Consider This To Be A Cease And Desist Letter

Sports Curmudgeon  8/12/21

 

Yesterday’s rant focused on formulaic reports emanating from NFL training camps with an emphasis on a relatively new line of such stories over the past several years – – reporting on progress or lack of progress in contract extension negotiations.  In addition to the sorts of things mentioned yesterday, there is a new line of reporting that I hope will be unique to 2021.  Here is the storyline:

  • Joe Flabeetz tests positive for COVID-19 and/or Joe has previously said that he has not taken the COVID-19 vaccine for any of a variety of reasons.
  • Joe returns to training camp after the separation called for in the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
  • The first report is not about how he did at practice but about what he said when asked if he would now take the vaccine.

If the storyline ended with Joe’s answer to that question – either yes, no, maybe or it is none of your business – I would be fine with that.  The problem is that the reports all go off into predictable realms:

  • If Joe says yes, then why did it take him so long?
  • If Joe says no, then does he realize how he is potentially jeopardizing his family members or “the team.”
  • If Joe says maybe, then reporters take that as a license to ask the vaccine question repeatedly.
  • If Joe says it is none of your business, then he is being a petulant, spoiled, entitled brat.

Those storyline paths are well trodden; we really do not need any more of them.  I realize that I may step on some toes here, but I want to talk about COVID vaccines and vaccinations today.  My education is in the physical sciences; I have a PhD in physical chemistry (from LONG ago); I am not a medical professional nor an epidemiologist.  My science education has convinced me of a specific reality:

  • Many of the workings of life and of the universe are only partially understood – – and yet they can be counted on to behave in a predictable and reliable manner.  Gravity is one such thing; no one quite knows how – or why – gravity works, but every building, road and bridge relies on it behaving tomorrow exactly as it has since people began to observe it as a force back in the 1650s.

The nature, behavior and mechanisms of viruses in general – and of the COVID-19 virus specifically – are not perfectly understood.  Nonetheless, they are understood sufficiently that the various vaccines that have been developed can and do reduce the chances of getting infected and the chances of harboring the virus such that you can pass it on to others and the chances that the vaccine recipient will get a severe case of COVID-19 and die.  Controlled tests using known and reliable procedures have shown those facts over and over.

Because the virus and its mechanism are only partially understood, the vaccine is not perfect; it is not as reliable as gravity, but neither are many other things that people rely on with their lives:

  • The welds holding the wings on an airplane are not perfect – – but we fly on airplanes.
  • Dams sometimes burst with disastrous results – – but we continue to build them and rely on them.
  • Sunscreen reduces the chance of contracting skin cancer; it is not perfect as a prevention by any means – – but people are still well advised to use it.

Personally, I believe the odds are so tilted in favor of vaccination that I was early in line to “get jabbed” when my age group was given access to the vaccine last February.  Moreover, I believe that everyone who is of an age where the research has shown sufficient rates of efficacy and safety should “get jabbed.”  Having said that, I think it is wrong to be a “Vaccine-Crusader” just as it is wrong to be a “Vaccine-Know Nothing.”

I have to suppress a laugh when I hear an athlete say that he has not taken the vaccine because he needs to “do more research on the topic.”  If he tried to do a double-blind test on several thousand random citizens out of his basement, he would probably be arrested for practicing medicine without certification.  He is not going to “do more research;” he is either going to use that a justification why he continues to avoid vaccination, or he means that he will continue to search on the Internet for information that supports his decision not to be vaccinated.

My problem is that the reporters writing these stories know that this is the case.  There is no reason to write about it again; it has already been done to death.  If a reporter wants to be a “Vaccine-Crusader” here, he/she should be pestering the NFL and the NFLPA about why they do not agree to make COVID-19 vaccinations a sine qua non for NFL employment.  If a reporter just wants to write a story about the ignorance or the stubbornness of a specific athlete who has refused the vaccine, then just say that specifically and move on.  Stop pretending that there is any “news information” in a report that the athlete is “continuing to ponder the question of inoculation.”

I said above that I hoped that 2021 would be the only year we would have to deal with this particular narrative.  That is an aspiration; I would hope that COVID-19 is not a matter of concern by the time the 2022 sports calendar begins with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training.  I certainly would not bet that to be the case – – but I can hope it is the case and I can hope that we will have much less formulaic coverage in 2022 if need be.

Finally, let me close with an observation from playwright and satirist, Karl Kraus, which seems appropriate today:

“Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match.”

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

 

 

The Dog Days of August

Technically, the Dog Days of August end today.  The phrase is meant to denote the time of the year when the heat and humidity in the Northern Hemisphere is at its most uncomfortable level; statistically, those meteorological conditions tend to improve starting tomorrow until we get to winter, and we all freeze our butts off.  In the world of sports, there is a different meaning to the phrase, “Dog Days of August”.  Basically, it means that while we are sweltering in the heat and humidity, there is a dearth of juicy sporting attractions to take our minds off our discomfort.  Consider:

  • There are no collegiate sports of note happening now.
  • The NHL and the NBA can only provide the distraction of free agency.
  • MLB is ongoing but has not yet reached the drama of pennant races and the stretch drive.
  • The CFL season just began – but it is a minor diversion for many US sports fans.
  • The NFL is in “training camp stage” and is putting on Exhibition Games.

