NBA Draft Tonight

The NBA Draft happens tonight.  There has been a lot of opining that this year’s draft is deep in talent; I admit that I saw less college basketball than usual in the previous season, but I did watch more games than the average bear.  [Hat Tip to Hannah-Barbera and Yogi Bear.]  What I saw were good players but few if any outstanding players.

Cade Cunningham is expected to be the first guy off the board going to Detroit.  I have read pieces that compare him to James Harden as a scorer.  I did not see anything close to that assessment.  I am not suggesting that Cunningham will be a bust at the top of the draft á la LaRue Martin or Anthony Bennett; I think Cunningham will be a productive player in the NBA for quite a while, but to compare him to James Harden seems like a huge stretch to me.

Another player who draws comparisons that astound me is Evan Mobley.  Yes, he was the best big man I saw in college basketball last  year and I think he too will have a productive NBA career – – but someone said he might be the next Anthony Davis.  Wow…

I believe the reason the NBA Draft does not generate the same level of fan involvement as does the NFL Draft is the lack of familiarity with many of the players who will be taken tonight.  There are 3 players who are mentioned as first round picks who did not play college basketball last year but spent their “year-after-high-school” in the NBA’s G-League and – – as has been the case for the last decade or so – – there are players from other countries (Australia, Lithuania, Serbia, Spain and Turkey this year) who are mentioned as players to be selected tonight.  I watch a lot of college basketball and I have never seen any of these guys play; that distinguishes the NBA Draft from the NFL Draft where virtually every player taken has played college football and is familiar to some segment of the Draft audience.

In any event, the NBA Draft should be entertaining tonight if only for the fact that it puts on display for NBA fans the substance of a line from a poem by Alexander Pope:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast…”

The proposed movement of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big-12 to the SEC is generating lots more news than merely the realignment of college football conferences.  Let me just hit some of the highlights:

  • Oklahoma State officials criticized Oklahoma for a “lack of transparency” in plotting to leave the Big-12 and applying for membership in the SEC.  [Puhleeez…]
  • Texas A&M officials have been less-than-happy about the Texas move since the Aggies have been the sole focus of SEC football in the State of Texas for the last decade.  Of course, the reason that has been the case is that Texas A&M switched conferences from the Big 12 to the SEC back in 2012 – – but let us not bring that up now.
  • The Big-12 Commissioner’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN saying that ESPN had lured the two schools away from the Big-12 thereby doing harm to the conference and the other schools in the Conference.  I assume the ESPN lawyers are drafting a response that is the legal and more genteel version of, “WTF are you smoking?”

There has been a ton of publicity about college athletes now being able to profit off their name, image and likeness; sponsorship deals with athletes are coming out of the woodwork everywhere.  While that is a sea change for college athletes, I think the changes that are in progress for college conference alignments is much more important and much more “game-changing”.  I am not going to pretend to know how all the movement will shake out but from my vantage point, I think the vector heading is this:

  • There will be 4 “major conferences” with 16 teams in each of those conferences.
  • Football will drive the alliances and the affinity; basketball and the other sports may follow along or may create single-sport alliances.  The big money comes from college football, and it will be the big money that calls the tune.
  • The football-driven realignments will be virtually independent from the NCAA.  Whatever oversight the “major conferences” set up for themselves will take care of college football; the NCAA can continue to put on March Madness and presumably can continue to be the “adult in the room” when it comes to college basketball.  But the status of the NCAA will diminish.

Even in a sea of entropy, there can be islands of order and stability.  [Aside:  A thermodynamicist will tell  you that the end of time will be the entropy death of the universe where all energy has been degraded to heat energy and the temperature of the universe approaches absolute zero.]  For college athletics, the islands of stability for the next decade or so will be in Division 1-AA and Divisions II and III.  I will go out on a limb here and predict that you will not see any action by the Patriot League to poach a team or two from the Ivy League – – or vice-versa.

I have advocated for years that schools and their athletic departments should be divorced from each other.  Particularly in football and basketball, it would make sense for the model to be a “minor league/feeder league” for the professional leagues where revenues and cooperative agreements with the pro leagues pay the freight.  The minor sports – in the sense of revenue production – would become more minor and play more on a regional basis where cost control is dominant.  Those minor sports may reside under the “supervision” of the schools or the separated athletic departments; I have no strong preference there.

That solution is logical and pragmatic – – meaning it will never make it to any meeting agenda where the future of intercollegiate athletics will be discussed.

Finally, I mentioned above a positive view of “Hope” by Alexander Pope, so let me close with a darker view offered up by the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.”

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

 

 

Some Of This And Some Of That..

I think there has been too much discussion about and dissection of the motivations involved in Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the women’s team gymnastics competition at the Olympics.  Simone Biles is not obligated to participate in any event; she competes because she is competent enough at her skill to be worthy of Olympic competition and she competes for whatever internal forces drive her.  As far as I am concerned, that says it all.  Therefore, if she chooses to withdraw from an event, the decision is hers and ought not be subject to scrutiny – – unless someone believes somehow that the withdrawal involved some sort of criminal or heinous action.

Simone Biles has earned her position and her recognition within her sport by her performance(s) over the years.  She does not owe anyone an “explanation” for her decision(s); she is an adult and a very competent adult.  I will not criticize, speculate on or prognosticate about why she chose to do what she did.  If she ever feels like telling the world about her thinking that led to her action here, I will be an interested listener.

The Tour de France is over; and it was won by a Slovenian rider, Tadej Pogačar.  This is the second year in a row that he has won the race and joins a list of 13 riders who have won the race in successive years.  The first Tour de France was in 1903 and the only years that did not have a race were the years when Europe was involved in two World Wars.

Congratulations are in order for Tadej Pogačar.

