Soccer News Today…

The FIFA World Cup will happen in November of this year in Qatar.  Last night, the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) qualified for a spot in that tournament even though it lost its game to Costa Rica by a score of 2-0.  The way that soccer federations and FIFA determine eligibility for the World Cup is often unclear to me; so, I just read the reports of people who know more about that and take their analysis as valid.  The reason the USMNT qualified for the World Cup despite the loss is that:

“… the men avoided a 6-goal defeat at the hands of Costa Rica.”

The USMNT failed to make the World Cup tournament in 2018; therefore, this qualification is seen as a bright spot in the evolution of men’s soccer here in the US.  Such  is not the emotion felt in Italy these days.  The Italians also failed to make the World Cup in 2018 leading to a national malaise in that part of the world.  Then, last week, the Italians were eliminated from contention for the 2022 World Cup tournament when it lost to North Macedonia by a score of 1-0 with the winning goal coming in stoppage time.

Dwight Perry captured the reaction to that loss to North Macedonia in the Seattle Times:

“North Macedonia scored in stoppage time to beat Italy 1-0 — Italy’s first defeat in 60 home World Cup qualifiers — and knock it out of a second consecutive World Cup appearance.

“The reaction in Rome?  Let’s just say that, if Nero were alive, he’d be fiddling.”

Recall about a year ago when a bunch of the biggest and best soccer teams in Europe announced that they were going to form a Super League and that announcement caused folks in UEFA and FIFA to get their knickers in  a knot.  The threat that those teams would be banned from their own leagues in country and players on those teams could lose eligibility to compete in World Cup tournaments seemed to put all of that to rest.  However, it sounds as if the soccer world is living out the plot of a cheesy sequel to one of the old vampire movies.  Here is the order of events:

  1. Vampire goes on a rampage in Movie #1 until someone figures out how to plunge a wooden stake into its heart.
  2. Once again there is peace in the valley; the women and children are safe at night.
  3. Then at the start of Movie #2, someone finds the crypt of the vampire and a body with a stake through its heart.
  4. Naturally, that person cannot resist the temptation to pull the stake out of the “victim”.
  5. Back comes the vampire on one more rampage through the villages – – until – –
  6. Someone figures out how to put the stake back in its heart.

Well, there are indications that some of the folks who thought the European Super League was a good idea in the first place have not given up on the idea and might try a relaunch.  Here is my understanding of how and why this is happening; it involves not just laws and lawsuits, but it focuses on European Union laws.  I am wading into deep waters here…

  • Three of the soccer teams that would have joined the European Super League had it come into being were Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.
  • After the idea of the Super League was shot down, these three clubs filed suit against UEFA and FIFA with the following claim.  The teams assert that “the organizations both regulate and profit from the competitions they oversee, violating European competition law.”
  • Depending on which report you read and when it was published, there could be as many as 7 teams ready to join the Super League if some sort of framework for its existence can be constructed.

As you might expect, however, the folks who run UEFA are not the least bit happy about the soccer world’s version of Return of the Vampire.  Here is the reaction of the UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin:

“They first launched their nonsense of an idea in the middle of a pandemic. Now … they are planning to launch another idea in the middle of a war.  These people, they obviously live in a parallel world.”

“Nobody forbids them to play their own competitions. But if they want to play their own competition, they cannot play in ours.”

If FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has taken a position on these new rumors, I have not seen it.  However, it would seem to me that he has the wooden stake that might put the figurative vampire here out of action again.  The top-shelf European teams that might join the Super League are only top-shelf teams because they have the best players from all over the world on their rosters.  If FIFA bans those players from any of its World Cup events and/or the competitions that lead up to the World Cup tournament, that could well deny those top-shelf teams from retaining the talent that makes them “Super League worthy”.

This is not over – – just as there can be more than a few sequels to the old vampire movies such as Return of the Vampire and Bride of the Vampire and Revenge of the Vampire and … you get the idea.

Finally, since today has been about soccer, let me close with this elemental view of the game itself”

“The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it.  If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.”

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



Two NFL Rule Changes

Last week, I mentioned a NY Times piece which asserted that golf was losing players and audience and I likened it to a similar trend in baseball.  That mention got me a response from Bob Molinaro whose commentary in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot I often cite here.  Here is the body of his email to me:

“Way back in 2013 or ‘14, I wrote a piece about the drop off in golfing down here [Tidewater area of Virginia].  Consensus was that men with young families filled more of their free time with their kids’ baseball, soccer practice.  And other activities.  Not as much time to spend 4 hours on the course.

“These were the opinions of local golf pros and club managers and a few players.  For what it’s worth.”

I attributed the “loss of golfers” to insufficient action in the game to attract younger players to watch it and then to play it.  [Aside: That rant drew a comment from a reader in Florida who does not see any diminution of interest in golf in his part of the world.]  The email cited above would seem to indicate that the trend noted by the NY Times has been in existence for a while.

Moving along …  The NFL has announced two rule changes – one for the on-field product and the other for franchise behavior.  Both changes are well-intentioned, but I am not sure either one is optimal.  Let me deal with the on-field rule first even though it will only apply in the playoffs for now.  The new rule guarantees that each team will have possession of the ball in an overtime situation.  That has been something that fans and commentators have wanted to see for a long time but I think the new rule might give an advantage to the team that kicks off in the overtime.  Let me explain.

  • Team A kicks off in OT knowing that it will get the ball back even if it surrenders a TD to Team B on offense or on special teams.  It can play defense the way it has played defense all season long to get to this playoff game.  If Team B scores a TD, Team A will have the opportunity to respond.
  • Assume for a moment that Team B scores a TD and converts the point after to lead by 7 points as it kicks off back to Team A.  At that point, Team A knows that it must score a TD to stay in the game; it cannot punt the ball and it cannot try a field goal.  That means that Team A must defend differently than it has had to defend opponents for the season that leads up to that moment.  There will be no punting even on 4th and 35 to go…
  • Team A had to play “normal football” in its first overtime possession; Team B has the advantage of knowing what must be the outcome of its possession in the event that Team A successfully scores a TD on its first possession.
  • If the game remains tied after each team has had its possession, then sudden-death scoring will apply…

Under the old rule – imperfect as it was – the team winning the coin toss for the OT would naturally opt to receive and it would put the defenders at a disadvantage.  [Aside:  The assumption that a team winning the coin toss would naturally choose to receive only applies if the team captain is not Abner Haynes who famously chose to “kick to the clock”.]  Under the new rule, I think the advantage goes to the team that loses the coin toss.

