So Many Home Runs …

I missed the Home Run Derby last night – – but I think I have a valid excuse.  Yesterday was our 53rd wedding anniversary; so, my long-suffering wife and I were enjoying a quiet dinner while way too much attention was being lavished on batting practice.  Besides, home runs are no longer anything special in MLB games against actual pitchers who are trying to get batters out.  Consider data:

  1. The MLB record for home runs in a season is 6,105 set in 2017.
  2. Currently, MLB is on pace to hit 6,668 home runs in 2019.
  3. There are 2340 regular season MLB games scheduled.  At the current pace, every MLB game will see an average of 2.74 home runs.


The record-breaking pace of home runs hit this year has generated a lot of speculation about the ball being juiced or manufactured in a different way.  Lower seams are said to provide less air resistance adding distance to fly balls; a more perfectly centered core in the baseball nominally reduces wobble in flight and therefore adds distance to fly balls.  We could get a panel of Nobel Laureate physicists together to theorize and study this “problem” and likely come up with a dozen other hypotheses.  Who knows?  The answer may lie in one or more of these hypotheses.

I would like to offer a hypothesis that goes along another axis:

  • Suppose the players are juiced – in addition to the ball being juiced or as an isolated cause for all the home runs.

Maybe the “underground pharmacists” have opened up a significant lead on the forensic labs that do the PED testing and the players – having learned what happens if that sort of info leaks to the press – are much more circumspect about how and when they take the PEDs and are determined not to talk among themselves about where to get them or how to use them.  I am not saying this is what is going on; I’m not even saying this is probably what is going on; but MLB would be purely Polly-anna to deny that it is possibly going on.  Remember, this happened before…

Occasionally, I read a sports story and say to myself, “There has to be more to this than what is reported here.”  Here is an example:

  • A high school district in NY fired its boys’ basketball coach who has been with the school for more than 30 years and whose teams have won 414 games, 9 league championships and 4 district championships.  He has also been Coach of the Year 5 times.
  • This coach was also the school’s athletic director and he was removed from that position because the school district superintendent says he does not have the “administrative certifications” necessary to be the athletic director.
  • However, they also removed him from the position as boys’ basketball coach and there had never been any “certification problems” associated with him in that position over the course of his career.

I have no idea what administrative certifications one needs to have to be a high school athletic director nor do I have any idea if the possession of such certifications is important in carrying out the duties of such a position.  Here is what I think I know:

  • If the coach/AD does not have the proper certification now, he most certainly did not have them when he was hired/appointed to the AD position.  So, how did it become a dire necessity to replace him now?  What horrendous mishap occurred in the last few months or so that would cause this reaction – – and how might someone with proper certification have clearly avoided such a horrendous situation?
  • If there is a legal reason he must be removed as the AD, why is he also being fired as the basketball coach where he has won more than 400 games for the school?
  • The school district is looking to hire a new AD – meaning that even if the current coach/AD went out and got the proper certification he would not have that job.  Is that how an organization treats an employee with 30+ years of experience and success?

As I said, there must be more to this story.  Someone involved in this matter woke up one morning and found that his corn flakes had been pissed on.

On a brighter note, Tedy Bruschi announced that he is doing much better after suffering a stroke last week.  Bruschi also suffered a stroke about 10 years ago while a player for the New England Patriots but he recovered after a year of rehab to continue his career.  Bruschi is not one of the studio commentators for ESPN and – along with Louis Riddick – I think he is the best of what ESPN has to offer there.

Get well – and then stay well – Tedy Bruschi…

Finally, Dwight Perry chronicled this great retirement announcement in the Seattle Times recently:

“Goalie Roberto Luongo, via Twitter, on retiring from the Florida Panthers after 19 NHL seasons: ‘I’ve decided to take my talents to a South Beach retirement home.’”

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



Congratulations To The US Women’s National Team – World Cup Champs

Clearly, the obvious way to begin today is to offer unadulterated congratulations to the US Women’s National Team for winning its second consecutive – and fourth overall – Women’s World Cup.  Their win over the Netherlands team was a dominant one; the score was 2-0 but it could easily have been 5-0 had it not been for a heroic effort on the part of the Dutch goaltender.

The flow of the game was almost the mirror-image of what many had predicted.  Normally, the US team opens with a fast-paced attack, scores early and makes the opponent try to play from behind.  Yesterday, the US team started fast – – but the Dutch women stayed with them for the first 20 minutes or so and the game was tied at the half.  Normally, the Dutch women dominate the second half and they “specialized” in winning by scoring late goals in their games.  Yesterday, at the end of the game, it was the US team that dominated play.

