A Random Walk Today …

I have noted here before that I enjoy watching the “Manningcast” for Monday Night Football events.  When Peyton and Eli have a “football guest” and/or when Peyton and Eli are providing commentary on their own, I think that is a different and an interesting way to watch a football game.  I admit that some of their guests do not add to my enjoyment, but ESPN gives me the Joe Buck/Troy Aikman telecast as an easy remedy for no-account guests.

So, I was happy to read last week that ESPN and Peyton Manning’s production company, Omaha Productions, had reached an agreement to extend the “Manningcasts” through 2034.  There were 10 “Manningcasts” last year and the program won an Emmy in 2022 for “Outstanding Live Sports Series.  ESPN has television rights to more than 10 games including playoff games, but I did not find any reporting on the new contract as it applies to the number of “Manningcasts” to be aired per season.  Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I will simply be happy to know that at least some of the alternative broadcasts will be available over the next 10 seasons.

Moving on …  The NBA playoffs have begun; it is now safe and enjoyable to watch whatever NBA game might appear on your TV screen.  The reason I say that is the clearly observable fact that all the players take all these games seriously; that is an element of competition that is clearly absent in far too many regular season NBA games.  That is the good news for the NBA as it is now in a position to take over the spotlight of the sports world for the next couple of months.

The bad news for the NBA is that there is another gambling scandal – – and it must be a lot more than rumors/allegations.  The NBA announced a lifetime ban for Toronto Raptors’ forward, Jontay Porter, based on:

“… disclosing confidential information to sports bettors, limiting his own participation in one or more games for betting purposes and betting on NBA games.”

I think we can all agree that those behaviors represent a trifecta of wrongdoing on the part of Jontay Porter.  The fact that there has not been an outcry of protest from the NBPA speaks directly to the quality of the evidence available.  Here is a link to an excellent report at CBSSports.com that lays out the findings of an NBA investigation and how that investigation began.

Note that once again the existence of legalized sports gambling plays a dual role in this mess.

  1. The fact that sports wagering is so widespread and so easily available to just about anyone and everyone provides the means to put temptation in front of athletes and officials.
  2. The fact that legalized sports betting enterprises have a vested interest in not being scammed makes those entities efficient and effective sentries on the lookout for folks who might be using “improper means” to beat the books.

This is the second “betting scandal” for the NBA in the last 20 years; I need not go into the details of the Tim Donaghy mess again; Wikipedia can do that for you if you need your memory refreshed.  And in that case like the current matter, the NBA is not the organization/entity that discovered the wrongdoing.  Back then it was the FBI who ran across information that the FBI then informed the NBA about that led to the discovery that an official was betting on games including ones that he would be officiating.

Two scandals in 20 years might be written off as sufficiently infrequent as to be only of minor concern.  I think that would be a bad stance for the NBA to assume; I think the much more important lesson for Adam Silver and his cohorts to learn here is that their “investigative and enforcement” people need to step up their game significantly.

Next up …  Recall after the Spanish Women’s Soccer Team won the Women’s World Cup a couple of years ago, the head of the Spanish Soccer Federation, Luis Rubiales, ran onto the pitch and kissed one of the players, Jenni Hermoso, on the lips.  He says it was part of the excitement of the moment’; she says it was a sexual assault because it was unwanted and uninvited. Rubiales was forced to resign his position with the Spanish Soccer Federation and is now facing legal charges in the matter.

According to a BBC report, a Spanish prosecutor has brought charges against Rubiales of one count of sexual assault and one count of coercion because of that encounter.  According to that report, the sexual assault charge would levy a 1-year prison sentence on Rubiales and the coercion charge would being an 18-month sentence according to Spanish Law.  I need to tread lightly here …

  • What Rubiales did was inappropriate.  There needs to be some degree of sanction for his improper and inexcusable behavior.
  • Court documents allege that other Spanish Soccer officials tried to convince Ms. Hermoso to say that the kiss was unexpected but nothing more than that.  If those allegations are correct, those officials are at least as guilty of inappropriate behavior as is Rubiales.
  • And having said all that, I am not convinced that a kiss is sexual assault unless having me believe that it is the same thing as fondling or rape is the intent of these charges – – and I hope that is not the case because that would trivialize to some degree things I believe are actual sexual assaults which are far worse than an unwarranted kiss.

I don’t know what an ideal outcome might be in this matter.  Rubiales did something wrong and needs to atone for it and pay for it.  I do not think he should go to jail for two-and-a-half years, nor do I think he should be considered to reside in the same category as rapists.  I am glad I am not the judge in this matter.

Finally, consider this observation by my favorite curmudgeon, H. L. Mencken:

“Every man is thoroughly happy twice in his life: just after he has met his first love and just after he has left his last one.”

