The Intersection Of Sports And Jurisprudence

Deflategate is like a vampire; it will not die. Today, news comes that Jeanne Shaheen – US Senator from New Hampshire and former Governor of New Hampshire – has called upon the NFL to release the “PSI data” in its possession to demonstrate that indeed the NFL has “credible evidence” in the whole matter. No offense to Sen. Shaheen, but when a sports issue rises to the level that it attracts the attention of the Congress, you can be sure the story has achieved “vampire status”.

Just for fun, I went to Sen. Shaheen’s US Senate website and at the bottom the website lists “Jeanne’s Priorities”. In order, they are:

    Economy and Jobs
    National Security
    Fiscal Responsibility
    Energy

Evidently, “Deflategate” and “PSI data” somehow shoehorned themselves into those priorities.

Meanwhile, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found a way to make light of a sidebar to this story. Tom Brady has expressed his support for Donald Trump during the Republican Presidential primaries. So, Dwight Perry juxtaposed Trump/Brady 2016 and came up with this:

“Destined to be a best-selling T-shirt in 31 of 32 NFL markets: ‘Make America inflate again.’”

The other story related to an NFL QB that could become a “vampire story” is the one related to Johnny Manziel. The latest development there is that Manziel has now been charged by a grand jury with “misdemeanor assault with bodily injury”; evidently, in Texas a conviction on such a charge could bring a penalty of a $5K fine and a year in jail. Manziel has until 5 May to turn himself in to the authorities in Texas; his bail has been set at $1,500 which should be an amount that he can readily post; he is not turning himself in to spend a long time in the hoosegow awaiting a trial.

There is a fine line indeed between a cynic and a realist and a lot depends on whether you agree with the person who might earn one of those labels. So call me a cynic if you must but somehow, I sense that the outcome of this matter will be something along these lines:

    Manziel agrees to take anger management rehab and/or alcohol rehab and the authorities retain the right to subject him to random drug/alcohol testing for some period of time.

    Manziel reaches a rapprochement with the victim – his former girlfriend – which includes a financial exchange, confidentiality clauses and her vow not to testify in any trial that might occur on these charges.

    Then, this incident goes away. But the story probably will not die until or unless Johnny Manziel becomes a hermit living somewhere in the Himalayas in a community of yetis.

There is one more intersection of sports and jurisprudence to note today. In 1989 – yes, 27 years ago – there was an event in England known as the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool was playing Nottingham Forest in Hillsborough in an FA Cup game and a “human crush” occurred that wound up killing 96 people – all Liverpool fans. An investigation in 1990 concluded that the physical plant at the stadium and the fencing used to keep the crowds off the pitch caused the problems and changes were made to all football stadiums to remedy those situations. It would seem as if that matter had been settled more than 2 decades ago.

However, in 2009, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport called for the release of all the information that the police and other authorities had provided to the investigation in 1990. With that information in hand, something known as the Hillsborough Independent Panel was created and after several years of analysis, that panel concluded that the fans were not responsible for the tragedy. Basically, it concluded that there had been a cover-up and there was some culpability on the part of the emergency services and other public entities.

Earlier this week, a new inquest into this matter concluded that the fans themselves were not responsible at all for the events that led to these deaths and that the folks who died that day were “unlawfully killed”. Here are some of the findings in the report earlier this week:

    The “Match Commander’s” actions amounted to gross negligence.

    Police planning errors contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on that day.

    Police and emergency responders “caused or contributed to the loss of life” by error or omission once the “human crush” began.

Here is a link to a lengthy report on what happened 25 years ago and what happened earlier this week.

To bring this full circle, it would seem that there is a parallel between Senator Shaheen’s call for release of data in Deflategate and the action of the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that led to the new findings earlier this week. On the surface it would seem that it took someone with social and political stature to “make the situation right”. To be sure, that parallel does exist. I would suggest, however, that the matter in England involved the death of 96 people and the matter here in the US involves a 4-game suspension from NFL games.

I do not care how big a fan of the New England Patriots one is or if you think that tom Brady is the most wonderful human being on the planet; Deflategate does not rise to the level of importance of the Hillsborough disaster.

Finally, since the NFL Draft starts tonight and since I cited a Dwight Perry comment above, here is another one from Professor Perry related to the NFL Draft:

“LaQuan McGowan, the 405-pound Baylor tight end, could become the heaviest player ever drafted by an NFL team.

“Besides 405, his other key stats are 6-7 (height), 5.41 (40 time) and 7.3 (Richter Scale).”

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

NFL Officials Camp?

About a week ago, I read a report that the NFL and the Canadian Football League (CFL) had joined together to create an “officiating development program” that would seek to improve the quality of current officiating and to “raise up” the next generation of game officials. Some of the things mentioned as key parts of this joint effort were:

    NFL officials will work some games in the CFL in June and early July prior to their reporting to NFL Officials Camp in July. The idea here is that this will increase “time on the field” for those officials and sharpen their “football senses” as they head off to officials’ camp.

      [Aside: Who knew about “Officials Camp”? Clearly, there have to be such things to go over things like new rules and rule changes and the mechanics of officiating; but have there ever been reports originating from any activities there? If so, I missed them.]

    CFL officials will go to NFL minicamps and training camps and some will officiate in NFL exhibition games.

I certainly have no objection to either the CFL or the NFL undertaking any sort of constructive activity that intends to improve the in-game officiating. Surely, neither of the programs outlined above will hurt in-game officiating so it is hard to object to any of that. However, if part of the program is “developmental” in the sense of generating aa pipeline of new officials, I fail to see how anything described here would do anything to meet that objective.