The second rule change is more than well-intentioned; the other rule change seeks to appease critics who fault the NFL for its lack of diversity in coaching and team management positions.  The new staffing rule will require that every team must have a minority assistant coach in a significant role on its offensive staff.  This “designated minority assistant” must have at least three years of college or professional coaching experience and must “work closely with the head coach and offensive coordinator”.

Obviously, one might ask why defensive coaches are now being relegated to second-class citizenship by the NFL.  It is more than slightly ironic that a measure intended to be more inclusive creates a class of people who will be disadvantaged as the new measure is put into effect.  But I have another – more fundamental – problem with this new rule.

  • These new “designated minority assistant coaching positions” – the ones that must work closely with the head coach and the offensive coordinator – are ones that must be filled based on a candidate’s skin color and/or ethnic background and/or chromosomal identity.
  • One can wave one’s arms and use poetic phraseology to explain why this is different and why this is necessary, but that will not change the fact that this is a form of hiring discrimination with a different vector heading.

The NFL attracts criticism to itself because the race/ethnicity/gender mix among its coaches and its GMs does not match the national demographic and is way out of step with the demographic of players in the NFL.  Conventional wisdom here is that the NFL got into this situation because of an “old boy’s network” that perpetuated itself by hiring people who looked and behaved the way they looked and behaved.  Without explicitly calling the 32 principal owners of NFL teams racists, most folks attribute the NFL’s lack of minority coaches and GMs to hiring decisions that have bases in things other than competence and experience.

Now if that sort of reasoning is even half-right, then what the NFL is proposing to do here is the moral equivalent of saying that two wrongs make a right.

Before I receive a bushel of nasty emails accusing me of all sorts of ill will, let me be very clear about my dissent here:

  • I acknowledge the obvious situation that there is demographic disharmony in the ranks of NFL management.
  • I am confident that if someone where to invent a “competency meter” that device would show that many fully competent minority and female candidates have been passed over in previous NFL hiring decision processes.
  • I am confident that if someone were to invent a “mind-reading machine” that device would reveal that hiring decisions for head coaches and GMs in the NFL have some component of race involved in them.
  • I am opposed to the creation or the perpetuation of distinctions that hinder any segment of the population when they seek jobs or advancement in their chosen field of endeavor.
  • No one should get an opportunity – or be denied an opportunity – based on their genetic makeup or their heritage.  The operative words there are “No one” and this new NFL rule will create situations where that must happen no matter the intent of the decision maker.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in his column in the Seattle Times soon after Mike McDaniel was named the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins:

“New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, to reporters, on criticism he’s never been a head coach:  ‘The thing that trips me up is every single head coach in the history of football has never been a head coach until he’s been a head coach. Everyone has to have their first time.’”

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



Catching Up On College Basketball…

Here is a quick catch-up from my notes regarding tournament games from last Friday-Sunday:

  • I said last week that St. Peter’s reminded me of Al McGuire’s tams at Marquette.  I honestly did NOT know when I made that statement that Butch Lee’s son, Matthew Lee,  played for St. Peter’s.  But the formulae for the two teams is very similar – – defense, rebounding, drive to the basket.  That formula worked again against Purdue and put St. Peter’s in the Elite Eight.  As Coach Holloway said after the game, his squad is just a “bunch of guys who know how to play basketball.”
  • Kansas took a comfortable lead over Providence in the first half, and I thought the game would be a blowout, but Providence came out and rallied to take a lead in the second half.  Eventually, Kansas just wore them down.  The Jayhawks were just a better and deeper team that night.
  • UCLA held UNC to 73 points.  That may not sound like much, but  the Tar Heels were averaging 90+ for tournament games.  But that level of defense was not enough for the Bruins because the Bruins’ offense had plenty of trouble against the Carolina defense.  I don’t know what sort of pre-game routine Caleb Love put himself through, but he really should try to replicate it in future games; he scored 21 points in the second half and shut down any UCLA rallies before they gathered any real momentum.
  • Iowa St. and Miami played a tense and close first half, but Miami opened up a lead and then cruised to a win by 14 points
  • Duke/Arkansas was interesting to watch.  The Razorbacks made life difficult for Duke with their defense, but Arkansas just missed too many good shots to keep pace.  In the end, Duke’s scorers were more than sufficient for the win.
  • Before the Villanova/Houston game, I said that the first team to 60 points would win.  That was an understatement; with the final score 50-44, the first team to 50 points was the winner.  Houston’s defense kept it close, but Houston’s offense was awful; the Cougars shot 1 for 20 from 3-point range.
  • Kansas was simply too fast for Miami.  As the old basketball adage goes, “you can’t guard ‘em if you can’t catch ‘em.”  Miami had shooting problems in the second half and Kansas ran away with the game.
  • The string ran out for St. Peter’s against UNC.  The Peacocks’ defense was solid but – like Houston against Villanova – St. Peter’s offense was AWOL.  At 7:22 of the first half (that is with a bit more than 30% of the game in the rear-view mirror), St Peter’s was shooting 3 for 19 from the floor.

I have another observation about the TV coverage of the tournament this year.  We are now “treated” to two in-game interviews with the head coaches during scheduled timeouts.  These seemingly have replaced the ceremoniously stupid in-game interviews in the stands with players’ parents and/or coaches’ wives and/or the next-door neighbor of the assistant coach’s tax accountant.  For that reason, I guess I should be appreciative and thankful, but I have a serious reservation here:

  • There is one – and only one – appropriate question for the sideline reporter to ask the coach in these circumstances.


  • “Coach, what is it you would be telling your team in the huddle if you were not contractually obligated to be here talking to me?”


  • That is all viewers would want to know – – and it would let people know the forced nature of the oral exchange they were about to watch.

