The Big-10, PAC-12, ACC Alliance…

A few weeks ago, when the ACC, Big-10 and PAC-12 proclaimed their Alliance, I said I would wait until I had more information before commenting.  The announcement at the time referenced a “verbal agreement” so there was nothing to read/judge/interpret.  I assumed such a document would emerge soon after so that there could be meaningful analysis and questioning.  That has yet to happen.

So, let me spend some time commenting on the Alliance as I understand it now.  Clearly, this Alliance – whatever form it takes down the road – is a response to the SEC absorbing Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big-12.  Texas is a big money program; Oklahoma is a powerhouse program; what remains of the Big-12 is a shambles.  [Aside:  It is horrendously politically incorrect to make anything resembling a positive reference to former President Trump’s comment about “shithole countries,” but the football remains of the Big-12 comes close to qualifying as such.]  I think it speaks loudly and clearly that the Big-12 will fade to irrelevancy as soon as Texas and Oklahoma depart when you note that the three conferences forming the Alliance did not invite the remaining Big-12 teams to join their Alliance.

So, what might the remnants of the Big-12 do on their own.  Here is what is left of the Big-12 – in alphabetical order lest anyone think I am ranking the relevance of any of these programs:

  1. Baylor
  2. Iowa State
  3. Kansas
  4. Kansas State
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. TCU
  7. Texas Tech
  8. West Virginia

Yes, I know.  Two schools are leaving the conference and only 8 remain; yet they called themselves the Big-12.  Clearly, the conference organizers need a bit more focus on STEM.  Whatever…

If that cadre of teams is to “stick together” with any hope of football relevancy – and that is where the big money is in 2021 – they need to poach teams from other conferences.  That will not be easy because if you look at the lineup here, it is not an overly enticing group to join.  So, here are 4 possible schools the remnants of the Big-12 might court:

  1. Boise State:  It seems to me that Boise State has outgrown the Mountain West Conference.  Thanks to its iconic “Smurf Turf” field, Boise State has become recognizable far beyond the borders of Idaho.
  2. BYU:  They have been playing an independent schedule and may just have tired of trying to find a dozen meaningful games for every year on the calendar.
  3. Cincinnati:  This has been a program on the rise in recent years, but it has been overlooked because lots of folks think they “don’t play anybody”.  The 8 teams left in the Big-12 may not be Murderer’s Row, but it is a more prestigious group than the median level of the American Athletic Conference where Cincy resides now.
  4. UCF:  This may be a stretch, but UCF is a big school with a big following.  [Student body is more than 60,000 students.]  They have had about 5 years of very successful football in the American Athletic Conference and – like Cincinnati – may be looking to play a slightly more prestigious slate of opponents.

If the “Big-Remaining-8” could pull off these annexations, it can probably survive as a stand-alone group.  If the “Big-Remaining-8” fail to do that or something nearly equivalent to that, I think they are doomed.

Back to the Alliance announcement…  It seems to me that if the three conferences are serious about doing whatever it is they perceive they need to do to “counter the SEC,” they need to figure out how they are going to do mutual out-of-conference scheduling to the point where SEC teams will not be able to find attractive games outside their conference.  There were no implications along those lines from the announcement of the Alliance nor have there been rumblings about such a thing in the intervening days.  Normally, one thinks about “alliances” as groups that work together on mutual interests, and it seems to me that the only expressed mutual interest here is this one:

  • We are not the SEC and we do not like the SEC because they are going to make a lot more money than we are.

Is that enough to hold together a group of about 40 universities?  According to the Big-10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren:

“Hopefully this will bring some much-needed stability in college athletics. I also think what it will do is allow people to understand where everyone else stands.  Some of the events over the last couple of months have shaken the foundations of college athletics.”

If that sort of rhetoric brings clarity to you, I tip my hat to you.  Here are my reactions to that sort of statement:

  • Two schools choosing to change conferences – – effective about 5 years from now – – “shakes the foundations of college athletics?”  Really?
  • Meanwhile, three conferences of about 40 schools banding together does not shake any foundations?  Can you explain any of that?
  • I have no idea where the 40 schools in the alliance stand on anything, yet you say this allows “people to understand where everyone stands.”  WTF?

One thread of analysis that runs through all this cloudiness is that somehow the Alliance will halt – or at least slow down considerably – the momentum to expand the CFP from 4 teams at present to 12 teams as has been proposed for the future.  Since I think twelve are too many teams, I hope the Alliance can achieve that end, but their logic escapes me.  The logical thread goes like this:

  • If there are 12 CFP teams, the SEC might wind up with 6 of the 12 slots and other conferences would feel “left out” and/or “disrespected”.

So, explain to me how all the teams in the ACC feel when there are 4 slots currently in the CFP and the only fully-committed ACC team within hailing distance of an invitation is Clemson.  Same with the Big-10 schools other than Ohio State.  And the PAC-12 is usually left out of the picture entirely’ so, how do they benefit from keeping the number of teams at four?

At this point, I am wont to say that we need to stay tuned because there must be more information forthcoming – – but it has been a while since the conference commissioners held their rhetorical gabfest and nothing has happened yet.  About 50 years ago, Peggy Lee had a #1 hit record entitled, Is That All There Is?  Maybe someone needs to play that song for these commissioners the next time they stand in the same zip code with a microphone…

Finally, let me close with a slightly modified version of a common adage that seems appropriate here:

  • If something is not worth doing, it is not worth doing it well.

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



A Tale Of Three QBs…

As has been the custom this season, when the first of a month rolls around, I look at the cumulative numbers associated with MLB’s Injured List.  The season began on April 1st and has been ongoing for 5 months; here are some data:

  • 756 players have spent time on the Injured List
  • 445 of those players are pitchers
  • Those players spent a total of 38,691 days on the Injured List
  • Those players collected a total of $688,245,968 while on the Injured List.
  • Four players – – Mike Trout, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander – – have earned more than $20M each while on the Injured List.

