College Stuff Today …

Call it political correctness; call it cancel culture; call it whatever you want.  It has struck again.  George Washington University in downtown Washington DC has decided to change its nickname.  No longer will athletes at GWU play as “The Colonials” because some folks have decided that name:

“… had a negative connotation regarding violence toward Native Americans and other colonized people.”

So, in our newly enlightened age and in our new perspective on history, what are we going to call those thirteen entities that declared independence from England in the 18th century?  Maybe call them the Co-Ops?

George Washington lived in a part of the world that was – – take a breath here – – a colony.  Changing the nickname of a university named for him will change exactly nothing that George Washington did or that anyone of George Washington’s contemporaries did.  This is nothing more than platinum-plated virtue signaling.

The ever-so-well-meaning folks at GWU started out with a list of 10 possible name changes and have evidently reduced that list to 4 “finalists”:

  1. The Ambassadors:  I am no historian, but I do not recall any time when George Washington was an ambassador to anywhere.
  2. The Revolutionaries:  Washington led an army of revolutionaries so this name might make a smidgen of sense – – but those revolutionaries inflicted violence on lots of other folks.
  3. The Sentinels:  Washington was a general in charge of the Continental Army; he never stood watch as a sentinel; sentinels stood watch to protect him.
  4. The Blue Fog:  Seriously, think about how irrelevant and stupid the other six potential nicknames must have been to get whacked from the original list of 10 possibilities and yet, The Blue Fog remains in contention.

The school mascot will not be changed – just the team name.  The mascot is a guy in a costume appropriate for – dare I say it – colonial times with a white wig.  Now imagine that guy running out of the team locker room and onto a basketball court leading a bunch of other guys known as The Blue Fog.

One other loose end that the visionaries at GWU might want to consider is this.  The school newspaper is The Hatchet.  Just maybe, some of those “colonists” used hatchets to perpetrate less-than-amicable acts upon “Native Americans and other colonialized people.”  Maybe that newspaper needs rebranding when bathed in the light of modern awareness.  If and when that level of awareness dawns at GWU, let me suggest that the new name for the paper be The Asshat.  No connotation about violent acts toward anyone with that label but it does seen to relate to current thinking at the university.

Moving on …  There is a much more interesting story related to collegiate athletics than the ongoing nickname saga at GWU.  A lawsuit has been filed against the Ivy League asserting that the Ivy League’s policy of not giving athletic scholarships – – only “need-based scholarships – – violates the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because that policy amounts to price-fixing.  The complaint here says:

“The Ivy League Agreement, in short, has stymied competition that would have lowered, and would lower, the net cost of attendance.  These injuries are particularly unfair given what is required of Ivy League Athletes and how their services benefit their schools and the Ivy League brand.”

In response, this is the statement from the Ivy League regarding this complaint:

“The Ivy League athletics model is built upon the foundational principle that student-athletes should be representative of the wider student body, including the opportunity to receive need-based financial aid.”

If these are the opening salvos in this action, it seems to me that neither side wants to acknowledge fundamental questions about their own position:

  • No Ivy League Athlete is forced to play a varsity sport; that is a free choice made by those athletes.
  • No Ivy League Athlete was a victim of bait-and-switch where they thought they would get an athletic scholarship from the school but then found out that no such scholarships existed.
  • The Ivy League statement rests on the league’s model that has been in place for about 70 years – – but does not address the possibility that it has been in violation of extant law for any or all of that time.

I have no idea if this complaint will gain traction; the plaintiffs are seeking to make this a class action lawsuit.  However, this is much more interesting to me than the nickname change at GWU.

Sticking with college stuff today, this is the weekend of the Final Four and I find the betting odds interesting.  UConn is the favorite to win it all on Monday night but only as a tepid favorite.

  • As of this morning the futures odds for UConn to be the national champion range from minus-125 to minus-130.
  • As of this morning, the longest future odds are on FAU at +650.

My pick has been UConn since the first weekend of the tournament.  What I would like to see is a UConn/San Diego St. game matching good offense and good defense.  We shall see…

Finally, I began today with what I consider to be the absurdity of changing the nickname of George Washington University, so let me close with these words from the philosopher, Thomas Hobbes:

“The privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject but man alone.”

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



MLB Opening Day

I have mentioned this before, but allow me a few lines this morning to repeat myself:

  • I know enough about astronomy to know that what we call “Springtime” starts at the time of the vernal equinox which in 2023 happened on March 20 at 5:24 EDT.  Moreover, I understand why the celestial events at that moment in time mark a terrestrial change for Planet Earth.
  • I know enough about meteorology and societal norms to know that most “weather people” believe that “Springtime” begins on March 1st.
  • Notwithstanding the two points above, I believe that “Springtime” starts with Opening Day for the MLB season.

So, for me, today is the first day of Spring…

I will usher in the 2023 MLB season with commentary today, but baseball is something that makes a fan “play the long game”.  There might be a cataclysmic negative event in the first week of the MLB season but it is highly unlikely that there will be any positive event of a similar magnitude.  The fortunes of teams will ebb and flow over the next six months; the idea is for the good teams to start well and then to keep on, keeping on.

In the 2023 season, fans will see the introduction of the pitch clock.  There are other rules changes for the season, but the others will likely be seriously overshadowed by the pitch clock.  I have given the pitch clock positive reviews/commentary here in the past.  Today, I want to point you to a column in the Washington Post by “columnist emeritus”, Thomas Boswell.  It appeared in yesterday’s print edition; it is written by one of baseball’s best observers and chroniclers; do yourself a favor and read it here.

I cannot express my enthusiasm for the changes that the pitch clock will make starting in 2023 nearly as eloquently as Thomas Boswell did.  I expect the changes to be profound and positive.

