On Hiatus

I will be traveling outside the US and without my computer starting this evening, April 19th.  My wife and I will return late on May 1st.  Allowing time for some research and to accommodate jet-lag, I suspect the next rant will be on May 3rd.

Stay safe and stay well everyone…

The NBA Versus the Chinese Basketball Association

I hate to keep harping on this but something new came up.  Remember that the Dallas Mavericks tanked their final game of the regular season intending to miss the playoffs and retain their first-round lottery pick for this year.  NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver responded to this situation by fining the team $740K which is a pittance to owner Mark Cuban whose net worth is estimated at $5.1B.

Something analogous happened in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) playoffs.  The situation there is complicated so I will provide this link for those who want to decipher why the following situation obtained:

  • It was advantageous for both teams to have a specific team win and the other team lose a playoff game.

The two teams involved were the Shanghai Sharks and the Jiangsu Dragons; there would be a benefit to both teams if the Dragons lost.  In the second half of the game, the Dragons committed five consecutive turnovers in the final two minutes to assure a victory for the Sharks. The CBA Commissioner is a familiar name to US sports fans; his name is Yao Ming.  Unlike Adam Silver who administered a slap on the wrist, Yao Ming chose to call the activities of the Jiangsu Dragons and the Shanghai Sharks “game-fixing”.  Wow!  That puts a different slant on what happened as compared to “tanking”.  So, here is the sanction handed down by the CBA Commissioner:

  • Each team was fined the Chinee equivalent of $727K – – very close to how much the Mavs will have to pay.
  • The Sharks’ coach and GM were each given a 5-year ban from the CBA.
  • The Dragons’ coach and GM were each given a 3-year ban from the CBA.

Here is what Yao Ming said when the sanctions were announced:

“For sports games, the most important thing is reputation, rather than ability. Credit is what everybody, every team, the league, and the association is based on. We need to draw a profound lesson from this and change some things in the future to make what we have paid for valuable.”

Adam Silver always holds a press event during the NBA Finals.

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if some member of the media asked him to compare and contrast the punishments handed down in these two situations?
  2. And wouldn’t it be great if someone asked him to differentiate between “tanking” and “game-fixing”?

Silver is never going to use the term ”game-fixing” lest the gambling interests that provide lots of funding for the league get very antsy.  People hate to lose money gambling, but they will hate it a whole lot more if they find out – – or even suspect – – that the game was “fixed”, and they were not “in on the fix”.  But this is an issue that sports leagues must deal with when they dip their beak into the fountain of cash that can come from the myriad gambling sites out there today.  The English Premier League (EPL) seems to have recognized the potential dangers here; the EPL has voted to ban teams from having logos or names of gambling companies on the fronts of their jerseys.  This is not a total ban; logos and names can appear on the jersey sleeves and throughout the stadiums, but this is a step in a direction toward control by the league officials.

Currently eight of the twenty teams in the EPL have some form of sponsorship on the fronts of their jerseys that represent gambling interests.  Currently in Britain, the government is considering new gambling legislation; perhaps the EPL is simply trying to get ahead of some issues that will arise in that process; perhaps this is an indication that the league officials want to be more firmly in control.  Time will tell on this.

To accommodate current sponsorship deals and avoid litigation, this new regulation will take effect in 2025.  As is always the case when political campaigns and issues are advanced, there is an advocacy group involved here called The Big Step.  That group would like to see all gambling sponsorships banned completely including stadium sponsorships.  Obviously, they like the announcement by the EPL even though it does not go nearly as far as the group would prefer.

Finally, since today has been about gambling and gambling companies and game fixing, let me close with these words about problem gambling from comedian Artie Lang:

“You know you have a gambling problem when it’s 4:00 AM at The Mirage Sports Book and you’re walking around going, ‘Hey, you get the lacrosse scores?’”

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



The Jalen Hurts Deal

The loudest buzz around the US sports world today comes from the announcement around mid-day yesterday of a new contract extension for the Eagles’ QB, Jalen Hurts.  For the moment he is the highest plaid player in the NFL with an average annual salary of $51M assuming it all plays out to the end.  That is not bad at all for a second round pick – – #53 overall – – in a draft class that provided the NFL with some significant QB talent.  There were four QBs taken before Hurts was selected in that draft:

  1. Joe Burrow – – Overall #1
  2. Tua Tagovailoa – – Overall #5
  3. Justin Herbert – – Overall #6
  4. Jordan Love – – Overall #26

Because Hurts was a second round pick, the Eagles did not have a fifth-year option they could exercise in his contract; that art form goes to players taken in the first round.  So, this was going to be Hurts’ “walk year,” but the Eagles decided to push that situation back 5 years.

Here are a few particulars in the Jalen Hurts deal:

  • Guaranteed money at Signing = $110M
  • Total guarantees that are relatively easy to achieve = $179M
  • Total contract value = $255M over 5 years
  • No-trade clause

I think Eagles/Hurts deal benefits those four QBs taken in the first round of the 2020 draft.  Surely, Burrow and Herbert will use the deal as a benchmark in their opening set of contract demands.

  • Joe Burrow should get a deal comparable to the one Hurts just signed.  His situation is complicated to some degree by the fact that the Bengals will also need to find cap room for JaMarr Chase on the heels of Burrow’s deal.
  • Tua Tagovailoa’s injury history makes his situation “dicey”.  In three seasons, Tua has missed 14 games – – but last year playing in only 13 games got him named as an All-Pro.
  • Justin Herbert – – and his Chargers’ teammates – – have not had nearly the same level of success as either Joe Burrow or Jalen Hurts.  But it would be unfair to pin all the blame for that on Herbert; he is the first QB ever to start his NFL career with three consecutive seasons with 4,000 or more yards passing.  [Aside:  In 2021, his passing total was more than 5,000 yards.]
  • Jordan Love is a pure mystery.  The Packers have a year to decide if they want to invest big money over the long term with Love.  To a certain degree, he is facing a “show-me year.”

