Three Items Today…

Well, that did not take long…  After setting the table with a long-term CBA in place and new long-term broadcast rights deals to fatten the bank accounts signed, sealed and delivered, the NFL announced yesterday that its regular season will now be expanded to 17 games.  One need not to have been in training to become the modern Oracle of Delphi to have seen that coming.  The NFL’s 16-game schedule has been in place for more than 40 years and it is formulaic to the point that one could project the structure of the league schedule decades in advance.  But it is not so easy to figure out how that would work with an odd number of games in the regular season.  Here is my understanding – – with the proviso that I have a track record of getting some of the details wrong in these sorts of complicated maneuverings:

  • There will be no changes made to the basic 16-gaqme schedule rotation that has been in place for years; the only change will be in how the 17th game is woven into the schedule rotation.
  • The 17th game will be an inter-conference game and it will be a “standings based” pairing based on the finish from last year. First place team in Division A plays first place team in Division B and etc.  It will pair divisions from each conference on a rotating basis and in one year all the AFC teams will get an extra home game while in the following year all the NFC teams will get an extra home game based on the 17th game addition.

Here are three questions I have about this announcement that I have not been able to track down:

  1. If a player has a contract that calls for him to earn $1.6M this year (for 16 games that is conveniently $100K per game), will he earn $1.7M this year because the number of games increased?
  2. Has the “increased inventory” of games been negotiated into the prices that the NFL’s “broadcast partners” will pay to the league to carry the regular season games?  Or … will those revenues expand by 6% over what was previously announced?
  3. Will there be a reduction in the number of meaningless Exhibition Games to pay lip service to player health and safety?

Remember, follow the money…

The Final Four have established themselves for next weekend.  Here are my notes from the games that put those teams in that company:

  • Oregon St./Houston:  Houston is dominating the boards offensively and defensively in the first half; Oregon St. is playing like a 12-seed tonight.  Houston is denying the ball to Ethan Thomas; Oregon St. continues to wonder what else to do on offense.  Houston doubled-up Oregon St. at the half and it really was not that close.  Oregon St. rallies furiously to close the score to 2 points – – but not enough.  The difference was Houston getting 19 offensive rebounds in the game and the fact the Oregon St. shot 11 for 20 from the foul line.  Houston won ugly; Oregon St. lost ugly.
  • Baylor/Arkansas:  Baylor’s offense is run by and through point guard, Davion Mitchell.  He committed 2 personal fouls in the first 4 minutes and got his third foul with about 9 minutes to go in the first half with Baylor ahead 33-18.  Arkansas closed to 46-38 at the half; Mitchell on the floor is key in the second half.  The second half is a game of runs; Baylor made the last run and won by 9 points but they had to sweat it out to do so.
  • Gonzaga/USC:  Neither of the Mobley brothers can play a lick of defense; if Evan Mobley is the PAC-12 Player of the Year, it is amazing that PAC-12 teams did so well in the tournament.  USC is trying to run with Gonzaga and keep up with them; that is not working and will not work; the Zags are clearly the faster team.  “Seems like no changes were made at halftime for USC so the outcome is pretty obvious.”  That comment was noted at the “under-16 TV time-out”.
  • Michigan/UCLA:  Michigan is not playing the same offense that got them to this game; no inside passing and little cutting to the basket.  Other than Juzang for UCLA, no one on the court can make a shot to save his life.  “Ugly game, team that makes the last mistake will lose” (Comment was noted at halftime.)  Here is how the game ended…  UCLA was up by 1 point with 19 seconds; Michigan had the ball.  Michigan gets an open-look 3-point shot and misses followed by a missed put back.  UCLA got the rebound and was fouled with 6.3 seconds remaining.  Bruins hit one of the foul shots; to lead by 2 and Michigan calls time out.  One more shot fails, and Michigan loses…  UCLA won ugly; Michigan lost ugly.

My respect for the law is matched by my contempt for legislators who write the laws.  There always seem to be ways for the laws they create to be circumvented by “folks on the inside” when that becomes convenient.  The latest example I read about pertains to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) dodging a Tennessee state law regarding nepotism in hiring for state employees.  Here is the deal:

  • The son of the head football coach was hired to be the tight ends coach.  This had a whiff of nepotism associated with it.
  • The solution was for the Athletic Director to declare that it was he – the AD – and not the head coach who hired the son to be the assistant coach.
  • The AD explained that they have a process within the university by which this can be approved, and they exercised that process.

Isn’t that convenient…?

[Aside:  The kid may be the best Tight Ends coach in the history of football but that does not remove the stink associated with the reports about this hiring process.]

Finally, the legal loophole exploited in that last item recalls one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain:

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctively native American criminal class except Congress.”

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



Rest In Peace, Howard Schnellenberger

Howard Schnellenberger died over the weekend.  His life/career in football demonstrates an amazing association with some of the greatest players and coaches in the game and he specialized in building college football programs:

  • He played college football under Bear Bryant.
  • He was an assistant coach under Bear Bryant.
  • He recruited Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler to Alabama
  • He was an assistant coach to George Allen.
  • He was an assistant coach to Don Shula – during the Dolphins’ undefeated season.
  • He resurrected a moribund football program at the University of Miami.
  • He resurrected a moribund football program at Louisville.
  • He built the Florida Atlantic football program from the ground up.

Rest in peace, Howard Schnellenberger.

Moving on …  For those of you keeping score at home, Deshaun Watson now has 19 female massage therapists/trainers who have accused him of sexual misconduct.  There are dozens of reports out there describing the allegations for anyone who has not kept up with this story and is interested; Google is  your friend.  I will not even try to dip a toe into the smarmy puddle of what he is alleged to have done; I will simply note that if these allegations are true, he is a young man in need of significant psychological/psychiatric treatment.  Even I know that – – and I am not in the business of “things psychological”.

What I wonder about is how the NFL is going to deal with all of this as a business entity.  The league has its “Personal Conduct Policy”, and it has wielded it in the past.  The policy seeks to protect the NFL from “conduct detrimental to the league and professional football”.