The Washington Wizards hired Scott Brooks to be their coach last week; they game Brooks a 5-year deal worth $35M. Naturally, lots of the local sports yakkers on the radio jumped to the self-satisfying conclusion that this move was done as a prelude to signing Kevin Durant as a free agent this summer since Brooks had been his coach in OKC. Time will tell if that angle has even a smidgen of relevance. Nonetheless, this hire is potentially a good one for the Wizards.

Scott Brooks is a coach who teaches solid defense and demands that from his players. The Wizards need to play defense; a major reason why they are sitting at home watching the NBA Playoffs on TV is that their defense was somewhere between non-existent and pretty-awful in far too many games this year. Sure, the Wizards will become a better team if they happen to lure Kevin Durant to the DC area. They may also become a better team if they get their rears in gear and play some defense next season.

The LA Lakers fired Byron Scott. Frankly, I think that is a bit silly given that Scott had a roster that was destined to lose games and then had to administer the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour for all of last year. However, in LA, the team needs to do something lest it lose spotlight time to the Clippers. Lots of suggestions have been made with regard to who the Lakers’ next coach ought to be. Naturally, Luke Walton’s name came out of the gate early. He is a logical candidate for the job as an ex-Laker player, a SoCal native and a guy who did awfully well as the stand-in coach of the Warriors last season.

It is exactly for those logical reasons that Walton will likely not get the job. In LA, things need “sizzle” more than they need “substance”. Walton is high on “substance” but not much on the “sizzle scale”. If you doubt the importance of sizzle over substance in LA, consider this:

    If substance counted for more than sizzle, there never would have been a second movie made where one could use the phrase, “starring Steven Segal”.

So, who might be a “sizzle candidate” – someone whose name would generate interest even if someone else actually got the job at the end of the day.

    Jay Wright: He is as hot a name as there is in college basketball for people not named Krzyzewski, or Calipari.

    Nancy Lieberman: She played the game; she is in the Hall of Fame; she has head coaching experience. And she has something no NBA head coach has ever had – – ovaries.

One more NBA note … The league is expanding its TV footprint to include sub-Saharan Africa. In a deal struck with Econet Media, the NBA will have at least 500 games televised live to sub-Saharan Africa starting next year. Games will be telecast in English, French and Portuguese based on the prominent language spoken in different regions of Africa. Econet is a major player in television and digital media in that part of the world. Obviously, the NBA is taking this expansion initiative seriously.

In the past week two NFL players received 4-game suspensions. Tom Brady had his suspension reinstated by a 3-judge panel in the US Court of Appeals; Demarcus Lawrence got 4 games for failing a drug test. The Brady suspension – linked inexorably to Deflategate – got much more attention along the lines of “what does this do to the team”. Personally, I think his suspension is less meaningful to the Pats than Lawrence’s suspension is to the Cowboys.

    The Pats open at Arizona and then play 3 home games against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Recall that the Pats went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at QB when Brady went down in the first half of the first game of the season; that was without time to prepare for Brady’s absence. My guess is that the Pats come out of that stretch with a 3-1 record or better.

    The Cowboys hope to make a big run this year with a healthy Tony Romo at QB. However, over on defense, the Cowboys have a problem with pass rushing and Lawrence had 8 sacks last year. Not only will he be gone for the first 4 games, so will Randy Gregory – who also flunked a drug test – and so will Greg Hardy unless Jerry Jones panics and signs him again to a 1-year incentive laden deal.

    The Cowboys open at home against the Giants, at the Skins, home against the Bears and then at the Niners. That is not a murderer’s row schedule, but it does have two division games against teams that could be very competitive if the Cowboys cannot pressure Eli Manning or Kirk Cousins. It is never good to lose a game in the NFL, but should the Cowboys lose two division games to open the season, it might get ugly in Dallas.

Oh, by the way, imagine if you will that Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory decide to room together for that 4-week suspension. I believe neither one of them is married so just consider it a possibility. If that happens, I would definitely be going long on marijuana futures…

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald regarding another athlete who had difficulty with a drug test:

“A rugby player in Italy tested positive for 11 banned substances. This makes him eligible for the Tour de France.”

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

RIP Milt Pappas

Milt Pappas died last week. When you consider that he spent 17 years in MLB winning 209 games and pitching 129 complete games, you would think that he would be remembered for his career. Pappas was twice an All-Star and over his career he struck out twice as many batters as he walked. Not bad at all; Milt Pappas was an accomplished player.

Nevertheless, he will be remembered more widely for something over which he had no control. After the 1965 season, he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Cincinnati Reds along with Jack Baldschun (relief pitcher) and Dick Simpson (outfielder) for Frank Robinson. Of course, Robinson continued his career that landed him in the Hall of Fame (his career OPS was .926) and Robinson became the first player to win MVP Awards in both leagues.

Rest in peace, Milt Pappas.

News came late last week that ESPN fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling after Schilling seemingly ignored warnings to temper his social media remarks on the transgender issues that are controversial at the moment. Schilling’s views were stridently opposed to what many feel are important rights for transgender individuals and I am sure than many people took offense at his remarks. This is not the first time ESPN had to deal with controversy ignited by Schilling’s socio-political views on sensitive subjects. Last year, Schilling seemed to equate today’s Muslim extremists with the Nazis of the 1930s and 40s. As a result of those remarks, Schilling earned a suspension from ESPN.

In announcing the firing, ESPN had this to say:

“ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

As you may imagine, some folks who agree with Schilling’s stance on today’s transgender issue immediately screamed that his First Amendment rights had been violated. To steal one of HL Mencken’s favorite words:

“Buncombe!”

