NFL Predictions Team By Team For 2021

Last week saw the start of the college football season; this week, the NFL makes its entry onto the US sporting scene.  As has been customary in these parts, I try to do a bunch of predictions before things get underway for real just to demonstrate the wisdom in the adage:

  • Prediction is very difficult – – particularly when it involves the future.

But I am not one who is ashamed of being wrong, so I shall continue to “give it a go” again in 2021.  In the process of forecasting the future, it is inevitable that I will be wrong about many team performances.  When I underestimate the success of a team, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  1. I do not hate that team, its coach, its fans and/or the city it represents.
  2. I do not owe that team, its coach, its fans and/or the city it represents an apology because all that took place is that I made an error which I will readily acknowledge after it happens.

I begin these predictive pieces with my list of eight NFL Coaches on a Hot Seat.  I do not expect all of them to be canned at the end of the year, but I do think all will come in for some pointed critiques along the way in 2021.   I will present them here in alphabetical order:

  1. David Cully (Texans):  Yes, I know this will be his first season in Houston and I also know that the Texans are going to be awful this year through no fault of Coach Cully.  Nevertheless, I doubt that he will be a fan favorite there and while he will likely survive into the 2022 season, his seat starts out warm and will only increase in temperature as the season progresses.
  2. Vic Fangio (Broncos):  The Broncos are 12-20 over the past two seasons with Fangio in charge.  I think a winning record and serious contention for a playoff spot – if not the playoffs themselves – will be necessary for him to be the coach in Denver in 2022.
  3. Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals):  The Cards are 13-18-1 over the past two seasons with Kingsbury in charge.  His offense led by Kyler Murray has been splashy and exciting – – at times.  However, overall success has not happened.  I think he will need a playoff appearance to survive into 2022.
  4. Matt LeFleur (Packers):  I put him here not because of his record in Green Bay; it is a good one.  His problem is Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers’ “happiness” with the team.  If that relationship becomes strained – or goes in the dumper entirely – LeFleur might find his job in jeopardy.
  5. Mike McCarthy (Cowboys):  The Cowboys were 6-10 last year – McCarthy’s first year in Dallas.  The team is highly regarded this year; they have plenty of offensive weapons – enough to win shoot-out games.  Can McCarthy and his staff piece together enough defense to be a playoff team?  I think that is what Jerry Jones expects…
  6. Matt Nagy (Bears):  In his first season in Chicago, he led the Bears to a 12-4 record and the NFC North title.  In the next two seasons, the Bears have been 8-8.  Nagy’s seat is not nearly as hot as some others on this list – – unless things come apart at the seams and the Bears finish at something like 6-11.
  7. Zac Taylor (Bengals):  I put him here even though I am confident he will be the coach in Cincy next  year.  The basis for his position here is that reports lead me to conclude that expectations for the Bengals are sky-high with the return of Joe Burrow and the maturing of the young roster – – notwithstanding a Bengals’ record of 6-25-1 over the past 2 seasons.  But the Bengals play in a very difficult division and are not going to meet sky-high expectations.  The reason Taylor will be back in Cincy in 2022 is that he has time and money left on his contract there and the Bengals notoriously do not like to pay coaches not to coach.
  8. Mike Zimmer (Vikings):  He has been the Vikes’ head coach for 7 seasons now; he has been in the playoffs 3 times; his coaching record in Minnesota is 64-47-1.  I put him here because there is no positive trend to his teams’ performances, and it may be that fans and ownership in Minnesota may want to “go in a different direction.

Before getting into specifics about the upcoming 2021 season, let me present an observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot from several months ago:

Looking back: The next NFL schedule won’t have more than three exhibition games per team. It’s incredible that before the league moved to 16 games in 1978, teams played six preseason dates. Six!”

Given the injury-phobia that is clearly exhibited by many teams/coaches around the league, try to imagine who would be on the field in six Exhibition Games in 2021.  But Molinaro is absolutely correct; there used to be 6 of those meaningless games prior to every season.  When – not if but when – the NFL and the NFLPA come to an agreement on how much more of a percentage of revenue needs to go to players to accept an 18th regular season game with 2 Bye Weeks in the regular season schedule for each team, I hope they cut the Exhibition Game schedule to one or two games at the most.

NFL players have an adage:

  • Father Time has never missed a tackle.

Before anyone leaps to inform me that Tom Brady is 44 years old and is still “going strong”, that adage is something fans and coaches need to keep in mind.   So, let me list here six players who just might feel Father Time’s presence as the season wears on.  Please note, all the players I have here are ones who have had laudatory careers; they are ones who I think might be coming close to entering the “next phase” of their lives:

  1. Calais Campbell: He is 35 years old and that is pushing it for a defensive lineman and pass rusher.
  2. Ezekiel Elliott:  He is not old – 26 years old to be specific.  However, he has had almost 1700 touches in his career to date; that is a lot of pounding on his body.
  3. Derrick Henry:  He is not old – 27 years old to be specific.  However, he has led the NFL in rushing attempts for each of the past two seasons carrying the ball a total of 681 times in those two seasons; that is a lot of pounding on his body too.
  4. AJ Green:  He is 33 years old and entering his 10th NFL season.  He may have lost a step because in 2020 he caught 47 passes for 523 yards in 16 games.  Just two seasons ago in 2019, he caught 46 passes for 694 yards in only 9 games.
  5. Ben Roethlisberger:  He is entering his 18th NFL season at age 39.  He appeared in 15 games last year, but his yards-per-completion  were the lowest of his career by a significant margin save for an injury season in 2019.
  6. Andrew Whitworth:  He will be 40 years old in early December when he and the Rams hope to be playing meaningful games.  Go to Google Images and check out a recent photo of Whitworth and you will understand why the term “gray-beard” is appropriate…

Before I leave the “Father Time” portion of this piece entirely, here is another item I found in a column by Bob Molinaro:

“Tidbit: Tom Brady is only the second quarterback to start an NFL conference championship game in three decades. The other: Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts.”

Now it is time for my predictions team-by-team in the 8 NFL Divisions.  I shall start in the AFC East:

  • Bills: I think they win this division handily with a 13-4 record.  As far as I can see, the only weakness I see is a mediocre running game.  Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs by themselves make for a potent pass offense; adding Emmanuel Sanders to the roster makes it even better.  The Bills’ defense played well in the final months of last season and should be strong again this year.  One cautionary note I would point out is that the Bills have an outspoken and hard-over contingent of ant-vax players.  Should that cause game difficulties, that problem might become a serious locker room issue.
  • Patriots:  I think the Pats finish second in this division at 10-7.  I am not ready to anoint Mac Jones as a star QB at the NFL level – and truth be told he does not have an outstanding set of pass-catchers with him – but I do believe that he can operate in the Josh McDaniel offensive milieu.
  • Dolphins:  I think the Fins come third here with a 9-8 record.  I know that others are much higher on the team than I am.  I worry about their QB situation.  The proclamation has been that Tua is their guy; then there have been persistent rumors that the team is talking with the Texans about trading for Deshaun Watson – should he ever be allowed on an NFL field again.  Those two things just do not go together, and I think the Dolphins will underperform the high expectations many folks have for this team in 2021.

[Aside:  Personally, I think Tua is not the answer at QB for an NFL team that aspires to serious playoff participation.  He just does not give me confidence when he drops back to pass.]

  • Jets:  I think the Jets will finish last in the division at 3-14.  The team has had a bunch of training camp injuries and the effect of those injuries on a thin roster to begin with will prevent the Jets from showing much improvement.  Zach Wilson shows a lot of promise, and many folks think he will be a star in the NFL for a decade or so.  Even if that is completely correct, it is not going to matter much in 2021; he will see lots of pressure behind an offensive line that was damaged by an injury to Mekhi Becton.