That is pretty thin gruel for sports fans – and it does not present folks who spend time commenting on sporting happenings with a cornucopia of things to talk about.  Here is an item from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald that summarizes all that needs to be said about NFL Exhibition Games:

“There is little worse in sports than NFL exhibition games, and a reminder poured forth in Pittsburgh’s 16-3 yawner over Dallas in a Hall of Fame Game bereft of star players. Full preseason Week 1 is this week with 16 scrub-filled games spread across Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

And so, without meaningful game stories and/or game preparation stories to offer up, far too many writers/commentators turn to formulaic stories that come out around this time of the year each and every year.  Here are some of the generic tales:

  • Veteran free agent signee, Joe Flabeetz, is in the best shape of his career as he tries to rekindle the magic he had two seasons ago with a former team.
  • Rookie phenom, Sam Glotz, is taking it one day at a time as he learns the nuances of the pro game.
  • Injured star player, Joe Bopf, is making steady progress in his rehabilitation from surgery and expects to be ready by Week 1.
  • New defensive coordinator, Bob Alooey, wants his players to be more aggressive this year and to play downhill – – even though the field is level.

You get the idea; you know you have read a hundred stories like that in prior years and you have probably read at least one of them already this year.  There is a genre of common story threads that seems to have evolved over the past several years that was not there 40 or 50 years ago.  That genre would be insider reports on contract negotiations for extensions for key players on various teams.  Will he sign?  Will he “bet on himself”?  What did the team offer?  What  is his demand that is hanging up the deal?  Will negotiations continue after the season starts?  I have already gotten tired of those stories and the season will not begin for another month.

I view all the contract stories that involve “insider reports” based on unnamed sources with about the same level of credulity as I give to the keynote speeches at the national conventions by our two political parties.  Every once in a while, there is a nugget in there of something interesting and/or revealing but for the most part it is manipulated prose at the very best.

I know this will never happen because there is a need to fill space in physical newspapers and a need to keep visitors engaged on websites, but here is how I would like to see all these stories about ongoing negotiations for contract extensions handled:

  • Name every source.  If the source will not give permission for that, consider that the information he gave to the writer is slanted at best and certainly not the whole truth.  In that case, do not report it at all.
  • Don’t take sides.  If the reporter takes sides, the reporter become spart of the story and not the reporter of the story.  If that story cannot be written, publish nothing.
  • Save energy for when it counts – – write about the reality of the signed contract extension when it happens if it ever happens.

So, at this time of the year, if you are reading something related to the NFL, you are probably in a position where you pick your poison when you decide on which link to click.  Personally, I am at a point where I ignore most of the “training camp highlights and headlines” and I absolutely ignore any sort of report on the progress or lack of progress toward a contact extension for a player.

Finally, to demonstrate what I mean by having a dearth of things to write about in these Dog Days of August, consider this headline from yesterday at CBSSports.com in the world of college football:

  • LSU’s live tiger mascot, Mike VII, is fully vaccinated against COVID-19

The prosecution rests, Your Honor.

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

 

 

NBA Tampering Nonsense

I read a report yesterday that the NBA was going to investigate possible “tampering” in the sign-and-trade deals that involved Kyle Lowery to the Heat and Lonzo Ball to the Bulls.  You may recall that I said last week that the NBA should – but will not – investigate possible “tampering” in the deal that sent Russell Westbrook from the Wizards to the Lakers after the LA Times reported that Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis met several weeks prior to the deal.  This prompted me to look around to find out what the NBA says the tampering rules are and how they might be enforced if the league ever chose to do so.

Let me start with what the rule says:

  • [From the NBA Constitution – not to be confused with the US Constitution]  An owner, general manager, coach, scout or player cannot try to persuade a person employed by another team to join the tampering team.

Well, that seems pretty clear to me – – until you begin to wonder what the phrase “try to persuade” might mean.  The arguments here – legal, philosophical and linguistic – could go on forever.  In fact, absent specificity and/or precedent involving league enforcement, there will never be agreement surrounding the facts of any given case.  For example, imagine if Kevin Durant said something along these lines:

“We have a great nucleus here with the Brooklyn Nets but if we had a shut-down defender like Joe Flabeetz (currently under contract with some other team), we would be unstoppable.”

Is Kevin Durant ”trying to persuade” Joe Flabeetz to demand a trade to the Nets?  Now suppose that Joe Flabeetz does demand a trade to the Nets a month after that statement.  Do you think the NBA would rule against Durant or Flabeetz or the Nets?

Consider the situation where Agent X represents Player A on the Washington Wizards and also represents Player B on the Boston Celtics.  If the Wizards’ GM is in conversation with Agent X about a possible extension for Player A and happens to mention how impressed he has been by Player B over the last month, is that a way of “sending a message” to Player B about the Wizards’ attraction to him?  It could be just that; it is also never going to be proven conclusively.

My point here is that it is easy to say that tampering is bad, and it goes against the primary objective of the NBA – – to assure a level playing field for all teams all the time.  But the devil is in the details and these devils are real.

The NBA would like everyone to believe they are serious about tampering because if people begin to think they are not serious there, it might lead to some fans believing conspiracy theories about favoring certain teams at the expense of other teams.  If tampering is permitted – not legitimized but merely permitted due to lack of enforcement of rules – it can call into question the commitment of the league to “fair play” and a “level playing field” and all those good and proper values associated with sports leagues.

So, to demonstrate the NBA’s commitment in this area, here are some of the punitive actions that the league can levy should they ever discover a “bulletproof” case of tampering:

  • Fines can go up to $10M for teams; fines can go up to $5M for individuals.
  • Draft picks can be taken from the tampering team and given without compensation to the “offended team”.
  • If the “offender” is a player, the Commish can suspend him without pay for as long as the Commish thinks is appropriate in the specific case.  [Aside:  Try to imagine Adam Silver suspending LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook for their meeting prior to the trade.  That will happen two days after a herd of unicorns prances onto the National Mall in Washington DC causing a rain of gold coins that will pay off the National Debt.]
  • Any trade or free agent signing deemed to have involved tampering can be voided.

