The NFL 2019 Regular Season Schedule

The NFL has released the 2019 regular season schedule with far more fanfare and hullabaloo that it merits.  However, it was a relatively slow news week in sports; so, the announcement was a welcome one.  I will not pretend to have pondered the context of every one of the 256 regular season games, but I do like to check the schedule every year to look for specific games and/or specific stretches of the season that might be particularly interesting to watch come the Fall.

Several commentators have tried to construct an argument that certain teams were ”screwed over” by the league’s scheduling department.  For the most part, those arguments are warmed over balderdash; the NFL schedule is formulaic and not whimsical.  Having said that, I do think that 3 teams have a sub-optimal segment in their schedule:

  1. Arizona Cardinals: As if the team with the first overall pick in the Draft does not have enough to overcome in 2019, the Cards will end their season with 5 games that look to be brutal.  They finish up with the Rams, the Steelers, the Browns, at the Seahawks and at the Rams.  Unless you believe that the Browns are horribly over-hyped and that the Steelers are about to implode, that is a bad way to have to end the season.
  2. SF 49ers:  They open the season with 2 road games – never optimal – and both of those games are in the Eastern Time Zone – ouch.  Then, after the third game of the season, the Niners get the earliest possible Bye Week – another scheduling aspect that is sub-optimal.
  3. Tampa Bay Bucs:  They have two tough road games – – at the Rams and at the Saints – – before they have a “home game” in London.  Oh swell…

I don’t remember where I saw this, so I cannot cite it properly here, but someone noticed that the Falcons will start the season by playing their first 9 games in domed stadiums.  True, some have retractable roofs that might be open on a nice Fall day, but it is also possible that all 9 games will be indoors.  In addition to 4 home games in their domed stadium in Atlanta, the Falcons will travel to Minneapolis, Indy, Houston, Arizona and New Orleans before playing the Panthers in Charlotte in what will surely be an outdoor game in November

What I look for most carefully when perusing the NFL schedule are those games that appear to be the “Game of the Week” throughout the season.  In reality, the “Game of the Week” is determined by how well – or how poorly – teams do once the season starts, but the pre-season view highlights a few games that need to be remembered as the season unfolds.  Here are some that look interesting to me:

  • Week 2:  Saints at Rams … After the way the playoff game between these teams ended in January, I suspect that both teams will be highly focused for this encounter.
  • Week 5:  Bears vs Raiders in London … This game gives Khalil Mack his first shot at the team that traded him away.  Could be interesting…
  • Week 7:  Ravens at Seahawks…  Earl Thomas left Seattle in less than good health – he was carted off the field – and in less than a good mood – he flipped off the Seahawks bench as he was being carted off the field.  Now he plays for the Ravens and this is his return game to Seattle…
  • Week 8:  Skins at Vikes…  Two years ago, Case Keenum led the Vikes to the playoffs and Kirk Cousins was toiling under the onerous franchise tag in DC.  Now Cousins is a highly paid QB for the Vikes and Keenum is hoping to be the Skins’ starting QB.  Interesting storyline even if the game might not be so interesting…
  • Week 8: Packers at Chiefs…  Aaron Rodgers visits Patrick Mahomes.  I like the OVER here…  Oh, and everyone will get to see this game because it is going to be the Sunday Night Game so the Skins/Vikes game can be the diurnal “Game of the Week” and this one can be the nocturnal “Game of the Week”…
  • Week 11:  Pats at Eagles…  It is a year removed from the Super Bowl matchup in Feb 2018, but there might be an edge to the game.  Also, it is late in the season and both teams figure to be contending for playoff slots…
  • Week 13:  Browns at Steelers…  Are the Browns for real?  Are the Steelers coming apart at the seams?  By this point in the season we might have some answers to those questions and assuming the Steelers find ways to “keep it together”, this late season game in Pittsburgh will be a measuring stick for how far the Browns have come on the path from laughingstock to respectability…
  • Week 14:  Chiefs at Pats…  A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game that went to OT in KC.  What else is there to say about the potential excitement for this game late in the regular season?
  • Week 15:  Jags at Raiders…  Barring some major delay in the Las Vegas Stadium construction, this will be the final game for the Raiders in Oakland.  That could be an ugly scene – – very ugly…
  • Week 16:  Steelers at Jets…  LeVeon Bell gets to renew his acquaintances with his former teammates from Pittsburgh days…

The 2 games during the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day are not so grand.  The Lions and Bears open the festivities.  Yes, this is a division game; but it appears from here that the Bears will be serious playoff contenders and the Lions will be – – well – – the Lions.  Later, the Cowboys will host the Bills in a game that has about the same rivalry history as the one between the University of Idaho and the University of South Carolina.  The evening game on Thanksgiving will be the star of the show; the Saints will visit the Falcons in a game between two division rivals both of whom should be good.

Finally, this comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times harkens back to last year’s Monday Night Football telecasts:

“ABC-TV is slated to air a 10-episode series on mini-golf called ‘Holey Moley,’ with Joe Tessitore among those behind the mic.

“What, no Booger McFarland sideline reports from a golf cart?”

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

 

 

Basketball Stuff Today…

The NCAA runs two post-season men’s basketball tournaments.  Tons of people follow “March Madness”; the NCAA’s logo and brand is all over that event.  However, the NCAA also owns the NIT which used to be an even bigger deal than the NCAA Tournament but is now an ignored stepchild in terms of fan attention and interest.  However, the NCAA used this year’s NIT as a test-bed for four potential rule changes for college basketball.  I was aware of three of the “rules tests”; I just learned about the fourth.

