Justifying Justify’s Failed Blood Test

I have had a nagging suspicion that Bob Baffert had gotten special treatment – – kid gloves actually – – in previous incidents where his horses had improper substances in their blood after a race.  Obviously, I had no evidence; but his fame and his success seemed to be “factors” whenever racing authorities closed one of his cases.  In this morning’s Washington Post, there is a report by Gus Garcia-Roberts based on “confidential records” obtained by the Post.  These are not the Pentagon Papers, but they are records from the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) as that body investigated 2018 Kentucky Derby winner, Justify, and his failed drug test at Santa Anita prior to the Derby.

Here is the lead paragraph from a lengthy – and well written – report:

“In 2018, as star trainer Bob Baffert led his thoroughbred Justify to the Triple Crown, California regulators embarked on a secret effort to exonerate Baffert after the horse’s positive test for a banned substance, according to confidential records obtained by The Washington Post that fully detail the saga for the first time.”

The most damning part of this report in my mind is that as this investigative process proceeded, the CHRB rewrote its own rules so that they would be more lenient regarding Justify’s blood test and to the possible avenues for its appearance in those blood analyses.  You can read the report at www.washingtonpost.com.

Currently, Baffert is suspended from racing in NY for 2 years; he is contesting that suspension in court.  I do not understand the legal issues involved nearly well enough to pontificate on how it might turn out.  However, if the NY racing mavens have not done anything that is illegal, it would be a good thing for horse racing as a sport to come down hard on a highly successful trainer who has a history of bending – and sometimes breaking – some of the fundamental rules of racing in place to make the sport fair.

Switching gears …  The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin on 23 July; that is a mere 3 weeks and 2 days from today.  As of this morning, things are “GO” for the Games.  There is still some apprehension among Japanese people about holding the games in a time when COVID is not under greater control in Japan, but it seems as if organizers and the government in Japan believe the Games can be handled safely.

Vaccination rates in Japan are not good; as of yesterday, only a little more than 8% of the population of Japan were fully vaccinated.  Two factors have hindered progress there with regard to vaccinations:

  1. There was governmental bureaucratic infighting that went on for a few months putting Japan well behind the rest of the developed countries in terms of acquiring large numbers of doses of the various vaccines.
  2. Now that vaccines are available, officials there face an existing Japanese law that says only licensed physicians and RNs may administer shots.  That is a restriction to be sure, but it is magnified by the fact that Japan had a shortage of health care workers even before anyone ever heard of COVID-19.

For anyone planning to travel to Japan with the hope – but not nearly any certainty – of seeing some of the competitions there, this is what the CDC offers as guidance:

  • The coronavirus risk in Japan is considered HIGH.
  • Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to Japan.
  • Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Japan.
  • Because of the current situation in Japan, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.

Moving on …  Here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“CARL NASSIB: Finally! NFL Has first openly gay, active player: The Las Vegas Raiders defensive end is a journeyman 28-year-old with his third team in five years. But this week, forever more, Carl Nassib was to be defined for his history making more than his football. Not since Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 has sports had a more groundbreaking ‘first.’”

I have exactly no problem with Carl Nassib’s sexual preferences.  I am not shocked, titillated nor offended by his proclamation.  I do take issue with Greg Cote on three far less “exciting” points in his comment than Nassib’s announcement itself:

  1. Wasn’t Michael Sam openly gay when he was drafted by the Rams in 2014 and when he spent a  year with the Cowboys?
  2. I think the comparison with Jackie Robinson is a real stretch.  Blacks were not permitted to play in the major leagues until Robinson came along; gay men were not barred from the NFL – and potentially lucrative careers there; gay men only needed to keep their gayness  quiet.  Neither situation is a good one, but what Black men faced regarding baseball 75-100 years ago was far worse because Black men could hot hide or disguise their skin color.
  3. I believe the real situation that deserves the description “forever more” is the time when there will be no such announcements of sexual preference by athletes, celebrities, politicians or “ordinary Joes” simply because it does not matter enough to merit an announcement.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from Mae West that seems appropriate:

“Those that are easily offended should be offended more often.”

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



Hither, Thither And Yon…

Just to manage expectations here, yesterday’s rant was about the US Supreme Court and some impending major changes to college sports in America.  Today’s rant will not come close to that level of gravitas or stature; today represents a return to normalcy for these rants – – minimal focus on important stuff…

Before I went on hiatus, I made a note of an interesting entry in the Transactions listings in my edition of the Washington Post.  I always scan through these listings – when the folks assembling the paper find the space to include them in their agate type – looking for anything that might be interesting.  On June 14th, I ran across two entries in juxtaposition:

Los Angeles Angels:  Claimed INF Jack Mayfield off waivers from Seattle.

And …

Los Angeles Dodgers:  Claimed INF Jack Mayfield off waivers from Seattle.

I guess the good news for Jack Mayfield is that he only needs to buy one house in the LA area, and he can collect two salaries at the same time.  That should pay off the mortgage quickly…

Last week, Bob Molinaro had this item in his column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

TV timeout: LeBron and the Celtics and Knicks went out early. No Steph Curry, either. Yet NBA playoff viewership is higher than it’s been in many years. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that says the league and players have alienated America.”

I think there might be an alternate explanation here.  I believe that the NBA has alienated some of the fanbase with its constant posturing on a variety of social justice issues, but that is a far cry from “alienating America”.  I think that the TV audience is happy to see new teams and new players on the prominent stage that the NBA playoffs offer.  I, for one, am happy to see folks like Trae Young and Khris Middleton and Deandre Ayton and Kevin Booker ply their trade this far into the playoff structure.