In college basketball news that is unrelated to the tournament, the NCAA has now leveled a string of serious infraction allegations against Memphis and coach Penny Hardaway.  The incidents go back to the recruitment of James Wiseman a year ago and now there are accusations of covering up evidence, and failure to cooperate with an investigation and even the dreaded “lack of institutional control.”  Here is a summary of the status of this mess from a report at

“Memphis is accused of lack of institutional control and facing a total of seven allegations, including failure to cooperate, obstruction of the investigation, failure to report acts of noncompliance in a timely fashion and a failure to disclose or provide access to information.”

Not surprisingly, Memphis does not agree that any of the above is the case.  This one is not nearly over; stay tuned…

One last college basketball note today…  With Houston out of the tournament this year, that marks two years in a row that Kelvin Sampson has had the Cougars to the Elite Eight.  Sampson is a good basketball coach; that is not subject to debate.  However, Kelvin Sampson has had his less-than-honorable moments in the coaching profession.  Recall that he was sanctioned for significant violations and lack of cooperation back at Indiana and was subject to a 5-year “show cause order” meaning that any school that wanted to hire him had to show the NCAA why that was required.  That is bad enough but here is the kicker:

  • At the time Sampson was committing these major violations of NCAA rules regarding recruitment and benefits for athletes, he was the Chairman of a Committee for the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
  • You guessed it.  Kelvin Sampson was – at the time – the Chairman of the Ethics Committee for the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Finally, if you had asked me to guess, I would have said it was Alen Iverson who was responsible for the following quotation.  However, it seems that it has been attributed to Wilt Chamberlain:

“If practice makes perfect, and no one is perfect, why practice?”

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



Great Games Last Night …

Yesterday, I said that the March Madness games for this weekend will be great for fan enjoyment.  Well, unless your favorite team lost last night – – or if the team you hate the most won last night – – the first four games of Sweet Sixteen Weekend did not disappoint.  Two number one seeds lost yesterday leaving only Kansas from the top line of the seedings left on the court.

Both Gonzaga and Arizona achieved their status as 1-seeds this year by demonstrating high octane offense with which opponents could not keep up.  Last night both teams were kept in second gear by relentlessly swarming defenses presented by Arkansas and Houston respectively.  The Zags scored an average of almost 88 points per game this season; last night they only managed to put 68 on the scoreboard.  Arizona could not even manage that total losing to Houston 72-60.

In the other two games last night, both teams seeded #2 in their bracket advanced.  Duke shot 71% from the floor in the second half – – against an excellent defensive team I might add – – to pull out a win over Texas Tech by 5 points.  In the other game, Villanova used good outside shooting and constant motion on offense and defense to wear down the much larger Michigan Wolverines.

Tonight’s games have a high standard to match…

Before moving on, here is an item related to college basketball from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“David Whitley of the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, on LSU waiting three years since the incriminating FBI wiretaps to finally fire basketball coach Will Wade: ‘In related news, LSU announced it was suspending Pete Maravich for selling autographs during the 1968-69 season.’”

Once the tournament is over, lots of attention will focus on The Masters.  Then, between the end of The Masters and post-time for the Kentucky Derby, USFL 2.0 will make its debut.  I think there is an interesting angle here that has not been given sufficient attention:

  • Unlike previous incarnations of “Spring Professional Football”, the NFL seems to be positively engaged with both USFL 2.0 and XFL 3.0 which will return to life next spring.

Previously, the NFL has been hostile toward Spring Pro Football endeavors, or they have totally ignored them.  But this time, the NFL appears not only to accept/acknowledge their existence; the NFL appears to be supportive of their undertakings.

Recall in the pregame of the Super Bowl about 6 weeks ago, the NFL had “The Rock” deliver a promotion for XFL 3.0 which would not have a single on-field activity for about a  year.  Remember, a 30-second spot on TV for that game cost advertisers about $5M; “The Rock” got at least 30 seconds – and probably closer to a minute – of airtime gratis.

Yesterday, I read reports that the NFL and USFL 2.0 are working together on officiating.  It seems that USFL 2.0 will use 32 officials who are in the NFL’s developmental program for game officials.  All 32 of them have college football experience; most of them come from college football’s Power 5 Conferences; four of those officials in the pipeline are women.  Mike Pereira is the head of officiating for USFL 2.0 and formerly held the analogous position with the NFL.  Granted, his statement here has been massaged by PR folks, but there is an interesting kernel of fact here and it shows cooperation between the leagues:

“The USFL will have the best officials not currently in the NFL.  Our association with the NFL officiating department clearly serves the USFL by supplying officials who are ready to call games at the highest level, and it also benefits the NFL by providing professional game experience for those who are just a step away from working Sundays in the fall. In fact, I expect several officials calling USFL games this spring to officiate in the NFL later this year.”

Another sign of cooperation here lies in the fact that the NFL will hold and direct an officiating clinic for all USFL 2.0 officials in two weeks.  The leagues are working together here.

Another aspect of USFL 2.0 that might be grounds for cooperation is that USFL 2.0 can be a testing ground for rules innovations that the NFL might consider down the road.  Here are four USFL 2.0 rules that will make its game different from the NFL – – and maybe that difference is something that the NFL might adopt one of these days:

  1. After scoring a TD, USFL 2.0 teams can opt for a 1-point, 2-point or 3-point PATs.  For one point, a team can kick the ball after lining up at the 15-yardline; for two points, it can try to score from the 2-yardline; for 3 points it can try to score from the 10-yardline.
  2. In the final two minutes of both halves, the clock will stop after each first down as is the case in college football.  The intent here is to allow for more plays in those two-minute drill times thereby adding excitement.
  3. USFL 2.0 will employ what it calls an “Overtime Shootout”.  Each offense will get the ball at the opponents’ 2-yardline and have one chance to score.  If after each team has had three such attempts and if the score is still tied, then the teams will play “sudden death” to determine the game winner.
  4. Teams will still have the option of attempting an onside kick; but in addition, a team can try to convert a 4th down and 12 from their 33-yardline.  If they succeed, they keep the ball; if not, the ball goes over to the defense.