Moving on to the AFC North – this is going to be a very strong division in 2021 and the strength of the division opponents could make some of the strong teams appear to be less successful:

  • Ravens: I like the Ravens to win this division at 12-5.  The loss of RB, JK Dobbins for the season is a challenge for the Ravens’ offense, but I still think the rest of the roster is strong.  Lamar Jackson took a half-step back last year; I think he takes a full step ahead this year.  The Ravens are a balanced team being strong on offense, defense and special teams.
  • Browns:  I like the Browns to finish second in the division on a tiebreaker; the Browns will also go 12-5.  The schedule-maker has an interesting angle for the Browns and Ravens in late November and early December.  The Browns play at Baltimore, then get a BYE Week, then host Baltimore.  Over the same three weeks, the Ravens host the Browns, play at the Steelers and then at the Browns.  The Browns’ defense should be improved with the return of Greedy Williams to the defensive backfield.  The Browns also acquired Jadeveon Clowney; that may or may not be a blessing.  What the Browns need most is for that defensive unit to improve from last year; the offense was fine, but the defense was just okay.  The RB tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is as good as any in the league.
  • Steelers:  I think the Steelers go 9-8.  That prediction is based on the soundness of Ben Roethlisberger’s arm/elbow.  I said above that he may be on the precipice of his career but if his arm is healthy enough to make defenses worry about a pass more than 8 or 9 yards downfield, the Steelers can be a tough out because of the Steelers’ defense.  However, if Roethlisberger is ineffective or injured again and the Steelers have to turn to Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins, my prediction of a 9-8 record should be wildly optimistic.  Remember, the Steelers started last year with an 11-0 record and finished at 12-4 when it became obvious in December that they could not stretch the field.  The Steelers running game should be better with the addition of first round pick, Najee Harris.
  • Bengals:  I think the Bengals finish at 5-12 which shows improvement but not excellence.  The schedule-maker was not kind to the Bengals back-loading the team schedule with a difficult final six weeks.  Over that stretch the Bengals host the Chargers, host the Niners, at the Broncos, host the Ravens, host the Chiefs, at the Browns.

Next up is the AFC South.  There are two good teams in this division and two pretty miserable teams too:

  • Titans:  I like the Titans to win the division at 11-6.  The Titans have a tough stretch on the schedule in October/November.  In that time, the Titans play home against the Bills, home against the Chiefs, at the Colts, at the Rams, home against the Saints.  Ryan Tannehill can now seek out Julio Jones AND AJ Brown on pass plays; presumably, that will offset the free-agency losses of Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis.  If the Titans improve their passing game, it will take some of the load – and the wear and tear – off Derrick Henry.
  • Colts:  I think the Colts finish second here at 9-8.  When the Colts acquired Carson Wentz to replace the retired Philip Rivers, I thought the Colts might take over this division but Wentz’ foot injury and his COVID quarantine make me wonder about his availability over a 17-game schedule.  The Colts’ defense is good; the team needs to be able to score points and to do that they need their QB to be ready and able.  The early part of the 2021 season could be “make or break” for the Colts.  Here are the first 5 weeks: host Seahawks, host Rams, at Titans, at Dolphins, at Ravens.  Ouch!
  • Jags:  I think the Jags finish third in the division at 3-14.  Don’t sneer, that is three times as many games as the Jags won in 2020.  I think Trevor Lawrence will play well – so long as he can stay uninjured behind a sub-standard offensive line; he may need to run for his life to stay healthy.  I do not expect miracles from Urban Meyer, but I also did not anticipate the screw-ups that have happened already under his regime – – the Tim Tebow distraction and the outrageous hiring of the strength coach just to name a couple.  The day after Christmas, NFL fans in NYC will get the scheduling equivalent of a lump of coal in their stockings.  On the 26th of December, the Jags travel to NYC to play the Jets.  At stake will likely be draft position for next April.
  • Texans:  I think the Texans will finish dead last in the division – and in the NFL – with a record of 2-15.  I think the Texans will split with the Jags in divisional games and will win a home game against the Jets in last November.  That prediction is based on my guess that Deshaun Watson never sees the field in 2021 as his criminal and civil actions related to sexual assault wend their way through the US legal system.  Without Watson, the Texans could challenge the Jags and/or Lions for the worst offense in the league.  The defensive unit is nothing to write home about either…

[Aside:  The legal issues surrounding Deshaun Watson are not of the Texans’ doing but the new regime there did not cover itself in glory during the offseason.  This is a team that needs to overcome the giving away of DeAndre Hopkins for a bag of donut holes and the defection of JJ Watt.  So, there is how the new guys approached their roster rebuild.  They traded to acquire Shaq Lawson from the Dolphins in exchange for linebacker Bernardrick McKinney.  They revamped Lawson’s contract converting salary to signing bonus to the tune of $7M.  That was in the Spring; in the past two weeks, they sent Lawson off to the Jets in exchange for a 6th round pick next year.  Is that how you rebuild a devastated roster?  The Texans’ Front Office reminds me of those glorious days when Danny Boy Snyder was a hands-on owner and he had Vinny Cerrato as his “consigliere”…]

Finally for the AFC, here is the AFC West:

  • Chiefs:  I think the Chiefs win this division comfortably at 14-3.  The schedule starts out rough for the Chiefs.  For the first 7 weeks they host the Browns, at the Ravens, host the Chargers, at the Eagles, host the Bills, at the Football Team, at the Titans.  I think the Chiefs will be 5-2 at that part of the season and then assert themselves in the mid-season and down the stretch.  The Chiefs are potent on offense because they are fast; they have a great QB and TE and they can run the football.  The offensive line is revamped with acquisitions via trade and free agency plus the return of a lineman who opted out of the 2020 season.
  • Chargers:  I think the Chargers will finish second here with a record of 10-7.  Justin Herbert is for real; it will be fun to see him go against Patrick Mahomes twice a year for the foreseeable future.  Free safety, Derwin James, was an All-Pro first team selection in his rookie year in 2018; he played 5 games in 2019 and missed all of the 2020 season.  If he is healthy, the Chargers’ defense just gets better.
  • Raiders:  I see the Raiders finishing in third place here with a 7-10 record.  There is just too much drama associated with this team and with the coach and with the GM and with the owner.  The final 7 games on their schedule are not easy.  They play at the Cowboys, host the Football Team, at the Chiefs, at the Browns, host the Broncos, at the Colts host the Chargers to end the season.
  • Broncos:  I think the Broncos finish last in the division with a 5-12 record.  That is going to get their coach fired.  In their continuing search for a quality starting QB – something they have been doing ever since Peyton Manning retired in 2015 – the Broncos acquired Teddy Bridgewater.  That is an improvement over the days when they were trotting folks like Paxton Lynch and/or Brock Osweiler out onto the field.  However, Teddy Bridgewater is not a franchise QB now or ever.

[Aside:  I ran across this stat somewhere but did not note where I got it.  According to whomever, the Broncos’ Teddy Bridgewater will be the 11th starting QB they have used since Manning’s retirement.  I think that is correctly referred to as a revolving door situation.]

So, here are the AFC playoff teams:

  • Chiefs – #1 seed, BYE week in the playoffs, home field in the playoffs
  • Bills – #2 seed
  • Ravens – #3 seed
  • Titans – #4 seed
  • Browns – first wildcard
  • Chargers – second wildcard
  • Patriots – final wildcard

            And now over the NFC, where I will begin in with the NFC West.  Top to bottom, this is the best division in the NFL; the team that finishes last here would likely win the NFC East.