Earlier this week, I said that the NFL had proposed to the NFLPA that COVID-19 vaccinations be made mandatory.  I also said I could not see the union agreeing to that proposal and with the start of the season fast approaching, there was a need for clarity on such a question of eligibility for players.  The league and the union have come to an agreement on the testing elements of a COVID-19 protocol for the 2021 season:

  • Vaccinated players will be tested weekly – that is an accelerated testing schedule as compared to the biweekly tests administered to vaccinated players during training camp.
  • Vaccinated players are exempt from contact-tracing quarantines
  • Unvaccinated players will be tested daily.
  • Unvaccinated players are subject to five-day contact-tracing quarantine if they are identified as “high-risk close contacts” of someone who tested positive.

These protocols apply to coaches and team staff members as well as players.

Moving on… I am beginning to believe that someone somewhere has a Voodoo doll in the likeness of Carson Wentz.  Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of his NFL career:

  • He was having a great  year – attracting comments that he might be the MVP – until he tore up his knee in December.  Nick Foles replaced him and led the team to a Super Bowl victory.
  • His game fell apart in 2020; he was benched; reports say he and his coach were not even speaking; the coach was fired, and Wentz was traded.
  • On the first day of training camp with his new team, Wentz injured his foot.  The team did not know if he would be out 5 weeks or 12 weeks; maybe surgery was needed and maybe not…
  • Wentz recovered and resumed practice and looked to be the starting QB for the Colts next week in Week 1.
  • Early this week Carson Wentz was put on the 5-day quarantine list because of high-risk close contacts with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking about surprising events related to an NFL QB, the Patriots released Cam Newton.  As a veteran, that release immediately makes him a free agent; he need not clear waivers before negotiating for a new position.  However, as someone who gives every indication that he is not vaccinated, he would have to wait for a 5-day period before he joined his new club once he signs on.  I look at this situation in three ways:

  1. Mac Jones may have legitimately beaten out Newton for the starting job in the eyes of Coach Belichick.  He is the coach with about 3 lbs. of Super Bowl rings, not I.  But did Jarrett Stidham beat out Newton for the back-up job too?
  2. Newton had to miss 5 days of training camp over a “misunderstood rule” regarding COVID-19 protocols.  Is that the entire story there?  Did those 5 days provide Jones and Stidham the time needed to earn their ascendence past Newton?  [Aside:  This does not smell like a “cap cut”.  Newton got a $2M bonus to sign back in the offseason and only has $1.5M guaranteed for 2021.  That is not a significant cap burden.]
  3. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush on their roster as QBs this morning.  Prescott has not played at all this year after a severe injury last year.  Cooper Rush is – well – Cooper Rush.  If the Cowboys do not make a serious run at Cam Newton, I will be shocked.

The Houston Texans still have Deshaun Watson on their roster for 2021.  Watson has “demanded” a trade; he said he would not play for the Texans again; he is also the subject of a criminal investigation for sexual assault and the defendant in 22 civil actions alleging sexual assault.  He has not been part of any OTAs or minicamps, but he has reported to training camp and has done some on-field drills.  I guess he is still the Texans’ starting QB based on demonstrated on-field ability over Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills and Ryan Finley.  At the same time, I cannot imagine that the league will allow him to play given the extent of his legal issues at the moment particularly considering the social focus on sexual assault today.

It seems to me that the Texans and the NFL Front Office are playing “Alphonse and Gaston” with Watson’s situation each seemingly waiting on the other to announce some sort of suspension that would clarify when, if and how Watson might be eligible to play again in the NFL – for the Texans or anyone else.  The NFL season starts a week from tomorrow; the Texans open on September 12 against the Jags.  Here is what I was able to find regarding the NFL Personal Conduct Policy that appears to be applicable here.  A player may be put on paid leave if charged with a felony or:

“… a crime of violence … of having engaged in sexual assault by force or against a person who was incapable of giving consent.  The formal charges may be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the filing of charges by a prosecutor or an arraignment in a criminal court.”

Reports say that there is a grand jury in Texas reviewing evidence regarding 10 folks who have filed criminal complaints against Watson.  The start of the NFL season has great importance to the NFL and to the Houston Texans – – but I doubt that the grand jury members or the prosecutors presenting to that grand jury give any great significance to that impending date.

Finally, I shall close today with an observation by the novelist, Joseph Heller:

“Success and failure are both difficult to endure.  Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide.  With failure comes failure.”

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



Sunday Nights For The Rest Of The Year

Those readers who know me in real life also know that I love my long-suffering wife without limit.  Notwithstanding that sentiment and standing, she has – over the next 6 weeks or so – managed to create a family schedule that incorporates physical therapy sessions for me, travel to and from our vacation home in central PA, social engagements, visitors and daytrips to a variety of destinations such that it will be a challenge for me to maintain my normal writing schedule for this time of the year.  Even considering my need for physical therapy – rotator cuff problems in my right shoulder – I maintain that I will be able to stay the course in terms of writing.  If there is a glitch and if I miss a day or two here and there, you have been forewarned.

On Sunday night, the Falcons played the Browns in a final meaningless Exhibition Game.  My choices for spending that evening boiled down to two things:

  1. Watch the Falcons/Browns on TV.
  2. Rearrange my sock drawer.

I chose to watch – not particularly closely – the game on TV.  In doing so, I came to a realization about how my TV sports experience was about to get a lot better as the calendar flips to September.

