Sports And Business Today…

When I woke up this morning, I did not have any concrete plan as to what I would write about today.  I had some coffee, chatted with my long-suffering wife about plans and schedules for the day – and the weekend – and sat down to see if anything happened overnight that caught my eye.  Voila!  The Washington Post came through with a headline saying:

  • “Cardinals drop Kyler Murray’s homework clause from contract extension”

As everyone here knows, I have never spent a day of my life in law school – – but I do have several friends who are lawyers.  One of them spent his career dealing in contracts involving the Federal government and every time I have asked him about some reported quirk in a sports contract, he is always sure to remind me of the following:

  • Every clause, every stipulation and every conditional arrangement specified in any contract of any kind is there for a specific reason that is important to one or both of the parties.

A quick text message to him this morning affirmed that he is certain that the “homework clause” was in the original version of the contract extension for the reason stated above.  So, which party to the original contract might have thought it important to include it in the deal?  Sorry, even a law school dropout can figure that one out.

The reason given for the removal of the clause is that it would become a “distraction” and the only thing a football team needs less than a “distraction” would be an outbreak of explosive diarrhea among all the linemen on a team about 30 minutes before kickoff.  The Cardinals’ brass expressed full confidence in Murray and his work ethic and his study habits and the like – – conveniently ignoring a plausible explanation as to why that clause magically materialized in the original document.  Oh, and you can be certain that no one making any pronouncements on this issue referred to this statement attributed to Kyler Murray just last season:

“ [I am] not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film. I don’t sit there for 24 hours and break down this team and that team and watch every game because, in my head, I see so much.”

Moreover, there is another aspect of this clause removal that I think needs “fleshing out”.  When the deal was struck and all parties signed the contract leading to the announcement of the deal earlier this week, Murray’s agent had to know the clause was in there.  So:

  • Did he fail to tell Murray it was there?  If he told Murray it was there, was Murray cool with it?
  • If the agent did not tell Murray about anything other than the finances of the deal, did Murray sign the document without reading it?  If so, did he do that because – like he does not need to study film all the time – he sees so much in his head?

Murray and the Cardinals may think they have avoided any “distractions” with this clause removal, but the obviously saccharine-sweet PR statements related to the clause removal just might come back to haunt some or all the parties.

While on the subject of quarterback signings, there was a report at that Jimmy Haslem – – owner of the Browns – – did not think that Baker Mayfield was sufficiently mature to make it as an NFL QB and that is the reason the Browns went in full pursuit of Deshaun Watson.  Haslem has denied that report and his denial makes a ton of sense.  Consider:

  • Even if you have reason to think that Baker Mayfield is immature and as an owner or a coach you think it is important to go out and get yourself a more mature individual for the team, how is it that you narrow down your focus to someone who has been charged with sexual assault by about two dozen different women over the past couple of years?

Moving on …  The LIV Golf Tour has an event today in Bedminster, NJ at a course owned by former President Donald Trump.  There are enough trigger words in that last sentence to fire up an argument that could last for days, but I want to try to avoid most of them.

  • The purse for this LIV event is $25M; if I counted correctly, there are 48 entrants.
  • The PGA Tour event this weekend – – Rocket Mortgage Classic – has a purse of $8.4M; if I counted correctly, there are 157 entrants.

The entire science of economics is based on the idea that people as consumers of goods and services make rational choices.  [Aside:  Personally, I think that economics is a sub-set of psychology where folks study human behavior relative to money as opposed to human behavior in general.  But that’s just me…]  Say whatever you want about the LIV Tour but look at the economics above.  Professional golfers are people who have decided to make their living competing in golf tournaments:

  • The LIV event offers $521K per entrant
  • The PGA event offers $54K per entrant

In case you think I have cherry-picked a single weekend to throw out decidedly different numbers, consider the following data:

  • The total purse money for PGA Tour events in 2022 is targeted at $427M.  I have not seen any projection for what the 2023 purse total might be.
  • The LIV Tour says it has targeted $4.05B for purse money in 2023.

Remember, these are professional golfers…

Finally, since most of today’s rant related to contracts and money, let me close with this view of money by comedian Steve Martin:

“I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.”

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



The Meritocracy Of Sports

At the core, sports are a meritocracy.  If a player or a team is better than an opponent, that player or team is recognized as such.  Competency can – and has – overcome deeply held beliefs such as racial superiority/bias simply by the demonstration of skills’ competencies.  As with just about any human endeavor, the standing of this meritocracy must endure a few bumps along the road.

In an ideal world ruled by merit, comparable player salaries would line up competence and achievement.  And if you stand back a bit and take a synoptic view, that is most often the case.  However, on a more fine-grained investigation and for moments in time, there are some significant disruptions in that continuum.  Consider:

  • As of this morning, the second highest paid player in the NFL will be Kyler Murray.
  • Aaron Rodgers will be the highest paid player.

Aaron Rodgers has been around a lot longer than Kyler Murray, so it is natural to expect that he has more achievements than Murray but let’s take a look.  Aaron Rodgers:

  • Has been NFL MVP 4 times
  • Has been selected to the Pro Bowl 8 times
  • Has been named to the All-Pro team 5 times
  • Has won a Super Bowl and was the MVP in that Super Bowl Game
  • Has a career record of 139-66-1 in games he started at QB

Now let’s look at Kyler Murray:

  • Won the Rookie of the Year award
  • Made the Pro Bowl 2 times
  • Has a career record of 22-23-1 in games he started at QB.