In the past, NBA fans have seen many playoff games involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.  Those are great players; I have no intent to talk down their abilities or their accomplishments.  It is the fact that they are great players that has put them – and their teams – in so many playoff positions over the past decade or so.  This year’s NBA Playoffs could steal a line from the introduction to Monty Python’s Flying Circus:

  • “And now for something completely different…”

I find this  year’s “different” rather “refreshing” …

Moving on …  Football is a huge deal in the SEC and football at Georgia is one of the hottest of the hotbeds in that part of the world.  Looking ahead to the 2021 season, fans of the Dawgs can look forward to these three things at home games in Sanford Stadium:

  1. Full capacity seating
  2. Added “premium seating”
  3. Reduced concession prices

No, the third item on that list is not a typo.  The school decided to cut the prices of bottled water, soda, popcorn and hot dogs by about 50%.  The explanation is that the school has saved a bunch of money over the last several years by changing its ticketing procedures such that tickets are handled on mobile devices instead of in hard copy.  The savings are being passed along.

[Aside:  It is good at this point in 2021 for the folks at UGa to plan for “full stadiums” so long as the powers that be at UGa recognize that coronavirus mutations and variants might cause them to alter their thinking sometime down the road.]

In a related item – that might demonstrate the magnitude of a live gate revenue stream – consider the Las Vegas Raiders.  The team’s new stadium opened last season to plenty of praise – – except for one thing.  More than a few fans complained that parking near the stadium was inadequate; the team acknowledged those sentiments and set out to remedy the problem.  Recently, the Raiders announced that for this season they will have 35,000 parking spaces within a mile of the stadium for home games and that there will be shuttle bus service to the distant parking sites.  They also announced that the average price for a parking spot at the various sites – – obviously, distance dependent – – will be $70.

That allows me to do some math:

  • $70 X 35,000 spaces  =  $2.45M per game
  • $2.45M per game X 9 home games in 2021  =  $22.05M

That amount is less than 10% of the revenue that will flow to the Raiders from the national TV contracts for the NFL, but $22M is not something to be brushed aside as a trifle.  And this revenue stream is only from car parking; it does not include the price of the ticket, or the money spent on food and beverages on site.

Finally, the aforementioned Raiders previously played out of Oakland, CA (twice) and that leads me to close today with an observation about Oakland by novelist/playwright Gertrude Stein:

“The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn’t any there there.”

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



The Supreme Court Ruling NCAA v. Alston

The US Supreme Court rarely does anything that generates a comment here.  These rants deal with matters that are beneath the level of societal import at which the Justices engage.  However, for the second time in about 3 years, the Supreme Court has ruled on a “sports case” in such a way as to pave the way for change.

Three years ago, the Court struck down PASPA and opened up sports betting opportunities in any State that wished to have such an activity and legislated its regulation.  Any sports fan who has been paying even passing attention realizes the impact of that ruling.  Last week, the Court ruled on a case known as NCAA v. Alston.  Based on the analyses I have read by people far more schooled in legal matters, Alston opens the doors for sweeping changes in the way college athletics are governed and administered in the US.  I will not pretend to know more than they do; so, let me offer up what I see as possible consequences of the ruling in NCAA v. Alston.

First off, it is important to note that the decision last week was a 9-0 decision.  Justices from across the philosophical spectrum of the Court all agreed that Alston was the winner here.  That unanimity could be important should any future case come to the Court where Alston would be a relevant precedent.  Having said that, the way I read the Court decision is that it is sharply focused.  It seems to me that the Court only said – unanimously – that the Federal anti-trust laws apply to the NCAA just as they do to business entities.  This decision does not  demand that the NCAA begin to pay college athletes starting tomorrow or anything nearly so “cataclysmic”; but it sure does seem to leave the door ajar for a challenge to the hallowed concept of “amateurism” that the NCAA clings to.

What Alston specifically will allow – because these were the bases of the original suit against the NCAA – is for collegiate athletes to receive “education-related items” as part of their “compensation” for attending a school and playing their sport.  Moreover, the value of those “education-related items” cannot be capped by the NCAA who argued that without caps there would be recruiting advantages for certain schools thereby tilting the playing fields.  [Aside:  As if such disparities do not exist now…]  The “education-related items” in this context mean things like:

  • Laptops
  • Paid internships – – in addition to unpaid ones
  • Post-graduate employment opportunities
  • Post-graduate educational opportunities

When I look at that list – and even if I mentally add a few things of similar standing to that list – I have to ask myself how and why this case was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court.  The mavens at the NCAA expended the energy and the legal fees to take a case involving internships and laptops to the Supreme Court.  That means they thought it was more important to do that than it would have been to work on meaningful reform of their rules, regulations and relationships with their “student-athletes”.  Can it be that no one in the entire organization stood up on his/her hind legs and said something equivalent to:

  • What the Hell are we doing here?

There are lots of advocates out there who believe that college athletes need to be paid and that there is plenty of money to pay them handsomely.  There is plenty of momentum in that direction; intercollegiate athletics will be quite different twenty years from now.  So, let me pump the brakes here for a moment.  I want to look at college athletics in light of the decision in Alston with which I agree completely and what might happen down the road.

College athletes are already paid for their services.  Please, do not allow activists in that area to pretend they are not.  Anyone can argue that they are not paid sufficiently or proportional to the revenue they create, but please remember that they are paid for their services.  College athletes get:

  • Free tuition
  • Free room and board
  • Free tutoring
  • Enhanced medical “coverage”
  • “Cost-of-attendance” stipends

The general student body does not get those things and those things are plenty valuable.  College athletes do not get the cash equivalent of those things – nor are they given the option to convert them to a cash payment – but they receive things that are of value.  Moreover, college athletes get these “benefits” which have value and pay no tax on that value.  Obviously, the total value of that sort of stuff will vary from school to school so it is difficult to come up with an estimated value; my guess is that package is worth about $125K if an average student tried to purchase it on the open market.