Obviously, I will have to see how these rules affect the games before making a final decision on their value or lack of value.  However, I am inclined to like the 4th rule change listed above more than the other three.  But we shall see…

Finally, in the aftermath of the Deshaun Watson trade to the Browns after a grand jury in Texas chose not to indict Watson on criminal charges involving sexual assault, Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this pithy observation:

“Watson did not rub Browns and NFL the wrong way. But 22 women. . .”

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



The March Madness Sweet Spot

I have said many times that March Madness is the single best sporting event of the year.  In fact, I have also said that March Madness is the only thing that the NCAA does that justifies its continued existence.  The men’s basketball tournament this year has not disappointed.

Starting today and going through Sunday night is my favorite part of the tournament.  It is the fulcrum between quantity and quality for the games; last week saw 48 games in 4 days but some of them were hugely uninteresting.  Next weekend will probably give us 3 excellent games involving 4 teams that are playing very well.  But this weekend gives us fewer games than last weekend – – but the anticipation is that at least 10 of the 12 games on tap will be good games.  Today and tomorrow, we will see the Sweet Sixteen in action; I also think of this weekend as the Sweet Spot in the tournament.

Before I get to the games themselves, I want to make two observations about the announcing on the games so far this year:

  1. Just when did the basketball become “the rock” and/or “the orange” and what might it take for the announcers to resume calling it “the ball”?
  2. Similarly, why has “an assist” been renamed as “a dime”?  Why so cheap?  An assist guarantees at least 2 points; that ought to be worth at least “a buck and a quarter”.

Here are my capsule comments on the games scheduled for tonight and tomorrow night:

  • Michigan/Villanova:  The Wolverines have a huge size advantage; anyone with eyesight clear enough to retain a driver’s license can see that.  The question is if Villanova can shoot enough threes to overcome that size differential…
  • Kansas/Providence:  Two totally different basketball styles here; that alone will make this game interesting to watch.  Should be entertaining – –  unless either team gets a 20-point lead in the second half; I do not think either team can rally from that kind of deficit against the other guys here.
  • UCLA/UNC:  This is a battle of the college basketball bluebloods.  In addition, UNC is the scariest team not seeded one through three left on the board.  After watching the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament and then again last week, I wonder how they managed to lose 11 times this year.
  • Purdue/St. Peter’s:  How can any game with St. Peter’s in it in 2022 be anything other than worth the time to tune in?  The Peacocks remind me of the Al McGuire teams at Marquette; they play relentless defense and rebound the ball very well; they win despite lack of any great shooters…
  • Duke/Texas Tech:  Another game with two significantly different styles of play should make this an entertaining game.  In addition, I have enjoyed watching Paolo Banchero every time I have seen him play this year.  He is not the best player in the country, but he is fun to watch.
  • Miami/Iowa St.:  It is 10-seed versus 11-seed.  The winner here will become the “Certified Cinderella for 2022.”  And yes, I know that St. Peter’s is a 15-seed and is still alive…
  • Gonzaga/Arkansas:  I will surely watch this game – – but this is not a game that I find compelling
  • Arizona/Houston:  I have enjoyed watching Houston play defense because they do so with such enthusiasm.  Other than that, however, my anticipation level for this game is “Meh!”

Shifting gears and changing sports…  News broke on Tuesday that Ashleigh Barty who is currently ranked #1 in the world in women’s tennis has decided to retire at the ripe old age of 25.  Here is the central part of her explanation for her decision:

“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore. I am spent.”

I have mentioned here several times that a former colleague is a tennis fan – and player – who often lobbies for me to put out “Tennis Tuesdays” as a supplement to “Football Fridays”.  Naturally, when I read about this news, I contacted him and asked what he thought about this surprise retirement.  Here is his response in toto:

“I have zero thoughts about Ashleigh Barty.”

So much for my attempt to get a unique perspective on the situation; at least I tried.

I did use Google to find the current ranking of women tennis players by the WTA.  I learned something from looking at the Top 50 ranked players in the world:

  • There are only 7 players from the US ranked in the Top 50 and none are in the Top 10.

That is probably a significant reason for women’s tennis to receive only marginal coverage here in the US.  It seems that tennis coverage mirrors golf coverage.  If the story is about Serena Williams, it gets some play just as happens in golf with Tiger Woods.  Other than that …

Finally, I will close today with an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Jogger:  Someone who thinks he can forestall death by doing something that looks like it is killing him.

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



Odds And Ends …

Today I plan to sweep up some odds and ends that are cluttering up my clipboard.  Last week, #1 son wondered if Barry Bonds could “unretire” and thereby reset the clock for his Hall of Fame eligibility.  I said then that I did not know if anyone had ever made such a “comeback/unretirement” after 15 years out of the game.  You should not be shocked to learn that I received an email from the reader in Houston on the subject.  As a fountain of sports history, this was a fastball down the middle for him:

“Minoso retired in 1964 and played in 1976 and 1980 with the Chisox to play in more decades and got voted into the HOF this season by the Veterans Committee.

“Satchel retired in 1953 and played in 1965 for the KC A’s. He got inducted into the HOF in 1971.

“However, these weren’t considered comebacks.”

So, there are at least two examples of someone retiring and then unretiring and then entering the Hall of Fame.  Thank you to the reader in Houston for that assistance.  How any of that might apply to Barry Bonds and the current membership of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America remains opaque to me.

On the subject of MLB, it seems that the new CBA will permit some rule changes for the game in 2022.  According to reports, these three rulebook alterations have already been agreed to by both MLB and the MLBPA:

  1. The so-called “Ohtani Rule” applies when the starting pitcher is also the DH for the team in the game.  In those circumstances, the player may remain in the game as the team’s DH even if he has been removed from that game as the starting pitcher.  There will be 2430 regular season games scheduled in MLB this year; other than Angels’ games where Ohtani is the starter and also the DH, I suspect this rule will come into play less than twice.
  2. The so-called “ghost runner” on second base in extra-inning games will happen again in 2022 – – but only for 2022.  I hate that rule even more than I dislike the DH rule so I will take solace in the fact that it is only on the books for this year, and I still can hope that it dies an agonizing death once this year’s World Series is over.
  3. The seven-inning doubleheader games are relics of the past.  For 2022, all doubleheaders will consist of two nine-inning games.  Let us all hope that this rule carries forward for the rest of time.

