Football Fidgetings…

The NFL free agent season is now close enough that when you look at a list of potential free agents, you can reasonably expect the great majority of them to be available. Sure, there is still time for an “eleventh-hour contract signing” or two, but I think that is about all that could happen in the next couple of days. I think this free agent season arrives at the conjunction of two phenomena:

    1. The NFL salary cap is up significantly this year. Teams that were at last year’s cap now have cap room to sign players to expensive deal(s); teams that were way under the cap or who created cap room in the days since the Super Bowl now can “mega-spend”.

    2. The list of free agents is pretty much devoid of eye-popping star players – certainly not enough such players to absorb the large amount of cap space out there. So, some of the good and serviceable – yet not great – free agents look to cash in this year to an extent that they might not have imagined at this time last year.

Not that anyone asked, but here is my assessment of the free agent candidates that might be at the top of the list by position:

    Quarterback: Slim pickings this year. Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like the pick of the litter to me despite Osweiler’s very limited résumé and despite the fact that Fitzpatrick will be 34 years old in the middle of next season. RG3 is a boom or bust proposition for whichever team signs him.

    Running Back: Doug Martin had a nice year last season but his total body of work is not stunning. Matt Forte is awfully close to his “sell-by date”. I think the two backs who merit “investment consideration” are Chris Ivory and Alfred Morris.

    Tight End: No impact players here. Probably the best one on the market is Antonio Gates – potentially a Hall of Fame inductee – but he will be 36 years old before training camp convenes.

    Offensive Linemen: Alex Mack and Russell Okung are the best players available at these positions.

    Wide Receiver: No impact players here either. If available at bargain-basement prices, I might take a flyer on Reuben Randle or Travis Benjamin.

    Defensive Backs: There are several players here who ought to get nice paydays out of this free agent season. Sean Smith and Janoris Jenkins are both young and talented cornerbacks. Walter Thurmond has played cornerback and safety competently at the NFL level. Eric Weddle has been an All-Pro at safety (not just a Pro Bowl participant) twice in his career and there is still tread on the tires.

    Linebackers: Danny Trevathan is really good and he is just about to turn 26 years old. Jerrell Freeman is also really good but he will be 30 years old when training camp starts. I think Bruce Irvin who will turn 29 in the middle of next season is the best player at this position on the market.

    Defensive Linemen: Malik Jackson should get some very nice contract offers; he deserves them. The big question is whether Mario Williams – at age 31 – showed that he was out of gas last year or if he just did not fit into the Bills’ defense under Rex Ryan. Some big run-stuffers are available but they are not youngsters such as BJ Raji, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Knighton.

Let the feeding frenzy commence…

When I was a kid and used to go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon, there were always a few cartoons that “warmed up the audience” prior to the main attraction. In those cartoons, a standard visual was for a character to come to an understanding of a situation with a light bulb turning on over his head. That was the image that came to mind last week when I read that the folks who run the Sun Belt Conference made the decision to kick the University of Idaho out of the conference come 2017. Let me be clear; Idaho had no more business being in the Sun Belt Conference than the University of Saskatchewan does. Why Idaho was ever invited/admitted to the conference remains a mystery to me.

The University of Idaho is known as The Vandals; over the past ten years or so, they might also have been known as The Vagabonds. Since the start of this millennium, Idaho has been in the Sun Belt Conference, then the WAC, then an independent, and then back in the Sun Belt Conference for a second time. The school says that it is examining its options for the future – no surprise at that sort of statement – and one of the options might be for Idaho to drop a level to Division 1-AA and join the Big Sky Conference. Geographically that makes a ton more sense than the Sun Belt Conference ever did.

For the record, the Sun Belt Conference will also kick New Mexico State out of the conference in 2017. The Aggies have been one of the least competitive teams in college football over the past several years – but at least Las Cruces, NM is part of the Sun Belt; Moscow, ID – not so much.

    [Aside: The last time New Mexico State was in a bowl game was in 1962 when they were in the Sun Bowl and beat Utah State. It has been a long time since the Aggies were any good.]

I have read some reports saying that New Mexico State could be joining C-USA after leaving the Sun Belt Conference. Whatever… Unless the school finds a coach who can recruit and motivate squads that are far more competitive than has been the case recently, does it really matter which “minor conference” the Aggies finish at the bottom of?

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding the upcoming NFL Draft:

“North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz may be the first quarterback taken in the draft. Scouts are excited to see what he can do surrounded by NFL talent. Forget that, I’m excited to see what he can do on a field where the temperature is over 9 degrees.”

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

Good News From ESPN…

Back in 2010 when ESPN was televising the World Cup, I wrote that I really enjoyed the British announcers that ESPN had gathered up to do the games. You can read why I enjoyed those telecasts here. In that posting, I said that my favorite announcer of the lot was Ian Darke who has continued to be associated with ESPN on and off in the intervening years. Earlier this week, ESPN announced that they had extended their relationship with Ian Darke.

According to the announcement, Darke will be the main announcer for US Men’s and Women’s National Team games including friendlies, games that lead to qualifying for World Cup competition and any World Cup games that fit into the schedule. As is often the case, there is a lot of management speak and high-fallutin’ verbiage that accompanies such an announcement. This was no exception but in this case, I tend to agree with much of what the management-speak boils down to:

“Ian is one of the finest English-language commentators in the world and his work has elevated our overall presentation of soccer since he joined ESPN. Ian has become a destination listen and has the proven ability to appeal to a wide audience. We are thrilled he will continue as an integral member of our team for years to come.”

The new contract extends through 2020 which means he will be on ESPN for the next men’s and women’s World Cup games. I like that…

In the NBA, the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour meanders on. I use the term “meander” here not in the sense of “aimless wandering” but to connote its random happenings in various NBA cities. Plenty of commentators have spent time and energy trying to put Bryant’s final season into some sort of context with regard to his “legacy”. Such commentary seems to take one of several forms:

    These celebrations are for the fans who want to see him play just one last time and for players who have been his opponents and/or teammates in the past to acknowledge him as “one of the greats”. Therefore, this set of extravaganzas is all good.

