NFL/NFLPA Negotiations Ongoing…

According to reports, the NFL and the NFLPA have begun preliminary discussions regarding a new CBA even though the existing one runs through the 2021 season.  Some reports say that the league would like the new deal to be finalized by the beginning of this 2019 regular season so that the league could then go about the business of negotiating new network TV deals with “labor peace and labor certainty on the league’s side of that negotiating table.  The 2019 regular season begins the week after Labor Day which is about 10 weeks from now.  All I can say is, that makes for an awfully tight deadline – – if indeed it is any sort of deadline at all.

I have portrayed these sorts of discussions/negotiations in the past as a tug-of-war between partners and that is precisely what the two sides will do over the next 10 weeks or the next 20 months.

  • The NFL and the NFLPA are partners in producing the most successful and the most watched TV series in the US.

If you think I am over-simplifying or mischaracterizing, consider some of these data:

  • Game of Thrones was one of the most talked-about and cult-followed TV series ever.  Its final episode was discussed, predicted, analyzed and awaited to the same extent as the season-opener of Dallas where the world would find out “who shot JR.”
  • Reportedly, the finale of Game of Thrones attracted 13.5 million live viewers.  If that is accurate, that means that 71 NFL regular season games from last year drew more viewers than the Game of Thrones finale did.
  • TV money is the top-level driver for NFL revenues that lead to the calculation of the NFL salary cap.  Since 2014, the NFL salary cap has risen 38%; that money comes from television revenues and that salary cap money goes into the players’ pockets.  TV money feeds the owners and it feeds the players.

So, what might be the burning issue between the league and the union that would shut down the floodgates of revenue from TV that the league and the players are living off?

  • Last time around, the players bargained for less mandatory practice time in the off-season and for leas arduous practice regimens in training camp.  Would they want to give up another percentage point of revenue going toward salary cap calculations to continue that reduced workload?  Would they shut down the gravy train over it?
  • The players – and much of the media – think that having Commissioner Roger Goodell installed as the prosecutor, judge and jury over every disciplinary action is odious.  [Aside:  I too have argued that the Commish has duties that go well beyond being the league disciplinarian and I have suggested other ways to recognize such a “disciplinarian”.  Nonetheless, Roger Goodell is the judge, jury and executioner as we speak.]  How many percentage points of the revenue that goes to calculating salary cap values might the players want to sacrifice to change the way discipline is handed out in the NFL?

Lots of people – players, media and fans – think that 4 Exhibition Games are too many Exhibition Games.  The owners make money on those games so they will be reluctant to give them up.  But what is the concession the owners may want from the union that makes the players happy to take a reduction in those meaningless games that present injury hazards in exchange for …?  Perhaps the owners might cede to the pleadings of their coaches and ask for more mandatory practice time in exchange for fewer Exhibition Games?

I wish it were possible to say how all these sorts of things – and the many other issues that will present themselves as bones of contention – will find resolution in the next 10 weeks.  I don’t think that is anywhere near the realm of possibility – but will happily be proven wrong here.  We shall see…

Changing from the NFL to youth sports is about as wide a chasm of US sports as one can try to cross, but I will do so here.  I ran across a report that said that parents at a youth baseball game for 7-year olds began to “brawl with one another” over a disputed call by the umpire who was a 13-year old kid himself.  Here is the link:

There are a couple of things wrong with this report that need to be stated explicitly:

  1. Why is a 13-year-old in charge of a game by himself?  I have officiated more than a few basketball games with kids of that age – but would never have sent one or two of them out on the court alone without an adult to provide “cover”.
  2. How unsuccessful do the lives of the adults involved in this “brawl” have to be for them to think that participation in that brawl justifies their categorization as “adults”?
  3. Youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to play whatever game is involved AND to teach kids about success and failure and how to deal with each of those things.  How were any of those objectives obtained in this situation?

Finally, here is comment from Academy Award winning actor, Jack Lemmon:

If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.”

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



NBA Sleeper Pick 2019…

My first task this morning was to find out which NBA team drafted my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.  It turns out to be the 76ers who took Matisse Thybulle out of the University of Washington.  Unlike just about everyone else in the draft who brings gaudy scoring stats to the table, Thybulle is not much of a scorer and really does need time to develop his shooting and offensive skills.  However, what he does as well as or better than everyone else in the draft is to play perimeter defense; he led the nation in steals last year (3.5 per game) and he averaged 2.2 blocked shots per game too.  As NBA teams continue to “spread the floor” on offense, the value of perimeter defense is going to increase – and Thybulle is the best that I saw at that aspect of the game.  Ergo, he is my NBA Sleeper Pick for 2019.

When I left for vacation, the issue of Robert Kraft’s alleged dalliance(s) at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa focused on statements by the police/prosecutors that they would reveal covert surveillance tapes from inside the spa to show that there was “improper hoochie-coochie” going on in there.  For the record let me say unequivocally:

  • If such video evidence exists, I have precisely zero interest in watching it.  Sex is not a “spectator sport”.

Subsequent to that declaration by the prosecution, the judge in this matter ruled that the tape in question was obtained improperly and could not be used in court.  Who knows if that evidence will ultimately be admissible or not – and frankly, who cares?  Look, I have no interest in trying to navigate the waters where any questions are of this ilk:

  1. Why is prostitution a crime?
  2. If a woman has an inalienable right to choose what to do with her body, why can she not choose to sell sex acts with it for money?
  3. Why would a man of Robert Kraft’s means choose to go to a Day Spa for “relief” instead of “ordering in”?  [That was my question the day the original story broke.]

What I do want to say here is that the police and the prosecution in this case begin to seem overly zealous here.  Recall, on the day of the revelation of these arrests and charges, the police said that there was “human trafficking” going on in that Day Spa and that the women there were akin to sex slaves.  Now that would change the equation a whole lot.  Human trafficking is a totally despicable situation; sex slaves are not choosing to sell their sex acts for money, they are being coerced into doing so.  Human trafficking in sex is a form of rape in my mind where the rapist is not necessarily the person performing the sex act.