Those who argue that college athletes need to be paid for their services are actually arguing that they should be paid more than they are currently being paid – – but that rhetoric is not nearly as compelling or powerful than alleging that the college athletes are toiling on the fields and courts as unpaid serfs.  Balderdash…!

The issue of NIL – – athletes’ Name/Image/Likeness – is about to blow up in the face of the NCAA and the way the NCAA seems to be trying to address it is to ask Congress to give it immunity from being sued for anything past or present that relates to NIL.

  • Memo to NCAA:  Be careful what you wish for.  If Congress gives you that immunity, you will necessarily have to answer to the Congress on lots of other issues and that cure could well be worse than the current disease.

Just as in the case of Alston and especially considering the decision last week in that case, the NCAA is at least a 20-1 underdog to win a case giving them authority over NIL rights should they choose once again to expend the legal costs of pursuing such a matter.  If such a matter went to court, I would characterize the NCAA as a modern-day Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill only to have it roll back down the hill so he can try again tomorrow.  There is a fundamental flaw in my analogy here and I recognize it:

  • Sisyphus was in this predicament because the gods compelled him to be there.
  • The NCAA would be doing this by choice.

Ergo, my only conclusion would be that the NCAA is collectively so stupid that the following applies to everyone there:

  • The only thing they can learn from past mistakes is how to make bigger and more painful mistakes in the future.

The issue of NIL will probably not be an unvarnished win for college athletes, however.  Consider that NIL rights had been available to Trevor Lawrence for all his years as the QB at Clemson when just about everyone had projected him to be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft all the way back in his freshman year.  He could have made lots of money over those three seasons licensing and monetizing his name, image and likeness.

Now consider an imaginary woman who is the star of Clemson’s lacrosse team…  [Aside: I do not know if Clemson even fields a lacrosse team; this is a metaphor.]  This woman – – call her Suzy Flabeetz, the twin sister of Joe – – is not going to get nearly the same number of opportunities to license her NIL as Trevor Lawrence would nor would Ms. Flabeetz be paid at the same licensing rate as Lawrence.  If you want to chalk that up to inherent sexism in American society, have at it.  The fact remains that fewer people are going to pay less money to the star athlete on the women’s lacrosse team than they will for the star QB on the football team.  Maybe those roles will be reversed over the next 100 years, but they are not going to be reversed next week just because college athletes can now control their name, imaging and license rights.

There are many different categories of laws.  There are laws of science that cannot be “overturned”.  Astronomers deal with Newton’s Laws and Kepler’s Laws; anyone working in fields related to electrochemistry must come to grips with Faraday’s Law; electricians have no choice but to accept Ohm’s Law.  Then there are laws that result from legislative bodies – or autocrats – which are subsequently enforced by other human beings and interpreted by courts.  That is the sort of thing that results in NCAA v. Alston and/or Brown v. Board of Education.  And then there are “Laws” that do not have similar stature or standing.

  • Mention Murphy’s Law to anyone; they know it; they have seen it in action.
  • Mention the Peter Principle to anyone; they know it; they have seen it in action.
  • Mention Parkinson’s Law to a program manager; he/she deals with it daily.

There is the potential here for the application of The Law of Unintended Consequences.  I need not delve into the depths of that law; everyone knows it exists and how it can insert itself into various issues and conflicts.  So, how might it apply here…?

In a consenting opinion, Justice Kavanaugh seemed to write that the athletes in minor sports should be able to bargain collectively over benefits that would apply to specific minor sports teams.  Collective bargaining has been around for a long time, and it has a strong standing in American jurisprudence.  However, this is where “Unintended Consequences” might tumble down:

  • Business entities collectively bargain with organizations that represent employees of that business entity.  General Motors bargains with the United Auto Workers who provide GM with people to build their cars.  GM does not collectively bargain with the folks who provide and maintain the coffee machines and the vending machines in the break rooms of their factories.  The people providing that service are not GM employees.
  • If the NCAA collectively bargains with some or all its “student-athletes”, they begin to take on the flavor of employees of either the NCAA or the schools represented by the NCAA.  For the purposes here, the only important point is that athletes could morph into employees.
  • When employees are compensated for their labor/services, those employees pay federal, State and Local income taxes on that compensation.  Scholarships and fellowships that provide for things other than tuition and course-related expenses are supposed to be reported as income on the Federal tax return.  The instructions for Form 1040 say explicitly, “…amounts used for room, board and travel must be reported on Line 1.”
  • Suddenly, athletes will need to hire tax accountants to handle their filings.  Absent that, they might run afoul of the tax laws and the NCAA will surely have an eligibility standard ready to be implemented for “tax cheats”.

The Supreme Court did sports fans a great service three years ago in throwing out PASPA and then again last week in its unanimous ruling in Alston.  My only cautionary note here is that we should not expect monumental changes in the landscape of college athletics overnight.  Change will come, and change will be significant; but now is the time for a reassessment of where we are and what various paths forward might do to the fabric of college sports.

Let me close this rant today with an observation about sports by the English writer, George Orwell:

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play.  It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

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



On Hiatus …

These rants will go on hiatus for the rest of this week while I attend to some travel and family matters.  My plan is to be back on the air next Monday, June 28th.

Until then, stay safe and stay well everyone…



Monday Morning Mishmash…

The NBA playoffs took two interesting turns over the weekend.  On Saturday night, the Bucks went into Brooklyn and eliminated the Nets in a Game 7 that went to overtime.   It was the first road victory of the series, and it came despite another heroic effort by the Nets’ Kevin Durant.  Watching the game, it was obvious to me that he was having a monster night on the court and the box score confirms that observation:

  • Durant played all 53 minutes.  He had 48 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot.