It took some careful reading for me to realize that there need not be a legal finding of criminal activity or for there to be a successful civil suit against a player for the policy to be called into play.  As I was chatting with a neighbor who is an attorney – and a football fan – he pointed out to me that Ezekiel Elliott’s 6-game suspension was a result of imposing the Personal Conduct Policy sanctions on Elliott without any evidence of his guilt in a courtroom.

So, the investigative work to be done to prepare the Commissioner for his finding(s) related to the Personal Conduct policy is closely related to the legal status of the matters.  In a criminal case, there are court documents that need to be presented as evidence and much of that will be public record; in other words, the police and the prosecutors – – the good guys on Law and Order – – will do a lot of the legwork for the league.  So far, the Deshaun Watson allegations have remained in civil court and the nineteen women accusers are known as Jane Doe #1, Jane Doe #2 …  Reports say that their filings are signed only by their attorney; so for now, there is no possibility of accusers’ names leaking out .  I guess that puts the ball squarely in the court of NFL Security to get out there and do some of its own investigating.

And once I think about that circumstance, I wonder how long it will be until  the Commish will have any facts in hand on which to base his judgment.  Consider:

  • The NFL has been investigating allegations against the Washington Football Team’s front office regarding sexual harassment and a “toxic culture” and that investigation is now in its ninth month.  The accusers who came forward were known; there are pictures/videos related to some of the voyeuristic allegations; the NFL investigators knew from Day One where to begin.
  • According to the Houston Police Department, there have been no criminal charges filed in the Deshaun Watson situation.  So, the NFL investigators will need the cooperation of the attorney representing these nineteen women simply to know who they are so the NFL can begin to do what it is that they think they need to do.  Why do I think that is unlikely to happen?

Unless there is a major sea change in this entire matter, I cannot see any way for this to be even close to “resolved” by the time the 2021 NFL season starts.  NFL Security does not have subpoena power and cannot compel testimony from anyone; it would seem to me that the league will need to rely on public reporting of these incidents for much of its information until and unless one or more of the civil cases goes to trial.  If there were to be out-of-court settlements in the case(s), I cannot imagine that the settlement(s) would not include non-disclosure agreements as a condition of the settlement.

  • [Aside:  Given the grandiose statements of the attorneys on both sides of this matter so far, I wish NFL Security good luck in making any determinations based on news releases and reporting.]

Commissioner Roger Goodell has a safety zone here; there is something called the Commissioner’s Exempt List; here is what it means in simple terms:

  • The player – or coach or owner or staff member – placed on this list cannot interact with his/her team until removed from the list.  That means no meetings, no practices, no games …  You get the idea.
  • At the same time, the player – or coach or staff member – continues to be paid while on the list so that (s)he is not penalized monetarily for being under investigation prior to any sort of conclusive findings of that investigation.

If my mental construct of this situation is correct, Deshaun Watson may be barred from playing NFL football in 2021 while this matter moves toward its conclusion.  That has particular relevance because Deshaun Watson has been publicly demanding that the Texans trade him; he says he will not play for the Texans and the Texans say they have no interest in trading him.  That confrontation is ongoing and is orthogonal to the sexual harassment allegations by these 19 women.  In a rational marketplace, Watson would be a sought-after commodity; he would be a QB upgrade for about 75% of the league.  However, he is of no value to any team in 2021 if he is on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

This story has all the appearances of one that will be around for more than a few months…

Finally, the sexual misconduct allegations above reminded me of a quip attributed to Woody Allen – – no stranger to allegations of this stripe:

“Is sex dirty?  Only if it’s done right.”

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



The Tournament Keeps On Keeping On …

Normally, we would know the Final Four on this Monday on the calendar, but the modified scheduling this year only gives us the Elite 8 as of today; it will not be until Wednesday morning that we have the Final Four.  The 12 games that cut the NCAA field from 16 to 4 are usually the prime cuts from the Tournament.

  • The first two rounds are all about quantity; 48 games happen to select the Sweet 16.  One feels gluttonous while taking them in – – and truth be told, a quarter to a third of those games are not particularly entertaining.
  • The Final Four and the Finals always seem to find contestants that make the games interesting.  But there are only 3 such games; I always feel as if I just had the appetizer and there is no main course to come.
  • But the 12 games from Sweet 16 to Final Four hit the “sweet spot.  Most of the games are good; the teams tend to be ones playing well and there are enough of them to make me feel satisfied.

Given that everything in college basketball this year has been topsy-turvey to say the least, I was worried that the games over the weekend would be dogs.  They were not; even the ones where the final score was not close were entertaining for much of the time.  Here are some notes I took during the games:

  • Loyola-Chicago/Oregon St.:  Great defense by both teams in the first 15 minutes; total score in that time is 29 points.  This is a totally different sport than NBA basketball.

[Aside:  Interesting that the promos for NBA basketball during these college basketball telecasts are for the upcoming NBA playoffs.  Those will start in 8 weeks, but the NBA hypes them instead of the 8-weeks’ worth of games between now and then.  Tells you what you need to know about the NBA’s view of its own regular season games.]

  • Villanova/Baylor:  Seeing Jay Wright in sweats instead of in thousand-dollar Armani suits is simply wrong.  Defense dominates here and the game is entertaining.  Villanova is good and Baylor is better.
  • Oral Roberts/Arkansas:  Arkansas has better athletes and much better subs off the bench.  ORU has to scramble on defense to keep this close.
  • Syracuse/Houston:  Syracuse needs its 3-point shots to fall to win this game; not happening in 1st half.  In the second half, Houston was almost playing “Box-and-1” on Buddy Boeheim.
  • Creighton/Gonzaga:  Creighton is trying to run with the Zags and match them shot for shot; good luck with that.  Game is theoretically in doubt at halftime but after 6 minutes of 2nd half, there is no doubt who is moving on.