    These celebrations are nothing but a dog-and-pony show that the NBA and various teams are milking for all it is worth. It overshadows the NBA season and demeans the NBA product.

    These celebrations unfortunately culminate with Bryant playing in a real NBA game demonstrating that his once prodigious skills are no longer present. This distorts completely his legacy; this is like watching Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield trying to find pop-flies in the sun.

There is a nugget of factual basis in all three of those sorts of commentaries meaning that all of them are sorta right but not completely right. I only want to address the “tarnish the legacy” argument here. My problem with this sort of thinking is that sports legacies create and maintain themselves and they do so without much help from commentators and they do so on a long term basis not a memory of the final performance of the athlete. We remember Willie Mays as a great baseball player despite his final days in uniform; we remember Muhammad Ali as a great champion despite his final performances in the ring. A truly great athlete who attains and deserves a “legacy” is not a “one-hit-wonder”; he/she has earned whatever legacy exists by means of sustained superiority.

I really think the commentators who lament the “tarnishing of the legacy” here miss a very important point. Kobe Bryant has been on this “victory lap” for about 3 months now; plenty of people have put themselves in the camp that they wish he would go out gracefully instead of the way he is doing so because – and this is important – they want to remember him the way he was and not the way he is now. Two points here:

    Focus on how you remember him from his glory days and shrug off a sub-standard performance or two that you might see this season. That is what you would have done if he had chosen to retire back in December instead of “soldiering on”.

    The very fact that you yearn to remember him differently – and gloriously – demonstrates how good a player he was over the course of his career. That fact assures that he will have a “legacy” and that it will be a positive one.

Kobe Bryant was not the greatest NBA player of all time. In fact, I would argue that he was not even the greatest Laker of all time; in my mind, that position is occupied by Magic Johnson but I acknowledge that other fans may put some other Laker in that exalted slot. Having said all of that, Kobe Bryant was an exceptionally gifted player; he will be remembered for a very long time; when people reminisce about his on-court skills and leadership and energy, they will remember all of that in a positive way.

When my kids were young, they grew up watching Sesame Street which meant that I too spent time watching that program. Call it a guilty pleasure if you want, I used to enjoy Sesame Street almost as much as my kids did. In the Washington Post yesterday, in the agate-type “Transactions” column, I was reminded of Sesame Street. With regard to pitchers signing contracts, it was a day brought to you by the letter “Y”:

    Rangers signed Yohander Mendez to a 1-year contract.
    White Sox signed Yordi Rosario to a minor league contract.
    D-Backs signed Yuhei Nakaushiro to a minor league contract.

Too bad the Yankees could not sign Yogi Berra to a contract on the same day. Sadly, Yogi is on the wrong side of the infield grass…

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment about a former teammate – and opponent – of Kobe Bryant:

“Shaquille O’Neal is getting his own statue outside Staples Center. For nostalgia’s stake, it will be erected in the general vicinity of where his free-throw attempts used to land.”

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

Order In The Court… has a report this morning that the legal fees paid by the parties to Deflategate could be as high as $20M. That estimate does not include the cost of the Wells Report that set much of this in motion; Wells has said that he billed the NFL $2.5M for that report. It also does not include the fees incurred by the Pats when they filed their rebuttal to the Wells Report; that rebuttal ran to 20,000 words so it surely cost more than “3 easy payments of $39.95.” Later this week when the league appeals the decision that set aside Tom Brady’s suspension, the NFLPA will have 9 lawyers in court representing the union. For the full report, check it out here

A different legal battle involving an NFL player came to an end recently. WR, DeSean Jackson and agent Drew Rosenhaus had been involved in a tug-of-war over about $500K that an arbitrator said Jackson had to pay to Rosenhaus. Here is the backstory:

    Rosenhaus was Jackson’s agent; in 2013 Jackson fired Rosenhaus and hired someone else.

    Rosenhaus filed a grievance with the NFLPA saying that Jackson had borrowed $400K from him prior to the firing and that he wanted his money back. An arbitrator ruled in Rosenhaus’ favor.

    Jackson went to court to overturn that ruling claiming that Rosenhaus had bribed him to hire Rosenhaus in the first place and that Rosenhaus had not disclosed in that case that he had a prior relationship with the arbitrator. Evidently, Rosenhaus had paid the arbitrator $140K in fees involving a previous arbitration case that did not involve Jackson.

The judge overturned the arbitrator’s decision for legal reasons that I will not pretend to understand fully but it would seem in this case that the “good guy” came out ahead. Jackson does not have to pay Rosenhaus – pending an appeal from Rosenhaus that may or may not happen. However, there was an even more interesting commentary from the judge in this case. Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald noted that the NFLPA – an organization that exists to promote and protect the rights of the players who are its members – uses the same arbitrator in the vast majority of its arbitration cases involving players and agents and that the players lose about 80% of the time.

Maybe the NFL players and the folks who sit on Mahogany Row in the NFLPA office suite had not noticed that correlation prior to this matter. Now that they have a decision from Judge Fitzgerald and those stats – combined with the claims of bribery by an agent to get a player to sign on in the first place and undisclosed transactions between an agent and the most common arbitrator – how long should it take for the players and the union leaders to change the system? Personally, I would think two weeks ought to be about right…

Oh, by the way, when one is confronted by circumstances that demand a fundamental change in the way business is done, inertia and an historical mindset often make the start of the change process difficult. I am not going to try to tell the NFLPA how it should alter its arbitration processes here but I will offer them a suggestion regarding how they may begin the “restructuring process”:

    Often, a good place to start is to look at how other organizations handle similar matters. From that sort of examination, the beginnings of a new process can emerge.