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

 

 

A Radio Voice Goes Silent

John Sterling has been the radio play-by-play voice of the Yankees on WFAN in NYC for about the last 35 years; so, it was a surprise to read that he was going into retirement right now, in the middle of a Yankees’ season.  One report cited “health reasons” for retirement and that led me to hope that whatever those reasons are they were not as dire as the tone of that revelation was.

I was anything but a regular listener to John Sterling who called Yankees’ games with Suzyn Waldman, but I would listen to him infrequently when driving in my car in the nighttime radio range of WFAN.  Sterling was hardly a great radio announcer because – – at least I thought – – he spent way too much of his time and attention on coming up with “cutesy phraseology” to apply to the game.  One such instance sticks out in my mind:

  • Yankees were trailing late in a game and Hideki Matsui hit a 3-run homerun to put the Yankees in the lead.  Obviously, this called for enthusiasm from the Yankees’ broadcast team, but I thought it was a tad over the top to hear Sterling yelling that this was a “thrilla by Godzilla”.

WFAN will replace Sterling with two announcers – – Justin Shackil and Emmanuel Berbari – – neither of whom I have ever heard do anything on a radio.  From what I have read, Suzyn Waldman will continue to be part of the broadcast team at least for the rest of the 2024 season.

Moving on …  The NCAA has leveled penalties/sanctions on the Michigan football program for recruiting violations by the coaches – – including former head coach Jim Harbaugh – – for impermissible contacts with recruits during a COVID recruiting standdown.  The NCAA considers these violations to be at the highest level of miscreant behavior and they claim that Coach Harbaugh was uncooperative with whatever investigation the NCAA used to accumulate facts in this matter.

The sanctions include 3 years of probation and scholarship forfeitures in those three seasons.  The part of the story that I found amusingly confounding was a statement issued by Jim Harbaugh’s lawyer who represented him to the NCAA in this matter.  Said the attorney in an interview with ESPN:

“I filed a lengthy response (to the NCAA’s allegations) on behalf of Coach Harbaugh which unfortunately has not been made public and will probably never see the light of day.  That (filing) concluded Coach Harbaugh’s participation in the case.”

That sure makes it sound as if Coach Harbaugh is being railroaded here and may even be labeled as a victim in all of this – – until you ask yourself a simple question:

  • If there is probative evidence in that filing that went to the NCAA regarding Michigan’s and Harbaugh’s innocence, what is preventing the lawyer- – with the consent of Jim Harbaugh of course – – from releasing it to the public to make sure that it sees the “light of day”?

I am not a fan of the Inspector Clouseau acolytes who conduct NCAA investigations, but the complaint by Harbaugh’s lawyer along with his lack of action to show the public how innocent his client is makes me think the NCAA may have gotten one right this time around.  The Bottom Line is this:

  • Jim Harbaugh now coaches in the NFL where he will reportedly make $16M per year.
  • The NCAA can huff-and-puff/fuss-and-fume all it wants; Jim Harbaugh is going to be OK.

Next up …  Recall that the Opening Ceremony for the Paris Olympics later this year is going to be “different”.  Instead of athletes from the various nations parading in a stadium before the hosts and the assembled IOC pooh-bahs, the plan is to have the Opening Ceremony take place on barges floating down the Seine through the city of Paris.  With more than 10,000 athletes involved from 206 countries – – some of which might be difficult to find on a map – – that was always going to be a logistical challenge.  But the organizers had a couple of years to plan all that out and assemble the physical resources needed to pull it off; so, why not give it a go?

Well, now French security folks have suggested that there might be “security concerns” associated with parading all those athletes from wherever down the river in front of what was estimated to be 600,000 spectators who might be civic minded – – or not.  The security folks succeeded in creating crowd limits that would almost cut the original estimates in half, but still there is plenty of room for sociopathic individuals to find some degree of anonymity in a crown of about 300,000 souls at least 30% of whom have probably been imbibing as they waited for and watched the parade of barges.

The attack on the concert in Russia for which ISIS claimed responsibility caused the French authorities to pay more heed to security issues.  President Macron went so far as to say that the whole Opening Ceremony could be restaged in Stade de France if the security threat is deemed to be too high in the days/weeks leading up to the Games.

[Aside:  Adding to the security issues is the fact that 120 heads of state have declared that they plan to attend these Opening Ceremonies in addition to their athletic delegation.]

The idea of a totally different way to conduct the Opening Ceremony for a set of Olympic Games is appealing when one first hears about it.  But in these days of violent terrorist attacks seemingly anywhere and everywhere, you have to picture athletes from all those countries as sitting ducks on barges that might be able to move up to 3 miles per hour.  There is a potential for this to become a shooting gallery where the victims bleed in stead of merely being knocked over.