What I was hoping to see in terms of rule changes were ones that dealt with interminable replay delays within the games.  Sadly, nothing along those lines seems to have  crossed the minds of the owners or the players; but, on the assumption that both sides would like to expand the fanbase and increase TV ratings, putting limits on the number of replays in a game and on the time it takes to render a decision based on replay would be a significant improvement.

About a month ago, I read a report in the NY Times that golf was suffering a loss of players – and by extension a loss of fan interest.  The note I made from that article is that golf is losing almost 1 million players per year and that downward trend was in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  What the pandemic appears to have done is to accelerate the trend a bit.  The analysis here is that as older players abandon the game for whatever reasons, they are not being replaced by young players at the same rate.  That is a fancy way of saying more golfers are dying off than are being born and that is a similar interpretation of the fanbase for MLB.

Conventional thinking has it that baseball and golf are not sufficiently “action-packed” for a younger generation that has grown up with video games and augmented/virtual reality activities.  I would add to that thinking that both golf and baseball require fans or participants to commit themselves to three or four hours of a day to watch or play either game.  That aspect of both golf and baseball is only tangentially related to the “lack of action” issue; that aspect of both golf and baseball speak to the ability of a fan or participant to have a disciplined attention span.  Not intending to be judgmental here, but my observation is that the “average attention span” for people under 30 years old today is significantly shorter than it was for the same population segment 40 or 50 years ago.

I believe that there is another commonality between golf and baseball which plays into the dynamic of failure to replace “dying off fans” with “next generation fans”.  This has to do with media coverage of the two sports and media exploitation by the two sports.

  • MLB does not market its stars.  MLB markets its history and its statistics and its longevity.
  • Baseball media coverage – outside of gamers – is lyrical almost poetic.
  • Outside the times when there is a strike or lockout or tense negotiations for a new CBA, the baseball press does not focus much attention on the foibles and missteps by either owners or the players’ union.
  • Golf only marketed one of its stars – to the exclusion of all the other ones – for the last 20 years and that one star, Tiger Woods, has been almost irrelevant for the last 5 years.
  • The golf media has chosen to report on almost nothing that does not immediately lead them to a Tiger Woods report instead of acknowledging that there are other great players on the pro tour who are doing some amazing things on the golf courses.
  • Even in the face of challenges to the way the PGA Tour is run, the golf media does everything it can to ignore the issues – – unless of course Tiger Woods might have something to say on the issue(s).

That is not a great media strategy on the part of the folks who run MLB or the PGA – – but that seems to be the media environment for both sports.  I suspect that media environment does not help either sport grow its fanbase.

Finally, since much of today has had to do with baseball, let me close with a comment attributed to former Mets’ and Phillies’ relief pitcher Tug McGraw when he was asked if he preferred grass or AstroTurf:

“I don’t know.  I never smoked AstroTurf.”

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



Did You Go To Your 50th High School Reunion?

Today, the NFL reminds me of my 50th high school reunion.  I recognized most of the names at the reunion – – but somehow, nothing looked the way I remembered it.  That is my sense of the NFL in this off-season based on a myriad of unexpected changes and one thing staying the same which I anticipated would have changed by now.  At this time of the year, the NFL news feed normally contains a free agent signing or two and a dozen predictions – – really guesses to tell the truth – – about the upcoming draft and which team will take what player(s).  Not so in 2022…

I think today’s NFL turmoil began last year when the Rams and Lions traded QBs – – and other assets – – and then the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl.  That sequence of events did two things:

  1. It reinforced in the minds of coaches and GMs that upgrading at the QB position is good idea.
  2. It provided cover for teams who lacked a top-shelf QB to go out and trade for one instead of trying to draft one and then “develop him”.

I think Item #1 above is the basis for the one thing I thought was going to happen in this NFL off-season that did not and will not happen.  The Packers and Aaron Rodgers did not go their separate ways; Rodgers got a monster contract and the Packers’ brass realized that no matter what they got for Rodgers in a trade, it was going to downgrade them at the QB position.  And that is not a good idea – – so that did not happen.

Item #2 above is what has made the NFL resemble a 50th high school reunion.  The names will be familiar next year but lots of them are going to be in “different places”.  Trading top-shelf QBs does not happen in the NFL very often, but there is some history

Back in the 60s, the Eagles and Commanders – – under their previous moniker – – exchanged Sonny Jurgensen for Norm Snead and ten years later, the Giants sent Norm Snead to the Vikings in exchange for Fran Tarkenton.  Norm Snead was hardly a star QB, but twice he was part of the compensation that brought a star QB to the team that traded him away.

In the 70s the Eagles sent a boatload of draft picks to the Rams to acquire Roman Gabriel and about a year later the Packers sent 5 top draft picks to the Rams for QB John Hadl.  [Aside:  It is always difficult to identify the “worst trade ever”, but that one by the Packers would surely be in the discussion…]

There is a history of trading QBs and trading for QBs, but nothing like what has happened this off-season.

  • Russell Wilson is now a Denver Bronco.  The Seahawks’ roster has 3 QBs listed, Jacob Eason, Drew Lock and Geno Smith.  The Broncos upgraded at QB and the Seahawks downgraded at QB.
  • Carson Wentz is now a Commander.  The Colts then went out and traded to acquire Matt Ryan from the Falcons.  The Commanders upgraded at QB relative to Tyler Heinicke; the Colts upgraded at QB relative to Carson Wentz.  The Falcons’ roster this morning lists only one QB – – Felipe Franks – – because it has not been updated to include a new free agent signing.  The Falcons downgraded at the QB position and will probably be in the market to draft a QB even though they just signed free agent Marcus Mariota whose career has been plagued by “durability issues”.
  • Mitchell Trubisky is now a Steeler.  The Steelers got him on the free agent market on a 2-year “prove it” deal and in doing so I believe they upgraded over the other two QBs who had been on their roster before the signing – – Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.
  • Deshaun Watson is now a Brown.  The Browns got him in a trade with the Texans giving up 5 draft picks and then reportedly signing Watson to a $230M fully guaranteed contract.  Seriously …  The Browns upgraded at QB, and I suspect that they hope to recoup at least some of those draft assets when they trade Baker Mayfield somewhere.  The Texans downgraded at QB when they lost Watson.