Kyler Murray is a fine young QB; he is probably in the top third of the QBs in the league but is – as of today – not nearly the second best QB in the NFL.  But the Arizona Cardinals are betting on the come because they just gave him a fat contract extension worth $231M over 5 years with $160M of that total value guaranteed.  Murray’s deal is worth $1M more than Deshaun Watson’s deal with the Browns but the entirety of Watson’s contract is guaranteed – – just to give you a sense of comparison there.

Oh, and for the record, I believe that Watson is the better QB here even though Watson is also not the second or third best QB in the NFL at the moment …

A few days after the announcement of this humongous contract with all the smiling faces and the dulcet  tones of Kumbaya wafting through the air, someone found a really strange “clause” in Kyler Murray’s contract.

  • Murray is required to spend 4 hours a week in “independent study” every week of the regular season and the post-season (if the Cards are in the post-season) where “independent study” is defined as “studying material provided by the Cardinals to prepare for the upcoming game.”

My guess is that this “Cardinals’ provided material” is better labeled as “The Game Plan” and not as “Poincaré’s Conjecture”.  Now, if that surmise is correct, it is fair to wonder why the Cardinals found it necessary to put it in the deal.  I understand the concept of cognitive dissonance – a condition where one can hold inconsistent thoughts/beliefs in mind simultaneously – but this situation makes me shake my head:

  • On one hand, you think enough of Kyler Murray to pay him $231M for his QB services over the next 5 years where “studying the game plan” is an essential element of his QB services.
  • And on the other hand, you feel it necessary to make it a contract stipulation that he will put in work on his own studying that game plan outside the supervision and without the oversight of anyone in the organization.
  • Really …?

Moving on …  Kyler Murray is involved in a totally different “cycle of life” set of events that have just happened:

  • In 2017, Baker Mayfield was picked overall #1 by the Browns.  Josh Rosen was picked overall #10 by the Cardinals.
  • In 2018, the Cardinals traded Rosen to the Dolphins and picked Kyler Murray overall #1.
  • In 2022, the Browns traded Mayfield away and just signed Rosen to be one of their backup QBs in case Deshaun Watson is unavailable.
  • Wheels within wheels…

`           Finally, staying with the idea of NFL signings, I read where the Packers signed Sal Cannella – – a tight end out of Auburn and a player for the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers.

Of course, you probably know about his more famous cousin, Sal Monella…

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



Bad Baseball News

Last week I wrote about the MLB All-Star Game and noted that in the past it had drawn as many as 16 million viewers.  I said then that the 2022 All-Star Game:

“… will certainly not attract an audience of half that size and may struggle to have an audience a third of that size.”

Well, I was right – – and I was wrong.  The number of viewers this year was indeed less than half of 16 million, but it was comfortably above one-third of 16 million; this year’s audience was reported to be 7.5 million viewers.  That datum made me go looking for regular season attendance figures for MLB to see how those are holding up.  Soon into that process, I realized that neither 2021 nor 2020 could be considered anywhere near “normal years”, so I went back to 2019 to begin looking for ongoing attendance trends.  Spoiler alert:  Things do not look good.

Here are the data on average attendance per game starting in 2015 (because that is as far back as I went) through this point in the 2022 season omitting the COVID-impacted seasons:

  • 2015 – – 30,336 fans per game
  • 2016 – – 30,132
  • 2017 – – 29,923
  • 2018 – – 28,660
  • 2019 – – 28,204
  • 2022 – – 26,226

In math terms, that data plotted on a graph would be described as “monotonically decreasing” meaning that the curve is never flat nor does it ever increase.  But things get worse; if you look at the difference in the decline year over year, the trend is in the wrong direction:

  • Difference 2015 – 2016 = negative-204 fans per game
  • Difference 2016 – 2017 = negative-209 fans per game
  • Difference 2017 – 2018 = negative-1,263 fans per game
  • Difference 2018 – 2019 = negative-456 fans per game
  • Difference 2019 – 2022 = negative-1,978 fans per game.

Compared to 2015, average game attendance for MLB games is down 4,410 fans per game or 13.5%.  Combine those data with the declining TV ratings for things like the All-Star Game and for the World Series – – last year’s rating were abysmal – – and I have to wonder why the price to buy an MLB franchise continues to go up.

But “up” is where they are going; the Nats are for sale and back in March of this year, Forbes estimated the team value at $2B.  Recent history of franchise purchases in various sports says that new buyers pay a premium over the Forbes estimate so let’s just say the team sells for $2.2B.  The current owners paid $450M for the team in 2005; that sale price would represent a gain of $1.75B or a gain of 390%.  The fact that this makes no sense to me is probably part of the reason that I do not have the resources to be a bidder for the Nationals’ franchise in the first place.

Mentioning the Nationals being up for sale reminds me that for Juan Soto to get to LA for the Home Run Derby/All-Star Game, the team refused to charter a plane to take him there so he “had to fly commercial”.  Recall, the timing of the All-Star Game is proximal to the point where Soto turned down the Nationals’ offer of $440M over 15 years.  I don’t know who “leaked” that tidbit, but there is motivation for Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, to have done it.

  • The message is sort of like, “See how those low-balling cheapskates treat my client.”
  • BTW, I’m surprised that he did not add that Soto had to make his reservations close to take-off time and got stuck in a middle seat.

However, before you take sides here, please recall that Juan Soto is currently making $17.1M for the 2022 MLB season and that he has earned about $11M in his previous contracts.  I will go out on a limb here and suggest that he can afford a first-class ticket.