That sure sounds like a no-nonsense stance by the NBA; those penalties are harsh indeed – – but nothing ever seems to come of any such inquiries into how deals got done.  Again, consider the following situation:

  • Sam Glotz is under contract and playing for the Knicks; his contract will expire at the end of the season.
  • The Knicks can offer him the most money, but Sam has told his agent he is not happy in NYC and wants to go to another team if that other team will give him all that they can do legally under the CBA.
  • The Knicks want to resign Sam Glotz and are not aware of his dissatisfaction with NYC.  So, they negotiate with the agent for several months – – unsuccessfully.
  • Then, on the day free agency opens, Sam Glotz signs a “max contract” with the San Antonio Spurs.  Fans are supposed to believe that all the contract negotiations for a multi-year deal worth tens of millions of dollars were done in the few hours when they were “legal”.  Nothing took place between the Spurs’ management and Sam Glotz’ agent before that time.  Well, OK then…

I am sure a reader here will correct me on this, but I can only recall two incidents where the league has declared any actin to be tampering and imposed a penalty.  [Aside:  The penalties outlined above are recent increases in penalty levels and did not apply to the incidents described here.]

  1. The Lakers’ GM, Rob Pelinka, was found to have tampered when he “negotiated” with Paul George’s agent/representative while Paul George was still under contract to the Pacers.  Pelinka was not fined but the Lakers were fined $500K.  [Aside:  The team probably paid that fine out of the petty cash drawer.]
  2. The Lakers were also fined $50K when Magic Johnson – then a Lakers’ official – was so effusive in his praise for Giannis Antetokounmpo that it was defined as an attempt to get Giannis to come and play for the Lakers.  [Aside:  The team probably paid that fine out of the loose change found lying around the arena after the crowd went home after a game.]

Notwithstanding the fact that my two examples here involve the Lakers as does the report from the LA Times about the prior meeting between LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, I am not trying to pick on the Lakers.  My point is that tampering happens; the league wants fans to believe that it is firmly opposed to tampering; but in fact, the league goes out of its way to avoid anything resembling scrutiny in these sorts of situations.

To give you a sense of the sort of enforcement mechanisms that are in place in the NBA, consider this requirement levied on team officials:

  • Team officials will certify in writing annually that they did not engage in tampering or engage in impermissible communications with free agents or their representatives and that the contracts they signed satisfy all applicable league requirements.

Well, there you have it.  There is the league’s ironclad enforcement mechanism in simple English.  Can there possibly be anything more for the NBA to do?

Finally, I’ll close today with a thought from H. L. Mencken that seems appropriate:

“To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble.  But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!”

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

 

 

Rest in Peace, Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden died last weekend at the age of 91.  Bowden took over the Florida State football program in 1976; at that time, the Seminoles’ program was in complete disarray.  Bowden remained the coach in Tallahassee until retiring in 2009.  His record at Florida State was 304-97-4.  By all accounts he was as good a person as he was a football coach.

Rest in peace, Bobby Bowden.

I am compelled to apologize for a lapse of memory and an infusion of laziness that led me to say – totally incorrectly – last week that the Hamilton Tiger Cats won the 2019 Grey Cup game over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  I was so sure of that recollection that I did not bother to take the 30 seconds necessary to check out my memory; that was the laziness kicking in.  A reader pointed out my error as a comment to last week’s rant, two other readers informed me via email that I got it wrong; Gregg Drinnan sent an ever so gently worded email pointing out the need for a correction.

Thanks for the civility of the communications regarding my error.  Indeed, the result of the Grey Cup game in 2019 was:

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers 33 – – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 12

Mea maxima culpa…

Speaking of emails from readers, I got one that linked me to a report at mlb.com about a perfect game that is not counted as such in baseball’s records.  It was in 1917 and Babe Ruth was the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.  Ruth walked the leadoff hitter and was more than upset with the umpire about the calls that led to the walk.  The umpire told Ruth to get back on the mound and be quiet or he would eject Ruth; Ruth told the umpire if he was ejected, he would “bust you in the nose”.  The umpire threw Ruth out of the game and Ruth obliged by punching the umpire and had to be restrained by the manager and several policemen.

Ernie Shore came into the game with a runner on first.  That runner was caught stealing and Shore proceeded to retire the next 26 batters in a row.  In baseball’s records, this is considered a no-hit game but not a perfect game.  Po-tay-toe … Po-tah-toe…

Last week, there was a Reuters report printed in the NY Post with this headline:

  • Germany’s modern pentathlon coach disqualified after punching horse

Obviously, I could not just let that pass by without clicking to find out what happened.  The first paragraph of the report summarizes the situation well:

“Germany’s modern pentathlon coach Kim Raisner will not be part of Saturday’s men’s individual competition at the Tokyo Olympics after she hit a horse with her fist and urged rider Annika Schleu to “really hit” the horse when it refused to jump.”

Naturally, my mind immediately went to a famous scene in the movie Blazing Saddles – no , not the campfire scene – where Alex Karras playing the role of Mongo rides into town on an ox.  He ties the ox up to a rail outside the saloon and someone on horseback says he cannot park the ox there.  Mongo walks over and knocks the horse out with one punch.  Seems to me that there is truth in the adage:

  • Life imitates art…

There is big news in the world of international soccer.  Lionel Messi has left FC Barcelona where he has been since 2004.  I have no interest in debating the question as to whether he is the best player in the world; suffice it to say he is in the top handful of candidates for that label.  He wants to stay with Barcelona and the club offered him a contract that he agreed to but the rules in La Liga that are analogous to salary cap rules in various sports here in the US would not allow that contract to be in force.