At the same time, I think this deal is not good for Lamar Jackson.  Let me start with an obvious disclaimer.  I have no inside information about the negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens; I feel like Will Rogers here; all I know is just what I read in the papers – – or on the Internet.  Reports have said that Jackson wants at least what the Browns gave Deshaun Watson – – 5 years and $230M fully guaranteed.

Russell Wilson’s mega deal with the Broncos was signed after the Watson deal and was not fully guaranteed; neither was Kyler Murray’s extension with the Cards.  Now Jalen Hurts has a contract signed after the Watson deal and it only guarantees 70% of the total possible value for the contract.  Jackson was previously able to point to the Watson deal and tell the Ravens that he has been a more productive QB than Watson has been, so he deserves similar terms.  Jackson cannot make a similar claim about superior productivity when it comes to either Wilson or Hurts.  So, if reports are correct that his demand for a fully guaranteed contract has been a sticking point, his position today is less tenable than it was 48 hours ago.

Adam Schefter previously reported that the Ravens had offered Jackson the following terms and Jackson turned them down.  Assume for a minute that Schefter’s report is perfectly accurate and compare a couple of the reported terms to the deal Hurts just signed:

  • Total Value for Jackson = $250M     For Hurts = $255M
  • Guarantee at signing for Jackson = $133M     For Hurts = $110M
  • Total Guarantee over contract for Jackson = $200M     For Hurts = $179M

Jackson has refused to sign the franchise tag the Ravens used on him and has requested a trade from the Ravens.  The team has no obligation to honor such a request; but even if it did, a trade would be difficult to effect. The non-exclusive franchise tag that exists on Jackson means that he can sign with any other team – – and then the Ravens have a couple of days to decide between one of two options:

  1. Then can accept the terms of the contract offered by the other team and keep Lamar Jackson as their QB – – or – –
  2. They can say “Vaya con Dios” to Lamar Jackson and receive two first-round draft picks from the team that signed him.

That means any team dealing with the Ravens to acquire Jackson would have to start the bidding at two first round picks; and at the same time, the team seeking to trade for Jackson would have to be willing to offer him contract terms to his liking.  Any team willing to trade for Jackson should already have made him the kind of contract offer he wants if they thought he was worth that plus two first round picks.  Jackson has been free to negotiate with other teams for weeks now and there have been no reports of “action”.

Finally, since I mentioned Will Rogers above, let me close with two of his great observations:

“Why don’t they pass a Constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything?  If it works as well as Prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on earth,”

And …

“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”

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



This, That And The Other Thing

Last week, I suggested that Adam Silver as the Commissioner of the NBA should strip the Dallas Mavericks of their first round pick this year and next year as punishment for purposely and purposefully losing a regular season game.  Well, we can now measure the degree to which Adam Silver values the integrity of his regular season games.

  • The “punishment” for tanking that game is a fine of $740K.

Mavs’ owner, Mark Cuban, has an estimated net worth of $5.1B.  So, let me present to you the degree to which this “punishment” might deter any similar future behavior.

  • Imagine you had an IRA with $100K in it.
  • If you were fined an equivalent fraction of that $100K, you would owe a total of fourteen dollars and fifty-one cents.

You showed him, Mr. Commish …

Switching sports …  There were two interesting personnel moves in the NFL last week.  The Falcons got CB Jeff Okudah from the Lions for a fifth-round draft pick this year.  The reason that is interesting is that Okudah was the overall #3 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.  Okudah has had difficulty with injuries; in three NFL seasons he has only appeared in 25 games, but his stats for 2022 seem to demonstrate his talents when he can stay on the field.  Last year he played in 15 of the 17 games; he had one INT (which he returned for a TD), defended 7 passes and forced a fumble.  Okudah is going into the fourth year of his rookie contract; so, the Falcons will need to decide if they are going to pick up the fifth year option that goes with a first-round pick’s contract.  According to Spotrac.com, that option for 2024 would cost the Falcons $11.5M

The other interesting personnel move was the signing of Odell Beckham, Jr. by the Ravens on a 1-year contract worth $15M.  Like Okudah, OBJ has had injury issues recently.  He has been in the NFL for 8 years; he was named as an All-Pro in his first three seasons but the last time he had 1000+ yards receiving in a season was in 2019.  And, he missed all of 2022 rehabbing from knee surgery.

Paying a WR $15M for a season with that recent history of injuries is interesting.  Many have speculated that this move by the Ravens was done as an olive-branch offering to Lamar Jackson in an attempt to get Jackson either to sign the franchise tag or to return to the negotiating table hopefully leading to a long-term contract with the Ravens. If signing Beckham sets in motion a series of events that moves the Ravens/Jackson standoff in a positive direction, then it will be money well-spent.  If not, the Ravens at least will have acquired a WR with the potential to be their #1 WR for 2023. As of now, the “Top 4” WRs on the Ravens’ roster would be:

  • Nelson Agholor
  • Rashod Bateman
  • Odell Beckham, Jr,
  • Devin Duvernay

Moving on …  Back in 2021, the folks who run women’s tennis severed ties with China and boycotted any events there based on allegations by tennis player Peng Shuai that she had been sexually assaulted by a high ranking Chinese government official.  Last week, that boycott ended with these statements from the head of women’s professional tennis, Steve Simon:

“The stance that we took at the time was appropriate. And we stand by that. But 16 months into this, we’re convinced that our requests will not be met. And to continue with the same strategy doesn’t make sense … So, we needed to look at a different approach.

“With this, our members believe it’s time to resume the mission in China, where we believe we can continue to make a positive difference, as we have for the last 20 years, while at the same time making sure that Peng is not forgotten. By returning, hopefully more progress can be made.”