Tom Brady is back to being a Buccaneer after 6 weeks or so of “retirement”.  I guess it would be snarky to say that he decided he wanted to spend “less time with his family” when he unretired…  In any event, in this season where the NFL reminds me of my 50th high school reunion, Tom Brady is a familiar face in a recently familiar uniform at QB for the 2022 season.

With all that movement/change at the most visible position for the NFL, you might think that was all that was surprising relative to the league.  Not so.  When the games return to the airwaves in 2022, you will hear familiar voices doing the broadcasting – – but not where you expected to hear them.

  • Al Michaels will no longer do play-by-play on Sunday Night Football.  NBC will replace Michaels with Mike Tirico who will work with Cris Collinsworth on the top-rated NFL telecasts.
  • Al Michaels will take over Thursday Night Football games which will be streamed by Amazon in 2022.  His partner there will be Kirk Herbstreit who will do double duty with these Amazon streaming events plus his work for ESPN on College Game Day and on college football telecasts for ESPN.
  • Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be together as usual – – but no longer on FOX.  Buck and Aikman will now appear on Monday Night Football on ESPN.
  • FOX has not yet announced who will be their “top broadcast team” for the NFL in 2022.  The speculation is that they will promote their previous #2 team of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen to that status.  Burkhardt is very good on play-by-play and Olsen shows plenty of promise but is still green.
  • The only familiar voices in familiar places will be on CBS where Jim Nantz and Tony Romo remain at the top of the broadcasting pyramid there.

CBS also has Ian Eagle doing play-by-play on CBS’ #2 announcing team.  I have long been an Ian Eagle fan; he is as good on play-by-play as any other broadcaster.  I have no idea what his contract status with CBS might be – – but I wonder if FOX might make a run to get him there as their #1 play-by-play guy…

Finally, since I mentioned above that the Browns will likely be looking to trade Baker Mayfield now that they have acquired Deshaun Watson, here is how Dwight Perry sized up that situation in the Seattle Times:

“If Browns QB Baker Mayfield does get traded, here’s hoping his new team pays him enough so he can stop living in the stadium.”

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




Normally, I would spend time today reviewing my notes from the 32 basketball tournament games I watched between Friday and Sunday.  However, I think I will save a condensed version of that review for later this week because there is something else I want to deal with today.  It is something that is not really an advertisement for Buick that has been inserted into advertising slots in the weekend games.

Here is the deal.  The screen goes black; there is what sounds like a radio or TV play-by -play of an exciting sports event; the screen tells you that you did not see it because “more than 40% of the athletes are women but they only get 10% of the TV exposure.”  And Buick is committed to righting that wrong.  I have no interest in trying to justify or challenge those numbers; I do challenge the very strong implication made by the folks at Buick that the reason I did not see those events is because they happened in women’s sports.

There are three variants on that thing that I will call an “ad” from here on out:

  1. Missy Franklin setting an NCAA record in swimming in 2015.
  2. Elizabeth Giguere scoring a sudden-death goal to win a game that is not identified in the “ad”.
  3. Arike Ogunbowale hitting a buzzer beater to win the women’s NCAA basketball championship in 2018.

Let me start with the Missy Franklin example.  The reason I did not see that on TV – and you probably did not either – has nothing whatsoever to do with men’s sports versus women’s sports.  It has to do with the simple fact that swimming is not a hugely popular TV sports property.  I did not see Missy Franklin in the women’s NCAA finals in 2015 AND I did not see anyone in the men’s finals in 2015 because they were not on in prime time because – wait for it – very few Americans care about swimming in non-Olympic years.  Moreover, even in Olympic years, the surge in US interest in swimming rises to the level that ESPN would need about a dozen different networks to have swimming as a signature event.

  • Memo to Buick:  This is a perfect example of equality between men’s and women’s sports in America.  Most folks do not care about either sport in pretty much equal measures.

Next is the sudden-death goal by Elizabeth Giguere.  I confess that I had never heard of Ms. Giguere until last weekend and when I did hear/see the Buick “ad” the first thing that caught my attention was that I did not know of a college sport where a sudden-death goal would decide a championship.  However, Google quickly taught me that Ms. Giguere is an ice hockey player from Canada who indeed scored an overtime game-winning goal in women’s ice hockey to send her team to the women’s Frozen Four in 2018.  To be sure, the US interest in ice hockey is greater than the US interest in swimming as a TV sports property; however, that “greater interest” focuses on the NHL and not college hockey.  Every day, the Washington Post has a listing of every sporting event that will be on TV networks available in the DC area for that day.  Granted, I cannot recall the last time I saw an entry for “Women’s college ice hockey”; however, I also cannot recall the last time I saw a listing for “Men’s college ice hockey” either.

  • Memo to Buick:  Here is another example of TV networks ignoring minor collegiate sporting events equally between the men’s version of the sport and the women’s version.

The last example is Arike Ogunbowale hitting a buzzer-beater against Mississippi State to win the NCAA women’s basketball championship for Notre Dame in 2018.  I actually did see that event but did not remember Ms. Ogunbowale’s name as the heroine of the moment.  Women’s basketball is on TV, and it is often featured on ESPN or ESPN2 in reasonable time slots.  It would not surprise me at all to learn that a regular season women’s game involving one of the traditional powerhouse women’s programs could draw a larger audience than a men’s game in the same time slot involving two minor men’s teams that are only being televised on a network as a time-slot filler.  However, that is not particularly relevant here because the “ad” refers to the winning shot in the women’s final tournament game not just any random game.  So, here is a simple test:

  • The women’s basketball tournament is being telecast in full on the ESPN family of networks this year.  In the men’s games on CBS and TBS, there is one “live read promotion” per half  for the women’s tournament in every men[s game and there is a banner ad on the courtside table in full camera view promoting the women’s tournament games on ESPN.  A quick check of the women’s tournament games revealed no similar cross promotional endeavors.  ESPN is not some fly-by-night sports network.
  • Now, how do you think the audience numbers for the two tournaments will compare?  I do not know the exact answer but the only question in my mind is how much larger will the men’s audience be as compared to the women’s audience.
  • In fact, when  you watch SportsCenter on ESPN – the network carrying the women’s tournament games – they will report more heavily on the men’s tournament because more people care about the men’s tournament than the women’s tournament.  ESPN knows that and wants to feature reports on events where there is greater audience interest.