[Aside:  I was most pleasantly surprised to see Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel on the call for this game.  I like the two of them as a tandem better than any other current college basketball broadcast team.  Thank you, CBS…]

  • Florida St./Michigan:   Michigan plays old-school basketball; they work the ball around to get it inside for a really good shot.  Michigan has 3 big men who are good passers and good inside shooters.  Florida St. offense today is basically 5 separate games of 1-on-1 basketball.

[Aside:  I also liked the fact that both coaches avoid histrionics on every possession and they also accept some of the calls that go against their team without making it seem as if they are suffering more than Job.]

  • Alabama/UCLA:  Herbert Jones was certainly the most over-hyped player in this game.  The game went to OT and he missed 3 free-throws in the final minute and a half – – helping Alabama shoot 11 for 25 from the free throw line in the game.  A team that shoots that way on foul shots does not deserve to win an overtime game.
  • Oregon/USC:  USC defense was the difference in the first half.  USC won the game on cruise control.

When Texas lost to Abilene Christian, I said here that the Texas fanboys might be moved to buy out Shaka Smart.  Well, Coach Smart beat any of them to the punch and signed himself out of Texas to take the head coaching job at Marquette.  The glamor-factor at Marquette may not be at the same level as at Texas, but the fact is that Texas is a football school and winning a half-dozen NCAA Tournaments in ten years will not make it a basketball school.  Marquette is a basketball school.  If Marquette even fields a football team at the Division II or Division III level, I do not know about it.

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this observation; it tells me all I need to know about the subject:

“New Zealand defeated Italy in the final of America’s Cup sailing in Auckland. Home-water advantage?”

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

“Tigerleg has supplanted dogleg as the more currently discussed golf term.”

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



The NFL’s New TV Deal

It was about fifty years ago when Willie Nelson sang:

“Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…”

About 5 years ago, a narrative began that football was going to go the way of the dodo bird because mothers would not let their babies grow up to be football players for fear of CTE. I never bought into that narrative and I think it is now evident that the demise of football in the US is highly unlikely for the next decade or so.  The NFL and its “broadcast partners” – now to include Amazon and other streaming services – have signed a 10-year deal that will drop a total of $113B into the NFL’s coffers.  Those “broadcast partners” do not see the NFL drying up and blowing away, and nor do I.

Moreover, roughly half of the money involved in those TV deals will flow to NFL players per the terms of the CBA between the league and the players’ union.  That means there are significant financial incentives for kids to aspire to be part of the NFL for at least another decade.  If indeed “money talks”, the dollars involved here are most assertive in declaring the continued existence of the NFL and a willing labor force for the enterprise.

These new broadcast deals between the networks and the NFL begin in 2023; analysts say that the new deals cost the networks twice what the current deals cost; I assume that is a correct analysis.  When I first heard that the NFL was going to ask for that kind of an increase, I wondered why the networks would accede to such an increase.  However, the negotiations went smoothly and quickly so the networks must see value there.  Here are data:

  • Eight of the top ten most watched TV programs in 2020 were football games (7 were NFL games and the other was the CFP championship game).
  • The two “non-football programs” on the list for 2020 ranked 7th and 10th.
  • Notwithstanding reports that Super Bowl ratings were down for 2021, the game between the Bucs and the Chiefs had 96 million viewers.  By comparison, The Oscars in 2020 had 23 million viewers.

I have said for years that the NFL and the NFLPA need to work together because their joint mission is to produce the most popular and most lucrative television series ever.  As long as the league and the union keep the wheels rolling, the dollars will continue to flow.  The two sides may squabble over the “revenue split” or over some aspects of “working conditions” but it is hard for me to imagine any single issue on either side of the bargaining table that is worth turning off the spigot there.

So, is there anything new in the broadcast rights deal to justify doubling the cost to the networks?  Here are some of the provisions that have been reported; you make the call:

  • There will be 2 games on the Saturday of the final week of the regular season on ESPN.  That will happen this year before the new deal goes into effect.  Importantly, the NFL intends to put “playoff relevant” games in at least one of those Saturday time slots meaning the NFL is going to flex-schedule games from day-to-day in addition to flexing games from a time slot on Sunday to another time slot on Sunday.
  • Those Saturday games will become a fixture in the new scheduling arrangements for the new TV deals AND there will be flexing opportunities for ESPN and its Monday Night Football package.  Flexing for Monday Night Football was not available in the current deal.
  • ESPN will get three annual Monday Night Football double-headers.  Currently, there is a MNF double-header for the opening week of the season but none to follow after that.  Starting in 2023, there will be three such scheduled events.
  • FOX chose not to bid to continue with Thursday Night Football, but Amazon jumped in with both feet.  FOX will continue through 2023 and Amazon will stream those telecasts as well; then it is all Amazon after that.  I also read a report that said if Amazon grows the Thursday Night Football audience sufficiently, Amazon could claim a wildcard playoff game that would stream exclusively on Amazon.
  • ESPN+ and Paramount+ and Peacock streaming services will all participate to a small extent in the new deals.  ESPN+ will have exclusive rights to one of the NFL’s “International Games”; Peacock also gets an exclusive game for its service.
  • ABC will get 2 Super Bowl game telecasts between now and 2033.  ABC and ESPN are part of Disney Corp; the NFL does not want to put the Super Bowl on a cable network so count ABC’s turn in the barrel here as a tip of the hat to ESPN.

Someone needs to wave a tiny caution flag here.  There is a small measure of danger here involving over-exposure.  Adding Saturday games and adding a 17th game to the regular season and adding Monday double-headers will put more games on as national events.  I use the word “event” there very purposefully.  I believe that one of the fundamental reasons that professional football overtook MLB as the “nation’s pastime” is this one:

  • There are 162 baseball games in a season (2430 games in total) so that any given game is an “occurrence”.
  • There are only 16 NFL games in a regular season (256 games in total), and they are spaced apart by a week meaning that each game is an “event”.

The NFL does not want to over-expose its product and lose the aura of “event-ness” for its regular season games.  The guys in the executive suites need to maintain awareness that every good thing can be overdone.  I am not predicting the demise of professional football here nor am I hoping for such an outcome.  But someone somewhere needs to think about that issue to make sure it never becomes a real issue.