Allow me to translate this for you:

  • Well, that did not work at all.  Peng Shuai has not been involved in tennis since her accusation and none of the “tennis officials” have been able to meet with her to see if she is alive and well.
  • The “different approach” here can best be described as “follow the money”.  Participating in events in China means more revenue for the tour and for the players.  So … having virtue-signaled our support for Peng Shuai, it is now time to let economics play the dominant role in our decision making.

In case you think I am being too harsh, let me insert here what Mr. Simon said about the importance of the boycott back in 2021:

“ … the one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen.”

You make the call…

Finally, I’ll close today with this assessment of tennis as a sport by Billie Jean King:

“A perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”

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



The Commanders Are Sold – – Almost

There was no joy in Mudville when mighty Casey struck out.  That is not the situation today for sports fans in the Washington DC area.  According to reports late yesterday, Danny Boy Snyder has agreed to sell the Washington Commanders to a group led by Josh Harris.  Let me be clear; Josh Harris is simultaneously unknown in this area and welcomed as a conquering hero.  Washington fans have a very short list of people who would be less attractive as the Commanders’ owner than the incumbent; the fact that Harris is not on that list makes him outstanding.

The reported final price for the franchise is $6B; that is a lot of motivation to sell.  Notwithstanding that bid for the team, I think there is a bit more to it.  After years of fighting and resisting investigations related to the Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up, President Nixon got a visitation.  Senator Goldwater and a contingent of Senators who had supported Nixon told the President that he would be impeached and convicted by the Senate; the President pre-empted that act and resigned.  In the case of the Washington Commanders – far less important and consequential than a Presidential impeachment – I wonder if something similar happened.

Sportswriters have excoriated Snyder for about 2 decades; he has been investigated, sued and declared persona non grata by the politicians in the area where he wanted help to build a new stadium.  If those actions/reactions really hurt Danny Boy Snyder, he hid it very well; he gave an Oscar-worthy performance for at least the last 15 years.  I believe he was happy to be an NFL owner; he was making a tidy sum annually by being an NFL owner; he was in the public spotlight; he probably would have been happy to continue on that path until his demise.  [Aside:  Daniel Snyder is only 58 years old; so, his “demise” is likely decades into the future.]

The only real threat to his status as an NFL owner is the existence of a mechanism whereby he could lose his franchise to the league.  That is a draconian action by the other owners which has never been implemented – – but it does exist.  I have said in the past that the other 31 owners would only use that draconian mechanism if/when Snyder’s actions had some sort of negative affect on their annual profits and/or on the valuation of their franchises.

Obviously, I have no inside information here and could not begin to prove the following speculation:

  • I wonder if an influential NFL owner or three found a way to get a message to Danny Boy Snyder on his super yacht at sea to let him know that his support among the owners for continuing to be an owner has eroded and by selling the franchise he can avoid a messy and embarrassing situation down the road.
  • I am not suggesting anything that is “Godfather-like”; I think it may have been much more somber and matter-of-fact.

As ecstatic as Commanders’ fans are this morning, this is not yet over the finish line.  According to reports, a deal has been reached but not signed yet.  That has to happen before the final legal and financial statements are submitted to the other 31 NFL owners for their approval.  The owners met at the end of March and should meet again in another two months or so; that might be a logical point for them to take up this matter – – assuming all the paperwork gets to them in time for their review.  Moreover, there is still a potential cloud in the sky for the franchise:

  • Mary Jo White continues her investigation of “financial irregularities” that may have occurred in previous years.  The NFL has said that the results of this investigation will be made public.  This could be a tempest in a teapot, or it could be something that leads to litigation and embarrassment galore.

Once the sale is completed – – and I have every expectation that it will close by the time training camp opens in mid-July – – it will be interesting to see how local and state politicians change their tune regarding the team’s overtures to build a new stadium.

Let me start at the beginning here.  The previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, could not get support to put a stadium that he would build himself until he purchased the land and put it up on his own.  He wanted it done before he died so it was basically thrown together; when it opened, it was called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium and it had all the charm and elegance of a reinforced-concrete mausoleum.  It has undergone facelifts and cosmetic “enhancements” over the years but here is a paraphrase of a remark by one of the local sports radio hosts about 20 years ago when the Vet in Philly closed:

  • This is a sad day for Washington football fans.  As long as The Vet was in operation, Washington did not have the worst stadium in the league, but now it does and it’s less than ten years old.

I have not been to all 32 NFL stadiums, but I have been to FedEx Field and the biggest compliment I will pay to it is:

  • It isn’t horrible; it is merely a dreary place lacking any semblance of comfort or class.

Danny Boy Snyder was basically shunted off to the side by state and local politicians in Maryland, Virginia and DC regarding construction of a new stadium.  The team needs a new one and now that the owner of the team is not toxic, it will be interesting to see the attitudes of the pols change from aloof to engaging.

Josh Harris and his partners in this purchase are heroes this morning.  When they close on the deal and the other NFL owners approve the change of ownership, they will face the task of cleaning up the image of Commanders’ ownership; and that task will not be pleasant, nor will it be easy.  I wish them only good fortune in those endeavors.

Finally, I said above that the new owners are being welcomed as conquering heroes this morning.  Therefore, I believe these words by playwright, Bertolt Brecht are the way to close today:

“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

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



Dollar Dog Night

Sometimes a promotional idea gets just a bit out of hand.  The Phillies experienced such a twist this week when they hosted the Miami Marlins on what was Dollar Dog Night.  I read one report that the concession stands sold more than 58,000 hot dogs for that game – – but not all of them entered an alimentary canal.  Some of those hot dogs turned into garbage missiles as fans threw hot dogs at one another.  One report by NBCSports – Philadelphia referred to this event as the “first Dollar Dog Night of the season.”  Given the reports and some of the videos of the event(s), someone in the Phillies’ braintrust might want to do a “re-evaluation”.