James Harden also played a great game considering that he was playing on a partially torn hamstring.  Here are Harden’s numbers for the night:

  • Harden played all 53 minutes.  He had 22 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot.

The box score for that game tells an additional story; it points to the factor that gave the Bucks the win.  Compare the contributions “off-the-bench”:

  • The Nets played 8 players.  The three players off-the-bench combined to contribute 19 minutes of playing time, zero points, zero shot attempts, 2 rebounds and 1 assist.
  • The Bucks also played 8 players.  The three players off-the-bench combined to contribute 29 minutes of playing time, 9 points, five shot attempts, 5 rebounds and zero assists.
  • The Bucks’ bench did not cover itself in glory there, but those players were at least sufficiently engaged to take a shot in their time on the floor.

In the other game, the Hawks beat the Sixers in a Game 7.  In baseball, there have been times when a specific player gets himself into a state where he cannot execute the simplest of tasks in the game.  The Mets had a catcher who could not throw the ball back to the pitcher without a half-dozen “false starts” in the process.  There have been infielders – second basemen seem to be “prone to this infection” – who could not pick up a ground ball and make a routine throw to first base.  MLB pitchers who have been pitching with pinpoint accuracy for years suddenly get to the point where they cannot keep the ball in an area where the catcher can put a glove on the ball – – let alone the strike zone.  This condition is called “The Yips”.

I think the Sixers’ Ben Simmons has a mild case of “The Yips”; and since there is no known cure for “The Yips”, he and the Sixers have to pray that the condition is not progressive.  Simmons is under contract with the Sixers through the end of the 2024/25 season  and the team still owes him $147M.  Last night, Simmons scored 5 points and only attempted 4 shots in 38 minutes.  That is a meager return on investment for the Sixers and if “The Yips” are progressive …

In a column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had this item:

Waiting: Shouldn’t the investigation into sexual harassment alleged to have taken place under Dan Snyder’s watch be finished by now? Or is the NFL holding onto the findings until it can figure out a way to soft-pedal the results?”

I believe – but have no inside information that would confirm – that the report is finished and has been in the hands of the league office for some time now.  I also believe that the league is indeed trying to find a mechanism to deal with the findings of the report that will do minimum public relations damage to the league.  It is important to recognize that every action the NFL might contemplate has negative blowback potential for the league; and the NFL does not like negative blowback.  Put most indelicately, I think the NFL suits are trying to figure out which set of folks they are going to trigger:

  • Will it be the “Me Too Folks” if the league takes the report and issues a minor wrist slap to a few folks and tosses it aside as “boys will be boys”?
  • Will it be the “Cancel Culture Crowd” if the league comes down hard on sleazy behaviors that took place more than a decade ago?
  • Will it be the “Broadcast Partners” who might suffer resistance from their advertisers?

I do not think the NFL believes that they can make all of this dry up and blow away simply by stalling.  They cannot.  However, I do believe that they are still looking for the course of action that minimizes their regrets after it all plays out to its conclusion.

I have purposely avoided chiming in on the brouhaha between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ front office.  The only speculation left it seems to me would be to wonder what might happen if Rodgers were abducted by space aliens who surgically attached a third arm to his body and the NFL was at a loss to figure out if their rules allowed a “three-arm player” to participate.  Every other angle has been beaten to death already.

I will observe, however, that Rodgers’ absence from team OTAs and the “mandatory mini-camp” [Aside:  How “mandatory” is it since Rodgers simply did not show up?] may have been beneficial to the Packers.  When the Packers used a first-round pick to draft Jordan Love a little over a year ago, they obviously thought that Love was their “QB of the Future”.  Last season, Love never saw the field; the Packers probably still believe he is Rodgers’ heir to the QB position in Green Bay, but they do not know it yet.  Given all these team activities where Love has been involved and Rodgers has not, the Packers have had more time to see Love “in action” with the first team and it has given Love and his pass catchers time to work on “chemistry”.  If Rodgers had been there, Love would have gotten less of that quality practice time.

Finally, let me close today with another observation by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Upsetting: On a note of faux disappointment, how is it that the USA men failed to qualify for the Olympic debut of the 3-on-3 basketball tournament? This is like Australians failing to qualify for a boomerang contest.”

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



Wimbledon Withdrawls

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka announced that they will not participate at Wimbledon this year.  Osaka said that she will be preparing to play in the Olympics for the host country starting on July 23rd ; Wimbledon will begin this year on 28 June and – presuming that Osaka would go deep into the tournament – would not end until 10 July for the women.  That would cut short preparation time and recovery time prior to the Olympics and – in reality – Ms. Osaka has no choice here; she must choose to represent Japan at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Nadal is a different story; he announced his withdrawal from Wimbledon saying that he was “listening to his body”.  Nadal just turned 35 a couple of weeks ago and lost in the finals of the French Open a week ago.  In “dog years”, Nadal is only 5 years old; in “tennis years”, he is a grizzled veteran.  My interpretation here is that Nadal recognizes that his body will no longer make it through the rigors of the “full tennis schedule” and he is now at the point in his career where he will have to pick and choose his appearances.

I think both players have made rational decisions; neither deserves criticism for their choice.

I ran across an item earlier this week that rang a distant bell, so I had to go looking for the backstory.  The report this week was that the women’s basketball coach at Detroit Mercy “left the university” and was replaced by one of the assistant coaches.  What I did not recall until doing some searching was that it was the Detroit Mercy women’s basketball team that quit on the season earlier this year and sent a letter to the Athletic Director there saying that the coach had abused them emotionally and that there were NCAA violations ongoing within the program.  They said they would not play unless the coach was removed.  At the time the letter was delivered, the Detroit Mercy women’s record was 1-13.