Finally, for no good reason at all, let me close today with these words from Charles Barkley:

“Curling is not a sport.  I called my grandmother and told her she could win a gold medal because they have dusting in the Olympics now.”

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

 

 

More Catching Up …

Presumably, everyone has their tax returns completed and in the mail as of last night.  And so, without further distraction or anxiety, let me continue my commentary on things that went down while I was on hiatus…

I have mentioned before that I have seen every final game in the NCAA basketball tournament on TV since 1954; even though my long-suffering wife and I were on travel this year, I kept that streak intact; it now stands at 70 consecutive years.  Congratulations to the UConn Huskies for their suffocating victory over Purdue by 15 points in the final game last week.  Purdue was a dominant team all season long with a powerful inside offensive game (Zach Edey) and a highly efficient outside offensive game (ranked 2nd in the country in the regular season).  UConn put on a defensive clinic taking away the outside offense; in that 40-minute game, the Boilermakers were only able to attempt 7 three-point shots and were only able to make 1 three-point shot.

I enjoy watching UConn play; five players play together; it is not five separate games of one-on-one.  I admire Dan Hurley as a coach here because he gets this type of play from his team in the era of “Hey-Look-At-Me basketball” which is the style that is predominant around the country.  He says that he learned his coaching techniques from his father who was legendary as a high school coach at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey.  The UConn players are very good on offense based on their talents; what Hurley has done here is to get them to play hard and to play effectively on defense creating this dynamic:

  • Opponents have to work hard to get good/open shots – – and then – – UConn comes down the court and runs efficient offense that gets good/open shots most of the time.

That is bad news for UConn opponents…

Moving on – but staying with college basketball.  John Calipari and the University of Kentucky have parted company.  Calipari resigned at UK and signed a 5-year contract with Arkansas just after March Madness ended.  He had been at Kentucky ever since the school fired Billy Gillispie (remember him?) when the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA Tournament after 17 consecutive trips to March Madness.  Kentucky certainly belongs in any conversation about the bluebloods of college basketball, but the expectations of the fanbase there are quite unrealistic.  It is almost as if they believe that Kentucky should have a slot in the Final Four each year as its birth right.

Calipari’s coaching vision is to play the “one-and-done” game by recruiting top shelf high school players who are only in college because they are not allowed to play in the NBA by dint of the CBA between the league and the players’ union.  Most of those players are extremely gifted with physical talents but Kentucky does not win lots of championships that way because:

  • Those players are 19 years old at most and they often have to play against opponents who are 23 or 24 years old.  Physical maturity matters; that is why many one-and-done lottery picks in the NBA take a couple of years to have any real impact on the NBA game.
  • Those players know they are not into Kentucky basketball for the long run.  They appear to resist hard coaching, and they certainly do not play defense with the intensity or the dedication of teams like UConn.

Consider these data compiled over the 16 seasons that John Calipari was the head coach at Kentucky:

  • In those 16 seasons, Calipari recruited 52 players who went on to be first-round picks by NBA teams – – and yet – –
  • The school won exactly 1 NCAA championship.  That is the same number of championships won by Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith.

Mark Pope – late of the BYU basketball program – has been hired to replace Calipari at Kentucky.  I hope his teams do well starting in November 2024 because he is probably on a much shorter leash with the fanbase there than he realizes at this point.

Switching gears …  I would be remiss if I did not point out that the women’s tournament this year was historic.  For the first time ever, the women’s final game out drew the men’s final game on TV.  Surely, the celebrity factor that Caitlin Clark brought to the Iowa games and the undefeated status of Dawn Staley’s South Carolina team generated tons of interest in those tournament games.  Presumably, some of that interest will carry over to next year – – perhaps most of it?

And another thing …  When we got home last week, I spent some time watching The Masters on Friday.  Look, I am not a big “golf guy” but I usually check out some of the coverage of the majors.  The coverage last Friday was not for The Masters; it was for Tiger Woods.  He was not really in contention although he did “make the cut” but I saw him on camera more than any three or five other players combined.  [Aside:  Woods did make the cut and then proceeded to shoot 82 followed by 77 to finish 100th in the field – – 27 strokes behind the winner, Scottie Scheffler.]

When Tiger Woods was clearly the best golfer on the planet, that level of coverage was excessive; but at least, there was a basis for the excess.  Tiger Woods is no longer anywhere near that status.  Maybe it’s because I am not a ‘golf guy”, but the constant and fawning coverage of Woods is a turn-off for me; I want to see and follow the guys who are vying for the lead not the guys scrambling to be allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday.

Finally, since much of today dealt with college basketball happenings, let me close with these words from Al McGuire:

“Winning is overemphasized.  The only time it is really important is in surgery and war.”