Finally, let me close with an observation made by H.L. Mencken that relates to my tiny caution flag here:

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.”

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



Connecting The Dots…

Where there is a lack of clarity, people tend to interpolate or extrapolate to fill in the gaps; in common parlance, this practice is referred to as “connecting the dots.”  According to reports yesterday, the NFL has allowed Danny Boy Snyder to borrow $450M to buy out the three minority partners who were suing him.  That confrontation had gotten well into the realm of churlishness with one side accusing the other of “extortion” and the other side responding with allegations of “financial shenanigans.”  Lacking clarity in the matter, I am perfectly willing to believe both sides there.

However, the action of the NFL yesterday to render all that acrimony moot causes me to wonder why the league chose to do what it did and how did the timing come to be.  Lacking clarity in that arena, I need to do a bit of interpolating and extrapolating – – sometimes meaning that I put two-and- two together and come up with five.

There is a second shabby set of circumstances ongoing now regarding Danny Boy Snyder.  It was about 8 months ago that the Washington Post published a report by Washington cheerleaders about sexual harassment and a “toxic culture” in the team Front Office.  Two individuals were fired; the “Communications Guru” chose to retire; more women came forward with additional charges; first the team hired a law firm to “investigate” and then the NFL took over that “investigation”.  That was eight months ago; the report of the investigation is still not “available”.

There has been plenty of speculation about the contents of that investigative report to the point that some have wondered if the findings were so sordid that it would cause the league to force Danny Boy Snyder to sell the team.  As  long-term resident of the DC suburbs, I can assure anyone who is reading this that fanboys around here would prefer Hannibal Lecter to own the team if that could be arranged.  The NFL’s action yesterday not only signals that Danny Boy Snyder will continue to own the team, but that he will own about 81% of the team along with the minority shares belonging to his mother and his sister.

Now on to some “dot connecting”.  I cannot believe that the NFL would have cleared the way for that situation to obtain if there was even a 1% chance that the findings of that investigative report suggested that Danny Boy Snyder be forced to sell the team.  The NFL can be ham-handed and stubborn, but the NFL is not stupid.  As I understand the NFL Bylaws, the league can force an owner to sell his franchise if that owner engages in “conduct detrimental to the league.”  Here is the important aspect of that provision to force a sale:

  • The way the determination is made regarding “conduct detrimental to the league” is to have 75% of the owners vote to force a sale on that basis.

So, my first extrapolation here is that the investigative report which has not been available to the public is known to the higher-ups in the NFL if not in full at least to the point that the major findings have been summarized there.  The league mavens have counted heads and are certain that there are not nearly the required 24 votes to force a sale of the Washington Football Team.

That first extrapolation leads to another question that lacks clarity at the moment.

  • What circumstances have led the owners’ votes to fall out the way that is indicated here?

I can think of 3 possibilities; I am certain there are others:

  1. The findings of the report indicate to a sufficient degree of certainty that Danny Boy Snyder is not guilty of anything more than mismanagement of his “Front Office toxic culture” and that the allegations made can be resolved.
  2. The other owners are looking at the newly negotiated broadcast rights deals and cannot see how the 8 months of bad publicity surrounding this situation has done any degree of “detriment to the league”.
  3. The other owners would not want themselves to be under microscopic scrutiny with regard to the behaviors of male team employees regarding female team employees over the past several decades.  And if there were such scrutiny applied, the other owners would not like to have a “forced franchise sale” on the books as a precedent.

All three of these conclusions require “dot connecting” meaning there is uncertainty in all of them.  The first one can be confirmed or denied with the release of the investigative report with only minimal redactions.  I will be surprised if the NFL does that.  I suspect that the NFL would not want to take the chance that there is a demonstrable error of fact in that report which would cast doubt on its findings and reopen this issue(s).  The NFL is not in the business of risk taking and that course of action carries a risk with it.

The second possibility above is very real.  Broadcast rights have – according to reports – just about doubled for the next 10 years or so.  When the last team sold, the reported price was approximately 50% higher than the value of the franchise as estimated by Forbes.  The owners can easily convince themselves and their minority partners – if there are any – that things are looking up.

Regarding that third possibility, my gut tells me that some other owners saw the allegations made against the Front Office of the WTFs and thought to themselves:

  • There but for the Grace of God, goes our organization.

Just about the only aspect of this situation that does not require any extrapolation or interpolation is the fact that the allegations made by women to the Washington Post were published a little more than 8 months ago – – and the clock continues to run…

Finally, regarding the issue of sexual harassment – – allegations of which set in motion much of what I have discussed today – – here is an interesting assessment from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D- MN):

“I have a dream that, one day, maybe we’ll have more women in the Senate than there are victims of Harvey Weinstein’s harassment.”

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



RIP Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor died yesterday.  He was a great collegiate and NBA player in the late 50s through the early 70s; he had the misfortune of playing in the NBA at the same time that Bill Russell and that Celtics dynasty was alive and kicking.  After his playing days, he was the GM of the Clippers for almost 20 years.

Rest in peace, Elgin Baylor.

Before I get to specific game comments from yesterday’s second round Tournament games, let me insert something here that I should have mentioned yesterday.  When Abilene Christian upset Texas in the tournament over the weekend, it had to be a doubly bitter pill for Texas fanboys to swallow:

  • The Longhorns were a 3-seed and got  bounced by a 14-seed.
  • The loss came to a poor-relative school in the State of Texas.