The school did not fire the coach; in fact, after investigating the charges outlined in the letter to the AD, the school found that “the most serious allegations were found to be false and unsubstantiated”.  So, at this point all seems right with the program – – except now the coach leaves the university and the explanation for that separation is that it was an “HR personnel matter” that had nothing to do with NCAA violations or student-athlete matters.

  • If this were a Star Trek episode, I believe the stage directions here would be for a close-up of Mr. Spock raising one eyebrow with a quizzical look on his face…

You can read an excellent summary of this less-than-clear matter here in a solid piece of reporting in the Detroit Free Press.  It seems to me that the bottom line is that the school and the team are going to start over and that nothing nearly resembling “the whole story” has been told by any of the parties involved.

The Super Bowl game is still almost 8 months away but there are reports that NBC, which has the telecast rights to the game next February, is already out selling advertising slots.  One report says that NBC is asking up to $6M per 30-second time slot for the most desirable positions within the game.  Last year, the prime slots cost $5.6M apiece; NBC’s asking price represents a 7% increase to the client.  Seven percent is more than the rate of inflation and/or the cost of living but it is not an increase that one might be tempted to call usurious.  Now it is time to cue the voiceover for one of those late-night infomercials:

  • But wait; there’s more…

According to one report that I read, NBC may also require an advertiser who wants one of the “prime slot positions” for the Super Bowl ad to purchase some advertising time during the Olympic Games, which is also going to be an NBC presentation.  If the Games in 2021 take place in their entirety, there will be 33 sports represented and here is a most inconvenient truth for NBC and any potential advertisers:

  • The majority of these 33 sports will not attract a TV audience too large to fit into a typical suburban high school gym.
  • The Super Bowl game will attract – in round numbers – 100 million viewers in the US.
  • That number will not be achieved if you add together all the viewers for all the events in archery, badminton, canoeing, fencing, handball, modern pentathlon, shooting, skateboarding and sport climbing.

You may recall that I wrote about a lawsuit brought in a Federal Court seeking to return the MLB All-Star Game because the suit alleged that the Constitutional rights of Atlanta’s business owners – small and large – had been violated.  The plaintiff there was an entity called the Job Creators Network and it sought an injunction from the court.

Well, since the All-Star Game is going to take place on July 13th, the court had to hear the matter expeditiously.  It did so and Judge Valerie Caproni threw the case out.  That is not so unusual; lots of cases get thrown out of court and every lawsuit has a winner and a loser.  But Judge Caproni was rather direct in explaining her decision:

“To say that the legal underpinnings of this lawsuit are weak and muddled is an understatement.  The plaintiff alleges that [MLB and the Players’ Union] were members of a conspiracy to violate JCN members’ constitutional rights … but I am still at a loss to understand how.”

And …

“But whether small business owners as a group agree or disagree, are deeply divided or are agnostic on that issue, it is hard to see how MLB’s decision had an impact on the equal protection rights of small business owners as a group.”

To me, that sounds like a reasonable decision and one that clearly outlines the deficiencies of the plaintiff’s case.  My original conclusion was that we would hear no more about this until I read at the end of the report that – – JCN planned to appeal the ruling and continue the matter.  Sigh…

Finally, apropos of nothing, here is an observation from H. L. Mencken from more than 80 years ago.  Imagine what he might think about today:

“The typical American of today has lost all the love of liberty that his forefathers had, and all their disgust of emotion, and pride in self-reliance.  He is led no longer by Davy Crocketts; he is led by cheer leaders, press agents, word-mongers, uplifters.”

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



Handing Out Some Orchids And Some Onions Here

I need to offer thanks again to Gregg Drinnan for keeping me up to speed on the CFL’s plans to return to the field in 2021.  The league’s Board of Governors voted to have a 14-game season – – fewer games than normal – – that would begin on August 5th  with training camps to open on July 10th.  When players arrive, they will go through a quarantine period before practices and there will be no Exhibition Games.  Assuming that all goes well and the coronavirus does not re-emerge significantly, the CFL will end its season with a Grey Cup Game on December 12th in Hamilton, ON.  The CFL was dark for all of 2020; this is an important step for the league; hopefully, they can pull off the season with only minor glitches.

South of the border, the NFL took an interesting step with regard to managing the COVID pandemic.  The NFL announced some changes to its COVID protocols to include:

  • There will be in-person media interviews this year but not in locker rooms.
  • There will be fines of up to $50K for violations of protocols.
  • There will be minimal restrictions placed on vaccinated players.
  • Players, coaches and team staff members are all subject to these rules.

Importantly, these new rules/guidelines/protocols have been drawn up as the result of consultations between the NFL, the NFLPA and medical folks.  Many people like to refer to a need to “return to normalcy”; this is an example of a “return to rationality”.  Folks with specific knowledge (the medical folks) provided their expertise to the relevant parties (the league and the union) and the relevant parties worked together to get something done in a positive way.  Slow down here, folks; I need to catch my breath…

One feature of the new processes is that vaccinated players/coaches/staff members will need to be tested for COVID-19 only once every 14 days.  Unvaccinated players etc. will still undergo daily testing.  More importantly – to me – is the provision that vaccinated players will not be subject to quarantine based on contact tracing while unvaccinated folks can face quarantines of various lengths based on contact tracing and the degree of closeness of that contact.  What the NFL and the union have done here is to provide incentives – in the form of convenience – to players who have not yet taken the vaccine.

Since I firmly believe that vaccines work and since I am totally confident that there are no microchips in the vaccine nor is there any sort of magnetic interaction between the vaccine and the 5G cell phone radiation in the air, I believe this a positive step.  Players can still choose not to take the vaccine – – but if something “goes wrong” for them they will have a more stringent set of hurdles to jump over before returning to the team and/or the playing field.  Kudos to the league and the union for that.