  • Seahawks:  I think they will win the division with a 13-4 record.  The schedule-maker was kind to the Seahawks in December/January giving Seattle games against the Texans, Bears and Lions in the last five weeks.  There was far too much hyperbole and drama in the offseason abut Russell Wilson demanding to be traded.  That did not happen; I seriously doubt it was ever close to happening; he is back with the Seahawks and will lead them to the playoffs.
  • Niners:  I think they finish second in the division at 10-7.  They were injury-riddled in 2020 and the “return” of players like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford should improve the defense significantly.  Deebo Samuel only played 7 games for the Niners last year and his return will be a plus for the offense.  Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Trey Lance should be good enough to provide a winning season for the team.
  • Rams:  I think the Rams finish third in the division with a 10-7 record losing out on a tiebreaker to the Niners.  Matthew Stafford is a significant upgrade for the Rams at QB, but the team lost its defensive coordinator to a head coaching offer in the offseason.
  • Cardinals:  I think the Cardinals finish last in this division with a 9-8 record.  The Cardinals are a good team, but they are scheduled into the toughest division in the league.  As I mentioned above, I think this season will be one where people are looking for the Cards’ offense to take a big step forward with Kyler Murray at the controls.

Moving along to the NFC South:

  • Bucs:  I think the Bucs will win this division with a 14-3 record.  Somehow, the Bucs managed to win the Super Bowl last year and also to “keep the band together”. In fact, the Buds’ defense may be even better this year because they will get Vita Vey back from the injured list to play nose tackle.
  • Saints:  I think the Saints will take a stop back this year with the retirement of Drew Brees but there seems to be enough residual talent for the team to have a winning season at 10-7. Jameis Winston won the starting job in New Orleans; he has weapons around him, and he has Sean Payton as the offensive guru there.  This is a time for Winston to show that he can lead a team efficiently and minimize his abundant turnovers.
  • Panthers:  I see the Panthers climbing out of the division basement to finish third with a record of 6-11.  Matt Ruhle has had a couple of years to acquire “his guys” on the roster and I think that will start to pay off this year.  I am not nearly as sour on Sam Darnold as many other commentators seem to be; I think he was saddled with a mediocre roster and a goofy coaching staff in NYC.  The end of the schedule for the Panthers is not kind and gentle.  In their last 4 games they get a trip to play the Bills, home against the Bucs, away at the Saints and away at the Bucs.  Ouch!
  • Falcons:  I think the Falcons finish last here with a 5-12 record.  I know Julio Jones is “old” for a WR and that he had a burdensome contract but losing him from the offense will not help the Falcons’ cause at all.  I do have a cautionary sense here, however.  Last year, the Falcons were 4-12 but their point differential for the entire season was only minus-18 points.  There were 8-8 teams with comparable or worse point differentials.  If there is going to be a surprise team in the NFC, it just might be the Falcons.

Moving onto the NFC North:

  • Packers:  I like the Packers to win the division with a 13-4 record.  The Packers have won 13 games in each of the last two years; why not keep going on that sort of streak?  There was far too much offseason drama surrounding the team, its front office and Aaron Rodgers, but I think Rodgers can and will put that aside and lead the team to the division title.  An important game on the schedule is November 14 when the Seahawks come to Green Bay to play the Packers.  I think that game will have specific playoff tie-breaker significance.
  • Vikes:  I think the Vikes will finish a distant second in this division at 8-9.  From Halloween through the end of November, the Vikes’ schedule is difficult.  They are home against the Cowboys, at the Ravens, at the Chargers, home against the Packers and at the Niners.
  • Bears:  I think the Bears will finish third in the division at 6-11.  Then, the Bears will be looking for a new head coach in the offseason.  Maybe Justin Fields is their QB of the future, but Andy Dalton is their QB of the present and with what is around Dalton that is a ticket to mediocrity.
  • Lions:  I see the Lions trailing everyone in the division – – and in the NFC – – finishing with a 3-14 record.  When I look at the Lions’ roster, I find myself not looking for stars at various position; I am looking for people who I think are average players at their position.  Dan Campbell got a 6-year contract to sign on with the Lions; he may need that long – if he survives that long – to purge this roster and build a new one from scratch.

And the final division to consider is the NFC East.  I think there are some potentially good teams here, but none are outstanding.  All four teams have serious question marks going into the season; my selection as to the order of finish represents the teams with the fewest significant question marks attached to it.

  • Football Team:  I like the Football Team to win the division with a 10-7 record.  Ron Rivera has completely revamped the roster with young players who are fast and who seem to play intelligently.  That was never the case for this team more than 2 years ago.  The question mark here is the quarterback.  Is Ryan Fitzpatrick good enough at age 38 to play an entire season under center effectively?  He need not be a star; he needs only to be steady and effective.  I think he can get it done.  The Washington defense will keep them in almost any game; this is a defensive unit that could be one of the four or five best in the league this year.
  • Cowboys:  I think they finish second here with a 9-8 record.  There are 2 question marks attached to the Cowboys.  Is Dak Prescott ready to resume his level of competency after a major ankle injury last year and a mysterious sore shoulder that kept him out of all the Exhibition Games?  Is the Cowboys’ defense going to be able to keep opponents out of the end zone this year?  The team has a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn, and he has a good track record as a defensive coach…

[Aside:  I have NO inside information here, but I do have a hunch.  I think the Cowboys had a plan all along not to play Dak Prescott in any Exhibition Games and that Prescott went along with that plan.  Then, to keep reporters from harping on his “recovery status” they manufactured the “shoulder injury” as a distraction. I will be watching for his first 50-yard pass attempt to Cee Dee Lamb on Thursday night.   As I said, just a hunch…]

  • Giants:  I think the Giants finish third here with a 7-10 record.  The question marks surrounding this team involve the recovery status of Saquon Barkley, the effectiveness of the offensive line and whether Daniel Jones takes another positive step in terms of his development as a QB.  There were too many stories regarding fights among the Giants’ players at training camp.  This situation just could blow into smithereens.
  • Eagles:  I think the Eagles will trail the field here and finish at 5-12.  There are plenty of question marks here including who their QB is, the game management skills of their new head coach, the corps of wide receivers and the corps of linebackers.  I am not a “Jalen Hurts-hater”, but I am not sold on his ability to be a #1 QB in the NFL.  Joe Flacco’s days as the QB of a contending NFL team are in the past.  Gardner Minshew is Jalen Hurts with a better arm and worse legs.

So, here is my projected NFC playoff structure:

  • Bucs – #1 seed, BYE Week in the playoffs, home field in the playoffs
  • Seahawks/Packers – #2 seed, goes to the winner of the Nov 14 game
  • Seahawks/Packers – #3 seed, goes to the loser of the Nov 14 game
  • Football Team – #4 seed
  • Saints – first wildcard
  • Niners – second wildcard
  • Rams – final wildcard

            Finally, since I have foretold the outcome of the upcoming NFL season, I feel like refreshing myself with an adult beverage.  And that feeling leads me to close here with an observation by the legendary dipsomaniac, W. C. Fields:

“My illness is due to my doctor’s insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies.”

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

 

 

The Big-10, PAC-12, ACC Alliance…

A few weeks ago, when the ACC, Big-10 and PAC-12 proclaimed their Alliance, I said I would wait until I had more information before commenting.  The announcement at the time referenced a “verbal agreement” so there was nothing to read/judge/interpret.  I assumed such a document would emerge soon after so that there could be meaningful analysis and questioning.  That has yet to happen.