I will not pretend to understand the purpose of those rules or the intricacies of the rules, but my understanding is that each club in La Liga is limited to the amount of debt it can carry relative to the salary paid to the players.  This is done to provide a level playing field in the league – – although I am not sure how that works in practice because the two teams with the biggest debt (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) are the two dominant teams year after year.  Reports say that the current debt for FC Barcelona is more than 1 billion euros (approximately $1.2B).

What is confusing to me is that FC Barcelona and Real Madrid both rejected a bid from a private equity firm to inject more than 2 billion euros into La Liga which would have reduced the debt level for both clubs significantly.  The hang-up has something to do with TV revenue rights and such over the next 50 years – – but the subtleties of that proposed deal are way above my level of understanding.  Nevertheless, it seems to be the case that:

  1. Messi wants to stay with FC Barcelona
  2. FC Barcelona wants Messi
  3. FC Barcelona cannot sign Messi because of the club’s debt level
  4. A private equity firm wants to buy a piece of La Liga which would reduce the debt level
  5. FC Barcelona rejects that offer.

Lionel Messi is not planning to retire; there are rumors that he will sign with Paris St. Germain (French Ligue 1) or Manchester City (English Premier League).  We have not heard the last of this story.

Finally, on the subject of debt, here is a comment from actor, John Barrymore:

“A man must properly pay the fiddler.  In my case, it so happened that a whole symphony orchestra had to be subsidized.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, JR Richard…

Former Astros’ ace, JR Richard, passed away Wednesday night.  Richard was one of the dominant pitchers in MLB in the late 70s.  At one point, he and Nolan Ryan were part of the team’s starting rotation making a series against the Astros not a lot of fun for opponents.  His career was brief; it ended when he was 30 years old after he suffered a major stroke during warmups for a game.

Rest in peace, JR Richard.

The Steelers and the Cowboys played a meaningless exhibition game last night as an adjunct to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.  Meanwhile in Winnipeg, the CFL kicked off its regular season last night after a fully dark year in 2020 thanks to COVID-19.  The game last night matched the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; those two teams were the opponents in the last Grey Cup game in December 2019.  The Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup game; the Blue Bombers won last night’s game by a score of 19-6.

Tomorrow night, the rebranded Edmonton Elks will make their debut hosting the Toronto Redblacks.  I hope this season goes well for the CFL because I have to believe that the league and the teams are financially stressed after the 2020 non-season.  Back before the COVID crisis, there were plans for a CFL expansion team in the Maritime Provinces that would have taken the field this year.  Looking at the schedule, it seems that existence of this new team has been postponed for now.

Reports say that there is opposition in Halifax – the proposed home base for the Atlantic Schooners expansion team – to building a stadium for the team.  I am certainly not an expert in Canadian geography, but I have traveled to the Maritime provinces twice and Halifax is certainly the largest city I recall in either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.  That raises a question in my mind:

  • Could the CFL put an expansion team in Quebec City, or would that cause an injury to the Montreal Alouettes?

For the 2021 season the CFL has a no-nonsense policy when it comes to game cancellations and COVID outbreaks.  Forget the rhetorical flourishes around the edges of the policy and the announcement of the policy, here is the meat:

  • If a game must be canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak, only players on teams where 85% or more of the players and staff are vaccinated will get paid.  Moreover, this applies without regard to which team caused the cancellation.

Having mentioned the Dallas Cowboys in passing above, a friend sent me a copy of an article in the New York Times dated January 1, 1984.  The Dallas Cowboys were “up for sale” and this article had the following quotation:

“I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy the Dallas Cowboys.  It’s a no-win situation for him, because if he wins, well so what, they’ve won through the years and if he loses, which seems likely, because they’re having troubles, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.”

Later that year, a consortium led by “Bum” Bright bought the Cowboys from Clint Murchison for $85M and then sold the team in 1989 to Jerry Jones for $140M.  The “Bright Consortium” turned a tidy 65% profit in 5 years; today the Cowboys franchise – according to Forbes – is worth $6.5B.

In case you are wondering who was quoted by the NY Times back in 1984, it was Donald J. Trump.

Bob Molinaro had this to say in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot this week:

“TV timeout: NBC’s Olympic viewership is way, way down from the audience size for the 2016 Rio Games. The fragmented nature of broadcasts from the other side of the world — and confusion over where and when to find the programming — is being blamed. So is Simone Biles, poor thing. Then there’s debate over how many are watching on streaming services, but when this subject comes up I begin to lose consciousness.”

I am part of the “lost audience” for these Games.  A big part of my absence is the unavoidable fact that Tokyo is 12 time zones away from Northern Virginia meaning that most of the live coverage of events is very inconvenient for me.  For teams that I have followed closely, I can watch a replay of a game where I know the outcome because I watch it differently and watch for things I would not have watched for had the game been live.  Such is not the case for Olympic events; for me, they lose a lot if I know the outcome.

Oh, and one other thing about the coverage.  I understand the TV adage that “Sex sells,” but there has been a huge overdose of beach volleyball coverage in these games.  The women participants are attractive and less-than-fully clothed; I get that.  What the network execs seem not to realize is that an audience expecting to see Olympic events is not going to be mesmerized for a long time by scantily clad women.  Those execs should have an example of this to learn from:

  • If “Sex sells,” applies to women’s sports on TV, then the late but not lamented “Lingerie League” of women’s pro football would have been a smash hit.
  • It wasn’t!

Finally, here is one more item from Bob Molinaro:

“Shenanigans: The Buffalo Bills apparently are threatening to threaten that they’ll shuffle off to Austin, Texas, if the city doesn’t use taxpayer money to cover the entire cost of a new stadium. That’s a bad bluff. Austin already has a pro football team — the Texas Longhorns.”