  • I know that there are Internet trolls who think Al Michaels is bordering on senile and who think that Cris Collinsworth hates their team specifically.  The Internet is alive with hate for that announcing duo.
  • FORGET ALL THAT!  Michaels and Collinsworth are excellent announcers, and they add value to the telecast for much of the time that they are speaking.
  • That is NOT the case with the Sunday Night Baseball presentation on ESPN with Matt Vasgersian, Alex Rodriguez and Buster Olney.  Vasgersian – and to a much greater extent A-Rod – simply will not shut up.  There is a lot of dead time in a baseball game and announcers need to do a bit of fill-in there but there are other times when the action on the field is self-explanatory to any viewer who is awake and sentient – – and it is those times when Sunday Night Baseball announcers will not STFU!
  • When the producers “go to Buster Olney” the result is either a pabulum interview done live or a feelgood piece that he has prepared prior to the game.  ESPN should recognize by now that Buster Olney has plenty of insight into baseball and great sources inside the game – – but they do not give him time and space to exhibit those areas of expertise with the airtime assignments given to him.
  • Football announcing is different.  Indeed, there are interludes in the game where nothing is happening, and the “dead air” needs to be filled.  But there is plenty of time during action where the best thing an announcing team can do is to be quiet or to be emotionally present in the moment depending on if the play was a positive one or a negative one.  Michaels and Collinsworth do that really well; they are a plus to the telecast.  My Sunday night sports viewing events are going to be better from September through December if only for the significant increase in the competence and enjoyability of the broadcasters on the air for my games of choice.

Moving on …  There appears to be a new baseball argot these days.  I read somewhere that a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves had “thrown a 90-pitch Maddux.”  Thanks to Google, it did not take me long to learn that “a Maddux” – named after first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux – is a complete game shutout with 100 or fewer pitches.

Greg Maddux’s career in MLB spanned 23 seasons.  During those years, he threw 35 shutouts in 744 game appearances. He also had 109 complete games over the course of his career.  I have not found an easy way to find out how many of his 35 shutouts were “Madduxes”, but my guess is that the total is more than a mere handful, or the label would not exist today.  I did run across a game he pitched in 1997 against the Chicago Cubs:

  • It was a complete game.
  • He threw only 77 pitches.
  • He won the game – – but it was not a shutout.  The score was 4-1.

The way baseball is played and managed in 2021, it seems unlikely that we will see any players compiling 109 complete games over a career; We may get to see “a Maddux” here and there over the course of a season, but most starting pitchers will have a pitch count in the 90s by the seventh inning even if they are pitching efficiently.  The game has changed significantly…

I have refrained from comment on the new name image and likeness (NIL) rules regarding college athletes because I have this queasy feeling that at least some of those deals are akin to the under-the-table payoffs that happened with college athletes in previous times.  Instead of a ”no-show summer job” at a glorious hourly wage, athletes now can take money from the same source if they agree to put their image on a coffee mug along with the company logo.  Forget my cynicism for a moment and listen to something I have to say to all the athletes who are now cashing in on the opening wave of this revenue source:

  • This income is almost assuredly not going to last for a long time.  For those that make it to the NFL or NBA or WNBA, it will continue; for the rest of the “student-athletes” it is important that you be students now.
  • Take courses in business administration – particularly marketing/advertising – and treat those courses as important lessons for your life.  Learn something; do the work; study; ask questions.  Working smartly with the money you are now earning will be important for your retirement years down the road.
  • This is NOT the time to have your parents take care of things for you.  Get yourself an agent and/or a lawyer with whom you are comfortable and BE SURE to file all necessary tax documents and returns with the IRS.  You probably have never dealt with those folks before – – but you must do so now.

Finally, here is a thought about money from the poet and satirist, Dorothy Parker:

“Money cannot buy health, but I’d settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.”

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



From Rational Thought to Silliness Today…

Late last week, the NFL proposed that COVID-19 vaccinations be made mandatory.  Reports say that they presented this new policy initiative to the NFLPA for its consideration/acquiescence/whatever.  According to other reports I have read, the NFL has more than 90% of its players vaccinated – one report had the percentage at 93% – but holdouts remain.  The union position here is a rational one:

  • The union acknowledges the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccines.
  • The union points to the strict COVID-19 protocols from last year and to the effectiveness of those protocols when strictly enforced.

The protocols currently in force call for vaccinated folks – players, coaches, staff members – to be tested biweekly and for unvaccinated folks to be tested daily.  It is difficult to “take sides” on this issue because both sides have a rational basis for their positions.  My guess is that the current proposal for mandatory vaccinations – as with previous requests of a similar nature – will not get NFLPA approval.

A few months ago, I mentioned that Louisville assistant coach, Dino Gaudio, had been indicted on extortion charges.  Last week, Gaudio pleaded guilty to those charges in Federal court and – per a plea agreement – he will spend a year on probation and pay a $10K fine.  [Aside:  According to one report, the maximum penalty here could be a fine of $250K plus 2 years in prison plus 3 years on probation.]  According to the court documents, here is what happened:

  • Gaudio and another assistant coach at Louisville were fired at the end of last season by head coach Chris Mack.  The team missed the NCAA tournament last year and posted a 13-7 record.
  • Proximal to the time of his dismissal, Gaudio told “Louisville officials” that he was going to report violation of NCAA rules by the team unless Louisville paid him for the rest of his contract – – $425K.
  • The rules he alleged were broken involved the production of “recruiting videos for prospective student-athletes” and the use of graduate assistants in practices.  [Aside: I have no specifics here but that sounds awfully minor to me.  What do I know?]
  • Gaudio also sent a text with one of the allegedly improper videos to various folks associated with the university.  That text message traveled outside the State of Kentucky on its way from Gaudio to the university officials and that is how the Feds became involved.