So, let me spend some time commenting on the Alliance as I understand it now.  Clearly, this Alliance – whatever form it takes down the road – is a response to the SEC absorbing Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big-12.  Texas is a big money program; Oklahoma is a powerhouse program; what remains of the Big-12 is a shambles.  [Aside:  It is horrendously politically incorrect to make anything resembling a positive reference to former President Trump’s comment about “shithole countries,” but the football remains of the Big-12 comes close to qualifying as such.]  I think it speaks loudly and clearly that the Big-12 will fade to irrelevancy as soon as Texas and Oklahoma depart when you note that the three conferences forming the Alliance did not invite the remaining Big-12 teams to join their Alliance.

So, what might the remnants of the Big-12 do on their own.  Here is what is left of the Big-12 – in alphabetical order lest anyone think I am ranking the relevance of any of these programs:

  1. Baylor
  2. Iowa State
  3. Kansas
  4. Kansas State
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. TCU
  7. Texas Tech
  8. West Virginia

Yes, I know.  Two schools are leaving the conference and only 8 remain; yet they called themselves the Big-12.  Clearly, the conference organizers need a bit more focus on STEM.  Whatever…

If that cadre of teams is to “stick together” with any hope of football relevancy – and that is where the big money is in 2021 – they need to poach teams from other conferences.  That will not be easy because if you look at the lineup here, it is not an overly enticing group to join.  So, here are 4 possible schools the remnants of the Big-12 might court:

  1. Boise State:  It seems to me that Boise State has outgrown the Mountain West Conference.  Thanks to its iconic “Smurf Turf” field, Boise State has become recognizable far beyond the borders of Idaho.
  2. BYU:  They have been playing an independent schedule and may just have tired of trying to find a dozen meaningful games for every year on the calendar.
  3. Cincinnati:  This has been a program on the rise in recent years, but it has been overlooked because lots of folks think they “don’t play anybody”.  The 8 teams left in the Big-12 may not be Murderer’s Row, but it is a more prestigious group than the median level of the American Athletic Conference where Cincy resides now.
  4. UCF:  This may be a stretch, but UCF is a big school with a big following.  [Student body is more than 60,000 students.]  They have had about 5 years of very successful football in the American Athletic Conference and – like Cincinnati – may be looking to play a slightly more prestigious slate of opponents.

If the “Big-Remaining-8” could pull off these annexations, it can probably survive as a stand-alone group.  If the “Big-Remaining-8” fail to do that or something nearly equivalent to that, I think they are doomed.

Back to the Alliance announcement…  It seems to me that if the three conferences are serious about doing whatever it is they perceive they need to do to “counter the SEC,” they need to figure out how they are going to do mutual out-of-conference scheduling to the point where SEC teams will not be able to find attractive games outside their conference.  There were no implications along those lines from the announcement of the Alliance nor have there been rumblings about such a thing in the intervening days.  Normally, one thinks about “alliances” as groups that work together on mutual interests, and it seems to me that the only expressed mutual interest here is this one:

  • We are not the SEC and we do not like the SEC because they are going to make a lot more money than we are.

Is that enough to hold together a group of about 40 universities?  According to the Big-10 Commissioner, Kevin Warren:

“Hopefully this will bring some much-needed stability in college athletics. I also think what it will do is allow people to understand where everyone else stands.  Some of the events over the last couple of months have shaken the foundations of college athletics.”

If that sort of rhetoric brings clarity to you, I tip my hat to you.  Here are my reactions to that sort of statement:

  • Two schools choosing to change conferences – – effective about 5 years from now – – “shakes the foundations of college athletics?”  Really?
  • Meanwhile, three conferences of about 40 schools banding together does not shake any foundations?  Can you explain any of that?
  • I have no idea where the 40 schools in the alliance stand on anything, yet you say this allows “people to understand where everyone stands.”  WTF?

One thread of analysis that runs through all this cloudiness is that somehow the Alliance will halt – or at least slow down considerably – the momentum to expand the CFP from 4 teams at present to 12 teams as has been proposed for the future.  Since I think twelve are too many teams, I hope the Alliance can achieve that end, but their logic escapes me.  The logical thread goes like this:

  • If there are 12 CFP teams, the SEC might wind up with 6 of the 12 slots and other conferences would feel “left out” and/or “disrespected”.

So, explain to me how all the teams in the ACC feel when there are 4 slots currently in the CFP and the only fully-committed ACC team within hailing distance of an invitation is Clemson.  Same with the Big-10 schools other than Ohio State.  And the PAC-12 is usually left out of the picture entirely’ so, how do they benefit from keeping the number of teams at four?

At this point, I am wont to say that we need to stay tuned because there must be more information forthcoming – – but it has been a while since the conference commissioners held their rhetorical gabfest and nothing has happened yet.  About 50 years ago, Peggy Lee had a #1 hit record entitled, Is That All There Is?  Maybe someone needs to play that song for these commissioners the next time they stand in the same zip code with a microphone…

Finally, let me close with a slightly modified version of a common adage that seems appropriate here:

  • If something is not worth doing, it is not worth doing it well.

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

 

 

NBA Tampering Nonsense

I read a report yesterday that the NBA was going to investigate possible “tampering” in the sign-and-trade deals that involved Kyle Lowery to the Heat and Lonzo Ball to the Bulls.  You may recall that I said last week that the NBA should – but will not – investigate possible “tampering” in the deal that sent Russell Westbrook from the Wizards to the Lakers after the LA Times reported that Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis met several weeks prior to the deal.  This prompted me to look around to find out what the NBA says the tampering rules are and how they might be enforced if the league ever chose to do so.

Let me start with what the rule says:

  • [From the NBA Constitution – not to be confused with the US Constitution]  An owner, general manager, coach, scout or player cannot try to persuade a person employed by another team to join the tampering team.

Well, that seems pretty clear to me – – until you begin to wonder what the phrase “try to persuade” might mean.  The arguments here – legal, philosophical and linguistic – could go on forever.  In fact, absent specificity and/or precedent involving league enforcement, there will never be agreement surrounding the facts of any given case.  For example, imagine if Kevin Durant said something along these lines:

“We have a great nucleus here with the Brooklyn Nets but if we had a shut-down defender like Joe Flabeetz (currently under contract with some other team), we would be unstoppable.”

Is Kevin Durant ”trying to persuade” Joe Flabeetz to demand a trade to the Nets?  Now suppose that Joe Flabeetz does demand a trade to the Nets a month after that statement.  Do you think the NBA would rule against Durant or Flabeetz or the Nets?

Consider the situation where Agent X represents Player A on the Washington Wizards and also represents Player B on the Boston Celtics.  If the Wizards’ GM is in conversation with Agent X about a possible extension for Player A and happens to mention how impressed he has been by Player B over the last month, is that a way of “sending a message” to Player B about the Wizards’ attraction to him?  It could be just that; it is also never going to be proven conclusively.

My point here is that it is easy to say that tampering is bad, and it goes against the primary objective of the NBA – – to assure a level playing field for all teams all the time.  But the devil is in the details and these devils are real.

The NBA would like everyone to believe they are serious about tampering because if people begin to think they are not serious there, it might lead to some fans believing conspiracy theories about favoring certain teams at the expense of other teams.  If tampering is permitted – not legitimized but merely permitted due to lack of enforcement of rules – it can call into question the commitment of the league to “fair play” and a “level playing field” and all those good and proper values associated with sports leagues.

So, to demonstrate the NBA’s commitment in this area, here are some of the punitive actions that the league can levy should they ever discover a “bulletproof” case of tampering:

  • Fines can go up to $10M for teams; fines can go up to $5M for individuals.
  • Draft picks can be taken from the tampering team and given without compensation to the “offended team”.
  • If the “offender” is a player, the Commish can suspend him without pay for as long as the Commish thinks is appropriate in the specific case.  [Aside:  Try to imagine Adam Silver suspending LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook for their meeting prior to the trade.  That will happen two days after a herd of unicorns prances onto the National Mall in Washington DC causing a rain of gold coins that will pay off the National Debt.]
  • Any trade or free agent signing deemed to have involved tampering can be voided.