Television executives seek to put things on the air that will draw viewers; there is an audience for professional wrestling such that three different cable networks put on wrestling programs every week.  I do not watch them, but enough people do that TV networks and advertisers pay to be allowed to put them on the air.  If a program attracts eyeballs, it gets exposure; if/when “the numbers” tell the execs and the advertisers that audiences are looking elsewhere, that program goes dark.  It is a cold-blooded business that only intersects “gender-issues” to the point of fan interest that produces viewer interest.

What Buick is doing here is virtue-signaling, and virtue-signaling is not attractive.  Hey, look at us because we are going to do something special for women’s sports and allege that we are doing it to right a wrong.  What I think what they are doing is calling attention to themselves by pointing out something that happens in the natural course of the business of sports and making it sound as if they are going to change all that.  Good luck with that endeavor; get back to me when you think you have “leveled the playing field.”

Finally, I referred to Missy Franklin and women’s swimming above.  Here we are in 2022 and it is not an Olympic year so general interest in swimming in the US – and women’s swimming specifically – is at low tide so to speak.  What is the sports focus on women’s swimming this year?  It has nothing to do with world records or NCAA records or team championships.  THE STORY for 2022 is the inclusion of a transgender woman into the women’s competition.  That fact drew attention to Ivy League swimming in 2022 to a greater extent that I can remember in my 70-plus years as a sports fan – – and remember, I attended an Ivy League school for four of those 70-plus years.  Even with the focus on that controversy – and not the sport itself – I wonder how many serious sports fans in the US know that Lia Thomas won an NCAA Championship in this year’s swimming finals.  In case you did not know that fact, perhaps it is because you did not also know that you could have watched it live on one of the ESPN family of networks.  Or maybe you knew that and did not see it because your sports interests lie elsewhere…?

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



March Madness – Day One

Yesterday proceeded in almost ritualistic fashion here in the satellite office of Curmudgeon Central.  A little before noon, I turned on the television but not to hear any of the studio chatter about the tournament or the games of the day.  What I needed to do was to find the channel numbers for TNT, TBS and truTV.  I already know the CBS channel number because that is where I watch NFL games and college football games when I am here in Central PA.  It took about 5 minutes to find all four channels and to get used to rotating among them as preparation for what was to come.

Then the games began and other than a short interlude for dinner, I was in front of that TV set until a bit after midnight when all the games had been decided.  [Aside:  Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, my long-suffering wife prepared a corned beef and we dined on corned beef sandwiches on Jewish rye bread with coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing.  YUM! ]

The early games were OK but nothing better than that; the late games were much more interesting/entertaining.  I had a note pad with me and made some comments about the games as they were in progress; today’s rant will consist of me trying to make sense of my handwriting from yesterday.

Michigan/Colorado St.:  David Roddy of CSU is a wide-body who is also agile with a soft shot.  Charles Barkley ought to love this guy.  Colorado St. was hot from 3-point range early but cooled off significantly.  Michigan’s size advantage was too much.

Providence/S. Dak. St:   Baylor Scheierman does about everything you would ask of a player; he led team in scoring, rebounds and assists over the season.  The Providence defense is the difference here; it is just too good; S. Dak. St. finally wore down.

 Memphis/Boise St.:  If anyone ever asks for the definition of “helter-skelter” all you have to do is find a You Tube link for one of the Memphis games.  For a while in the second half, Memphis changed styles and decided to stand around and merely observe the game.  Memphis had a 19-point lead in the first half and then the game got close.  Strange game…

  • Program Note:  There was an ad for Reese’s University involving studies of chocolate and peanut butter.  People who thought that ad was “interesting” or “entertaining” have the intellectual capacity of garden tools.

 Baylor/Norfolk St.:  Ten years ago, Norfolk St. won a game as a 15-seed.  They have represented the MEAC in the tournament in the last two years and have lost by 35 points or more both times.  Baylor was bigger, quicker and had better shooters; other than that, this could have been a close game.

  • Program Note:  PowerAde has told me myriad times already that “Pause is Power”.  What, pray tell, might that mean?

Tennessee/Longwood:  At the 10:22 mark in the first half, I made this note. “Hard to imagine Tennessee finding a way to lose this one.”

Richmond/Iowa:  Finally, a good game to watch…  In the first half I noted this was clearly the best game of the day so far.  Both teams play well at both ends of the floor.  Richmond defense is tenacious; at one point, they forced two shot clock violations on two consecutive possessions.  You don’t see that often.  Once again, la 12-seed upsets a 5-seed!

Gonzaga/Georgia St.:  Georgia St. sure looks like a more potent team as a 16-seed than Norfolk St. did.  This was a 1-point game at the half and was close (Zags by 4 with 10:30 to go in the second half) until the Zags went on a 21-0 run.  Zags’ center Chet Holmgren had a double-double and threatened a strange triple double because he had 7 blocked shots.  However, at 7’1” and a listed weight of 189 lbs., my note on seeing him on the floor was:

“Someone get this man a sandwich; he looks like a famine victim.”

UNC/Marquette:  The Tar Heels sure looked better than an 8-seed in this game and Marquette was simply outclassed.

  • Random Observation:  Have they repealed the 3-second rule in college basketball?

Kentucky/St. Peter’s:  St. Peter’s made this into a physical, defense-oriented game and did not let Kentucky run much at all.  The game was tied at the half and then it went to OT – – and St. Peter’s won as a 15-seed.  That has happened before, but it has not happened to Kentucky before.  This was an “OMG Game”.