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

 

 

A Co-Ed Final Four?

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported on the findings of an independent review of the way the NCAA deals with men’s basketball as compared to women’s basketball.  The report recommends “a combined Final Four tournament for men and women”.  You should read the Post article here.

Let me be clear; there is no way to pretend that the NCAA values women’s basketball to the same degree that it values men’s basketball and the ambience enveloping the two tournaments is very different.  Anyone who would try to argue that there is equality or even equivalency in the NCAA’s support and promotion of the two tournaments would be judged to have the mental acumen of a Kleenex.  There is a natural tendency to seek to bring the two events more in line with each other.

Having said that, I doubt that having a co-ed Final Four is going to help all that much.  The way the NCAA handles the men’s tournament calls for a football stadium venue that seats 60,000 or more fans.  [Aside:  I do not like games in such facilities; I greatly prefer to see basketball played in more compact arenas.  Nonetheless, that is how the NCAA stages the men’s Final Four.]  The tickets for the men’s Final Four are hard to come by; there is a scalper’s market for those tickets.

The women’s tournament – less highly publicized and promoted to be sure – often does not fill a basketball arena and I seriously doubt that the women’s Final Four could possibly fill a football stadium even if the NCAA handed out tickets with $20-bills stapled to them.  So, think for a moment about the logistics of a co-ed Final Four.

  • Option 1:  Play the women’s games on Friday/Sunday and the men’s games on Saturday/Monday.  Put all the games on TV in prime time.  That is logistically simple; all it requires is for the NCAA to pick a city with a domed football stadium and book the venue for a slightly longer period than it does now.  Here is a problem though…  If anyone wanted to demonstrate the difference in the popularity of men’s college basketball and women’s college basketball, these four nights of television would be Exhibit One.  Friday and Sunday would see the crowd rattling around in the stadium like the proverbial bee-bee in a box car; Saturday and Monday would see a packed house.
  • Option 2:  Play one men’s semi-final game and one women’s semi-final game on Friday and the other semi-final games on Saturday as TV double-headers.  Leave Sunday dark on TV and play both the women’s and men’s final games on Monday night.  While there will still be obvious disparities in crowd size and in TV ratings, this option would offer the chance to expose the women’s game to an audience that is receptive to seeing basketball games either in person or on TV.

Putting together a co-ed Final Four would not hurt anything; the venues for the next few tournaments are already set contractually so there might be some difficulty in making this happen immediately, but this is an idea that can be made to happen.  I think, however, that a co-ed Final Four will not address what I believe is the fundamental reason why men’s college basketball is the more popular sport:

  • There are only a few very good women’s teams and they do not play one another very often until tournament time meaning that there are too many regular season women’s games that are either blow-outs or games involving “teams that just don’t matter”.

It simply is not entertaining to watch a basketball game where the final score is 90 – 49 and there are far too many such games on women’s college basketball schedules.  Yes, there are non-competitive men’s games too that are nothing but glorified scrimmages for the better team, but there are not as many.  Attendance at a game or tuning in to watch one on TV is generally an act that seeks entertainment; there are too many women’s college basketball games that are not even interesting let alone entertaining to get my primary attention when seeking a period of sports entertainment.

The resolution of the issues in the paragraph above is the key element needed to raise the level of interest in women’s college basketball to a point where a co-ed Final Four would not starkly display the disparate levels of interest in the two sports.  While I am not in the habit of defending the NCAA on any issue, I do not see how the NCAA is going to be able to increase the entertainment value of so many women’s games that lead up to any sort of co-ed Final Four.

The current trend in college football – – the BIG revenue generator for collegiate athletic departments – – is that the rich are getting richer.  If that momentum carries over to women’s college basketball, I doubt that any sort of “urgent action” on the part of the NCAA will be effective.  Getting the generic sports fan out there in Peoria to pay the same amount of attention to women’s college basketball as he/she does to men’s college basketball more likely requires the use of a magic wand and not just a more focused marketing effort and a co-ed Final Four.

Finally, since today’s rant has considered the creation of a co-ed Final Four, let me close with this comment about co-eds by satirist Dorothy Parker:

“If all these sweet  young things were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised.”

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

 

 

Al Capp And Carson Wentz

If you are old enough to remember Al Capp’s comic strip, L’il Abner, you probably recall one of the recurring characters named Joe Btfsplk.  Joe was the “world’s worst jinx”; wherever he went, there was a dark raincloud over his head and unimaginable tragedy befell anyone and everyone anywhere near him.  Joe himself was so jinxed that he did not have any vowels in his family name.

I mention that character here because Carson Wentz seems to have been hanging out with Joe Btfsplk a bit too much.  Consider:

  • In 2017 – his second year in the league –  he was playing so well that some were mentioning him as an MVP candidate.  Then in Game 13 he blew out his knee and had to watch from the sidelines as the Eagles won the Super Bowl.  Before the injury, fans in Philly were suggesting that Pennsylvania needed to be renamed as Wentzlvania.
  • In 2019 with an injury-depleted set of pass catchers, he and Zach Ertz basically willed the Eagles to a winning record and a brief appearance in the playoffs.
  • In 2020, his game fell apart; he was benched; he and his head coach had a falling out and he was traded to the Colts – to be reunited with his former offensive coordinator.
  • In the first day of training camp this year, Wentz was rolling out on a non-contact practice play and injured his foot.  The injury requires surgery and Wentz will be on the shelf for 5-12 weeks.  [Aside:  That seems to me to be an awfully large time range for his recovery; I hope that does not mean folks are not quite sure what the injury is or what the extent of the injury is.]