Just because ESPN is a media company and Schilling was working for them, this matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment. This is a matter – plain and simple – of an employer telling an employee what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. In the situation where the employee repeatedly chooses “unacceptable behavior”, that leads to termination of employment. The First Amendment has nothing to do with that.

Last week, Bob Molinaro reported in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that the Kutztown University football team found an interesting way to conclude their spring football game. Evidently the game ended in a tie and – fortunately – the coaches did not choose to use the college overtime rules to break the tie in that meaningless contest. Rather, they decided the outcome of the game with a series of rock/scissors/paper confrontations. How great is that?

Speaking of how great something is, how great is it to be the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions for 2016. The Villanova Wildcats have had a parade in their honor in Philly; they will surely get an invite to the White House to meet the President and now the team – via the university to be sure – has received a donation of $22.6M to renovate their on-campus arena. The gift comes from Bill Finneran, a Villanova alum – no surprise there! – who is the founder of a hedge fund.

The on-campus arena, The Pavilion, needs a makeover. It seats only 6500 folks and has no suites or “luxury boxes”. That means that prime seats for Villanova home games have deep-pocketed supporters in them while students have to scramble for the leftovers. A major part of the renovation plan here is to put in suites for the pooh-bahs and to put student fans in the prime seating areas.

The Pavilion has a sort of interesting history. From the time that it opened in 1986 until 1997, the building was known as the John Eleuthère du Pont Pavilion, the man who provided major funding for the construction of the facility. The reason the du Pont name came off the building is the reason that name rings a distant bell in your memory.

    John Eleuthère du Pont was the man who became enamored with amateur wrestling and pentathlon sports and started a wrestling training facility at his Foxcatcher Farm in Delaware. Ultimately, he was convicted of the shooting death of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz in 1997. At that point, the name of the Villanova facility simply became known as “The Pavilion”.

Back in the 1970s, the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA moved west to become the Kansas City/Omaha Kings. The team split their home town affiliation from 1972 to 1975 before settling down in Kansas City and then ultimately moving to Sacramento in 1985. Omaha then hosted a team in the Continental Basketball Association for a while but the city has been without professional basketball since 1997. However, last week the Omaha Chargers came into existence as a franchise within the newly emerging National Basketball League of America – the NBLA. The league proposes a 20 game schedule between September and November.

At the moment, the NBLA has only three franchises; the Omaha Chargers, the Sioux City Hornets and the Dakota Magic. That paucity of teams led Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald to make this observation:

“You think it looks bad when an NBA team doesn’t make the playoffs?”

Finally, here is one more observation from Brad Dickson:

“The Lehigh valley Ironpigs minor league baseball team has a new concession item, bacon on a stick. Isn’t eating this basically a cry for help?

“How about something a wee bit healthier? Say crack burgers?”

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

RIP Jerry Greene

Jerry Greene, sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, passed away earlier this week. He was an e-mail pen-pal and his column From the Cheap Seats was the source of some of the closing quips that I use in these rants. I never met him in person but he was a wonderful “electronic acquaintance”.

Rest in peace, Jerry Greene…

Well, Drew Rosenhaus carried through on his promise. He dropped Johnny Manziel as a client because Manziel did not seek the counseling/help that Rosenhaus said was a prerequisite to their maintaining an agent/client relationship. It is not difficult to note here that this is a monumental event because it represents a situation where a sports agent actually told the truth about what he was about to do. It is also easy to point out that Rosenhaus was able to maintain an agent/client relationship with other NFL players with a “notorious streak” such as Plaxico Burress, Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy. However, this matter involves things of much greater gravity that than.

    [Aside: Recall that this is the second sports agent to drop Manziel. Earlier this year, Eric Burkhardt announced that he had terminated his agent/client relationship with Manziel citing essentially the same issues that Rosenhaus has alluded to here.]

Johnny Manziel is in the process of flushing whatever possible career he may have had in the NFL down the commode of life. Frankly, that is his action to take and just as frankly, I do not particularly care about his “possible career’. He is also in the process of ruining his life and possibly damaging the lives of others as he continues his non-stop participation in the “partying scene”. Many folks look at his “partying behavior” as merely youthful indiscretions that will sort themselves out with maturity. The problem here is that some fraction of the population gets to a point where maturity is not enough to give them the ability to say “Enough is enough!”. I am not competent to make a diagnosis here, but I have seen enough of life to recognize that Johnny Manziel is awfully near a precipice – if indeed he has not already gone over it.

Manziel insists that it is his intention to play NFL football in 2016 and for years after that. That stands in stark contrast with the fact that he remains unsigned by any team despite the fact that several teams could use a “quarterback upgrade”. Just as he seems to be unable to control his partying behaviors, he seems not to be able to recognize that teams and GMs are moving ahead without him. What seems patently obvious to many others seems to be completely opaque to him.

There is another depressing sort of story rumbling around in the sports world today. Sheryl Swopes was a star player in the WNBA and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When her career finished, she decided to go into coaching. She spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Mercer Island High School in suburban Seattle. Then in 2013, she took the job as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Loyola, Chicago.

Swopes said that she intended to put Loyola ‘on the map” in women’s college basketball; her stated intention was for Loyola to compete with programs such as UConn, Notre Dame and Tennessee and that she was taking the long view because achieving that stature was not possible as a “quick fix”. She has been at Loyola for 3 seasons now and the team record for that period is 31-62; if the goal is to be like UConn, Notre Dame and/or Tennessee, winning one out of 3 games over a 3-year stretch is not a good imitation at all.

Now things get a lot worse. Loyola announced that it is embarking on a full investigation of the women’s basketball program in the wake of:

    Ten of the twelve players on the team with remaining eligibility have requested releases from the school so that they can go elsewhere to play – and –

    An unspecified number of those players have alleged “player mistreatment” within the Loyola program.

