“Minor Sports” Today …

I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend yesterday in a lengthy phone chat.  He has been a reader of these rants ever since they went online but we had not spoken directly in about the last year-and-a-half as he has been dealing with long-term lingering effects of a COVID infection.  Those problems have limited his mobility and his ability to do lots of things you and I might consider “normal activities”, so he says he has lots of time to engage in sedentary activities.  One of the things he challenged me on was to try to comment on the “minor sports” more often; he said there is lots of both good and bad stuff happening in that world.  He offered to send me some links that would prove his assertion; now that I have chased down those links, he is right.  So, today’s rant will be about “minor sports”.

Let me begin on a high note…  Gary Martin is a high school senior in Warminster, PA; running in the Pennsylvania Catholic League Championship track meet, Martin broke the record for the fastest mile run by a high school student at 3:57:98.  In addition to the fact that Martin did something no one else has ever done, this achievement is noteworthy because of the record he broke and who set it.

  • The previous record – – 3:58:3 – – has been on the books since 1965.
  • The person who set that record was Jim Ryun.

As I adjust my “old codger cap” here, let me tell folks who have not reached their golden years that Jim Ryun was a major figure in men’s track and field for almost ten years in a time when track and field was a much bigger deal than it is today.  Ryun made it to 3 Olympic Finals and was a silver medalist in the 1500-meter competition.  At one point or another , Ryun held 6 world records at distances from 880 yards to 1 mile.  Gary Martin just broke a 57-year-old record set by Jim Ryun and Martin now says that he hopes to compete in the Olympics somewhere down the road.

Congratulations and bonne chance to Gary Martin …

Now, let me turn to another situation that is more controversial and less wholesome.  Once again, it involves high school sports and probably the best way to set the scene here is to quote the opening paragraph of a report on Cleveland.com:

“A Lake Catholic high school boys lacrosse player with a swastika on his calf participated Monday evening in a match between Orange and Lake Catholic, prompting outrage and questions about how he was permitted to play while displaying the image.”

Officials at both schools immediately issued statements condemning racism and antisemitism and assured everyone that investigations were underway to find out how all this happened.  Excuse me …  There is a picture attached to that report at Cleveland.com showing the image of a swastika on the calf of the lacrosse player.  Take my word for this; if you go to “Google-Images” and you search for “Lacrosse Players on the field” you will find hundreds of photos where the players are wearing short pants – or short skirts in the case of women’s lacrosse.  So, my question is not just how or why that imagery came to be on the right calf of a Lake Catholic boys’ lacrosse player; my question is:

  • How was that not noticed and removed before the game started?
  • According to reports, the image was “wiped off during a huddle” as the game progressed; so, how did that escape scrutiny until that point?

And just for the record, I do not wish to hear even a whisper that erasing that image and possibly punishing anyone and everyone who were involved in this incident constitutes an abrogation of “free expression”.  Take that argument to the Supreme Court for a decision; in the court of common decency, that is a violation.

Moving on …  Once again, I think the best way to set the stage for you regarding this event is to quote the first two paragraphs of a report from the Channel 3 website in Philadelphia:

“We’re learning new details about what led up to a shooting in the stands at a football field near Temple University where children were out practicing. On Monday, police revealed the suspect is a coach for a youth football team in Philly.

“Cellphone video captured the moments a man opens fire and hits two other men in the stands of a football field as 7-year-old children were having a rec football practice.”

The alleged shooter was a coach for recreation football and one of the victims was also identified as a coach.  Supposedly, they were “arguing over a woman” and that led to the shooting incident.  [Aside:  At the time of the report, both victims were hospitalized and in stable condition.]

No children were hurt in all of this – albeit they witnessed the event and its aftermath.  I have no expertise on child counseling, but it is difficult to imagine that being proximal to something like this would be beneficial to childhood development.  The alleged shooter was a recreation football coach; the report did not say what age group he worked with, but obviously recreation football in that neighborhood involves kids as young as 7 years old.  Coaches are supposed to be “leaders” and “molders of character” for young football players.  Might I suggest that the alleged shooter here should get a failing grade in those two categories?

Finally, since I began today with Gary Martin’s record run in the mile, let me close with this observation about jogging from Mike Ryoko:

“It’s unusual for people to run around city streets unless they are thieves or victims.  It makes people nervous to see someone running.  I know that when I see someone running on my street, my instincts tell me to let the dog out after him.”

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

 

 

Football News – But Not the NFL Today

There is good news this morning from the Canadian Football League.  The players’ strike called for last weekend seems to have been settled; reports say that the league and the players’ union have reached an agreement that needs only to be ratified by the players themselves and by the CFL’s Board of Governors.  This strike lasted a total of 4 days and only training camp schedules were affected.  Things appear to be on track for the CFL to kick off its 2022 season on June 9th.

Regarding the issues involved in the negotiations leading to this tentative agreement, let me acknowledge that the information comes from email exchanges with Gregg Drinnan – the author/creator of the Taking Note blog which you can find here.  My familiarity with the CFL can be described as neither wide nor deep.  But here are some terms of the new deal:

  • One issue was the end date for the new CBA – not only in terms of the length of the contract but the day on which it would expire.  Previously, the CBAs expired the day before training camps were set to begin; players were either en route to training camp or already in the designated area for training camp and felt pressured to take a deal to get started.  This CBA supposedly will expire a month before training camp is set to begin 7 years from now.
  • The CFL games are telecast in Canada on The Sports Network (TSN); the existing contract for those broadcast rights ends in 5 years so there is an opt out clause in this deal pending the terms of a new deal – presumably with TSN.  One note of explanation from Gregg Drinnan puts that in perspective:

“If you aren’t aware, the TSN contract is huge. Without it, there isn’t a CFL”

  • There are provisions in the new deal for players to negotiate certain amounts of guarantees into their contracts.  I do not understand the details here but the fact that there needed to be language in the new CBA about this issue indicates to me that there was not freedom to do so in the past.