I have not seen reports about the acceptance of the vaccine among the sports reporters who cover NFL teams.  There too, the league and the union have set up an incentive system to encourage vaccinations.  Vaccinated media members will have access to training facilities, sidelines and press boxes.  They will be allowed to interview players, coaches and team staff members face-to-face so long as social distancing is practiced.  Here too, media members can choose to take the vaccine or not take the vaccine as is their choice.

It seems as if I am handing out a lot of praise this morning and that is not the normal tone and tenor around these parts.  So let me now cast a quizzical and cynical gaze at an entry in the Sports Digest compendium in today’s Washington Post:

“Louisiana Lafayette’s Cajun Field will undergo $15M in renovations and improvements because of a local hospital providing the largest philanthropic gift in the history of the athletic department.

“Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center will receive naming rights in exchange for what Athletic Director Bryan Maggard called a ‘transformational gift’.”

I claim no expertise in medicine or in hospital administration, but a few thoughts came to mind immediately as I read those two paragraphs:

  • Why would a hospital want or need naming rights to a stadium?  Is advertising and promotion that significant for a hospital?
  • From the name of the hospital, I assume this is a church-related facility and therefore operates as a non-profit entity.  [I have no idea how to find out such financial info about a hospital but it sure sounds that way to me.]  So, why is a faith-based facility handing out $15M to a football stadium – – as opposed to something like cancer research or autism treatment or even upgrades to the hospital’s surgical capabilities?
  • The cynic in me thinks that if the hospital had $15M lying around after the hospital’s medical needs were funded and taken care of, perhaps they could think about the option of lowering some of their charges for care.  I guess not…

Now I feel more like my normal uncharitable self…

Bob Baffert is back in the news.  He has filed suit in a Federal court in Brooklyn seeking to have his suspension by the New York Racing Authority overturned.  The suit claims that he was denied due process when the NYRA issued the ban when Medina Spirit failed a drug test after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.  The suit says that by banning him from NY tracks, he could lose horses assigned to him by owners and those horses would be worth “tens of millions of dollars”.

I would definitely need one of the lawyers who reads these things to chime in here, but my understanding is that “due process” must be afforded by government entities or institutions that act on the behalf of the government – – like a National Laboratory or something like that.  From a look at the NYRA site, it appears to me to be a private entity created by the racetracks and the folks that own and run the tracks.  If I am correct here, I guess I do not understand the reliance on “due process” in the lawsuit.  Whatever…  I am more confident about this next statement than I am about the previous one:

  • If Baffert had not had a dozen failed drug tests among his horses – – worth tens of millions of dollars no less – – over the past half year or so, he would never have been remotely in danger of a suspension.  The NYRA did not pull this action out of their figurative anal orifice; they may have been hyperbolic in saying they did this because of their reverence for the purity of the sport, but they did not pick Baffert’s name out of a hat to make their point.

Finally, since I mentioned advertising – by a hospital no less – above, let me close with two observations about advertising:

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”  Stephen Leacock

And …

“Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.”  George Santayana

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



The Olympics And the Copa America

These rants debuted on the Internet in mid-2001.  Ignoring the occasional Topical Rant and the late-but-not-lamented Mythical Picks posted here, the Daily Rants comprise the bulk of the offerings.  Today marks the 4000th Daily Rant.  If this pace continues, I could reach 5000 in about 5 years.  Onward…

Living in the DC suburbs, the Washington Post is my local paper; I get lots of information and inspiration for the stuff I write here from the Post.  However, yesterday, the information for today’s rant came from the front section and not the sports section; that is not normally the case.  On the front page, there is a report from Tokyo about the sentiments in Japan as they get closer to the scheduled beginning of the Olympic Games.  There is frustration and anger there at the former Prime Minister who sought a one-year postponement of the Games last summer locking in this August as the scheduled date; there is frustration and anger with the IOC; there is frustration with the Japanese bureaucracy that has been amazingly slow to react to the COVID pandemic considering Japan’s status as a developed country with a stable economy.

As things stand now, the Games will go on – – but there will not be any fans from outside Japan in the stands.  There may – or may not – be people from Japan attending some of the contests at some of the venues; but they will be told not to cheer or shout, nor will they be allowed to eat or drink alcohol while in attendance.  Even the athletes will have a different experience as compared to other Olympiads; once the athletes have finished their performances, they will be told to go home instead of being able to stay on in the Olympic Village.

Japan has been slow to get a vaccination program going; there is a significant “vaccine-hesitancy in the country and the way things look now, most people under the age of 65 in Japan will not be vaccinated by the time the Games are scheduled to begin; official estimates say that 5-8% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated at this time.  Public opinion in Japan is not favorable toward the games nor to the government bureaucrats that have allowed this less-than-satisfactory situation to obtain.  And all of that puts a backdrop on a story that broke last week saying that 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers for the Olympics have let organizers know that they are not going to do what they had volunteered to do.

According to an Associated Press report, the Olympics in Sydney back in 2000 had 40,000 volunteers who provided about $60M worth of services for the organizers.  It was not clear from the report why the games in Tokyo would need 80,000 volunteers but losing more than 10% of that “free labor” so late in the game cannot make life any easier for organizers.  Bob Molinaro reacted to the resignation of volunteers with this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Future watch: Should the Tokyo Olympics go on as planned? Seven weeks before the lighting of the flame, 10,000 Japanese volunteers voted with their feet, walking out on unpaid jobs. But at this late date, it’s full- speed ahead.”