The problem is that no one has been arrested or charged with human trafficking in this matter for the last 4 months.  If it were in fact ongoing there – as was declared without any modifiers back in February – you would think that the gendarmes would have made an arrest or filed charges against the ne’er-do-wells by now.  The only logical conclusion to draw here is that there was no human trafficking going on notwithstanding the fact that the activities in that Day Spa were maximally sleazy.

The parallel that keeps coming to mind here is the infamous and disgusting “Duke Lacrosse Case”.  Just as the prosecutor in Durham, NC played fast and loose with public statements and various bits of evidence, it seems as if the prosecution here has been “less than candid” regarding how and why there was covert video surveillance in that building.

And now I have the opportunity for a relatively smooth transition to the next topic of the day – – Tom Brady, who works for Robert Kraft, is entering the final year of his contract with the Patriots.  I cannot imagine that he will become a free agent in February 2020; there will have to be a new contract or an extension of his current one in place before that.  Kraft said back around Super Bowl time that he foresaw Brady as the Pats’ QB for “quite a while”.  If I have interpreted the various salary numbers correctly regarding how one calculates the franchise tag, I believe it would cost the Pats a guaranteed $32.5M for a one-year extension if they use the franchise tag.  That would still leave Brady well below the annual salary for several NFL QBs and put Brady about on the same annual salary level as Carson Wentz.

However, the franchise tag would seem to work against the interests of both Brady and the Pats.  We know – because Brady has said so – that he has taken lower values on his contracts for the team to be able to sign other players for the benefit of the team.  The franchise tag does not allow for any salary cap relief; the entire amount goes on the books as a guaranteed deal for a single season the minute the ink dries on the dotted line.

This situation will find a resolution – probably before the start of the 2019 season…

Oh, by the way, two other “elder-statesman QBs” are in the final year of their contracts.

  • Philip Rivers will finish up a deal that had a total value of $83.3M over 4 years with the Chargers.  The Chargers have 3 other QBs on the roster at the moment – Cardale Jones, Easton Stick and Tyrod Taylor.  My assessment is that the Chargers do not have an “heir-apparent” in the wings and will find a way to get a new deal done with Rivers before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in February 2020.
  • Eli Manning will finish up a deal that had a total value of $84M over 4 years with the Giants.  The Giants have 4 other QBs on the roster as of this morning – Eric Dungey, Daniel Jones, Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.  [For the record, Eric Dungey is double-slotted as a QB and as a TE.]  Given that the Giants took Daniel Jones with the overall #6 pick in this year’s draft, you would have to say that they think they have an “heir-apparent” in the wings.  It will be interesting to see what the Giants do with regard to signing/extending Eli Manning as this season progresses.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times regarding the possibility that the Orchids of Asia Day Spa video tape was going to be made public:

“Florida prosecutors say they’ll release videos of Patriots owner Robert Kraft at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, with certain parts pixelized.

“Even the refs who jobbed the Saints are saying, “Bad call!’ ”

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



More Racing Blues…

While I was gone, a few more horses died – or more accurately had to be euthanized – at Santa Anita.  I believe the number of fatalities at that track now comes to 30 horses since Christmas 2018.  The LA Times has called for the track to cancel the rest of its meeting which the track has not done.  That “difference of opinion” is small potatoes compared to one that could arise very soon.

A little more than 4 months from now – on November 1 and November 2 – the Breeders’ Cup Races are scheduled to take place at Santa Anita.  The Breeders’ Cup attracts the best thoroughbreds in training every year and the races provide for two days of TV pageantry and spectacle.  Now consider two ‘possibilities”:

  1. You are the owner of one of the 50 best horses in the world; you have a chance to win several million dollars in a Breeders’ Cup race; your horse is one of the top 3 Morning Line favorites in his race.  You also know that your horse is going to haul in several million dollars in stud fees even if he does not win this Breeders’ Cup race.  Question for you, Mr. Owner is simple: Do you ship your horse to Santa Anita even to work out on the track and risk that he becomes another notch in the barn door there?
  2. The horses are in the gate for one of the races on Saturday.  You are at home watching on TV and have been regaled with all the important – and non-important- stuff about this race for the past hour.  The gate opens and sometime in the first furlong, right there in the middle of the screen, one of those horses breaks a leg and goes down.  On national TV, one of those “noble steeds” effectively dies in front of everyone watching the races.

Horse racing is a sport in serious decline.  If a bunch of owners decide not to “risk” their prize horses on this pinnacle of the racing year, how can that possibly help put the sport on a more positive vector heading?  Even worse, if one of the top horses in training breaks a leg on this track that has seen such an abnormal breaking of equine legs this year, might the hue and cry that arises take horse racing from a sport in serious decline and send it into a death spiral?

  • [Aside:  Do not underestimate the fallout from an equine death on TV.  Remember when Barbaro broke its leg in one of the Triple Crown Races and the controversy it generated.  And, Barbaro’s demise predated the time when every yahoo with Wi-Fi access who wanted one could have a Twitter account to announce whatever comes to mind in the heat of any moment.]

Since the powers-that-be at Santa Anita still have no idea what is the root cause of these equine deaths, these questions loom over what is left of the sport for the next 4 months.  Imagine you had the deciding vote as to where this year’s Breeders’ Cup Races should take place.  Would you keep them at Santa Anita – or move them somewhere else?