Because the CFL has an odd number of teams – until the expansion Nova Scotia Schooners coalesce into a real entity – the league schedule is interesting.  Teams play 18 regular season games and have 3 bye weeks built into the schedule simply because at least one team must have the week off every week.  If the NFL and the NFLPA ever look at an 18-game regular season schedule here in the US, I hope they will look at the CFL scheduling and build two bye weeks for each team into such an expanded schedule.

There is other football news this morning.  College football conferences are looking at alterations in their structure and scheduling.  It seems that the PAC-12 is the first conference out of the gate to institute change.  No longer will the winners of the PAC-12 North and the PAC-12 South Divisions necessarily meet in the PAC-12 Championship Game.  Starting this year, the two teams with the best conference record will be the opponents in that game.

  • The good news here is that the two best PAC-12 teams will play for the conference title.  If the winner of one division has 3 conference losses, odds are that it will not be in that championship game because there will be two teams from the other division with fewer losses.
  • The potentially bad news here is that this really marks the demise of the division structure in the PAC-12 and the way the conference had split the divisions each division had multiple school pairings that represented longstanding rivalries.  I am not sure that the loss of divisions is necessarily a good thing.

In the past, the NCAA required conferences to split into divisions if they wanted to have a championship game and they were unable/unwilling to play a full round-robin schedule.  [Aside:  Why the NCAA mavens thought that rule needed to exist in the first place remains mysterious.]  However, the NCAA’s Division 1 Council scrapped that requirement, and the PAC-12 seized the opportunity to make the change.  Reports say that the ACC, Big-10 and SEC are also considering structural and scheduling changes; so, stand by for more news on this front.

And one more peripheral football note.  ESPN reportedly “promoted” Dan Orlovsky and assigned him to be the replacement for Brian Griese on what is now ESPN’s “second broadcast team” for NFL games.  When ESPN hired Joe Buck and Troy Aikman away from FOX, that demoted the current MNF team to second string and Griese “took his career in a different direction.”  Supposedly, FOX was interested in hiring Orlovsky, but ESPN found a way to keep him where he is.

Under the current deal between ESPN and the NFL, the network will get to do more than just Monday Night Football games; there could be as many as five additional games on the network starting next season.  That is not a full-time workload by any means, but both Orlovsky and Louis Riddick will also be significant contributors to ESPN studio shows related to NFL happenings.

I do not recall ever hearing Orlovsky do TV color analysis.  I have heard him in his studio show assignments and I certainly hope that he can “tone it down” just a bit during games.  Enthusiasm is good; analysis is good; presenting one’s enthusiasm and analysis at 90 decibels punctuated only with exclamation points will wear thin over a 3-hour game telecast.

Finally, here is an NFL observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Viking QB Kirk Cousins’ career record as an NFL starter is 59-59-2.

“Shouldn’t that make him the Minneapolis .500?”

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

 

 

Eight Interesting QB Situations…

I don’t know how all this started yesterday after I posted the daily rant, but I wound up sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee making notes about NFL teams with new starting QBs for the upcoming season.  And as is often the case, I focused on the changes that had not made the big splashy headlines like Russell Wilson going to Denver or Deshaun Watson going to Cleveland.  At the end of my ruminations, I had a list that comprises 25% of the NFL where the teams are in the following situation:

  • Those teams are going to start young QBs who were early first round draft picks that have not lived up to their billing and this might be their final chance to establish themselves as something more than an itinerant backup for the rest of their careers.

There are 8 teams/young QBs in this circumstance.  Keeping an eye on their achievements or failures during the course of the 2022 season could be interesting.  Let me present you my list of guys to keep an eye out for in alphabetical order:

Sam Darnold – Panthers:  The Jets took Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 draft; he played college football at USC.  The combination of injuries and a bad team around him contributed to a major level of disappointment in his days with the Jets.  He started 38 games for NY and the team record in those 38 games was 13-25-0.  Darnold was traded to the Panthers last year; he started 11 games in Carolina and the team went 4-7 in those games.  His contract is up at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent at that point unless of course the Panthers apply a franchise tag or a transition tag to him.  Unless Darnold lights it up this season, he is not likely to get either tag.  I think his outlook is bleak because the Panthers’ roster looks more “woebegone” than “robust”.

Justin Fields – Bears:  He is sort of an outlier on this list because he has only had a single partial season in the NFL.  Nonetheless, he was taken by the Bears with the 11th pick in the 2021 draft – and the Bears traded up to make that selection; he played college football at Ohio State.  Fields started 10 games for the Bears last season and the team was 2-8-0 in those games.  Moreover, his stats for 2021 are much better described as “marginal” than they are “acceptable”.  Fields’ contract is very team friendly at this point and does not expire until the end of the 2024 season.  This is not a “make-or-break” year for Fields – unless he figuratively throws up on his shoes – but the Bears and Bears’ fans will want to see significant progress from him.  That may be difficult because the Bears’ roster – particularly on offense – looks to be sad.

Jared Goff – Lions:  The Rams took Goff with the overall #1 pick in the 2016 draft; he played college football at Cal.  Despite having a winning record of 42-27-0 with the Rams, the team traded him to Detroit to acquire Matthew Stafford – – and then proceeded to win the Super Bowl with Stafford at the helm.  Goff’s year with the Lions was a less-than-wonderful one where the team went 3-10-1 in his 14 starts.  Goff has made the Pro Bowl twice in his career; his contract runs through the end of the 2024 season and the contract calls for him to make about $25M per year over the next three seasons.  The guaranteed portions of Goff’s contract appear to be over at the end of the 2022 season, so the Lions could “move on” at the end of 2022 with a minimal dead cap hit.  We shall see…

Daniel Jones – Giants:  The Giants took Jones with the overall sixth pick in the 2019 draft; he played college football at Duke.  He has started 37 games for the Giants over 3 seasons and the team record in those games is 12-25-0.  A disturbing stat here is that in those 37 games, Jones has fumbled 36 times.  That disturbing stat might be mitigated to some extent by noting that the Giants’ OL has allowed Jones to be sacked 105 times in those 37 starts.  The Giants did not exercise the fifth-year option for Jones meaning that his contract expires at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent then – – absent getting one of those “tags”.  This is a big year for Daniel Jones.