If you believe that Spring Training trends carry over into the regular season, you should also expect to see significantly more base stealing attempts in the upcoming season.  That was the case in Spring Training and more attempts to steal a base provides for more game action on the field.  I am hopeful that this trend will carry over into the regular season; we shall see.

Locally, the Washington Nationals should be better than they were last season.  That is setting the bar awfully low because the Nats lost 107 games in 2022.  However, the Nats made some trades at the deadline last year acquiring some young talent that could provide for the core of a good club in a  year or three.  CJ Abrams is a young shortstop who can play at the major league level; he is an excellent fielder and could develop into a serious threat at the plate even if he never develops a “home run stroke”.  Two young pitchers, MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray, show promise even if their stats are not sterling to date.

  • A reasonable goal for the Nats in 2022 is to lose fewer than 100 games.
  • A goal that should send Nats’ execs into paroxysms would be for the team to lose fewer than 90 games.

Just up the road from here in Baltimore, the Orioles are coming to the 2023 season with a surprising result from 2022.  After what seemed like an eternal “rebuild” the Orioles finished last year with a winning record at 83-79.  I surely did not expect that and other than commentators at blatantly fanboy sites, I don’t think anyone else expected that either.

The challenge this year is for the Orioles’ extremely young roster to build on last year and prove to the world that it was not a statistical freak.  If the Orioles exhibit even a smidgen of “regression to the mean” by the roster in general, a second consecutive winning season will be out of the question.  Having said all that, I really believe that catcher Adley Rutschman is a budding star in MLB who will be a “face of the franchise” player for a long time.  If you are a baseball fan in a part of the country significantly distant from Baltimore, try to pay attention to Adley Rutschman and his career development.

In terms of players to watch, I think Boston’s Masataka Yoshida stands out for 2023.  The Sox paid a hefty price to sign him from the Japanese League where he hit .336 last year and posted an OPS of just over 1.000.    Can he do anything close to that in MLB?  That is why it pays to keep an eye on his performance.

I suspect that the Oakland A’s will be in the news a lot in 2023 but not about anything related to baseball on the field; the stories will be about the team moving out of Oakland.  The negotiations on the major development project in Oakland that would include a new stadium for the team are proceeding at a crawl except for times when the two sides have to speak to the public about the negotiations – – at which point they always profess to have made progress.  Here is a fact:

  • The A’s lease for the Oakland Coliseum – or whatever they are going to call it this  year – expires after the 2024 season.

As Snuffy Smith used to say in the old comic strip, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, “Times a wastin’”

Here are a few predictions for the upcoming season:

  • I like the Angels and the Mariners to fight it out for a playoff slot this year out of the AL West which will be won by the Astros – – even if it takes Jose Altuve until Father’s Day to get back in the lineup.
  • I like the Padres to beat the Dodgers in the NL West this year – – but the Dodgers will be in the playoffs
  • I like the Guardians to win the AL Central; they were the only team there to finish over .500 in 2022 and I don’t see the Guardians collapsing nor do I see any other team excelling sufficiently to overtake the Guardians in 2023.
  • I like the Cards to repeat as the NL Central champs.  They won the division last year by 7 games and I don’t see how any of the teams in the division closed that large a gap in the off-season.
  • I like the Braves to win the NL East – – and I will be surprised if the Phillies can make the playoffs in 2023 given their injury situation with Harper and Hoskins.  The Mets will set MLB records for the amount of money spent on payroll in a season this year – – but that is not going to translate into a division title in Queens.
  • I like the Blue Jays in the AL East and I think they will be pressed by the Rays for the top spot in the AL East.

Finally, let me close this rant devoted to baseball with an observation by former MLB Commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti:

“[Baseball] breaks you heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

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


The NFL’s Spring Owners’ Meeting

One of the annual events on the NFL’s calendar is the Spring Owners’ Meeting and one of the features of that convocation is always the adoption of new rules and regulations for the league.  The process to get a new rule – or a modified existing rule – on the books allows for teams to propose a change; then the Competition Committee reviews/endorses the proposals and perhaps suggests changes of its own; after that, the endorsed changes go to a vote of the owners themselves and a change requires a 75% supermajority for approval.

As is generally the case, the changes that are approved often involve things that the average fan did not know were part of the NFL’s rules and regulations.  In 2023 here are some examples of arcane provisions in the rulebook:

  1. Players will be allowed to wear jersey number zero and punters/kickers can wear any two-digit number they want outside the range of 50-90.  This should change exactly nothing about the way games are played or the outcomes of any games.
  2. The NFL preseason rosters will have a maximum of 90 players until a specified date when all teams must cut from 90 players to 53 players all at once.  Why the league would want to have almost 1200 players cast aside by the 32 teams on a single day is a mystery to me.
  3. Teams will have until the following Monday to claim players waived on Friday or Saturday of the final week of the regular season.  Then teams making the playoffs will have until the Wednesday after the final regular season game to declare their playoff rosters.  Proponents of this rule say it will make those processes more orderly; I was not aware that those processes were chaotic in the past.

There were some rule changes approved at the Owners’ Meeting that can influence the way teams play and potentially on the outcome of some games:

  1. Failed fourth-down attempts will get an automatic booth review which will be relayed to the officials on the field meaning there is no need for a coach’s challenge and a review by the officials on the field.  Proponents of the rule change say it will speed up the games because of the faster review process.  Those are the same folks who used to call it “instant replay” and we know for sure that replays in the NFL are anything but “instant”.
  2. Tripping penalties are now going to be penalized by 15 yards and an automatic first down.  Previously, it was only 15 yards…
  3. Forward handoffs – as are often effected in RPOs – are disallowed.  Handoffs must be lateral or behind the player doing the handing off.  I am not sure how game officials are going to be able to work their mechanics such that at least one of them has a view of every handoff from a perpendicular perspective relative to the sidelines.  I think this rule change will cause more controversy than is necessary.