It sounds to me as if Gaudio simply lost his grip on life for a moment when he was fired by Mack because the two men have a long and positive relationship.  The two coaches were on the same NC State staff as assistants from 2001 through 2004; Gaudio had been a basketball broadcaster for ESPN when Mack hired him as Mack’s assistant at Louisville.  It is not as if these two guys did not know each other or that they had a longstanding beef with each other. And there is one more thing about this story that makes me shake my head:

  • Louisville is going to suspend Chris Mack for 6 games this season for “failing to follow procedures in handling this matter”.

The university did not elaborate on what procedures were not followed but given the outcome here – a guilty plea and the university not having to pay the extortion amount – I have to wonder just how important those “procedures” are.

Switching gears … Bob Molinaro had this to say in one of his recent columns in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“According to a survey by some entity nobody’s heard of, Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish leprechaun is the fourth-most offensive college mascot, trailing only schools with Native American mascots.

“The difference, of course, between Native American mascots and Notre Dame’s is that leprechauns aren’t real. And never have been. Or are some people still a little vague about that? Nobody of Irish descent — or any other descent — is bothered by Notre Dame’s nickname and mascot. Don’t people ever tire of attempts at manufacturing nonsense?”

My response to those statements – and I agree with both entirely – has two thrusts:

  1. Indeed, people will continue to “get bent out of shape” over fringe issues because the environment in 2021 is to shower such folks with attention.  If someone were to organize a march to protest the leprechaun, someone would make that into a serious report and give the organizer an Andy Warhol prescribed fifteen minutes of fame.
  2. Moreover, we have set the bar far too low.  It has gotten to the point where a single person who takes offense at something – anything – means that there needs to be attention paid to that issue and for the issue to be debated and resolved in some way.  That is nonsense because it sets up a cottage industry for “taking offense”.  Today I can be offended by the NY Jets because we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  Tomorrow I can be offended by the NY Giants because the name is a form of “body-shaming”.  The day after that, I can be offended by the New England Patriots because the name is an affront to anarchists everywhere.  And none – as in not even one – of my nonsensical outrages should garner any attention.

Finally, I will close today with a brief statement from W. C. Fields:

“I am free of all prejudices.  I hate everyone equally.”

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



From Rachael Nichols to Voltaire Today…

The curtain appears to have come down on the kerfuffle at ESPN between Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols.  If you do not recall the details, do not bother Googling to learn them; it is not worth the time or the energy it would take to execute the mouse clicks.  In the end, ESPN is probably the winner because yesterday they announced that Rachel Nichols will no longer be on the ESPN airwaves as the host of The Jump and Nichols announced that she is not going to make a scene over this – – at least for now.  Also, as part of the end stage, Maria Taylor shuffled off to NBC with a new contract there.  So, why do I think ESPN is the winner here?

  • Neither Nichols nor Taylor is anywhere near “irreplaceable.”
  • In fact, I find Maria Taylor vapid and Rachel Nichols “meh.”
  • ESPN can do better…

Switching gears …  In the world of bureaucracy, there is something known as Miles’ Law:

  • “Where you stand on any issue depends on where you sit.”

What that means is that one can have different “perspectives” on a given issue depending on the job one has at the moment the issue needs to be addressed.  More cynically, Miles’ Law is a justification for hypocritical behavior as one’s career path advances or declines.  Here we are in 2021 and we can see the NFL wrapping itself in the banner of Miles’ Law.

For decades, the NFL asserted unequivocally that betting on NFL games was evil and that it threatened the integrity of the sport itself.

  • The NFL supported the passage of PASPA to outlaw as much sports betting as was possible at the Federal level.
  • The NFL forbade its “broadcast partners” to include wagering information as part of the game presentation or in studio shows.
  • The NFL would not allow the “broadcast partners” to air commercials for legal betting establishments.
  • The NFL forced Tony Romo and other NFL players to renege on appearance promises for a fantasy football convention because it was in Las Vegas at a casino.
  • The NFL Commissioner told a court that the spread of legalized gambling “threatened to damage irreparably the integrity of and public confidence in NFL football.”
  • The NFL filed amicus curiae with the Supreme Court when PASPA was challenged there seeking to convince the Court to uphold PASPA.

It has been a little over 3 years since the Supreme Court declared PASPA to be unconstitutional.  One might think that the NFL would be four-square behind a strong and bipartisan effort in the Congress to fashion a new bill that would limit gambling on NFL games AND pass legal muster with the Supreme Court.  And this is where Miles’ Law enters the picture.

Rather than reminding everyone that the existence of professional football is now in mortal danger thanks to widespread gambling opportunities on those games as it had asserted for decades, the NFL has “pivoted;” it has “evolved its thinking;” it has “come to grips with the new reality.”  Actually, this is what it has done:

  • The NFL realized that more people will now be able to wager legally on NFL games and that provides the NFL with the opportunity to tap into another revenue stream.
  • The NFL is all about tapping revenue streams.  With money to be made, the NFL behavior devolved to its basic strategy, and it will now live by the motto, “Money talks and bullsh*t walks.”

As far as I can tell, the NFL has three official sports betting partners in Fan Duel, Draft Kings and Caesars Entertainment.  According to one report I read, the NFL could take in up to $300M this season for its role in those partnerships.  If the history of the NFL is any guide, that $300M in a year is just the starting point for this new revenue source.  It is likely that betting partnerships will never reach the same level of cash flow as the TV network deals, but look at this from an ownership perspective:

  • At $300M per year, if the NFL Front Office skims 5% to fund whatever it is that it does here, that leaves about $9M per team.  That is almost like found money on the sidewalk for owners.
  • So, imagine if someday the NFL revenue from its “betting partners” triples – or even quadruples.