Fortunately, this event seemed limited to embarrassing moments; even a “direct hit” by a flying hot dog is unlikely to inflict serious damage on the “recipient” or damage to the facilities themselves. Such was not the case about 50 years ago when the Cleveland Indians hosted “Ten Cent Beer Night”.  Yes, that was a thing…

The idea was to sell “low-alcohol beer” for ten cents at a time when the normal price for a beer was about 75 cents.  That is an idea that one could believe would increase attendance for a night but looking at the details, one might have seen the seeds of failure here too.  Fans were not allowed to purchase more than 6 beers at a time, but there was no limit put on how many times they could go to the concession stands and buy six more.  Hmmm…

Obviously, a significant fraction of the fans in attendance were well-lubricated as the game took place.  There were streakers who ran the field; there were firecrackers set off; many of the folks who went to that game just to see a baseball game used their common sense and left early.  What remained in the stadium was a highly inebriated crowd and things got worse and worse.  In the ninth inning, the folks left in the stadium bum-rushed the field and the umpires declared the game a forfeit and left the field.

  • Memo to Phillies’ Promotion Mavens:  The “food fight scene” in the movie Animal House was funny.  Having the Phillie Phantic shoot hot dogs into the stands from an air gun is silly but harmless.  Figure out something else to do with those other scheduled “Dollar Hot Dog Nights”; that was an embarrassing display.

`           Moving on …  Turn the clock back in your mind to the summer of 2009.  Tiger Woods was dominating golf as much as any athlete was dominating any sport at the time.  He was an athlete in tremendous shape who used his workouts and his physical stature as key elements of his dominance of his sport.  Back then, Woods and Phil Mickelson were rivals, but Mickelson was seen as a less-dedicated/more happy-go-lucky player on the PGA Tour.  While some people marveled at Woods physique, others made jokes about Mickelson’s man-boobs.

Fast forward to 2023.  Tiger Woods had to withdraw from The Masters because he could not walk without an obviously painful limp.  Meanwhile in this year’s Masters, Phil Mickelson finished tied for second place and – for a brief time – was the leader in the clubhouse.  I certainly would never have predicted this state of affairs back in 2009.

The great sportswriter, Dan Jenkins, said of Tiger Woods early in Woods’ career that the only things that could derail Woods from greatness were “serious injury or a bad marriage”.  That is what I call “prophetic”.

Switching gears …  I read a report last week that 20% of the basketball players in the Big East were in the “transfer portal” meaning most of them will switch schools by the start of next season.  As a back-of-the-envelope calculation consider what that might mean in college football.  There are 130 Division 1-AA schools, and a college team probably averages 80 players; so, if 20% of them are in the transfer portal, that works out to about 2000 “student-athletes” looking to be on the move.  That gives new meaning to the old come-on:

“You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.”

I am going to venture way out on a limb here and suggest a change that might – – if it is even feasible – – alleviate some of this chaos in collegiate sports.

  • Colleges should no longer give scholarships to athletes.
  • Colleges should enter into contractual relationships with their athletes.

The idea of contracts would allow the athlete to negotiate the duration of the contract as well as the terms and forms of remuneration.  If the athlete actually wants to go to class and get a degree, then some/all of his remuneration ought to be negotiated as tuition, lab fees, books and whatever.  If the athlete wants to be a one-and-done, then the remuneration need not take any of those sorts of things into account and the contract that results will terminate at the end of one athletic season.

I do not pretend to know anywhere near enough about contract law to know if these sorts of arrangements are workable; but let me pretend for the moment that they can be regularized to the point that there are templates for various art forms here.  This sort of environment would provide some small measure of “roster stability” in college athletics and I think that would be beneficial for the sports.

Obviously, a recruit or a free-agent athlete is going to choose to sign with a school that appeals to him/her AND he/she is going to join forces with a coach/coaching staff where there is some sort of positive relationship.  So, I would expect that these recruits/free-agents would be sure to include an out-clause in their deals saying that if the coach is fired, the contract is null and void.  Such arrangements supply stability for the school and for the athletes and may – perhaps – slow down the churning of coaching changes in college football and basketball every year.  Just a thought …

Finally, since I mentioned Dan Jenkins’ prophetic statement about Tiger Woods today, let me close with this from Lord Byron:

“The best of prophets of the future is the past.”

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



NFL Draft 2023 – – Pre-Draft Analysis

I am going to be out of the country without a computer when the NFL Draft happens this year, so I am doing my annual Pre-Draft compilation a bit earlier than usual. Let me do a reset for newcomers:

  • I watch a lot of college football on TV, and I keep a notepad beside me, and I make notes about players I see that I think can play at the NFL level.
  • Then, before the Draft, I gather up my notes and try to decipher my less-than-easily-legible handwriting.
  • I have no inside information here; these are just my opinions from games on TV.  So, I may have seen a team play but not have any notes about one of that team’s best players because I did not notice him.  Or maybe he missed the game due to injury.  The sampling of the universe of college football players is not exhaustive.

As I was collating my notes from last Fall, I notice that I was very restrictive in the games I watched; in previous years, my viewing preferences included all the Power 5 conferences and some weeknight peeks at the other conferences.  Last year, most of my viewing was SEC, Big 10 and ACC; I must be getting picky in my old age…

There is a lot of emphasis on QBs at or near the top of the Draft.  Fortunately for me, I actually saw most of the guys who are getting that sort of coverage; so, I’ll begin with the QBs:

  1. Stetson Bennett – Georgia: “Great college QB but I don’t think he can play in the NFL”.
  2. Malik Cunningham – Louisville: “Mobile” and “accurate thrower” but I think he is “too small” for the NFL.
  3. Max Duggan – TCU: “Big and strong” but “not accurate on deep throws”
  4. Will Levis – Kentucky:  He is “big and strong”, and he seems “like a fastball pitcher”.  He is “surprisingly quick” for such a big guy.
  5. Anthony Richardson – Florida:  He is “big and fast”.  Reminds me of Randall Cunningham including lack of accuracy on passes at the same young age.  Needs to learn to put some “touch” on short passes.  “May need a year or two as an understudy” but worth a high pick.
  6. CJ Stroud – Ohio St.:  He has a “quick release” and is “accurate on deep throws”.  He is a “first round pick for sure”.
  7. Bryce Young – Alabama:  He “reminds me of Jalen Hurts” from years ago before Hurts added lots of muscle.  “Very instinctive player”.