That sure sounds like a no-nonsense stance by the NBA; those penalties are harsh indeed – – but nothing ever seems to come of any such inquiries into how deals got done.  Again, consider the following situation:

  • Sam Glotz is under contract and playing for the Knicks; his contract will expire at the end of the season.
  • The Knicks can offer him the most money, but Sam has told his agent he is not happy in NYC and wants to go to another team if that other team will give him all that they can do legally under the CBA.
  • The Knicks want to resign Sam Glotz and are not aware of his dissatisfaction with NYC.  So, they negotiate with the agent for several months – – unsuccessfully.
  • Then, on the day free agency opens, Sam Glotz signs a “max contract” with the San Antonio Spurs.  Fans are supposed to believe that all the contract negotiations for a multi-year deal worth tens of millions of dollars were done in the few hours when they were “legal”.  Nothing took place between the Spurs’ management and Sam Glotz’ agent before that time.  Well, OK then…

I am sure a reader here will correct me on this, but I can only recall two incidents where the league has declared any actin to be tampering and imposed a penalty.  [Aside:  The penalties outlined above are recent increases in penalty levels and did not apply to the incidents described here.]

  1. The Lakers’ GM, Rob Pelinka, was found to have tampered when he “negotiated” with Paul George’s agent/representative while Paul George was still under contract to the Pacers.  Pelinka was not fined but the Lakers were fined $500K.  [Aside:  The team probably paid that fine out of the petty cash drawer.]
  2. The Lakers were also fined $50K when Magic Johnson – then a Lakers’ official – was so effusive in his praise for Giannis Antetokounmpo that it was defined as an attempt to get Giannis to come and play for the Lakers.  [Aside:  The team probably paid that fine out of the loose change found lying around the arena after the crowd went home after a game.]

Notwithstanding the fact that my two examples here involve the Lakers as does the report from the LA Times about the prior meeting between LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, I am not trying to pick on the Lakers.  My point is that tampering happens; the league wants fans to believe that it is firmly opposed to tampering; but in fact, the league goes out of its way to avoid anything resembling scrutiny in these sorts of situations.

To give you a sense of the sort of enforcement mechanisms that are in place in the NBA, consider this requirement levied on team officials:

  • Team officials will certify in writing annually that they did not engage in tampering or engage in impermissible communications with free agents or their representatives and that the contracts they signed satisfy all applicable league requirements.

Well, there you have it.  There is the league’s ironclad enforcement mechanism in simple English.  Can there possibly be anything more for the NBA to do?

Finally, I’ll close today with a thought from H. L. Mencken that seems appropriate:

“To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble.  But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true!”

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

 

 

The NFL And the Black National Anthem

Last week, the NFL announced that the Black National Anthem would be played at all their games in addition to the song recognized as the US National Anthem, The Star-
Spangled Banner
.  In the spirit of full disclosure, until I read the report of this addition to NFL games, I did not know there was such a thing as a Black National Anthem.  It took me less than 15 seconds to find a video online thanks to Google showing Alicia Keys singing the song titled Lift Every Voice and Sing.  It is a lovely song and Ms. Keys’ rendition is moving and entertaining.

Having said that, I am not so sure this is a good move for the NFL or for US society in general.  Before anyone consigns me to a supervisory position in a white supremacy organization, please let me explain.

Five years ago, the NFL was an innocent bystander in a protest involving the US National Anthem.  When Colin Kaepernick began his protest, I said then – and I continue to believe – that his message was important and his issue of harsh police practices against Black people is one that needed to be fixed.  I agreed with the goal of his protest then and I continue to believe in it.  I also said then – and I continue to believe – that he chose a bad way to “use his platform” when he chose to kneel during the National Anthem.  By choosing that means of protest, Colin Kaepernick guaranteed that the debate would be divided between his issue and the outrage of some folks who saw his protest only as disrespect for the anthem, the flag and the country itself.

The NFL was an innocent bystander here because it did not instigate the protest; it did not encourage the protest; it did not suspend players who joined the protest.  Now, for reasons I do not pretend to understand, the NFL has chosen to put itself in the bullseye of what is certain to become a controversy.  Within hours of the announcement of this new musical policy, social media – – actually very anti-social media – – saw lots of real and exaggerated outrage over this announcement labeling it as more of the “cancel culture”.  Folks on politically conservative news networks chimed in with their faux disbelief that the NFL could have possibly done such a thing.

None of that surprised me, and I really doubt that the NFL was taken by surprise there either.  If that is all there is ever to be about this addition of the Black National Anthem to the staging of NFL games, I am sure the NFL will see this as a big win for the league in that its image as a “good citizen” would be enhanced.

Now comes a “What if…”

What if a player or coach – of any race or ethnicity – chooses to protest the addition of the Black National Anthem by turning his/her back or taking a knee or sitting down or doing jumping jacks on the sidelines as it is being played or sung?  Remember, Colin Kaepernick remained an active NFL player for an entire season as he protested back in 2016, so what recourse might the league have here?  My guess is that the NFL would say in this sort of situation that they welcome all points of view because the goal of the NFL is to entertain everyone not merely part of the population.  But that situation would still be “a bad optic” for the league – – particularly if the putative protester here was a 350-lb offensive lineman who chose the jumping jacks protest suggested above.

  • [Aside:  At least half – and probably more than half – of the writers and commentators on the scene in 2016 portrayed Colin Kaepernick positively.  I wonder if those same writers and commentators would have a similar view of my jumping jacks offensive lineman.  I suspect not.]

I cannot stop wondering how and why the NFL did not learn something from Colin Kaepernick’s protest in 2016.  In my view, he picked the wrong target (the National Anthem) and he protested in the wrong place (on the sidelines of a football stadium instead of on the steps of a local police station).  The NFL does not have a wide variety of venues to show its support of improving race relations in the US and of a more inclusive/equality-based society; so, I cannot fault them for using the presentation of their games as their vehicle here.  However, they saw how visceral the reaction was to “messing with the National Anthem” five years ago.  Why pick the same focus for this initiative?  Why flick the scab off that wound?

In previous rants here, I have sometimes referred to an imaginary organization that I call PSLTBPOAJAE – or People Spring-Loaded To Be Pissed Off At Just About Everything.  The organization is imaginary, but there are people who can be offended by things that certainly seem less than vitally important to me.  So, let me pose another “What if…” here.

What if an activist group advocating for a minority community in the US is now offended by the fact that the NFL will “show an acceptance” for a Black National Anthem but has not acknowledged that particular activist group’s own anthem?  It may not be likely to happen, but please do not tell me it cannot happen.  I have no idea if other minority communities have songs that they acknowledge as their own anthem in “hyphenated-America”, but if such things are in fact out there, we will learn of their existence sometime this autumn.  Is that a wonderful turn of events?

  • [Aside:  Please note I do not have a “What if…” for fans demonstrating in some way.  That is because I will be shocked if there are no fan demonstrations of a negative character based on this musical policy.  My fundamental hope is that fan demonstrations simply follow Ron Burgundy’s   exhortation, “Stay classy…”]

And it is that last potential point of possible confrontation that concerns me the most.  What might it say about the status and the stability of US society in 2021 if there are myriad minority groups in the country that believe  they have their own “national anthem”?    Is it mandatory in the name of “inclusion” that everyone in every group accepts the validity of every other group’s hyphenated-American national anthem?