    Memo to the NFLPA: I suggest you do NOT look to the NFL as a model for how to handle arbitration matters and how to mete out punishments for wrongdoings. If ever there were a set of processes that fit the description of “ineffective while simultaneously inefficient”, the NFL’s processes would the ones.

One more note for the NFLPA on this matter, do NOT look to the NCAA as your role model in this matter either. If you even tempted to do that, consider the following:

    In its headlong rush to prove that it is politically correct, the NCAA has spent lots of time and maneuvering to force certain schools to change their names/mascots. One school that had to do so was the University of North Dakota who used to be the Fighting Sioux and are now the Fighting Hawks.

    The school and the NCAA had been in court over this matter but settled it all in 2007. Five years later, the people of North Dakota voted to change the school nickname and mascot. Seriously, this was a referendum item in a primary election there.

    Here is the stupidity that could only accompany a settlement reached with the NCAA; this sets a new standard for suffering under the Law of Unintended Consequences.

      Part of the 2007 agreement requires the University of North Dakota to “retain sole possession” of the “Fighting Sioux” trademark and brand. Clearly, the purpose is to prevent some “rogue alumni group” from glomming onto it and maintaining the presence of the nickname the NCAA finds offensive. Sounds smart, no…?

      Well, in order to maintain one’s claim on a trademark, one must – inter alia – use the trademark. So, the university has set up the Dacotah Legacy Collection which makes and sells a small line of t-shirts and hats and various tchotchkes with the “Fighting Sioux” logo on it.

      So the school had to manufacture said items that – by definition – the NCAA finds offensive but in addition, the school has to sell them too in order to use the trademark thereby retaining sole possession as per the settlement with the NCAA. Where can you buy the stuff? In the gift shop at the university’s hockey arena – which is usually packed with fans because North Dakota is always one of the nation’s top hockey teams.

So, let me recap here. The University of North Dakota was forced by the NCAA to stop being the Fighting Sioux. To keep possible malcontents from perpetuating the insult of the name and brand, the school was forced to keep the trademark and that demands that the school make and sell openly merchandise that the NCAA forced them to stop making and selling in the first place.

This is so outrageous that I can only come to one conclusion:

    If stupid could fly, the NCAA would be a Supersonic Transport.

Finally, since I spoke about a player/agent matter above, consider this comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald regarding another player/agent pronouncement:

“His agent confirmed Marshawn Lynch will retire. ‘No comment,’ said the media.”

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

If It’s March, There Must Be Baseball…

Last week, MLB announced two rule changes for this year. The first is destined to be known as the “Chase Utley Rule” because it requires runners going from first base to second base to go directly toward the bag. Last year, Utley made a perfectly legal play according to baseball rules and history and it resulted in the Mets losing their shortstop to a knee injury. The new rule clearly is motivated by player safety and it provides a measure of protection for defensive players who now have the opportunity to get out of the way of an oncoming runner because they know where he will be sliding.

The other rule change also affects play around second base in potential double play situations. For years, baseball has had the “neighborhood play”; the umpire would call a player out on an attempted double play if the defender at second base had the ball while his foot was “somewhere in the neighborhood” of the bag. The player did not need to have the ball in his glove and have his foot on the bag simultaneously in order to get the runner called out. Starting next year, the umpires are supposed to ignore the “neighborhood play” and make the call at second base the way it would be called at first base.

I am in favor of both rule changes/adaptations; let me make that clear. At the same time, might I point out that eliminating the “neighborhood play” AND requiring the base runner to go directly to the bag at second base is a recipe for more collisions at second base? Moreover, injuries due to collisions are directly proportional to the number of collisions; ergo

Former Nats’ shortstop, Ian Desmond finally found a home in MLB. He sat out all of the free agent season without a satisfactory offer but finally signed on with the Texas Rangers to play left field for them until Josh Hamilton is recovered from his injury – presumably sometime in May. Desmond signed a 1-year deal for $8M; in his career he has played the outfield exactly once. This may seem like a strange signing for the Rangers but I think it is a good one. Let me explain.

    Ian Desmond is only 30 years old; there are still miles on those tires.

    Desmond had a terrible year in 2015 at shortstop for the Nats where he led the NL in errors (27) and only hit .233.

    However, his career batting average is .264; his career OBP is .312 and his career OPS is .736. for his career he has averaged 19 HRs and 75 RBIs per season.

    As a career infielder, Desmond can provide the Rangers with competency as a utility infielder at shortstop or second base in addition to playing the outfield. More importantly, he is a baseball player; he plays the game with focus and intensity and he plays the game properly. An $8M salary for a year is something I would fondly wish for; in this case, I think the Rangers got themselves a good deal.

Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune demonstrated last week that he is already in mid-season form with this “analysis” of a comment made by Adam Eaton as the White Sox became immersed in Spring Training:

“Adam Eaton said the White Sox are beginning a ‘ in which they do the ‘little things’’ better. Quick someone tell Eaton that hitting the ball and catching the ball are not little things.”

Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, FL, the Mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce announced the creation of a 30-person team whose purpose is to convince the Tampa Bay Rays to stay in St. Petersburg because that is the best place for them to play ball and flourish. The team/committee/whatever is called Baseball Forever.

The reason these civic leaders need to go to the trouble of forming this committee is that the St. Petersburg City Council recently agreed to some sort of deal with the Rays that would allow the Rays to check out possible alternative stadium sites in Pinellas County (containing St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs) and in Hillsborough County (containing Tampa, Brandon and a place named Fort Lonesome). The Rays have expressed a desire to move to an in-town stadium in Tampa; they now have permission to see if they can make a deal to make that happen.

The launch for the Baseball Forever effort was held at a sports bar adjacent to Tropicana field where the Rays now play their home games. The committee has 30 members and the crowd in attendance was about 200 folks. Therein lies the problem the good folks of St. Petersburg must overcome. If each of the 30 members of Baseball Forever had 2 people with him/her, that would be about half of the crowd in attendance. Let me summarize the reason that the Rays want to move from St. Petersburg in the first place very succinctly:

    Attendance at home games stinks.