  1. The 3-point line was moved back 20 inches:  I have thought for years that the 3-point line was too close, so I think this is a noble experiment.  I would not care of they moved it back even further.  Granted that the NIT presented a small sample size – 31 games – but the results showed that 3-point attempts per game were virtually unchanged and 3-point accuracy dropped less than 1%.  I think this is a step in the right direction, but it was not a sufficient increase in the length of the shot to make a significant difference.
  2. The foul lane was widened from 12 feet to 16 feet:  That is a 33% increase in the size of the foul lane and – theoretically – that means offensive players in the post position would have to set up further from the basket.  That also means that defenders would be further from the basket thereby increasing the driving lanes available to other players.  If that is what happened in reality, there should have been either an increase in 2-point shooting accuracy or a decrease in 3-point shot attempts as more players used those new driving lanes.  Neither of those two effects showed up in any significant amount.  Like the idea of moving the 3-point line back, this is an idea that needs to be thought upon some more.
  3. The number of team fouls was reset to zero at the 10-minute mark of each half.  Teams shot two foul shots after the fifth foul in each of the 10-minute segments:  The result here is that there were indeed fewer foul shot attempts per game.  I guess that is a goal worth pursuing.
  4. The shot clock was reset to only 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of to 30 seconds:  I did not know this rule would be under evaluation.  Frankly, I have no idea why anyone thought this was a good idea to begin with, but the rules mavens tried it out.  There was no comment after the fact that this change had any effect on scoring or shooting accuracy or anything else.  As far as I am concerned, this one has had its time on the vine; it is now time to put it to rest.

[Giant Aside:  How the NCAA came to be the owner of the former rival NIT tournament is a bit strange.  The owners of the NIT sued the NCAA under anti-trust laws claiming that the NCAA acted as a monopoly.  They filed their case and their briefs; a judge called the parties to the trial and then the parties settled the suit.  The result of the settlement was that the NCAA bought out the owners of the NIT.  So, the “alleged monopoly” got out of the lawsuit by getting even bigger – – and the judge hearing the case thought that was an appropriate way to bring this to a conclusion.  Now you see why I would never have made it as a judge…]

Sticking with the subject of basketball for a moment, Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald about a week ago:

“Lakers’ president abruptly resigns: Once an all-time great player, Magic [Johnson] has since failed pretty miserably as a broadcaster, a coach and now as a club executive. The good news? There has to be some way to blame LeBron James for this, no?

I guess you can assign some of the blame to LeBron given the instances of him distancing himself from his teammates as the season ground down to dust.  But you can’t blame him for his injury or the injuries that sidelined several of the better players on the rest of the roster.

What happened in LA was that the Lakers hired Magic Johnson to do for the franchise what Magic Johnson had done for the franchise as a player in the 1980s.  As Professor Cote noted above, Magic Johnson did not come close to performing as an NBA exec as he did as an NBA player.  You might say that the Lakers hired “Magic” Johnson as their team President, but they got “Earvin” Johnson in terms of performance.

As I have said here before, the fundamental problem with the Lakers was the roster construction around LeBron James for the 2018-19 season.  Magic Johnson shared that responsibility with Rob Pelinka who cut his teeth as a player agent and not as an NBA exec; over the course of a single season, that did not work even slightly well.  Now the Lakers are left to learn if Pelinka can act alone as a solid NBA exec.  He has his work cut out for himself.

Personally, I think the big winner in this entire drama is Luke Walton.  Consider Walton’s résumé as a coach:

  • As the interim coach of the Warriors, his team went 39-4 until Steve Kerr was able to return to the bench.
  • In 2016, he took over a Lakers’ team that had won 17 games the previous year and only 21 games in the year before that.  In Walton’s first year in LA, the team won 26 games – a 9-bame improvement.
  • In his next two years, the Lakers won more games than in the prior year.
  • Now he is the coach of the Sacramento Kings – a young team that appears to be on the rise.

If Luke Walton can get the Kings into the playoffs next year – and especially if the Lakers again miss the playoffs next year – I think he will have put a significant and permanent luster on his coaching record.

Finally, here is another comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald where he channels Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent:

“Answer: Paul Westphal, Al Attles and Jack Sikma are among the latest inductees.

“Question: ‘What makes you say the Basketball Hall of Fame lets in too many people?’”

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

 

 

Russell Wilson Staying In Seattle

Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have reached an accord that will keep Wilson in Seattle for another 4 years.  The contract extension is for 4 years and $140M with a $65M signing bonus plus $107M of the contract guaranteed.  At $35M per year, Wilson is – for the moment – the highest paid player in NFL history.  Reports said that Wilson’s preference was to remain in Seattle; this contract lets him do that and it also secures his financial future for life and probably for the lives of his grandchildren.

Andrew Brandt has an excellent review of the negotiations that led to this contract at Si.com.  By his analysis, the Seahawks also achieved some significant objectives in reaching this deal.  Brandt was also a Vice President of the Green Bay Packers back when Aaron Rodgers was a rookie and this column also reveals what he saw in the relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers from the beginning.  It is an excellent column; I commend it to your reading.

https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/04/16/seattle-seahawks-russell-wilson-contract-green-bay-packers-aaron-rodgers-business-football

To the surprise of just about no one, a Kenyan runner won the Boston Marathon earlier this week in the time of 2;07:57.  Lawrence Cherono won the race by a mere 2 seconds over Lelisa Desisa, an Ethiopian racer.  Another Kenyan, Kenneth Kipkemoi finished third only 8 seconds behind Desisa.  This is the equivalent of a photo finish in a marathon.

The women’s marathon was also won by a Kenyan, Worknesh Degefa, in 2:23:31.  The women’s division was not nearly as closely contested as the men’s division; the second-place finisher crossed the finish line 42 seconds after Degefa broke the tape.   At the other end of the race, a 46-year old woman who was running her first marathon finished the race in something over 9 hours.  As she said after the race, the time doesn’t matter because what does matter to her is that she finished the race.

Speaking of Boston…  It has been more than 2 months since police and prosecutors announced that Robert Kraft was charged with solicitation of prostitution in Florida.  At the time of the announcement, the authorities said that his actions were discovered as part of an investigation into sex trafficking that was allegedly ongoing at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.  According to reports, the authorities obtained their reported video surveillance of Kraft and his sex acts in part by telling a judge that sex trafficking was happening inside that facility.  My overall position on the charges here remains unchanged:

  • Prostitution and solicitation of prostitution are not major crimes in my mind.
  • Sex trafficking is indeed a very major crime.