I always look at the proposed rule changes that do not get the necessary supermajority to find their way into the rulebook.  I often look at them in comparison to the ones that are approved and wonder what was going through the minds of the voters.  Here are some proposals that were not accepted for 2023:

  1. One proposal was to have roughing the passer calls added to the reviewable list.  Last year there were several very questionable roughing the passer calls and those penalties can seriously affect game outcomes.
  2. Once again, a proposal to do away with onside kicks was not accepted by the owners.  This time the onside kick would have been replaced with a 4th and 20 offensive situation where control of the ball would b e determined by the outcome of that single offensive play.  According to league stats, only 4% of onside kicks were successfully recovered by the kicking team in 2022.
  3. Another proposal was to resuscitate the so-called “3rd QB Rule” which would allow every team to dress a 3rd QB in every game and that designated 3rd QB would not count against the 46-man roster declared for the game.  That player’s participation in the game would have restrictions as were stipulated in previous NFL rules.  The playoff game between the Eagles and the Niners last year when the Niners suffered debilitating injuries to both of their active QBs makes this rule change seem like a zero-cost alteration since most teams carry three QBs anyway.

One action that had been anticipated for this year’s Spring Owners’ Meeting seems to have been obviated.  Reports said that there could be an announcement by the league regarding the ownership of the Washington Commanders.  The Snyders have been mercifully silent during the course of the meetings and the only news on the “franchise purchase front” are reports that two bids of $6B have been put on the table.

  1. One bid involves the current owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in a partnership with a Washington-area billionaire and Magic Johnson.  That bid is described as “formal” and “fully financed”.  I understand “formal”; it would seem to me that any “formal” offer would have to be “fully financed”, so there must be a nuance there that I do not understand.
  2. The other bid is fronted by a Canadian real estate magnate and private equity fund manager.

I have professed in these rants on multiple occasions that I cannot read minds.  So, what I am about to say has to be taken in that context:

  • It seems to me that ever since Danny Boy Snyder was in the process of buying the Washington franchise in the late 1990s, he has always enjoyed immensely those occasions where he was the center of attention.
  • Over the past several years, he has been the center of attention for lots of “wrong reasons”; and even if you ascribe to the view that “any publicity is good publicity”, you might get to the point where more bad news about you is not nearly as welcome as it used to be.  [Aside: For those who do believe that any publicity is good publicity, let me refer you to the Archdiocese of Boston for a sanity check.]
  • Danny Boy Snyder can milk this situation.  He can be the center of attention and have his name in the headlines where the story under the headlines does not seek to tie him to sordid and smarmy behaviors as the person running the Washington franchise.  He might actually enjoy this current status.
  • Ergo, I will not be even slightly surprised to see this process of negotiation and vetting and approval and new issues go on for another year.  Unless one or both of those $6B offers comes off the table because the bidders think they are being used, this is a process that can go on for a while and provide Snyder with the enjoyment of the limelight.
  • Or not…

Finally, since today has been about “rules”, let me close with this assertion from The Communist Manifesto:

“The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”

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



More On Leverage …

Last week, I offered my opinion on which side had the most leverage in the Jets/Packers negotiations regarding Aaron Rodgers.  Shortly after posting the rant, a friend asked me to opine on the Lamar Jackson situation as it relates to leverage.  I think the “Jackson situation” is more complicated than the “Rodgers situation” because it has more moving parts.  As things stand now, all that has to happen is for the Packers and Jets to agree on compensation and Rodgers will be the QB for the Jets in 2023.  As things stand now, there are multiple upon multiple possible actors for the “Jackson situation”, so the contingencies begin to pile up quickly.  Nevertheless, I will give it a go.

Looking only at the Jackson versus Ravens stand-off, the Ravens have all the leverage now.  They have made a contractual offer that allows Jackson to seek a deal anywhere in the league AND THEN that offer allows the Ravens to sit back and analyze if they want to match that deal or not.  If “not” then the Ravens get two first round draft picks automatically without any dealmaking necessary from the club that signs Lamar Jackson.  Oh, and if Jackson does not get a deal to his liking from another club, that gives Jackson a choice:

  • Play for the Ravens in 2023 and earn $32M for his efforts knowing that the team is likely to put the same flavor of franchise tag on him in the next off season – – OR – –
  • Take the “LeVeon Bell Route” and sit out the 2023 season.

If Jackson sat out 2023 and made it known he would do the same again, he would create lots of leverage for himself.  However, I think that is the only way he is going to achieve that status.  His “problem” now is that when he talks to one of the QB-needy teams in the league about a contract, the price that the QB-needy team has to pay is amplified:

  • The QB-needy team has to give Jackson something that Jackson finds sufficiently rewarding – – PLUS – –
  • The QB-needy team has to give the Ravens two first round draft picks.

Things get trickier if indeed one or more QB-needy teams begin to entertain the possibilities of signing Jackson.  For example, I would not call any of the other three AFC North teams “QB-needy” but if one of them got involved in talks with Jackson, the Ravens might feel a lot more pressure than if Jackson’s negotiations were with a team in the NFC South.

Jackson can gain a small bit of leverage by slow-playing his negotiations with other teams until after the NFL Draft which will take place from April 27 through April 29.  In doing that, he deprives the Ravens from knowing if they need to draft a QB in this year’s Draft and he diminishes the current value of those two compensatory first round picks the Ravens can get because the second one would be pushed out until 2025.  That is not a huge advantage for Jackson, but it is something.