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

 

 

Rest in Peace, OJ Simpson

Today, I will at least partially catch up with comments on events from the past week that I have been on hiatus – – watching the total eclipse in the Texas Hill country just west of Austin, TX.  The first catch-up item is the passing of OJ Simpson due to cancer.  Given the outpouring of vitriol that his death evoked, it is safe to say that many people’s feelings that he got away with a double murder have not mellowed much over the last 30 years or so.

  • [Aside:  I recognize and support the fact that OJ Simpson was found “Not Guilty” at trial.  Nonetheless, I am one of the people who believe that he did commit those two murders and that his acquittal was based on having far more competent legal representation in the matter than the prosecution had.]

OJ Simpson left a legacy on the NFL as a great player; his murder trial left a legacy on cable TV because it drew networks like CNN and Court TV (now TruTV) into the mainstream.  That trial also highlighted the fact that wealthy defendants have a much better chance of prevailing in court matters in the US than do defendants of meager means.

Simpson’s passing raises a question that might be interesting:

  • Which iconic athlete had the greatest fall from grace?
      • Lance Armstrong
      • Pete Rose
      • OJ Simpson
      • Tiger Woods
  • You make the call …

The phrase, “Rest in peace,” is usually reserved for one who has just passed.  In this case, perhaps that phrase can be offered up to the deceased – – OJ Simpson – – and to everyone whose knee jerk reaction to news of his death was hatred and venom.

Moving on …  I am not a conspiracy theorist; and whenever an argument is made wherein a key element of the “logic” is the absence of evidence to the contrary, I usually tune out and go on to the next item.  However, the Monogatari – Shohei Ohtani – – as I have dubbed that story – – smells rotten to me.  And yes, I acknowledge that my issue with the story as it stands relies on some “absence of evidence”.  Nevertheless …

This story keeps changing in more than mere details.  The first iteration was that Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Muzihara, had paid $4.5M to an offshore bookie in $500K increments using Ohtani’s funds to pay off gambling debts.  Later that amount was reported to be $16M which is quite a jump but is nothing compared to the now alleged “gambling losses” of $41.5M over the course of less than 3 years.  Muzihara’s income has been reported to be as low as $80K per year and as high as $300K per year which is another unusually high inconsistency in the reporting but even at the highest reported number, one must wonder how someone with that income can “get credit” from a bookie to the tune of $41.5M.

Now, the allegations have shifted from “gambling losses” to “bank fraud” perpetrated by Muzihara.  Bank fraud has a far smaller emotional component when associated with MLB than does gambling debt payoffs; there can be no argument about that.  But some of the other details that are emerging from the story defy logic:

  • Supposedly there were about 19,000 bets made that racked up the losses in this case and all this happened over a 30-month period between 2021 and now.
  • Simple arithmetic says that comes down to about 630 bets per month and more than 20 bets per day for 2.5 years – – and Ohtani never had an inkling it was going on.
  • In addition, neither Ohtani nor his agents/accountants/financial advisors noticed a series of $500K transfers from his accounts?

There is an event from about 10 years ago that I cannot get out of my mind whenever I read the next installment of Monogatari – Shohei Ohtani.  Cris Carter was once invited to address an NFL “Rookie Seminar” as part of a program the league used to try to get young players attuned to their new life of “fame and fortune”.  Carter told the rookie players:

“If you all got a crew, you got to have a fall guy in the crew.  If you all have a crew, one of those fools got to know, he’s the one going to jail. We’ll get him out.”

I can’t get that memory suppressed at all when I think of this Ohtani mess, and it sure seems to me that MLB has conveniently deferred any and all of this to “the authorities” as opposed to commissioning another John Dowd style investigation as was the case in the Pete Rose affair.  Rose’s playing days were over; he was only a manager; his value to MLB was limited.  Ohtani is the biggest star in the game today and brings back comparisons to Babe Ruth and the glorious history of baseball; his value to MLB is unmatched.

  • How convenient is it that there just might be a “fall guy” to cop a plea to “bank fraud” while MLB goes on marketing its face of the game without any serious investigation related to gambling – – and potentially gambling on baseball?

This whole thing stinks.  What it needs is an investigative reporter or two – – the modern-day version of Woodward and Bernstein or maybe Seymour Hersh – – to dig in here.  Maybe that is what Commissioner Manfred might need as a prod to do a serious investigation of its own.

Finally, comedian Norm MacDonald used to use his persona on SNL as the “news anchor” to skewer repeatedly OJ Simpson as a murderer.  Let me close with what I think is the funniest of his “news reports”:

“Against the Jets last week, Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas broke O.J. Simpson’s career rushing record, and the week before he surpassed Simpson’s career touchdowns. Next up for Thomas: an attempt to kill three people at once.”