And that overview leads me to ask two questions here:

  1. Where are the charges/indictments for sex trafficking that were the supposed focus of the investigation there?
  2. How long after making a big publicity splash by announcing the charges against a public figure such as Robert Kraft does it take to file the major charges?

According to a Washington Post report a couple of weeks ago, the investigation was not limited to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa;  Another facility – the East Spa – in Vero Beach, FL was under investigation and the prosecutors there have indeed filed sex trafficking charges against the person who “ran the day-to-day operations of that facility.”  However, there has been no such action by the prosecutors in the Jupiter jurisdiction.  In fact, Bruce Colton, the State Attorney for the district that includes Jupiter was quoted in the Washington Post report saying:

“I believe human trafficking is heavily involved in what’s going on at all these spas.  But believing it and being able to prove it in court are two different things. We feel certain human trafficking is deeply involved in these spas. We’re continuing our investigation to determine whether to file human trafficking charges.”

That sounds a whole lot less definitive that the statements made by the local police at the time they announced the charges against Kraft.  Obviously, I have no way to know this for sure, but I am pretty confident that when the authorities went to the judge asking for a warrant to plant those surveillance cameras, they made their representations to that judge just a bit more positively than is conveyed here.  Maybe my “cynicism DNA” is over-expressing itself this morning, but I am beginning to wonder if all the declarative statements made by the police and the prosecutors back in February are as founded in reality as they seemed then…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently – – and it sent me to Google to find out if this was real or not:

“Just when you thought there wasn’t room for one more sport, along comes the Lingerie Fighting Championships.

“So, what brand are the boxing trunks — Everlast or Victoria’s Secret?”

Indeed, the boxing trunks are far more closely related to Victoria’s Secret than they are to Everlast.  A brief visit to https://lingeriefc.com/news/ will confirm that the sport is for real and that there are more than 50 women who are competing/have competed in lingerie fighting events.  Moreover, the organization announced that it will stage 6 shows in Las Vegas this year at a facility called The NERD.  [I am not familiar with this venue despite our annual visits to Las Vegas.]  The first of those events happened on 4 April; the rest of them will take place between now and Halloween 2019.

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

 

 

Attendance Woes

The Miami Marlins drew 25,423 souls to Marlins Park on Opening Day.  The fact that the stadium was less than 70% full on Opening Day has proven already to be an ominous foreshadowing of attendance for this year.  As of this morning, the Marlins have played 10 home games and the total attendance for those games has been 105,424.  Since Opening day, the Marlins are averaging 8,889 fans per game; for one night game, the Marlins drew only 5,900 fans to the stadium.  Not surprisingly, the Marlins have the lowest average attendance for their home games so far this year.

This was the case last year too.  After 10 home dates in 2018, the Marlins home attendance was last in the major leagues at 12,622; this year’s overall average – including the throng on Opening Day – is only 10,542 meaning that the lowest draw in MLB from last year is averaging 1,520 fewer fans per game this year.

The knee-jerk explanation for this nonchalance on the part of Miami fans is that the team traded away all its good players and are putting a second-rate product on the field.  While that is certainly accurate when compared to the “big spending teams” in MLB, it surprised me to learn that the Marlins do not have the lowest payroll in MLB for this year.  In fact, three teams are paying their rosters less than the Marlins are shelling out:

  • Marlins – – $74.7M
  • Pirates – – $71.9M
  • Blue Jays – – $64.7M
  • Rays – – $52.3M

The Blue Jays provide an interesting comparison here.  The Jays are spending less on their roster than are the Marlins; the Jays have also played 10 home games so far this year; the Jays have about the same chance to win their division as do the Marlins.  And, the Jays are drawing almost double the average attendance of the Marlins:

  • Jays home attendance = 19,724
  • Marlins home attendance = 10,542

Given the large Cuban ex-pat population, I would have suspected that MLB would be a big draw in Miami; that has not been the case for at least a couple of decades now.  MLB has always been reluctant to approve the movement of its franchises absent some dire circumstances; I think those conditions may be showing themselves in Miami.  Here is the core reason that the owners in MLB should take the Marlins’ situation seriously:

  • While it may be the case that teams with miserable attendance can still show positive cash flow – not necessarily positive earnings – for any given year, it is important to owners that each franchise continues to sell for more than the current owner paid for it.  At least part of the allure of owning a baseball team is that everyone who has owned one in the past has sold it at a profit.  Less than 2 years ago, the Marlins sold for $1.2B.  It would not be a good thing if the team could not command that price if they hit the market any time soon.

The collapse of the AAF prior to the completion of its inaugural season should provide a sports historian with interesting material for a book somewhere down the line.  Until such time as someone provides us with such a recounting, consider these comments from three sportswriters around the country:

“The Alliance of American Football has a chance of failing in its first season, according a league owner.

“But no worries, there’s always another offshoot league on the way. The Legends Football League — formerly known as the Lingerie Football League — kicks off its new season Friday. Meanwhile, XFL2 is set to start in 2020.

“Not interested?

“Maybe that’s the reason the NFL is so popular.

“You have to wait until football season for it to arrive.”  [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

And …

Failing alone: The tanking of the Alliance of American Football is more evidence that spring/summer gridiron leagues need the NFL’s clout and generosity to survive, much as the WNBA is propped up by NBA owners.”  [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]

And …

“Sugar daddy Tom Dundon pulled the plug on the fledgling Alliance of American Football after just eight weeks.

“Or as AAF historians prefer to spin it, the final sack in AAF history.”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

Finally, syndicated columnist, Norman Chad had this remark about the declining level of civility in the way fans interact with athletes:

“If Vatican City were in New Jersey, the Pope likely would get heckled during Easter Mass.”