I know that times change and that people change their minds and their priorities, but sometimes the changes are so stark that it makes me wonder how sincere they were in previous stances taken.  For years, the NFL was opposed to gambling on NFL games – – notwithstanding the fact that betting on NFL games helped to fuel the sports’ rise to prominence/dominance in America.  Commissioners testified passionately before Congressional committees about the assault on the integrity of the games and the league itself posed by “gambling interests”.

In 2015, the NFL called a halt to a Fantasy Football Convention scheduled to be held in a Las Vegas casino that was to be headlined by Tony Romo and would have involved about 100 other NFL players.  Fantasy Football was OK with the league; remember at the time there was an actual debate ongoing about whether Fantasy Football was gambling or not.  [Aside:  It was gambling then, and it is gambling now.]  Here is what the NFL said at the time about this event:

“Players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances at or in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos.”

A mere six years ago, players or coaches or GMs or scouts could be fined or suspended for taking part in a promotional event sponsored by a casino.  Here we are in 2021 and this is the state of play for the NFL:

  • Caesars Entertainment – – owner of places like Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, Lady Luck Casino, Horseshoe Casino – Baltimore, Bally’s, The Flamingo, Paris Las Vegas, Rio, Planet Hollywood, Circus Circus and you get the idea – – just bought naming rights for the New Orleans Saints’ stadium for $138M over the next 20 years.

If that “change of thinking” over a meager 6-year stretch of time does not bring your thinking up short, let me just remind you of an old street adage:

“Money talks and bulls[p]it walks…”

The “NFL Insiders” would have had us believe about 6 months ago that Russell Wilson would never play for the Seahawks again and that DeShaun Watson would sit out if the Texans did not trade him.  [Aside:  To be fair, those “Insiders” were pontificating before any of the myriad sexual harassment/assault allegations against Watson materialized.]  Nonetheless, Wilson remains in Seattle; Watson is being shopped around without takers by Houston and that brings me to Aaron Rodgers who was supposedly never going to play for the Packers ever, ever…

If we are to believe the latest soothsaying regarding the Aaron Rodgers/Green Bay Packers “disconnect”, Rodgers is about to report to training camp on time and will play QB for the Packers in 2021.  At the end of the season, the team will “reconsider his position with the team” – – whatever the Hell that might mean – – and thereby facilitate his departure from Green Bay to somewhere else in the NFL.

If indeed this is a correct assessment of the state of play, all the reporters who were positive that Rodgers would never again suit up in the Green-and-Gold were dead wrong.  If indeed this is a correct assessment, all the reporters who had “sources” telling them that Rodgers would sit out the year were dead wrong.  And even if these latest reports are totally correct about the 2021 season, there are still some details hanging out there to dry such as:

  • After Rodgers plays for the Packers this season, the team will deal with him in a way that allows him to play elsewhere.  What does that mean?  He is under contract until the end of 2023 with the Packers.  Has the team agreed to release him for nothing, or have they agreed to find a way to trade him to a place where he wants to play?
  • The “next team” to get Rodgers would get a Hall of Fame caliber QB along with Hall of Fame caliber passive-aggressive behaviors.  What is that worth on the trade market?  Aaron Rodgers is 38 years old; he is not a “kid”; his passive-aggressiveness is not a phase he will “grow out of”.

Let me put an unsensational and a totally uninvested perspective on all this:

  • Until and unless I know the fine-grained details of what the Packers and Rodgers have agreed to as a way to handle the next NFL offseason, I will not pretend to be able to project what is likely to happen.  My guess is that both sides will keep much of those details under wraps meaning that most of the “reporting” over the next 4 months or so will be a lot closer to “speculation” than it is to “reporting”.
  • One fact remains inviolate until I read a credible report that it has been changed by Rodgers and the Packers.  Aaron Rodgers is under contract to play NFL football for the Green Bay Packers – – and no other team – – through the end of the 2023 season.  He may want out of Green Bay to play elsewhere – – but he cannot trade himself to any other team.  That contractual “fact” must change if Rodgers is to “take his talents” elsewhere; and it is logical to ask what the Packers might want to receive in exchange for their part in altering that “fact”.

Finally, since I dealt with issues related to gambling above, let me close with this pronouncement by the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw:

“Gambling promises the poor what property performs for the rich:  that is fundamentally why the bishops dare not denounce it fundamentally.”

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

 

 

A Day Of Frustration …

The MLB team in Cleveland will assume a new name starting in 2022.  I never agreed that the name “Indians” was racist, but I could see clearly how the tam mascot, Chief Wahoo, was seriously offensive to many Native Americans.  So, the team set out on a 2-year quest to find a new name.  In its press releases along the way, the team said it had considered 1200 possible names.  Now, if that statement is true, I have a question:

  • How did  you wind up with a team name as lame as the Cleveland Guardians?

Seriously, if I woke you up from a dead sleep at 2:00 AM and asked  you to give me all your free association thoughts that go with “Cleveland”, would you have gotten to “Guardians” any time before 6:00 AM?  The explanation offered is that the team is named in alignment with 4 large statues on a bridge in Cleveland and the statues are known collectively as the “Guardians of Traffic”.  It took almost 2 years and 1199 other possible names to come up with that.  Well, OK then…

There will be a test next season to see if anyone in the MLB scheduling department has even a shred of a sense of humor.  Clearly, the Guardians should open the season at home; Opening Day with the new team name and the new logo should be a big deal.  And MLB can contribute to the upbeat feeling if it schedules the Angels to be the opponents that day.  It would be the Guardians versus the Angels.