Let me turn to the RBs next:

  1. Israel Abanikanda – Pitt: “Very elusive” with “excellent acceleration” and “tough enough to run inside.”  [Aside: He broke a school record held by Tony Dorsett for most yards rushing in a game.]
  2. Devin Achane – Texas A&M:  He is not a “big back” but he “runs well on the outside.”  My notes say “Mid-round pick”.
  3. Tank Bigsby – Auburn: “Power runner” always “falls forward for the extra yard”.
  4. Zach Charbonnet – UCLA: “Runs well inside” and “fights for extra yards”.  He has “decent speed” and “blocks well”.  “Mid-round pick”
  5. Jahmyr Gibbs – Alabama: “Speed merchant”.  “Second round?”
  6. Bijan Robinson – Texas: “Very fast” and “big enough”.  His pass blocking is “adequate”, but he is a “good receiver”.  Not a lot of running backs go in the first round these days, but this guy might be an exception.

Next up, let me do the TEs – – which will be brief this year:

  1. Michael Mayer – Notre Dame: “Big and fast with soft hands”.  He “needs to work on his blocking”.  “Probably second round.”
  2. Brenton Strange – Penn St.: “Excellent blocker on running plays”.  “Not super-fast but catches well”.  He could be a “steal in later rounds.”

The best WR I saw in college last year – – Marvin Harrison Jr, – – is not eligible for the draft this year, but here are some WRs that caught my eye:

  1. Josh Downs – UNC: “Little guy” who “gets open most of the time”.  He “also returns punts”.  However, his blocking is “non-existent”.  Second round or maybe third?
  2. Bryce Ford-Wheaton – West Virginia:  This is a “BIG WR” who runs after the catch.  “Good blocker” and “good enough speed”. Third round?
  3. Malik Heath – Mississippi St: “Good hands” and “fast enough”.  “Gets very open on intermediate routes; is that due to Mike Leach’s offense?”  Worth a shot late in the draft.
  4. Jalin Hyatt – Tennessee: “Pure speed” with “good hands”.  He should go in the “first round.”
  5. Charlie Jones – Purdue: “Not real big and not real fast but fights for every inch on every play”
  6. Jonathan Mingo – Ole Miss: “Big and tough” he gets “plenty of yardage after the catch.”  Gone by the second round.
  7. Jaxon Smith-Njigba – Ohio St.: “Good size” and “good speed” and “excellent hands” plus “good blocker” leads me to believe he will go in Round 1.
  8. Cedric Tillman – Tennessee: “Tall and strong”, he looks like a “possession receiver”.  “Better than average blocker”.  Third round pick.

Keith Jackson used to refer to offensive linemen as “The Big Uglies”; I have no interest in judging them with “beauty points”, but I will give you a heads up that some of these guys are VERY big men.  I tend to lump all the offensive linemen into a single category simply because NFL coaches move them around a lot; so here are my OL spottings from last year:

  1. Steve Avila – TCU: “Very big for a center” but he has “mobility and strength”.
  2. Jacob Gall – Baylor: “Good run blocker inside” but “looks slow to me”.  “Plays hard on every snap”.  “Practice squad pick?”
  3. Gabe Houy – Pitt: “Always downfield blocking on run plays” but “pass protection is just OK”.  This could be a late round pick for a practice squad.
  4. Paris Johnson – Ohio St.: “Big, strong and agile”.  I said, “first round pick” and “does everything very well”.
  5. Broderick Jones – Georgia:  He “totally dominated the Oregon DL” for the whole game because “no one ever got near Bennett”.  My note says he is “agile” even though he is 300+ pounds.
  6. Olusegun Oluwatimi – Michigan: “Very good run blocker inside and outside”.
  7. Cedrice Palliant – Marshall: “Strong as an ox” he “moves DL with arm strength”.  However, looks “really slow” so maybe a “late round pick as a development project?”
  8. Peter Skoronski – Northwestern:  Commentator in the Nebraska game opening weekend said Skoronski had only given up one sack in 12 games in 2021.  I kept an eye on him and he is a “really good pass blocker”.
  9. Sidy Sow – E. Michigan: “Big and very strong”.  “Uses quickness plus strength on run plays”.  Playing against “lesser competition” means he probably goes “late in the draft if at all.”
  10. O’Cyrus Torrence – Florida:  My note says “HUGE”.  Stats say he is 6’5” tall and weighs 335 lbs.  “Not a lot of speed” but a “powerful run blocker.”

Before turning to the defensive players, I made notes on last year, let me dispose of the punters and kickers because there are so few of them on my list.  There is only one punter in my notes this year:

  1. Bryce Barringer – Michigan State:  Punts are “long with lots of hang time”.  “Consistent” which is good because “he will be punting a lot the rest of this season”.  [Aside:  Punters rarely go in the first three or four rounds of the draft, but this guy might just be worth taking then.]

I have notes on two placekickers this year:

  1. Jack Podlesny – Georgia: “Down the middle on field goal tries” and “good depth on kickoffs”.
  2. Chad Ryland – Maryland: “Kickoffs are deep and high – not a lot of returns by opponents.”