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

 

 

Greetings From Across The Pond…

It is Tax Day in the US; how nice to be in Ireland where it is easy to avoid the annual local TV “news” reports relating the people racing to file their taxes by midnite local time.  Why the stations think this is news every year is beyond me; why they glorify those mouth breathers is also beyond me.  Over here in Dublin, it is just a normal day; windy, chilly, cloudy with occasional drizzle.  The Irish TV stations do not make a big deal of such normalcy…

Two major losing streaks came to an end over the weekend:

  1. Orioles’ first baseman, Chris Davis, got his first hit of the season snapping an 0 for 54 hitting debacle that extended back to September 14, 2018.  [That is the longest hitless streak for a position player in baseball history; the previous record was 0 for 46 by Eugenio Velez in 2010-11.]  Actually, Davis went 3 for 5 in Saturday’s game with 4 RBIs which would be a significant day for just about any players let alone one who has gone 0 for 61.  That 3-hit outburst raised Davis’ average for the season to all of .079.  Unfortunately, Davis reverted to form on Sunday and went 0 for 4.
  2. Tiger Woods won The Masters meaning that he won a major tournament for the first time in a decade.  This is obviously great news for Tiger Woods, but it is far better news for the people who write about golf.  For the last 5 years or so, they were constrained to write about how Woods was working hard to regain his glorious game and the obstacles he still had to overcome to regain his glory.  Those were glorification pieces – – but they are nothing compared to the paeans of praise that can now be written.  If you think I am exaggerating, please try to get through this recounting of Woods’ victory at Augusta from CBSSports.com.

https://www.cbssports.com/golf/news/tiger-woods-returns-to-glory-harkening-emotions-of-the-past-in-genius-performance-at-2019-masters/

According to reports at NBCSports.com, the NFLPA and some of the NFL owners met in Minneapolis about a week ago to discuss how to proceed with negotiations for a new CBA.  If you recall the level of rancor that was in evidence about 18 months ago when the “national anthem controversy” was at its apogee, the fact that the two sides even found one another’s phone number is significant.  Recall that the players’ executive committee was advising players to set aside money to be used as individual strike funds because the common wisdom was that a strike was inevitable.

I would like to think that there has been an injection of sanity received on both sides of the negotiating table.  The underlying fact here is that the NFL and the NFLPA are partners in the production of a television extravaganza that fuels the input of $15B per year in revenue.  The two partners need to negotiate the conundrum of how that $15B should be shared; if sanity and rationality are permitted to be in the room when the bargaining occurs, that process will be much simpler than negotiating Middle East peace.

The players probably want some or all of these points:

  • They would like more of the gross revenue dollars to show up in the revenue pool that creates the salary cap.
  • They would like a slightly larger percentage of whatever that salary cap pool might be.
  • They would probably like to get rid of – or at least significantly modify – the rules governing the franchise tag.
  • They probably want a change in the Commissioner’s absolute authority in discipline cases.
  • They hate Thursday Night games; this will be a dilemma for the players.

The owners want some or all of these points:

  • They want some of the revenue stream to come off the top to go into the NFL stadium construction fund which has been seriously depleted in recent years.
  • They want the Commissioner to remain as the disciplinarian because it takes the heat off the owners in those situations.
  • They want as much of the revenue stream to wind up in their pockets as i9s possible.

For all the anger and vitriol that came from the players and the NFLPA during the “anthem controversy”, the players have done well under the current CBA which has been in effect since 2011 and will run through 2021.  They negotiated on issues of working conditions – – practice times and off-season schedules – and they have benefited by the inclusion(s) of new rules aimed at player safety.  The way the revenue stream is rising, and the formula employed to calculate the salary cap and the salary floor for each year has led to those numbers going up by about $10M per year in the past several years.

From the owners’ perspective, this CBA has been kind to them; they are in a situation where it is virtually impossible for an owner to lose money in a given year no matter how bad their team may be or how rebellious their fanbase may be.

Here are the sticking points that I see and how they may be resolved:

  1. Thursday Night Football:  Looking at the TV deal, this adds – by my calculation – between $8M and $10M to the salary cap revenue pool each year.  The owners love that; the players need to decide if they want to get rid of Thursday Night Football badly enough to drop the salary cap by that amount.  I think the answer lies in scheduling changes that will allow Thursday night teams to have bye weeks the week before their appearances there ridding the teams of 3-day turnarounds between games.
  2. The Commissioner as judge, jury and executioner in disciplinary matters:  I wrote about the resolution of this problem on September 10, 2014 wherein the league and the union jointly fund a disciplinary body to handle these matters.  You can find that rant in the archives on the side roll of the website; the headline for that rant is The Disciplinarian.
  3. The Franchise Tag:  I suspect that this issue will get little change because the owners seem to like it the way it is, and the players are not likely to give up much to get it changed because it does not affect more than a few players per year.  This issue gets a lot more publicity that it merits in terms of the impact on the players as a group.  In a given season, maybe 3 or 4 players have to suffer under the yoke of the franchise tag and the number who have sat out a full year to avoid the franchise tag is vanishingly small.  I can’t see the union lowering their percentage of “the take” by a half a percent in order to rid the world of something that is only odious to a handful of its wealthiest members.  Maybe the contract modification that is more worthwhile for the union to seek to modify is the length and/or the rate of salary increases contained in the so-called “rookie contracts”.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation about an ongoing NFL disciplinary matter in the Seattle Times recently:

“Pot-loving Cowboys’ DT David Irving — suspended yet again by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy — says he’s quitting football.

“Or is he just blowing more smoke?”

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

 

 

An April Amalgam

There are reports this morning that the Sacramento Kings have fired head coach Dave Joerger even though the Kings won more games this year than they have since the 2005-06 season.  That is the good news; the rest of the story is that the Kings still missed the playoffs and the Kings did not reach the .500 mark.