There has been ample evidence over the past 10-15 years that Texas alums hold football coaches on a short and tight leash.  The recent firing of Tom Hermann exemplifies the demanding nature of that impatience on the part of the deep-pocketed boosters.  Because of that impatience, I wonder if this embarrassing basketball loss to Abilene Christian might incite an uprising among Texas alums against coach Shaka Smart.  I think that would be a big mistake – – but when fanboys with deep pockets start to feel that they are not getting what they feel entitled to, there is no telling what might happen next…

Having watched tons of basketball games over the past several days – – total immersion would be a good description – – let me say that I love to watch college basketball on TV, but it does need some rule changes:

  • Teams have too many timeouts.  Look, there are 8 television timeouts built into every game.  This is not a rec league with a “coach” who knows far less about the game than he thinks he does.  Each team should have 1 timeout per half that they may call on their own; the rest of the stoppages will be for TV timeouts.
  • Rules that require the officials to read minds are bad.  Therefore, change the rule on flagrant fouls to the discretion of the individual; the current difference between Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2 fouls needs amicus curiae briefs to be filed and analyzed on the fly.
  • Another discretion rule that needs changing is the “hanging on the rim after a dunk” rule.  Is it OK or is it “excessive”?  Here is my rule; if a player dunks the ball and grabs the rim for ANY REASON, the basket does not count, and it is a technical foul on the dunker.  No need for much interpretation here.  Coaches will take care of teaching that aspect of the game very quickly taking the need for officiating judgement off the table in one off-season.

I have always had my doubts about college sports “Selection Committees” and their ability to deliver a quality product.  I must admit that I did not watch nearly as much college basketball this year as I have in the past, so I had no basis to quarrel with much of the Basketball Selection Committees’ seedings this year.  But seriously…?  Do you believe that all the members of the committee spent enough time WATCHING these teams play – as opposed to watching YouTube highlights and reading accounts of the games?  If so, how did some of these monumentally erroneous seeding come to be?  The problem here is simple; the Committee is made up of too many people who have regular day-jobs that keep them busy 40 hours a week or more; it is not that they do not want to do a good job; they do not have the time to devote to this committee assignment to be able to do a good job.

On to Monday’s games:

  • Iowa/Oregon:  Both offenses were fast, effective and efficient in the 1st half; there were 102 points on the board at halftime.  The Oregon defense was even more impressive than the Oregon offense which scored 95 points for the game.
  • Oklahoma/Gonzaga:  Oklahoma finished 7th in the Big 12 in 2021 regular season; how did that happen?  Could not keep up with Gonzaga but there is no shame in that.  Lots of bad calls by officials on blocking/charging situations in this game.
  • Ohio/Creighton:  With 7:19 to go in the 1st half, the score was 19-19.  The announcer said after a made basket, “Whoo, there’s some shooting going on …”  Not really.  Ohio could have been one of the Tournament Cinderellas, but they coughed it up.
  • Abilene Christian/UCLA:  The Bruins won this game hardly breaking a sweat…
  • Michigan/LSU:  The first half was an evenly matched contest.  The second half was a series of runs by both teams.  In the last 5 minutes, the shot selection by LSU was awful.
  • Florida St./Colorado:  This was a grind-it-out game in the first half by both teams; the Seminoles led 24-20 at the half.  My note from the second half was, “What is a good antonym for ‘intense?”

[Aside: suggests “bland”, “dull” and/or “mild” as possible antonyms for “intense”.  Those are good descriptors here…]

  • Maryland/Alabama:  This game was a blow-out.  One question that kept coming to mind was, “Why does Maryland think it is a good idea to take 3-point shots with not a single Maryland player within 15 feet of the basket to try to rebound a possibly missed shot?”
  • Kansas/USC:  Kansas looked like a 15-seed in the first half and trailed by 19 points at the half.  Then things went all to Hell for the Jayhawks in the second half…

Finally, Brad Dickson – – formerly of the Omaha World-Herald – – must believe that the Governor of Nebraska has been glued to the TV during March Madness:

“Breaking: Apparently after watching too many sporting events, the Nebraska governor is about to announce that businesses can reopen ‘at 110% capacity.’ ”

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



Forty Games In Three Days …

In a previous life, I worked with a woman – – not even remotely a sports fan – – who said she could always tell when her husband was watching a basketball game because of the “squeaking sneakers” she could hear from as far away as another room.  I was reminded of her “observation” over the weekend when I spent tens of hours in front of a TV set listening to “squeaking sneakers” – – and mostly enjoying the Tournament games.  Let me spend today transcribing – – and editing – – some of the notes I took as I watched various games.

  • Texas Southern/Mount St. Mary:  Texas Southern plays at a frenetic pace; lots of motion but little comes from all that motion.  If this were a regular season game between these two teams, I would change the channel quickly.
  • Drake/Wichita St:  Ho hum …

Great to see that Capital One will bring us a new set of ads featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee.  They have added Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Jim Nantz – – so far – – to the ads.  These ads are an entertaining addition to the games.