Turning to the defense, let me begin with the big guys up front – – the DL:

  1. Will Anderson – Alabama: “Could be a DE or an OLB and would be great at both”.  Will go “Top 10”.
  2. Felix Anudike-Uzomah – K-State: “Tall, long arms and mobile”.  “May have to add weight in NFL”.  [Aside:  I also noted that a team might draft this guy if they hated their radio play-by-play announcer.]
  3. Karl Brooks – Bowling Green: “Pushed around lots of Marshall players” so “worth a pick late”.
  4. Jalen Carter – Georgia:  He is “quick and strong” and is “good against both the inside run and the outside run.”  “Best pass rush move is bull-rush.”  “Should go early.”
  5. Isaiah Foskey – Notre Dame: “Very disruptive against Clemson” and “good against run and pass”.  Second or third round?
  6. Siaki Ika – Baylor: “Huge man – graphic says 6’4” and 350 lbs.”.  “Run stopper but not a lot of interior pass rush”.
  7. Myles Murphy – Clemson: “Speed rusher and power rusher”.  “Second round?”
  8. Mazi Smith – Michigan: “Dominant inside run stopper”.  “Pass rush is OK.”  “Mid-round pick”.
  9. Byron Young – Tennessee: “Good quickness and speed” and “good tackler in the open field”.  “Definitely needs to add strength and weight”.  Late round pick.
  10. Cameron Young – Mississippi St.: “Tough against run but not much pass rush”.  “Late round?”

Moving along to linebackers:

  1. Jack Campbell – Iowa: “Always around the ball” and “good tackling technique”.  “Pass coverage is good”.  “Should go in round 2 or 3”.
  2. Shaka Hayward – Duke: “Good size and good sense of where the ball is going” but “not real fast”.  Late round pick or maybe an undrafted free agent?
  3. Dylan Horton – TCU: “Good tacker with good size and good speed”.  “Should be a mid-round pick”.
  4. Ventrell Miller – Florida: “Good tackler and hard hitter”.  “Awfully small for NFL standards”
  5. Demarviohn Overshown – Texas: “Seems to be around the ball on every play except downfield bombs”.  “Good tackler with excellent speed”.  “Second round”?
  6. Trenton Simpson – Clemson:  He is “a speed guy” who “might be too small?”
  7. Charlie Thomas – Georgia Tech: “A tackling machine – always around the ball” but “needs bulking up”.

Next up are the CBs:

  1. Julius Brents – K-State: “Big guy who covers well”.  “Impressive game against Oklahoma.”
  2. Clark Phillips – Utah: “Not very big but all over the field against USC”.
  3. Joey Porter, Jr. – Penn St.: “Good tight coverage” and a “good tackler”.  “Tall with long arms” he “should go early maybe even round 1”.
  4. Kelee Ringo – Georgia:  He is a “big CB with lots of speed”.  “Aggressive tackler”.
  5. Cam Smith – South Carolina: “Tight coverage without lots of help” but “boy, does he look skinny”.

Last but not least, here are my notes on safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft:

  1. Brian Branch – Alabama: “Wow, he’s everywhere on every play.”  “Has to be a first-round pick…”
  2. JiAyir Brown – Penn St.: “Hard hitter with good tackling fundamentals”.  “Pass coverage is solid.”  Maybe 2nd round?
  3. Chamarri Connor – VA Tech: “Hard hitting tackler on run plays” but “pass coverage is only adequate”.  Late round pick.
  4. Kaevon Merriweather – Iowa: “Good in pass coverage but not fast enough to play CB”.

Finally, the NFL Draft is an aspirational event for players and for teams; so much data has been collected, massaged and digested you would think it was a science.  So let me close with this from John Adams:

“Now to what higher object, to what greater character, can any mortal aspire than to be possessed of all this knowledge, well digested and ready at command, to assist the feeble and friendless, to discount the haughty and lawless, to procure redress of wrongs, the advancement of right, to assert and maintain liberty and virtue, to discourage and abolish tyranny and vice?”

President Adams would probably be sad to know that in 2023 finding a Hall of Fame player in the sixth round is probably an even higher aspiration for many NFL coaches, execs and fans.

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



A Blight On The NBA

Yesterday, I went on about the NBA’s proposed in-season tournament.  After sleeping on my thoughts abut such a thing, I remain convinced that it is unnecessary and unwarranted.  But that is only the smaller of the two big problems on Adam Silver’s desk these days.  The larger issue can be labeled in various ways:

  • Tanking
  • The integrity of NBA games
  • You get the idea…

Look, teams “tank” every once in a while when their seasons cease to have any sort of possibility for a positive ending.  Quitting, tossing in the towel, playing out the string are all ways we have come to label that sort of behavior.  The NBA has a history with this sort of thing; they even instituted a lottery as part of the way they assign draft ordering so that teams would not blatantly try to lose just to acquire a special player who might be available in some year.  [Aside: This year’s prize pick is French phenom Victor Wembanyama.]

And in this year, tanking – – preferring to lose a game instead of winning it – – was happening out in the open.  Let me take the Washington Wizards as an example because it is the local team that I see most frequently.  The Wiz have three better-than-average players on their roster; for any fans of the team in Washington, these three are significant portions of the decision those fans might make to go and see a game and spend their money on the Wiz.  Those three players are:

  1. Bradley Beal
  2. Kyle Kuzma
  3. Kristaps Porzingis

For the last several weeks of the season, it has been difficult to find those three men in the lineup.  Here is a compendium of the Wizards games over the last 3 weeks:

  • From March 21-28 the Wizards’ record was 2-3.  Porzingis played every game and Beal played one game; Porzingis averaged 27 points per game in that stretch.
  • From March 31 until April 9, the Wizards’ record was 1-4.  None of their three best players ever set foot on the court in these games.