In tracking down some of the info about Santa Anita and racing there, I also ran across something else that should concern the folks who are proponents of thoroughbred racing; this does not indicate good health for the “industry” as a whole.  Suffolk Downs will cease to have live racing at its facility as of the end of this month; it will stay open as a simulcast facility where folks can bet on races taking place elsewhere.  Suffolk Downs is in Boston close by Logan Airport; it has been the top racetrack in New England for about 75 years.  Suffolk Downs never achieved the recognition that Saratoga did nor was it ever comparable to the NYC tracks in prestige.  Nevertheless, it hosted its fair share of “great racehorses” over its time.  Now, it is going to be a simulcast facility and the land will be developed into a new Boston neighborhood.

While focused on events in the Boston area, let me turn to a comment recently by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton-Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Bottom line: Forbes has put out another list of the highest-paid athletes. It’s the usual dull cluster of dollar signs and numbers, but with one amusing twist. Strictly by salary, Tom Brady ranks fifth on the list — among Boston athletes alone. The top paid Beantown jock is Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, followed by teammates Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Red Sox left-hander David Price slips into fourth place. Not taken into account is the cash value of six Super Bowl rings.”

I had always marveled at the fact that Brady was not one of the top QBs in the NFL in terms of salary given his record of getting teams into the playoffs and the Super Bowl and then to win Super Bowl Championships.  However, I had never thought to compare his salary to other athletes who toil in the same city.  Here is a tip of the hat to Professor Molinaro for that perspective.

The NBA Draft will happen tonight.  Amidst and among all the reports about trade rumors and who will draft whom, there is a sidelight to the draft that seemingly has only drawn attention here in the DC area.

  • The Washington Wizards – soon to be nicknamed the Woeful Washington Wizards – do not have a General Manager who will run this draft with some of his “personal skin in the game” so to speak.

About 2 months ago, the Wizards fired Ernie Grunfeld from that job.  That was a decision that should not have caused the owner, Ted Leonsis, even a moment’s confusion.  An NBA team has an opening as its GM; even though the Wizards are not a good team and are in a salary cap Hell that even Dante Alighieri could not have imagined, this is still a GM position in the NBA.  Notwithstanding the title and the position, there have been no hirings and there have been no public expressions of interest in the job for the whole time it has been vacant.

By the way, the Draft is tonight AND the NBA free agency period will begin 10 days after the Draft.  Even in something less than an ideal organizational situation, you would think that having an incumbent GM to navigate the free agent marketplace for the team would be a good idea, no?

Finally, since I spent time today with regard to sporting stuff in the Boston area, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about another Boston athlete:

“Just-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski put a big dent in the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl trophy when he wielded it like a bat to bunt a pitched baseball before a Red Sox game.

“In fact, one could say the chrome football atop the Lombardi now looks a bit … deflated.”

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



Random Stuff …

Whilst I was on hiatus, an email arrived from Gregg Drinnan whose Taking Note blog is one of the links on the blogroll here.  He was formerly the Sports Editor of the Kamloops Daily News until that paper ceased to exist.  He knows that I enjoy describing here some of the outrageous culinary offerings that show up at sports venues and he sent along one from the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions.  [Aside: The 2019 CFL season has begun as of 13 June.]  Here is something you can buy – and try to eat – at a BC Lions game; they call it The Outrageous Burger:

  • 3 Beef Patties
  • 3 Chicken Strips
  • 6 Strips of Bacon
  • 3 Slices of Cheese
  • 1 Hot Dog
  • All that super-healthy goodness packed inside a large bun.

I had been saving this next item for the beginning of the college football season, but it seems appropriate to place it here in juxtaposition with The Outrageous Burger.  A former colleague was a visiting professor at the University of Texas – Austin.  Last year and he sent me a description of some of the eats available at a local eatery about a half-mile from Darrell Royal Stadium in Austin.  The restaurant is known as “Fat Sal’s”; that ought to be a foreshadowing.  One of their “sandwiches” comes on an extra wide roll and is known as the Fat Texas.  On that extra wide garlic roll, one can savor:

  • Barbecue Pastrami Brisket
  • Chicken Fingers
  • Mozzarella Sticks
  • Bacon
  • Grilled Onions
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Mozzarella Fries
  • Mayo
  • Honey barbecue sauce

Pass the Rolaids, please…

With the NBA Draft nearly upon us, I need to dislocate my shoulder by patting myself on the back for a moment here.  As I noted yesterday, I did not get to watch even a moment of the NBA Finals and so I spent part of yesterday reading some of the accounts of those games and looking at some stats.  Fred Van Vleet was a significant contributor to the Raptors championship run and that reminded me that I touted him as a sleeper in the 2016 NBA Draft.  Here is what I said about him on 23 June 2016 – just before the NBA Draft in that year:

“Fred Van Vleet (Wichita State): He is not the best “fill in the blank here” as compared to other guards in this draft. There are better shooters, passers, ball handlers etc. However, Van Vleet is very good at everything you want a guard to do – and some of that derives from the fact that like Denzel Valentine, he got 4 years of good coaching in college. I think that a team in need of a point guard – a backup for the first year or two to be sure – would do well to pick up this guy tonight.”

Van Vleet was not drafted by anyone in 2016 demonstrating that talent scouting is an art more than a science.

I ran across a report that OJ Simpson has set up a Twitter account and that he intends to “set the record straight” with that account.  Another report said that OJ had acquired more than 500,000 followers in less than a week.  Here is Brad Dickson’s Twitter reaction to this “news”:

“Good: to be followed by O.J. on Twitter.

“Bad: to be followed by O.J. home from a restaurant.”