Sorry, but I do not think it says anything positive at all.  Therefore, the NFL’s choice to associate itself with one  of the “hyphenated anthems” starts us collectively down a path that may not have a desirable endpoint.  The adage that the “road to Hell is paved with good intentions” seems eerily pertinent here.  Is the NFL’s recent decision one that is inevitably “inclusive” or is it one that is more “divisive” than anyone would wish for?  Is it the goal to have lots of “hyphenated-Americas” interacting with one another or is it the goal to have a more unified America?  I adamantly prefer the latter.

Let me repeat myself.

  • I like the song, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
  • I take NO offense at its being played at NFL games just as I take NO offense at the US National Anthem being played at NFL games.
  • At the same time, I would not care even a little bit if neither song nor both songs were part of the NFL game experience.
  • I agree with and continue to support the NFL’s actions seeking to make US society more inclusive and more equal for everyone in the country.
  • And with all that, I think this was a wrong decision by the NFL because I fear it will create as much division and disharmony as it produces progress.

Finally, idealism is an element of many of the NFL’s actions and efforts mentioned above.  So, let me close here with this observation by H. L. Mencken:

“An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.”

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

 

 

The Supreme Court Ruling NCAA v. Alston

The US Supreme Court rarely does anything that generates a comment here.  These rants deal with matters that are beneath the level of societal import at which the Justices engage.  However, for the second time in about 3 years, the Supreme Court has ruled on a “sports case” in such a way as to pave the way for change.

Three years ago, the Court struck down PASPA and opened up sports betting opportunities in any State that wished to have such an activity and legislated its regulation.  Any sports fan who has been paying even passing attention realizes the impact of that ruling.  Last week, the Court ruled on a case known as NCAA v. Alston.  Based on the analyses I have read by people far more schooled in legal matters, Alston opens the doors for sweeping changes in the way college athletics are governed and administered in the US.  I will not pretend to know more than they do; so, let me offer up what I see as possible consequences of the ruling in NCAA v. Alston.

First off, it is important to note that the decision last week was a 9-0 decision.  Justices from across the philosophical spectrum of the Court all agreed that Alston was the winner here.  That unanimity could be important should any future case come to the Court where Alston would be a relevant precedent.  Having said that, the way I read the Court decision is that it is sharply focused.  It seems to me that the Court only said – unanimously – that the Federal anti-trust laws apply to the NCAA just as they do to business entities.  This decision does not  demand that the NCAA begin to pay college athletes starting tomorrow or anything nearly so “cataclysmic”; but it sure does seem to leave the door ajar for a challenge to the hallowed concept of “amateurism” that the NCAA clings to.

What Alston specifically will allow – because these were the bases of the original suit against the NCAA – is for collegiate athletes to receive “education-related items” as part of their “compensation” for attending a school and playing their sport.  Moreover, the value of those “education-related items” cannot be capped by the NCAA who argued that without caps there would be recruiting advantages for certain schools thereby tilting the playing fields.  [Aside:  As if such disparities do not exist now…]  The “education-related items” in this context mean things like:

  • Laptops
  • Paid internships – – in addition to unpaid ones
  • Post-graduate employment opportunities
  • Post-graduate educational opportunities

When I look at that list – and even if I mentally add a few things of similar standing to that list – I have to ask myself how and why this case was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court.  The mavens at the NCAA expended the energy and the legal fees to take a case involving internships and laptops to the Supreme Court.  That means they thought it was more important to do that than it would have been to work on meaningful reform of their rules, regulations and relationships with their “student-athletes”.  Can it be that no one in the entire organization stood up on his/her hind legs and said something equivalent to:

  • What the Hell are we doing here?

There are lots of advocates out there who believe that college athletes need to be paid and that there is plenty of money to pay them handsomely.  There is plenty of momentum in that direction; intercollegiate athletics will be quite different twenty years from now.  So, let me pump the brakes here for a moment.  I want to look at college athletics in light of the decision in Alston with which I agree completely and what might happen down the road.

College athletes are already paid for their services.  Please, do not allow activists in that area to pretend they are not.  Anyone can argue that they are not paid sufficiently or proportional to the revenue they create, but please remember that they are paid for their services.  College athletes get:

  • Free tuition
  • Free room and board
  • Free tutoring
  • Enhanced medical “coverage”
  • “Cost-of-attendance” stipends

The general student body does not get those things and those things are plenty valuable.  College athletes do not get the cash equivalent of those things – nor are they given the option to convert them to a cash payment – but they receive things that are of value.  Moreover, college athletes get these “benefits” which have value and pay no tax on that value.  Obviously, the total value of that sort of stuff will vary from school to school so it is difficult to come up with an estimated value; my guess is that package is worth about $125K if an average student tried to purchase it on the open market.

Those who argue that college athletes need to be paid for their services are actually arguing that they should be paid more than they are currently being paid – – but that rhetoric is not nearly as compelling or powerful than alleging that the college athletes are toiling on the fields and courts as unpaid serfs.  Balderdash…!

The issue of NIL – – athletes’ Name/Image/Likeness – is about to blow up in the face of the NCAA and the way the NCAA seems to be trying to address it is to ask Congress to give it immunity from being sued for anything past or present that relates to NIL.

  • Memo to NCAA:  Be careful what you wish for.  If Congress gives you that immunity, you will necessarily have to answer to the Congress on lots of other issues and that cure could well be worse than the current disease.

Just as in the case of Alston and especially considering the decision last week in that case, the NCAA is at least a 20-1 underdog to win a case giving them authority over NIL rights should they choose once again to expend the legal costs of pursuing such a matter.  If such a matter went to court, I would characterize the NCAA as a modern-day Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill only to have it roll back down the hill so he can try again tomorrow.  There is a fundamental flaw in my analogy here and I recognize it:

  • Sisyphus was in this predicament because the gods compelled him to be there.
  • The NCAA would be doing this by choice.

Ergo, my only conclusion would be that the NCAA is collectively so stupid that the following applies to everyone there:

  • The only thing they can learn from past mistakes is how to make bigger and more painful mistakes in the future.

The issue of NIL will probably not be an unvarnished win for college athletes, however.  Consider that NIL rights had been available to Trevor Lawrence for all his years as the QB at Clemson when just about everyone had projected him to be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft all the way back in his freshman year.  He could have made lots of money over those three seasons licensing and monetizing his name, image and likeness.

Now consider an imaginary woman who is the star of Clemson’s lacrosse team…  [Aside: I do not know if Clemson even fields a lacrosse team; this is a metaphor.]  This woman – – call her Suzy Flabeetz, the twin sister of Joe – – is not going to get nearly the same number of opportunities to license her NIL as Trevor Lawrence would nor would Ms. Flabeetz be paid at the same licensing rate as Lawrence.  If you want to chalk that up to inherent sexism in American society, have at it.  The fact remains that fewer people are going to pay less money to the star athlete on the women’s lacrosse team than they will for the star QB on the football team.  Maybe those roles will be reversed over the next 100 years, but they are not going to be reversed next week just because college athletes can now control their name, imaging and license rights.

There are many different categories of laws.  There are laws of science that cannot be “overturned”.  Astronomers deal with Newton’s Laws and Kepler’s Laws; anyone working in fields related to electrochemistry must come to grips with Faraday’s Law; electricians have no choice but to accept Ohm’s Law.  Then there are laws that result from legislative bodies – or autocrats – which are subsequently enforced by other human beings and interpreted by courts.  That is the sort of thing that results in NCAA v. Alston and/or Brown v. Board of Education.  And then there are “Laws” that do not have similar stature or standing.