I have not read any reports that specify the sort of “player mistreatment” alleged here but those sorts of allegations placed in juxtaposition with that number of players asking out of the program has to be worrisome. Here is a link to a recent ESPN.com report on this matter. Somehow, I do not think this will end well…

In a strange move, the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they had on CB, Josh Norman, and simply released him making him a free agent. Norman was a large part of the Panthers’ defense that took the team to the Super Bowl last year; to say that this move was unexpected would be the understatement of the month. This move is so unusual that I suspect there will be some sort of angle to this story that becomes known somewhere down the road; my “spider sense” is tingling here…

On a more upbeat note, Ohio State set a record recently for the largest attendance at a spring football game. The school announced that “more than 100,000” fans showed up at Ohio Stadium (aka “The Horseshoe”) for the spring intrasquad game. When packed to the gills for a real game, “The Horseshoe” holds 104,944 so there wasn’t all that much extra space in there for that exhibition game.

Finally, let me close with a quip by Jerry Greene formerly of the Orlando Sentinel that I have had on my clipboard for a couple of months:

“Beijing had dangerous air pollution, and Rio has water pollution out of a cheap horror movie. What’s next? Perhaps holding the Olympics atop an active volcano? (Of course it would be a great opening ceremony to watch on TV.)”

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

Logos = $$$$

Late last week, the NBA announced that it would embark on a “three-year pilot program” that would allow individual teams to sell advertising space on their uniforms. Any team can sell a “patch” on its game jerseys that is 2.5” by 2.5” to carry a sponsor’s logo. While sports radio commentary – at least in this area – exploded with this “news”, I think it is only a small step for the NBA. Remember, the NBA has been sporting sponsor logos on their practice jerseys for several years now.

Before addressing the screeches on local sports radio, there was another part of the announcement that caught my attention. Someone in the market research business who has to know a thousand times more than I do about this move estimated that sales of sponsor logos could amount to $120M per year in new revenue for the league. For the moment, assume that figure is absolutely correct. Now ask yourself this:

    What exactly might be the final decision on this “pilot program” after three years has gone by?

      If you answered that the NBA would cancel it and go back to “blank jerseys” you can write on the blackboard 500 times, “I am a dunderhead!”

      If you answered that the NBA will continue the program permanently, you have learned your lessons well.

      If you answered that the NBA would find a way to expand the program and sell more than one logo spot per uniform, give yourself a Gold Star.

Meanwhile the angst and the wailing that I endured on sports radio for about 72 hours after the NBA’s announcement was predictable and mainly irrelevant.

    What is the world coming to? Don’t those teams make enough money?

      Plenty of stuff is “wrong with this world” and none of that “stuff” has to do with NBA players wearing “unsullied uniforms” in their games. Oh, and by the way, owners of sports franchises everywhere never make “enough money”.

    Does the NBA want its teams to look like soccer teams where there is no identification of the team and only the identification of the team sponsors?

      The NBA probably does not want to remove the team name or the city name from team jerseys; but even if they do, would it change anything fundamental to the game? Boiled down to reality, the games are played by men running around in colored underwear. What verse in The Bible makes that inviolable?

      By the way, many soccer teams in Europe use jerseys that never had the team name or city name on them. Many teams were identified by the color scheme of the jersey without any verbiage so the addition of sponsor logos did not “remove” or “obscure” the team name or the city name; it was never there in the first place.

    Does the NBA want its teams to look like NASCAR drivers and race cars?

      If owners can find sponsors that will pay them millions of dollars for every 6.25 square inches on a jersey, they will happily have their teams look like NASCAR drivers.

Buried in the text of the announcement of this “three-year pilot program”, was a statement that jerseys sold at retail shops would not have the sponsor logo on them at the start of the program but that teams could – if they wanted to – sell logo jerseys in addition to the ones without the logo. That statement warmed the hearts of every marketing troll who works for every NBA team. Think about it for just a moment.

Why do you suppose that teams wear so many different varieties of uniforms in the first place? The answer is that more variety translates into more sales volume. That is why you can go into a sporting goods store and find at least 3 – and probably as many as 5 – different jersey styles/colors for every team. Now, the number of possible jerseys has been doubled by offering each color scheme/style with the sponsor logo and without the sponsor logo. Cha-ching…!

One other tiny reason that the screechers on sports radio should not have been stunned by this development is that the WNBA – the poor relative of the NBA – has been selling sponsor logos on WNBA game uniforms for at least 5 years now. If you do not watch the WNBA and have not seen this for yourself, use Google Images to search for “Phoenix Mercury team jerseys” – just to pick a WNBA team at random.

    [Aside: Before anyone hyperventilates about how horrible it would be if this “contagion” should spread to the NFL, please consider that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been wearing a corporate logo on their helmets for decades now. That “thing” on their helmet is the old logo for US Steel; it’s been there a long time; it is a lot bigger than 2.5” X 2.5”.]

Proximal to the NBA’s announcement of this new “cash-grab” – let me call it what it is – there was another report indicating that things are looking up for the NBA in the economic sphere. Looking at the last NBA regular season and the money spent by advertisers on TV advertising for game telecasts, the increase is very significant.

    Advertising expenditures for 2014/15 = $329.8M
    Advertising expenditures for 2015/16 = $487.8M

    That is an increase of 48% year over year!

Here is a link to the report containing more information on this expansion of spending by advertisers over the last year.