A report yesterday said that David Ortiz’ condition at Mass General Hospital had been upgraded to “Good” after he was shot in the back in a bar/club in the Dominican Republic a few days ago.  News continues to dribble out about the alleged perpetrators and about potential motivations for that shooting.  Obviously, there will need to be some sort of trial to clarify many of the points here but even at this extremely early stage of the investigation, I believe there are two conclusions I might draw:

  • Allegedly, the “money man” behind all of this paid approximately $8000 to a cohort of people to pull off the shooting.
  • The gunman got behind Ortiz and at close range shot him in the lower back area.
  • Conclusion #1:  If you are the gunman and you are close to the back of your target in a crowded space where one shot is likely to be all you will get, why not shoot the intended victim in the back of the head instead of the lower back?  John Wilkes Booth knew he had only one shot to accomplish his end; he did not put a bullet in Abraham Lincoln’s lower back.  There was a planning gap here.
  • Conclusion #2:  You get what you pay for.  What else could you expect for only $8000?

Finally, let me put the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals into perspective here with comments from these two sports columnists:

“OK, so the NBA champ is from Canada and the NHL champ from the U.S.

“What everyone really wants to know is who gets to claim curling?” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]

And …

“If the Raptors win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, will Canada hold it hostage to get the Stanley Cup back?”  [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

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



The Bad Penny Turns Up Again…

Poor Charlie is still riding the Boston MTA because he does not have that extra nickel to get off that train.  He is “the man who never returned” …  I on the other hand am like “the bad penny”.  No matter how often I go away, I always seem to turn up again.  Like today …

While I have been in the industrialized world for the past 3 weeks – – two in Switzerland and one in Ireland – – I have been pretty much off the grid when it comes to US sports.  In Switzerland tennis, skiing and golf seemed to dominate the sports news in the English language newspapers available.  In Ireland, the only US sporting thing that mattered was the US Open golf tournament.  As for things like the NBA Finals, only the injuries got any sort of mention; and with regard to MLB, they may just as well have been playing those games on one of the moons of Jupiter.  I did not learn of the Anthony Davis trade to the Lakers until yesterday when I got a carry-on copy of USA Today for my flight home to the US.

So, piecing together the top-level view of what happened since I have been gone:

  1. When I left, the Phillies were leading the NL East by 1.5 games over the Braves.  This morning, the Braves hold a 3-game lead in that division.  There is still some suspense left here.
  2. When I left, the Cubs led the Brewers by a half-game and led the Cardinals by 4 games in the NL Central.  Today the Brewers have a half-game lead over the Cubs with the Cardinals 2.5 games back.  This division is going to be the most interesting races in MLB this year.
  3. When I left, the Dodgers led the D-Backs and the Padres by 8 games.  This morning they lead both those teams by 10 games in the NL West.  Call that division race over and done with.
  4. When I left, the Yankees led the Rays by 2.5 games and the Red Sox by 6.5 games in the AL East.  Today the Rays trail by only 1.5 games and the Red Sox are 5.5 games out of first place.  This division is where the AL focus should be for the rest of this season.
  5. When I left, the Twins had a 10-game lead over the Indians and that situation still pertains today.  I guess the Twins might collapse but until this race gets closer than 5 games, I will pay a lot more attention to AL East than to this race.
  6. When I left, the Astros had a 6.5-game lead over the A’s – – and the A’s had just won 10 games in a row.  Today the A’s are in 3rd place in the AL West 11 games behind the Astros and the Rangers have moved into second place there trailing the Astros by 8.5 games.  The AL West race is – like the NL West race – over for the 2019 season.

The Women’s World Cup group play is underway, and the US Women have breezed through their first two games against Thailand and Chile.  Next up for the US Women will be Sweden and that game will not be a cakewalk.

Everyone has proclaimed that the Lakers are the clear and definitive winners in the trade with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis.  There is an adage in NBA circles that goes like this:

  • Whenever a superstar is traded from one team to another, the team that loses the superstar loses the trade.

Well, the Pelicans traded away a superstar in Anthony Davis and what the got in return are 3 good-but-not-nearly great players in return (Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram) and 3 first round picks from the Lakers that stretch out to the middle of the next decade.  No one can reasonably say that the trade makes the Pelicans into a formidable threat to win the NBA West.  The Lakers clearly improved – – but unlike most other commentators, I am not yet ready to announce that the Lakers are clearly the Best of the West.  Next season may show that they are the best, but let me offer up 2 reasons to pump the brakes just a bit:

  1. Anthony Davis has been in the NBA for 7 seasons.  In 2 of those seasons he played in 75 games meaning that he went through the season without any sort of injury.  In the other 5 seasons, he has missed more than 15 games in each one of them.  The Lakers need him to stay healthy enough to play well in at least 75 games.
  2. LeBron James’ season in 2018/19 can be viewed as an anomaly due to his groin injury or it might be seen as an indication that his career arc has leveled off.  Recall when James returned that he announced that he was going into “championship mode” with his play and that would propel the Lakers into the playoffs where – he hinted – there might be surprises for other NBA West teams.  That sounded great; problem is that it never came close to happening.  “Championship mode” produced more losing for the Lakers and led to James being “shut down” before the regular season ended.

Time will reveal the winner and the loser in this trade – and the degree to which the win and the loss had a lasting effect on the two franchises.  I do think, however, that there is a definitive loser in this trade and that loser is LaVar Ball.  His dream was to have all three of his sons playing for Lakers’ championship teams.  Lonzo got to wear the Lakers’ uniform but will not be doing so for the next several years; in terms of franchises and visibility, Lonzo Ball has just been sent to the NBA’s version of Elba.

Because ESPN’s NBA coverage dotes on the Lakers, there used to be a reason for ESPN to invite LaVar Ball to be a guest on one of their gabfests.  I don’t see that happening very much over the next several years.  I think the only way LaVar Ball’s dream of his three sons playing for the Lakers simultaneously would be if he sells a whole lot of those $500 sneakers and uses the profits to buy the Lakers and then signs up his sons to play for the team that he would obviously coach.  I shan’t be holding my breath…

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News had some bad news for some marathon runners recently:

“CNN says the Belfast City Marathon was more than a marathon. The lead car wandered off the official route, making the race three-tenths of a mile longer than regulation.