On an inside page of the front section of yesterday’s Washington Post there was a story with the following headline:

  • As virus rages on, Brazil braces for international soccer matches

Just to give you a flavor of the report, here is the first paragraph:

“RIO DE JANEIRO – Most Brazilians don’t want it.  Major sponsors have fled.  Even players balked at the idea.  But ready or not, the Copa America, one of Latin America’s most important sporting spectacles, is coming to town.”

The pandemic situation in Japan is not good; they lag badly in vaccinations.  The pandemic situation is Brazil is much worse; Brazilians face a third wave of infections and rising death rates.  In soccer-crazed Brazil more than 60% of Brazilians oppose hosting the tournament; one Brazilian senator has called this the “championship of death”.  Brazil is home to a variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more transmissible than the dominant one here in the US.  The presence of that variant has created this “third wave” of infections which has resulted in 70,000 new cases per day in Brazil.  The idea of crowds forming during and after matches with low vaccination rates and a highly transmissible virus is not appealing to public health professionals.

Once again, politics comes into play.  President Jair Bolsonaro has a very low approval rating at home.  When other Latin American countries said they would not host this year’s tournament, Bolsonaro stepped into the vacuum an announced – unilaterally – that Brazil would take on the task.  Here is the way he explained his decision:

“The Copa America will happen in Brazil.  From the beginning I’ve been saying in regard to the pandemic:  I’m sorry for the deaths, but we have to live.”

Here is some of what teams and players face regarding this year’s Copa America:

  • Venezuela left three players home when they tested positive for COVID.  After arriving in Brazil, another 8 players plus 3 coaches tested positive.  The team sent them home and “called up” 15 new players for the squad.  Venezuela lost its first game yesterday to Brazil by a 3-0 score.
  • Bolivia had 3 players and 1 coach test positive after arrival in Brazil.  The rest of the team is in quarantine instead of at practice.  Bolivia’s first game in the tournament is later today against Paraguay.

I often point out in these rants that the intersection of sports and politics is usually bad news.  The two examples above would seem at first glance to be an intersection between sports and the pandemic – – but the political dimension in both situations makes the two a three-train collision.  Such a mess…

Finally, since today’s rant has been about the pandemic, let me close with Mark Twain’s observation about health:

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

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



Odds And Ends At The End Of A Week

Because I had asked Gregg Drinnan about any CFL scuttlebutt he might run across, he sent me an email saying that a CFL-insider had Tweeted that the league informed its players’ union that an announcement would come on June 14 and that announcement would commit the CFL to a season starting on August 5th.  That would be a truncated season – – but remember that last year the CFL was dark.  My response was that I hoped the announcement would be a positive one and asked if Drinnan thought the CFL could survive a second consecutive “dark year”?

Here is Greg Drinnan’s response to that query:

“I still think there will be issues getting American players over the border and into quarantine. And the stuff will hit the fan if they get Americans here and then end up with positive tests.

“I’m someone who thinks there always will be a CFL, even if we were to lose another complete season. Keep in mind that it likely wouldn’t be around in its present state (well, in its 2019 state) if not for the TV contract with TSN. But places like Winnipeg and Regina have new stadiums that need tenants. . . . I also think that in the long run this will be good for the CFL in terms of getting their financial planning back in order. In my opinion, the teams were spending too much money, especially when you consider the size of the American player pool.”

Hopefully, there will be positive news on the front coming next week …

Here in the US, Sunday Night Football is a TV-ratings monster; it has been the highest rated show on the air multiple years in a row.  NBC is making a change in the coverage associated with SNF this season.  NBC signed Rodney Harrison to a new 2-year deal with alterations in his duties.  Previously on the studio show, Football Night in America, Harrison was in studio with his cohorts.  Starting this year, he will be replaced in studio by Drew Brees and Harrison will participate and report from wherever the game site for the week happens to be.  The rest of the crew for the studio show will remain intact – – Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy, Chris Simms and Mike Florio.

Earlier this week, there was an article on CBSSports.com with a headline that identified 4 players who should pull their names out of the NBA Draft Eligibility pool.  As I have noted here before, there are almost 6 times as many players in the pool as there are draft slots to be filled.  Approximately 290 of the players “in the pool” will “come up dry” so to speak.  And the analysts at CBSSports.com could only identify 4 guys who should get out?

It would be interesting to try to know the motivations and the expectations of some of the players who have declared for the NBA Draft this year.  I realize that for many players in college basketball, a career in the NBA has been a goal and a dream for – probably – more than a decade.  I also realize that many college basketball players have been sweet-talked to in recruiting situations and in game prep situations by coaches and assistant coaches and former coaches.  [Aside:  I could have said the coaches had lied to the players along the line but that would be too harsh, so I chose to call it “sweet-talking”.]

The players who had declared for the Draft are 19-22 years old – generally – and most of them have never experienced the harsh reality of a candid and totally objective assessment of their playing abilities and playing potential.  One can “blame the players” for having an inflated sense of self-worth here but that is unreasonable; these are barely chronological adults and deep self-awareness at that age exists in only a small fraction of humanity.  [For the record, when I was 22 years old, I thought I might just win a Nobel Prize in chemistry one of those days.  Yeah, right !!]

If there is indeed “blame” to be doled out here, I think it must be directed mainly toward the adults who have interacted with these young players.  Most parents do not tell their kids:

“Hey, you’re really good – – but keep it in perspective kid, you’re not goanna make it as far as the NBA.”

Coaches seeking to recruit these players – or to motivate them once they are members of the coach’s team – probably do not harp on this message:

“What makes you think there are any NBA scouts here in the audience to watch you play?  They have better things to do.”

I could go on and make up other “conversations” that never happened even though there may have been a time or two when sitting down with the player and trying to give him an unvarnished view of reality would have been a good and proper thing to do.  If most of the players in the Draft pool can be seen as “delusional”, part of their “delusion” has been foisted upon them and reinforced by adults around them.