Coincident to the misfortune that has come Wentz’ way over the past 4-5 years, the Colts now find themselves in an interesting situation.  At the time of the injury, here were the other QBs on the Colts’ roster:

  • Jacob Eason:  He was a 4th round pick in 2020 but did not take a snap in a game last year.  If he were a horse entering his first race, a handicapper might note that he has good breeding; his father is Tony Eason who was a starting QB for both the Pats and the Jets.
  • Sam Ehlinger: He is a rookie out of Texas.  He played well some weeks and marginally well on other weeks in college.
  • Jalen Morton:  He is a rookie out of Prairie View A&M.  I have now told you everything I know about Jalen Morton.

I thought that the great irony would be for the Colts to go out and trade with the Bears to acquire Nick Foles.  Recall that it was Foles who subbed in for Wentz in 2017 and led the Eagles to that Super Bowl win.  And it is not as if Foles is “unavailable”; he is #3 on the depth chart for the Bears behind Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.

The Colts went in a different direction – at least for the moment.  They signed free agent Brett Hundley whose career with the Green Bay Packers was to fill in for Aaron Rodgers in 2017 and to go 3-6 as a starter.  And Philip Rivers has recently said that he might – just maybe – consider un-retiring and coming back to the NFL; and he was the Colts’ starting QB for all of 2020.

The Colts were co-favorites to win the AFC South according to Las Vegas oddsmakers along with the Titans.  The win total for the Colts was 10.5.  If Wentz is “ready to go” in 5 weeks, that means he would likely miss one game and the Colts could still be on track – theoretically – for a productive year in 2021.  Of course, if Joe Btfsplk pays another visit, consider the season flushed down the toilet.

Moving on …  Yesterday in the NY Post, there was a column with this headline:

  • What to consider when betting on NFL preseason games

The column was by Matt Youmans who was formerly with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and now is with VSiN.  He has a long history of writing about the nexus of sports and gambling and about picking winners.  Personally, I have zero interest in betting on NFL Preseason Games – or Spring Training Games or NBA Summer League Games or … you get the idea.  However, I think the Post headline writer might have done better by this particular column because my immediate thought when I saw the headline was:

  • Don’t do it!

Switching gears …  Here is a stat that I ran across that is interesting.  After the All-Star Game, the Atlanta Braves went 9-9 in their next 18 games; that is not particularly interesting as a whole but how they did that is interesting.  The Braves had 9 one-game winning streaks and 9 one-game losing streaks to compile that record.  Someone with lots of time on his/her hands discovered that is the MLB record for alternating wins and losses.  Someone in the Braves’ marketing department should try to get a sponsorship deal with a company that makes yo-yos…

Finally, #1 son is living and working in Ireland and so, I will close today with two observations about Ireland:

“I showed my appreciation for my native land in the usual Irish way by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could.”  George Bernard Shaw

And …

“ The Irish are a fair people – they never speak well of one another.”  Samuel Johnson

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

 

 

A Legal Proceeding To Watch For…

A little more than a month ago, the Tennessee Titans traded for Julio Jones.  The price the Titans paid for a top shelf WR seemed awfully meager at the time even considering that Jones is 32 years old which for most WRs means that he is likely on the downside of his career.  To refresh your memory, here are the details of that trade:

  • Titans get Julio Jones plus a 2023 6th round pick
  • Falcons get a 2022 2nd round pick plus a 2023 4th round pick.

Jones only played in 9 games last season, but his career numbers are eye-opening.  He has been in the NFL for 10 seasons and has been selected for the Pro bowl 7 times and has been a first team All-Pro twice.  Jones has led the NFL in receiving yards twice and has led the league in yards per touch three times.  The more I looked at the stats, the more I thought the Titans got a great deal here – – absent the injury bug of course.

Then last week, a story broke that might cast a pall over the trade.  Julio Jones and former NFL WR, Roddy White, are partners in a non-football business venture and the two of them are being sued by a company called Genetixs LLC.  The fact of the lawsuit is not of imminent concern; it is the allegation made by the plaintiff that caused me to react:

  • The folks who run Genetixs LLC accuse Jones and White of diverting “cannabis products from an otherwise legal cultivation and distribution operation in order to make black-market sales.”
  • The suit goes on to assert that Jones and White – – and presumably others – – have sold about $12M worth of “black market cannabis” since March 2021 and have been involved in money-laundering practices to cover the tracks of that revenue stream.

I think  you will agree; that is not your garden-variety civil lawsuit.  I think you will also agree that it is not surprising that legal council for Jones and White says that the claims made in the lawsuit are without merit.  Given the pace of lawsuits through the courts, I would say that there is about zero probability that this case might be heard anytime during this year’s NFL season – – and maybe not even next year’s NFL season.  As far as I can tell, we have not yet even had the pro forma motion by counsel for Jones and White to dismiss the case  without even a hearing because it is baseless and frivolous.

What does present a potential problem is the illegal nature of the actions alleged to have been undertaken by Jones and White.

  • Marijuana laws – and cannabis laws – have changed dramatically in the last several years.  But I do not recall reading that  “black market sales” and “money laundering” have been made legally acceptable in any jurisdictions.
  • That nexus could bring the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy into play here.  For better or worse, the NFL has more than a little precedent for handing down punishments to players in matters where no criminal charges were ever filed let alone situations where players were convicted of wrongdoing.

As I said, I have no expectation that this case or any police investigation into matters alleged by the plaintiffs in this case will materialize during this NFL season.  However, Jones’ current contract has him being paid $38.3M through the end of the 2023 season.  This is obviously not something the Titans anticipated as they negotiated the trade to acquire Julio Jones.