“Great. Now all those Volvo drivers have to change their window stickers from 26.2 to 26.5.”

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



RIP Bart Starr

Bart Starr died over the weekend; he was 85 years old.  Starr was low-key QB of “Lombardi’s Packers” in the 50s and 60s; that was not a time when QBs put up gaudy stats, but Starr managed to get the Packers into 10 playoff games winning 9 of them.

Rest in peace, Bart Starr.

Organizations like to do a “late Friday news dump” when they have to reveal some sort of bad news or something that might be very controversial.  The idea is that many people will be focused on their weekend plans that the news will not get as much notice as it might if done during the week.  Last Friday was a really good time for one of those “news dumps” given that this is the Memorial Day Weekend where almost everyone had weekend plans.  So, a high school in Texas seemingly took advantage of that and made this “potentially controversial” announcement last Friday evening:

  • Mount Vernon High School hired Art Briles to be its head football coach.

To be sure, Briles has been successful on the sidelines all during his career – – but there was more than “a bit of a problem” during his time at Baylor.  Personally, I am surprised that he is coaching anywhere other than in pro football after his exit from Baylor.  Rather than go through all the problems there and his prospects in his new job, let me provide a link to this piece by Pete Thamel at Yahoo! Sports.  Lest you think there will be any ambiguity on the part of the author here, this is the headline:

In hiring Art Briles, a small Texas town sells its soul

In a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro had this to say:

“Wondering: Have we seen anything from the Bucks or Raptors that makes us think either could beat the Warriors? We haven’t. This is a problem for the NBA and its TV partners.”

I agree this is a problem for the NBA – albeit not a severe one.  In terms of predictability being a problem for a sport and its “TV partners”, I think we should turn our attention to MLB at the moment.  The season is not quite one-third finished and unless you think that the Cleveland Indians are going to snap to life from their current state of somnambulance, the playoff structure in the AL is set.  No one is catching the Astros in the AL West; the Twins have a 10-game lead in the AL Central and the highest run differential in MLB, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are dominating the AL East.  Those folks are playing for home field advantage and to avoid the “dreaded wild-card play-in game”.

Over in the NL, there is still some intrigue – – if you remember to avoid looking at the NL West where the Dodgers might have to invent something totally new in order to lose the division title.  So, in MLB, there are only two divisions where the races are not rather well known so early in the year.

The Toronto Blue Jays are apparently strong believers in the science of genetics.  Earlier this season they called up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (scion of a Hall of Fame player) from their minor league system.  Last week, they dipped into their minor league pool of talent and called up Cavan Biggio – son of Hall of Fame second-baseman, Craig Biggio.  A historian should check to see if the Jays’ GM, Ross Atkins, is related to Gregor Mendel.

The folks who put together The Onion are spectacular when it comes to cutting through a lot of haze and exposing the heart of a matter.  Consider this headline from about a week ago:

  • Adam Gase to play all 22 positions after pushing out entire Jets team.

Back in March, Landry Jones signed on with the Raiders as a free agent.  After spending 5 years with the Steelers as a back-up QB to Ben Roethlisberger, it was clear that he was heading west to continue in that role behind Derek Carr.  As a back-up QB on a good team, Jones did what you might expect a back-up QB to do.  The Steelers called on him to start a total of 5 games and the team record in those games was 3-2.  He “held the fort.”  This seemed like a sensible move on the part of the Raiders building some depth behind Derek Carr.

All of that thinking went out the window last week when the Raiders released Landry Jones to make room for a tight end that they added to their roster.  There is something else about this low-level roster move that puzzles me.  Here are the 2 QBs on the Raiders’ roster who stand behind Derek Carr now that Jones is once again a free agent:

  • Mike Glennon – Granted he has never been with a team as talented as the Steelers, but he has started 22 games and the team record in those games is 6-16.
  • Nathan Peterman – He has started 4 games in his career; the team record in those games is 1-3.  He has thrown 3 TDs and 12 INTs in his career.  His average passing yards per game in those 4 starts is 68.5.

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times seems to have connected the dots with this observation:

“Americans are bored 131 days a year, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll researchers.

“Which, as fate would have it, is exactly the number of days from this year’s NFL Draft to the season opener.”

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



Not So Quiet Anymore…

Things seemed to be quieting down on the “western front” – – not the western front in World War I, I mean the western front in terms of horse racing controversy in the US.  Recall that Santa Anita (in Arcadia, CA) had seen a couple dozen racing and training injuries earlier this year that were sufficiently severe that the horses had to be euthanized.  They shut down the track for a month or so; they had a variety of specialists/experts study and analyze the track; they instituted new rules about medications.  Seemingly, that put things on a more normal footing, until just recently.

Now, Santa Anita has had two more injuries that resulted in euthanasia in the past week or so – one during training and another in a race.  There had been about 6 weeks of accident-free racing and training but now the spotlight is again focused on Santa Anita.  The grim statistics there are:

  • Since Christmas of 2018, there have been 25 horses injured at Santa Anita to the extent that the animals had to be put down.

If there were nothing else going on, that datum could easily scare trainers and owners of thoroughbreds to the point that they would take their assets and deploy them elsewhere.  If that was the “extent of the damage”, one could live with the bewilderment as to how all of that came to pass and move on to look at horse racing in different venues.  But that is not all that is going on and the stakes for what is going on are much higher than the quality of racing at Santa Anita or the continued existence of Santa Anita as a horse racing facility.

Bryant Gumbel did a segment on Santa Anita – and horse racing more generally – on his HBO program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.  In the segment, reporter Bernard Goldberg said that these equine injuries/deaths are only “the tip of an iceberg the public knows nothing about”.  When the “issue” is framed that way, the problem is much larger.