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

 

 

On Hiatus …

I will be off the air for about a week.  My long-suffering wife and I will be on travel hoping that the weather will allow us to experience the total eclipse of the sun next Monday.  The current plan is for us to return from that adventure late on Thursday (April 11) but I will likely not be able to have anything cogent to say until Monday (April 15).

So, I’ll see everyone back here on the 15th for sure – – and on the 12th if there is something obvious to rant on.

And for the record, I have indeed arranged our schedule such that I will continue my “streak” of watching NCAA Tournament final games even as we are on the road.

Stay safe and stay well, everyone…

 

 

A Different Voice

As Final Four Weekend approaches, this is a year of change for TV viewers.  From 2004 until last year, Jim Nantz had been the play-by-play guy on CBS; Nantz has relinquished that role this year and Ian Eagle will take his place along with Grant Hill and Bill Raferty to present the games to the country.  Based on the games this trio has done so far in this year’s tournament, the transition has been seamless.  My only “regret” is that Eagle’s promotion broke up a great announcing tandem of Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel – – but such is the way of the world.

Jim Nantz is not retiring completely.  He will continue as the lead play-by-play guy for CBS presentations of NFL games along with Tony Romo.  And, you will recognize his voice if you tune in to see The Masters the weekend after next.

Moving on … I have shared many historical and statistical sports notes here that have come to me from the “reader in Houston”.  Yesterday, he demonstrated that his access to historical events crosses over into the world of entertainment.  Yesterday, I closed with an observation by actor Jack Palance; late yesterday afternoon, I got this email from the “reader in Houston”:

“FYI – Jack Palance, before his career as a boxer and then as a WW2 bomber pilot where he was in a test-flight plane crash in the Arizona desert, which disfigured his face, resulting in plastic surgery that gave him that tight, leathery look, was an All-State FB in Pennsylvania in the late 1930s and then played football at UNC for two seasons, but quit the team when the coach wanted to make a lineman out of him. The rest is history.”

So, now we know…

Switching gears …  There was a major trade in the NFL yesterday; and on the surface, it looks lopsided:

  • Houston Texans get:  Stefon Diggs, a sixth-round pick this year and a fifth-round pick next year.
  • Buffalo Bills get:  A second-round pick this year.

The Bills will also incur a “dead cap charge” of $31M for 2024 as a result of this trade which makes the exchange look even more out of balance that it seems on its face.  Fans of the Jets and the Dolphins are probably rejoicing at what looks like a talent loss for the Bills who have been top dogs in the AFC East over the past couple of years.  Remember, the Bills also lost WR Gabe Davis to free agency in the last couple of weeks.  Josh Allen will still be throwing the ball for the Bills, but who is going to catch it?

Diggs has been in the NFL for 9 years; he will turn 31 in the middle of the 2024 season.  He has made All-Pro twice and been selected for the Pro Bowl in each of the last 4 seasons.  He was the Bills’ #1 WR and was highly productive for most of his time in Buffalo.  In Houston, he will join a WR corps that featured Nico Collins and Tank Dell last year; that trio should be a handful for opposing defenses so long as QB, CJ Stroud does not suffer a “sophomore slump.”

If I were a Texans’ fan, I would have only one small reservation about this trade.

  • To my mind, Stefon Diggs qualifies as a “diva WR”.
  • He was outstanding in his time with the Vikings until such time as he decided he did not want to be there any longer and he “forced” his way out of town.
  • He was outstanding in his time with the Bills until such time as he decided he did not want to be there any longer and he “forced” his way out of town.
  • Diggs is under contract through the 2027 season for about $20M per year.  Will those terms and team conditions keep him happy over the next 4 years?

At the end of the last NFL season, the Bills were in a salary cap bind and it was clear that they were going to lose some players in the free agent period as they had to clear cap space.  That is some of what has happened to the Bills; here are some of the players in addition to Diggs who moved on from Buffalo since the start of NFL free agency:

  1. Gabe Davis – WR – signed with the Jags; he averaged about 40 catches per year in Buffalo.
  2. Mitch Morse – C – signed with the Jags; he made the Pro Bowl in 2022.
  3. Jordan Poyer – S – signed with the Dolphins; he was an All Pro in 2021 and made the Pro Bowl in 2022.
  4. Tre’Davious White – CB – signed with the Rams; he has been an All Pro twice and made the Pro Bowl twice.

Those four players – along with Diggs – represent almost 25% of the starting offensive and defensive units for the Bills at the start of last season.  It is not easy to replace that many starters all at once…

Finally, as you watch the Final Four games this weekend – – and the Championship game on Monday too of course – – keep in mind this question posed by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many fifth and sixth year graduate basketball players are actually working toward a graduate degree?”