The US women dominated the tournament itself.  Ignore the 13-0 mismatch against Thailand; the women played 6 games against worthy competition.  In those 6 games, the cumulative score was 13-3.  Next year, the USWNT will seek to qualify for the Olympics where they have won 4 Gold Medals in the past.  Given the way they played yesterday, they deserve to be odds-on favorites in those games.

Congratulations also need to be directed toward the LA Clippers for their personnel coup late last week.  Most of the pundits had the Clippers as one of the teams that Kawhi Leonard would consider signing with; none that I am aware of had them signing Leonard AND trading to acquire Paul George from the Thunder.  Here is the deal:

  • Clippers get Paul George
  • Thunder gets Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 5 draft picks that stretch out to the end of time.

Gallinari is good player; do not doubt that. Gilgeous-Alexander is a young player with lots of physical talent that he may develop – – or not.  The player who is ultimately taken with the last draft pick tendered to the Thunder in the trade is probably 10 – 12 years old this morning.  And that fact leads me to this observation:

  • The Lakers traded away a ton of future draft picks to get Anthony Davis and now the Clippers have traded away a metric ton of future draft picks to get Paul George.
  • Question:  Why would any NBA fan in Los Angeles bother to watch the NBA Draft for the next 5 -7 years?

Staying with the NBA for a moment, you can generate a vigorous bar debate over who is the best basketball player in the league today if you toss LeBron James and Kevin Durant into the “discussion”.  However, I think there is another comparison to be made between those two players:

  • Who creates the most drama and the more complicated soap opera?  LeBron or KD?

For the last 10 years, LeBron James has been the uncontested leader when it comes to drama and complicated locker room intrigues involving coaches and teammates.  However, in recent times, it seems as if Kevin Durant has taken aim at LeBron’s status in that dimension as well as the “best player” dimension.  There is reporting out there that Durant felt “disrespected” by Warriors’ fans because they cheered louder for Steph Curry than they did for him.  I doubt there are decibel level records to verify or deny such an assertion but the existence of the assertion itself is jaw-dropping.  There is also reporting out there that Durant may sue the Warriors and/or people on the Warriors’ medical/training staff for malfeasance with regard to his leg injury that culminated in a torn Achilles tendon.  Durant will be sitting out the 2019/2020 NBA season rehabbing that injury meaning he will have plenty of time on his hands to create his own episodes of As the World Turns.

I mentioned the Olympics above regarding the USWNT preparing to qualify for those games.  In a much darker context, the Olympics made the news last week when a former Rio de Janeiro governor, Sergio Cabral, testified in a court trial that he paid $2M in bribes to buy votes to get the Olympic Games sited in Brazil.  His testimony was that he gave the money to a former president of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) who delivered the votes after spreading the money around.  Cabral testified that he was introduced to this person with the understanding that the IAAF president was “open to taking bribes”.

Please understand that Sergio Cabral is not an admirable whistleblower here.  He has already been convicted of enough counts of bribery and corruption to earn him a total of 200 years in jail from all of his sentences.  Nevertheless, his admission(s) here do shine a small light into the cesspool that is the IOC and the international sports governing bodies.  Here is a link to a report in the NY Post on this mess.

Finally, the Home Run Derby will happen tonight.  Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot over the weekend.  He and I share the same view of this event:

“For me, the Derby is slightly less tedious than the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest, though that’s a low bar to clear.”

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



Baseball Stuff Today …

As the time approaches for the MLB All-Star Game, I began to think about the best players of today and which active ones are likely to be Hall of Fame inductees when the time of their eligibility rolls around.  I noticed quickly that my thoughts were focused on players who already had long careers in MLB and most of those players were pretty obvious candidates such as:

  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Albert Pujols
  • Max Scherzer
  • Justin Verlander

So, I decided to focus on players who were still relatively early in their careers – – but removed from a single outstanding rookie year – – whose career arc was such that they might achieve such an august status somewhere down the road.  I put young pitchers into a category of their own because young pitchers can either blossom or flame out:

  • Gerrit Cole
  • Jacob deGrom
  • Aaron Nola
  • Blake Snell

For the position players, I divided the players into three categories.  The first one encompasses the Top-Shelf Players – – the ones I think have the best shot at the HoF:

  • Nolan Arenado
  • Mookie Betts
  • Mike Trout
  • Christian Yelich

The second category contains players who are just a hair behind the guys on the top-Shelf list.  Call these guys the Highly Likely Candidates:

  • José Altuve
  • Kris Bryant

The final category contains young players who have shown brightly in their short careers but who still have some work to do in order to join the ranks of the six players listed in the two categories above.  Call these players The Aspirants:

  • Cody Bellinger
  • Bryce Harper
  • Manny Machado
  • Anthony Rendon
  • Anthony Rizzo

And there is one more category that contains players who have been excellent but who have also shown a propensity for injury.  Call these players the China Dolls:

  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Noah Syndergaard

I am sure that I have left off someone’s favorite young player and that I will hear about it presently…

Later this month, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will make it legal for baseball fans to make “in-game wagers” on MLB games inside the State.  Pennsylvania will join Nevada and New Jersey as the three places in the US where that will be legal.  All of this stems from two things:

  1. The advances of mobile internet access technology
  2. The Supreme Court ruling that PASPA was unconstitutional

Some folks see in-game wagering as a great way for MLB to attract and capture a new wave of fans.  Young people may not like baseball’s pace of play but that same pace of play with intervals between “the action” is very compatible with in-game wagering – – perhaps on every pitch in the game.  This is not something that MLB is hoping will expand, this is something MLB is pushing for to the extent that it has a position in the hierarchy called “Executive Vice-President for Gaming”.

My position here is the same as it is for all sports gambling matters.  Laws cannot prevent it so States should regulate it and tax it.  I hope MLB gets this approved in every state in which MLB operates.  Moreover, I hope that MLB is correct and that this does create and engage a new generation of fans.  But there is a delicious irony here.

MLB has been the most aggressively anti-gambling entity among the major US sports since the days when Judge Landis arrived on a white horse to save the sport from a self-inflicted demise.  It was Judge Landis who posted the famous rule in every clubhouse and baseball facility for all to see every day:

“Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

In 2019, some are tying the long-term future of MLB to betting.  Judge Landis is scowling somewhere in the cosmos…

Finally, in keeping with today’s baseball focus, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“A Washington Nationals fan trying to catch a home-run ball had it bounce off the top of his noggin.

“That’s what he gets for wearing his lucky Jose Canseco jersey.”

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



US Women Advance To Finals Of The World Cup – – Again

The US Women’s National Soccer Team advanced to the final game of the tournament for the 3rd straight time yesterday beating England 2-1.  A victory on Sunday would give the USWNT their 2nd straight Women’s World Cup Championship and their 4th title overall.  The team earned this win without the services of scoring machine, Megan Rapinoe, who sat out with a hamstring strain.  The “script” for this game was similar to the one that earned the USWNT its win over France – score first and then control the other team’s offense with a “packed in defense”.

The key moment of the game came in the 84th minute of the game when England trailed 2-1 and had a penalty kick “on the spot”.  The English player drove the ball to the lower left corner of the net, and it was corralled by US goaltender Alyssa Naeher.  There is reason for Ms. Naeher to do a bit of gloating here.

While the US women entered the tournament as slight favorites, more than a few pundits identified “inexperience at goaltender” as a potential Achilles heel for the team.  As of this morning, that inexperienced goaltender saved the victory that puts the USWNT in line for this year’s championship.

I am not going to profess to be a soccer maven here but from my observation of the game yesterday and previous games in this tournament, I think there is a woman on the team who does not get nearly the level of public accolade that she deserves.  She is Becky Sauerbrunn.  I said that the “script” for the past two games seems to have been score first and play smothering defense; Becky Sauerbrunn is one of the tenacious defenders who does the “smothering”.  She may not score goals and she did not make that penalty kick save, but she makes sure the opposition does not get many open shots at the goaltender.

Switching gears …  Last winter there was an inordinate amount of attention focused on the possible landing spots for free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  When the dust settled:

  • Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies for 10 years and $330M
  • Manny Machado signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300M

I doubt that Las Vegas offered this as a proposition wager, but I suspect the odds would have been high if this were the proposition:

  • Neither Harper nor Machado will make the All-Star team in 2019.

Well, that is the circumstance for the 2019 MLB All-Star Game, and I would in no way suggest that either Harper or Machado should be on the All-Star roster in place of any player who is there.