Complicating matters for the moment is the fact that Cleveland Guardians is already an amateur roller derby team in the city.  I have to believe that an amateur roller derby team could be induced to sell that team name to the MLB team for an amount of money that would be pocket change to the baseball team and manna from Heaven to the roller derby team.  Nevertheless, stay tuned…

The Tokyo Olympics are in progress and the viewing of the events on the myriad NBC “platforms” is about as inconvenient as can be.  Meanwhile, there was an announcement from the IOC that has gotten only marginal reporting and commentary:

  • The Summer Games for 2032 have been awarded to Brisbane, Australia.

I have spent 3 weeks in Australia but none of that time was spent in Brisbane.  However, let me relate a story from that trip.  We had an excellent trip leader for those three weeks and as we were having a glass of wine to say goodbye to him, I said that I would like to come back to Australia one day to see three cities that we had missed on this trip – – Perth, Darwin and Brisbane.  Matt – our trip leader – looked at me quizzically and asked:

“Why would anyone want to go to Brizzy?”

According to the IOC and officials in “Brizzy”, the cost of staging the Summer Games there is expected to be $3.2B.  Anyone who believes that also believes that an outpatient is someone who fainted in a doctor’s waiting room.  The Tokyo Olympics running now were “budgeted” at $7.5B and when the final tally is done thoroughly, the cost is going to be closer to $20B than it is to $15B.  Remember, Tokyo already had some of the facilities needed to stage these Games and it ran up costs that will be more than double the estimated cost plus the original budget was already twice as much as the announced figure for Brisbane.

Brisbane will be the third city in Australia to host the Summer Games.  Melbourne was the host city in 1956 and Sydney was the host city in 2000.

  • Quick Quiz:  No Googling or Binging…  Other than Australia, only the US has hosted the summer Games in 3 different cities.  Name the three US cities that have hosted the summer Games?
  • The answer is below…

I mentioned above that the TV viewing for the Olympics this year is inconvenient.  I understand that the inconvenience is caused by the fact that there is a 13-hour time difference between my locale and the Game venue.  [Aside:  Just so you know, the time difference for those Brisbane Games in 2032 will be 14 hours.]  But the “inconvenience of the hour” is only the beginning of the overall inconvenience:

  • There is an innumerable quantity of ads – – and these are not simple little 10-second ads saying that this isolation camera shot is presented by National Veeblefetzer.  These ads seem to have the same duration as the break in an NFL game to give you the 2-minute warning.
  • There is no pace or rhythm to the coverage I have tried to watch.  The program keeps jumping from an event to a sidebar story to a bunch of studio talking heads and back to an event seemingly at the whim of someone in a control booth somewhere.
  • So far, I have tried to get involved with events in sports that I like to watch – – such as basketball, soccer and some of the track and field events.  If I am feeling inconvenienced/frustrated by the presentation of those events, can it be any wonder that I am not excited to tune in to see a sport that I do not care about such as skateboarding, rhythmic gymnastics or kayaking?

Answer to the Quick Quiz above:

  1. Los Angeles (1932, 1984, 2028) and
  2. Atlanta (1996) and
  3. St. Louis (1904).

Finally, since golf is part of the ongoing Olympic Games this year, let me close with this view of golf expressed by H. L. Mencken:

“If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States.”

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

 

 

SEC Expansion …???

I have two things to chat about today, and I think the one that has the potential to be the biggest long-term story is that Texas and Oklahoma have taken the first steps necessary for the two schools to leave the Big-12 Conference.  There are reports that the other schools in the conference are working on ways to retain Texas and OU, but the way I read things, this is the situation:

  • If 11 of the 14 current SEC schools vote to admit Texas and OU, that is where they will go voluntarily.
  • If 11 of the 14 current SEC schools do not vote to admit Texas and OU, there are going to be some extremely hard feelings to overcome in Big-12 country.

So, what might become of the rest of the Big-12 when – I think it is going to happen – Texas and OU depart for the SEC?  Are the other Power 5 Conferences ready to expand and scoop up any of the remaining Big-12 teams?  This is totally off the top of my head, and I have only thought about Power 5 Conference moves; in games of musical chairs, some folks never find a seat:

  • Baylor:  Maybe the PAC-12 but nowhere else
  • Iowa St.:  Big 10 is the only one that makes sense
  • Kansas:  Nowhere; the program needs to be downgraded not promoted
  • K- State:  Geographically, the Big-10 but not a real fit anywhere
  • OK St.:  Nothing sensible comes to mind
  • TCU:  PAC-12 fits
  • Texas Tech:  PAC-12 or nothing
  • W. Virginia: ACC makes more sense than Big -12 did.

The other important item on the menu for today is the NFL very pointedly – and yet subtly – taking a pro-vaccination position.  The NFL announcement that it would not be nearly so accommodating to rescheduling for teams that suffered COVID outbreaks this year had a couple of barbs in the message:

  • This year, there will be forfeits if rescheduling is difficult.  Forfeits not only mean a loss for the affected team but it also means – according to the CBA – the loss of a game check for ALL players on BOTH teams.  A game check is 1/17th of the contract value for the year – not counting things like roster bonuses and workout bonuses.  So, if a player’s base salary is $2M, a forfeit will cost him about $118K in lost wages.  Think that might ramp up a bit of “peer pressure”?
  • Getting down to final cuts and deciding on who the fifth wideout or the seventh defensive lineman will be, might coaches give the nod to a vaccinated player as opposed to a vaccine resistor?  Remember the old saying that the most important “ability” in the NFL is availability…

There appear to be – already – some coaching changes being effected by teams in light of the new stance by the league.  The Vikings and Rick Dennison – who was their offensive line coach and running game coordinator – have “gone in different directions”.  Dennison had not been vaccinated; reports say he was offered the vaccine and refused to take it; he is no longer with the team.  No one is saying he was fired for that refusal – – but no one is denying it either.  I went to look up Dennison’s history as a coach and found:

  • He has been an NFL assistant for 26 seasons
  • He has been with teams that made the playoffs 13 times.
  • He has been with teams that won their division 5 times.
  • He has been with teams that won 3 Super Bowls

In a similar situation, the New England Patriots and Cole Popovich have parted ways.  Popovich had been with the Pats since 2016 in a variety of assistant coaching positions and this year would have been his second as the co-offensive line coach.  Even prior to the recent announcement by the NFL regarding game forfeits, the league sent a notice to all teams that all “Tier1 staff are required to get the vaccine in order to be on the field, in meeting rooms, or have any direct interactions with players”.   “Tier 1 staff” is defined as:

  • Coaches
  • Front office execs
  • Equipment managers
  • Trainers
  • Scouts

The NFL edict had an out for unvaccinated Tier 1 staff in the case that they provided a valid medical or religious reason for not taking the vaccine.  With training came about to begin, unvaccinated people in those “Tier 1 positions” become significantly less valuable to the teams.

Finally, since much of the current vaccination debate devolves to principles, let me close today with this observation by Oscar Wilde:

“I like persons better than principles and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”

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

 

 

Let The Games Begin…

Well, today is the start of what were supposed to be the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.  COVID-19 stands out as an example of how even the most meticulous plans can be thwarted.  The Japanese Organizing Committee began planning for these Games more than 10 years ago when they began to pull together the Japanese bid to the IOC.  All the reports from last year said that the folks in Tokyo were ahead of schedule in terms of construction and housing and protocols for the sporting events – – and then all of that planning and execution went down the drain about 5 months before the Opening Ceremony when a “novel coronavirus” made itself known on the planet.

The Games will start today and while there will be athletic drama in the events and while there will be concocted drama created by TV networks as they present the games to the world, these Games will look and feel different.  The coronavirus is still spreading in Japan and the government there – not the IOC or the Organizing Committee – has declared a state of emergency meaning that there are government rules and protocols in existence that add onto any and all of the procedures that the Olympic officials had put in place for these Games.

  • There will be no spectators.
  • The movement of athletes from housing to venues will be strictly regimented.
  • Volunteers’ interactions with athletes will be regimented.
  • Visitors – athletes, trainers etc. – will not be allowed to take any form of public transit.

Nonetheless, the expectation is that approximately 11,000 athletes from around the world are expected to be in Tokyo to participate in these Games.  For sports fans who have been watching their favorite sports on TV for the last year, the fans will notice that the Olympians will have learned from successful techniques employed by those other sports:

  • Mask wearing – except for athletes during their competitions
  • Interviews at a distance

It may “look the same” to folks at home but there must be a different vibe for the athletes and for the people in Tokyo.  One aspect of the original plans for these Games – from a decade ago – was to provide citizens of Tokyo and visitors without tickets public venues where the events could be watched on giant screens.  That is not going to happen in 2021 under a government mandated state of emergency.

Barring another problematic and unforeseen intervention – say an invasion of space aliens – these Games will conclude on 8 August.  All that is left for the organizers and the government officials to do is to navigate the next 16 days calmly, efficiently and effectively.  Easy for me to say…

One of the things I will have in mind as I watch various Olympic events that in the US, many Olympic sports use college competitions as part of the “training ground” for athletes.  In 2020, many of the collegiate competitions in those sports did not happen; so, I will be looking to see how that affects the performance of US athletes in things like track and field, wrestling, fencing, swimming, etc.

Switching gears…  Starting in March 2022, the USFL plans to return to the menu of sporting endeavors in the US.  The USFL was a Spring football league that survived for 3 seasons back in the 1980s and organizers hope to use that success to launch this rebirth.  Back in the 1980s, the USFL aspired to become a co-equal with the NFL as a purveyor of football to the public.  It appears that the new league’s aspirations are more modest; it appears that the reincarnated USFL has two objectives:

  1. Stay economically viable  [The league has a TV deal with FOX which is a plus.]
  2. Exist as a feeder league/minor league for the NFL.

In recent years, we have seen the AAF – the Alliance of American Football – try to achieve those same objectives and fail.  And last year we saw the relaunch of XFL 2.0 that succumbed to the “novel coronavirus”.  Now we can look forward to a differently structured USFL next year and then – theoretically – a restart for XFL 3.0 with its new owners in the Spring of 2023.  Where those new leagues are going to find enough players, who can put out a product that will be watchable remains to be seen.  Yes, there are plenty of people out there who play football and who obviously like to play football; but just as an example, games equivalent to Ivy League football are not going to sell on TV on a weekly basis.  This will be interesting to watch…

In case you think the continued viability of Spring football leagues is problematic, let me tell you now that a professional golf league could also try to become part of the sporting cosmos in 2023.  The Premier Golf League has the backing of “Saudi interests” and Phil Mickelson said that he was “intrigued” by the idea.  Other recognized golfers such as Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson have expressed similar feelings.  Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the idea:

  • The League would have 48 players assembled in 12 teams of 4 players each.  [Aside: What happens if a player is hurt and cannot play in a match?  Is there a league-wide taxi squad?]
  • The League would play 18 matches a year from January to September.  Ten matches would be in the US and the other 8 would be elsewhere in the world.
  • Matches would be 54 holes long with no cut line.  One of the foundation points for the League is that the best players should be seen playing as often as possible so having a cut line simply eliminates good players from public view.
  • Total prize money is theoretically going to be about $240M.  Where the revenues to cover that and other expenses will come from remains “cloudy”?