Understand, that money does not flow to the NBA directly; that is the money spent by advertisers that goes to networks who televise the various games. Nonetheless, that level of interest on the part of sponsors is indicative of their perceived interest fans have with regard to the NBA. Certainly the suits in the NBA Front Office can look at those figures and begin to plan for a subsequent increase in the television rights once it comes time for a new TV contract to be negotiated.

In addition, if there is indeed that level of fan interest out there and sponsors want to spend money on NBA advertising and promotions, maybe this is the perfect time to start selling logos on jerseys…

Finally, here is a suggestion from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that shows how colleges might find a way to get a commercial sponsorship for themselves:

“Whitman College in Walla Walla is dropping its ‘Missionaries’ mascot and is taking suggestions for a replacement.

“Samplers, anyone?”

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

Nice Neighbors…

I bumped into a neighbor who is a reader of these rants and he asked me why I had not commented on the NCAA ruling against “satellite football camps”. He said that he thought the decision by the NCAA was narrow-minded and he was surprised that I had not taken the opportunity to use the NCAA as a punching bag as I so often have done. My answer to him was that at the time it was a “front-and-center issue”, I had not considered it a big enough deal to worry about. My neighbor said he thought it was “a really cheesy move” by the NCAA and that I should go back and look at what they had done.

So, I did. And indeed it was a “cheesy” move. Then again, coming from the NCAA “cheesy” is sort of the center of gravity of what I have come to expect from such pronouncements and rules interpretations. Nevertheless, let me recap this for you.

    The NCAA – prodded to a large extent by the folks in the SEC and the ACC – ruled that Jim Harbaugh could not hold a “satellite football camp” in the South hoping to get to know potential recruits there. Then, it went a step further and said that if/when a school holds a camp in its own facilities, coaches from other schools cannot attend that camp or participate in the instruction there – even at the invitation of the school hosting the event.

I can understand the first rule. Indeed, it was a power play by the SEC who have a vested interest in keeping Michigan out of their fertile recruiting grounds. I get that. I do not like it, but I get it. It is the second part of this pronouncement from the NCAA that makes no sense at all. Since this all started with Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, let me use them as the centerpiece of this example:

    Jim Harbaugh decides to hold a football camp right there on campus in “The Big House” where the NCAA says he is allowed to do so. He invites a ton of recruits from Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Western New York because those areas are proximal to Ann Arbor.

    He knows that all of the invitees will not be of a caliber that he will want at Michigan but he also knows that he wants to “be known” in a lot of communities in that part of the recruiting world, so he brings in lots of potential collegiate players – only some of them will ply their trade at some lower level program.

    Then, to help run the event and to maintain good relations with coaches at neighboring institutions at a level beneath Michigan, he also invites the coaches at Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Finlandia University and Albion College. [Please note: Michigan State is not invited to this hypothetical event.] Those coaching staffs decide to join in the fun to get to see some potential recruits for their programs (the ones who will not go to Michigan) and to maintain their local networking connections.

    The NCAA says those coaches at smaller schools cannot attend or participate.

Surely, those coaches now barred from participation did not petition the NCAA for their banishment. So, what is the purpose here? What sinister and venal motivation had to be held at bay with this ruling?

The NCAA has lots of really serious issues to contend with including the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the pressures to pay college players in the revenue sports and player safety as evidenced by the Ivy League’s move to ban tackling at practices during the season. The complaints here amounted to not much more than whining by a few coaches and athletic departments who were arguing from a point of transparent self-interest. My neighbor called this ruling “cheesy”. It is really nice living in a neighborhood where the residents are so polite.

Switching gears, in Spanish soccer teams compete in La Liga at the top level of the sport there and at the same time teams compete for the Copa del Rey. I do not speak Spanish but I believe that means the King’s Cup; it is a tournament that has been ongoing for more than 100 years and it is a very big deal in Spain. Perhaps, it is analogous to the FA Cup in Great Britain.

Back in December, Real Madrid – one of the top teams in Spain – was disqualified from this year’s Copa del Rey tournament because it used an ineligible player, Denis Cheryshev. Here is a link to an article in The Guardian that describes why Cheryshev was ineligible and what the ruling was related to his participation. In the end, Real Madrid appealed the ruling but lost that appeal so the club was out. Their opponent in the contested game, Cadiz, went on to the next round.

I have to admit that I had to go back and look up the references here to figure out what happened to Real Madrid in this matter and what the stature of the Copa del Rey was. Spanish soccer is not even close to my wheelhouse. What brought this to my attention was a comment by Brad Rock in his column Rock On in the Deseret News this week:

“Fans of Real Madrid are suing the club president after the team was tossed from Copa del Rey, due to an ineligible player.

SI.com reports the plaintiffs feel they “had to endure being taunted in cafes and our place of work.”

“In America, that’s called life after losing the Utah-BYU game.”

I wonder if part of the pain these fans nominally had to endure came from fans of Barcelona – Real Madrid’s arch rival – because at the moment, Barcelona is the current holder of the Copa del Rey…

Finally, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald wherein he channels Carnac the Magnificent:

“Answer: The U.S. team trained in Miami won the World Cup of FootGolf, a sport played on golf courses in which players kick soccer balls into giant holes.

“Question: Whaddya mean there are too many ridiculous, made-up sports?”

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

Mea Culpa…

I have to begin today by correcting an error from a rant last week. I was talking about the impending retirement of Dick Enberg and said:

“Enberg had the call for the Ohio State/Cincinnati NCAA basketball championship game in 1961. That was the game that had Oscar Robertson on one side and Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Bob Knight.”

I received a correction from the reader in Houston who is a top-shelf sports historian. I got part of the above right – but I depended on my memory and not on Google for the details here. Mea culpa… :

“Oscar was with Cincy in 1961, but it was the Cincy Royals of the NBA. He was in the Final Four with Cincy in 1959 and 1960, losing in the semis both years to Cal, which was led by Darrall Imhoff at center.