The Kings were in the playoffs every season from 1998 through 2006 under Rick Adelman.  Not only have they been on the outside looking into the playoffs since then, the Kings have had 9 coaches since the start of the 2006-07 season.  Joerger was the longest tenured of those 9 by a wide margin; he coached 326 games; the second longest tenured coach in that stretch was Paul Westphal who coached the Kings for 171 games.

A team with 9 head coaches in 13 seasons never has a chance to develop individual players into a cohesive unit.  To me this seems like planting a tree and then pulling it out of the ground every week or so to see how the roots are growing.  Neither of the above seems like a great strategy to me…

Next Monday will be the running of the Boston Marathon.  I don’t know if there will be wagering on the race in Las Vegas; I could not find any odds this morning.  The reason I went looking is that very often in this type of situation, the folks in Vegas will post odds for the most recognizable contenders and then lump everyone else into the category “Field” – meaning that if anyone in the “Field” wins, it counts as a winning wager.  I wondered if there was going to be wagering at all if the sportsbooks would have a wager where you could place a bet on every Kenyan in the race to win – a “Kenyan field” if you will.

Normally a “Field” bet is a longshot because all the favorites are listed separately.  If there were a “Kenyan Field” bet for Monday’s Boston Marathon, I would imagine the line would be something like minus-300.

Since I was thinking about the Boston Marathon, that led me to ask myself the following question:

  • How freaked out are the Boston Red Sox fans these days?

After last year when the Red Sox won 108 games and then breezed through the playoffs and World Series, the start of the 2019 season must seem like Bizarro World for Sox fans.

  • The team batting average is .238; the team OBP is .313.
  • The pitching staff cumulative ERA is 6.32; four of the Sox starters have ERAs north of 6.00.

The Red Sox are 4-9 as of this morning and they are 6 games out of the division lead in the VERY early going.  Here is why Sox fans should not be in Full-On Panic Mode:

  • The Red Sox started the season with an 11-game road trip; they have only played 2 home games so far in 2019.
  • Every other team in the AL East has already had at least 6 home dates.

You may remember last Fall when Alabama coach, Nick Saban,” complained” that the Alabama student body did not provide what he thought was “proper support” for the football team because the student sections had cleared out in the 4th quarter of a blowout game.  When I heard that, I figured it was just a way for Saban to find something to gripe about lest he seem pleased at the way his team had been playing.  Well, maybe he was more serious than I thought and maybe he flexed a few muscles in the school Athletic Department over the winter.

The Alabama Athletic Department is going to institute something – not yet fully defined as far as I can tell – called “Tide Loyalty Points” and it will seek to reward students who stay in the stadium until the games are finished.  Here is the intent of “Tide Loyalty Points”:

“Through the Tide Loyalty Points program, students will earn points for attending home football games and for their support in the 4th quarter.  Those points will contribute to students’ priority access to regular and postseason tickets.”

It seems as if students at Alabama will have to make some decisions this Fall.  On one hand, staying through the final 15 minutes of a game where Alabama already leads by 5 TDs might earn them access to a ticket to the national championship game in January.  On the other hand, leaving at the end of the third quarter will add another 30-45 minutes to the post-game drinking and debauchery celebration.  Decisions … decisions…

  • [Aside:  I guess the good news here is that one does not earn any Tide Loyalty Points by consuming Tide Pods.]

I realize the some of you are planning for your vacation this summer and as an added service provided by Curmudgeon Central – – at no additional cost mind you – – let me make you aware of a new attraction you may want to factor into your decision making.

  • The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum – – located in Milwaukee, WI – – opened to the public on 1 Feb 2019.

You can pay a visit; you can become a member; you can donate one of your bobbleheads; you can loan one of your bobbleheads to the museum for them to display; you can receive bobbleheads from the museum.  The options are many and varied.  In fact, here is what you might expect from a visit:

“The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum houses the world’s largest collection of bobbleheads and features dozens of exhibits related to the history of bobbleheads, making of bobbleheads and much more.”

Finally, consider this comment by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding advanced analytics and sports fans:

“Stoned: The statistical innovation that, depending on your perspective, has either transformed or ruined baseball, is coming to curling, my favorite Olympic winter sport. It’s my favorite because I can identify with competitors who don’t wear skates, skis or spandex and are smart enough to remain indoors. But now, international curling is embracing, you guessed it, analytics. The nerdy sport of curling is being turned over to even bigger nerds. I think I need to find a new favorite winter sport.”

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

 

 

You Can’t Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe spent an entire novel warning us that You Can’t Go Home Again.  Chris Mullin did not face the same problems that the protagonist in the novel did, but Mullin tried to go home to St. John’s and resurrect the basketball program there.  His abrupt resignation earlier this week ended that attempt short of the mark.  Indeed, the Johnnies did make the NCAA tournament field this year – but losing in the early rounds is not what St. John’s basketball once was when Chris Mullin was playing there.   In fact, Mullin’s record over his 4-year tenure in Queens was sub-.500.  [Aside:  Perhaps this is an ominous sign for Patrick Ewing who is the best player in Georgetown history and who has returned to the school to resurrect the basketball fortunes there…]

Rumors say that St. John’s wants to hire Bobby Hurley; the question is whether Bobby Hurley wants to leave Arizona St. – a team that also made the NCAA tournament this year and then took an early exit.  The fact is that St. John’s is not an easy place to build a powerhouse program these days; it used to be that lots of kids wanted to “stay home” and play basketball; today, kids want to go somewhere and to be on TV a lot.

If the school decides to give the “star player returning home” gambit another shot, reports today say that Metta World Peace – Ron Artest when he played for St. John’s about 20 years ago – wants the job.  I know that Peace has not had a head coaching job anywhere to date; he may have been an assistant somewhere; but in any event, he would have a learning curve to ascend.

