If the situation calls for nominal adults to require a chaperone, the last thing you need is for those nominal adults to view the body of rules with contempt.

The MLB 2020 season is a mess.  There may be ways for the leagues to get out of the mess and proceed with the season without embarrassing themselves daily – – but it will not be easy.  The fact is that the coronavirus is still widespread in the US and these “Covered individuals” are going to have to travel over under around and through places where people who have nothing to do with MLB may have left viral traces lying around.  Look, the Marlins brought more virus loading to the Philadelphia area as a visiting team; the Cardinals did the same thing to Milwaukee; teams on road trips are potential virus spreaders.  MLB cannot evade that reality.

Baseball in 2020 reminds me of a guy at a poker table who is losing his shirt but keeps dipping into his bank account for another stake because he is “due for some good cards”.  It seems to me that MLB thinks its due for some good news and just keeps on keeping on…  Albert Einstein reminded us that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes.

Finally, let me close today with a cogent baseball observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Sarcasm ahead: I don’t know how baseball people were able to judge the greatness of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays without knowing the launch angle and exit velocity of their home runs.”

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