“The Big O finished his senior year after the 1960 season and played on the Olympic team in Rome beside Jerry West, which was a “dream team” before the “Dream Team”.

“Tom Thacker took over Robertson’s spot on the Bearcats in 1961. The 1961 game between Cincy and OSU was one of the greatest finals of all time, as Cincy beat undefeated reigning national champ OSU, 70-65 in OT, but since it was shown in only a few markets, it is hardly remembered by the public and media as a classic.

“Cincy also made it to the championship game in 1962, beating OSU again, but rather easily this time, as Lucas wrenched his knee in the semi-final win vs. Wake and was no match vs. Cincy’s Paul Hogue in the championship game, getting outscored, 22-11.

“Then in 1963, Cincy met Loyola Chicago in another classic game won at the buzzer on a put-in by the Ramblers’ Vic Rouse. Loyola trailed by 15 points with 14 minutes left. Once again, only a minority of us got to see the game on TV, so this game also is often overlooked as one of the great NCAA Finals of all time.”

Thanks to the reader in Houston for the correction and the expansion here…

In Boston, the Red Sox have put Pablo Sandoval on the DL with a shoulder injury. Some people have suggested that this is a phantom injury and the real problem is that Sandoval is too fat to play well. If indeed, this is a ruse on the part of the team, they have gone to great lengths to establish the hoax. Sandoval has had an MRI on his shoulder and supposedly will see Dr. James Andrews for another examination.

As all of that is playing out, Sandoval’s former trainer, Ethan Banning, said that Sandoval needs a “baby-sitter” to help him control his eating. The former trainer likened Sandoval’s eating proclivities to an alcoholic’s drinking behaviors. Obviously, I am not qualified to make a determination here and I have no idea if Banning has the qualifications to make such a diagnosis. What I can conclude simply from observation is that Sandoval is way overweight.

I always enjoyed watching Pablo Sandoval play baseball back in his days with the Giants. Even then, his physique was atypical for a major league baseball player; but he played with a flare and a joy that made him fun to watch. After he signed his 5-year/$95M contract with the Red Sox before the start of the 2015 season, he added weight to his already corpulent stature. This year, he showed up in training camp even bigger; some folks speculated that he was at or north of “three bills” and the added weight did not help him in the batter’s box or defensively at third base. He lost the starting third base job to Travis Shaw who is a converted first baseman. Let me just say in summary that all is not well in Boston between Sandoval, the Red Sox and the Red Sox fans.

Now there are also rumors that the Red Sox would like to trade Sandoval but – and this is too easy – there are two large obstacles:

    1. Sandoval’s girth – and –

    2. Sandoval’s large contract which includes:

      $70M in base salary through 2019
      Club option at $17M per year or a $5M buyout in 2020
      Limited no trade clause (he can block trades to 3 teams)
      A suite in hotels for road games
      A variety of bonuses for various achievements.

Obviously, if Sandoval has a shoulder injury that is serious, no team will take on that contract until the injury is completely in the past. Even if that injury is healed – or if it never existed in the first place – most teams will be wary of assuming that contract for a player who is overweight and hit only .245 (with an OPS of only .658) last season.

A trade might help Sandoval get back to a sufficient condition where he was a sought-after free agent. In the Boston area, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts attached to about half of the gas stations there. If Sandoval has an eating disorder of some kind, that is not an environment that would work for him. I have no idea how all of this will end, but I believe that Pablo Sandoval needs to lose 30 lbs – and maybe 50 – in order for him to be the player he was in San Francisco.

Here is how Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times sees this situation:

“If corpulent Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval were a car, he’d be in the shop getting:

    a) heavier suspension springs
    b) a gas-tank reduction
    c) a belt replaced”

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

The Wheels On The Bus Go ‘Round and ‘Round…

There is a small eddy current in the flow of collegiate basketball coaches at the moment. Let me hit a few highlights here:

    UNLV fired its coach in mid-season last year. On March 27, UNLV hired Chris Beard away from Arkansas-Little Rock.

    It took about 2 weeks before the pooh-bahs at UNLV approved Beard’s contract and even then it was a split vote to accept it.

    Soon after that vote, Tubby Smith left Texas Tech to take the head coaching job at Memphis.

    About a week after the vote to approve Beard’s contract at UNLV, he paid them the “exit fee” (reportedly $1M) to get out of the contract and take the job at Texas Tech.

    UNLV then hired Marvin Menzies away from New Mexico State.

    New Mexico State is on the clock…

None of this would have been particularly interesting without a comment made by the UNLV Athletic Director, Tina Kunzer-Murphy, as she announced that Menzies would take over the program at UNLV. She said among other things that Menzies “respects the tradition of Runnin’ Rebel basketball.” [Aside: Menzies was an assistant coach at UNLV in the past.]

I do not want to rain on Ms. Kunzer-Murphy’s parade here, but 99% of college basketball coaches respect the tradition of whatever college they are at now only to the degree that they do not get a more lucrative offer elsewhere. This whole round-robin started when Chris Beard disrespected the tradition of Arkansas-Little Rock basketball to jump to UNLV. Then Tubby Smith moved on so that Beard could make a second coaching jump in a couple of weeks. Then Ms. Kunzer-Murphy hired Menzies away from New Mexico State meaning that he showed no respect for Aggie basketball. All of these men had time left on their existing contracts.

    Memo to Tina Kunzer-Murphy: ‘Tis the way of the college coaching world. In most cases, schools can only buy loyalty from coaches. And when you “buy loyalty”, it really is not a high grade of “loyalty”.