New Mexico St./UConn:  Late in the first half, I made this “mathematical” note:

  • 2 good defensive teams + 2 mediocre offensive teams = close game

That turned out to be the case with the game tied with only 5 minutes to play.  In the end, another 12-seed eliminated a 5-seed as the Aggies advanced.

Indiana/St. Mary’s:  St. Mary’s led at the half and then just poured it on in the second half.  The most interesting event in the game involved two Indiana cheerleaders; if you have not seen the video of that, please take a moment and check it out here.

Creighton/San Diego St.:  This was an 8-seed/9-seed game, and it was close – – the way such a game should be and not at all like the UNC/Marquette game earlier.  San Diego State ran out to a big lead, but Creighton closed to 7-points at the half and then sent the game to OT.  My note at the end of the game was:

“Creighton pulls a rabbit out of the hat.”

Arkansas/Vermont:  Arkansas has better athletes; Vermont is more fundamentally sound.  This game was close all the way and fun to watch.  In the end the better athletes prevailed by 4 points.

Akron/UCLA:  In the first half, my note says, “It looks like UCLA just expects Akron to give up and go home.”  Akron led at the half and even though UCLA won the game it was an UGLY win indeed.

 San Francisco/Murray St.:  I was looking forward to this game because a former colleague wrote me prior to the tournament saying that San Francisco was “really good” and could make the Sweet Sixteen.  I had not seen San Francisco play, so I was intrigued.  Murray St. came to the game having won 30 games in the season but was only seeded at #7 so I thought this would be an interesting game.  I was right; it was close all along and then went to OT.  Murray St. won the game, but San Francisco provided plenty of entertainment.

Kansas/Texas Southern:  With about 12 minutes left in the first half, I wrote:

“No mystery here; game is not in doubt.”

Like the song says, “Tomorrow starts the same old thing again.”  I shall be at the TV with note pad at the ready looking for more close and exciting games.  Yesterday provided 5 or 6 good games to watch.  Yesterday, Kentucky lost as a 2-seed; today the other three teams seeded at #2 in their bracket take the floor – – hoping not to suffer a similar fate.  Those three teams are:

  • Auburn – – playing Jacksonville St.
  • Duke – – playing Cal St. – Fullerton
  • Villanova – – playing Delaware

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



Ireland And Baseball Today…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone.  Let me take today as an opportunity to seek guidance from the vast Sports Curmudgeon audience – – all dozen or so of you.  There is a famous Irish blessing that says:

“May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

So, why is that opening wish in the blessing as a good thing?  If the road keeps rising up, that means I would wish for you always to be going uphill.  The rest of the blessing consists of beneficial stuff, but I do not understand the opening.

I have another “Ireland linkage” for today that is sports related.  I have mentioned before that #1 son lives in Dublin.  A couple of days ago, I got an email from him asking an interesting question.

  • For how long would Barry Bonds have to “unretire” to “reset the clock” on his Hall of Fame eligibility?
  •  He could easily make the Orioles’ roster.

Obviously, I have no idea what the answer is, and I know of no one who had been retired for 15 years even trying to make a comeback, so I doubt there is any precedent for such a thing.  But now that he brought up the subject, I hope Barry Bonds is thinking along these lines and gives it a try.  I can only imagine the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America going into rhetorical contortions to take a position on that question and then defend it.

And by the way, if Bonds went to the Orioles and offered to play for the MLB minimum salary, the team would be crazy not to sign him and keep him unless he is totally incompetent.  He will not hit 60 home runs or anything like that, but he will draw interest to a team that lost 108 games or more in each of the last 3 full seasons of MLB.  Last year, the Orioles averaged only 9,793 fans per game.  They outdrew only the Rays, A’s and Marlins; those three teams have perennial attendance problems.

Speaking of baseball, there are folks out there trying to make the case that the Universal DH is part of the new CBA to increase fan interest.  A disclaimer is needed here; I do not like the DH rule and have not liked it since 1973 when it made its debut in the American League.  Having said that, I would like to suggest that if indeed this provision is in the new CBA to increase fan interest, then it is a feeble effort at the very best.  Ask yourself this question:

  • Do you know anyone who has ever attended or watched an American League game solely because he/she cannot abide the sight of pitchers taking a turn in the batter’s box?

If you do not know a horde of such folks – – and I know no such folks – – then there is no cadre of pent-up fandom for National League teams that is set to emerge over the next year or two.  Actually, there is a way to implement the DH that I might find interesting because it brings back a strategic element to the game that the DH mitigates.  Suppose the DH rule had a corollary:

  • Since the DH is basically a permanent pinch hitter for the pitcher, when that pitcher is removed from the game, so is the DH.  Subsequently, pitchers will bat for themselves.

Based on reports I have read, there are several minor things in the new CBA that will generate changes.  One is the scheduling.  The number of games each team will play within its division will drop from 19 games to 14 games and each team wii play 60 games against the 10 teams in the other two divisions.  That will increase the number of interleague games and I am not sure that is a great idea.

Another schedule wrinkle is that MLB is going to put on regular season games in “new countries” such as:

  • “Asia”
  • Dominican Republic
  • London
  • Mexico
  • Paris
  • Puerto Rico

Since MLB already plays games in Japan, I assume that “Asia” means South Korea where there is already a professional baseball league and fan interest.  However, the “potential market” in China must be a consideration and a temptation for Commissioner Manfred and his minions.  I am surprised by the inclusion of London and Paris on this list because I am unaware of any baseball interest in either city – – but there are undeniably lots of folks in each one who might be converted into baseball fandom.  The Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico make plenty of sense given that plenty of MLB players come from those places.

There will be 12 teams in the playoffs.  That diminishes the regular season except for teams fighting for the sixth playoff spot in both leagues.

The MLB Draft will now have a lottery similar to the one used by the NBA such that the team with the worst record is not guaranteed the overall #1 pick in the Draft.  The idea here is to minimize the reward for tanking a season.  That is a noble intent, and this is a step in the direction of that noble intent.  However, if anyone thinks that the NBA Lottery has cured the tanking problem, let me offer only three words:

  • “Trust the process…”

Finally, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let me close with this thought from Oscar Wilde:

“I am Irish by race, but the English have condemned me to talk the language of Shakespeare.”

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