Drew Lock – Seahawks:  The Broncos took Lock in the second round of the 2019 draft; he played college football at Missouri.  Back in March of this year, Lock was traded to the Seahawks – along with 5 draft picks and two NFL starters at other positions – for Russell Wilson.  Lock’s time with the Broncos was mediocre; he started 21 games; the team was 8-13-0 in those starts; also in those 21 starts, he threw 20 INTs – – including a league leading 15 INTs in the 2020 season.  The first thing on Lock’s agenda for 2022 is to beat out Geno Smith for the starting job in Seattle; from there he will have the chance to show that he can be a reliable starter in the NFL.  If he does not/can not beat out Geno Smith for the job, he has pretty much defined his status for the league to see.  Lock’s contract is up at the end of the 2022 season, and he will be an unrestricted free agent – – absent any of those pesky “tags”.  Purely a hunch, but I see time in the Canadian Football League in Drew Lock’s future.

Marcus Mariota – Falcons:  The Titans took Mariota with the #2 pick in the 2015 draft; he played college football at Oregon.  He was with the Titans for 5 years starting 61 games for the Titans and posting a record of 29-32-0 in those starts.  He was released by the Titans at the end of the 2019 season when the Titans signed Ryan Tannehill to be their starter.  Mariota was the backup in Las Vegas for the last two seasons seeing extremely limited action.  He signed a 2-year contract with the Falcons in March of this year but there is no guaranteed money in that contract after the 2022 season.  This looks to me to be a “show-me season” for Mariota and he might only have a knife in a gun fight.  The Falcons’ look like a team that will take its lumps in 2022.

Mitchell Trubisky – Steelers:  The Bears took Trubisky with the #2 pick in the 2017 draft – and they traded up to take him there.  He played college football at UNC.  In 4 years with the Bears, Trubisky started 50 games and posted a 29-21-0 record in those starts.  He made the Pro Bowl once; and in 2018, the Bears went 11-3 in Trubisky’s 14 starts.  Nevertheless, Bears’ fans never let him – or the team – forget that the Bears traded up to take Trubisky ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.  At the end of his rookie contract, the Bears let him walk and he was with the Bills as their backup QB last year.  He signed a 2-year deal with the Steelers worth $14M and projects to be the starter in Pittsburgh this year.  His contract, however, has no guaranteed money in it other than his signing bonus, so the 2-year designation is more gossamer-like than iron-clad.  This is indeed a big year for Trubisky, and he has plenty of obstacles to overcome including:

  • He is following a Hall of Fame hero who had been in Pittsburgh for 18 years.
  • The AFC North looks like a very tough division for 2022.
  • His WR corps is very young.

Carson Wentz – Commanders:  The Eagles took Wentz with the #2 pick in the 2016 draft; he played college football at North Dakota State.  His career with the Eagles started out  brilliantly; in his second season (2017) he was playing near MVP level until he was injured in the 13th game of the year.  Even though he did not play a full season, he finished third in the voting for MVP and was second to Tom Brady in voting as the All-Pro QB for that season.  Since that year, however, things have not gone nearly as well for Wentz; his record as a starter – – with the Eagles and the Colts – – has been 26-29-1.  Wentz’ final time with the Eagles was not harmonious; rumors of refusing to talk to coaches and pouting after he was benched were rampant; nonetheless, the Colts acquired Wentz via a trade last year and the Colts missed the playoffs when they lost to the sorry-assed Jaguars in the final game of the regular season and Wentz played terribly.  The Colts traded him to the Commanders in the last offseason and more “poor locker-room presence rumors” emanated from folks who follow the Colts.  Wentz’ contract runs through the end of the 2024 season but most of the guarantees in that contract are gone at the end of the 2022 season.  This is an important year for Carson Wentz on two fronts:

  1. Is he the “MVP-contender” sort of player or is he a QB who wins half his games?
  2. His new coach – Ron Rivera – is as big a “no nonsense” guy as there is in the NFL.  “Locker room problems” do not fare well on Rivera’s teams.

Finally, let me close today with a comment by Groucho Marx that seems most appropriate for the US in 2022:

“In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.”

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

 

 

The Future Of The Philadelphia 76ers …

Today, I want to talk about the Sixers, James Harden and Joel Embiid.  Once again, the Sixers lost in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Miami Heat notwithstanding their acquisition of James Harden in February.  If you want to be a Sixers’ apologist, you can write this playoff exit off on an injury suffered by Embiid in the final game of the first round of the playoffs; he missed the first two games of series with the Heat and played after that with a “broken face”.  That discussion would not be particularly interesting to me because I think the more interesting point here is the future of the Sixers with or without James Harden.

You may recall that I was skeptical about the value of this trade from the Sixers’ point of view at the time of the transaction.  Here is the link to my rant at that time.  Much of what I wrote then has come to pass.

Now, comes the kicker – – Harden’s contract.  Technically, the contract will be up when the NBA playoffs end but Harden has a player option for one more year at $47M per year.  So, the NBA future for James Harden boils down to three possibilities:

  1. He exercises his player’s option and is part of the Sixers’ team next season making $47M.
  2. He and the Sixers agree to a long-term “super-max deal” which according to the terms of the current CBA would be something like 5 years and a total of $275M.
  3. He does not exercise his player’s option and puts himself out on the open free agent market seeking to find the best deal available to him.

I did not like the deal that brought Harden to the Sixers in the first place; the team is now in a situation where they can make it a lot worse if they choose to do so.  The way for the team to “make it a lot worse” is to achieve Option 2 above.  James Harden will be 33 years old before the next NBA season begins; he is not a “great athlete” and never was; his career arc is peaked at best if not already on the downslope.  If the Sixers sign him to anything like the “super-max deal” – or even any sort of lower priced 5-year deal – they will come to regret that choice.  In Wall Street terms, James Harden is a wasting asset.