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

 

 

Changing Times

The Women’s Basketball Final Four is set and the much-anticipated rematch between Iowa – -with Caitlin Clark – – and reigning champion LSU – – with Angel Reese – – did not disappoint.  Clark scored 41 points and handed out 12 assists; Reese scored 17 points and pulled down 20 rebounds in their Elite Eight showdown.  That was the fun aspect of that game.

The darker side involved LSU’s women’s coach, Kim Mulkey.  In the days leading up to the game, Mulkey declared that she knew that she was about to be the subject of a “hit piece” in the Washington Post; a reporter there had been working on a negative article about her for two years and that she had hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the author and the Post for defamation.

The article – – written by Kent Babb – – was published.  It had some less-than-flattering things to say about Coach Mulkey, but they were sourced in the article and/or were retellings of things that had been written about her in the past.  Here is a link to the article if you want to read it for yourself.

I believe that defamation suits are decided by juries; if that is the case, let me say that based on my reading of Babb’s article, Coach Mulkey would have a difficult time convincing me that she was defamed by his words.  Perhaps, her threatened lawsuit caused editor(s) at the Post to remove some parts of the article that might have been closer on the spectrum towards defamation; that is possible.  However, if they were removed and not published, I don’t see how they can also be defamatory.  Should this case go to trial, I think I have just disqualified myself as a juror which does not upset me even slightly.  I thought my reading of the Post article would be the end of this story.

But wait, there’s more …

Earlier in the tournament, LSU played – – and defeated – – UCLA.  A writer for the LA Times understandably took the side of the local California team and referred to the LSU women as “dirty debutantes” which is alliterative and confusing at the same time.  Coach Mulkey did not call this defamatory; she said it was sexist which I guess is true in that all her players are females and only females can be debutantes.  It is the word “dirty” that does not fit here.  Here is what Coach Mulkey had to say about the Times piece:

“You can criticize coaches all you want.  That’s our business.  You can come at us and say you are the worst coach in America.  I hate you; I hate everything about you.  We expect that; it comes with the territory.  But the one thing I’m not going to let you do, I’m not going to let you attack young people and there were some things in this commentary that you should be offended by as women.”

The tone of her comments immediately recalled Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy and his famous rant about 15 years ago.  A writer covering the team wrote something critical of a demoted QB for the Cowboys and Gundy exploded at a press event telling the reporters to lay off the kids and to come after him because he was 40 years old and “I’m a man!”

Both Coach Gundy and Coach Mulkey are reading from a pivotal chapter in the “Coaches’ Almanac” where coaches take the blame in lieu of dumping it all on players’ ineffectiveness.  Hence, all the references by losing coaches to having been “outcoached” by victorious opponents and few if any references to botches by players.  When Coach Gundy went on his rant – – back in 2007 – – times were different.  The façade of college sports was that the games were contested by “student-athletes”; such is no longer the case.  Many college athletes – – to include some women who are participating in the basketball tournament – – are in receipt of NIL money.

When they accept that money, they are putting their name and likeness out in the public for exploitation; it is a transaction and not a “family matter”.  So, the protestation by Coach Mulkey and by any other college football or basketball coach along the lines of “Come at me and leave the kids out of it,” is noble and even quaint in these times when a star player might be earning six or seven figures playing a collegiate sport.  If the name, image and likeness of a player is worth that kind of money, then that player is ipso facto an adult public figure.

Switching gears – but staying on the subject of lots of money – the NFL announced that it will stage two regular season games on Christmas Day this year.  In case you are wondering why that is worth mentioning here, Christmas Day in 2024 is a Wednesday; few if any folks associate the NFL with Wednesday.  Here are my thoughts on how and why this is going to happen:

  • Last year, Christmas Day was on a Monday and the NFL simply “expanded Monday Night Football”.  In 2022, Christmas Day was on a Sunday, and no one was surprised to have some NFL football on TV on a Sunday.
  • Last year, the “Christmas Games” drew huge audiences; the average number of viewers for the games was 28.7 million folks.
  • The NBA staged 5 games last Christmas Day and the total audience for all five games was only about 30 million people; the NFL average audience was about the same size as the total NBA audience for 5 games.
  • So, if you are an NFL exec looking to increase revenues, why wouldn’t you play games on Christmas Day this year and in the future?

Obviously, this will require some scheduling legerdemain.  Having said that, I am confident that the NFL scheduling mavens have already figured out how to make this work. We will get all the details in May when the NFL releases its 2024 regular season schedule.  And according to reports, the NFL is going to put the broadcasting rights for these two games up for auction involving traditional networks, cable networks and streaming platforms.  One report said that bidding would start at $50M per game.  Let the good times roll …

Finally, let me close here with this comment from actor Jack Palance:

“The only two things you can truly depend upon are gravity and greed.”