Before I leave the business of game attendance in the dust, I want to share one bit of the fine structure that I ran across in looking for data and trends.  The Oakland A’s have been looking for a way to get a new stadium for about 10 years now – – maybe 15.  To call the Oakland Coliseum an “inadequate facility” would be high architectural praise.  The City of Oakland has poured money into renovations there in the past and is left with the stadium equivalent of the Black Hole of Calcutta; unsurprisingly, they have not fallen all over themselves to throw good money after bad.

However, the attendance figures for the A’s – certainly reflecting the team’s lack of success and lack of retaining good players in addition to the skeezy nature of the park – are scary indeed.

  • A’s average attendance in 2015 = 21,829
  • A’s average attendance in 2019 = 20,626
  • A’s average attendance in 2022 = 8,410

Teams would be happy to have an average attendance of 8,410 fans for their Spring Training games – – but this is the regular season attendance we are looking at.

Finally, since today’s rant has had a “gloom and doom” tinge to it, let me close with something that looks on the brighter side.  It is supposedly an African proverb:

“Do not blame God for having created the lion but thank Him for not giving it wings.”

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



Rise Glorious, Tennessee…

They say that timing is everything in delivering comedy.  Timing is also very important in other aspects of life and sometimes it allows for juxtaposing two stories that would seem not to have anything to do with each other at first.  But then…

About a month ago, I ran across a report that the University of Tennessee Athletic Department had launched an “aggressive” 5-year Plan for Tennessee athletics.  The plan’s label is “Rise Glorious” a phrase that appears in the Tennessee alma mater.  In announcing the launch of this plan, the Athletic Director said that Tennessee can and should be a leader in college athletics on the field and in strategic thinking but that the university has not lived up to those goals recently and this plan will set things right once again.

Supposedly, the student-athletes – – his phrase and not mine – – at Tennessee will be integrally involved in Rise Glorious actions and activities thereby creating the sort of ownership spirit that will create a winning culture for the Vols.  It is not clear to me how that is supposed to happen or how that might help Tennessee win any games, but every long-term strategic plan must have some qualities of mysticism contained therein.

There are specific areas addressed by the Rise Glorious plan and – not surprisingly – on-field performance is one of those areas.  In that area, each Tennessee athletic program will create an “NCAA Championship Plan” for itself and one of the standards will be:

  • Tennessee will win a national championship in at least one sport every four years; and each sport will achieve at least one national Top-16 finish every four years.

That is an ambitious goal to be sure and one of the other elements of Rise Glorious – – an “SEC Championship Plan” – – is similarly aspirational:

  • “Each sport will win a conference championship at least once every five years; Tennessee Athletics aims to capture five conference championships in one academic year while averaging at least three conference championships per year over the next five years.”

What will it mean to the football program to win a conference championship sometime in the next 5 years?  Well…

  • The last SEC championship for Tennessee was in 1997.
  • Since 2007, the Vols’ combined football record is 85 – 88.

I think the chances of such a turnaround in the next 5 years for Tennessee football are slim indeed, but I will stipulate that there are elements of Rise Glorious that could point the program in a very positive direction; and I will note that last  year Josh Heupel coached the Vols to a 7-6 record in his first  year in Knoxville.  So, after reading about the announcement and the launching of Rise Glorious I made a note to myself to keep this in mind and check back in a couple of years.

But as I said at the top, timing is everything and maybe the first checkpoint for the achievement of goals in Rise Glorious  comes only about a month into the implementation phase.  I say this because last weekend the NCAA notified Tennessee that it had identified 18 rules infractions committed by previous head football coach Jeremy Pruitt including the following charges:

  • Pruitt and some of his assistants hosted prospects and their families during the “recruiting dead period” for unofficial and unrecorded weekend visits where payments in cash and/or in goods were given to prospects and/or their families.
  • Pruitt’s wife made cash payments totaling as much as $13,000 to recruits and/or their families.  [Aside:  There is some irony here noting that Pruitt’s wife has previously served as an “NCAA Rules Compliance Officer” at two other universities.]

You get the idea here; the violations are blatant; if only half-true, they are still important violations of the NCAA rules and that can bring the hammer down on the Tennessee football program – – as it seeks to improve its fortunes against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida …  Tennessee is not likely to contest too many of these charges because based on an internal investigation, it fired Coach Pruitt for cause and allowed the previous Athletic Director – – Phillip Fulmer – – to retire from his position.

All I can say here is this:

  • Josh Heupel had a difficult task ahead of him to win an SEC Championship in football sometime in the next 5 years.
  • Punishment for those sorts of infractions will fall on Heupel’s shoulders even though he was the coach at UCF when they took place.
  • Penalties for infractions of this sort usually involve reductions in the number of permissible scholarships and/or limitations on visitations by recruits.
  • Forget winning an SEC Championship in the next five years for a moment.  If Coach Heupel can win the SEC East and make it to the SEC Championship Game any time in the next 5 years under the restrictions he is about to endure, he should be Coach of the Decade.

Finally, since everything today has been about the University of Tennessee, let me close with this observation by H. L. Mencken:

“There is, it appears, a conspiracy of scientists afoot.  Their purpose is to break down religion, propagate immorality, and so reduce mankind to the level of brutes.  They are the sworn and sinister agents of Beelzebub, who yearns to conquer the world, and has his eye especially upon Tennessee.”

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



College Football Evolves?