If this sounds like a bit of “pie in the sky”, consider also that the PGA Tour does not take kindly to the idea of the Premier League.  The PGA Tour has hinted strongly that a player who takes part in the Premier League would be exiled from the PGA Tour.  That fact alone tells me that the folks who run the PGA Tour see something in the Premier League that needs to be squashed like a bug.  Stay tuned…

Finally, since much of the stuff covered today has TV money as part of its backdrop, let me close with this observation by NY Times theater critic, Clive Barnes:

“Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want.  The most terrifying thing is what the people want.”

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

 

 

Congratulations To The Milwaukee Bucks

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks as the NBA Champions.  I must say that after the first two games in this playoff series, I thought the Bucks were going to be swept; I did not think they would win a game let alone win 4 in a row.  Giannis Antetokounmpo was deservedly the MVP of the series but take your hat off the Jrue Holiday too; he stepped up his defensive game significantly as the series wore on.

Next …  Maria Taylor presumably ended the feud with Rachel Nichols when Taylor jumped ship at ESPN to sign on with NBC.I wonder just how many viewers EPSN will lose because of that contractual signing and how many of those “lost viewers” will show up in front of TVs to watch NBC Sports?  My guess is a trivially small number.  Let me say this again about this tempest in a teapot:

  • Neither Nichols nor Taylor is good enough as a studio host to get me to circle either of their shows on my calendar so I can be sure to tune in.
  • As sideline reporters, they are equally good or bad depending on your preferences, but do you EVER make a sports viewing decision based on who the sideline reporter is going to be?
  • The time has come to move on and let this feud recede into dim memory.

Speaking of NBC Sports – sort of – I read a report that said NBC has already sold out 85% of the advertising slot inventory for the Super Bowl next February.  NBC has already collected a float in excess of $1.5B from these advance sales.  According to Adweek  this is the largest advance inventory sale of its kind.

According to Adweek, NBC asked and got $6M for a 30-second slot during the game.  That represents a 9% increase over the cost of an ad sort in last year’s game.  I think it is important to take note of these record sales considering data that indicates NFL viewership was down last year.

  • Regular-season viewership dropped 7% to 15.4 million fans for live or same-day viewers.  That is the lowest average audience since 2017, according to Nielsen.
  • Last year’s Super Bowl between the Bucs and the Chiefs only attracted 96.4 million viewers — the lowest since 2007.
  • Notwithstanding that “bad news”, NFL games are the highest rated show on all 5 of the networks that carry those games in the US – – CBS, ESPN, FOX. NBC and the NFL Network

According to reports, a baseball team in the Appalachian League has disbanded after one of the players made terroristic threats on social media against his teammates.  Let me just say that camaraderie was not in great abundance here.  After the player made some threats, he was banned from the premises by management and that they had local police on the scene “just in case”.  That is when the player took to making his threats on social media saying things like”

  • “Columbine 2.0” – – and
  • “They took my life, I’ll take theirs.”

The team that has disbanded is the Kingsport Axmen.  The Appalachian League is a summer league for players not affiliated with MLB or MiLB teams.  Management for the Axmen are in the process of signing a new team – they will be called the Road Warriors – because they will fulfill the away games left on the Axmen’s schedule.

According to the report, the player who made these threats is “now under the care of medical professionals”.  I should hope so…

Here are two comments from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Over it: In a roundabout way, baseball’s mid-summer showcase reminded me that the novelty of MLB’s daily interleague play has worn very thin.

And …

Gotta man up: For this season, unlike last, if a college football team can’t post for a game because of a COVID outbreak in its locker room, it should lose by forfeit. There are no excuses anymore.”

With regard to the first observation, I agree that the proliferation of interleague games from April to October has taken a lot away from the “specialness” of the All-Star Game.  My problem here is that the cure might be worse than the disease.  To return to the limited interleague windows, MLB would need an even number of teams in both leagues.  That leads to two possible situations:

  • Sixteen teams in one league and fourteen teams in the other.  I think this is the better alternative.
  • MLB expands by 2 teams so that there would be sixteen teams in each league.    Here is my problem with that.  A team’s pitching staff usually has 12 pitchers; if MLB expands, that will open roster slots for 24 minor league pitchers.  I think that is a bad idea.

About the second observation, I could not agree more.  And I do not care if one of the elite teams has to be the one to forfeit a game and ruins its chances for the CFP.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close with this observation from English playwright, Noel Coward:

“People are wrong when they say that the opera isn’t what it used to be.  It is what it used to be.  That’s what’s wrong with it.”

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

 

 

Privilege And Lack Of Civility

As an old white guy who is happily retired, I fit into several categories that are considered “privileged” these days by some of today’s social justice warriors.  I prefer to think that a bit of hard work, a few functioning synapses and some beneficial actions/choices on my part had at least something to do with my arrival at a very good place in my life, but that is not the debate I want to have today.  Rather, I simply want to point out that there is a “privilege” out there that is color-blind and gender-neutral.  It is the “privilege” of being rich and famous – – and by the way, neither adjective applies to me.

Richard Sherman is indeed rich and famous.  As noted last week, Richard Sherman was arrested in Seattle and charged with 5 offenses that included inter alia DUI, destruction of property, attempted forced entry into a home, threatening to kill his in-laws and himself.  After an evening in the hoosegow as was required by the law in the State of Washington, Sherman appeared before a judge where:

  • All felony charges were reduced to misdemeanor charges (a significant benefit) and …
  • He was released without bail – – not that he could not have posted bail  (a minor benefit) and…
  • He was called a “pillar of the community” by the judge.

I am a male, and I am Caucasian; but if I were in front of a judge about 24 hours after being arrested on those same 5 charges, I doubt I would have gotten those same benefits and I know I would not have been called a “pillar of the community”.  Any privilege I may or may not have does not extend to that circumstance.