  • Mention Murphy’s Law to anyone; they know it; they have seen it in action.
  • Mention the Peter Principle to anyone; they know it; they have seen it in action.
  • Mention Parkinson’s Law to a program manager; he/she deals with it daily.

There is the potential here for the application of The Law of Unintended Consequences.  I need not delve into the depths of that law; everyone knows it exists and how it can insert itself into various issues and conflicts.  So, how might it apply here…?

In a consenting opinion, Justice Kavanaugh seemed to write that the athletes in minor sports should be able to bargain collectively over benefits that would apply to specific minor sports teams.  Collective bargaining has been around for a long time, and it has a strong standing in American jurisprudence.  However, this is where “Unintended Consequences” might tumble down:

  • Business entities collectively bargain with organizations that represent employees of that business entity.  General Motors bargains with the United Auto Workers who provide GM with people to build their cars.  GM does not collectively bargain with the folks who provide and maintain the coffee machines and the vending machines in the break rooms of their factories.  The people providing that service are not GM employees.
  • If the NCAA collectively bargains with some or all its “student-athletes”, they begin to take on the flavor of employees of either the NCAA or the schools represented by the NCAA.  For the purposes here, the only important point is that athletes could morph into employees.
  • When employees are compensated for their labor/services, those employees pay federal, State and Local income taxes on that compensation.  Scholarships and fellowships that provide for things other than tuition and course-related expenses are supposed to be reported as income on the Federal tax return.  The instructions for Form 1040 say explicitly, “…amounts used for room, board and travel must be reported on Line 1.”
  • Suddenly, athletes will need to hire tax accountants to handle their filings.  Absent that, they might run afoul of the tax laws and the NCAA will surely have an eligibility standard ready to be implemented for “tax cheats”.

The Supreme Court did sports fans a great service three years ago in throwing out PASPA and then again last week in its unanimous ruling in Alston.  My only cautionary note here is that we should not expect monumental changes in the landscape of college athletics overnight.  Change will come, and change will be significant; but now is the time for a reassessment of where we are and what various paths forward might do to the fabric of college sports.

Let me close this rant today with an observation about sports by the English writer, George Orwell:

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play.  It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

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

 

 

Paying College Athletes?

I fear that this may not end well.  I suspect that some will accuse me of going over to the dark side and I know that I am going to take a position that is contrary to most of the sports columnists around the country who I like very much and who I follow.  So, I am prepared to be in the position captured by the final line in Frank Sinatra’s great song, My Way:

“Let the record shows, I took all the blows and did it my way.”

With the conclusion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and with various athletes filing suit against the NCAA over a variety of economic situations, there has arisen a hue and cry for the NCAA to admit once and for all that its “amateur model” involving the noble and selfless “student-athlete participant” is nonsense.  There is merit in that “demand”, but I am not so sure that payments for college athletes is a good idea or a practical one.

At the core of any call – strident or nuanced – to “pay the players” is a sense of equity and fairness.  Some college athletes are part of an enterprise that brings in almost a billion dollars to the NCAA (March Madness) and when it is over and the lights go out, those athletes do not get even a minuscule piece of the action.  What is usually left unstated is that the writer or commentator thinks that lack of fairness is so outrageous that it must be fixed despite any other ancillary problems it may cause.  I have two reactions to these arguments:

  1. I agree that it is unfair to a point but not so great that it needs a radical fix.
  2. I think there are ancillary problems out there waiting to happen.

Let me start with the “fairness” argument.  USA Today says that Mark Emmert makes $2.7M per year; reports appear frequently about the salaries of coaches exceeding $5M per year; conference commissioners make$3-5M per year.  The money that the NCAA uses to pay Mark Emmert – – and the other moguls in NCAA HQs – – and the money that the schools and conferences use to pay those coaches and commissioners comes from the toils of two classes of college athletes:

  1. College football players
  2. Male college basketball players.

[Aside:  Yes, I know that a handful of women’s college basketball programs operate in the black but those are few and far between.  As a sport on the national level women’s college basketball is not a money-maker.]

Now, as soon as I recognize the fact that two sets of college athletes produce all the revenue that gets distributed, I think about “fairness” in an entirely different dimension.

  • Why should those college athletes have no say in the way the revenue is split up?
  • Why is it axiomatic that “their revenue” must go to support a fencing team or a synchronized swimming team neither one of which has a prayer of breaking even?
  • Why are football players and male basketball players “exploited” in the current system but not in a world where they generate the revenue and then some All-Knowing Guru of Fairness distributes that revenue to other sports?

The difference in the third case above is who does the “exploiting”.  If it is the NCAA and the coaches and the conference commissioners, that is proclaimed to be evil.  If it is the other college athletes and their coaches and conference organizers, that is brushed aside as “OK”.

Another problem I have with the “lack of fairness argument” is that some college athletes “exploit themselves”.  As the NCAA reminds us every March, only 2% of college athletes will ever play professional sports.  If the system were really rigged to the utter disadvantage of college athletes, most of that other 98% would wind up in menial jobs or in a state of homelessness.  The reason would be that the athlete did not take advantage of the thing that colleges give those athletes in exchange for their play:

  • Scholarships!

I am going to be using Georgetown University here in DC area as an example later so let me say here that a year of tuition, room, board, books and fees at Georgetown comes to $73K in round numbers.  So, a four-year scholarship there is “worth” almost $300K.  Many athletes on an athletic scholarship at Georgetown would not have been able to foot that bill, so it follows logically that those athletes are getting an opportunity to receive an education worth $300K; there may not be a direct “cash exchange” happening here, but the athlete is trading his prowess on a team for $300K-worth of education.  And the fact also is that some college athletes fail to take advantage of that opportunity and that failure is NOT the fault of the NCAA or the college.

I can hear the cries of “Wait a minute there” racing through the minds of readers at this point.  Some of those athletes come from disadvantaged neighborhoods and school systems and are not ready to avail themselves of a college education.  That is absolutely correct; and it has nothing to do with the “fairness” of the current system.  The situation caused by that unreadiness for college at age 18 is societal and not of the NCAA’s doing.  Moreover, the unreadiness of some athletes for a college education puts that athlete in a position where he either trades his services for something of minimal value to him or tries to go it alone in another field of endeavor.

Stop right here for another inconvenient truth (Hat tip to former VP, Al Gore):

  • The athletes in question here are not children; they are adults; they can vote; they can enlist in the military; they can purchase firearms.
  • Because they are adults, they are the ones making the choices here and choices made by adults have consequences.
  • In this case, the consequences often mean that a college athlete spends 4 years of his life – or maybe 5 – working in a revenue generating sport for a school where he does not get much benefit in return from the educational resources there.

I also believe that “paying the players” will have unintended consequences.  Georgetown University here in DC fields teams in 24 sports – – 11 men’s sports and 13 women’s sports.  If  you do not live around here, you may not know that Georgetown has a football team in the Patriot League in Division I-AA.  In the case of that football team there are no possible accounting shenanigans to be done to show that team is “at break-even”.  There are no 8-figure TV deals; attendance at home games might exceed 1000 fans occasionally, and tickets for Georgetown football cost $10.

Since any move to “pay the players” is not likely to generate a 20-40% increase in revenues as a result of that act, schools will have to figure out how they will cover a new cost.  In the case of Georgetown, men’s basketball would be safe; it brings in almost all the revenue for the athletic department.  However, the school administrators might look at the Georgetown football team and ask – – why are we paying those guys?

Football programs at lots of small schools could easily be in jeopardy.  There are about 130 colleges that play major college football in the US; there are 350 colleges that play NCAA men’s basketball in the country.  For those 220 colleges or so where football is a large expense with no real prospect of ever leaving the realm of “large liability”, ditching football could be a real and logical choice.