For the 6 seasons from 2008 through 2013, the Rays were contenders for the playoffs or they were in the playoffs or they were in the World Series. In that run, attendance peaked in 2009 at 1.875M folks; the Rays averaged 23,148 fans per game in their best year of attendance. In 2014 and 2015, the Rays were not serious playoff contenders and here is what happened to their attendance:

    2014: Finished 19 games out in the AL East. Attendance was 17,857 per game.

    2015: Finished 13 games out in the AL East. Attendance was 15,889 per game.

I am not a civic leader or a business maven or a politico; I do not know what the solution to the problem in St. Petersburg might be. Here is what I know. Unless Baseball Forever can find ways to get more fannies in more seats in Tropicana Field on a consistent basis, that team is going to move some day. The folks who make up Baseball Forever need to realize that baseball will go on – potentially forever – but that does not mean it will have to continue to be in St. Petersburg.

Finally, in keeping with today’s baseball theme, here is an item from a recent column by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Hip-hop recording artist Kanye West says he’s in debt to the tune of $53 million.

“Moral of the story: It doesn’t pay to keep doubling down on your Cubs bets.”

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

Welcome To March…

March may come in like a lion and go out like a lamb; but here in Curmudgeon Central, I try to keep an even keel. I seek to maintain “Consistent Crankiness” from day-to-day and month-to month. Accordingly, you should not expect leonine outbursts here today. However, I make no promises about tomorrow because here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are holding our primary elections today. That means I will go to the polls later today to discharge my responsibility as a citizen. In so doing, I will approach a system dominated by people for whom I have generally low regard – or worse. Ergo, unless I mellow by tomorrow morning, I might tend to the upper limits of my “Consistent Crankiness”.

The NFL Combine is finally over. I will go out on a limb and say – without actually reading them – that you can safely skip any of the “post-mortem reports” from the event. Anything that tries to summarize the Combine activities in terms of “stock trending up” and/or “stock trending down” should not be taken with a grain of salt for the simple reason that it should not be taken in the first place. I did run across one article that dealt with the uncertainty of drafting a QB this year where none of the eligible candidates come with a pedigree similar to those of Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariotta from recent years. In that article, Bruce Arians was quoted saying:

“When you’re dealing with these guys and evaluating [them], the two muscles you can’t evaluate are the brain and the heart. And they’re the two you play with.”

That is not exactly a malapropism, but it is close. The brain – yours, mine or a quarterback’s – is not a muscle. If it were a muscle, then the brain would be a form of meat and that would make the quarterback a meathead and you would not want to draft him. In any event, that was one of the most important “insights” that I gained from reading – sparingly – about the NFL Combine. As they say in the car ads on TV, “Your mileage may vary…”

With the announcement that Tom Brady has extended his contract for 2 more years and would be playing QB at age 42 should he play out that deal, let me present to you a couple of numbers that should reinforce your belief in the fact that a top-shelf QB is critical to NFL success:

    Bill Belichick’s record when Tom Brady is his starting QB: 183-65 with 6 Super Bowl appearances and 4 Super Bowl victories.

    Bill Belichick’s record when someone else is his starting QB: 40-48.


The NFL recently provided us with yet another installment of “The Story That Will Not Die.” According to reports, two members of the British Parliament sent a joint letter to NFL Commish, Roger Goodell, urging the Commish to do one of two things:

    1. Change the name of the Washington team because the name is offensive.

    2. Alternatively, send a different team to play in London next Fall.

The two MPs were indeed in high dudgeon as they crafted their missive. Here are a few samples of their rhetoric:

“As one of the U.S.’ biggest cultural exports finds success in the U.K., the sport’s values and standards come with it. Unfortunately, it is apparent that within these values there is a deliberate insensitivity and apparent hostility to a prominent minority group.”

And …

“We were shocked to learn of the derivation of the term ‘R*dskin,’ pertaining as it does to the historic abuse of native Americans, including the production of a piece of flesh as proof of kill by bounty hunters. The exportation of this racial slur to the U.K. this Autumn … directly contravenes the values that many in Britain have worked so hard to instill.”

The Skins and Bengals are scheduled to play there in October this year and the controversy that we have dealt with on and off for the last 35 years or so has now spread across the pond. The two MPs seem not to have picked up on the key element of the dispute over the name; they seem to think that appeals to morality and good taste and respect for others is what all this is about. Actually, what it is about is far more crass; it is about money.

    Memo to Offended Members of Parliament: The Washington franchise makes money hand-over-fist using that team name. Until and unless something happens to change that fact, the team name is not going to change – and Roger Goodell will not/cannot order such a change.

What I find very interesting about this particular situation and the agita it seems to have generated in Great Britain is that the monetary aspect cuts both ways here. The presence of an NFL game in London does attract some money to the local economy and there are more than a few folks in London who would like to see a permanent NFL franchise there for economic reasons. The reality is that should the British acquire an NFL franchise, it would be part of the same league that harbors this team with this name that the MPs find sufficiently offensive that they penned the letter that they did.

The Skins make money so they are not changing their team name; the NFL puts some money into the London economy so London continues to want to host NFL games – including the one on the schedule this October between Washington and Cincinnati. That is the thing about money; it spends equally well no matter the source. That may not be the most uplifting thought for the day – but it is reality. Sometimes reality bites … sort of like the reality I am about to encounter as I head out from Curmudgeon Central and go to the polls to vote.

Finally, to close on a lighter note, here is an item from a recent column by Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Continuing on their roll, the [BYU} Cougars have received a commitment from four-star junior college transfer Handsome Tanielu.

“If BYU has any sense of humor, it will hire former Western Kentucky defensive back Wonderful Terry as a graduate assistant.”