As the NFL teams get ready to start their training camps for the 2019 season in about 3 weeks, there are two players who are probably entering the final year of what should be Hall of Fame careers once the appropriate time interval passes.  They are:

  1. Larry Fitzgerald
  2. Frank Gore

What might fans expect from these top-shelf players whose career arcs are no longer “on the upside”?  Here is one way to approach that question:

  • Larry Fitzgerald is entering the 16th year of his career and has been a Pro-Bowl caliber receiver in 11 of his first 15 seasons.  Not many WRs in the NFL last 15 years let alone perform at that level for most of them but one that did was Jerry Rice.

So, what did Jerry Rice do in his 16th year in the NFL – his final year with the Niners before Rice went across the Bay to play for the Raiders:

  • In that season, Rice caught 75 passes for 805 yards and 7 TDs.
  • Last year, playing with a rookie QB and an inexperienced offensive line, Fitzgerald caught 69 passes for 734 yards and 6 TDs.  This year, the offensive line has to be better; the QB is a different rookie and the new coach is known to run a “pass-happy offense”.
  • I think Larry Fitzgerald in 2019 should equal or slightly surpass what Jerry Rice did in his 16th NFL season.

Finding a “comparable” for Frank Gore was a tad more difficult for me.  At age 36, Frank Gore is entering his 15th season as an NFL RB; and since 2012, he has missed a total of 2 games.  The only other comparable running back I could think of was Marcus Allen who played in all 16 games – starting 15 of them – at age 36.

  • In Marcus Allen’s age 36 season (with the KC Chiefs), he ran for 830 yards on 206 carries and scored 9 TDs.
  • Those numbers are in line with Gore’s numbers from last season so there is no reason to think he could not approach them again in 2019.  Gore will likely share a lot of the running game in Buffalo with the likes of LeSean McCoy, TJ Yeldon and Senorise Perry.  That could limit his number of touches, but it is not unreasonable to expect him to average 4.8 – 5.0 yards per touch.

Finally, Brad Rock had this observation in the Deseret News about the intersection of sports and politics:

“People say sports and politics are closely related.

“Not that close.

A White House news release last week referred to the Boston Red Sox as the ‘Red Socks.’ Another proclaimed the Sox ‘World Cup Series Champions.’

Players say they’re just honored to be invited to the ‘White Castle House’.”

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



An Early Look At NBA Free Agent Moves

There have been lots of NBA free agents “on the move” in the last 36 hours or so.  Some of the signings appear to me to be very important for the teams that did the signings:

  1. Brooklyn Nets:  They sign Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan plus they did a sign-and-trade with the Warriors sending DeAngelo Russell west in exchange for Kevin Durant.  This looks to me like a “go-big-or-go-home” move.  Durant will not play next year and there is little to suggest that he will return at age 32 to the NBA at 100% of what he was prior to his Achilles tendon injury.  Moreover, Kyrie Irving is a soap opera looking for a network to televise it.  HOW-EVAH, if those two meld and can replicate their on-court prowess a year from now, watch out for the Nets.
  2. Golden State Warriors:  They got DeAngelo Russell for Kevin Durant when it looked certain they would lose Durant and get nothing in return.  Russell will replace Klay Thompson next year until Thompson rehabs his knee injury.
  3. Utah Jazz:  They had previously traded for Mike Conley and they just signed Brian Bogdanovic.  What the Jazz lacked last year was balanced scoring and both of these guys can score.  The Jazz improved a lot.

There is always another end of the spectrum no matter what the subject may be.  When it comes to NBA free agency in 2019, the low end of the spectrum has to be the NY Knicks.  For the last year, the mantra of Knicks’ fans went along this line:

  • Tank the season and get the #1 pick and get Zion Williamson.  Did not happen.
  • Take the cap room the team has and coax Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to sign to play in Madison Square Garden.  Did not happen.  [To make matters worse, the Nets signed Durant and Irving, meaning the Knicks are now the #2 basketball team in NYC regarding star power.]
  • All that cap room the team amassed – partly due to the trade of Kristaps Porzingas to the Mavericks – was used to sign Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Bobby Portis and Julius Randle.  Those are good players; none are great players.

Clearly, the Knicks have fast-forwarded into “spin mode” here.  If you listen to team president Steve Mills, it almost seems as if this outcome was desirable:

“While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents.”