The weather over the weekend here in the DC area was an abomination.  Temperatures were in the upper-90s along with the signature humidity levels that make July and August unpleasant months in these parts.  Having dealt with these sorts of summers for decades, the formula consists of staying indoors as much as possible, drawing the blinds to keep as much sunlight as possible out of the living space and using ceiling fans to keep the air moving.  I and many others around here took a moment over the weekend to pay homage to Willis Carrier

This is not a time of the year with a plethora of stunning sports attractions on TV and on Saturday the first listing that drew any real interest was a Houston Astros/Seattle Mariners game that started at 4:00PM  [Aside:  The Astros led 2-1 when I tuned out to help prepare dinner and the Astros eventually won that game 3-1.]  That left me with lots of time to let my mind wander and that often leads to flights of fancy and imagination.  Saturday was indeed a day that fell into that category.

Imagine if you will a world where college football evolution continues over the next decade or so to the point where more changes are needed.  The driving force, of course, will be TV rights fees but what the networks will want are more games pitting two very good teams against each other.  The expanded Big-10 and the expanded SEC provide some games of that ilk – – but there are still too many offerings that do not “move the needle” and the folks who are ready to pay out big monies want that needle moved.

I argued last week that one of the reasons that college football was so popular was that its rivalries were for the most part driven by schools that are nearby each other.  So, if the financial situation I alluded to above happened, additional expansion of the two most powerful conferences would just increase the footprint even more than exists today.  How to square this circle…?

No one in the current structure of college football will want to hear this, but I believe there is lots of money to be made with a radical restructuring.  Two key elements of the radical restructuring would be:

  1. Some teams in conferences other than the current Big-10 and current-SEC would need to ditch their current affiliation and move to a new conference home.
  2. Some teams currently in the Big-10 and the SEC would need to be removed and take up the sport of college football elsewhere.

Right there you have a huge up-front cost to get to where I want to go, and I acknowledge that such an upfront cost might be prohibitive.  But just for giggles, let me assume that the College Football Fairy Godmother shows up and waves her wand and makes all that “athletic department free agency” happen.  At that point, college football programs are like tokens that can be moved about, and I have a plan for that.

In my  new world there will be Two Mega Conferences – – call them Alpha and Beta for now because the names do not matter.  Each Conference will have 20 teams arranged in 4 Divisions of 5 teams each.  The Divisions will emphasize proximity and the Conferences will try to join Divisions whose geography is as close as possible to its conference mates.  So here is the status so far:

  • Alpha and Beta will incorporate 40 schools – – and the idea is to have these be the best 40 programs in the country such that there is lots more high quality/high interest programming for those deep-pocketed TV execs to drool over.
  • Regionalism and proximity will be emphasized
  • The existence of Alpha and Beta which will ONLY feature in conference games – – no more cupcake scheduling – – will make the College Football Playoff an easy decision.

Here is how the scheduling would work:

  • Each team will play its 4 Division opponents home and home every year; that accounts for 8 games.
  • Each team will play every team in one other Division in its Conference on a year-by-year rotating basis; that accounts for 5 games.
  • The CFP would become a “tournament” involving the 8 Division winners in the two Conferences.  The simple system would be to have the four Alpha winners compete to see who the Alpha Champ is and have the Alpha Champ play the Beta Champ for the national title.  Or you could get fancy and seed the 8 teams based on records and not on conference residence and go from there.  Take your pick…

I warned you above that I had all day Saturday until the late afternoon to ponder this gedanken experiment so here is a very rough cut at what the 8 Divisions might look like.  In some cases I have two teams there separated by a slash; that means take your pick…

  • Division 1:  Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, NC State
  • Division 2:  Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee
  • Division 3:  Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M. Baylor/TCU
  • Division 4:  Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah
  • Division 5:  Clemson, UNC, UVa, South Carolina, Va Tech
  • Division 6:  Michigan, Michigan St. Notre Dame, Penn St., Ohio St.
  • Division 7:  Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin
  • Division 8:  Arkansas, Iowa St., Kansas St., Missouri, Nebraska

I know I have left out some notable schools here; so, before the long knives come out, let me try to explain.  I know that there is no Division in the Great Northwest.  The reason for that is I could not come up with a geographic cluster of 5 teams in that area.  Oregon and Washington would be obvious; after that the pickings get slim if the idea is to keep this to “Top 40 football programs”.  Please note that there is no “Northeastern Division” either because the best team in that part of the world – – after Penn State who fit elsewhere in this scheme – – is Boston College and that is not particularly attractive.  I thought about Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse, WVU and “somebody else” for a while and then dropped it.

The two Arizona schools are not here either; absent also are Pitt, Syracuse, Cincy, Kentucky, WVU and Louisville.  If someone wants to argue that they ought to be included in this fantasy, please do so by suggesting which team should be removed from any of the Divisions.  Oh, and please remember to keep up a semblance of “regionality” in any suggestions.

Finally, apropos of nothing other than the fact that I found this humorous, let me close with a commentary by stand-up comedian, Bill Hicks:

“And on the seventh day, God stepped back and said, ‘This is my creation, perfect in every way … oh, dammit I left all this pot all over the place.  Now they’ll think I want them to smoke it … Now I have to create Republicans.’”

For the record:  I was not smoking pot or any under the influence of any other hallucinogen last Saturday when I took this flight of fancy.