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

It’s Leap Day…

And a Happy Leap Day to all…

FIFA has elected a new President – to replace Sepp Blatter who has resigned and has subsequently been banned from any soccer related activities for a bunch of years. I do not want anyone to get the impression that I believe that Blatter was the one who “invented” corruption and bribery as a way of life in FIFA; I do mean to intimate that he and a few of his cronies seem to have raised bribery and corruption to an art form. In any event, the new FIFA President will be Gianni Infantino. So the question would seem to be this:

    Has FIFA “turned the corner”/”turned over a new leaf”/”decided to go in a different direction” as a result of this change of leadership?

Frankly, I think the answer is a very direct and disconcerting one:

    We do not have enough information to make a rational judgment yet. We might wish for a better form of sports governance here, but we just do not know yet.

Infantino won on the second ballot at a FIFA convocation because no candidate got the required two-thirds of the votes cast on the first ballot. Among a few other things, here is what Infantino said during his campaign for the presidency he would want to do with FIFA as its leader:

    Expand the World Cup tournament from 32 teams to 40 teams: I am ambivalent about this idea for the simple reason that it is hugely unlikely that any of the teams added to the tournament – the “33rd through 40th best teams” – is actually going to make any difference in who the ultimate winner might be. On the other hand, more teams/players get to participate…

    Will push for term limits on FIFA Presidents: Presidential terms are 4 years; Infantino wants to limit anyone to 3 terms in office. If he can get this proposal through the byzantine rule-making processes of FIFA, it would probably be a good thing.

    Will publish the salaries of all FIFA executives: Given the squalid financial history of FIFA and its execs/cronies, anything that even hints at transparency has to be a big plus. Can he actually accomplish this? We will know rather shortly…

Infantino also wants to distribute more revenues to the member states. He says that the way he will do that in a fiscally responsible manner is that he will grow the revenue coming into the organization. He cites his successes in doing this for European soccer. If he can grow the revenue, then sending more of it to the individual national organizations is a good idea – – so long as there is some mechanism to assure that the national organizations are using the added monies to grow the game in their home countries instead of pocketing the money for themselves. Why would I think such a dark thought here? After all, those national organization officials are all ones who have aspired to be FIFA HQS execs someday – – with all of the pork and under-the-table bennies that came with such positions for a long period of time…

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald has this note in his blog last weekend; it will give you an idea of the current into which Gianni Infantino swims:

“SOCCER: Corruption-plagued FIFA selects a new president: Gianni Infantino, a 45-year-old Swiss-Italian lawyer, was elected on the second ballot this week to succeed disgraced and ousted Sepp Blatter. Infantino immediately thanked all of the voters who’d accepted his bribes. Oh I’m just kidding! Probably.”

A report in the LA Times late last week said that the San Diego Chargers were seeking a new stadium in San Diego in the downtown area. The paper reported this with a straight face and in a serious tone; it quoted a spokesthing for the Chargers:

“We believe that a downtown multi-use facility will attract broad support from throughout our entire community,”

Pardon me while I yawn here. The Chargers have been seeking a new stadium in San Diego for at least 10 years now and any time the local politicians even hint that they might be interested in doing a deal, the politicians want the stadium to be in a geographical area that is near the current stadium and not in downtown. This position by the Chargers and this position by the local pols is not new and therefore is not news. Here is something about as close to a “litmus test” as one might get with regard to this situation:

    A “downtown site” would require a tax increase and local ordinances require tax increases of this sort/magnitude to be approved in a referendum by two-thirds of the votes cast.

    That is a high hurdle indeed – but the Chargers want it on the ballot in November.

    Good luck to the Chargers on that front.

    Not to worry though, the team has until about Feb 2017 to decide if it will join with Stan Kronke as the “junior partners”/”tenants” in Kronke’s mega-stadium in LA.

Not to pour cold water on the Chargers hopes here but this is what the Mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, had to say about a downtown venue:

“Most experts we’ve talked to have concluded that building a stadium downtown — on land not owned by either the city or the Chargers — would increase costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and take years longer to complete.”

I never pretend to be a “political pundit” here, but that statement does not indicate to me that the mayor and “his people” will be energetically pushing for that funding referendum come November…

Finally, here is another comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald relative to a story that commanded too much attention last week:

“Cleveland star Kyrie Irving bitten by bed bugs: Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving was bitten by five bed bugs while staying at a posh Hilton hotel. Hilton apologized and immediately instituted a new policy that stringently places a three bed-bug maximum in all of its rooms worldwide.”

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

NFL Free Agency Fast Approaching…

With the NFL Combine seeming to dominate the sports news about now, I think it is as important to notice what teams are doing with regard to creating cap space for the NFL free agency orgy that will commence in about 2 weeks. Drafting is still months away; teams are going to be making changes to their rosters in that intervening time and those changes could affect significantly how they approach the draft.

The biggest splash in the “create cap space” world came from the now-LA Rams when they cut 3 significant players:

    Tight end, Jared Cook: 2016 would have been the 4th year of a 5-year deal he signed with the Rams for $35M.

    Linebacker, James Laurinaitis: 2016 would have been the 4th year of a 5-year deal he signed with the Rams for $41.5M

    Defensive end,Chris Long: 2016 would have been the final year of a 4-year contract he signed with the Rams for $50M.

Reports say that these three cuts create $23M in cap space for the Rams and when added to carry-over cap room they will give the Rams a total of almost $52M in cap space to work with. That would seem to indicate that the Rams will be significant players in free agency this offseason and I would suggest that one of the first things that the team needs to address is the replacement of these three competent and productive players. I would be shocked if any of them are out-of-work next season.

The Jets have also released Antonio Cromartie after only one season down on his contract. The Jets “reunited” their defensive backfield pairing Cromartie and Darrelle Revis at the CB position. Cromartie did not have a season that lived up to his prior standards of performance and the Jets decided to “go in a different direction”.