But that is a performance that can be explained away by saying – accurately – that the Wizards aren’t all that good when their best players are involved.  A less than good team hit a rough patch and lost a bunch of games – – no big deal.  And then you have the situation in Dallas…

The tank job took place last Friday, April 7.  The Mavericks still had a shot at making the play-in round of the NBA playoffs on the morning of April 7th, and then the Mavericks went out to lose a game intentionally to avoid the play-in round of the playoffs thereby accomplishing two things:

  1. Assure themselves as a contestant in the Victor Wembanyama lottery.
  2. Retain a Top-10 protected draft pick they would have owed to the NY Knicks.

How do I know this was “intent to lose”?  The Mavericks’ coach, Jason Kidd, told the world that:

“I can’t speak for [Doncic].  But I think when you look at it, we all said we want to have the opportunity to find a way to get in [the play-in round]. And we were going to play until told otherwise. And today was the day that we were told we’re going to do something different.”

Read that carefully.  The head coach and the team were told they would be doing something different from trying to make the play-in round of the NBA playoffs.  Who might have been the one(s) to tell Jason Kidd and the Mavs’ players to go out and lose some games?  Will Adam Silver need a 6-month investigation to narrow down the possibilities there?  Do you think Charlie Chan might be available to lend some assistance here?

  • Memo to Adam Silver:  Any time any professional team in any league tries to lose a game instead of trying to win a game, it puts an indelible black mark on that team and that league.  More than a hundred years after the fact, people remember the Black Sox Scandal.
  • You, sir, are in charge.  One of your job duties is to be the league’s disciplinarian.  Over to you…

Forget about a fine.  Even if you were allowed to levy fines of a meaningful amount, Mark Cuban could pay it and move on.  Remember, he did that in the past (maybe 6 or 7 years ago) when you\\\the NBA fined him for openly talking about having the Mavs tank some games.  This current situation is a blight on the NBA and the fact that it happens in varying degrees in just about every season does not diminish how bad it is.  At some point, this kind of intentional losing will cause bettors to look askance at putting down some action on some NBA games; and – like it or not – that decision could cost the league fans and lost TV ratings.

Look, the NBA already has image problems with things like load-management and players demanding trades and players engaging in clearly anti-social behaviors; but those are things generally done by players and maybe coaches too.  This is different; someone – or some ones – above the head coach in the hierarchy informed the head coach that winning was not the objective as of April 7th.  If I need to explain why that is an important difference, I fear that Commissioner Silver and the entirety of the NBA’s “governors” will never understand.

Jason Kidd understands the stakes here.  After explaining that he had been informed to sit anyone on the Mavs roster who might cause them to win a game, he added the following about the players who would take the court in Mavericks’ uniforms:

  • He said the guys would “go out and try to play to win”.
  • “You’ve got to be pros; you can’t cheat the game.”

Here is what I think is an appropriate action for the NBA now.  It might give other teams a pause before they give up on trying to win games:

  1. Strip the Mavs of that first round pick they held onto by tanking; they should have no chance in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.
  2. Then award the Mavs’ first round pick in 2024 to the NY Knicks as recompense for the pick that the Knicks did not receive this year.

Yes, that would leave the Mavs without a first-round draft pick two years in a row.  With that as a precedent for teams who are not trying to win every game, maybe that will give pause to the next owner/GM who even acquiesces to such a plan let alone one who endorses it.  As I said, Mr. Commish, “Over to you…”

Finally, tanking is another word for quitting so let me close today with these words attributed to former US Vice-President, Hubert Horatio Humphrey:

“Some people look upon any setback as the end.  They are always looking for the benediction and not the invocation … But you can’t quit.  That is not what our country was built on.”

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



A Problem For Adam Silver

The Commissioners of the major sports in the US never have an easy time of it.  As I have pointed out before, they wear two different hats that normally have nothing to do with one another:

  1. They need to “grow the game” and keep the money in the revenue streams constantly increasing.
  2. They are games’ disciplinarians.

All the Commissioners – – Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred and Adam Silver – – have had some tough moments during their time in office.  Right now, Adam Silver has two items on his plate that are unsavory at best and could be deleterious if managed improperly.

The lesser of the two “issues” is that the NBA is going forward with its idea of an in-season tournament.  Let’s just say that the fan clamor for such a thing borders on the non-existent and leave it at that.  From the league’s perspective, the idea is to generate greater interest in games played in November and December.  Even if that goal is achieved, it comes as a double-edged sword; the league had to concoct a way for its fans to care about games in the first third of its season.  Would not a rational thinker say that – – just maybe – – the smart thing to do is to reduce the number of those games that require extra effort to make them interesting?

Here is how the in-season tournament will work – – sort of:

  • The 30 teams in the league will be divided into six groups of 5 teams.  There may be divisional cross-over in the tournament groupings but not conference cross-over.
  • During the first six weeks of the season – – November and December – – certain days will be identified such that scheduled games will be regular season contests AND in-season tournament games.  Each team will play the other four teams in its group during this time.
  • The winners in each of the six groups – plus two wildcard teams – will then be bracketed in a single elimination situation.
  • The players on the team that wins the entire tournament will each receive $500K.  That’s it; no runner-up money.
  • Next year’s schedule for teams will only have 80 games at the start of the season but all the teams who do not make it to the single-elimination stage of the in-season tournament will get two more games added to their schedules to make it to 82 games in total.

Let me pretend for a moment that this idea makes complete sense.  The end of this in-season endeavor will not come until January or later in the season; so, why am I – – as a fan of a team that hopes to win more than 30 games in a season but may not – – going to have any special interest in a November game that is both a tournament game and a regular season game?  If you use English soccer as a model, they have an “in-season tournament” every year for the FA Cup.  But those games stand on their own; teams in the Premier League who play FA Cup games do not count those games in the standings of the Premier League.  What the NBA is trying to do is to take games that fans are blasé about and distracting the fans into thinking the games mean something.  Is that going to work in the long run?