Moving on … In yesterday’s Washington Post, Kevin Blackistone wrote a column urging the NFL – and all sports leagues including the NCAA – to lead by example and require COVID vaccinations for all players and fans and – – you get the idea.  You can read this wide-ranging column here.

I have no problem with the thrust of Blackistone’s piece; this is not an example of some sort of corporate conspiracy to take over the hearts and minds of everyday Americans.  Taking his encouragement to some sort of end point, what it would do would be to create a situation whereby adults – – players and coaches and referees – – could make a choice about whether they want to be part of the NFL or not.  The NFL is not an entity that would be covered by some sort of Constitutional guarantee; employment by the NFL is not a God-given right nor was it allegorically mentioned in the US Constitution back in 1789.

The second step in reaching a logical endpoint from the column would be that fans would then get to choose whether they want to take in an NFL game in person or not.  Admission to an NFL game is a privilege that one purchases; it is not something guaranteed to every person in the country.

There are two significant barriers to consider regarding why the NFL might not want to be at the sharp end of this “movement”:

  1. There might be an attrition of some players from the league but that is probably a minimal problem since there are plenty of people who will gladly step in and take the NFL’s minimum salary for rookies who never played a down in the NFL – – $660K for 17 games.  A much bigger hesitancy comes from the potential for an immediate loss of revenue from fans who would stay away and the unknown factor of how those fans might be willing to “return to the fold” once COVID is but a dark memory.  NFL owners do not like to mess around with their revenue streams.
  2. The second barrier is one that I wish Blackistone had acknowledged and analyzed.  That barrier is the NFLPA.  Somehow, I doubt that the union would just sit back and nod their heads in agreement as about 100 of its dues paying members were kicked to the curb as a consequence of choosing not to be vaccinated.  Even if the Commish and the owners thought they would win in the end, does it make sense for them to stir up a controversy with the union – and with fans who might side with the players on this issue – when they do not have to?

Finally, since much of my tone today was pessimistic, let me close with this observation by the French scientist, Jean Rostand:

“My pessimism extends to the point of even suspecting the sincerity of other pessimists.”

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

 

 

Serious Stuff – Perhaps – Today …

As the calendar turns from July to August, let me once again revisit the website that tracks all the MLB players who have been on the Injured List in 2021 and compiles data of the time served, and the guaranteed money earned while “on the shelf” by those players.

As of August 1, 2021, here are the data:

  • 653 different players have appeared on the IL between April 1 and August 1.  Some players have been on the IL more than once, but this is the total number of players who have been out of action – – yet being paid – – during the 2010 season.
  • 381 of those players on the IL this season are pitchers.
  • Those players on the IL have spent a cumulative 29,319 days hors de combat.
  • While on the IL, the total amount of money paid to players who could not play for all of MLB was $532,676,768.

The combination of guaranteed contracts and injuries have caused an outflow of money from owners to players of more than half a billion dollars so far this year.  When the negotiations for the next CBA between MLB and the MLBPA bog down and there are thinly veiled advocacy pieces published depicting the plight of the players, remember these numbers.

The next topic for today is either a tempest in a teapot or a huge bleeping deal.  Let me set the stage.  Evander Kane is a forward for the NHL San Jose Sharks.  Kane and his wife, Anna Kane, are obviously having a rough patch in their relationship because – – according to reporting in the Washington Post – – Anna Kane wrote on social media:

“How does the NHL let a compulsive gambling addict still play when he’s obviously throwing games to win money?  Hmmm, maybe someone needs to address this.”

That posting is a serious indictment, but it needs to be put in context because – as I said- it appears as if Evander Kane and Anna Kane are not in a harmonious state at the moment.  In addition to that bombshell message, Anna Kane has also alleged that she was forced to sell her wedding ring so that her husband could “afford his partying habits” and that her husband abandoned her while she was pregnant with their child.  Even without ever being in the same room with either party here, I feel confident in concluding that everything is not lovey-dovey in the Kane household these days.

There is – evidently – some sort of basis for a piece of Ms. Kane’s  charge here.  According to reports, Kane was in hock to a Las Vegas casino to the tune of almost $500K and the casino sued him to collect on that debt.  One would assume that Evander Kane should be able to pay off the casino and to provide more than adequate financial coverage for his family because he just finished the third year of a seven-year contract that will pay him an average of $7M per year with the Sharks.

Forget for a moment if you think these allegations have any of a variety of ulterior motives; the NHL – and the NHLPA – must take these allegations seriously or at least make it appear that they are taking them seriously.  If in fact – – I said “IF” – – the NHL has a player who is betting against his own team and then playing in a manner to make them lose games he has bet on, the league and the union need to figure all of that out and make it go away.  Unless they do that, the NHL runs the risk of becoming viewed through the same lens as pro ‘rassling.  While pro ’rassling – and pro ‘rasslers – are highly regarded by a segment of the sports and entertainment audience, the entire vibe of NHL hockey and the vibe of pro ‘rassling are completely unharmonious.

So far, the NHL has played this story down the middle with the following statement:

“The integrity of our game is paramount and the League takes these allegations very seriously.  We intend to conduct a full investigation and will have no further comment at this time.”

If there has been any statement or reaction from the NHLPA, I have not found it; but if I might offer a suggestion to the mavens there, this would be a good time to do some virtue signaling and say that the integrity of the games – – a key foundation piece in the how and why your members collect multi-million dollar salaries in the first place – – is as important to you as it is to the league itself.  To borrow one of the buzzwords of the day, it would be a “bad optic” for the union to say nothing here  and then to fight the league about the outcome of any investigation IF in fact an investigation were to turn up incriminating evidence.