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






College Football Today…

This week saw various college athletic conferences put on “media days” where the football coaches and the conference commissioners get up and rhapsodize about the current state of their team and their conference and college football as a whole.  In past years, these “media days” were formulaic because of the relative stability of college football.  Every season, fans could bank on a few things almost to the same degree of certainty that night follows day:

  • Alabama will be good
  • Rutgers will be bad
  • Attendance at weeknight MAC games will be sparse
  • You get the idea…

This year, things are a bit livelier because the landscape of college football has fundamentally changed – – and it is not clear that all the change is for the better. The event that seems to have kicked this snowball over the cliff was the Supreme Court ruling that allowed college athletes to retain their eligibility even if they were paid “royalties” for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL).  Most folks agreed with that outcome, but I do not think that too many fans saw where it would go in short order.  If a pizza chain wants to pay Quincy Quarterback to talk up their brand and use his picture on their pizza boxes, that should not make him ineligible to play football in the Fall.  However, when a bunch of rich alums get together and pool together millions of dollars to recruit and retain Quincy Quarterback and the Beefy Brothers on the defensive line and Randy Running-back, that alters the perception just a bit – – at least it does for me.

The focus on money in college football has been dominant for at least the last several decades but now the focus is even sharper.  All the conference expansions/realignments that have taken place over the past year or so are purely financially driven.  I am positive that UCLA’s decision to join the Big-10 had more to do with TV revenue money than it did with establishing a football rivalry with Indiana.

The TV ratings for Big-10 games and SEC games – – and to a lesser extent ACC games – – will dominate the ratings books once all the conference transfers are in effect.  However, the overall growth of college football may not be enhanced by that situation for at least four reasons:

  1. College football has always been a “regional sport”.  Rivalries tend to arise where there is “proximity”.  Spreading out the conference footprints removes some of that intimacy.  Think of the really intense rivalries like Duke/UNC (proximity), Alabama/Auburn (proximity), Oregon/Oregon St. (proximity), USC/UCLA (proximity), Ohio State/Michigan (proximity), Michigan/Michigan St. (proximity), Utah/BYU (proximity), Florida/Florida St. (proximity), Texas/Oklahoma (proximity), Oklahoma/Oklahoma St. (proximity)…
  2. College football rivalries – because they are often close by each other – often revolve around making the rival suffer more than you do.  Ole Miss and Mississippi State have not threatened to win the SEC for quite a while, but their fans can and do focus on being better than those “other guys in the State of Mississippi.”  Establishing that sort or relational rivalry is not easy or natural; if you doubt that, check out Missouri and all its blood-rivals in the SEC.
  3. Chasing big money does not always cure everything; it cures a lot – – but not everything.  Take Maryland for example… The Terps were in the ACC, but they were geographically an outlier in the conference and complained that it hindered their recruiting  efforts.  I do not know if that was necessarily the case, but it was an ongoing narrative coming from the Terps for years.  So, they jumped ship and are now in a geographic vacuum in the Big-10; I call that the Great Leap Sideways – – with a hat tip to Mao Zedong and his Great Leap Forward.  Maryland’s nearby conference neighbors are now Rutgers and Penn State.  The Nittany Lions barely acknowledge Maryland as an opponent, and who cares if they are arch-rivals with Rutgers – – which they are not?
  4. The establishment of the so-called super-conferences is the athletic department equivalent of placing a bet that college football can become a national sport.    That presents no problem to me personally, but I have no real evidence to offer that suggests such a thing is going to work.

Imagine for a moment that the SEC and the Big-10 concentrate the college football talent in the two conferences to an even greater extent than it is today.  Imagine that even the ACC begins to lose stature in college football.  In that circumstance, what a nationally focused sport of college football would look like is a minor professional football league.  Imagine that either the USFL and/or the XFL manages to survive as a “developmental league” for the NFL.  Then what would that pair of nationally focused pair of super-conferences be?  Feeders to the USFL/XFL survivor?

I am not predicting the demise of college football and I certainly am not one to wish for such an outcome.  As an alum of an Ivy League school, I have no hormonal ties to MY college football team; I like college football as a large and gangly entity all on its own.  The super-conferences are not going to lose me as a viewer for the rest of my time on the planet.  But the folks who run the big conferences and the folks who run the College Football Playoff need to avoid looking at the world through rose colored glasses.  There will be bumps in the road ahead and the folks in charge need to be prepared to react to those bumps.

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

“Jon Berti of the Miami Marlins leads all of baseball in steals, with 25, at the season’s halfway point.

“Unless you count the former treasurer of the Oakville, Ontario, Minor Baseball Association, who is accused of embezzling $468,000 from the league.”

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



NBA Ruminations…

Let me begin today with a comment about the rumored trade between the Nets and the Lakers which would exchange Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving – – along with other guys to make the deal financially allowable.  I have no idea if this exchange of disgruntlement will happen, but I think people are looking at the possible outcomes from such a trade incorrectly.

Most of the reports seem to focus on the potential reunion of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving who had been teammates in Cleveland when the Cavs won the NBA Championship.  That relationship soured to the point where they parted company, but a lot of sand has dropped through the hourglass since then.  LeBron James wants to win another title – – remember he is still two titles behind Michael Jordan and tied in the number of titles with Steph Curry – – because “The Chosen One” needs to be in a class of his own.  Kyrie Irving has not even sniffed another championship since leaving Cleveland.

While that is an interesting storyline that might make the basis for a screenplay and a short film feature, I think the more interesting thing to do is to ponder the Nets’ situation should such a trade take place:

  • The Brooklyn Nets would have Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons and possibly Kevin Durant on their roster as their “Big Three”
  • Kevin Durant is a great player – one of the best ever.  He can score and he will play defense even though he is not a great defender.
  • Ben Simmons is a “reluctant shooter” which is a good thing because when shooting outside about 6 feet from the basket he is a bad shooter.  Simmons is a demon on defense though…
  • Russell Westbrook has never seen a shot he was reluctant to take, and he plays defense as enthusiastically as someone looks forward to a pay cut.