There you have the motivation behind the league’s “evolved thinking.”  It has not evolved at all; it simply found a way to monetize for itself the sort of thing that it opposed in the past because they had not yet figured out how to monetize it.  And yet, the league still must walk carefully in this area lest it throw up betting activity into the face of those viewers – live and on TV – who are not so hot on that sort of thing.  There are people who do not like gambling and the NFL does not want to drive them away from its product,

So, here is where the NFL has drawn the line for 2021:

  • The NFL will allow no more than six sportsbook TV ads per game.

There you have the evolution of thought…

Finally, the French philosopher, Voltaire, summarized the NFL’s behavior regarding sports betting very well about 250 years ago:

“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.”

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



A Sports World Amuse-Bouche

Often when you go to a top-shelf restaurant, the waiter will bring you a small bite of something created in the kitchen for the day; it is free of charge; it – presumably – gives you an idea of the quality of the food  you will be ordering from the menu.  In French restaurants, this token is called an amuse-bouche – – something that amuses  your mouth.

The sports world is poised to present us with a sporting version of an amuse-bouche this weekend.  Before college football begins in earnest, there is a small sampling of games to be played this weekend.  There is a fundamental difference between the restaurant offering and this weekend’s offering, however:

  • A restaurant’s amuse-bouche is always tasty and enjoyable.
  • This week’s offering of college football games is as appealing as a muddy boot at best.

There will be seven games on Saturday; five of them involve at least one Division I team.  That is the best thing one can say about the card.  The “biggest game” is Nebraska at Illinois and here is my sense of the gravitas associated with that game:

  • The loser of this game will likely finish last in the Western Division of the Big-10.

Here in Curmudgeon Central there is a proclivity for looking at things through the other end of the telescope and the games on Saturday provide a perfect opportunity to do that.  Instead of focusing on Nebraska/Illinois as a meaningless contest, I prefer to focus on a game between UTEP and New Mexico State.  Both these teams have been horrible for quite a while:

  • Since 2005, UTEP has had exactly one winning season.
  • Since the 2016 season, the combined UTEP record is 5 – 39.
  • Since 2002, New Mexico State has had exactly one winning season.
  • Since the 2017 season, the combined New Mexico State record is 6-20.

The loser of this game will be highlighting a later game on its schedule against a Division 1-AA opponent as a “must win game”.

The offering of this amuse-bouche may not spike my interest level in college football for 2021, but it does remind me to take the time over the next few days to compile a pre-season look at college football because the real games – the ones that actually matter – will start a week from Saturday.  Among the folks who cover college football, the games this Saturday are referred to as “Week Zero” on the schedule.  Looking at the games, I think they should be labeled “Weak Zero.”

In MLB, it appears that things are getting serious regarding the Oakland a’s getting a new stadium.  A report earlier this week said that the team is carrying on parallel negotiations with officials in both Oakland and Las Vegas.  The A’s team president had this to say recently:

“I think it’s important that we recognize that we’re still having conversations [with officials in Oakland]. It’s also really important to understand the parties are still working towards a mutually agreeable solution. But we’re also going to work on a parallel path in Las Vegas, because it’s important that we have multiple options. We’re really running out of time here at the Coliseum.”

“Running out of time here at the Coliseum” has two meanings:

  1. The facility is decrepit; it has been decrepit for more than a few years now; it needs to be razed.
  2. The lease between the stadium officials and the A’s will expire at the end of the 2024 season.  The team would have to go brain dead to sign another long-term lease there, so – as Snuffy Smith would often say in the comic strips – “Time’s a-wasting!”

A recent report said that the State of California may have almost $300M available in its General Fund to contribute to the proposed stadium plan in Oakland.  If you want to read about that latest report, you can do so here.  Moreover, in that linked report there are other links to earlier reporting on all these negotiations if you are interested in the various twists and turns that they have taken over the past several years.

The tactic of playing one city off another is a standard gambit for sports franchises in the US.  However, the fact remains that baseball franchises do not move very often.  Normally, the Commissioner and other MLB execs do not take a public position regarding negotiations with cities and prefer to work in the background.  This time, there is a difference.  Back in May here are two statements that make me think things are different this time around:

“The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets.”  [Official statement from MLB]

And …

 “The time is here for a decision on our future, and it is unclear to us and MLB whether there is a path to success for the A’s in Oakland.”  [Statement by A’s team president concurrent with the MLB statement]

Finally, having spoken on matters related to Oakland in California, let me close with this observation by anthropologist, Ashley Montagu:

“[California] is the land of perpetual pubescence, where cultural lag is mistaken for renaissance.”

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



Shake-Up At ESPN…

When news came yesterday about the “Alliance” of three major college football conferences, I naturally assumed that a commentary on what it might mean would be the major topic for today’s rant.  However, as I read about a half-dozen reports on this “Alliance” I am not able to say that I know much beyond the “management-speak” and the “genuflecting at the altar of collegiate sports ideals” to comment.  So, I am going to put off taking a position on this until I understand it much better than I do right now.  Maybe tomorrow?  Maybe next week?  Or maybe there is not much more to this than the “management-speak”?  I am not alone in failing to see the gravity of this “Alliance”; here is the headline and the sub-head on the report of this event in today’s Washington Post:

“PAC-12, Big 10 and ACC team up

Three conferences form an alliance, but for now what it means is unclear”

Another story broke yesterday related to sports; it seems that the NY Post was correct about a week ago when it reported that Max Kellerman was about to be booted off ESPN’s First Take.  That announcement came yesterday and some of the reporting indicates that Stephen A. Smith was the motive force behind that change.  Kellerman had been part of First Take for about 5 years ever since the defection of Skip Bayless to FS1.