This is not intended in any way to cast aspersions on Richard Sherman or to conclude that he is guilty of any or all those charges; this simply is an example of “privilege on account of fame” that is sometimes decried by celebrities who do not acknowledge their own “privileged status”.

Moving on…  I am sure you have read or heard about the fan at Yankee Stadium who threw a ball out of the stands at Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo and hit him with the throw.  That caused a minor uproar during the game as it should have, and that fan has now been banned for life from every MLB stadium.  That is a harsh penalty indeed, but that is the sort of behavior that cannot be allowed to stand without sanction such that it fosters an even more egregious event down the road.  The fundamental problem is that fan misbehavior is becoming more common and becoming more aggressive/dangerous.  Throwing a baseball at someone is hardly the same as taunting a player for the other team or even calling him some sort of demeaning name; a baseball in flight is far more akin to a weapon than to an accosting.

Launching objects at players – or coaches or referees for that matter – cannot continue to escalate.  Forget an exhaustive search on the Internet, the following comes from memory as examples of the problem(s) here:

  • A couple of years ago, a child sitting in a courtside seat actually reached out and tried to grab Russell Westbrook in a OKC Thunder game.  Westbrook merely told the child’s parent – in no uncertain terms – that was unacceptable.
  • There was an NHL game where a fan tried to reach into and engage an NHL penalty box where an opposing player was “serving time”.  Another example of unacceptable behavior …
  • Fan-on-fan violence gets out of hand too.  The Dodgers/Giants rivalry is longstanding and intense – – but it should not cost any fan his life as it has in the past.

When I was a kid and went to a sporting event, the line for “outrageous fan behavior” went something like this:

  • You could tell an opposing player that he stunk – – but you must not make any comment about his mother.
  • You could tell an opposing player that he was lucky to have achieved what he just did – – but your most threatening gesture would be to point to him or if you were really upset you might flip him the bird.

When did it become acceptable to pour beer on an opposing player?  Who decided that racial epithets and/or indelicate comments about a player’s wife, sister or mother were de rigueur?  More importantly, how do we stop that kind of nonsense and get back to a time where fan passion stopped short of outright aggression?

Perhaps, a major contributor to the current problem is the amount of beer served at sporting events today.  Back when I was a kid, they sold no beer at the ballpark or in the arenas; sure, some people smuggled in a flask and spiked the soda that they purchased, but at least 90% of the crowd could have passed a random breathalyzer test from the start to the finish of the ongoing game.  That is not nearly the case today – – and it has not been nearly the case for quite a while.  It has been about 25 years since the infamous event at the Vet in Philly where someone who was clearly inebriated fired a flare rocket across the field during an Eagles/Giants game and – fortuitously – missed everyone in the stands on the other side of the field.  [Aside:  That incident obviously preceded the days of “stop and frisk” for any and all fans entering a stadium.]

I am acutely aware that coincidence is different from causality; my scientific education made sure of that.  However, it is interesting to note that it did not take much time between the firing of the flare rocket in the Vet and the establishment of the “Eagles’ drunk court” in the bowels of that stadium.  Judge Seamus McCaffrey presided over those proceedings and plenty of folks were called to task and remediated for their public intoxication to the point where no more flare rockets were fired during Eagles’ games at the Vet.  [Aside:  Judge McCaffrey’s career went from adjudicating drunks at the Vet to his being seated on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  Even though I am not a lawyer, that has to be recognized as a giant step up for his career.]

I remember from those days of “Eagles’ drunk court” that some folks were outraged that highly inebriated folks were being tried while being “less than fully aware of their rights”.  I also recall Judge McCaffrey saying in an interview that they took pains to keep the folks accused of being “over-served” in isolation until they were sufficiently able to participate in the judicial events.  There was more than a court and a holding cell in the Vet; there was a place for the public defenders’ office reps to hang in there waiting for clients.

Maybe the answer is for more game venues – – MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA – – to have proceedings akin to “Eagles’ drunk court” and for there to be a few more Judge McCaffreys to take back the game venues from “fans acting like assholes” to a point of “civility”?  For one, I would not object…

Finally, since much of today’s rant deals with justice – – obliquely – – let me close with this observation from comedian, Lenny Bruce:

“In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.”

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

 

 

Odds And Ends…

Last night, my long-suffering wife and I ventured up the road a piece to Altoona, PA to take in a AA baseball game between the Altoona Curve (Pirates affiliate) and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets and Tigers affiliate).  Lest anyone ask, I do not know the difference between a rumble pony, a show pony and/or a Shetland pony.  According to the team media guide, the name was changed in 2016 to the Rumble Ponies to “reflect Binghamton’s standing as the ‘Carousel Capital of the World’”.  Who knew…?

Binghamton won last night 4-3 rallying for 3 runs in the 8th inning against a relief pitcher who looked terrible.  Two players for the Rumble Ponies played very well last night:

  • Nick Meyer looked excellent on defense as a catcher, and he has a strong arm.
  • Luis Carpio made two excellent defensive plays at third base; he also had two hits and is fast.  Most MLB teams look for power hitting at third base and Carpio is a “little guy”; he may need to hit the weight room to make it at third base in the majors.

One more item from last night: The game took 2 hours and 36 minutes.  There was a 15-second pitch clock when no runners were on base.  The game moved along smartly; when MLB and the MLBPA lock horns over the next CBA, they should agree on a pitch clock for the majors.

Moving on, I read a report early this week that there were going to be changes in rugby matches played at The Aviva stadium in Dublin.  That is where my son, daughter-in-law and grandson live and that is the stadium where I saw my only live international rugby game, so I sent a note asking if this announcement portended good or evil.  Here is the response from #1 son:

“This is like a stadium in the US switching from Anheuser-Busch to Miller.”