Do not mistake what I have been saying here; James Harden is still a good player and potentially a significant contributor in the NBA.  He is not worth, however, $50M even for one year and he will not be worth even half of that number 5 years from now.

The optimal outcome for the Sixers would probably be for Harden to exercise that player’s option such that the team can try to get a full season of “the best of what is left of James Harden” and then part with him saying “Vaya con Dios” as he moves on to whatever future endeavors are there for him.  There is something standing in the way for that to happen because, for that to happen, Harden and the Sixers will have to have unproductive and potentially oppositional negotiations for a “super-max deal” and those sorts of talks do not usually play out well in the future.  To use a phrase from the old Laurel and Hardy films, this is “another fine mess” that needs to be sorted out.

And what of Joel Embiid in all of this?  As a viewer of NBA games, I see Joel Embiid at a very different place on the players’ spectrum than James Harden.  Harden is an offensive player; he can score, and he can assist others in their scoring; meanwhile, Harden is a liability on defense.  I do not read minds so I do not know if he cannot play defense or if he will not play defense.  That is a procedural distinction if you want to make it; the outcome after one determines which route is correct is the same; James Harden plays no defense and gives up points aplenty.

Joel Embiid can score too; he averaged 29.8 points per game this season.  Embiid also rebounds and is a good shot blocker on defense; he is not particularly adept at assisting teammates.  Last season was his best year in terms of assists where he averaged 4.2 assists per game.  Embiid is only 28 years old; barring injury, he has plenty of future in the NBA ahead of him; last season, he was a serious candidate for league MVP.  Joel Embiid is a “foundation piece” for an NBA franchise but to be in a serious position to play for a league championship, a single outstanding player is not enough.

On the surface, it would appear as if the Sixers tried to get Embiid a “star player” as his running buddy when they traded for Harden.  If you look only at Harden’s historical offensive numbers, that was a decent gamble.  But now there is reality to face, and the reality is that Joel Embiid is still in a “go-it-alone” situation in a league where teams seek to build a “Big Three” on their roster.

So, let me amend the three options above where I said that the worst Sixers option would be to sign James Harden to a “super-max deal”.  There is a happenstance that is worse:

  • The Sixers sign Harden to a “super-max deal” and then…
  • Joel Embiid realizes that he is not going to sniff a championship on a team that has assigned all that cap space to James Harden and Embiid finagles his way out of Philly.

Before any Sixers’ fans accuse me of being Chicken Little here, let me just say two words here:

  • Charles … Barkley.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from humorist Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-News:

“The world’s oldest person has died at age 119. You know, I’m starting to feel like the title is cursed.”

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

 

 

Strange MLB Happening Yesterday…

I have a bunch of things on my  clipboard for this morning, but I choose to start with an unusual happening in MLB yesterday.  Two pitchers for the Cincinnati Reds combined to throw 8 no-hit innings – – and the Reds lost the game.  The score was 0 – 0 in the bottom of the 8th when the Pirates loaded the bases on 3 walks.  With one out, the Pirates’ hitter bounced a ball to second base that should have been an inning-ending double play, but the shortstop bobbled the toss from the second baseman and the batter beat the throw to first.  That 1-0 score held up in the top of the 9th inning – – so the Reds pitched a no-hitter and lost the game; that does not happen often…

Bad things happen to bad teams and – make no mistake – the 2022 Reds are a bad team.  They started the season 3-22 in their first 25 games.  That projects to a final record of 19-143 for a season.  That is the sort of record that smacks of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134 in MLB’s previous 154-game season.

The Reds have “gotten hot” after that start winning 6 of their last 10 games to post a record of 6-26 as of this morning.  For the record, that projects to a season-ending record of 30-132.  That is about halfway between the Spiders’ showing in 1899 and the “modern standard for futility” set by the 1962 NY Mets who finished the year at 40-120-1.

Fans in Cincy would be in the right if they got very mad with the team.  Last year, the Reds finished over .500; they did not seriously threaten to make the playoffs, but they finished with a better record than 9 of the teams in the National League; in fact, if the playoffs in the NL had been expanded to 6 teams, the Reds would have been the “last team in”.  So, what did the Reds do in the off-season?

  • They dumped salary; they let free agents walk; they acquired prospects and draft picks.
  • Then they put this current squad on the field from day to day.

Recall the problems and issues with game attendance last year for MLB with the COVID pandemic ebbing and flowing.  With that in mind, it is not surprising at all that MLB is looking at a surge in attendance at its games in 2022; in fact, as of this morning only one team in all of MLB  (the Rangers) shows a decline in home attendance year-over-year.  However, the Reds’ year-over-year comparison puts them down in the lower rungs of the MLB ladder along with the perennially attendance challenged teams such as the Marlins, Rays, A’s and Pirates.  In 14 home dates, the Reds are averaging 16,899 fans per game.

The Reds’ team president – coincidentally the son of the majority owner of the team – did an interview with one of the Reds’ local “broadcast partners” about the upcoming season and addressed the team’s off-season economic decisions this way:

“Well, where are you going to go?  Let’s start there.  I mean, sell the team to who?  That’s the other thing — you want to have this debate?  If you want to look at, what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists?  It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.  And so be careful what you ask for.”

Cincy is not one of the “big-market teams”; that is for sure.  However, that statement could easily sound like noblesse oblige to Reds’ fans thinking about coming out to see the team play on any given Wednesday night.  Sounds to me as if he just said that no one is out there looking to buy the team even if it were for sale and then if someone bought it, they would probably want to move it.  I think the fans’ response to all that would be along the lines of:

  • “ … and the horse you rode in on.”