  • Va Tech/Florida:  Excellent game; hotly contested start to finish.
  • Colgate/Arkansas:  Colgate is surprisingly good; expected them to shrivel up against better athletes.  Game is still close after 30 minutes.  Brendan Haywood is doing color here and his praise for the players and the game goes beyond effusive and enters “verbal orgasm territory”.  Cut back on the caffeine, man…
  • Ohio St./Oral Roberts:  Ohio St. is a top team in the Big 10?  The conference should be ashamed.
  • Georgia Tech/Loyola-Chicago:  Two evenly matched teams that put on a very entertaining game.
  • Oregon St./Tennessee:  Oregon St. dominated the first half and won the game on cruise control.
  • Illinois/Drexel & Baylor/Hartford:  Gigantic mismatches.  Clear from the start these were not meaningful games.
  • Oklahoma St./Liberty:  in the first half, Liberty was the better team on the floor, but OSU took over in the 2nd half.  Cade Cunning ham does a lot of traveling…
  • UNC/Wisconsin:  Wisconsin dominated the game.  I cannot ever recall so much 1-on-1 offense from a Wisconsin team.
  • Purdue/N. Texas:  Purdue looked sluggish for the first half and for the first 8 minutes of the second half.  They woke up enough to force OT but lost in the extra period.
  • Villanova/Winthrop:  The first half was close and exciting; not so much in the second half.  If Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (a freshman) stays at Villanova for four years, the Wildcats are going to be very good in 2024.
  • Rutgers/Clemson:  The first half was as ugly a game as I can recall in the Tournament.  The final 6 minutes were interesting if not exciting.
  • Georgetown/Colorado:  Patrick Ewing was a great player; Patrick Ewing is a mediocre in-game coach.  Hoyas were dominated in the first half and no adjustments to offer.  Georgetown cannot shoot and all they did was 1-on-1 offensive basketball.  This was a train-wreck.
  • Fla St./UNC-Greensboro:  Quickly saw that Fla St. was bigger AND faster than UNCG so I figured there was no need to watch this game – – but every time I checked in the score was close.
  • Kansas/E. Washington:  Both teams play in overdrive.  Score at half time was 46-38; the scoreboard operator was likely in shock.
  • Michigan/Texas Southern:  Stat at the beginning of the game said that Tex. So. is the worst team in the country in 3-point shooting percentage.  That means they have NO chance against an opponent with superior talent.  Indeed…
  • Alabama/Iona:  Rick Pitino made the game slow and ugly and ‘Bama only led by one point at the half.  Superior talent prevailed in the second half…
  • UCSB/Creighton:  This game was close from start to finish.  How was this a game between a #5 seed and a #12 seed?
  • USC/Drake:  Drake was competitive in the first half – – but the game has two halves…
  • Iowa/Grand Canyon:  No drama or mystery here…
  • Maryland/UConn:  The Terps were clearly the better team on the floor.
  • Ohio/UVa:  Cavs have recently lost to a #16 seed in the Tournament and won the National Championship and now have lost to a mediocre team from Ohio U.  Who writes these scripts?
  • Gonzaga/Norfolk St.:  Never in doubt …
  • Abilene Christian/Texas:  Frenetic defense by Abilene Christian and dismal shooting and discipline by Texas created this massive upset.

We had a coronavirus “intervention” when VCU had to forfeit its game against Oregon based on the COVID-19 protocols in place.  I seriously hope that is the only time the virus will get any sort of billing in this Tournament…

Then came the Sunday games to winnow the field down to the Sweet 16.  [Aside: If anyone here says they had a perfect bracket after the Round of 64, I want to see a notarized copy of that bracket dated prior to the Tournament tipoff.]

  • Illinois/Loyola-Chicago:  Officials certainly “let ‘em play” in the first half and Loyola led 33-24 at the half.  There were a few “ticky-tack calls” in the second half, but Loyola was the better team in that half as well.  Illinois was outplayed and outcoached.
  • Wisconsin/Baylor:  This game pitted a team that wins with fundamentals against a team that wins with its athleticism.  The disparity in athleticism was most evident comparing the 2 defenses.

The announcing teams do this in almost all the games but somehow it seemed to be a running narrative in this one.  There is no great insight in telling viewers that the team trailing in the game “has to get  some stops” if they are going to be successful in catching up in the score.  That is self-evident and announcers have made it a cliché,

  • Syracuse/West Virginia:  Syracuse led by 6 at the half even though Buddy Boeheim only had 3 points.  Bad omen for the Mountaineers…
  • Arkansas/Texas Tech:  Two evenly matched teams.  Arkansas has better athletes and Texas Tech uses a swarming defense to disrupt opponents.  This game has more contact than a football game.
  • Rutgers/Houston:  Houston is the master of the unforced error; how did that team get a #2 seeding from the Selection Committee?

Here is another announcing trope that needs to be retired.  When a team is trailing, it is vacuous to say that its star player “needs to get involved”.  Of course he does; any dimwit knows that; tell us what he needs to do differently so that his “involvement” is more productive.

  • Oral Roberts/Florida:  Florida has the better players and more of them – – but Florida committed a ton of turnovers [turns out it was 20 turnovers] and managed to lose the game.  Oral Roberts never gives up…
  • Villanova/North Texas:  N/ Texas led 21-13 and then the ceiling fell in on them; it wound up 47-27 in favor of Villanova at the half.
  • Oregon St./Oklahoma St.:  Two schools referred to as ‘OSU” meet here.  Oregon St. went on a tear in the first half and led by 14 at the half.  Beavers won comfortably.  After seeing Cade Cunningham twice this weekend I wonder if he has been over-hyped just a bit.

The Tournament this year has had more upsets than usual and some of the traditionally strong conferences have come up short.  The Big-10 has not been covered in glory with the way Ohio St. and Illinois were sent home.  As of this morning, the only ACC team in the Sweet 16 is Syracuse – – hardly a team with a long history of representing that conference.  Sunday was a bad day for the Big-12 even though Baylor won and will represent the conference in the Sweet 16;  Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma St. all lost on Sunday.

As things stand now, there could be a Final Four game between Oral Roberts and Loyola-Chicago.  How is that a step on the way to “normalcy”?

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“The NCAA is challenging a group of Virginia urologists for using the term “Vasectomy Mayhem,” claiming it might “result in confusion” with the college organization’s March Madness nickname.

“To which we say, if you don’t recognize the vas deferens — er, difference — you probably don’t have any business buying basketball tickets.”

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



Returning To Normalcy?

It had been 2 years since I was able to watch the NCAA basketball tournament – – the event that I believe is the single best annual sporting event in the US.  The fact that what I had access to last evening were the play-in games was suboptimal, but it was still the win-or-go-home basketball tournament environment and I was in front of my TV set from tip off until the end of the overtime in the fourth game of the evening.  Let me make a couple of general observations:

  • The officials in the UCLA/Michigan St. game may have been auditioning for jobs in the NBA.  They certainly ignored enough traveling violations last night to demonstrate to the NBA mavens that they have that part of their officiating duties down pat.
  • Appalachian St. is the Sun Belt Conference Champion and Norfolk St. is the MEAC Champion.  If those are really the BEST teams in those conferences, then maybe the NCAA needs to re-examine the concept of “automatic bids” to the tournament.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that two of the four games yesterday were 1-point games and another went to OT, there was not a lot of quality basketball on display.  The fundamental reason it was good television is that the games were close and they had tournament finality attached to them.