Moving on …  On Wednesday of this week, I got an email from a former colleague that I filed away to use on a “rainy day”.  Here is the pertinent part of that note:

“Mitchell Trubisky got married on July 3rd.  Now we know he completed at least one pass in his life.”

[Aside:  Yes, my friend is a Green Bay Packers’ fan…]

I had planned to “respond” here by wondering if the ceremony included a reception.  But for now, just recall that the marriage was on July 3rd because that date was not completely celebratory for every NFL QB and his marital status.

Dwayne Haskins and his wife were in Las Vegas on July 3rd to renew their wedding vows.  According to reports, they were married last March; most married couples wait a tad longer than that to renew their vows but too each his own.  That Vegas visit ended poorly for Haskins family; he lost a tooth when his wife allegedly hit him during an argument, and she was subsequently arrested and charged with domestic violence.  According to the report in the NY Post, the argument arose over a dispute about plans for the evening; Haskins and his friends went to a night club without waiting for his wife and her friends.

One report I read said that Haskins would “require surgery” to repair the damage done in the course of this incident.  The Steelers’ training camp starts in less than two weeks and Haskins needs to demonstrate an uptick in his talent, his maturity and his leadership to make the team in a backup QB role.  Somehow, I do not think this recent incident is a plus for his career.

Mentioning Las Vegas in the item above provides a segue to reports that officials from the Oakland A’s have now paid three visits to Las Vegas looking for possible stadium sites there.  The A’s desperately need a new stadium; the powers that be in Oakland and in Alameda County are not amenable to funding a new playpen; the A’s want to build a stadium and to develop the land around it at a site on the waterfront in Oakland but the infrastructure costs for that site are estimated to be at least $1B; the local officials have not shown any interest in that idea.

Hence the team’s looking around for another place to play their home games.  The most recent information is that the team and the officials in Nevada have identified two sites in Henderson, NV.  For those who have not been to that part of the world, Henderson is the moral equivalent of a Las Vegas suburb just southeast of the city.  Reports say that the aim of these visits is to find the right place to put a 30,000-seat baseball stadium that would cost $1B or so.

Is this just a power play to nudge the pols in Oakland to shift their position?  Sadly, Miss Cleo is not around to tell us how all of this will play out, but the fact remains that the A’s facility in Oakland as of 2021 is a mess.  Even the little minor league park in Altoona I visited last night does not have random sewage backups in the clubhouse and dugout areas.

If you are interested in the scope of the research here and the various actors in this potential move to Las Vegas, you can catch up with this report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Finally, having mentioned two NFL QBs in their role as husbands above, let me close with this observation from French writer, Honoré de Balzac:

“The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.”

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

 

 

More Athlete/Police Interactions

The NFL as an entity has found ways to provide newsworthy subjects for journalists and commentators throughout almost the entire year.  Consider:

  • The regular season
  • The playoffs
  • Coaches fired and coaches hired
  • The Super Bowl
  • Free Agency (sort of) in February/Free Agency (really) in March
  • The Draft – with Mock Drafts and Trade Rumors
  • OTAs and Minicamp
  • Training Camp and the final rosters…

There is one hole in the calendar; it resides between the end of minicamp and the beginning of training camp; we are in the middle of that hole in the calendar.  There is no natural NFL storyline in here and we all know that Mother Nature abhors a vacuum.  So, this year that vacuum seems to be filling up with news about players getting arrested for various alleged transgressions.

A few days ago, Barkevious Mingo was arrested on charges of “indecency with a child involving sexual contact”.  The incident in question supposedly happened 2 years ago when the victim – a boy – was 13 years old.  Here is a link to a report that lays out the charges and the situation that led up to the alleged sexual assault.

The Atlanta Falcons signed Mingo to a contract during this year’s offseason.  When the Falcons learned about the charges here, they released Mingo after only the briefest moment of “gathering information”.  Mingo’s attorneys have chastised the franchise for rushing to judgement because their view of this matter is that Mingo is innocent and that the charges are not much more than a “cash grab” from their client.

Indeed, the Falcons reacted to this situation very quickly.  I do not pretend to be able to read minds, but I believe a significant part of the thinking by the Falcons’ braintrust went something like this:

  • These charges are not anything like the sorts of behaviors that the Falcons’ organization can condone – – or even sit still for.
  • Mingo could be a piece for our defense – – but not anything near “face of the franchise” or “foundation of the defense”.
  • The Falcons would have been Mingo’s seventh team in the last seven seasons; teams have moved on from him quickly in the past.
  • Let us move on too…

I am not saying what the Falcons did here is right and proper, but I do think that sort of logical thinking was part of how the team got to where it is today.

Another player who ran afoul of the gendarmes yesterday is Richard Sherman.  According to this report from yardbarker.com, Sherman is under investigation for a single car hit-and-run violation involving only property damage and was arrested on charges of burglary domestic violence.  Allegedly, he tried to enter forcibly the home of his in-laws who summoned the police and then fought with police once they were on the scene.  A point of clarity here – the domestic violence has to do with his attempted entry to the home and not to any incident of violence against an inhabitant there.

Richard Sherman is a free agent; so, there is no team going through the same sort of calculus that the Falcons probably did regarding Barkevious Mingo.  However, I am convinced that Richard Sherman is on the minds of a variety of entities related to the NFL.  Consider:

  • The Commissioner’s Office may need to decide if what allegedly happened – and more importantly what actually happened – causes Richard Sherman to face sanctions under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.  Could he even wind up on the Commissioner’s Exempt List?
  • The NFLPA Executive Committee has Richard Sherman as one of its members.  Sherman was elected to be a Vice President back in March.  How might the players’ union handle such a situation?
  • Several teams around the NFL must have had Sherman on their radar as a late signee as Training Camp approaches in about 2 weeks.  Consider that Sherman has been named as a first-team All-Pro 3 times and has been selected for the Pro Bowl 5 times in his career.  The reasons that teams may have to sign Sherman just got a bit more complicated by the potential overhang of the events here.