There was an interesting wrinkle in this matter that was reported in the last week or so.  Supposedly, someone who is not Jackson’s agent – – remember, he is representing himself in negotiations with the Ravens and being advised by his mother – – contacted other  teams.  Jackson said specifically that this man was not negotiating for him and that the stories were the sports equivalent of fake news.  The NFL league office must have believed the reports – – or had sources of its own – – because it sent a letter to all 32 teams reminding them that this person was not a certified agent approved by the NFLPA and therefore teams could not deal with him in any way.  The interesting wrinkle to me has nothing at all to do with whether or not this guy was “negotiating on behalf of Jackson” or not.  What I find interesting is the concept of a “certified agent” in this labor-management negotiation.

I am not a historian nor an economist but my recollection from American history classes is that the Congress passed anti-trust laws that sought to break up what were described as “combinations in restraint of trade”.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was aimed at mainly at railroad monopolies but as I recall it also banned  conspiracies to restrain trade/commerce.  The outlawing of anti-competitive agreements was a big deal leading to the passage of this Act in 1890.  So, with that law still on the books, riddle me this:

  • How can the NFL and the NFLPA have an agreement that limits the competition for player agents by imposing things that agents must do before they are allowed to act as agents for players who may or may not choose to have such representation?
  • Why is that part of the existing CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA not a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act?  It smells to me like an “anti-competitive agreement” which creates a “combination in restraint of trade.”
  • Why is Lamar Jackson limited in his range of choices for representation?
  • Why is Lamar Jackson required to be a member of the NFLPA which is then a party to limiting his ability to choose his representation?

I know that five readers of these rants are practicing attorneys and one is a retired attorney.  If any – or all – of them explain this to me, I will be happy to share their insights in a future rant.

Moving on …  Last week, there was a report at about NCAA plans to make postseason college basketball for women more equitable vis á vis men’s college basketball.  At issue is the funding/sponsorship of the Women’s NIT and how that event has a second class status when compared to the Men’s NIT.  Here is the link to that report; I recommend that you read it in its entirety; it is thorough and well written.  It is clear that the NCAA has paid far more attention and devoted far more resources to the Men’s NIT than the Women’s NIT; and in the environment of 2023, that is a problem to be rectified.  However, one way to rectify it would be for the NCAA to cancel both NIT tournaments owning up to the fact that neither of them is of any relevance.

That will never happen because it is a “reality-based solution” …

Finally, since much of today dealt with negotiations and agents, let me close with these lines from Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing:

“Friendship is constant in all other things.

Save in the office and affairs of love:

Therefore, all hearts in love use their own tongues.

Let every eye negotiate for itself

And trust no agent.”

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



Disappointing …?

Let me start with two comments about the Sweet-16 games over the weekend.

  • The foul call in the final seconds of the San Diego State/Creighton game was simultaneously the right call and the wrong call.  It was the right call because the Creighton player did indeed commit a foul; it was the wrong call because “fouls” of that degree of severity had been ignored for the previous 39 minutes and 55 seconds.  When the officials who “grade the refs’ performance” after the fact review this game, they should note that he made the right call and his call was in fact what decided the game outcome.  Good for him in getting the call correct; bad for him that his call was out of line with the way the officials had established that the game would be called.
  • Isaiah Wong (Miami) was voted as the ACC Player of the Year.  He is a good player – – maybe even a very good player – – but somehow I do not have him on a level similar to previous winners of that award such as:
        • Billy Cunningham
        • Tim Duncan
        • Phil Ford
        • Michael Jordan
        • Christian Laettner
        • Ralph Samsom
        • David Thompson – – you get the idea.

After San Diego St. eliminated Alabama over the weekend, Alabama coach, Nate Oats said, “Our season wasn’t a disappointment.”  I agree; it was way more than disappointing; it was cringeworthy.  Let me review the bidding:

  • An Alabama player stands accused of capital murder.
  • Brandon Miller – knowingly or unknowingly – brought the alleged murder weapon to the scene of the crime and is a material witness in the case.
  • A third player is also a witness in the case.
  • And as the overall #1 seed in the tournament, Alabama lost in the round of 16.

Coach Oats is right, that is much more than merely “disappointing” …

Speaking of “disappointing” and “basketball”, let me move up a level to the NBA and observe the Dallas Mavericks.  About 6 weeks ago, the Mavs acquired Kyrie Irving in a “blockbuster trade” to put another superstar player alongside Luka Doncic.  More than a handful of commentators said at the time that this could make the Mavs serious NBA Championship contenders.  Let me just say those analyses have not played out well to date.  Assuming I have counted correctly:

  • The Mavs are 7-13 since acquiring Kyrie Irving.
  • The Mavs are only 3-8 in games where both Irving and Doncic played.

As of today, the Mavs are in 11th place in the NBA Western Conference meaning that they would not even be part of the “play-in round” of the league’s expanded playoffs.  In the NBA about 70% of the teams make the playoffs; it is highly unusual for a conference finalist in Year One to miss the playoffs entirely in Year Two.

The Mavericks made the Western Conference finals last year; they lost Jalen Brunson to free agency over the summer and then acquired Irving at the beginning of February this year.  If Kyrie Irving played Jalen Brunson in a 1-on-1 game, Irving would win  90% of the time.  But the Mavs are not nearly as good a team after the trade as compared to last year’s squad.

I believe the Mavs were 29-26 when Irving arrived from the Brooklyn Nets; as of this morning, the Mavs are 36-39.  The Mavs have 7 games left in the regular season and 4 of their upcoming opponents are below .500 as of today.  If the Mavericks cannot “right the ship” and win at least those four games between now and April 9th, the season in Dallas will not be “disappointing”; it will be “disastrous”.