The NY Post reported that based on a phone interview, Rick Pitino would take the job but would want an apology from the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York for leaking his name in association with the prosecution of the Adidas folks who were improperly paying recruits.  Pitino maintains he is innocent and was never even charged in the matter but putting his name out there cost him the job at Louisville.  I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the prosecutors will issue no such apology…

From this perspective, the best thing that can happen to St. John’s here is that they do not have to suffer the embarrassments that UCLA experienced in its coaching search.  The Bruins fired Steve Alford on New Year’s Eve and stumbled through the season as a .500 team.  There was a time when the UCLA coaching job was at the pinnacle of college basketball, but this year’s hiring processes show that is no longer the case.  Rick Barnes, John Calipari and Jamie Dixon all turned the UCLA job down and finally the Bruins convinced Mick Cronin to abandon Cincinnati to move to Westwood.  And along the path that led UCLA to those three blind alleys, Rick Pitino’s name flashed once again.  Here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that puts a punctuation mark on that:

“Pretzel logic: When Dick Vitale says that big-time college hoops is a ‘cesspool,’ it’s reminiscent of Howard Cosell decrying boxing after years of burnishing his brand through the fight game. Dickey V is a sweetheart, but the same man who worries about the sport wallowing in a septic tank wrote a tweet encouraging UCLA to hire Rick Pitino, who was fired from Louisville in the wake of a recruiting scandal. I don’t know how you can reconcile those two thoughts.”

One more thing here… I mentioned the novel You Can’t Go Home Again earlier on.  That was not a recommendation; I was assigned to read that for English class in high school; if you have dodged that bullet, count your blessings and find something else to read.

The Masters begins today.  Jim Nantz will be the anchor this weekend and he has probably spent the last couple of days practicing his “whispering” so that he does not appear to be too forwardly emotional while golfers are lining up their shots.  I will tune in until I hear one of the whispering voices ask one of the other whispering voices this pregnant question:

  • “What do you think he wants to do with this shot, Joe?”

At that point, I will yell, “I think he will try to put the [bleeping] ball in the [bleeping] hole, you twit.”  And then I will calmly reach for the remote and take my eyeballs and earpans elsewhere…

Greg Cote had this comment on The Masters in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“It’s Masters Week. Let us pray: The Masters is this Thursday through Sunday at Augusta, maybe the holiest-feeling annual event in sports. You can’t even talk about it without hearing soft violins and tinkling pianos. Rory McIlroy is the betting fave at 7-1, then it’s Dustin Johnson 10-1. At 12-1 are Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and some guy named Tiger Woods.”

Last week, Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement from the NFL.  Even though his career was shortened by injuries, I think he is certain to be admitted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame one of these days.  As I was glancing at his career stats at pro-football-reference.com to assure myself that he was a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame, I noticed a couple of interesting stats:

  1. Gronk played in 16 NFL playoff games in his career.  That is the equivalent of an NFL regular season and those are games played against competent opponents.
  2. In that “extra season” of his career, Gronk had 81 receptions for 1163 yards and 12 TDs and all came against “playoff quality opponents”.

In addition, Gronk had a total of 603 touches in his career (regular season plus playoffs).  In his career, he only fumbled the ball 4 times.

Yesterday, I read that the Patriots have signed free agent tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins – late of the Bucs and Jets.  Presumably, he will compete for Gronk’s spot in the Pats; no pressure there, young man…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation in the Seattle Times regarding another NFL free agent signing:

“Ryan Fitzpatrick has now been employed by 25 percent of the NFL’s 32 franchises after signing after signing with his eighth team, the Dolphins, last week.

“Which certainly makes him a quarterback in more ways than one.”

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

 

 

Back On The Air…

The confluence of social obligations and time spent on home maintenance chores wiped out the time for rants earlier this week.  Sorry about that.  So, today needs to be a catch-up day…

Congratulations to the Baylor women’s basketball team for their totally exciting win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Women’s final game on Sunday night.  The games in the women’s tournament from the Elite 8 on down to the final game were generally interesting contests instead of monstrous blowouts.  I have suggested in the past – and this year’s women’s tournament reinforces my belief in this suggestion – that the women’s tournament should not be 64 teams in scope.  There just are not that many competitive programs in women’s basketball at this time and the women’s tournament would draw more interest if it could put on more competitive/compelling contests instead of early round blowouts where one team more than “doubles up” on its opponent.  [See Mississippi St. 103 – Southern U  46.]  Reducing the field to 32 would be a good idea; I think a better idea is to start with 24 teams; give 8 teams a bye through the first round and go from there.  I doubt that is going to happen any time soon, but I do think it would be beneficial for women’s college basketball.

Congratulations to the Virginia men’s basketball team for winning the first national championship in school history.  The games in the men’s tournament from the Sweet 16 forward were good contests – – even the Auburn win over UNC by 17 points was exciting to watch.  I realize that there was another point where human error presented itself with regard to the officiating in the Auburn/UVa game.  I refer back to my comments about officiating last week and the impossibility of eliminating human error from any human endeavor.

  • [Aside:  I forget which comedian said this, but he pointed out that if someone spent his lifetime making a device “idiot-proof”, it would not take the world long to develop a bigger idiot.]

Like most everyone else, I expected the final game against Texas Tech to be a low-scoring affair.  At halftime, I thought to myself that 60 points could win the game and that 65 points would surely win the game.  Well, it was 68-68 at the end of regulation time and the teams combined to score 26 points in the 5-minute overtime.  So much for my expectations…

In terms of next season, Virginia stands to lose DeAndre Hunter to the NBA Draft, but the rest of the starters will be back.  Michigan St. will also return a bunch of starters.  Such is the positive aspect of staying out of the annual “one-and-done” recruiting wars…

Chris Mullin resigned as the head coach at St. John’s.  If that was expected, the commentary surrounding the expectation escaped me.  Mullin has been at St. John’s for 4 seasons and the team made the tournament this year for the first time since 2015 and for only the third time since 2002.