To me, that situation could create great synergy – – or it could collapse like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  If that image does not immediately come to mind, here is a refresher for your memory; the refresher only takes 1 minute and 13 seconds…

One other trade speculation involving NBA teams has it that the Knicks would like to acquire Donovan Mitchell from the Jazz.  It surely appears from afar that the Jazz are seeking to do a full “tear-down and rebuild” to the team.  Coach Quin Snyder left town after the Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs; the team traded Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves for 4 first round picks plus the guy the Wolves took in the first round this year.  Mitchell should be an asset that carries a similar value to Gobert’s; so, let the bidding begin…

Let me be clear that I like Donovan Mitchell a lot; having said that, I do not think the Knicks are the best team for him.  I think there are several important reasons why the Knicks should be looking elsewhere to land a star player:

  • Mitchell is signed to a contract that runs through the end of the 2024/25 season with a player option for the next year.  He will make between $30.4M next year and up to $34.8M two seasons after that.  The option year would be at a salary of $37.1M.  The Knicks just signed Jalen Brunson to a deal with over $100M so they are not about to trade him.  But they must come up with a package of picks plus players that approaches $30M for the trade to be permissible.
  • That salary stipulation puts RJ Barret’s name front and center as a player the Jazz might be happy to have either to build around or to flip in yet another trade.  The Knicks’ problem is that Barrett is the best player they had prior to signing Brunson.
  • Mitchell and Brunson would be a strong backcourt tandem to be sure – – but the NBA is not won by small guards with questionable support from “the bigs”.  And if Barrett is gone, the best of the remaining “bigs” would probably be Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson.  That tandem elicits a Meh! from these quarters.
  • Randle is the only Knick under contract whose salary in 2022/23 is nearly sufficient to allow a trade for Mitchell; Randle will make $23.9M next year.  The Jazz CEO for Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge, would have to be on some sort of psychedelic trip to consider a Randle for Mitchell swap – – and he may not even want Randle at all given that the Jazz will be rebuilding, and Randle has been in the NBA for 8 years now.

Unless the Jazz value whatever draft capital the Knicks have very highly, acquiring Donovan Mitchell would either gut the Knicks of whatever young prospects they have on the roster and/or denude them of draft picks in the future.  [Aside:  Please see what I said about the NBA not being won by small guards alone…]  Donovan Mitchell would surely be an upgrade for the Knicks – but I do not think it is a good fit for Mitchell or the Knicks in the long run.

Then again, I am not an NBA GM…

One other NBA note today.  The Wizards signed Bradley Beal to a max contract over 5 years worth $251M.  The Wizards had a similar experience with John Wall and a “max contract which they traded away to get Russell Westbrook on a max deal who they then traded away.  You would think that the Wizards would have learned from those experiences that players of that style do not hold up well as they age.

Like I said, I am not an NBA GM…

Finally, having just mentioned Russell Westbrook I ran across an interesting stat about him and his contract with the Lakers.

Assuming Westbrook plays the entire 2022/23 season with the Lakers, he will have made a total of $91.3M in salary from the Lakers.

In 1979, Jerry Buss bought the Lakers franchise PLUS the LA Kings franchise PLUS The Forum from Jack Kent Cooke for a total of only $67.5M.

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



When $440M Is “Not Enough”…

On Monday  night, Juan Soto won the Home Run Derby.  Soto is 23 years old and is by far the best player the Washington Nationals have on their roster.  The Nationals’ franchise is up for sale and having Soto under contract for a long time – – and therefore at a known cost – – would probably make the team more valuable to a new buyer.  So, according to reports, the Nats offered Soto:

  • $440M over 15 years.

Soto and his agent, Scott Boras have turned down that deal.  Normally, I would look at those numbers and wonder how anyone could turn down such a deal to spend the rest of his career playing baseball knowing that $440M was guaranteed to appear in one’s checking account over that time.  Not so in this case, that deal is a low-ball offer.

Doing some simple math, signing that contract would pay Juan Soto $29.33M per year over the life of the contract.  If he signed that deal today and it went into effect next season, that would make him about the tenth or fifteenth highest player in MLB on a per year basis in 2023.  So where would that put him on a similar scale in – say – 2030?  The Nationals did something interesting here; they put out an offer that sounds astronomical, and now that it has been rejected, the team can tell its fans that it tried to sign their star player, but he obviously wanted more than the sun, moon and stars.

My problem is that the Nationals have done this before.  They have signed players to big deals where the total value of the contract is paid out only after the term of the contract has expired – – sort of like the Bobby Bonilla deal with the Mets.  And they have made what look like splashy offers to other players that were turned down because of those “extended payment clauses”.  The Nats have done exceptionally well in acquiring talent in the past ten years or so; they have not done such a great job at retaining it:

  • Bryce Harper – – lost to free agency with the Nats getting nothing in return.
  • Anthony Rendon – – lost to free agency with the Nats getting nothing in return
  • Max Scherzer – – traded away for prospects
  • Trea Turner – – traded away for prospects
  • Juan Soto – – looking as if he will be lost to free agency with the Nats getting nothing in return.

So, the Nats are now ready to shop Soto at the trade deadline.  He has value to a team in contention for the World Series because he has not yet reached his arbitration year.  A team acquiring Soto today would have him on the roster – – and an unknown cost to be sure – – through the end of the 2024 season.  For a contending team, that would equal 3 shots at a World Series win.