While on the topic of collegiate athletic directors – sort of – USC picked Lynn Swann to take over the position vacated by Pat Haden recently. This is the third consecutive time that USC has turned to one of its former star football players to run the athletic department. Here is what Dwight Perry had to say about that in the Seattle Times:

“From USC football star to Trojans athletic director: Mike Garrett … Pat Haden … Lynn Swann …

“’So when’s it my turn?’ asked O.J.”

With the NBA regular season mercifully behind us – it began on 27 October 2015, two weeks shy of 6 months ago – the attendance figures for the teams are “in the books”. Here is a link where you can find the numbers for all of the teams if you wish. Here are six highlights that stood out to me:

    Nine of the thirty teams played to 100% of capacity – or higher – in their home games for the season.

    Thirteen of the thirty teams played to between 90% and 99.7% of capacity in their home games for the season.

    The Chicago Bulls had the highest average home attendance (21,820) for the season despite the fact that the Bulls did not make the playoffs.

    The “Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour Across America” was a real phenomenon. The Lakers played to the highest percentage of capacity in road games for the season (100.9%)

    The Sixers were not dead last in home attendance despite their record of 10-72. Both the Timberwolves and the Nuggets drew fewer fans to home games last year.

    The Sixers were not dead last in road attendance either. In fact, six teams drew fewer fans on the road (Celtics, Jazz, Kings, Magic, Raptors, Suns)

I read a report that the NBA “ruled” that a Sudanese/Australian high schooler would be eligible for the NBA Draft this year. The collectively bargained draft eligibility rules for the NBA Draft are that the player must be 19 years old and that he is one-year removed from high school. The player in question here is named Thon Maker; he is 19 years old and the NBA determined that he did in fact graduate from a high school in Ontario in 2015.

Maker is 7’ 1” tall but he only weighs 218 lbs according to a scouting report. He was born in South Sudan but escaped from the civil strife there to Uganda and then Australia. He has been playing basketball for only 5 years but clearly his size makes him a worthy prospect. Given his need to add significant bulk to be able to play inside in the NBA, it is unlikely that he will be an impact player next year. Too bad for him that Sam Hinkie is no longer making draft decisions for the Sixers; Maker would fit perfectly with previous Hinkie selections of center, Nerlens Noel, – injured and had to sit out a year – and center, Joel Embiid – injured and had to sit out two years.

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“LeBron James signs lifetime deal with Nike. Am picturing LeBron, at 75, pushing Nike’s new line of orthopedic bedroom slippers.”

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

Tax Day…

To commemorate this year’s Tax Day, let me begin this morning with a comment from Mark Twain:

“Only difference between a taxidermist and the tax man is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.”

I think we can fairly surmise that Mark Twain would be in favor of “tax cutting” were he alive and able to vote in this year’s elections…

Recently, I mentioned the apparently last-ditch efforts in San Diego to seek approval from voters there to build a new stadium for the Chargers lest the team pick up and move north to Los Angeles. Obviously, that collection of issues would generate angst among the folks in SoCal as people take sides on the issues. However, there are two events that will play out in SoCal this summer on which very few people should disagree. This will be the last summer for:

    1. Vin Scully in Los Angeles broadcasting LA Dodgers’ games.

    2. Dick Enberg in San Diego broadcasting SD Padres’ games.

Both men are retiring at the end of this year after long and illustrious careers. Scully started with the Dodgers back in Brooklyn in 1950 as part of a three-man team to do Dodgers’ games that included Red Barber and Ernie Harwell. There you have a broadcasting trifecta of greatness. Just about every baseball fan knows about Scully and has heard Scully; I think there are elements of Enberg’s “backstory” that many folks do not know and I find them interesting:

    Enberg had the call for the Ohio State/Cincinnati NCAA basketball championship game in 1961. That was the game that had Oscar Robertson on one side and Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and Bob Knight.

    Enberg was not regularly on the air until the late 60s. He earned a PhD in Health Science from the University of Indiana and was as an Assistant Professor before going into broadcasting full time.

Lots of people will write paeans to both of these men as their departures from the airwaves become imminent. I want to say something about Vin Scully that may not be mentioned and it is something that I have come to appreciate a lot.

    I have never heard Vin Scully refer to the Dodgers – or any other team on the field in front of him – in the first person. He never says “we”; he always says “they” or “the Dodgers” or “the team”.

Far too many broadcasters today – particularly color commentators – use the first person and it is annoying and inappropriate. Broadcasters are there to tell the listeners/viewers what is happening; they are not supposed to be fanboys. Vin Scully has been on the air for 66 years now. I surely have not heard every one of his broadcasts, but I have never heard him lapse into “fanboy-mode” and that is something I greatly appreciate.

Let me stay in SoCal for one more moment here… The euphoria of Kobe Bryant’s final game where he scored 60 points in a victory needs to tone down a bit so that we can look at reality for a moment. The LA Lakers’ franchise is a mess. How big a mess? Consider:

    Over the past 2 years, the Lakers’ cumulative record is 48-116.

    Over the past 2 seasons, the Sacramento Kings’ cumulative record is 62-102. The Lakers are 14 games behind the Kings and just about everyone thinks the Kings are about as good as puddle of pig puke.

    Over the past 2 seasons, the Sixers’ cumulative record is 28-136. That is a whole lot worse than the Lakers’ record but remember, the Sixers were not even trying to win most of the time.

The Lakers were a benchmark team in the NBA from the 1976/77 season through 20012/13. In that 37-year time span, the Lakers won 10 NBA Championships and only missed the playoffs 2 times. And now, this is the level to which the Lakers have fallen…

Well, since I mentioned the Sacramento Kings just above, the team just fired George Karl after his first full season with the team. The last time the Kings made the NBA playoffs was in 2006; when the Kings hire Karl’s replacement, that person will be the 9th coach of the team since the last playoff appearance.