In my commentary last week about the NBA turning itself into a 3-point shooting contest with players launching them at the rate of about once every 46 seconds, a commenter, Rich, said that Wilt Chamberlain set some impressive scoring records (on the court and presumably in the bedroom too) without resorting to the 3-point shot.  My response was that Chamberlains sent a lot of staggering records during his playing career.  That sent me to the stat sites and from there let me present these facts:

  • In NBA history, only 4 players have ever collected 40 or more rebounds in a single game.
  • Jerry Lucas did that one time taking down 40 rebounds.
  • Nate Thurmond also did that one time taking down 43 rebounds.
  • Bill Russell did that 11 times taking down 40 or more rebounds in a single game.  He snagged 51 rebounds in a game in 1960.
  • Wilt Chamberlain did that 15 times taking down 40 or more rebounds in a single game.  Chamberlain holds the NBA record for most rebounds in a game with 55 – – against the Boston Celtics with Bill Russell in 1960.

You may recall back when rumors began to get serious that the Lakers would fire Luke Walton soon after the NBA season ended, I said that the major issue in LA was not Walton; it was the roster handed to Walton by the Front Office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.  Well, Magic Johnson just stepped down as President of the Lakers; he is leaving the free agency recruiting to “someone else”.  I think Johnson has gotten a pass from criticism over his personnel decisions during his time with the Lakers because – – after all – – he IS Magic Johnson and how can one be critical of such a great person and such a great player.  Well, he deserves to earn a “C-minus” for this aspect of his managerial endeavors.  Luke Walton will probably also take a fall here; but Walton could not have been successful with the roster he had; Johnson could have done a better job than he did assembling the Lakers’ roster once LeBron James signed on.

This summer, the NBA will see a bunch of free agents with name recognition.  There are three free agents who are at the top of the class:

  1. Kevin Durant
  2. Kyrie Irving
  3. Kawhi Leonard

[Aside:  Maybe I could stretch a point and add Jimmy Butler to this list…]

If the Lakers – and their new recruiting team – do not entice at least one of those players to come and play alongside – and sometimes under – LeBron James, they will continue to be a non-playoff team in the NBA West.  Unless, of course, the NBA Lottery once again “miraculously” awards the Lakers a top pick that gets them Zion Williamson …

Finally, since I mentioned Jimmy Butler above, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“A study says one-third of young Chicagoans want to leave the city.

“Maybe Jimmy Butler wasn’t so wrong after all.”

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

 

 

Sports And Linguistics Today – – Really

The first fictional character I ever identified as a young adult was Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series. As a kid, my objects for identification were baseball players – – and mainly pitchers.  But Mr. Spock’s unerring focus on reality instead of symbolism and inuendo has been an important part of my maturation process.  [Please do not listen to my long-suffering wife who claims that I am the world’s only 75-year old 14-year old.].  Mr. Spock always valued data in order to support observation.

You may recall that I have kvetched here more than occasionally about how NBA games are regressing into nothing more than 3-point shooting displays.  Mr. Spock might have read those kvetchings and raised an eyebrow – – until an AP report on March 30, 2019 provided data to support my complaint(s).  Here are the highlights of that report:

  1. “The NBA has set a record for 3-pointers made for the seventh consecutive year, after the 25,808th of the season was made…”
  2. “The league is on pace for about an 8 percent rise in 3-pointers over last season — and 3s are getting made a staggering 57 percent more often than what was the case just five years ago.”
  3. “The league record for total 3-pointers attempted was broken earlier this month, with 72,354 getting hoisted…”  [This happened in a total of 1144 regular season games, so this extrapolates to 77,793 attempts for the full NBA season.]
  4. “The first season where the NBA combined to make 15,000 3-pointers was 2009-10. The 20,000 plateau was broken just three seasons ago, and this season’s total is on pace to end up just shy of 28,000.”

If in fact the NBA teams attempt 77,000 3-point shots this year, that would mean teams would – on average – attempt 63 3-point shots per regular season game.

  • That is approximately one 3-point shot every 46 seconds of play.

I plead guilty to being grumpy and crotchety on this issue; nonetheless, there is a basis for my grumpiness and my “crotchetude” …  [meaning my state of being crotchety]

Since I just made up the word “crotchetude” because I can’t easily come up with a real word for what I wanted to say, that reminds me that there is a mysterious process by which the “Keepers of the English Language” – – probably secret members of the Trilateral Commission don’t you know – – add “official” words to the language by incorporating them in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Here are some words that were not officially part of the English Language until recently:

  • Cosplay – – admitted in 2008
  • Broadband – – admitted in 2012
  • Kombucha – – admitted in 2013 [Aside: It tastes just as bad in 2019 as it did in 2013.]
  • Sexting – – admitted in 2015
  • Ringtone – – admitted in 2018.

I suspect that the Keepers of the English Language have not yet focused on a word that I would love to see acquire the status of “Official English”.  It started as an acronym for a happening in baseball games and it has now begun to morph into a word used to describe the player who is involved in that happening in a baseball game.  I present to you the word:

  • Tootblan

The original acronym stood for:

  • Thrown Out On The Baselines Like A Nincompoop.

There is not a tootblan in every game – – but when you see one, you can give yourself a facepalm [another word that Official English needs, by the way] and immediately recognize that the player is a tootblan.  If admitted to Official English, the word could then acquire the properties of a verb so that when Joe Flabeetz gets thrown out at home by 15 feet, we could say that he was tootblanning all the way from third base.

  • Memo to the Keepers of the English Language:  Give some attention to “tootblan” as a candidate for admission to Official English.

Speaking very loosely about baseball, here is an on-sight report from #2 son who was attending yesterday’s Yankees/Orioles game in Baltimore.  According to a text he sent me, there was a standing ovation in Camden Yards when the O’s sent up a pinch hitter for Chris Davis late in the game.  Here is why:

  • Davis is in the 4th year of a 7-year deal that pays him $23M every season.
  • The O’s Opening Day Payroll this year totaled $80.2M; Davis accounts for 28.6% of the total club payroll.
  • Last year, Davis hit .168 with an OPS of .539 and struck out 192 times.
  • So far in 2019, Davis is 0 for 17 with an amazing 11 strikeouts.
  • Davis ended 2018 with an 0 for 21 streak; so, he is now hitless in his last 38 MLB plate appearances.