By the way, Reds’ fans are not the only ones who are “less that pleased” with the ownership/management of their local heroes.  A couple of years ago, more than 50,000 Pirates’ fans signed a petition urging the current owner there – Robert Nutting – to sell the team.  Through the first 18 home dates, the Pirates drew and average of only 11,851 fans to what I believe is the best baseball venue in MLB.  [Disclaimer:  I have not been to all 30 of the current MLB parks but I have been to more of them than not.]

Moving on…  reports surfaced over the weekend that there could be a players’ strike in the CFL.  The players union and the league engaged in 16 hours of bargaining last week but could not reach an agreement.  The union notified players not to participate in training camp activities that are about to begin for the CFL; players on 7 of the 9 teams are expected to follow that directive; the other two teams are located in Alberta where provincial labor laws require additional steps before workers can officially strike.  Reports say that the players for those two teams are expected to join the work stoppage as soon as those hurdles are crossed.

This is not good news for the CFL.  Reports over the weekend seemed to try to paint the situation in the best light saying that the two sides “are not that far apart.”  That may be true; I have no way to confirm or deny that  statement.  However, I can say with confidence that the two sides are sufficiently apart that the union is calling for a players’ strike.  So, what is left to be done is more than editing and proofreading the final agreement document.

The CFL has had financial stability problems ever since ethe onset of the pandemic.  The league lost an entire season of play and the league sought – but did not get – a hefty capital infusion from the national government in Canada.  So, for the moment things do not look rosy for the league.

As I understand it, the league proposed a 10-year agreement that would not have increased the team salary cap over the life of the agreement.  Knowing exactly nothing about the financials for the 9 CFL teams, that sounds like an outrageous proposal that could not be ceded to by the union.  On the other hand, the fact that it was deemed sufficiently defendable by some of the league negotiators could easily speak to the economic fragility of the league.

One other issue in the negotiations involves something I was unaware of until reading about it here.  The CFL has something called The Game Rule Ratio; notwithstanding the roster make-up of any team, that team may dress 46 players for each game with the following restrictions:

  • Minimum of 21 “national players”  (not exactly but closely translates to “Canadian players”)
  • Maximum of 20 American players
  • Maximum of 2 QBs of any designation
  • Minimum of 2 “Global players”.

The original proposal from the CFL would have removed this rule – – and given the numbers of US football players at the professional and collegiate levels as opposed to Canadian football players at similar levels, that would make the CFL potentially a lot less “Canadian”.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Job:  Your punishment for not winning the lottery.”

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

 

 

Phoenix Rising From The Ashes …?

Take your mind back to the Fall of 2018.  Things were in place for a potentially heartwarming story to unfold – – maybe even as heartwarming as the old Jack Armstrong All-American Boy radio shows.  Screenplay writers at Disney were probably poised to immortalize all this in a biopic.  Let me summarize what was in place.

  • In 1997, Scott Frost was the QB for Nebraska and they won the national championship that year.
  • Frost had an uneventful NFL career and began a coaching career in 2007 as the linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.  It may indeed be a long way to Tipperary, but it is an even longer way from the college football national championship to linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.
  • Frost had success as an assistant and then as offensive coordinator at Oregon during and after the Chip Kelly years there.
  • Meanwhile, UCF Football had been doing well under George O’Leary, but the wheels came off the wagon in 2015.  The Golden Knights posted an 0-12 record and O’Leary was fired in mid-season.  Frost took over the UCF program in 2016.
  • In 2017 – just two years after going 0-12 – UCF had an undefeated season at 13-0.  Some folks thought they should be in the CFP and when they were not invited some folks simply declared UCF as the national champions.
  • Meanwhile about 1200 miles away in Lincoln, NE, the Husker’s program was no longer “in the mix” for conference championships let alone national championships.  Bo Pelini had won 9 or 10 games a year but then played in minor bowl games; he was replaced by Mike Riley who went 19-19 over three seasons.
  • Scott Frost – All-American Boy – got the call to come home to alma mater to “change the culture” and thereby restore glory to Nebraska football.  The screenwriters at Disney must have been salivating at the prospects.

I suspect any ardor that existed in the screenwriting community in 2018 has dissipated by now because the Scott Frost Era at Nebraska has been a step down from Mike Riley’s years with a break-even record.  Since taking over at Nebraska, Frost’s teams are 15-29 over 4 seasons and last year they had the worst record – – 3-9 – – for any Nebraska team since 1957.  That was 64 years ago for everyone keeping score at home.

That would a sufficiently sour ending to the story as a standalone.  But it gets worse.  The super sleuths at the NCAA have determined that Frost was violating NCAA rules and have slapped Nebraska with penalties for those violations.  At the bottom line, Frost and his team were breaking rules and still managed to lose about twice as many games as they won. 

            Here is a link to a report outlining what the violations were and what the penalties are.  If there is a screenwriter out there who is still hoping to score big on this story, I suspect that (s)he is now thinking along the lines of a story where Scott Frost is a living symbol of the Phoenix who rises from the catastrophe of the ashes to bring glory back to Saturday afternoons in Lincoln, NE.

Moving on …  There is an adage on Wall Street that when something happens for a first time, that is an event.  If it happens a second time, that is a coincidence.  If it happens a third time, that is a trend.  Please do not focus on counter-examples here because I want to argue that the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans must hope that the following is not a trend:

  1. Henry Ruggs III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Raiders.  He was released by the Raiders after a fatal car accident where he stands accused of being drunk and driving at over 100 mph in Las Vegas.
  2. Calvin Ridley played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Falcons.  He has been suspended from the NFL for at least all of the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in 2021 while he was injured and not playing.
  3. Jerry Jeudy played WR at Alabama and was drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft.  He was recently arrested and faces charges involving domestic violence.

So,  you ask why the Eagles, Lions and Texans hope that is not a trend?  Consider:

  • Devonta Smith played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Eagles…
  • Jameson Williams played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Lions…
  • John Mitchie III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the second round by the Texans…

Finally, here are two observations from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding sports memorabilia/collectables:

“Todd Brock, a private equity investor from Houston, sold Tiger Woods’ Titleist 681-T iron set from his Tiger Slam in 2000-01 for $5,156,162 at Golden Age Auctions, a record for golf memorabilia.