I am not going to pretend to have analyzed all 32 NFL teams to see what high-priced vets they might jettison to create cap space nor will I pretend to know all of the ins and outs of cap space calculations – I think gravity waves have something to do with those cap space numbers but I’m not sure – but from general reading, I think there are 4 veteran players who are likely to find themselves out looking for a new gig in a couple of weeks. In alphabetical order:

    Dwayne Bowe: The Browns signed him only last year to a 2-year deal for $12.6M. For that signing, the Browns got 5 receptions and 57 yards in 7 games. He was not injured for the other 9 games; he was simply not activated for them. Only the Browns…

    Victor Cruz: I know he is young and he was very productive when he was healthy. However, over the past 2 seasons he has only been on the field for a total of 6 games. I believe the Giants can create $10M in cap room if they release him.

    Robert Griffin III: If the Skins keep him, they owe him $16.5M and he carries a cap number that might not allow the Skins to keep Kirk Cousins too. Count this one as a no-brainer.

    Mario Williams: Reports say he is unhappy in Buffalo and he had a mediocre season in 2015. My calculation says his cap number is just over $13M. Williams can still play, but I suspect it might not be in Buffalo in 2016.

Now, as the Rams and all the other teams finalize their strategy and tactics for the free agency season, I would like to offer two observations:

    1. Twice in recent times, teams have stormed the bastions and signed prize free agents to HUGE deals in the moments after the opening of free agency. It was almost like the crack of dawn on the first day of rifle season for deer hunting; you can read the want ads in the light of the muzzle flashes. The Skins once signed Albert Haynesworth that way and we know how that turned out. Last year, the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh in a similar burst of enthusiasm; Suh was not nearly the flop that Haynesworth was in Washington, but he was hardly a difference maker either.

    Teams might want to curb their enthusiasm for the splashy signing that will win the team the “Press Conference of the Month Award”. Playoff berths are not determined in March…

    2. The running back position has been devalued in recent times in the NFL. Free agent running backs by definition have some mileage on them and that could make some GMs wary. There may be some relative bargains out there at that position – – or – – one of these years the pendulum will swing back to normal for running backs. Might it be this year…?

Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune had this comment with regard to the Bears’ recent personnel pronouncements:

“Bears general manager Ryan Pace said letting receiver Alshon Jeffery hit free agency remains an option. A stupid option. But an option nonetheless.”

Finally, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this observation about free-agency as it applies to baseball. I think he is right on target here and would add that his commentary applies to the NFL equally well:

“Not so fast: Conventional wisdom has it that, after signing [Jason] Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, the Cubs have bought a championship. Kind of like we thought the Nationals did last year.”

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

Another Surprise In The English Premier League

Recently, I wrote about the surprising presence of Leicester City at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League table ahead of teams with far more recognizable names here in the US such as Manchester United or Liverpool or Chelsea or Arsenal. I focused so much on the presence of Leicester City in first place that I had not noticed that Aston Villa was very solidly in last place – a full 7 points behind Sunderland which is in 19th place. The teams that finish 18th through 20th in the Premier League get relegated for next year to the next lower level of competition; barring a humongous reversal of form, Aston Villa will be downgraded to the Champions League next season.

If you look at the table, you can see that Aston Villa has only won 3 games out of 26 starts this year along with 7 ties. They have only scored 20 goals in 26 games and have a goal differential for the season of minus-26; not so surprisingly, that is the worst goal differential in the league.

So, things are looking bleak for Aston Villa – a team that has been in the Premier League for as long as I have been tracking the league from afar on a sporadic basis. I cannot sit here and tell you how or why this monstrously bad season has come to be in Birmingham where Aston Villa resides. However, this morning I can tell you that as bad as things looked a week ago, they cannot be looking any better now.

Last weekend, Aston Villa had a “Bye Week” in the sense that it had no scheduled game because it was a week set aside for FA Cup matches and Aston Villa had been eliminated from that tournament a while ago. So, the team scheduled what I would call an “internal friendly”. Aston Villa played its own Under-21 developmental team. By analogy, this would be like the NY Yankees taking on their AA affiliate, the Trenton Thunder.

You guessed it; the Under-21 team won the game. Oh, but it is even worse than that. The Under-21 team beat the “varsity squad” by a score of 3-0. That is about the same as the Thunder beating the Yankees by 11-0. Here is a link to an article in a British paper about what the paper calls “an embarrassing encounter”.

In other soccer news – much more uplifting than focusing on the failures of Aston Villa – soccer organizations here in the US just picked up a new sponsor. Tag Heuer – manufacturer of fine Swiss watches – has signed on to be a “long-term partner” with US Soccer, Major League Soccer and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) which manages the referee programs in soccer leagues in the US and Canada. This is an important partnership for soccer here because Tag Heuer represents a very upscale brand.

Of course, the announcement of this wide ranging long-term partnership was filled with management-speak platitudes. Looking through the fog of platitudinous claptrap, Tag Heuer is associated with the Bundesliga in Germany and has Cristiano Ronaldo as a “Brand Ambassador”. Look, I am not professing to be a soccer maven nor am I a marketing guru, but it sure seems to me that US Soccer and MLS are moving into a higher “social circle” than they had before with this new deal.

About a week ago, reported that the NCAA will consider this Spring the idea of putting NCAA events in Las Vegas. According to the report, the “NCAA events” in question are not things like Athletic Directors’ meetings or plenary sessions to figure out ways to make the NCAA rulebook even less intelligible than it is today.

    [Aside: A former colleague once said that the NCAA Rulebook was written in no known language.]

No, the report said that the “protectors of amateurism in and integrity of intercollegiate sports” will consider putting championship events in Las Vegas including NCAA Tournament games and perhaps – one day – a Final Four weekend. The moment those words were typed in that order, Walter Byers and Dr. Myles Brand both felt a shudder run down their spines wherever they may be in cosmos or the spirit realm. The NCAA has – for as long as I can remember – refused to put any of its events in Nevada let alone Las Vegas because the state allows and even encourages wagering on college sporting events. NCAA president, Mark Emmert said that he expects a “robust discussion” about changing the policy regarding events in Nevada at the Spring meeting of the NCAA Council.