Another sports milestone happened on Monday of this week.  NFL Training Camps opened when the rookies for the Bills and the Raiders reported to their training facilities in Rochester, NY and Henderson, NV respectively.  The NFL regular season will open on Thursday September 8 this year meaning there are less than 8 weeks until the NFL elbows its way onto center stage where it will remain for US sports fans until early February 2023.  Over the next 7 weeks or so, you can count on reading six “flavors” of reporting from training camps:

  1. Impressive rookies
  2. Veterans trying to add one more season to their careers
  3. Contract squabbles and progress/lack of progress on same
  4. Injuries
  5. Trade rumors – – related to injuries
  6. Deshaun Watson – – regardless of whatever punishment he receives

An NFL story that has not been a huge deal yet involves the Chicago Bears who are threatening to move from downtown Chicago (Soldier Field) and build a new stadium in the Chicago Suburbs at the site of a defunct racetrack in Arlington, IL.  Soldier Field is the smallest NFL venue seating “only” 61,500 fans and it is the oldest NFL venue having been constructed in 1924.  Back in 2002, the stadium owner – – the Chicago Parks District – – added a controversial renovation to the facility.  What was once a classic looking structure with stone pillars and open promenades now looks like an old stone stadium upon which an alien spaceship had landed.  I do not recall anyone denying that Soldier Field “needed work” but what was done to the stadium was an eyesore.  That project cost $630M.

  • [Aside:  I believe it was Jay Mariotti – then a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times – who dubbed the new version of Soldier Field as an “eyesore on the lake shore.”]

The folks who run Chicago would certainly prefer not to have the Bears move out of the city.  They have proposed putting a dome on Soldier Field – along with other renovations and upgrades – as an enticement for the team to stay where it is.  I have never been to a Bears’ game at Soldier Field, but I have seen Soldier Field before the alien spaceship landed there and after the ship took up residence there.  Let me say this clearly:

  • Putting a dome on top of the architectural monstrosity that is the current version of Soldier Field would be like adding wallpaper to the inside of a porta-potty and thinking it made for a nicer environment.

This story is far from over.  The Bears lease on Soldier Field runs through 2033 and according to a report I read, it would cost the team $84M to get out of that lease after 2026.  So, there is plenty of time for posturing and politicking here.

Finally, since much of today has involved talk about money, let me close with this observation by Will Rogers:

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress peoples they don’t like.”

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



The 2022 FIFA World Cup

Let me begin this morning with something that might damage my standing in the Congress of Curmudgeons where the maintenance of crankiness is central to one’s membership.  This was the lead item in Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter over the weekend:

“No kidding — Simone Biles got reverse-carded at the airport.

“The 4-foot-7 world-champion gymnast was mistaken for a child when she caught a flight home after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom this month.

“’The flight attendant (tried) to give me a coloring book when I board…” she wrote on Instagram. “I said, ‘No, I’m good, I’m 25.’

“’The other flight attendant gave me a mimosa, so we’re in the clear.”

“Even better, the pilot stuck the landing.”

I have seen Simone Biles in real life while transiting an airport; and I can indeed sympathize with the flight attendant who mistook her for a young girl; she really is that small.

Normally at this time of an even-numbered year where there are no Summer Olympic Games, we would be in the early stages of the FIFA World Cup Tournament.  Not so in 2022 because about 10 years ago when the venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup was to be decided upon, Qatar used its abundance of petro-dollars to grease enough palms among the FIFA membership to land the games in Qatar.

It was only after the votes were counted – – and the bribes sequestered in safe havens – – that anyone bothered to sign onto to check out the typical conditions in Doha in July.  Let me just say that it is a good thing there are no games scheduled there for this week because the high temperatures are:

  • Monday – – 111 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Tuesday – – 107 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Wednesday – – 102 degrees Fahrenheit (a cool front must have come through)
  • Thursday – – 105 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Friday – – 108 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You get the idea …

[Aside: In case you were wondering, the highest temperature ever recorded in Doha was 122.7 degrees Fahrenheit in July 2010.  Now you know…]

The World Cup Tournament was put in Qatar based on bribery and there have been allegations made by various human rights advocates that the working conditions for the people building the stadium venues have bordered on slavery.  I have no insight into any of that sort of thing, but it provides yet another element of the landscape to make one wonder how anyone who did vote for this venue manages to sleep at night.  I know, they do so with the air conditioning running…

The World Cup Tournament will happen in November of 2022 when temperatures in the mid-80s are more the norm.  So, how are things going in preparations?  Here is data provided by

  • As of July 1, Qatar organizers report the sale of 1.8 million tickets for various games in the World Cup tournament.  There are 63 games in the World Cup Tournament involving teams from 32 countries.
  • Qatar citizens have purchased the largest number of tickets so far.  Surprisingly to me, the country whose citizens have bought the second largest number of tickets is Canada.
  • As of July 1, folks from the US have purchased the tenth largest number of tickets.
  • A total of 3 million tickets will be available for the games overall.
  • Organizers in Qatar project 1.2 million visitors will come to the country as a result of the World Cup Tournament.
  • Ticket prices range from $69 to $1600 depending on how late in the Tournament the game is and the seat preference.  [Aside:  Expect there to be an active after-market for tickets too…]
  • To limit ticket scalping, a fan can buy only 6 tickets per match and no more than 60 tickets for the entirety of the World Cup Tournament.