If you say so…

Brad Dickson had this comment on his Twitter account last week:

“The IOC is poised to add Break Dancing as an official Olympic event. I’m not making that up. At this rate soon Gardening, Drooling, Farting and Napping will all be sanctioned Olympic competitions.”

I have always thought that Sonnet-writing could be an Olympic sport nowadays.  The competitors would be given a topic and 30 minutes to compose the 14 lines that comprise a sonnet.  An international panel of people who have proven that they can spell sonnet correctly will be the judges and medals can be awarded after the competition.  They can do this like the soccer competition and have group sonnet-writing followed by “knock-out rounds”.  The IOC could do all of this in the memory of Percy Dovetonsils.  [Google is your friend…]

Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald last week:

“Baseball named its 16 All-Star Game starters, excluding the two pitchers. The Democrats have more presidential candidates than baseball has starters.”

Another thing to note here is that all 16 All-Star Game starters are highly regarded in their field and can point to sustained excellence in the field of baseball.  You will probably be unhappy if you try to use that yardstick to measure the candidates who have been in the two Democratic “debates” so far.

A report in the Akron Beacon-Journal says that an entire high school football coaching staff was fired for a violation of school district policy.  It seems that the team and its multiple coaches were at a football camp and in the evenings – when none of the players were present – some of the coaches drank alcohol.  That violates a rule that says you can’t drink alcohol while at a school-sponsored event…  Here is the link to that report.

Since everyone seems to agree that none of the players were present or involved in the drinking incident(s), it would seem as if this is enforcing a rule to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law.

Finally, here is another item from Brad Dickson’s Twitter account:

“US News & World Report ranked every state for quality. Nebraska is 9th and Iowa 14th. Minnesota is third so I doubt climate was a criteria.”

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



Another Conference Shake-Up…

They say that things happen in threes; perhaps we have an example of that right here in the world of intercollegiate athletics.  Last week, I mentioned two instances where college sports conferences made a significant change.  UConn left the AAC and Arkansas-Little Rock joined the PAC-12 as an “affiliate member” for wrestling.  Well, there is another conference shake-up in process, and I would never have known about it save for it being prominently reported by Gregg Drinnan in his Taking Note blog here.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) consists of 10 schools and 7 of them have announced that they are leaving the conference.  With that information, my antenna immediately picks up a signal that there is something fundamentally wrong with this conference and it turns out that the “problem” is not difficult to understand.  Here are the 7 schools that want out:

  1. Ferris State – – Big Rapids, Michigan
  2. Lake Superior State – – Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
  3. Michigan Tech – – Houghton, Michigan
  4. Northern Michigan – – Marquette, Michigan
  5. Minnesota State/Mankato – – Mankato, Minnesota (Duh!)
  6. Bemidji State – – Bemidji, Minnesota
  7. Bowling Green – – Bowling Green, Ohio

Those seven schools are geographically tight.  Now, consider the other three schools in the conference who would be abandoned by the defection of those seven schools:

  1. University of Alabama – Huntsville
  2. University of Alaska – Anchorage
  3. University of Alaska – Fairbanks

The seven geographically tight schools say they want to continue to compete in hockey and made no bones about the fact that they are tired of having to travel to Alabama and/or Alaska several times a year.  Here is part of their statement in announcing this move that will effectively dissolve the WCHA:

“[The 7 defecting schools] are like-minded in their goals and aspirations for the potential new league with a focus on improving regional alignment and the overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint.”

In case you were wondering, the distance from Huntsville, AL to Fairbanks, AK via the Great Circle route is a mere 3237 miles meaning it would be a 6-hour flight if in fact there were such a flight offered.  If there were such a flight offered, I could not find it with a cursory search.

Bob Molinaro had this comment last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Picking a nit: It’s always the irritating things that never change. Like TV baseball analysts reacting to every pitch with a dissertation.”

I agree that much of the analytical commentary after every pitch in a baseball game drills down to the minutiae, but I would like to add two more things that broadcasters do that is as annoying or more annoying:

  1. Kiss Cam – and its offspring The Televised Marriage Proposal
  2. Celebrity-anointing

The networks made “Fireman Ed” into some sort of celebrity because he was able to spell “JETS” correctly; both of my sons could have done that at age 5.  The networks just conferred “fame” on a CFL fan who drinks beer from his shoe – as if that takes any special talent other than tolerating putting your foot back into a wet shoe.  And never forget “The Hogettes” whose claim to fame was that they attended NFL games dressed as pigs in drag.