While on the subject of the NBA, that league is edging up to a potentially disastrous PR situation.  Forget the skills of its players; that has never been a problem for the league; it has always had the best players on the planet.  Here are just some of the issues the NBA has to deal with and has shown little if any competency in dealing with them:

  • Player empowerment which allows star players to dictate where they will ply their trade.
  • Load management which allows star players to dictate when they will ply their trade even after they have decided where they will ply their trade
  • Ja Morant being suspended for “mental health issues” and then being pronounced as “cured/good to go” in about 2 weeks.  Even Dr. Phil would not put his name on that kind of behavioral turnaround.  [Aside:  The juxtaposition of “player” and “guns” will get another focal point in June this year when Brandon Miller is drafted and goes onstage to hug it out with Commish Adam Silver.]

Finally, since much of today dealt with “disappointment”, let me close with this observation by the poet, Alexander Pope:

“’Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed’ was the ninth beatitude.”

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



Love Those Sweet Sixteen Games

Every year around this time, I have to decide if “Sweet Sixteen Weekend” is better than the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament or not.  There are not as many games – – to be sure – – but these games are usually good ones because – – usually – – all the teams that are still alive are playing well.  If last night’s 4 games are an indicator of what is left to come over the weekend, then this year will be a “Sweet Sixteen” year.  Last night I saw:

  1. A Cinderella team stay alive and advance – – Florida Atlantic
  2. An overtime game – – K-State beating Michigan State
  3. A buzzer-beater game – – Gonzaga over UCLA
  4. A dominating display in a blowout win – – UConn.

I was much more impressed by K-State and UConn last night than the other two teams that advanced to the Elite Eight.  UConn is very good and very deep; they will be a tough out for anyone.  Gonzaga is next up for the Huskies and while Gonzaga will score lots of points, I doubt that they can do much of anything on defense to put the clamps on UConn.  Last night’s comeback in the second half against UCLA showed just how much firepower Gonzaga has – – but their defense is just a tad suspect.

This will be an interesting matchup of styles because beating UConn will probably require a team to have a hot night on 3-point shots – – and Gonzaga can get hot from that part of the floor.  The oddsmakers are expecting lots of scoring here; the Total Line for this game opened at 154.5.  Other games at this point in the bracket have Total Lines ranging from 135 to 143 just for perspective.

Markquis Nowell controls the flow and pace of the game when he is on the floor and that makes K-State a solid contender.  FAU has gotten to this point in the tournament with speed and quickness but they have not yet faced a player like Nowell.  I think this game will be fun to watch tomorrow night.

Moving on …  The Aaron Rodgers soap opera continues apace.  Rodgers has said he wants to play again in 2023 – – and collect that $58M or so that will come to him if he does – – and it appears that the Jets are his preferred destination.  At this point, one might think that it is time to bring down the curtain on all the sturm und drang and get on with business.  Except … now the focus shifts away from the player(s) and the coaches and the “football guys” an onto the GMs and the agents.  Now come negotiations over value received by the Packers who currently hold Rodgers’ contractual rights.

Because this had not been settled in the first 48 hours after Rodgers and the Jets announced their “betrothal”, a lot of attention had gone to the question:

  • Which side has the most leverage in this matter?

I think the answer is the Packers but let me review the bidding here:

  • The Packers have made it pretty clear that they want to move on from Aaron Rodgers and have Jordan Love take over that responsibility.
  • The Packers’ salary cap for 2023 will take a huge hit if Rodgers stays or if he leaves; to the Packers, this is pretty much a wash.
  • I believe the Packers only have to pay Rodgers if he is on the roster and not released/traded; I do not think they have to have him as part of the team.
  • So, the Packers can get on with their off-season work in terms of building their draft board and having workouts and OTAs and the like without having to do anything about “Aaron Rodgers’ landing place”.
  • The Jets on the other hand need a QB – – desperately.  After all the courting of Aaron Rodgers and after missing out on all the other free agent QBs who were out there, the Jets need to land Rodgers for the roster because starting Zach Wilson at QB is not going to pass muster with the fans or with the NYC tabloids.
  • The Jets need their new QB now.  Rodgers and the rest of the Jets’ offensive unit need to work together to get in sync.  That won’t happen until the trade terms are finalized.
  • The Jets have draft picks in 2023 some of which are assets they can dangle in front of the Packers in exchange for Rodgers’ services.  After the NFL Draft in about 4 weeks, those assets are gone.
  • Time matters to the Jets and time is not nearly so relevant to the Packers.

So, if anyone were to ask me to “broker a deal” here, this is what I think I would try to work toward with the two parties:

  • Packers get a second-round pick in 2023 (#42 overall) … and …
  • Packers get a conditional third-round pick in 2024 that can elevate to a second-round pick and even to a first-round pick in 2024 if certain milestones are achieved by Rodgers and the Jets in 2023.

[Aside:  Not to worry, anyone.  There is zero probability that I will be asked to broker such a deal in this matter.]

Finally, let me close today with this observation by Mark Twain:

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

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



The Stain Of Gambling…

There was a time when the NCAA refused to allow a state – – Nevada to be specific – – to host any sort of championship event because that state had the taint of sports gambling associated with it.  The NCAA could – – and did – – get away with that farcical stance because the US Congress in its infinite wisdom passed a law designed to “protect” professional and amateur sports from the evils of gambling.  And then the US Supreme Court said that law was null and void because it was unconstitutional.  Previous NCAA Presidents like Cedric Dempsey, Myles Brand and Mark Emmert smugly dismissed Nevada in general – – and Las Vegas very specifically – – as possible sites for any sort of important NCAA event.