Oh, by the way, Chris Davis is in no danger of winning a Gold Glove for his defense at first base.  Hence the warm welcome for the pinch hitter yesterday…

The Final Four happens this weekend.  My bracket died in the beginning because I thought Nevada was going to the Final Four and that Texas Tech would go out in the Round of 32.  So, I choose not to pretend that I had this one psyched out from the start…

As you prepare to watch the semi-finals on Saturday night, here are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Auburn, Texas Tech and Virginia have never won a national championship.  Therefore, if Texas Tech beats Michigan State in the second game on Saturday night, there must be a “first time champion” this year.
  2. Auburn is a 5-seed in this tournament.  According to a friend who has his own databases related to sports that he has been nurturing for at least the last 20 years, there has never been a team seeded #5 in any region that went on to win the entire tournament.  The NCAA tournament began in 1939; you may be certain that I have not and will not go back through the records to confirm my friend’s assertion.

Finally, since I advocated above for the recognition of a new word in the English language, let me present a similar sentiment expressed by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Shouldn’t an errant hike over the punter’s head be known as a snapfu?”

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

 

 

Basketball Here And There

Muffet McGraw is the highly successful long-term head coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.  Her squad is in the Final Four for the ninth time; this year the Irish are there as the defending national champions.  Her coaching career started in 1982 at Lehigh; in 1987, she got the job at Notre Dame and has been there ever since.  Her overall career coaching record is 918-274 (.770).  No matter how you look at it, her record is laudable.

Muffet McGraw was interviewed by – and was subsequently the centerpiece of an article – an organization called Think Progress.  This is an organization that promotes and advocates for a variety of causes to include women’s advancement opportunities in the workplace.  In that interview, she said, “People [meaning Athletic Directors] are hiring too many men.”  Her coaching staff at Notre Dame has been all female since 2012 and when she was also asked if she would ever hire another man as an assistant, her answer was “No.”

There has been a smidgen of controversy associated with that report – and some praise and support for McGraw for taking such a definitive stand on an issue she believes in.  I believe that she has earned the privilege of assembling whatever coaching staff she wants for the rest of her career; if she decided that only left-handed women with freckles should be on her staff, then she should go for it and everyone else should let it ride until everyone saw the results of that decision.  So, let me be absolutely clear about this:

  • Muffet McGraw should always have as her assistant coaches whomever she wants, and everyone else should keep their comments to themselves.

I do question, however, the coverage of matter in the sporting media.  Obviously, this is a topic in the wheelhouse of Think Progress; the minute that interviewer had those quotes, you can be sure that was going to be a prominent piece on the website thinkprogress.org.  However, please imagine for a moment that Joe Flabeetz is the head coach of a team at Whatsamatta U and he said on the record to an interviewer that:

  • He would never again hire a woman as an assistant coach.  [Or just for fun never again hire a Black man or a registered Republican…]

Ignoring the “exclusionary aspects” of Coach Flabeetz’ idiotic remark, how do you think the sporting media would handle the story?  How long would it be until someone hung the label “sexist” around his neck?

Remember, I think Muffet McGraw can hire whomever she pleases based on whatever criteria she sets for her assistant coaches.  My question here relates to the way the sporting media might cover the story were it presented in its mirror image…

For the record, this year’s Women’s Final Four will take place in Tampa this weekend.    Baylor plays Oregon in one semi-final game while Notre Dame takes on UConn in the other on Friday night (televised on ESPN2).  The winners there will meet on Sunday night (ESPN) to crown this year’s women’s national champion.

Let me turn now from a highly successful coach and basketball program to the Washington Wizards and their former GM, Ernie Grunfeld.  The Wizards had been guided by Grunfeld for the last 16 years until he was fired earlier this week.  At this moment, many readers here are shaking their heads wondering what had been going on for those 16 years – – because when you look back there has not been a ton of success.  So, let me give you thumbnail history of the last 16 years of the Washington Wizards:

  1. The cumulative record – as of this morning – has been 568-725 (.439)
  2. There have been 5 head coaches in those 16 years all selected by Grunfeld.
  3. He took over a hot mess in 2003.  Then owner, Abe Pollin had just fired Michael Jordan – – yes, THAT Michael Jordan – – as the Team President and the squad included the likes of Christian Laettner at the end of his career, Kwame Brown who never should have had a career and Tyronn Lue as the point guard.
  4. Grunfeld’s failing was his unerring ability to draft the wrong guy – or to trade away a pick that could have drafted a star player in order to get a mediocre player or two.  Consider:
  5. He traded away a pick that could have been Steph Curry to acquire Randy Foye and Mike Miller.
  6. He passed up the chance to draft Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in two different drafts.  Somehow, the Golden State Warriors’ braintrust was able to see some value in those two guys.
  7. He took Jan Vesely and passed on Kawhi Leonard.
  8. He has signed good-but-not-great players to super max contracts.  Presently, the Wizards are committed to pay John Wall about $170M through 2023.  Wall is injured and will miss most if not all the next season; even if healthy, there is plenty of reason to suggest that he would be overpaid significantly by such a deal.
  9. The best player on the Wizards’ roster is Bradley Beal and his “rookie contract” is about to expire and he too will be looking for a max deal.

The Wizards were a hot mess in 2003 when Ernie Grunfeld took over.  He was able to improve the roster to the point where the team was a regular playoff contender – – even though the Wizards have not won 50 games in a season since the 1978-79 season.  But now the team is a hot mess once again and the next GM will have a serious reclamation project on his hands. The roster is talent-deficient, and the cap room issues are significant.  Fans in Washington should expect several years they can label as “Tankapalooza”.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter, in the Seattle Times:

“Spotted on the license plate of a white Bronco in North Carolina: ‘AIN’T OJ.’”

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