Looking at this from the other end of the telescope, why is it seemingly taken as axiomatic that players/teams will take these tournament/regular season games any more seriously than they take November/December games today?  This year, the Pistons won 17 games; by December 1st, the players on that team and the players on scheduled opponents had more than an inkling that the Pistons were not “formidable”.  So, now magically on a randomly selected evening in early December, a game between the Pistons and the Wizards – – for example – – is going to be interesting?  Note, I did not say that game would be important because that would be irrational; I merely assert it is unlikely to be interesting.

One other minor point that still “needs to be ironed out” is that the rules for selecting those two “wildcard teams” have not been announced.  Once there are tie-breaker rules for each of the six groups of teams, that will leave 24 other teams with various “tournament records” to consider.  It is a mathematical certainty that there will be multiple teams with the same tournament records at the end of the group phase of the tournament.  Let me say this now before the wildcard qualification rules are announced:

  • They had better be objective, measurable and ironclad.
  • There cannot be any “special consideration” given to teams that did not win their group but who usually draw big TV audiences.
  • Fans of teams that lose out on being named as a wildcard to the elimination rounds must think that – – at least – – their heroes got a square deal.

I think the idea of an in-season tournament is concocted at best.  The league is admitting – – though not directly – – that many of its games played in November and December are not competitive in terms of fan interest with other sporting endeavors.  If the in-season tournament generates little to no excitement – – say like Pizza Hut introducing the oatmeal pizza – – what might the league need to do about those games they just admitted were less than interesting to fans?

Here is when you will know this idea is on a wrong track.  When a “tournament game” is scheduled as the second game of a back-to-back for a team and some of the players take the game off as part of their “load management” strategy, you can kiss goodbye any serious consideration of the in-season tournament.

And I said that this was the lesser of the two issues facing Adam Silver.  Tomorrow will be the bigger issue…

Finally, let me close today with this from Alice in Wonderland:

“’Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“’I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone: ‘so I can’t take more.’

“’You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: ‘it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’”

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



More Mental Meanderings …

Yesterday, I mentioned that there was a new prop bet available for The Masters.  Learning of that new prop bet set me on a search to find out what sort of “action” there was on the event, and I learned that various sportsbooks in Las Vegas and online have a “significant exposure” to one circumstance:

  • Several sportsbooks stand to lose a significant amount of money if Tiger Woods “makes a run” and simply finishes high on the leaderboard.

From one of the online sportsbooks, here is a sampling of the prop bets involving Woods just as The Masters was getting underway:

  • Woods to win The Masters outright – –   +6600
  • Woods to finish in the Top 5 – –   +1100
  • Woods to finish in the Top 10 – –   +650
  • Woods to lead after Round 1 – –     +3500
  • Woods to be in the Top 5 after Round 1 – –    +1100
  • Woods to be the Top American – –    +2800

The list goes on from here.  My first impression as along the lines of “So what?”  After all, Woods has not been lighting up golf courses after his near-fatal car accident a little over two years ago.  However, I learned that there is a preponderance of money bet on Woods at these long odds and if it were to come to pass that he “won the whole thing”, a sportsbook manager said that the industry was exposed to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Well, “the industry” won the bets regarding Round 1.  Woods shot 74 – – two over par – – and was 9 shots off the lead.  If Woods does not make the cut at the end of today’s round, the sportsbooks can let out their held breath and enjoy the handle they took on Tiger Woods this weekend.

In bouncing around looking for prop bets on The Masters, I ran across several that involved the finishes of “PGA guys” versus “LIV guys”.  And suddenly, I realized that I had forgotten what “LIV” stood for.  I kept trying to use those letters as an acronym but things like “Living In Valhalla” just made no sense.  So, Google was my friend and – – in case you too have forgotten what LIV stands for:

  • LIV is the Roman numeral for the number 54.
  • 54 is the score one would card on a Par-72 course if you birdied every hole.
  • 54 is also the number or holes to be played in an LIV tournament.

Switching gears …  Recently, I remarked here about the drama in the English Premier League at the bottom of the table where three teams will be relegated to the Champions League this summer.  Most of the teams in danger of relegation this week have 9 games left to play; one of those teams, West Ham, has 10 games left to play.  There are 20 teams in the EPL; as of this morning, the 9 teams toward the bottom of the standings are separated by a total of 7 points.  Remember, points are earned in the EPL on the basis of 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw.  So, there is ample opportunity for the last place team to shoot up to 12th place in the table and for the 12th place team to sink like a rock.

  • The team in 12th place today is Crystal Palace; they have lost 4 of their last 5 games.
  • The team in 20th place today is Southampton; they have a win and two draws in their last 5 games.
  • The team in 19th place today is Leicester City; they were the surprise winner of the EPL in 2016; they have 4 losses and one draw in their last 5 games.
  • The team in 16th place today is Everton; the last time they were relegated was in 1951; they have 3 draws and a win in their last 5 games meaning they have clawed their way out of relegation to whatever precarious perch they enjoy today.

Moving on …  There is a report today that Niners’ QB, Trey Lance “crashed” a workout session that Patrick Mahomes organized with a bunch of the Chiefs’ receivers at TCU.  I wondered why a Niners’ QB would be throwing with receivers for another team and that aspect of the story was not significantly clarified.  However, there was another tidbit in the story that raises a question in my mind.

  • According to the report, Mahomes organized this “throwing session” at TCU because “during the NFL offseason, players aren’t allowed to practice together at the team facility.”

I understand that getting players more time away from the game was an important part of the last couple of CBA negotiations, and I understand that the union would want to make it such that teams cannot schedule any sort of “mandatory activities” at their facilities for much of the offseason.  However, this “activity” was clearly organized by Mahomes; it was not “mandatory”; it had no imprimatur from the Chiefs or Andy Reid.  So, if that is the case, why is the use of the Chiefs’ facilities forbidden?

Finally, I will close with these words from British historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay:

“The Puritan hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”

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