I am not a connoisseur of First Take or any of the other concocted “debate format shows” on ESPN and/or FS1.  However, I do watch them occasionally for measured amounts of time and my assessment is that Kellerman was miscast on that program.  Max Kellerman is opinionated, but he is not bombastic and if one is supposed to be cast as the “opponent” of Stephen A. Smith, one must be at least a little bit bombastic.  I would not be surprised to learn that under the influence of “truth serum” – – or having been ensnared by Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth” – – that Max Kellerman believes he has gotten a reprieve from ESPN management here.

So, here is the report on how things will shake out at ESPN after Kellerman leaves First Take in a couple of weeks:

  • ESPN will not name a permanent replacement for Kellerman on the show.  Rather, there will be a rotating cast of ESPN “personalities” who will sit opposite Stephen A. Smith.
  • Kellerman is expected to take a seat on ESPN Radio’s morning show alongside Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams meaning that he will replace Zubin Mehenti and/or Allen Hahn in the third chair on that show.
  • Kellerman also does an afternoon program on ESPN Radio.  He may continue to do so or there are reports that he might host an afternoon program on ESPN TV.  Frankly, if he has to get up at 4:00 AM to be ready for the morning show, I am not so sure that it would be a big plus for him also to have to do an afternoon show either on radio or on TV.

All this programming shake-up reminds me of a couple of things:

  1. I need to spend some time watching sports TV and listening to sports radio with a critical ear over the next several weeks to comment on how all of this comes down.
  2. Stephen A. Smith is the major domo of the on-air talent at ESPN.  He has the biggest contract from ESPN and the network seems committed to keeping him happy and comfortable.

It certainly looks to me that Smith is a latter-day version of Chris Berman at ESPN.  He is “the face of the franchise” today in the same way that Berman was 15-20 years ago.  Smith has a schtick that works for him and connects him to plenty of viewers just as Berman had his own  different schtick back in the day.  Both men have outsized personalities – – or at least personas on TV – – that make them noticeable to viewers.  Some folks love them; other folks hate them; almost no one is neutral about either Smith or Berman.

I have been a fan of Stephen A. Smith since his days covering NBA basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer; he was extremely good in that position.  His TV persona was almost eccentric when he began on ESPN making it interesting to watch/hear him do his reporting and commenting.  For me, that TV persona is beginning to wear thin.  Smith still has excellent sources in the NBA, and he seems to have cultivated sources in and among the NFL; so, his comments there tend to be on point and relatable to other reporting.  However, that never seems to be enough for him these days; he seems compelled to take a solid reporting point and stretch it to the bounds of logic and credulity.

And — here is the thing that he does that drives me teaspoons:

  • He will begin a verbal paragraph by saying, “We ALL KNOW that …”  And when I hear that I find myself speaking back to the TV or radio with “Well, if we all know it, why the Hell are you belaboring the obvious here?”

Moving on …  Last weekend, the Prefontaine Classic track meet had plenty of notable events, but none was more anticipated than the women’s 100-meter dash.  Sha’Carri Richardson won this event on that track in the US Olympic Trials but was not allowed to represent the US in Tokyo because she tested positive for marijuana in a test done the day after the race.  I have no interest in debating the rectitude of that rule; it is a rule, and she knew it and she flunked the test.  That is all I want to say about that.

Last weekend was to be her showdown with all the women who had run this event in Tokyo; all the Olympic medalists were there in the field.  What happened was that Richardson finished ninth in a field of nine.  She was also supposed to compete in the 200-meter event that day but decided to withdraw instead of competing.

Sha’Carri Richardson characterized those who criticize her as “haters.”  There is a huge gulf between “hating Sha’Carri Richardson” and “criticizing Sha’Carri Richardson.”  I do not hate her; I do not even dislike her.  And simultaneously, I think she brought the focus onto herself willingly and purposefully; that meant when she failed there was plenty of attention and dashed anticipations associated with her ninth-place finish.  She announced that she would be back to challenge these medalists in the future and perhaps she will beat them at what is now “their game.”  She said those folks are “not done seeing me yet.”  Well, all I can say is that by finishing last in last weekend’s race, Sha’Carri Richardson was able to see all of them.

Finally, having mentioned Stephen A. Smith’s bombast above, let me close with this observation from the German philosopher of pessimism, Arthur Schopenhauer:

“The amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity.”

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



Miguel Cabrera’s Milestone

MLB had a major feelgood moment over the weekend.  Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th career home run on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Jays’ fans demonstrated a significant measure of class by giving him a standing ovation until he came out of the dugout to receive their acknowledgement.  Five hundred home runs may not seem so important given that three MLB players have hit over seven hundred home runs, but Cabrera’s blast puts him in rarefied company because Cabrera joins a list of only eight players who have hit 500 home runs AND have a lifetime batting average of .300 or more  Here is that list:

  1. Henry Aaron
  2. Jimmy Foxx
  3. Miguel Cabrera
  4. Willie Mays
  5. Mel Ott
  6. Manny Ramirez
  7. Babe Ruth
  8. Frank Thomas
  9. Ted Williams

There is good reason to keep an eye on Cabrera’s stats for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 because he is poised to join another all-time exclusive list of hitters.  As of this morning, he has collected 2,955 base hits.  Barring catastrophic injury, he will get to 3,000 hits probably in 2022.  [Aside:  He could go on a tear and collect the 45 necessary hits this season, but the Tigers only have 36 games left on the schedule this year; that would require him to get on base at the rate of 202 hits for a full season; he has only done that once in his career back in 2012.]  When he accomplishes that feat sometime early in the 2022 season, here are the six players waiting to welcome him to that exclusive club:

  1. Henry Aaron
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Eddie Murray
  4. Rafael Palmiero
  5. Albert Pujols
  6. Alex Rodriguez

One more “exclusive club” that Cabrera belongs to is a list of really good outfielders that the Miami – – née Florida – – Marlins had on their roster and traded away.  That list includes:

  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Marcel Ozuna
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Christian Yelich

Maybe that list of players traded away by the Marlins helps to explain the fact that the Marlins have had only one winning season in the last eleven years…

On Sunday night, MLB staged another oddity game; that was the annual Little League World Series Classic in Williamsport PA.  The purpose here is to have the game played in small-town PA at the time of the ongoing Little League World Series as an attempt by MLB to energize the next generation of its fanbase.  I know; that sounds great; moreover, I am sure that it got a resounding huzzah from the MLB execs when it was pitched to them as a glimmer of an idea.  In reality, that is a rather feeble effort.

If MLB wants to engage kids into its fanbase, might I suggest that they find ways to play a lot more games in the afternoon when kids might be more likely to be in attendance and to put a lot more games on TV in “baseball country” at hours of the day when kids are likely to be awake and tuned in.  Staging the game at night in Williamsport is like preaching to the choir.  The kids and parents involved with the Little League World Series are already baseball fans; MLB need not recruit them by having a pair of major leaguers show up to play next door to where the kids play.  Anyone tuning in at night to see a late game is already a baseball fan and that is not optimal viewing time for kids as the “next generation of baseball fans.”  So, the real question is this:

  • How many kids around the country tuned in to watch the Angels and Indians play a baseball game in a stadium other than the one the Angels and Indians would normally play in?

From my perspective, this was simply a televised night game in the middle of the regular season.  Kids who regularly watch regular season night games are already “hooked on baseball;” kids who do not watch those sorts of games have no reason to care about or tune into the one in Williamsport.

And speaking tangentially about the Little League World Series, I tuned into one of the games and was watching distractedly until I saw a manager challenge a call by the umpire and they went to instant replay.  In the Little League, they went to replay!  Doing a bit of research, I learned that they have been using a replay challenge system in the Little League World Series since 2010.  Here are the rules:

  • Each manager gets one challenge.  If the call is overturned, he gets another one.
  • In extra innings, each manager gets a challenge even if he lost one earlier in the game.
  • The last play of every game is reviewed on instant replay.
  • Every call is subject to challenge except called balls and strikes.

Finally, I will close today with an observation by former UK Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli:

“I feel a very unusual sensation  – – if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”

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



Gloom And Doom Today…

I have commented on the decline – – even the demise – – of horseracing in the US many times before.  It appears as if we have another example of the decline about to break over the thing they used to call, “The Sport of Kings.”  It appears that Arlington Park in suburban Chicago will close its doors once the current meet is over in about a month.  The most telling indicator that the track will cease operations is that it has not applied for any racing dates in 2022.

Chicago is large market; the population in 2021 is in the vicinity of 2.7 million folks; counting the Chicago suburbs that number approaches 8.5 million.  Chicago is also affluent; the GDP of the Chicago area is third in the nation behind only NYC and LA.  So, there are lots of folks in the area and many of them have discretionary money to spend – – and racing in the area is on life support.

It is not just Arlington Park that makes me say that.  When horseracing was a big deal – – and even when it was in decline but still viable – – Chicago had three racing facilities.  Here is the state of play in 2021:

  • Sportsman’s Park:  It was the site of both thoroughbred and harness racing for years.  Someone thought it would show a profit if converted to an auto racing track; that did not work well at all.  The facility is now a shopping mall.
  • Arlington Park:  This was the “classiest track” in the area, and it offered the most famous race – – the Arlington Million.  Churchill Downs acquired the facility about 15 years ago and it has gone to seed since then to the point that when Churchill Downs had the opportunity to apply for a casino license at the track, it chose to buy in as a major partner in another casino site just down the road from Arlington Park.  Absent a deus ex machina, Arlington Park will likely become the site of another commercial/residential development.
  • Hawthorne Race Course:  This track features both harness racing and thoroughbred racing in different meets.  Basically, they have live racing on weekends (3 days a week), and they offer simulcast betting on races elsewhere the other 4 days/nights a week.  Hawthorne is not a top-shelf track; last night there were 13 harness races on the card; purses ranged from $3800 to $12K.  The average purse for the 13 races was $5992.31.

In an affluent area of more than eight million folks, Hawthorne Race Course looks as if it will be the only game in town when it comes to horseracing.  The sport cannot command a more prominent presence in that sort of economic environment; that is another stark indicator that the sport is still on the decline and will soon pass into the realm of invisibility.

Moving on … but staying with the idea of gloom and doom, Rafael Nadal announced that he will withdraw from the US Open this year and that he will not be playing in any more tournaments in 2021 as he hopes to alleviate a recurring foot injury that has hampered his play off and on for the last several years.  Nadal will join Roger Federer on the sidelines for the US Open and for the rest of the 2021 season; recall that Federer announced his withdrawal from the US Open about a week ago and said that he would be having knee surgery to address his injury issues.

The world’s #1 ranked men’s player now is Novak Djokovic, and he too is dealing with injuries.  He withdrew from the mixed doubles tournament in the Olympics citing a shoulder injury and he has had several elbow surgeries in the past.  There is no reason now to assume he too will withdraw, but he does have “health problems” too.

The organizers and sponsors of the US Open strongly want Djokovic on the court in NY.  If all three were to have to skip the tournament, the event would probably be one of the biggest after-thoughts of the sporting year in 2021.