Myles Brand has cast off his mortal coil; he has gone to the great amateur sports venue in the sky.  Dempsey and Emmert are still exchanging oxygen in our biosphere so they can deal with the ignominy they so richly deserve as we look at only men’s college basketball as one NCAA sport and how it has found ways to exist in Nevada in 2023.  I may have missed some activities here, but my list demonstrates that any and all of the self-righteous bleatings of the NCAA in the past were nothing more than self-righteous bleatings:

  1. The PAC-12 held its Conference Championship Tournament in Las Vegas
  2. The Mountain West Conference held its Conference Championship Tournament in Las Vegas.
  3. The WAC held its Conference Championship Tournament in Las Vegas.
  4. The WCC held its Conference Championship Tournament in Las Vegas.

As if that were insufficient to rub the noses of those prigs in the reality of 2023 in the US and the existence of gambling on men’s college basketball that existed before and during the barren times overseen by these recent NCAA barons, add these events to the 2023 list of activities in the sinful environs of Nevada and Las Vegas:

  1. The NIT Final Four will be in Las Vegas this year.
  2. The NCAA’s own March Madness West Regional Final games will be in Las Vegas this year.

And I am willing to go out on a limb and predict that with all of that overbearing pressure on the games played by those so-called “student-athletes”, the most annoying song from the musical Annie has relevance here because:

  • The sun will come up tomorrow – – and then – –
  • The sun will come out tomorrow.

Do not anticipate any statements of sorrow for being wrong from Cedric Dempsey and/or Mark Emmert.  They will be watching the games and pretending that any gambling on those games is done by unrepentant degenerates in our society who have been given license to yield to the Devil’s temptations by the miscalculations of the US Supreme Court.  I prefer to think that it is the time for real people in the US to rub the noses of those two goofs in the waste products of every NCAA basketball athlete who participated in an event in Las Vegas this year and managed to come away from it without the stain of scandal attached to his name forever and ever.

Oh, and by the way, the current mavens who chart the course of March Madness which is the single largest revenue stream left for the NCAA to live on have decided to stage the Final Four – – the Holy Grail of each and every NCAA competition – – in Las Vegas, NV in 2028.

Cedric Dempsey will be 95 in 2028 so he may be sitting next to Myles Brand in the Celestial Café watching the March Madness games in 2028 in their purest form;  Mark Emmert should – actuarially speaking – – still be among us in 2028 at age 76 and someone ought to ask him then if he was even tempted to fill out a bracket and/or to take Blueblood U and lay 35.5 points against Who’s That College – – the team that got a mandatory bid to that tournament by winning the WTF Conference.  Trust me, no one is going to ask him that question then even if they can find where he is hiding out 5 years from now.

Many times in these rants, I have railed against the idealistic nincompoops who asserted that gambling on collegiate sports would ruin those events.  The premise of their arguments was so patently false that their argument(s) did not deserve even minimal consideration.  Let me be clear:

  • Gambling – – on anything including college sports – – has a dark side.
  • Consuming alcohol and smoking pot have a dark side.
  • People are going to gamble notwithstanding the existence of that dark side.
  • People are going to consume alcohol and marijuana notwithstanding the existence of that dark side.

Trying to ban alcohol consumption – – Prohibition – – was tried and it did not stop people from drinking.  Trying to ban marijuana smoking was tried and it did not stop people from smoking – – and inhaling even despite Bill Clinton’s lame attempt at deflecting that inquiry.

Walking along that same track, trying to prevent or ignore the existence of gambling on college sporting events does not stop the practice of betting on college sporting events.

  • Wagering on college sports is at least 100 years old and will continue to be a common practice among college sports fans until and unless there are no more inter-collegiate sports events for them to wager on.

That is not some sort of Satanic-inspired prophesy; that is the reality of human existence.  Now if one’s religious beliefs leads one to conclude that the only way for such to be the reality of the human condition is for it to be Satan-inspired, have at it.  My intention is not to try to make a theological point that I am supremely incompetent to make; my intention here is to say specifically that people gamble on a variety of things from sports to the roll of a pair of dice to the turn of a playing card; and laws, regulations and high-falutin’ rhetoric is not going change that state of affairs.

Now, go watch today’s Sweet-16 games in this year’s NCAA Tournament and enjoy the spectacle – – with or without “a little something” riding on the games’ outcomes.

Finally, having spent today dealing with gambling on college sports, let me close with a famous observation by the American journalist, Damon Runyon:

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

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



Two Changes In Ownership …

About a week ago, I got an email from Gregg Drinnan – – former sports editor of the Kamloops Daily News and now the content creator for the blog Taking Note – – with a link to an article at something called “3DownNation” which is a clever name for an entity that focuses on Canadian football and the CFL.  Gregg Drinnan’s only comment in the email was:

“This is going to be interesting, but he’s French-Canadian and has a whole pile of money.”

According to the good folks at 3DownNation, the Montreal Alouettes have a new owner.  Recall that the CFL took over the franchise recently and was seeking new ownership that would provide the franchise with stability.  The new owner is Pierre Karl Péladeau who – in addition to having deep pockets – was formerly the leader of the political entity, Parti Quebecois, which advocated for the separation of the Province of Quebec from Canada.  I thought that is what Gregg Drinnan meant by “going to be interesting.”  But wait, there’s more…

Much of Péladeau’s fortune comes from a business entity that is described as a “media and telecommunications empire”.  And that entity does not own the TV rights to CFL games; those games are on a competing network.  Here is the link to the piece by 3DownNation folks if you want an overview of this “interesting situation.”