Earlier this week, a report on The Dan Patrick Show, said that the Chicago Bears had offered the Seattle Seahawks three first round draft picks plus a third-round draft pick plus two starters (The individuals were not identified.) in exchange for Russell Wilson.  The Seahawks dismissed that offer.  Let us assume for a moment that report to be 100% accurate:

  • That offer – and its rejection – sets the market for a Top-tier franchise QB in the NFL.  Wilson still has years of productive play in him to a degree that a couple of other Top-tier franchise QBs cannot project.  The message sent by the Seahawks here is that it will take some sort of offer on a galactic scale for them to consider trading away Russell Wilson.
  • There have been reports that Wilson is “miffed” with the Seahawks’ organization and he indicated that he wanted to be traded to either the Bears, Cowboys Raiders or Saints.  Of those 4, three have resolved their QB situation for next year in free agency; the Raiders might seek to upgrade from Derek Carr to Russell Wilson – – but the Raiders now know the sort of price tag such an upgrade will carry.
  • Russell Wilson is under contract to the Seahawks through the end of the 2023 season; at that time, he will be 35  years old.  He will earn a total of $70M – plus possible incentives – over the course of his existing contract.  Theoretically, he can be a free agent going into the 2024 season absent the Seahawks placing a franchise tag on him.  What that tells me is that he and the Seahawks’ organization need to find a détente sometime soon because they are going to be in a co-existence paradigm for quite a while.

Two other NFL QB “situations” moved to completion in the last week that might be interesting.  Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the WTFs and seems to be the leader in the competition for the starting QB job there.  This will be Fitzpatrick’s 9th NFL team; that made me wonder if any other player had been with more NFL teams.  They have:

  • JT O’Sullivan and Josh McCown have both suited up for 12 different NFL teams.
  • Fitzpatrick will turn 39 in mid-season this year, so it is not impossible for him to perambulate around the league to 3 other teams before hanging up the jockstrap for good…

[Aside:  Kevin Glenn has been a QB in the CFL since 2001.  He holds the distinction of having been on every team in the CFL during that time.  In fact, he has been on the Saskatchewan Roughriders three times and on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for two different stints.  If Kevin Glenn has not yet been named Man of the Year by Royal Canadian Van Lines, he certainly should be.]

The other NFL QB situation that seems to have resolved itself last week was the signing of Cam Newton by the Patriots.  The first reports said that the deal was for 1-year and $12M which seemed outrageous to me.  As more details of the contract were reported, that $12M figure is attached to a load of team and personal incentives; should they all be achieved, the Pats would be happy to deposit $12M in Newton’s bank account.  It seems that about $5M of that $12M is what is guaranteed.

My surprise here is that it never appeared to me in watching the Patriots last year that Cam Newton’s strengths as a QB fit into the offense that the Pats like to run. Frankly, I thought the Pats would make a run at Ryan Fitzpatrick if they were in the market for a QB on a 1-year deal or for Andy Dalton if they wanted to sign a veteran who could play a couple more years.  Maybe this means the Patriots are going to change their offensive “philosophy”?  We shall see…

Finally, consider this NFL-related observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Technology? They don’t need no stinking technology.

“’Thanks to GPS, they can identify the location of your phone within one inch of anywhere on the planet,” noted comedy writer Alex Kaseberg. ‘But the NFL still measures first downs with two sticks and a chain.’”

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



Let The Tournament Begin …

          The NCAA Tournament swings into action this evening with its 4 play-in games.  Even before the first layup line takes place, there has been a COVID-19 angle to the event in Indianapolis; the NCAA had to send home 6 of the officials who were selected to officiate the games.  A positive test for one of the officials disqualified him and contact tracing protocols revealed close contact with the “infected official” by five other officials.  The NCAA had anticipated the potential for officials to become infected and had invited 4 “spare officials” to Indianapolis to cover for any that might need to be sent home.  According to tournament organizers, those 4 officials will now be put in the regular rotation and that they will not be inviting any other “spare officials” to Indianapolis.

Originally, the NCAA had planned to have 4 teams waiting in the wings just in case one of the tournament teams cannot make it to their opening game due to pandemic protocols.  The idea was, if that happens, one of those 4 stand-by teams will be substituted into the bracket.  That was to apply only to the first game in the bracket; after that round, if a team could not put 5 eligible players on the court for a game, the opponent would be declared the winner and would advance.

Yesterday, the NY Times reported that the NCAA had reversed course and that there would be no “substitute teams” even in the first round of the tournament.  At some point, someone somewhere is going to use this ”disappointing circumstance” to justify a call to expand the tournament beyond 68 teams.  I will take this opportunity before the fact to label that “justification” as BALDERDASH!

In the tournament field this year, there is a team that arrives with a record that I have never seen in normal times.  The Colgate Red Raiders are seeded #14 in their bracket and will face the Arkansas Razorbacks tomorrow.  Here is the oddity of the Colgate schedule and record:

  • Colgate is in the Patriot League and the conference schedule was altered in response to COVID-19.  They played no out-of-conference games.
  • Colgate is 14-1 as of today.  However, they have only faced 5 opponents.  Colgate is 5-0 against Boston University, 4-0 against Holy Cross, 3-1 against Army, 1-0 against Bucknell and 1-0 against Loyola.
  • Colgate is a high-scoring team – against Patriot League opposition.  In 5 of their 15 games, they have scored more than 90 points and in two games they scored more than 100 points.