Just in case you think I am being too harsh on coaches who come in contact with young basketball players as they are coming through the system, let me clue you in on one high school coaching staff thatl seems to have represented the dregs of the barrel.  Sweet-talking players is disingenuous and is a veiled form of self-interest on the part of the coach.  Those are not admirable traits, but they are understandable behaviors given the circumstances.  However, those ignoble behaviors are paragons of virtue compared to a staff of high school football coaches in Ohio who have all been fired for – allegedly to be sure:

“… forcing a player to eat pork — which goes against his religious beliefs — as punishment for missing a voluntary workout.”

Supposedly the player – who is Jewish – missed a “voluntary” workout in the team weight room.  The school statement regarding the firing of the coaching staff called it a “misguided attempt to instill discipline” when the player was forced to eat an entire pepperoni pizza as his punishment.  All I can say is that I suspect Rod Serling is looking down on that situation and asking himself how he missed that plot line for a Twilight Zone episode.

Finally, let me close with an observation from the noted satirist, Jonathan Swift, that may relate to those players in the NBA Draft pool who will end up undrafted:

“Happiness is the perpetual possession of being well deceived.”

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



CFP Expansion On The Horizon?

Earlier this week, the NY Post reported that there is momentum building to expand the College Football Playoff.  I was not particularly surprised to read that; there is money to be made by adding playoff games and the college football mavens are not allergic to making more money by any stretch of the imagination.  However, what was a big surprise is that the Post said the favored option now is to expand from a four-team playoff to a twelve-team playoff.

Here is one potential design for a 12-team playoff:

  • Five slots go to the champions of the Power 5 Conferences.
  • One slot goes to the highest ranked Group of 5 Conference champions
  • Six slots are at-large and at the discretion – whimsy? – of the Selection Committee.
  • The top four ranked teams get a first-round BYE; then everyone plays on.

This expansion – indeed any expansion even if only to 6 teams – will address one of the criticisms of the current structure:

  • Since its inception, there have been 28 teams involved in CFP games.
  • Four schools – Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma – have occupied 20 of those 28 game slots.

And there is the rub…  The whole idea of an elite playoff “tournament” – the four best teams in the country squaring off against one another – is to present a football product of three exciting and high-quality football contests.  That has not happened over the 7-year history of the CFP; there have been 21 games and only 6 of them have been decided by 7 points or less.  More telling is this breakdown:

  • There have been 14 semi-final games; 3 of them were one-score games.
  • There have been 7 championship games; 3 of them were one-score games.

So, adding more “preliminary games” is somehow going to add to the top-shelf quality of the TV product and will likely produce more close contests?  I do not get that at all…  I do acknowledge that smaller schools that are not traditionally football powerhouses can rise up and pull off a huge upset.  The folks in Ann Arbor surely recall less than fondly a visit by Appalachian State back in 2007 where the Mountaineers beat the Wolverines 34-32.  I know such things can and do happen – – but not regularly.  After all, that happened 14 years ago; and it still stands out as an oddity – like a giant pimple on the face of a movie star on the red carpet on Oscar night.

I feel the need here to recall a famous bit of analysis by Damon Runyon:

“It may be that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong – but that is the way to bet.”

I am not opposed to expanding the CFP; giving some other teams access/exposure to the playoff format is a positive move.  But I think a 12-team field will add a lot of window-dressing as opposed to quality games.

Whilst on the subject of college football, there is a sad and macabre situation unfolding at VA Tech.  Isi Etute is a freshman there and is a 3-star recruit as a linebacker; he enrolled at VA Tech in January 2021.  Etute was arrested and charged with second-degree murder; according to prosecutors, here is what happened:

  • Etute was on Tinder and connected with “Angie” on that dating site.  Allegedly, they agreed to meet in person for a session of oral sex.
  • Upon meeting, Etute learned that “Angie” was a 40-year-old male and at that point Etute “lost it” and punched the man and kicked him in the head once the man was on the ground.
  • Etute left the scene; the man’s body was discovered 2 days later.

[None of the above has been proven in court yet; these remain allegations as of today – – other than the demise of the 40-year-old male.  He remains dead.]

VA Tech issued a carefully crafted public statement about this incident.  Two things stood out from that statement:

  1. Etute has been suspended from the football team.  [I should hope so…]
  2. Etute was a freshman majoring in “Human Development” prior to his “interim suspension” from the school.  [Human Development … Really?]

Moving on …  Ron Rivera is taking a proactive position with the WTFs in their minicamp.  He brought in a “vaccine expert” to address the team trying to enhance understanding of the vaccine available for COVID-19.  Rivera said in general terms that about half of the team roster has been vaccinated.  He is certainly not going to mandate vaccination nor will he direct – or even suggest – that players avoid the vaccine; he is presenting them with expert information to let them make an informed decision about “getting jabbed”.  Kudos to Ron Rivera…

Here is an indicator of why “education” might be necessary here.  According to reports, Montez Sweat – defensive end for the WTFs – sees no reason to take the vaccine because:

  • He does not have COVID, so he sees no reason to treat COVID.  If he contracts COVID, then he will treat it.

The logic there is impeccable – save for one detail.  Vaccines do not treat a disease; vaccines seek to prevent the recipient from getting it in the first place.  Education is important…

Finally, since I referred to Damon Runyon earlier, here are several of his other observations:

“Life is tough, and it’s really tough when you are stupid.”

And …

“Always try to rub up against money, for if you rub up against money long enough, some of it may rub off on you.”

And …

“[Christy] Matthewson pitched against Cincinnati yesterday.  Another way of putting it is that Cincinnati lost a game of baseball.  The first statement means the same as the second.”

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