Since the momentum for this idea comes from the Mountain West Conference – as opposed to say the Big 10 or the SEC – I would not be surprised to learn that the action taken by the NCAA Council was to have their “robust discussion” and then to create a special committee to investigate secondary ramifications and other important factors that will need to be understood before any final decision could be made. What the Council will not do is any of the following:

    1. Make a final decision on the matter after their “robust discussion”.

    2. Call the action of sending this idea to a committee for further study what it really is, Kicking the Can Down the Road.

    3. Put the director of any of the major sportsbooks in Nevada on this committee as subject matter expert.

Nevertheless, this is a step in what I think is a good and proper direction. To demonstrate how enthusiastic I am about this, allow me to present to you wisdom preferred by others in times past:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Mao Tze-tung.


“The journey of a thousand miles begins with going to the airport and taking off your shoes.” Bernie Lincicome

Finally, here is a comment regarding gambling activities in another part of the country from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Gulfstream in Hallandale opened its winter meet on Saturday. You know Gulfstream. It’s where you’ll find a casino, dining, shopping, entertainment and, time permitting, horse racing”

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

Not Much Interesting Over There…

There are lots of recurring sports “stories” that I try to convince you to ignore simply because the “stories” come from low-grade ore in terms of important “news content”. Spring Training reports, Super Bowl Media Day shenanigans, mock drafts months in advance of the real thing and any report labeled as “Bracketology” fall in that category. There may be a nugget of news in a whole pile of such reporting, but it will be hidden in amongst a ton of dross. Today, I would like to add one more segment of annual sports reporting that you can comfortably ignore – or skim very lightly at best:

    Stories leading up to the NFL Combine

The Combine as an event is over-reported; but at least, the over-reporting has to do with athletic accomplishments that may have a bearing on the future careers of NFL aspirants. However, reports appearing now regarding who will or will not throw at the Combine or who will skip the 40-yard dash are little more than space fillers. If the outcomes from the Combine are important information for you, be sure to check in to see who ran how fast and who jumped how high after they actually do that. Until the Combine is over, find something else to ponder…

The Combine leads up to the Draft. Now the Draft is important to NFL teams and therefore the fans of those teams. Lots of people pour lots of mental energy into psyching out the players and the teams and “The Draft”. I get that; I do that too. Nevertheless, do not lose site of the fact that the Draft is an art and not a science. Even though teams seek to quantify the physical attributes of potential draftees, the actual selections rarely turn out to perform in ways that verify that the #1 pick was better than the #2 pick who was similarly better than the #3 pick … and so on. I know this is changing sports on you, but this observation from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot focuses directly on the uncertain nature of the draft:

“Swing and miss: Rumors that the Timberwolves were trying to trade Ricky Rubio this week recalled the 2009 NBA Draft, when Minnesota used the fifth and sixth picks to take Rubio and guard Jonny Flynn, who is out of the league. And they passed up Steph Curry in the process.”

Given the vagaries and uncertainties of the Draft, why impute any value into reports that may or may not turn out to be valid regarding who might or might not do what at the Combine leading up to the Draft? had a report last week that Verne Lundquist will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Sports Emmy Award Ceremony. It would be difficult to make a case that Lundquist is not worthy of such an honor. I can recall hearing him do play-by-play for both college and pro football, provide “whispered commentary” on the Masters, and I loved listening to him and his long-time partner – Bill Raftery – doing college basketball games. Last year, Lundquist was paired with Jim Spanarkel for March Madness and that worked very well too.

Congratulations to Verne Lundquist for this award. It is well-deserved…

I wonder if – in a former incarnation – Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones was Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town in Omaha. Boys Town was an orphanage; it is now a center for “troubled youth”; one of the foundations of faith that drove Father Flanagan was that every boy could become a good and productive adult if as a boy he had a loving/nurturing home and access to education. I can take Jerry Jones’ actions over the past several years and map them onto that sort of “foundation of faith” that motivated Father Flanagan. Briefly:

    The Cowboys had T.O. on the squad for 3 years.

    Dez Bryant needed and got “chaperones” early in his career. Even today, most of Bryant’s tirades involving his own teammates are handled in a very low-key manner.

    Greg Hardy signed on after he was convicted of domestic violence – a conviction overturned later on appeal.

    Randy Gregory flunked a drug test at the Combine. How dumb – or anti-social – must one be to do that? The Cowboys drafted him because he can rush the passer.

    Johnny Manziel is likely going to be a free agent very soon and Jerry Jones has said that he thinks Manziel would be a strong candidate to be Tony Romo’s understudy and potentially the Cowboys’ QB in the future.

Father Flanagan lives on in Dallas…

The Randy Gregory situation is a timely one. Last week, the NFL announced that Gregory would be suspended for 4-games at the start of next season for violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. Now unless there is some part of the current NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement that I do not know about, here is what has to have happened:

    Gregory’s failed drug test at the Combine put him in the NFL substance-abuse monitoring program. That engenders more frequent tests; on-demand tests and random tests.

    To earn a 4-game suspension, a player would need to fail 3 of those monitoring tests – or simply refuse to participate in the counseling activities that are also part of the substance-abuse program.

    Assuming that Gregory did not punch-out a counsellor – that would have made news if he had! – it means he got caught with drugs in his system 3 times between the Draft last year and February of this year. That is 3 times in 7 months when he has to know he is on the radar for frequent testing.