“That’s what’s known as reaching the green.”

And …

“The $518,000 sale of the football thrown for Tom Brady’s “final” NFL touchdown pass — whose value plummeted when Brady changed his mind about retiring — has been voided by mutual agreement between the parties.

“In short, it was ruled incomplete.”

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

 

 

Tom Brady’s Retirement Plans

I plan to take a break from the recent trend here – – commenting on either criminal or anti-social behaviors in the sports world – – because I was more than a bit surprised to read yesterday about Tom Brady’s retirement plan(s).  Brady will be back at QB for the Bucs this year and may indeed be plying his trade in the NFL beyond this season; there was no announcement as to when his retirement would begin.  However, when it does begin, Tom Brady’s new career will be with FOX as the lead NFL analyst.

Frankly, that alone surprised me,  Obviously, Brady knows NFL football and is as tuned into the “Xs and Os” of the game as anyone.  The reason I am surprised is that Brady never came across to me as being nearly as comfortable behind a microphone as he was behind a center on the field.  Even accounting for the wide range of emotional swings a player must feel after a win or a loss, I usually had the impression that Brady would rather have been almost anywhere else than fulfilling his obligation in a post-game Q&A.

Obviously, I was wrong about that.  If he indeed did not like press interactions, he surely would not have signed up to do that for a significant part of his eventual retirement years.

And that brings me to the part of the story that really shocked me.  According to reports, when Brady begins his work with FOX, his contract will extend for 10 years and has a total value of $375M.  It was only a couple of years ago that CBS paid Tony Romo the “outrageous sum” of $18M per year to be the CBS lead NFL analyst.  As various other people in similar roles had their existing contracts expire, all of them sought to get a deal that included what came to be called “Tony Romo Money”.  Some succeeded and some did not…

Now comes the announcement of a deal which is a little more than double the yearly salary of “Tony Romo Money”.  In economic terms, I think it is fair to say that the market has moved to a new level.

I am also surprised about this deal from the FOX perspective.  Granted, Tom Brady is a huge catch for any network that signs him; I need not recite his football bona fides here; if you have read this far, you already know them.  He has won more Super Bowls (seven) than any franchise has won in franchise history.  When a network has Brady and his credentials on their air, they set a standard.

Having said that, I keep coming back to something I have said about announcers and sideline reporters in the past:

  • I do not believe that anyone ever tuned into a game mainly because of who was on the microphone for that game.
  • Conversely, I do believe that some announcers/analysts can be sufficiently annoying that viewers may tune out – – or at least mute the telecast.

People will tune into see what is an important game – and/or one that is billed as a pivotal game in a season – – no matter who the announcing team might be.  I have announcing teams that I greatly prefer as comparted to others, but there is no network announcing team that is so bad that I would forego watching an important game.  I might mute the telecast if the announcers became sufficiently annoying, but that is about it.

[Aside:  I am trying to think of an imaginary announcing team that would make me hit the mute button early in the first quarter of an NFL game.  Best I can come up with now is Alan Alda on play-by-play with Rachel Maddow as the analyst.  Rambling play-by-play followed by being lectured to by the analyst would probably get me on the mute button quickly…]

Let me be clear; I do not think Tom Brady will be anywhere near “sufficiently annoying that viewers choose to tune out of games on FOX”.  At the same time, I cannot understand how he can possibly be so outstanding that he will increase the numbers of viewers for games on FOX nearly to the extent that those added viewers might allow FOX to recoup even 50% of the $375M they will pay him.

Perhaps, there is some commitment in this deal that Brady will also be doing some “studio work” for FOX in the off-season aligned with some programming on FS1 or FS2.  If that is the case, Brady’s presence could indeed add to the ratings for the program that has him there offering insights and opinions; but even in that circumstance, I find it hard to see how it might add anything close to $375M to the coffers at FOX.

Allow me to presume to give the suits at FOX a bit of advice.  Obviously, once Brady has retired for good, they will work with him and with his on-air partner to “develop chemistry” between the two.  I am sure they will call existing games to hone their skills as a team and that there will be analysis and critique during and after those “rehearsals”.  Here is the advice:

  • Please help Tom Brady recognize when the best thing he can do is to be quiet and let the events/happenings on the screen speak for themselves.

Tom Brady knows football as well as anyone.  Once he relaxes in his new position, he is likely to be a font of information for viewers – – as are his counterparts as lead analysts for various networks.  If he can develop what I call “The Art of Shutting Up” he might become the GOAT of TV analysts as well as the GOAT of NFL QBs.

Finally, since today has been about sports on television, let me close with this view of television by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“There is an insistent tendency among serious social scientists to think of any institution which features rhymed and singing commercials, intense and lachrymose voices urging highly improbable enjoyment, caricatures of the human esophagus in normal or impaired operation, and which hints implausibly at opportunities for antiseptic seduction as inherently trivial.  This is a great mistake.  The industrial system is profoundly dependent on commercial television and could not exist in its present form without it.”

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

 

 

Bad Behavior – – Tennis Style

Today, I have the opportunity to bring together two themes for a rant.  In honor of a former colleague who has wondered why I do Football Friday in the Fall but never Tennis Tuesday, he should note that today’s rant comes on a Tuesday and will be exclusively about tennis.  In addition, I can continue the recent these of commenting on bad/criminal behavior by folks associated with the sports world.  So, this could be labeled Tennis Tuesday brought to you by some Tennis Bad Boys.

Let me start with a report I read last week that six players have received bans from tennis after a court in Spain found them guilty of match-fixing and convicted them on criminal charges.  The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) made this announcement and proclaimed that these players represented “one of the most significant infiltrations of tennis by organized crime that we have seen.”