The Onion always has great satirical content.  Sometimes, the headlines there summarize a situation so well that you are tempted not to read the story under the headline.  Here is such an example where the headline says it all:

  • Norfolk Tides third baseman sent down to Baltimore Orioles

Finally, as we approach July 4 later this week, Brad Dickson had this advice for everyone:

“Fireworks went on sale today. Stop complaining and go outside and stand by your roof with a hose!!”

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



UConn Returns To The Big East

UConn has returned to the Big East – and that is potentially big news because none of the schools in the Big East play Division 1-A college football.  [Villanova and Georgetown field football teams but they compete at lower levels than Division 1-A.]  This is a small “reversal of trend”; colleges have made conference change decisions in the past completely based on advantage for the football program; UConn has chosen to take things on another vector heading.

When UConn left the Big East to stay with its football program in the American Athletic Conference in 2013, it made a “football-focused choice”.  The so-called Catholic 7 left the AAC and re-created the Big East as a basketball-focused conference; UConn took the football route.  In its 6 seasons in the AAC football conference, UConn’s cumulative record is 18-54.  I think it is fair to say that the “football option” did not work out all that well for UConn athletically.

Another former Big East school made a football-focused choice when leaving the Big East and – like UConn it has not worked out all that well on the football field.  I am referring to Rutgers who was offered a slot in the Big Ten and jumped at the chance to be part of that financial juggernaut.  The on-field results for Rutgers has been equally dismal as compared to UConn.  Rutgers has been in the Big Ten for 5 seasons and its cumulative record there is 16-42.

It is not clear what UConn will do with its football program; it could try to make it as an independent; it could try to drop down to Division 1-AA; it could drop football altogether (not likely in my mind).  It is also not clear what the AAC is going to do now.  UConn’s “defection” leaves the AAC with 11 schools and according to a report I read, the loss of a school from the conference triggers a clause in the AAC deal with ESPN that allows ESPN to renegotiate the terms.  I have a sense that there is more to come regarding UConn’s decision to return to the Big East.  Consider:

  • Is there a conference out there that would want UConn as a “football-only member”?  I cannot think of one; the conference with the fewest teams is the Sun Belt Conference and they have been shedding low-grade football schools not adding them.

While UConn was rejoining the Big East – and in so doing paying homage to geography – another school and conference made an announcement that makes little if any geographical sense at all.

  • Arkansas-Little Rock has joined the PAC-12 as an “affiliate member” for wrestling.

There must be a reason for this action; no one woke up on a Tuesday morning and realized that PAC-12 wrestling had been missing the boat on this participation for the last 50 years.  Here is the deal:

  • Most PAC-12 schools – the ones who play PAC-12 football and basketball – do not have wrestling teams.  Arizona State, Oregon State and Stanford are the only ones that do.
  • The NCAA has a rule – no surprise there – that a conference must have six teams in it in order to qualify automatically for the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
  • Until 2017, Boise St. Cal-Bakersfield and Cal Poly-SLO were the “affiliate members” that filled out the PAC-12 Wrestling Conference.  Then Boise St. dropped wrestling and the PAC-12 needed another “affiliate member”.

The UConn story involves the two biggest intercollegiate sports – football and men’s basketball.  As that story unfolded, there was another one that involved the newest of the intercollegiate sports – esports.  The University of North Texas will offer esports scholarships to current and future students at UNT.  The scholarships will be worth $20K each and will require the recipients to put in 15-25 hours a week on the various esports games for competition.  In addition, the students will be required to maintain a 3.2 GPA to retain their scholarship.  Here is a link to the report providing more details on this new scholarship opportunity.

Finally, Brad Rock had this depressing comment in the Deseret News a while back:

“A recent study says men think more about sports than physical intimacy.

“Kinda makes you wonder how lonely it is being a Miami Marlins fan.”

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



The NBA Thinking Out Of The Box…

Yesterday, ESPN programs were filled with reports that the NBA is considering some changes to their schedule.  One of the talking heads said that something had to be done because the schedule as it stands is “grueling”.  With all due respect to that particular talking head – who I did not recognize – the NBA schedule is not grueling; it is merely too long.  According to the reports yesterday, the NBA’s “scheduling considerations” include 3 elements:

  1. Reducing the number of regular season games
  2. Instituting a mid-season tournament
  3. Adding “play-in games” for the NBA Playoffs

Let me address these ideas in order.  I have been a proponent of cutting back the NBA schedule from the current 82 games since the day these rants came into existence.  My preferred number for the regular season schedule would be 58 games wherein every team plays every other team twice.  The team schedules would be balanced; the season could be shortened if that is one of the objectives; regular season games would become more meaningful, and – who knows? – maybe star players might actually play in every game instead of taking random nights off.  Count me as a strong supporter of a shorter NBA regular season.