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

 

 

“Pulling An Eli …”

A while back, Coach Prime offered his opinion that the Chicago Bears might want to think twice about drafting Caleb Williams in this year’s draft.  Sanders’ reasoning was that Williams had grown up and had played his college football in warm weather zip codes and that Chicago was a cold weather venue.  Indeed, Williams grew up in the DC area which is not a tropical clime but is warmer than Chicago and he spent his college days playing for Oklahoma and USC.  About a week later, Coach Prime said that his two best players at Colorado – – his son Shadeur and two-way player, Travis Hunter – – just might decide for themselves where they play in the NFL referring to the maneuverings that got Eli Manning to the Giants and not to the Chargers.  Those utterings led to this comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“But what if the Colorado kids are on to something? What if pulling an Eli Manning, like the quarterback did in 2004 by refusing to go to the Chargers though they chose him No. 1, is the next wave of player empowerment? We may already be approaching the point where NIL money would allow a top prospect to remain in school and wait for the following year’s draft rather than be shipped off to the Carolina Panthers. Who could blame a kid for that? We’re not there yet, but it’s on the frontier.”

I am glad that Professor Molinaro used the word “frontier” and not “horizon” because I think those circumstances might be a bit further in the future than as presented here.  There is a big difference between “pulling an Eli” and ”waiting a year” because the NFL Draft is set up to give bad teams the highest picks.  So, a bad team picking Joe Flabeetz in 2025 may or may not be a better option than another bad team picking Joe Flabeetz in 2026 after he refuses to report and goes back to school.  Moreover, that act of defiance might not sit well with NFL coaches and execs and give them pause about drafting him at the top of that second draft go-round.

I am not an expert in the interpretation of the NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement but from my non-learned reading here is what I believe are the options for a player who is draft eligible:

  • If a player is taken in the draft and does not sign with the team that took him, he can sit out a year and re-enter the draft in the next year.  Obviously, he gets no salary from the NFL for his “sit out year”, but he can earn NIL money – – or any other legal form of recompense – – in that “sit out year”.
  • If that player is then drafted a second time by a team not to the liking of the player, he may sit out a second year and thereby become an undrafted free agent who can sign with any team that wants him and that he wants to play for in the season following his second “sit out year”.  Again, no NFL salary for “sit out year number two”.

Yes, the player can likely find a way to survive on NIL money but there is no guarantee that his contract with the NFL team of his choice is going to be lucrative.  The CBA allots each team a pool of money that can be used to sign undrafted free agents just as that CBA allots contract conditions for players taken in the first round of the draft.  Not surprisingly, a high draft pick in Round 1 will make a lot more money in his first four years under contract than any undrafted free agent will make.  The only contractual advantage for a “sitting out player” who goes the undrafted free agent route is that undrafted free agent contracts are for 2 years meaning the player gets a bite of the free agent apple in his 3rd NFL year while drafted players must wait four/five years (if taken in the first round) or three years if taken in lower rounds.

So, if my interpretation is correct – – and it may not be – – a player would take a significant risk in sitting out two years and then playing two more years in the NFL at minimum salary in order to “pick his team”.  I am not saying that will never happen; I am saying that the financials for a top pick are going to be difficult to turn down.

Here are data from last year as people who know far more about the NFL cap and contracts than I do projected what the overall #1 pick would get:

  • Signing bonus of $26.9M and a total contract value over 4 years of $41.2M.
  • If the team picked up the “fifth year option” the salary in that fifth year would be more than $20M.
  • Ergo… Caleb Williams would have to go back to college and earn quite a bit of NIL money in 2024 to come close to matching the approximately $30M he would earn with the Bears – – if they take him.

What is it they say about a bird in the hand …?

And while I was musing on the subject of NFL salaries for top draft picks, I happened to notice this juxtaposition:

  • Nine NFL QBs have contracts in hand that earn them an average of $43M per year or more over the life of that contract.
  • Four NFL QBs have contracts in hand that earn them an average of more than $50M per year over the life of that contract.
  • On MLB’s Opening Day, the total value of the contracts for the 26 players on the Oakland A’s roster was $43M.

Today’s rant began with Coach Prime offering opinions about players and the NFL Draft.  Staying on that vector heading, let me say that I have reached my lifetime exposure limit to “Mock Drafts” and particularly “Mock Drafts” that involve concocted trades which allow this day’s “Mock Draft” to look different from the one produced three days ago.

Moreover, sometime before the 2024 NFL season begins, someone somewhere will put out a “Far Too Soon Mock Draft for 2025” which is stupidity squared.  Look, no one knows who will draft where before the season begins nor does anyone know what might happen in free agency after the season and before the Draft.  That sort of “Far Too Soon …” nonsense should be grounds for boiling the author in oil – – unless of course he/she is about 80% accurate or unless the author publishes a post-mortem on his/her projected selections…

Finally, much of today’s rant has been related to financial risk and projection.  So, let me close with these observations about “risk” by the economist, Peter Bernstein:

“The more irreversible the decisions, the more expensive the consequences of being wrong.”