The last item today is not about gloom and doom in the present tense but about the potential for significant gloom and doom in the future for former NFL RB, Clinton Portis.  As of today, here is Portis’ status with “law enforcement:

  • A judge in Florida has ordered the arrest of Clinton Portis.  According to court records, he has failed to make a single payment of approximately $2k per month in child support since 2015.  The same court ordered him to pay up sometime in 2019 and – evidently – Portis still has not made a payment.  He now owes the mother of his child just under $150K plus interest.  Portis declared bankruptcy in 2015 but the court in Florida determined that he has the means to discharge this obligation.
  • Portis and five other former players are also charged in a criminal complaint alleging that he engaged in wire fraud, health-care fraud and conspiracy to commit both of those frauds.  The actions that lead to these charges relate to claims made to the health care benefits provider to former NFL players.  As I understand it, that plan helps NFL players and their families by giving them tax-free reimbursement for health care costs once they are retired.  According to the charges in the case, the accused players submitted false and fraudulent claims for more than $3M.  Similar charges were levied against seven other retired players, and they chose to plead guilty.  One has been sentenced to one year in the hoosegow.

Knowing nothing about Clinton Portis’ real financial status, I will say confidently that he will be shelling out money from somewhere to pay for his legal representation in the child support matter and in the criminal indictment.

Finally, having mentioned legal stuff and lawyers above, let me close with this definition of a lawsuit by author and journalist, Ambrose Bierce:

“Lawsuit, (n):  A machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.”

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



What’s Old Is New …

Today we have an old story with a new twist.  The Arizona Coyotes – formerly the Phoenix Coyotes – may need to pack up and move.  First, let me give you a thumbnail sketch of why this is an “old story”:

  • The Winnipeg Jets of the now defunct WHA were taken into the NHL about 25 years ago and plopped down in Phoenix.  Even if you do not follow hockey, the fact that the sport is more completely known as ice hockey should give you an idea about the general public’s interest differential between Winnipeg and Phoenix.
  • The team owner declared bankruptcy and abandoned the team turning it over entirely to the NHL which had to run the franchise for about 5 years before it could find an ownership group willing to keep the team in Arizona.  The NHL has been fixated on having a “Sun Belt presence/national footprint” for a couple of decades.
  • The team has had a testy relationship with the city fathers in Glendale where their home arena is located; the team operates there on a year-to-year agreement.

And now the story takes a twist.  Reports this morning say that the city fathers in Glendale have told the team that the year-to-year agreement will not be renewed beyond the 2021/22 NHL season.  Moreover, the basis of that decision by the folks in Glendale demonstrates that the “interest differential” between Winnipeg and Phoenix for ice hockey events is real and should have been given more consideration more than a decade ago.  Consider these points from a report at this morning:

  • Glendale is looking to host “larger, more impactful events and uses of the city owned arena.”
  • An economic consultant told the city fathers that concerts would be more economically impactful for the city as compared to hockey games.

Normally, when a franchise moves it is because ownership has gotten a sweeter deal somewhere else.  In this case, it is the city that has asked – ever so politely – that the team hit the road and take its act somewhere else.  According to that same report this morning, “somewhere else” could well be Tempe, Arizona.

  • Phoenix, AZ – – Strike One
  • Glendale, AZ – – Strike Two
  • Tempe, AZ – – ???

Switching gears to another sporting venture that does not generate huge local economic windfalls for hosts, here are two comments from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

Future watch: Miss the Olympics? Well, another one — the Winter Games from Beijing — begin in less than six months. Naturally, the coronavirus will continue to play a role for athletes and fans. In fact, the 2022 Games could serve as a Chinese homecoming for COVID-19.”

And …

Add Games: After following the river of red ink, countries are catching on that the Olympics aren’t worth the investment. Beijing’s only competitor for the Winter Festival was Almaty, Kazakhstan.”

Indeed, the postponement of the Tokyo Games until earlier this month jammed the Olympic schedule to the point that they might as well have started the torch relay from Tokyo to Beijing without bothering to douse the flame.  Notwithstanding the snub by the IOC, Almaty has a reasonable claim to viability as a Winter Olympics site.  Here is a fact-not-worth-remembering:

  • Of all the nation’s capitals in the world, Almaty is the second coldest one based on meteorological/climatological measurements.  Only Ulan Bator, Mongolia sports colder winters.

NBA TV ratings have been trending down for the past couple of seasons; they are not disastrous by any means, but they are not holding fast let alone growing.  Various commentators have ascribed the decline to things like:

  • LeBron James fatigue – – his teams are always on TV and always in the playoffs.
  • Backlash from an audience segment that did not appreciate being bombarded by  Black Lives Matter messages.

I surely do not know why the ratings have been falling; and, perhaps, reasons akin to those above are significant contributors to the decline.  However, I think there are two other factors that have an impact here and I do not see them being part of the normal discussion:

  1. College basketball is hugely over-exposed on TV.  Here in the DC area, it is commonplace to find as many as 25 college basketball games on various cable TV channels on a Saturday.  That creates “viewer-fatigue” very quickly and with “viewer-fatigue” comes a lesser degree of familiarity with college players who are the fuel for new NBA attractions.
  2. The cost of attending an NBA game is staggering.  In times when folks are having difficulty making mortgage payments, the idea of a father taking a couple of kids to see an NBA game on a non-school night is a budgetary challenge.  This situation has obtained for quite a while, and I wonder if the growth of new fans from a young age has been stunted because of it.

Finally, since I cribbed two comments from Bob Molinaro above, let close with another of his observations:

On pace: First estimated to be out five to 12 weeks after foot surgery, it appears that Colts quarterback Carson Wentz could be behind center for Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Which, given his history, puts Wentz on a fast track to his next injury.”

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