It seems to me that there are an unusual number of sports franchises that are “up for sale” at the moment.  In the EPL, Liverpool and Manchester United are on the market and a much smaller club, Bournemouth, may need a financial takeover.  The Washington Commanders in the NFL are taking bids for the team.  The Washington Nationals are on the market and until very recently, the Los Angeles Angels were also for sale.  There is a tentative agreement in place for the Minnesota Timberwolves to change ownership and that deal is supposed to close in about a month or so.

And on top of all that turmoil, the latest announcement is that Michael Jordan is considering selling all or part of his holding in the Charlotte Hornets.  That is news of a different sort.  Maybe the sale of Liverpool and Manchester United might have a ripple effect on the EPL; I said maybe.  But in the cases of the other major sports franchises that might change owners, none of those transactions appear capable of rocking the leagues themselves.  If Michael Jordan distances himself from the NBA, that could easily be the case for the NBA.

If you want to pick nits, Michael Jordan has not been a magical owner of the Charlotte franchise since acquiring a majority interest there in 2010.  His presence at the head of the organization did not magnetically attract great players to come and play for him – – although many would probably loved to have played with him in his prime.  Despite that “shortcoming”, Michael Jordan still represents an important part of the image the NBA seeks to present to its fans.  Lest you think that Michael Jordan is “yesterday’s news” or some sort of old codger who is out of tune with the modern NBA fan, consider that his shoe brand, Air Jordan, had sales last year reported to be just over $5B.  Even though I consider the shoes to be ridiculously over-priced, those sales figures say that about 25 million pairs of those shoes went out the doors of retail outlets around the world.

Michael Jordan comports himself differently from today’s sports “icons”.  He does not seek to be “trending” on social media; he rarely gives interviews and never makes appearances on television or podcast outlets.  I suspect that many readers here do not know that to celebrate his recent 60th birthday, Michael Jordan made a special donation to one of his favorite charities – – Make A Wish Foundation – – worth $10M.  I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that no one is ever going to see Michael Jordan rapping and waving a gun around in strip club.

Were it not for Julius Irving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the NBA might have remained the floundering entity that it was in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Those four men saved the NBA from irrelevance if not extinction.  When Michael Jordan recedes to the background after selling out his stake in the Hornets, only Magic Johnson will still be visible to NBA fans.  Forget all the stats and the highlight reels and the social media hype and ask yourself this question:

  • Who might make up the quartet of current – and recently retired players – who have the heft to take the load from the four men cited above?

I can be convinced to put Tim Duncan on that list of folks who might need to carry the positive image of the league forward.  After that, I have a problem with just about anyone else you might propose – – but someone will need to pick up the slack here.

Finally, today has been about people with great wealth.  So, let me close with this view of wealth from the American humorist, James Thurber:

“Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.”

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



Big East Basketball

Back in the 1980s, the Big East had three of its teams – – Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova – – in the Final Four.  This year, the conference has three of its teams – – Creighton, UConn and Xavier – – in the Sweet 16 AND it is also in the news regarding a couple of major coaching changes.  For the moment, the Big East is once again the focal point of college basketball.

Rick Pitino will indeed be leaving Iona and taking over the program at St. John’s; that had been rumored for several weeks and the announcement came late yesterday; Pitino signed a 6-year deal.  Pitino will make St. John’s a story once again; he has always had good teams and he has always had plenty of other “stuff” surrounding his programs that folks find newsworthy.  Rick Pitino is not a favorite to win any humanitarian awards any time soon, but even his most ardent detractors must admit that he can recruit players and he can coach them up into a formidable unit.

As controversial as Pitino may be, the separation of St. John’s University and former coach, Mike Anderson, may become even more controversial/contentious.  Anderson is considering a lawsuit against the university over his “firing for cause”.  St. John’s claims that Anderson did not “facilitate an environment of academic compliance within the program” and that he failed to “appropriately supervise” the assistant coaches on the team.  By choosing to fired Anderson for cause, the university is not obligated to pay out the remainder of Anderson’s contract – – reportedly $11M – – and Anderson has said he will aggressively defend his contractual rights.

Anderson had been at St. Johns for 4 years after taking over from Chris Mullen.  His record was 68-56 with no tournament appearances in those 4 seasons.  St. John’s used to be a fixture in the NCAA tournament; however, since 2000 it has only been involved 4 times.  I suspect that St. John’s will be back in post season play sooner than later with Pitino on the bench.

The other big coaching move in the Big East is actually two moves.  Georgetown has poached Ed Cooley from conference rival, Providence, to replace Patrick Ewing as the Hoyas’ head coach.  There was no mystery as to why the folks at Georgetown decided to move on from Patrick Ewing; over the last two seasons the Hoyas’ record was 13-50.  Cooley had been the head coach at Providence for 12 seasons and had the Friars in the NCAA tournament 7 times.  The fact that Cooley is making an intra-conference coaching move makes for an interesting rivalry angle there and it opens up another coaching slot in the basketball-centric Big East Conference.

Oh, and just to demonstrate the wheels within wheels nature of college basketball, Rick Pitino was the head coach at Providence back in the 1980s…

Moving on …  Two years ago, Trevor Bauer signed a 3-year contract with the LA Dodgers worth a reported $102M.  I am sure you know that Bauer was suspended for two years by Commissioner Rob Manfred – – that suspension was reduced to a year subsequently – – and the Dodgers released Bauer.  The lurid nature of the allegations against Bauer made him sufficiently toxic that he could not get a contract offer from an MLB team as a free agent this year despite the fact that Bauer was never even indicted for any criminal activity based on the original accusations let alone convicted of anything.

Trevor Bauer won the NL Cy Young Award in 2020 which was the impetus for the Dodgers’ decision to give him that $102M deal.  So, one should expect that if given a chance to take the mound again, Bauer would likely be successful.  He will get that opportunity in Japan this year; last week reports said that he signed a contract with the Yokohama BayStars in Japan’s Central League.  Those reports say that contract is worth $4M with incentives.