The bans from tennis for these players range from 7 years to 22 years.  Four of the six banned players were unranked but two held a minimal ranking:

  • Marc Fornel Mestres was ranked as high as 236th in the world
  • Jorge Marse Vidri was ranked as high as 562nd in the world.

Mestres received the 22-year ban; Vidri received a 15-year ban; three of the unranked players also received a 15-year ban and one of the unranked players received the 7-year ban.  The banishment means that these six players cannot  play in or even attend any “tennis event authorized or sanctioned by any international tennis governing body or national association for the length of their bans.”  Moreover, none of the six are allowed to coach any other professional players.  There are suspended prison sentences involved here also which could be enforced if any of these players runs afoul of the law into the future.

Based on remarks from senior officials in the ITIA, this investigation has been ongoing for about 5 years and more than one senior official referred to organized crime infiltrating the sport of tennis.  That being the case, it must mean that in some parts of the world there is a relatively large betting handle on very minor tennis matches.  It makes no sense to me that organized crime bosses are trying to fix matches involving unranked players for the fun of it, but it also makes little sense to me that lots of money could be wagered on such a tennis match making a so-called betting coup worth the time and effort.  I guess I must admit that I am dead wrong about that second part…

Here is a link to the ITIA website with the details of the convictions here.  These guys were very active – and somewhat creative – in their nefarious activities.

In other news about a “Tennis Bad Boy”, three-time Wimbledon champion, Boris Becker, has been sentenced to jail and has begun his incarceration.  Becker was convicted in the UK of four counts based on the British Insolvency Act.  Apparently, just before declaring bankruptcy about 5 years ago, Becker intentionally moved and attempted to hide “millions of pounds worth of assets to avoid playing them to his debtors.”  Becker is 54 years old; he attempted to hide two Wimbledon Trophies as assets in his possession from the court.  That indicates to me that Boris Becker is an unlikely MENSA candidate.

Becker had a very successful but tumultuous career.  In one tournament, he got so angry at the umpire that he spat at the umpire; he battled addictions to sleeping pills and alcohol.  At one point, he became a tabloid favorite when he supposedly had a tryst with a model in a broom closet at a London restaurant.  He has been married three times and divorced twice leading one to assume that a lot of his wealth was lost in those divorce actions.  He also has been convicted of tax evasion in Germany and now of trying to cheat the insolvency court.

Boris Becker led a “jet-set life”; he is now in a facility called HMP Wandsworth which is described as follows:

“… a crumbling, vermin-infested Victorian jail.”

HMP Wandsworth in in South West London and is described as one of the most overcrowded prisons in England.  A report in January 2022 about conditions there paints a picture that is the antithesis of a “jet-set life”.  Here is a link to that report.

Dwight Perry had a comment on the matter in the Seattle Times about a week ago:

“Tennis great Boris Becker was sentenced to 2½ years in an English prison for illicitly transferring large amounts of money and hiding assets after he was declared bankrupt.

“Sounds like Boris had quite a racket going.”

The last tennis item for today involves a decision by the folks who run Wimbledon to ban Russian players from this year’s tournament because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  That is virtue-signaling on steroids.  None of the Russian tennis players who might have qualified for Wimbledon is part of the Russian War Machine; punishing Vladimir Putin and his cronies and punishing Russian military folks who are part of the actual invasion makes perfect sense; punishing Daniil Medvedev makes little sense.

Maybe they are enforcing that Wimbledon banishment because they cannot put Vladimir Putin in that ”crumbling, vermin-infested Victorian jail”…

Finally, let me close today with a joke about tennis that my father used to enjoy telling:

  • Q:  Why should you never fall in love with a tennis player?
  • A:  Because “love” means nothing to them…

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

 

 

Bad Behavior – – NFL Style

Once again, my clipboard is populated with items related to allegations of crimes or sociopathic behaviors on the part of people in the sports world.  We are in the latter stages of the COVID pandemic, but it seems that there is an anti-social behavior pandemic raging in the sports world.  Let me begin today with the report that Dan Ventrelle and the Las Vegas Raiders have parted ways; Ventrelle had been the team president.

That seemingly benign happening was quickly turned sour when Ventrelle alleged that he was fired because he had reported a “toxic work environment” to the league complaints that involved Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis.  In the parlance of folks who specialize in HR stuff, I believe this is called “retaliation”.

Here is Ventrelle’s statement:

“Today, Mark Davis terminated my employment as President of the Las Vegas Raiders.  I have committed almost 18 years of my life to the success of the Raiders as General Counsel and President. I take that responsibility very seriously, which is why multiple written complaints from employees that Mark created a hostile work environment and engaged in other potential misconduct caused me grave concern.

“When Mark was confronted about these issues, he was dismissive and did not demonstrate the warranted level of concern. Given this, I informed the NFL of these issues and of Mark’s unacceptable response.

“Soon thereafter, I was fired in retaliation for raising these concerns. I firmly stand by my decision to elevate these issues to protect the organization and its female employees. I remain committed to doing everything in my power to support the Raiders and the Las Vegas community I now call home. I have retained counsel and will have no further comment at this time.”

Here is the NFL response:

“We recently became aware of these allegations and take them very seriously.  We will promptly look into the matter.”

When the NFL says “look into the matter”, what they will first “look into” is how to make it appear that there will be an “independent investigation” even though the NFL is paying for it and how the league will find a way not to reveal any of the facts that the “independent investigator” comes up with lest someone outside the NFL’s inner circle draw a conclusion that might differ from the inner circle’s.  Maybe there will be a coin toss to see if this investigation will be done by Beth Wilkinson (she of the Dan Snyder “toxic culture” investigation) or by Mary Jo White (she of the Ezekiel Elliott investigation and of the Dan Snyder “financial irregularities ongoing investigation”.)