Colgate and Arkansas meet tomorrow at 12:45 PM EDT.  The game will be on truTV.  I will use that game as one of my anchors during that time slot because I want to see how Colgate can stand up to an SEC team that had a 22-6 record this year.  If you want to check out the game, you probably should spend a moment today to find truTV on your cable system.  I have not watched any truTV programming since the NCAA Tournament two years ago and I had to “re-discover truTV” and it whereabouts…

Indianapolis is also the scene for sports news in a different sport today.  Now that the trade for Carson Wentz from the Eagles to the Colts is official, there will be an introductory press conference in Indy organized by the Colts.  These sorts of introductory press conferences are not unusual and rarely if ever produce anything other than unbridled optimism and total joy on the part of all participants.  I cannot recall a new player or a new coach saying at his introductory press conference that he would rather be just about anywhere else.  However, there is a wrinkle in the press conference scheduled for later today:

  • The Philly press that covers the Eagles is not invited; and if they show up, they will not be allowed to ask any questions according to one of the Eagles’ beat reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

This is not a good “optic” notwithstanding the fact that the press in Philly can be dogged and aggressive in their questioning.  Here is the issue:

  • Whether or not this was reality, there were reports that part of the schism between Wentz and the Eagles’ coaching staff was his unwillingness to take “tough coaching”.
  • Staging his inaugural event in Indy as one where “tough questions” would be avoided simply by precluding anyone who might be predisposed to ask a tough question plays into the “doesn’t like tough coaching narrative”.
  • In defense of the Colts’ decision here, Carson Wentz’ departure from Philadelphia involved a rupture between the team and the player AND it also involved a rupture between the player and the local media.  Carson Wentz was benched at halftime of a loss to the Packers in the first week of December.  He refused to speak to anyone in the press in Philly since then.  It is not unreasonable on the part of the Colts’ communications mavens to anticipate the potential for a suboptimal circumstance there.

Finally, speaking of NFL QBs and staged press events where the world is viewed through rose colored glasses, consider this point made by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Straight talk: Ron Rivera’s disclosure that he was afraid to play Alex Smith last season for fear the Washington Football Team quarterback would injure his surgically repaired leg again — ‘I struggled with that every day’ — is as honest and human a response as you’ll hear from an NFL coach.”

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



The 2021 Olympics in Japan Come July

The 2021 Olympic Games – – which were supposed to be the 2020 Olympic Games – – are slated to begin in about 4 months in Tokyo.  There remains some uncertainty about the Games, but the IOC has said that if they need to be postponed in 2021, the Games will be canceled, and all future IOC energy will be focused on the Games scheduled for 2024.  So, what is the current status?

The Japanese oversight organization for staging the Olympic Games had been headed by Yoshiro Mori who used to be the Prime Minister of Japan.  He found it necessary to resign from that post after making a sexist comment saying that he thought women talk too much in meetings.  Interestingly, he was replaced in that leadership role by a woman – – Seiko Hashimoto – – who had previously represented Japan in the Olympics as a speedskater.  Sports organizations internationally do not have large representations of women in leadership roles; Japan is not the only venue where males dominate the top spots.  There is some sentiment that if Ms. Hashimoto leads these games through to a smooth and safe end point, it will strike a blow for women who seek to advance along that career path.

In that sense, I sincerely hope that Ms. Hashimoto wins the day.  If she does, she will do so with more than the normal burden of organizing and control associated with a “normal” set of Olympic Games.  The COVID-19 pandemic will not be history by July 2021, but it will be better than it was last July and better than it is here in mid-March 2021.  Vaccine availability and vaccination rates get better by the week in developed countries and in the developing world.  The trend is in a positive direction; the unknown is what the status will be in July…

Some countries have placed a priority on getting their Olympic athletes vaccinated; if that were to happen nearly worldwide, that would make the Olympic Village and the events themselves safer by no small margin.  And that leads to a potential ethical question for the IOC and the Japanese hosts:

  • What to do with an athlete who is not vaccinated?

An even thornier question might be:

  • If Athlete A is not vaccinated because vaccine was unavailable in his country, should s/he be treated in the same way that Athlete B is treated if Athlete B was presented with the vaccine and refused to take it?

To my mind, any and all of the logistical and ethical questions involving the athletes pale in comparison to the questions about spectators for the Games.  On one hand, it is the presence of spectators – and the money they will bring with them and spend in Japan – that will reduce the economic burden created by the costs associated with hosting the Games.  If history is any guide, the Japanese taxpayer will not break even on this deal even if there were to be no travel or social restrictions come July.  However, with every restriction that is put on attendees, the amount of red ink will increase.

Obviously, I have no idea what sorts of regulations may be in place in Japan in July, but it would not shock me to learn that there could be limitations placed on capacities at hotels and restaurants and bars in addition to capacity limitations on the events themselves.  Might the immigration authorities demand that visitors from countries where the pandemic is “less controlled” show proof of vaccination?  Will every spectator need to submit to a COVID-19 test prior to entering the event venue?  This is not going to be walk in the park for the Game organizers.

Keeping a good thought here, let me assume that things break right, and thousands of athletes arrived in Japan ready and able to participate.  There will be the normal contingent of Olympic events including track and field, swimming, gymnastics, equestrian events …  In addition, there will be 5 “new” sports on display this time:

  1. Baseball/Softball:  These events return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008 when the Games were in Beijing.
  2. Karate:  Evidently, people have advocated for karate to be part of the Olympics for several decades; I did not know that.  Since the original Olympic Games were intended to demonstrate various skills associated with warfare and combat, karate seems like a good fit to me.
  3. Skateboarding:  Believe it or not, there are two variants of skateboarding.  One is referred to as “street skateboarding” where the course emulates a street with steps and handrails and curbs.  The other variant is “park skateboarding” where the course itself presents hills and slopes and complex obstacles.  [Aside: even with this new information, I shall not be spending any time watching even a moment of this competition.]
  4. Sport Climbing:  Athletes here will scale a vertical wall.  I guess this is like the hundred-meter dash staged at right angles to one another…
  5. Surfing:  I would watch Skateboarding before watching surfing.  ‘Nuff said…

Just for perspective here, there used to be an “Dueling pistols” event in the Olympics more than 100 years ago.  In one incarnation, contestants fired actual bullets at plaster dummies at distances of 20 meters and 30 meters.  In the other incarnation, contestants fired wax bullets at each other.

Finally, since  today has been about the 2021 Olympic Games, let me close with a comment by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle about the opening ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics in London:

“They should’ve had Keith Richards light the Olympic flame by flicking a cigarette butt.”

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