Obviously, some defenders of horse racing and/or racing enthusiasts consider the HBO piece akin to a drive-by shooting.  I don’t want to get in the middle of their beef with HBO on this because – like both sides of that argument – I do not know enough about all the dimensions of this situation to form a solidly based opinion.  However, I do think I understand enough to make a couple of reasonable observations here:

  1. Owners and trainers use a wide variety of medications on horses racing in the US.  Some states have “tight rules” that are “closely monitored”; some other states have more lax rules with a much looser set of regulatory procedures.  That leads some to say that racing needs a “National Czar”.  If I believed that concept had an even 50/50 chance to resolve the problem, I’d be all for it.  Problem is that I think a “National Czar” would be more window-dressing than problem-solver.
  2. At the same time, I do believe that meds and drugs are part of “the problem”.  In many other countries, horses must be off all such substances for a sufficient time that on racing day, there are no traces of any such stuff in their blood – – and they test all the racers.  Meds and drugs allow a horse to run when it has “soreness” or a “minor injury”; it is comparable to weekend athlete taking an ibuprofen tablet before going out to play touch football.  But the fact is that meds set up horses to train and work while they have minor injuries and that means they do not let those minor injuries heal.
  3. I am confident that the next item I will describe will do nothing to resolve this problem.  The California State Legislature has begun to hold hearings on an “Overview of Equine and Human Safety and Welfare Policies and Procedures Within California’s Horse Racing Industry”.  The legislators seek to find the answer(s) as to what has caused this spate of equine deaths at Santa Anita and to prevent it from happening in the future.  C’mon now…  There is legislation pending that would allow the California Horse Racing Board – the “State Czar” of racing if you will – to close down any track based on its safety/welfare concerns.  [Aside:  No possible chance for shenanigans there…]

I said this before, and I continue to believe that these unexplained and misunderstood deaths at Santa Anita threaten the viability of horse racing as a sport and that racing as a sport is not in the best of health absent this sort of negative news.  I think there is progress to be made understanding and more tightly regulating the use of meds and drugs to the point where – perhaps – people who run afoul of those regulations are banned from the sport permanently.  Even there, I recognize that a lot of work and study needs to be done.

Moreover, I am convinced that any panel of legislators – from town councils to the “Greatest Deliberative Body on Earth” – will not resolve the issues here.  The best anyone can hope for there is a lot of grandstanding and arm-waving by people who would not recognize the source of these problems if the source stood up and announced its presence in monosyllabic simple declarative sentences.

Moving on, the NFL and some of its players are about to offer us a new competition.  40 Yards of Gold will feature 40-yard dashes between NFL players and former NFL players.  40 Yards of Gold bills itself as:

“… the Authority on Speed in the sport of football from Pop Warner to the NFL.”

Some of the NFL entrants are top-shelf players such as Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen and Mark Ingram.  The idea is to have 8 offensive players and 8 defensive players arranged in two seeded brackets.  By elimination there will be an “offensive champ” and a “defensive champ” and then there will be a final sprint to determine the “40-Champion”.  Two things come to mind here:

  1. Sounds like fun.
  2. Sounds like pulled/torn hamstrings about to happen.

[Aside:  No danger that injured human sprinters here will be euthanized…]

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

“An Arizona woman was jailed after sending 159,000 texts to a man after just one date.

“Thus breaking the record previously set by overzealous Alabama fans to a five-star recruit.”

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



Strange Happenings…

Let me be clear here; I know that I am certainly not the most sensitive and caring person on the planet.  I plead guilty to having stereotypical images that overlay various individuals and groups of individuals; I even laugh out loud at ethnic humor – when the joke is funny.  But even I in my most incorrigible moments recognize that this next item is more than just a little “over the line”.

The NY Post reported that women squash players at a tournament in Spain were given vibrators and a waxing set as “gifts” – – among other things to be sure.  As you might imagine these women were not happy about this and made their feelings known.  The tournament organizers said that they were sorry that the players felt “aggrieved by the prizes” and then tried to apologize for the situation.  Any attempt at an apology was probably doomed as soon as this statement appeared as part of the apology:

  • “At no moment was it done from a sexist standpoint.”

This incident is more than jaw-dropping; this report deserves a full double face-palm.  And just so you do not think that this is some kind of belated April Fool’s prank on my part, here is the link to the report in the NY Post.

Oh, but there is more bizarre sports “stuff” out there today.  A school has been kicked out of its conference because its football program is – – wait for it – – too good for the rest of the schools in that conference.  No, I am not referring to Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State; I am not referring to Linfield College who has not had a losing season in football since 1956 in the Northwest Conference (Division III).  No, this action comes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (Division III) and the penalty falls on the University of St. Thomas.  The “Tommies” will be “involuntarily removed” from the MIAC at the end of the 2020/21 athletic scheduling year.

  • [Aside:  Doesn’t it sound ever so much kinder and gentler to be “involuntarily removed” from a conference than it does to be “kicked out”?]

Naturally, when I read about this conference action, I had to go and look to see just how much better than the rest of the league St. Thomas has been.  Indeed, they have been putting a hurt on the rest of the conference teams.  Just a couple of stats for you here:

  • In conference games in 2017, St. Thomas outscored its opponents by a combined score of 458-62.
  • In the 2015 season, St Thomas outscored its conference opponents by a combined score of 451-67.
  • In November 2017, St. Thomas ran up the score over one of its conference competitors, St Olaf, and won the game 97-0.

It turns out that football is not the only sport where St. Thomas is dominant.  The conference has an annual trophy awarded to the school with the best overall record in all sports for each gender.  St. Thomas had won both the men’s trophy and the women’s trophy every year from 2008 through 2017.