The issue here is not the drastic reduction in the value of Bauer’s services as a pitcher; I could rant on that issue from several perspectives and at the end of the ranting nothing would change even a little bit.  I bring this up today because Trevor Bauer may have plumbed new depths of disingenuity related to his contract signing.  Here is his statement:

“Playing in the NPB has always been a dream of mine and I can’t think of a better organization to do it with.”

“NPB” is the acronym for Nippon Professional Baseball i.e., the Japanese League.  Let me review the bidding here:

  • Trevor Bauer was born in North Hollywood, CA
  • He went to high school in a suburb of LA.
  • He went to UCLA.
  • He was in MLB and signed with the LA Dodgers
  • And playing in the Japanese League has always been a dream of his…

Finally, given Trevor Bauer’s multiple links to Los Angeles, CA, let me close with two different views on the city:

“I mean, who would want to live in a place where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light.”  [Woody Allen]

And …

“A big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper clip.”  [Raymond Chandler]

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



An Orgy Of College Basketball

There were 32 March Madness games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  I got to watch part of every one of them; it was an orgy of college basketball here in Curmudgeon Central.  Not to worry though, I am not going to go through notes on all 32 games – – just a sampling of my impressions while watching these games.

Starting on Friday:

  • Michigan St. 72 USC  62:  The Spartans’ defense in the second half was suffocating.
  • Xavier 72  Kennesaw St. 67:  An excellent game in the 1st half had Kennesaw St. up by 7 at the half.  The lead stretched to double digits in the second half until Xavier put on a totally dominating 15-0 run to eke out a win.
  • Baylor 74  UC-Santa Barbara 56:  Baylor is the better team by a lot – – but this Baylor team does not play defense the way previous Baylor teams did.
  • St Mary’s 63  VCU 51:  VCU does not have a reliable shooter/scorer.
  • Pitt 59  Iowa St. 41:  Iowa St. made its first field goal of the game at the 9:54 mark in the first half.  No contest …
  • UConn 87  Iona 63:  Two well-coached teams played an exciting first half but UConn was much deeper and much stronger turning the game into a rout for the last 8 minutes or so.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson 63  Purdue 58:  Purdue could not defend FDU’s fast guards and FDU could not defend Purdue’s size.  In the end, David beat Goliath.
  • Gonzaga 82 Grand Canyon 72:  The Zags only led by 4 at the half and did not look good at all in the first half.  They played better in the second half but still looked “off-center”.
  • TCU 72  Arizona St. 70:  TCU looked awful in the first half; I thought this was going to be a laugher for the Sun Devils in the second half.  That did not happen; TCU came out of its fog in the second half and won at the end.

In the games on Saturday:

  • Tennessee 65 Duke 52:  Duke was simply out-muscled in this game; Charles Barkley described the Tennessee line-up as “grown men”.  A production note for the folks doing the engineering here:  Up the amps on Stan van Gundy’s microphone; he has good stuff to add to the telecast but sometimes he gets drowned out by crowd noise.
  • Arkansas 72  Kansas 71:  Arkansas won despite only shooting 3 for 15 on 3-point attempts.  Arkansas was down by 12 points in the second half but won on hustle and rebounding.
  • Princeton 78  Missouri 63:  In this Tiger versus Tiger matchup, Princeton was the alpha male from start to finish.
  • Houston 81  Auburn 64:  Auburn’s foul shooting was horrendous in the game; they were 19 for 36 from the foul line!  I officiated kids’ rec league games with better foul shooting than that.
  • UCLA 68  Northwestern 63:  Here is exactly what I wrote on my scratch pad during the game:

“UCLA is the least entertaining team still alive in the tournament and Northwestern is second.  Meh!”

As for the games on Sunday:

  • Xavier 84  Pitt 73:  Xavier’s performance in the first half was the best half of basketball so far in the tournament.  Xavier led 48-34 at the intermission.
  • Kansas St. 75 Kentucky 69:  This was the best/most entertaining game in the tournament so far.  There was good offense on display and good defense.  There were spectacular plays and it went down to the final minute to be decided.  Marquis Nowell (K-State) is plenty entertaining all by himself.  This was everything a college basketball fan could ask for.
  • Michigan St. 69 Marquette 60:  Marquette’s Tyler Kolek was the Big East Player of the Year and he was a no-show in this game with 7 points shooting 2 for 8 from the floor.
  • Creighton 85  Baylor 76:  Again, this Baylor team does not defend like Scott Drew’s Baylor teams of recent vintage have defended.

Memo For Telecast Execs:

Lisa Byington needs a lot of coaching/developing to do play-by-play for such a fast-paced game.  She obviously knows the game but does not always “keep up”.  Work with her…

  • Gonzaga 84  TCU 81:  TCU’s intensity in the first half was clearly greater than Gonzaga’s.  These are not the Zags of the last couple of years but they put together some offense and played much better defense in the second half to pull out a close one.

I saw two players who did not get a lot of attention from the broadcasters who I think will play in the NBA one of these days – – not necessarily as stars but as important role players:

  1. Jarace Walker – Houston:  He is a freshman and listed as 6’8” and 240 lbs.  I believe both numbers. He has work to do on his offensive game but he already has rebounding and shot blocking skills in abundance.
  2. Dariq Whitehead – Duke:  Another freshman with a large frame that can expand into “NBA size” who plays strong defense both inside and on the perimeter.

Finally, I said there was an orgy of college basketball over the weekend so let me close with this from Ogden Nash:

“Home is Heaven and orgies are vile.

But I like an orgy once in a while.”

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