There could be one other “rub” with Qatar as the venue.  “Futbol” fans have been known to indulge in what we in the States call “adult beverages” before, during and after the fixtures.  Qatar is a Muslim country where alcohol is strictly controlled – – with an emphasis on the word “strictly”.  Here is the deal:

  • Inside the stadium venues will be alcohol-free.
  • Fans may have beer “on arrival” and/or after the game, but not in the stadium.  [Aside:  Remember that global brands of beer are major sponsors of FIFA events and of the World Cup tournament itself.]
  • Technically, consumption of alcohol in a public space is illegal in Qatar but plans are for beer to be available to fans in specific areas of Doha at restricted times during the day.
  • Visitors to Qatar may not bring alcohol into the country – – even from duty-free stores – – and there is only one liquor store in the country which can only sell alcohol to permanent residents of Qatar and only for home consumption.

Stand by … this might get interesting.

Finally, having spent sometime today pondering alcohol consumption issues, let me close with this definition of an alcoholic by the poet, Dylan Thomas:

“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.”

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



The MLB All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star game will happen tomorrow night.  Anyone who has been reading these rants for any period of time knows that I believe that each and every All-Star Game in each and every major sport in the US should have been cancelled retroactively for about the last 10 years.  Nothing in recent history has managed to change my mind.

The baseball All-Star Game is the best of the lot by a long shot, but it is not nearly what it used to be.  I believe the instrument of the MLB All-Star Game’s demise was the introduction and then the expansion of interleague play which began in the 1997 season.  Prior to 1997, the only time a team from the American League would play a team in the National League would be:

  • Spring Training – – so what?
  • In-season exhibition games – – even bigger “so what”?
  • World Series – – Big Deal Indeed!!!

In that scheduling regimen, one could look forward to the “best AL players” taking on the “best NL players” as a one-off major event in the All-Star Game in the middle of the season.  After all, lots of the “best players” on both teams would not be in the World Series so the All-Star Game was likely to be the only chance to see if Sandy Koufax could strike out Mickey Mantle.  Fans really looked forward to the game so much so that for a brief period around 1960, they played two All-Star games per year – – one in early July and the other at the end of July.

Fans set aside time to watch All-Star games in the past.  TV audiences for MLB All-Star Games peaked at around 16M viewers 25-30 years ago.  To give you an idea as to how the luster has come off this product, the game tomorrow will certainly not attract an audience of half that size and may struggle to have an audience a third of that size.  I am convinced that the primary reason is that fans can now see how AL players compete with NL players simply by paying attention to the normal MLB schedule as it unfolds.

I said above that the MLB All-Star Game is much better than the spectacles put on by the NFL, NBA and NHL and the reason I say that is that the MLB All-Star Game resembles very closely a real MLB game that would count in the standings.  The other three “All-Star Games” are glorified skills competitions with no defense being played.

  • In the last three NBA All-Star games, the total number of points scored in the game was 312 points or more.  [Aside: In the 2019 game, the final score was 178-164.]
  • In the Pro-Bowl snippets I have seen over the past several years, I do not recall a single hard tackle by a defender, and I have never seen nearly as many pass catchers run out of bounds in a regular season or playoff game.
  • In the NHL All-Star games, scores of 17-12 have happened.  I am nowhere near being a “hockey guru”, but I am confident that it would take quite a while for someone to find a regular season or playoff game where 29 goals were scored.

It seems that there is a parallel between the MLB All-Star Game and the NBA All-Star Game.  Both have lost some of their attractiveness in recent times so each sport tried to put together a companion attraction to spark interest.  MLB added the Home-Run Derby, and the NBA added the Three-Point Shooting Contest.  Maybe those “experiments” worked too well because my sense is that lots of fans are far more attracted to those “companion attractions” than they are to the All-Star Games themselves.

Moving on …  The MLB regular season is a little more than half over, so I want to take a moment here to summarize the status of players who have spent time on the Injured List this year and how much time has been lost to injury – – and how much the injured players have earned while not being able to play.  The good folks at provide the raw data here.

  • As of this morning, 557 players have spent a total of 23,433 days on the Injured List and those players have earned a total of $446,987,434 while on the Injured List.
  • Stephen Strasburg has earned the most money while on the Injured List.  He has been on the list for 101 days and has earned $19,145,996 while there.
  • Four players have earned $10M or more while on the Injured List.
  • One hundred and twenty-three different players have earned more than $1M while on the Injured List.
  • Fifty-seven players have been in the Injured List for the entirety of the season starting back on 4 April.
  • Six players have been on the Injured List three times during the 2022 season.
  • One player – – Mike Moustakas (Reds) – – has been on the Injured List 4 times during the 2022 season.  He is currently on the 10-day Injured List.
  • The Dodgers have had the greatest number of players put on the Injured List so far in 2022; they have put 36 different players on that list.
  • Four other teams – Cubs, Pirates, Reds and Twins – have had 25 players or more on the Injured List at some point in the 2022 season.
  • The Orioles have put the fewest number of players on the Injured List so far in 2022; they have only put 11 players there.
  • Two other teams – Braves and Blue Jays – have been similarly “uninjured” so far in 2022; they have  each put only 12 players on the Injured List.

Finally, since today has been about baseball, let me finish with this Item from Dwight Perry’s column last weekend in the Seattle Times:

“This regional qualifying score just in from Japan’s 104th National High School Baseball Championship: Chiba Gakugei 82, Wasegaku 0.

“Chiba Gakugei scored 32 in the first and 33 in the second and, all told, hit 17 homers before the 10-run ‘mercy’ rule kicked in the fifth.”

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