And speaking of things that a pro league needs to “look into”, consider the reporting from the LA Times saying that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook met with one another several weeks before the trade between the Wizards and the Lakers sent Westbrook to LA.  The LA Times is a more than reputable news outlet; the paper may make a mistake in its reporting occasionally, but most of that they put in the paper is factually accurate.  So, on the assumption that this report is accurate:

  • How can such a meeting/discussion/chat between those 3 players be construed as anything other than tampering?
  • Russell Westbrook was under contract to play for the Washington Wizards at the time of the alleged “meeting of the minds”.  If that  “conversation” had been with the Lakers’ coaching staff or the Lakers’ owner(s), it would be tampering so why do two players get a pass here?

Finally, apropos of nothing and because I have served on 3 juries in my lifetime, let me close with this observation by H. L. Mencken:

“The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.”

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

 

 

Trades Today…

In the last NBA offseason, the Washington Wizards made news with a blockbuster trade.  John Wall went to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook.  The repercussions of that swap were pretty feeble; Wall was injured yet again, and the Rockets finished with the worst record in the league at 17-55; Westbrook played just well enough to get the Wizards to the play-in round of the playoffs before being unceremoniously escorted to the sidelines in the first round.  That is exactly the worst place to be in the NBA:

  • Not nearly good enough to have any meaningful shot at “making a playoff run” with a regular season record of 34-38 – – and – –
  • Not nearly bad enough to have a realistic chance to get a “Top 3” pick in the Draft.

I do not like the Wizards/Lakers trade from the standpoint of the Wizards.  They traded a “star player” and got back three “players”.  Supposedly, the trade gives them “financial flexibility” to sign another “star player”; but if I were a “star player” looking for a place to land, the current Wizards’ roster is not exerting any sort of gravitational pull on my body to get me to sign on there.  Another aspect of the trade that leaves me cold from a Wizards’ perspective is that the Wizards are a bad – not mediocre, bad – defensive team.  Let me be polite and say simply that none of the guys they got from the Lakers is a threat to get votes for the NBA All-Defensive Team at any time down the road.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this trade is the effect that Russell Westbrook is going to have on the Lakers – – and I do not mean his obvious on-court talent.  Russell Westbrook’s history is that he shows up to play every night.  Last year, he missed 7 games; the year before that, he missed 3 games.  Last year, Anthony Davis missed 36 games.  In addition, Russell Westbrook does not merely show up for a game; when he plays, he plays at full speed for the entirety of his time on the court.  And if history is to be a judge, he will play about 36 minutes per game for the Lakers at full speed.  I will find it interesting to watch the Lakers to see if Davis and/or LeBron James will be able to keep up with Russell Westbrook…

I was a bit surprised to see that the Sixers did not trade Ben Simmons as part of the NBA Draft process where teams are focused on re-engineering their rosters.   Simmons is a special talent in an overall basketball sense; but he has never been a good shooter and despite the protestations of the Sixers’ PR staff, I doubt that he has ever worked hard to develop a shooting stroke.  His offensive disappearance in the playoffs this year have been well displayed and I think he cannot be part of the Sixers going forward.  Fans in Philly are not kind and gentle; this is not Washington where if an athlete puts on the jersey of a local team, he/she is just wonderful.  Fans in Philly are going to eat him for lunch if he is back next year; the Sixers need to move him, and I think the rest of the league knows that very well.

The other major local “trade news” is that the Washington Nationals cleared out the established players on their roster and set about a total rebuild.  Gone in a whirlwind of activity are:

  • Max Scherzer
  • Trea Turner
  • Kyle Schwarber
  • Brad Hand

In addition, reports say that Daniel Hudson, Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes could be moved prior to the trade deadline later today.  What did the Nationals get in return?  Well, if you are a minor league baseball maven or junkie, some of the names here might mean something to you, but I believe that Riley Adams coming to town from the Blue Jays in the Brad Hand deal is the only player coming with real –  albeit meager – MLB credentials.  Adams is 25 years old and has appeared in 12 games for the Jays this year.  He is 3-for-28 at the plate with an OPS of .345.

There is one other MLB trade rumor that bears watching.  Various reports say that the Colorado Rockies are in negotiations with the Blue Jays, the Mets and the Rays regarding shortstop, Trevor Story.  Story is 28 years old and has been an All-Star twice in his career.  Last year, the Rockies had Story and Nolan Arenado as anchors on the left side of the infield; Arenado was traded over the winter to the Cardinals and now, maybe, Story will be gone too.

About 50 years ago, the A’s owner, Charlie Finley, tried to trade off/sell off all his star players because he realized he would not be willing to pay them what they were going to command in free agency.  The Commissioner at the time was Bowie Kuhn; let me be polite and say that Kuhn was hardly a force majeure in the history of baseball.  Nonetheless, Kuhn stood up on his hind legs and negated all this nonsense saying that he was acting “in the best interest of baseball” which he correctly identified as the premiere objective on his job description.

The Nats sold off assets that brought a World Series victory and several years of serious contention to Washington.  They are trying to rebuild.  The Rockies appear to be selling off players who simply would cost too much to retain in Colorado – – but I will be gobsmacked if I found out that Rob Manfred was even aware of the optic presented here.

And … Terry Francona is “stepping away from managerial duties” with the Cleveland Indians for the rest of the season.  Francona has had health-related issues over the past year or so and this move is to allow him to focus on health issues.  Last year, Francona missed a good part of the season with blood clots that had him in the ICU for a period of time.  Asked about the possibility of his coming back in 2022, Francona refreshingly and intelligently responded:

“I’ve got to get healthy, or I can’t do this job. So, one step at a time.”

Finally, let me close today with an observation by H. L. Mencken:

“It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.  If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money.”

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