However, as “Deep Throat” advised Woodward and Bernstein:

  • Follow the money …

Money is the enemy of shortening the season.  Currently, owners get 41 home games where they can fill the arena, sell beers, collect parking fees and the like.  Cutting out games on the schedule means cutting out home games for every team and that reduces one of the revenue streams.  I cannot imagine that a majority of NBA owners will like the idea of losing those revenues.

That would seem to be where the “mid-season tournament” would come in.  But here is the problem with any sort of evaluation of the “mid-season tournament”:

  • I have not run across any description of what it might be or when it might happen.

This concept works in English soccer; the FA Cup games are woven into the schedules of the teams playing in the various levels of English soccer.  The “tournament” has comparable status with winning a league championship – particularly in the leagues below the Premier League.  Since there are only 30 NBA teams, the NBA’s version of a “mid-season tournament” cannot be a simple bracket of all the teams.  There will have to be byes given out – – or maybe this would be a real way to generate interest:

  • Invite two international teams to participate creating a 32-team field and then go bracket-crazy.

That sort of wrinkle might generate interest in the early round games of the “mid-season tournament” but as for the rest of the idea, count me lukewarm at best until I see the details.

There is another detail to be worked out for the “mid-season tournament”:

  • When would it take place?

If the NBA schedules it during January when the NFL playoffs are ongoing, it will be lost in the wilderness.  It cannot be earlier than January for it to have any meaning so it will have to happen after the Super Bowl.  It could fit into the February sporting calendar nicely – – except that the NBA already blocks out a full week of that time with its silly All-Star Game nonsense.  By the time March rolls around, it is getting a bit late in the season and teams will be focused on playoffs and not some tournament that might or not might not mean anything to anyone.  This is not a trivial issue…

Then there is the idea of adding 4 play-in games for the playoffs.  Essentially the teams that finish 7th and 8th in each conference would not get automatic playoff slots; they would have to play a single elimination game against the teams that finish 9th and 10th in the conference to get in.  This adds 4 “games of consequence” games on the table for networks to cover; you know the networks will hype the games as important when – in reality – teams that finish between 7th and 10th in the standings will have little to no impact on the playoffs about 10 days after the play-in games.  This idea seems harmless.  Play-in games will be more interesting than regular season games between two mediocre teams but let us not get overwhelmed here.

Kudos to the NBA for pondering these sorts of things.  It will be interesting to see if any of these ideas get any traction in the light of revenue reduction for the teams as a whole.

ESPN had another piece of news yesterday.  Bob Ley announced that he is retiring at the end of June after 40 years at ESPN; he was there when they turned the lights on.  Ley was never one of the “bombastic” presences on ESPN, but he was always enjoyable and informative.  His stewardship of Outside the Lines will be a standard for his successors there – and it will not be an easily achievable standard.

Bonne chance, Bob Ley.

Finally, consider these two definitions from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Bar:  A place where lonely, desperate people go to get hammered enough to find other lonely, desperate people suddenly irresistible.

Bartender:  A psychotherapist who keeps a damp rag slung over a shoulder.

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



When Politically Correct Ideas Collide …

I have been an advocate for equal rights and equal opportunities since the 1960s.  I have recognized the need for some things to be codified into law in order to achieve equal rights and opportunities even when I wished such legislation were not necessary.  I have never been particularly fond of political correctness and I still recoil a bit when things like Title IX are painted in politically correct portrayals; Title IX can stand on its own without rhetorical support.