And …

“In the end, risk management is about consequences.”

And …

“Many years ago, an older partner taught me to distinguish between outcomes that are unlikely and outcomes that are catastrophic.  The latter are to be avoided even if the odds on them are tiny.”

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

 

 

NCAA Tournament Notes

The following item is NOT an April Fool’s joke.  In the Elite Eight round of the women’s NCAA Tournament, Texas and NC State played each other in Portland, OR.  The 3-point line on the court was improperly painted on one end of the court.  Looking at pictures, it appears that the distances were different and the “circle” at one end was slightly off-center as well.  Rather than incur long delays to “repaint” the court, both coaches agreed to play the game under the improper court markings without protest.

The Twitterverse is predictably unhinged over all this with some pundits suggesting this as “proof” that the women’s tournament is “rigged” and with other pundits calling out the NCAA for this blunder.  No one is going to mistake me for an NCAA apologist or lackey, but unless someone can show me that it was an NCAA official who painted the court improperly, the NCAA as an institution gets a pass from me on this one.  However, the event organizers in Portland who are staging this event should not be getting any regional basketball action from the women or the men any time soon; it is the folks in charge of staging these regional finals who should be accountable.

Over in the men’s brackets, I made these Final Four predictions before the tournament began:

  • UConn – – made the Final Four
  • Tennessee – – made the Elite Eight and lost yesterday.
  • Duke – – made the Elite Eight and lost yesterday.
  • Auburn – – lost in the round of 64 to Yale.

My predictions were probably better than throwing four random darts at the brackets; but still, they were hardly praiseworthy.  Here are three notes I made watching games this weekend – – for what they are worth:

“Purdue just too big for Gonzaga”:  Indeed, Purdue pounded the ball inside and got lots of shots inside 6 feet from the basket; the Boilermakers shot 57% from inside the arc for the game.

“Houston looks like Uva; lots of defenders and no shooters”:   The Cougars shot a combined 22 of 57 (39%) from the floor.

“Zach Edy plays full time against Tennessee with only 1 foul?”  Wow!

The most impressive thing I saw over the weekend was the first 8 minutes or so of the second half of the UConn/Illinois game.  Every college and high school basketball coach needs to get the tape of those 8 minutes or so and to show it to their teams as an instructional tool.  Illinois is a good basketball team; they were dominated to the point of embarrassment for those 8 minutes or so.  Consider:

  • UConn led 28-23 at the half; the Huskies appeared to be the better team, but Illinois was still “in the game”.
  • At the start of the second half, UConn put on a 30-0 run.  It was both an offensive and a defensive clinic.  The best player for Illinois this year has been Terrence Shannon; UConn held him to 8 points on 2-12 shooting from the field.
  • That performance – – along with the rest of the second half – – called to mind the 1973 NCAA Championship Game where UCLA, led by Bill Walton, beat Memphis State by 21 points after the game had been tied at halftime.

Moving on …  Here are two more observations about the Tournament:

  1. Prior to the start of the Tournament, the American Gaming Association estimated that the handle for betting on March Madness nationwide would be $2.7B.  Several reports over the last week said that “action” on the Elite Eight games was even heavier than expected – – so maybe the handle will be even higher?
  2. College basketball teams play defense – – some play tenacious defense.  In fact, you will probably see more defensive energy expended in one half of a March Madness game than you will see in a week’s worth of NBA regular season games.

Switching gears ,,,  The Jacksonville Jaguars have not been spectacular on the field for much of their time in the NFL and it seems as if their mediocrity on Sundays carries over into their management of the team off the field.  Recall that a mid-level finance guy was recently sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for embezzling a mere $22M over a three-year period.  It took a while to notice a $22M “discrepancy”.  Now, another Jags’ employee, Samuel Arthur Thompson, has run afoul of the law:

A federal judge sentenced Thompson to “220 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release” for a series of child pornography offenses, for failure to register as a sex offender and for hacking the Jags’ stadium jumbotron.

[Aside:  Thompson is 53 years old; if he were to serve out his sentence, he would be released at the age of 273 years.  I suspect that a “lifetime of supervised release” would not be a big deal.]

The DoJ referred to Thompson as a “prolific child molester” in this press release which is an English phrase I am sure I have never heard or read before.

Finally, I’ll close today with an anecdote involving Groucho Marx:

  • A guest on Groucho’s You Bet Your Life TV show was a woman who had given birth to 22 children.  “I love my husband,” the woman explained sheepishly.
  • “I love my cigar too,” Groucho said, “but I take it out once in a while.”

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