There are 13 schools in the MIAC today; the MIAC was founded in 1920 with 7 original members; St. Thomas was one of those 7 schools in the original incarnation of the MIAC.  The characterization of St Thomas being involuntarily removed from the MIAC was not the only grandiloquence in the announcement.  The conference mavens felt it necessary to point out that the Tommies were:

“… [one of the] seven founding members of the MIAC and will leave the conference in good standing with a long and appreciated history of academic and athletic success.”

Let me translate that for you:

  • St. Thomas has been in the conference for 100 years and they have dominated the athletic competitions in the conference for much of that time.  The rest of the schools got tired of getting their asses kicked and decided to send St. Thomas packing – – but with best wishes and with appreciation of their prior success.  Oh, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Obviously, it costs money for schools to run an athletic program – no matter if you are talking about a Division 1-A football program or a middle school basketball team.  In those situations where there is marginal revenue generated by the program, there is a need to impose cost controls to stem the flow of red ink.  Watauga High School in Boone NC seems to have come up with an interesting approach to cost controls for their basketball programs.

Laura Berry has been successful in coaching the girls’ basketball team to consecutive playoff appearances and a conference championship in 2018.  The school needed a coach for the boys’ team and decided to hire Ms. Berry to take on both coaching positions simultaneously.  In case you are wondering how she is going to be able to do that, it turns out that the boys’ team and the girls’ team play all their games at the same venue for the season.  That saves the school district the cost of buying one of those “Beam-Me-Up-Scotty-Machines” made famous on Star Trek to get her from one game to the next efficiently.

Here is a link to a report in the Watauga Democrat with all the details on this hiring decision by the school district.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News that demonstrates yet another way to kill two birds with one stone:

“Having drawn the top pick in the NBA draft, the New Orleans Pelicans are expected to select Duke’s Zion Williamson.

“But that’s just when the dealing should begin. If they’re smart, the Pelicans will trade Williamson to Utah in exchange for their long-lost nickname.

“How perfect would that be?

“Utah would be home to Zion, and New Orleans would have back the Jazz.”

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



Sports And Business Intersect Here

If all I told you was that a local company has entered into an agreement with the local high school to pay $750K for naming rights to the school’s athletic field, you would probably think this was a high school football venue in Texas or maybe this was the high school from which emerged the fabulously wealthy CEO of a business.  In either instance, you would be wrong.

  • The location is not Texas – or even the US.  The location is Leamington, Ontario, Canada and the high school field will be a multi-purpose facility.  Leamington is a small town (population about 27,500 in 2016) located in the southwest part of Ontario on Lake Erie; physically, it is closer to Detroit than it is to any of Canada’s major cities.
  • The benefactor is Nature Fresh Farm a company that provides greenhouse grown non-GMO produce on a year-round basis.

This high school is relatively new and the athletic facilities have been evolving for the last decade or so; there was a student/community fund-raising effort called “Finish the Field” that had raised a bit more than $100K – but even so the “finished field” was going to be a grassy area for football and/or soccer with a few bleachers for spectators.  That is when Nature Fresh Farm honored its ledge to support the school and its quest for a sports facility and kicked in the $750K for the “naming rights”.  Now the vision for the facility has expanded to include a track around the fields with an all-weather surface.

Take the story above and file it under “sports/business stories without a lot of smarminess”.  There just aren’t a lot of them running around out there these days.   And as evidence for that assertion please consider this report related to sports and business.

The topic here is college football in the US – and so you can immediately set your smarmy meter to the highest range setting available.  You might be tempted to dial it back just a bit when I tell you that the story does not involve one of the “football factories” or one of the “power schools” – – but do not be too hasty.

The school in question here is Miami (Ohio).  The school is often referred to as the “cradle of coaches” for having produced people like – inter alia:

  • Paul Brown
  • Paul Dietzel
  • Weeb Ewbank
  • Sid Gilman
  • John Harbaugh (father of the current “Harbaugh brothers” in the coaching business)
  • Woody Hayes
  • Sean McVay
  • Ara Parseghian
  • Bo Schembechler
  • Jim Tressel

Now, they seem to be involved in activities that could label them as the cradle of creative accounting.  According to the school newspaper – – The Miami Student – – the school athletic department purchases about 10,000 tickets for each football game so that the school can meet the NCAA minimum attendance requirements for the school to remain in Division 1-A.  And where does the athletic department get the money to buy these tickets that are never used but count as “paid attendance” so that Miami can keep its Division 1-A status in the MAC?  Why they get it from the student fees charged by the university over and above tuition.  Cue the Church Lady from SNL:

  • Isn’t that special?

Miami (Ohio) along with just about every MAC school has trouble getting people into the stadium, but college football attendance is a problem even at the highest level of the sport.  Recall last season that Nick Saban chastised the Alabama student body for leaving games at the end of the 3rd quarter when Alabama had the game in hand.  Saban’s concept then was that the team worked hard all year to be able to dominate those games and that the student support through to the end was the student acknowledgement of the team’s accomplishment.  [For the record, I think Nick Saban is out in left field on this one – if you will allow me the use of that mixed metaphor here.]

I think all these attendance problems for college football – from the really good programs down through the truly mediocre ones – stem from two major sources;

  1. Twenty-five years ago, there was no comparison between the “game-at-home experience” and the “stadium experience”.  Seeing the game in person was the way to go each and every time you had a shot at tickets for the game.  Today the “game-at-home” experience is a light-year better than it was 25 years ago and, in many ways, it is better than the “stadium experience”.  When you watch – or merely tun in briefly – on a Wednesday night in November and see a MAC game in progress you will notice that there are few folks in the stands and that the ones who are there universally look uncomfortable.  That is the Miami (OH) problem – bad conditions on a weeknight in games that really don’t mean a whole lot.
  2. The ability to see top teams play one another more than once ever couple of years in that excellent “game-at-home” environment has made the college football fan more discriminating in the way he spends his time.  After an Alabama fan watches the Tide take on LSU and Georgia and Florida and Auburn – live or on TV – he might not be nearly as excited to stay to the bitter end to watch Alabama toy with the likes of New Mexico State or Western Carolina (two of this year’s sacrificial lambs).