Shed no tears for George Karl. In a sense, this firing is a reprieve for him. He no longer has to deal with the dysfunctional roster and an owner who seems to model his ownership behavior after Danny Boy Snyder. Karl got a 4-year deal from the Kings back in Feb 2015 when he took over the job in mid-season; he has two-and-a-half years of salary still to go on that contract…

The NFL schedule is out and lots of folks are pointing to “key games” among the 256 contests on the schedule. I shall resist the temptation to make a list of the “Top Ten Most Anticipated Contests for 2016” or anything like that. I shall also resist any temptation to click on any website link that even sounds like that. However, let me point out something from the schedule:

    Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. The NFL will play 14 games on Saturday, December 24 that week and 2 games on Christmas Day. The Christmas Day schedule is:

      Baltimore at Pittsburgh (4:30 PM EST)
      Denver at KC (8:30 EST)

    New Year’s Day is also a Sunday for this NFL season. The NFL will end its season with all 16 games on Sunday that week. There will be no Monday night game on 2 January.

Finally, since I mentioned dysfunctional NBA teams above, consider this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Toymaker Mattel is out $3M after unwittingly wiring funds to cyber-thieves in China.

“Which is not dissimilar to the Nets paying Joe Johnson $25M for this season.”

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

Money, Money, Money…

Low probability events happen every day. According to a report in the Washington Post yesterday, the NCAA has issued a moratorium on approvals for any new college football bowl games for the next 3 years. The NCAA came down in favor of restraint and against incremental revenue. That is a low probability event.

I was unaware that three cities had applied for NCAA approval to stage additional bowl games and that the approval process was proceeding apace. Those cities are:

    Austin, Texas
    Charleston, S. Carolina
    Myrtle Beach, S. Carolina

Obviously, Kalispell Montana failed to get its paperwork into NCAA HQs in time for that round of approvals…

Last year, there were 40 college football bowl games requiring 80 participating teams. Not surprisingly, there were not enough teams who were “bowl eligible” according to the rules the NCAA had established and they had to figure a way to let 3 “ineligible teams” take the field. Let me be clear, the hurdle the NCAA established for “bowl eligibility” is not a daunting one; all a team needs to do is break even for the season with a 6-6 record. Last year, 3 teams played in bowl games even though they were 5-7 for the season.

The NCAA has a task force that will – nominally – make recommendations to the Football Oversight Committee by June of this year with regard to “reforming the postseason”. Even in the announcement of the existence of this task force, there is every indication that the NCAA mavens do not recognize the fundamental flaw in their postseason architecture. The task force will also determine “what should qualify as a deserving team and how a 5-7 team should be placed in a bowl game if necessary.”

What that statement of objectives for the task force means is that the NCAA does not recognize that teams with a 6-6 record are not “deserving teams” and only get to go to a bowl game because there is a glut of them out there. In any event, we will have to wait until June to see if the great black monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey makes an appearance at any of the task force meetings and alters the course of human evolution/thinking amongst those toilers. I suspect that is what it will take for them to recognize that the “correct answer” to the problem here is to reduce the number of bowl games from 40 to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-24.

    Not gonna happen…

Clearly, cutting back on the number of bowl games will cut into the revenue streams for college athletics and that is why this is not gonna happen. However, do not mistakenly conclude that the NCAA and the conferences and the athletic departments are destitute and running on fumes. Concurrently with the work of this task force which ought to recommend a cutback here, the NCAA has agreed with CBS and Turner Broadcasting to extend the contract for television rights to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The reason you did not know that the existing contract was about to expire and therefore negotiations for a new one were underway is that the existing contract was nowhere near expiration. In fact, the current deal would not have expired until 2024; the current contract calls for the NCAA to receive an average of “only” $771M per year from the networks. ($10.8B over a 14-year period).

The contract extension adds another 8 years to the deal taking it out to 2032 and those additional 8 years will bring in an average of $1.1B. I am well-aware that there are lots of member institutions out there to share in the bounty here, but no matter how you slice it, this is a whole lot of cheese.

Speaking of the intersection of sports and money, the San Diego Chargers have proposed a way for them to get a new stadium in San Diego – keeping the team there “permanently”. The facility would have 65,000 seats and it would be municipally owned; the Chargers propose an oversight entity for the stadium that would maintain the stadium and run the venue for any non-NFL events that might take place there. Let me just say that there is nothing revolutionary about such a concept.

The way the Chargers propose to pay for all of this is for the NFL to kick in $300M and for the Chargers to pony up $350M. Over and above that the local government entities would pick up the tab. For the moment, the idea is for the city/county to raise its Transient Occupancy Tax – us normal folk would call it a hotel/motel tax – by 4%. Also contained in this proposal is the use of some Transient Occupancy Tax money to build a new convention center for the city.

This all sounds reasonable except for a few details:

    1. The site proposed by the Chargers is one that the city fathers have rejected more than once in the past.

    2. The hotel/motel owners and operators in the city have been dead set against any increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax every time funding for a new stadium has been discussed.

    3. There seems not to be a consensus in San Diego that the city needs a new convention center.

In any event, the Chargers want to put this question to the voters in a referendum. Stay tuned for posturing and positioning on that issue…

Finally, in keeping with the theme of college football bowl games and TV money and the like, consider this observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“The College Football Playoff committee has altered the 2016 playoff schedule. This after we learned last year that Americans would rather spend New Year’s Eve with their face planted in a bowl of dip than watch a football game.”

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