Seems to me that it is time to cite an adage:

  • Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Let me do a cursory review here:

  • Jerry Richardson was accused of improper workplace comments and actions, and he chose to sell his team instead of forcing an “investigation”.
  • Dan Snyder and his front office employees stand accused by more than a dozen women of inappropriate behavior.  That “investigation” is complete, but the league will not release the findings because it never asked for a written report of those findings.
  • Jerry Jones faced a paternity suit earlier this year; that suit has been withdrawn by the plaintiff without prejudice meaning it could reappear at any time.
  • Dean Spanos is being sued by members of his family who claim he has screwed them over financially.
  • Stephen Ross and Jimmy Haslem were both accused by former coaches of offering bonuses for losing games to enhance draft status.
  • Now Mark Davis is in the crosshairs of a lawsuit involving improper behavior in the workplace.

[Aside:  These examples come off the top of my head; I do not know how to search legal archives where there would surely be other actions that slipped my attention.]

There is one aspect of this Raiders’ matter about which I am confident.  The NFL will do anything and everything possible to keep a lid on the “investigation” and its findings.  That has been its strategy and tactics regarding any such complaints of this type; I see no reason for a deviation here.

In another “legal issue” related to the NFL, a judge in Texas has issued an arrest warrant for former Ravens and Seahawks safety, Earl Thomas.  The judge in the matter determined that there was sufficient reason to believe that Thomas had violated a court restraining order when he sent threatening messages to a woman about her and her children.  According to reports, Thomas faces a “third degree felony” charge in the matter for violating that restraining order two or more times in the past 12 months.  Thomas has been out of the NFL for the last two seasons but has been trying to sign on as a free agent in this offseason; this action does not add positively to his résumé.

Thomas’ attorney has a totally benign explanation for this:

“They were consciously and collectively working together to see his kids;  I don’t really understand how he could be in violation by working together to visit with his children.”

This one is not over, either…

Finally, let me close today with a comment by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“The Cincinnati Reds are off to their worst 25-game start ever — 3-22.

“It’s gotten so bad even Pete Rose won’t bet on them.”

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

 

 

Mark Emmert’s Replacement?

After three days of “legal stuff” involving the sports world, I am tired of that refrain – even though there is more on my clipboard – and so, I am going to address something else today.  Recall about a week ago that Dr. Mark Emmert announced that he would be stepping down as the president of the NCAA in June 2023 or when a new president is named if that happens before June 2023.  Likely, many readers here did not read Sally Jenkins’ column on this subject.

Suffice it to say that Ms. Jenkins is not a fan of Dr. Emmert.  If you were to host a dinner party and invite the two of them, it would not be advisable to seat them adjacent to each other.  Here is a link to her column; I recommend you take about three minutes and read it in its entirety.

For those who did not read the column, Jenkins believes the NCAA is a salvageable institution despite its current condition.  She stakes out her position clearly:

“The job of NCAA president is not nearly as tough as Mark Emmert made it look, with his powdered wig arrogance and dull ducal lethargy. Emmert’s NCAA was a stagnant moated castle at a time of accelerating change, but the worst part of his legacy is the cynical loathing he bred for the institution. Emmert made the organization’s leaders seem like cake-eaters incapable of fixing their own tumbled walls while the mob gathered with torches.”

And …

“It’s difficult to summarize the combination of doziness and density with which Emmert led the NCAA on just about every front. But the main harm he did was to make the NCAA seem unfixable and its presidency undesirable. It’s not. It just has been led by an unqualified blockhead for so long that we came to think of it that way.”

Her solution to the problem is to find a new president for the NCAA who is a demonstrated leader, and her nominee is Dr. Robert Gates.  When you read Gates’ CV, you come away with the very certain impression that he has tackled jobs with far greater challenges and responsibilities than exist for the NCAA.  Here is a summary of Dr. Gates’ life:

  • CIA Intelligence Analyst
  • National Security Council Staff
  • Deputy Director for Intelligence (CIA)
  • Director of Central Intelligence
  • President of Texas A&M University
  • Secretary of Defense (under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama)
  • Chancellor, College of William and Mary

Dr. Gates is involved with the NCAA too.  He was the person in charge of getting a new constitution for the NCAA and he managed to do that with the support of more than 80% of the NCAA membership; he is a known quantity to many of the “power brokers” who exist in the world of intercollegiate athletics.  Jenkins’ nomination seems to be a powerful one with one caveat:

  • Dr. Gates is 78 years old.  The NCAA is wading into terra incognita on several fronts and those problems are not going to resolve themselves in the next several years.  So, is this a challenge that Dr, Gates wants to take on for what could be the balance of his professional life?

The biggest issue – I believe – for the NCAA and its new leader is how to keep even a semblance of a level playing field among the schools in these times of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) payments to “student-athletes”.  Reports say that Texas A&M (Dr. Gates was President there, remember) boosters pooled money together in the amount of $25M to go and “recruit” a football team this year.

  • Assume that is true; tell me how teams in the MAC are supposed to compete with that.
  • Assume that is true, tell me again about how these are “student-athletes”.  Along this line, I read another report that a high school recruit will arrive as a freshman with a $7M NIL deal in place.
  • Assume that is true, tell me how an organization whose “investigators” seem unable to find their asses with either hand is going to maintain even a patina of control even if there are new rules put in place.

In case anyone misinterprets here, I am not opposed in any way to athletes being able to make money from the use of their name, image and likeness.  What I am opposed to is the credibility-stretching limits that this practice has gone to in just a year or so.  The idea of NIL rights is that the player would be compensated by a company for using him as an endorser or “influencer” of their product/service.  No problem there until you try to convince me that local businesses find that it makes legitimate business sense to pay a high school football recruit several million dollars in “endorsement money” even before he finds his way to the student union.

NIL deals have quickly morphed from endorsement deals into the creation of semi-pro teams at big schools.  The old NCAA model was outmoded and hypocritical; the current model is newfangled and hypocritical.  Somehow, I don’t count that as a great leap forward.

Finally, the NCAA member schools are educational institutions.  So let me close today with this view of education from the philosopher, Bertrand Russell:

“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”

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