Television has brought more than merely prosperity to college football programs; it has brought the ability for fans to be more discriminating in what they will watch and what they will not watch.  So, maybe instead of buying up phantom tickets to games and pretending that many people showed up for the game (as Miami (OH) has done) or instead of trying to come up with ways to reward students for staying to the bitter end of blowout home games (as Alabama is going to try to do starting this year), maybe some out-of-the-box thinking is in order here:

  • Maybe Miami (OH) and the rest of the MAC schools should consider playing games on Saturday afternoons and not on Wednesday nights?  It is warmer in the afternoon than it is at night – – particularly in MAC country once Halloween comes and goes.
  • Maybe Alabama might consider scheduling fewer cupcake opponents.  Next year they will play Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina as their 4 out-of-conference games.  Yes, I know that the conference schedule for any team in the SEC West is a tough one; but look at those four cupcake opponents and ask yourself if you would want to sit through an entire game watching them get trucked by Alabama.

Finally, business considerations plague sports programs/teams and the sports media too.  Here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times on that topic:

“Golf Digest is struggling to come up with advertisers.

“New in-house marketing slogan:  ‘Get out of the hole’.”

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



The Warriors Are Still On A Roll…

The Golden State Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals last night sweeping the Blazers and earning the team a bit of rest before facing either Milwaukee or Toronto out of the Eastern Conference.  This makes 5 consecutive Finals for the Warriors and the last time the NBA had that happen was back in the 60s when the Celtics were playing with the likes of Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy.  Teammates, Steph Curry and Draymond Green both posted Triple Doubles in the game and that is the first time in NBA history that ever happened in a playoff game.  Draymond Green had an outstanding game doing just about everything one could want from a player.  Stats do not always tell the story, but these stats will give you a pretty good idea of the impact Green had on the game:

  • 18 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists – – PLUS – –
  • 2 blocked shots and 3 steals.

The Bucks and Raptors will continue their playoff series tonight in Toronto with the Bucks leading 2 games to 1.  The oddsmakers opened this game with the Bucks as a 1-point favorite but that spread has expanded to 2.5 points most everywhere and to 3 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks.

I understand that hyperbole and self-congratulation are staples in the announcements that accompany sports and network deals.  Those deals are always superb and heavenly and the like; so, I was not shocked to see that the WNBA TV deal with CBS Sports Network TV was hailed as one of the great achievements of Western Civilization.  From the CBS side of the table we learned from Sean McManus:

“This partnership is one of the biggest and most impactful women’s sports programming arrangements ever at CBS Sports, offering national exposure of 40 games per year.  This agreement provides great live content throughout the summer in primetime and on weekends, and aligns two great brands in the WNBA and CBS Sports. We look forward to working with the WNBA for many years to come.”

That is pretty standard fare for events of this kind and so we now turn to Adam Silver – the NBA Commissioner – who still fronts for the WNBA 23 years after it came into existence:

“Through our partnership with CBS Sports Network, the WNBA is joining an elite lineup of premium sports programming.  We thank CBS Sports for making such a meaningful commitment to women’s basketball and for providing another platform to showcase the world-class athletes of the WNBA.”

“An elite lineup of premium sports programming?” Seriously?  CBS Sports Network simulcasts sports-talk radio programs for much of the day but here is the elite lineup of sports they will present to you for the next several days – until the first WNBA telecast – during prime time:

  • College Bowling
  • PWBA Bowling
  • British Touring Car Championship
  • Blancpain GT World Challenge (White Bread?  Is this a cooking show?)
  • Supercars Championship
  • PBR Bull Riding
  • Pickleball
  • Collegiate Bass Fishing (Do they give athletic scholarships for fishing?)
  • Major League Rugby
  • WNBA game (Sky versus Lynx)
  • Lion Fight 55 (It’s some sort of MMA event)

That is the family of elite/premium sports programming the WNBA has joined.  If that is elite, I am pleased to be a plebian…

Speaking of TV deals, the XFL 2.0 has reached 2 TV deals – each of 3-years in duration – with Disney and with FOX.  The league will begin play in February 2020 and these deals will put every XFL game on television – either on cable or on over-the-air network TV.  About half the games will be on network TV; that is important because that means fans will have a better chance of finding the games and then choosing to watch them or not.  [Aside:  The lineup above on cable CBS sports TV does not afford the WNBA such a luxury.]  And as the Bard of Avon might say here:

“Aye, there’s the rub…”

The XFL product on the field must be accepted by the viewing public as an interesting and acceptable way to spend a few hours a week because there will be a laser focus on the ratings that the games attract.  The audiences have to be “of a certain size” AND the audiences must continue to show interest in the product.  No one is going to dig deeply into the demographics of the WNBA game (Sky versus Lynx) next weekend to read any kinds of future tea leaves.  The ratings for that game will be down in “infomercial territory” and most everyone knows that from the start.  The XFL 2.0 will not enjoy such a lax overview.

The good news for the XFL 2.0 TV deal is that the league is not buying the TV time from the network as did the AAF.  Rather, the networks will absorb all the costs of producing the games for telecast and the networks will keep all the advertising money that comes in.  The networks’ coverage of production costs is a plus for the XFL 2.0; it means they will burn money at a lower rate.  The lack of any split in the advertising revenue that comes in is not a plus because the XFL 2.0 must have incoming revenue to survive and getting money back from the networks as part of the rights package is one of the big revenue streams.  The AAF business model did not work; we shall see about the XFL 2.0 business model…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“Colts owner Jim Irsay forked over $718,750 to buy John Lennon’s famed piano.

“Hey, Jim, when the player-personnel people said they wanted Peppers, they meant Julius, not Sgt.”

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