    There were reports after the Draft last year that Gregory would have a security detail assigned to him to help him stay on the straight and narrow. As noted above, the Cowboys had done this sort of thing with Dez Bryant in the past so that reporting did not light up the Internet. And still, he will miss the first 4 games of the 2016 season…

Here are the bottom lines on all of this as they relate to the Cowboys as a team and Jerry Jones as the owner-GM of the team:

    1. Jones needs to go to the private security firm that he hired to help Gregory stay out of trouble and get a rebate.

    2. If Jones thinks about signing Manziel, he might want to think about putting one of those chips in Manziel that allows the team to geolocate him at all times. A night on the town with Manziel and Gregory as “running buddies” would be unlikely to end well.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald in the wake of the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory:

“After the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning called Cam Newton ‘extremely humble’ in defeat. Then Manning went on to refer to Terrell Owens as ‘reserved’ and Bill Belichick as ‘exuding warmth’.”

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

All Baseball Today…

Spring Training has begun; pitchers and catchers have reported; seamheads are ramping up to their 6 months of euphoria. There was actually an unusual story coming out of Arizona this year; it seems that some of the Cubbies’ younger players gathered there on their own about a week in advance of the start of “formal Spring Training” and began working out amongst themselves. That does not happen often – if ever; moreover, it prompted Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon to say that he did not want his players “getting ahead of themselves” and that he really preferred if they would just calm down and go with the team program. I said the story was unusual; it is not often that a manager or a coach worries about his team working and practicing too much…

Having cited that unusual story coming out of Spring Trailing – or actually prior to Spring Training to be completely accurate – my suspicion is that it will be the only unusual story we will see/hear/read in the next 6 weeks. I will exempt the “unusual catastrophic injury” from this statement because injury stories are – almost by definition – unusual and worthy of being called news. Other than that, we have already begun to see the standard fodder of Spring Training reporting with the various breathless stories about how fat Pablo Sandoval seems to be. Folks, that is not news; Kung Fu Panda has been fat for the entirety of his MLB career.

Coverage of Spring Training is sort of a time-extended version of the 2-week hype that the NFL commands in the time between the Conference Championship Games and the Super Bowl. There is not nearly enough real news to report to fill 6 weeks of newspapers/magazines/blogs/ talk shows/sports centers but that simple fact need not stand in the way of hyperventilating reporting from and about Spring Training.

As I tried to do in the 2 intervening weeks of the NFL season prior to the Super Bowl, I will try to avoid the not-surprising run-of-the-mill Spring Training stories. Moreover, I would like to suggest to readers here that there are indeed interesting Spring Training stories you might want to pay attention to – – if they were ever to be reported.

    The REAL stories of Spring Training are mundane and often do not have happy endings. Spring Training is about making an MLB roster; who starts the season in the majors and who does not. Clayton Kershaw need not worry; Giancarlo Stanton need not worry; Kris Bryant need not worry; folks similar to them need not worry about anything other than a calamitous injury.

    The REAL stories concern the borderline players – maybe 5 or 6 guys at the most in each camp juking for 2 or maybe 3 roster spots. Some are rookies; some are vets looking for one more year in the bigs; some are players coming back from serious injuries and folks do not know if they can play even a little bit. Folks, those are the stories of Spring Training and you will not hear much of anything about any of them – other than Pollyanna Pieces – until sometime around March 28th.

Staying with baseball, there is a story from Yahoo!Sports that says an MLB agent, Bart Hernandez, has been arrested subsequent to an indictment by a Federal grand jury on charges of human trafficking.

    Whoa! Time out!

When I hear the term, “human trafficking”, my mind enters the realm of sex slavery or forced labor or indentured servitude that never ends. If Bart Henderson did any of those things, I would be happy to report that he is serving a VERY long sentence in the hoosegow. However, reading into the details seems to indicate something else.

What Henderson is accused of doing is to “smuggle” a Cuban outfielder – Leonys Martin – into the US such that martin could sign a deal with the Seattle Mariners. Let me be clear here:

    I am not an expert on immigration law other than being able to know how to spell it.

    I do not want to build a wall between the US and Mexico nor do I want to build a seawall between the US and Cuba.

    I do not know Bart Henderson from Bart Simpson nor do I know Leonys Martin from Rowan and Martin.

With all of that out in the open, even if Bart Henderson did what he is indicted for, that is not exactly the horrific commission of what I associate with the term “human trafficking”. To be sure, the indictment says that Hernandez represents other Cuban-born players who seek a career in MLB; the indictment suggests that the Leonys Martin situation is not a stand-alone event. Even if I were to buy into the wording the indictment that Hernandez “did willingly … and knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with [other indicted folks] … to commit an offense against the United States”, I still think that what he might have done there is about a light-year below “human trafficking for sex slavery” on the scale of scumbag human endeavors.

If Hernandez broke the law, he should be punished for that act. I have no problem with that outcome if the prosecution can prove it in a court of law. Until then, I will regard Bart Hernandez as someone who is about to stand trial in a Federal Court who stands accused of something that has a label that might be a tad misleading.

OK, let’s do this rant entirely on baseball… had a report recently that said the MLBPA and MLB might be bargaining over a draft lottery for MLB similar to the concept used in the NBA. The current CBA expires on Dec 1, 2016; the preliminaries for the kabuki dances that dominate the early approaches to negotiations are about to begin; nonetheless, this is a surprising topic. The MLBPA seems to be OK with this given the commentary offered by MLBPA head honcho, Tony Clark:

“It will be beneficial to look at that and not look at it in a vacuum but appreciate whatever it is that we attempt to negotiate there or propose there, that it ties into the other moving pieces and doesn’t create an imbalance.”

The report says that there is an “increasing concern in baseball” about the concept of tanking and that concern has created the environment that allows for this sort of discussion to take place. Fine, I have no real interest in creating any incentive for teams to “tank”. However, let me point out ever so gently to the folks at the MLBPA and in MLB, the NBA draft lottery has hardly been an effective tool to prevent/minimize tanking. If my calculations are correct, the Philadelphia 76ers are now in the midst of their 4th consecutive year of tanking with no relief for their fans in sight.

Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald regarding a truly significant issue that MLB needs to deal with:

“Baseball finally is cracking down on domestic abuse. Now if they’d only get to flagrant cup-adjusting.”

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