Here we are in 2019 with all the benefits of politically correct living and #metoo awareness and a longed-for “post-racial society” – – and we have to see the collision of the politically correct version of living in 2019 colliding with the politically correct version of living in the 1970s.  Title IX came into existence in 1972 and it made it mandatory for any institution that received Federal funds to provide equal access to athletic competition for women as compared to men.  Title IX is not an unmitigated success; it requires – without saying so explicitly – that the revenue sports which are almost always male sports must share the revenues in a way that gives females an equivalent access to “the sporting experience”.  That is the law; so be it…

Now, we find ourselves in 2019 with a situation wherein the idea of which human being is a male and which one is a female is not nearly as clear as it was when Title IX sprang to life in 1972.  Let me be graphic for a moment:

  • Back then, if you were born with a Y-chromosome and exhibited a penis and testicles, you were a male.  Your “gender-identity” did not stray from those evidentiary circumstances despite whatever feelings or viewpoints as to your gender might be.
  • Most importantly, the folks who enacted Title IX seemed to recognize that there comes a time in the physical maturation processes of the human animal that males are more athletically inclined as compared to similarly aged females.  Therefore, they never saw the need to express with legislative precision that the women’s sports necessary to provide equal access to girls needed to be shielded from male participation.

Here in 2019, however, we have a societal tendency to allow each maturing and mature individual to identify for himself/herself the gender they believe expresses themselves as a whole.  In most situations, this “gender-latitude” does not hurt anyone even if it may generate a tad of confusion in the minds of some observers who may not be totally on board with such latitude.  Until we arrive at a situation such as the one that is ongoing in Connecticut today:

  • A female track athlete who excelled in her field of competition and who anticipated scholarship offers based on her statewide dominance in her events now finds herself relegated to “deep also-ran” status because what would have been male athletes in 1972 are now allowed to compete on female teams in 2019 because “female” is their gender identification.
  • This athlete has filed a Federal complaint saying that the Connecticut law that allows “biological males” to compete against her and other “biological females” defies the fundamental precepts of the Federal legislation that created Title IX.

Were I the judge hearing this case – – be secure in the knowledge that such a situation will never obtain – – I would demand that the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendants define for me what they think Title IX is all about:

  1. If it is about equality and nothing more, then there should never be women’s teams and men’s teams.  Equality is like uniqueness; equality is either the same thing for everyone or it is not the same thing for everyone and there are distinctions that need to be made.
  2. If it is about equal opportunity and access to sport as an adjunct activity to education at the high school and collegiate level, then separate teams are OK.  But if the teams are separate, does that mean that there need be separation in terms of the genetic make-up of the eligible individuals on those teams.

I tend to be much deeper in the camp of Category 1 above.  I would rule that the Connecticut law that opens up women’s teams to biological males defeats the purpose of the laws that created Title IX in the first place.  We shall see how this one turns out – – but it is fun to sit back and see folks who have invested tons of their personal energy to the cause of “equality” having to take sides here with regard to where the boundaries of “equality” should be drawn.

Here is a link to a report about the complaint that was filed regarding all of this.

Whilst on the subject of lawsuits and things of that ilk, I see that MLB is encouraging teams to extend the safety netting on MLB fields beyond the ranges that are covered today.  There have been several injury incidents this season – some of them quite serious – and given the litigious society we live in; you can crassly conclude that MLB is simply trying to limit legal exposure.  And maybe that is all that is involved here…

Except, if I were trying to limit legal exposure, I would ALSO ban all cell phones and tablets from the ballpark and I would never think of providing free Wi-Fi to anyone in the facility.  I recognize that fans can be injured – sometimes severely – by flying baseballs and bat fragments that go into the stands.  I also recognize that many fans injured by such malevolent missiles were not paying attention to what was going on in the game at the time their body and the flying object intersected.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are tons of “fans” who are there to take pictures of themselves and their companions at the game only to post those pictures on the social media outlet of the moment.  Having sat in the vicinity of many such agglomerations of “fans”, I have no idea if any of them could name the teams involved in the game on the field on front of them without peeking at the scoreboard.  Here is an uncomfortable fact of life in any MLB stadium:

  • If you are more attuned to laughing and gassing with your friends and taking pictures and pasting them to Facegram and/or Flipbook and/or WhoCares, you put yourself at risk at being hit by a flying all ball or bat much the same as a driver who is texting puts himself/herself at risk of a traffic accident.

There are not enough fans like me to make this a sustainable business strategy, but I would be happy to see a team ban cell phones and tablets from the venue and then take down the nets – except for behind home plate – with a warning to fans to pay attention to the action on the field – – – or else.

Finally, since today’s rant has focused on laws and potential litigation, let me close with a comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times related to new legislation in a country neighboring on the US:

“Quebec’s provincial legislature passed a controversial immigration bill that screens migrants based on their labor skills.

“Question No. 1 on the new application form: How good is your slap shot?”

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



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………