It is unfortunate for Richard Sherman that Al Davis is no longer on this side of the grass.  A veteran free agent with lots of honors in his previous career and now a “bad boy” on top of all that would have been an irresistible commodity for Davis.

Finally, yesterday, I closed with a rather negative view of San Francisco from Ambrose Bierce.  Today, let me offer a less-than-positive view of Chicago from Hunter S. Thompson:

“This vicious, stinking zoo, this mean-grinning, mace-smelling boneyard of a city: an elegant rockpile of a monument to everything cruel and stupid and corrupt in the human spirit.”

[A view not endorsed by the Chicago Chamber of Commerce…]

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

 

 

Happy Bastille Day

On this date, 232 years ago, French peasants stormed the Bastille in Paris marking the start of the French Revolution that overthrew the monarchy there.  On this date, 5 years ago, a guy drove a truck through a crowd of people in Nice who were celebrating Bastille Day.  It is OK to celebrate historical events that are violent, but it is not OK to inflict violence.  I shall try to offer my remarks for the day in the spirit of peace and harmony.

MLB put on its All-Star Game last night.  It was a happenstance instead of a happening.  A quick summary here:

  1. The AL won the game.
  2. The teams wore uniforms made specifically for the All-Star Game.
  3. The uniforms were genuinely ugly.

Moving on …  Back in 2008, the decision makers at the University of Tennessee reacted to a losing record in football by firing head coach, Phillip Fulmer who had been on the job since 1992.  His record at Tennessee was 152-52-1 including an undefeated season in 1998.  That firing began a sequence of coaching hires where the expectations of fans and boosters were never even approximated.  Since 2009, the Vols have gone through 4 head coaches – not counting guys who took over for a fired coach in mid-season – and have a combined record of 73-75.  Phillip Fulmer came back as the AD at Tennessee and hired the last of the procession of coaches that came after he was fired but his time as the AD was less than wonderful.

I mention all that because there is a report from the NBC affiliate in Knoxville that Tennessee has spent more than $650K since last November on a law firm that specializes in “NCAA compliance reviews”.  Tennessee fired its last coach, Jeremy Pruitt, along with two assistants after internal investigations disclosed significant violations of NCAA rules.  [Aside:  If a coach is going to violate NCAA rules to the point that he is fired for cause by a school, he should do better on-field than a 16-19 record.  Just my opinion…]

The $650K billed to the university by the law firm came during the time of the internal investigation and then subsequent to the firing of the coaches by the school.  This matter is probably nowhere near the end because coach Pruitt is contesting his “firing for cause”.  In so doing, Tennessee would not pay Pruitt approximately $12M for the balance of his contract there.  Stay tuned…

If you read a headline somewhere that indicates that a boxer “took a dive” in a fight, you would not be shocked.  If you read a headline somewhere that indicates some “point-shaving” by some college basketball players, you might be mildly surprised.  Those sorts of things have been known to happen in those sports.  However, I was a bit surprised to read a headline at CBSSports.com that read:

Wimbledon 2021: Multiple matches being investigated for fixing, per report

According to this report at least two matches in the tournament are under scrutiny for “several very specific and suspicious bets” that took place on the matches and during the matches.  Here are the descriptions of the matches and the bets from that report:

“… suspicions were raised over a first-round men’s doubles match. There were large bets placed against a favored duo at “irregular times.” The pair ended up winning the first set and that increased the odds that they would be defeated. However, the tandem ended up losing the next three sets.

“The second match allegedly is focused on the opponents of a German player in a singles match. After the second set, there were extremely high bets that were placed on the exact score of the third bets and prop bets surrounding the number of service games. Those bets ended up coming to fruition.”

The report goes on to say that the International Tennis Integrity Agency was doing the investigating here but that it had not released any details of any findings to date.  The most important thing I learned from that portion of the report is that there is something called the International Tennis Integrity Agency.  A quick glance at Wikipedia let me know that these folks appear to be busy indeed.  There are significant numbers of players, officials, coaches and chair umpires who are currently suspended or banned or banned for life.

Speaking of headlines that caught my attention recently, here is another one from CBSSports.com:

Jerry Rice hypes ‘explosive’ 49ers receiver heading into his second season with San Francisco

Naturally, I wanted to know who this “49ers receiver” might be if for no other reason than Jerry Rice thought highly of him.  The player who has impressed Rice is Branden Aiyuk and here is what Rice had to say about him:

“I think he’s going to come in and, you know, with a year under his belt he is going to be a better football player.  His commitment, his route-running; he is very explosive downfield, he can catch the ball underneath, he can do it all.”

Those are nice words to hear from the best WR I ever saw, and I am sure Aiyuk’s agent will be citing those remarks when it comes time for Aiyuk to negotiate his next contract.  At the same time, those words can become a real burden for Branden Aiyuk.  Niners’ fans who experienced the greatness of Jerry Rice close up may take those comments and put similar expectations on Aiyuk.  Even if he is all that Jerry Rice says he is, that is a difficult standard to be measured by.

Finally, having mentioned Jerry Rice and the San Francisco 49ers, let me close with this comment about San Francisco by Ambrose Bierce who was the author of The Devil’s Dictionary:

“I’d never set foot in San Francisco.  Of all the Sodoms and Gomorrahs in our modern world, it is the worst.  It needs another quake, another whiff of fire – and- more than all else, a steady trade wind of grapeshot.  That moral penal colony of the world.”

[Statement not endorsed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.]

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