I picked football as the example here because it is the other sport where the “fairness” argument is applied by proponents of “pay the players”.  However, returning to Georgetown’s Athletic Department, consider the possible vulnerability of these activities in addition to football:

  • Men’s and women’s golf, lacrosse, rowing, sailing, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, cross country, track and field.
  • Baseball
  • Women’s basketball, field hockey, softball, squash, volleyball.

Now for some practicality…  The current legal issue on the front burner is called “NIL” standing for Name, Image and Likeness.  People say that athletes should be able to derive some cash directly to their personal exchequer when someone uses their name, image or likeness to promote an activity or a product.  It is nigh onto impossible to take the position that a player’s NIL does not belong to him/her and if one wants to ramp up the rhetoric you can quickly get to the point where restricting a player’s ability to manage NIL is a “restraint of trade”.  OK, so let me say that I have no problem whatsoever with giving athletes total control over their NIL and I want those athletes to keep every dime they can get for the use of their NIL.

At this point some readers are thinking that I am – maybe – not so unredeemable after all.  Well, maybe not.  You see, if college athletes’ NIL were turned into a free and open marketplace, the “fairness folks” would be unhappy very quickly.

  • Trevor Lawrence could bank some serious coin for his NIL to promote products, events or causes.
  • Joe Flabeetz – the third string offensive guard on an 0-12 college team somewhere – and/or his fiancée, Betty Bopf – a cross country runner at the same school might have to pay someone to use their NIL for any reason.
  • I would want all of the “fairness folks” to sign a waiver of their right to be outraged at this inequity before opening NIL to a free marketplace because that inequity will happen immediately.

There are also rumblings that Congress might assert itself here and do some legislating.  In the pantheon of problems to be solved in the US in 2021, college sports legislation is pretty far down on the priority list.  Moreover, the Congress has a record of dealing with sports that is less than stellar.  I will only point here to PASPA – passed in 1992 – to minimize gambling on sporting events collegiate and professional which was declared to be unconstitutional and removed from the books.  Does anyone need a repeat performance from the Congress anything like that?

Everyone – me included – decries the NCAA’s ridiculous regulations on what athletes may receive as benefits from schools in the recruiting process and in the days on campus.  Remember, the NCAA once revised the rule saying that recruits could be offered breakfasts including bagels WITH cream cheese because the rule before that denied the addition of cream cheese.  We just shake our heads at the pettiness and the ineptitude of the folks writing rules like that.  So, now think about what might emanate from the US Congress on the issue of “pay the players”.  It would not surprise me to learn that any US Government set of regulations would equal or exceed the ones in place by the NCAA and the government regulations will need to be narrowly written because the “agency” in the government responsible for oversight there will need to report to Congress at least annually.

I said above that I did not think this situation was so dire that it needed a radical remedy immediately.  However, if the Congress is bound and determined to punch this tar baby (Hat Tip to Joel Chandler Harris and Uncle Remus here), let me outline a radical proposal:

  • Define into law that any collegiate sporting event that charges for admission or receives a dollar of revenue from broadcast rights, naming rights or promotional benefits shall be divorced from the college in question and put directly in the Athletic Department associated with that college.
  • Then, define into law that every Athletic Department associated with a college is a business and it is separate from the college.  That business is taxable and will file business tax returns with the IRS like any other business.  Those filings will need to be audited too.
  • Make it such that colleges cannot spend money on sports; only their private enterprise Athletic Departments can do that.  And then – – wait for it – – define any contribution to any Athletic Department for any purpose such that the donor cannot claim it as a charitable contribution on the donor’s tax return.  Colleges can still get donations for building libraries or laboratories but not for building field houses.  Donors to colleges would be able to take a charitable deduction; donors to Athletic Departments would not.

I really have not turned to the dark side, but I remain unconvinced that the calls for “pay the players” is much more than virtue signaling.  Let me leave you today with two observations by folks much more insightful than I:

“The only difference between a cynic and a realist is whether or not you agree with him.”  (Mark Twain)

“If my film makes one more person miserable, I have done my job.”  (Woody Allen)

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

 

 

Major Challenges Facing MLB

Yesterday, I said I wanted to enumerate some of the serious challenges that face MLB as a whole.  I believe the challenges here are more severe than many reporters in and around baseball seem to think.  I am not happy to take such a position because baseball is such a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a summer evening.  So, let me begin this morning by addressing what seem to be two contradictory facts:

  1. Up until the pandemic year of 2020, gross revenues for MLB had never been higher.
  2. Baseball is not nearly as popular with the general public as it used to be.

Up until about the 1960s, the two most prized assignments in the sports departments for major newspapers in the US were the baseball beat and the horseracing beat.  Probably third on the list of desirability was the boxing beat.  Horseracing and boxing do not even merit having regular beat writers at most newspapers in 2021; major papers still have baseball beat writers – – but they are not necessarily the envy of everyone on the sports staff.  What was America’s national pastime is now a popular but not dominant sporting enterprise.

The reasons behind the record levels of revenue come from different aspects of society in 2021 as opposed to 1955:

  • The economy today is much larger than it was in the 1950s, so the simple fact is that there is more money around for MLB to harvest from its fans.
  • A corollary of that expanded economy is that many more people have much more discretionary income and some will opt to spend a portion of that on baseball games.
  • Television money for baseball telecast rights in 2021 is thousands of times larger than it was in the 1950s.
  • Transportation access to stadiums is now available to a much larger geographic footprint than it was in the 1950s leading to more fans putting their fannies in MLB stadium seats.

Those economic factors look good and it is fair to point out that so long as the economy remains strong, the economics of baseball should be hunky-dory.  Except, there is a fly in that ointment:

  • MLB fans “skew old”.  It is an aging fanbase; the average age of rabid baseball fans is significantly over 50 years old according to survey data.
  • People who are 50 and above tend to have stable incomes so they are in a position to spend their discretionary income on what they like; old people like baseball…
  • People who are 50 and above also tend to die at a higher rate than people in their 20s and 30s.  If you doubt that assertion, go ask the actuaries at any insurance company for verification.

MLB is losing its most avid fans to Father Time, but it is not replenishing them at the same rate with younger fans who will be around longer.  The fact that the average age of the serious baseball fans continues to increase while there has been a slow – but steady – decline in live attendance for the last 7-10 years should not be shocking.  Those two “trends” are closely related.  The fact of the robust gross revenue for MLB probably gave owners – – and players – – reason to dismiss to a large extent the issues related to the shrinking fanbase and the diminution of the stature of baseball in society.  Then an interesting juxtaposition arrived:

  1. The 2020 pandemic caused a huge revenue drop for all teams.  Let me do some small math here.  For a team that averages 25,000 fans per game and hosts 81 home games, where ticket prices average only $40 and each fan only spends $25 once in the stadium on food/drink/merchandise, the total revenue flow there is $131.6M.  For many teams, that revenue flow was reduced to a trickle in 2020.
  2. The current CBA expires at the end of the 2021 season and there will need to be negotiations that will ultimately arrive at a new one.

MLB and the MLBPA had a relationship in the 1970s and 80s that made the Hatfields and the McCoys look like BFFs.  Every time there was the opportunity for either a work stoppage or litigation, that is precisely what happened.  That era of rancor culminated in 1994 when the MLBPA chose to go on strike in mid-August after about 115 games had been played; the two sides could not come to an agreement in time for there to be a World Series that year and it took an injunctive ruling by now Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in March 1995 to get the owners and the players to agree on a new CBA.  That 1994/95 experience should be instructive to owners and players now – – but it seems not to be.

Since 1995, there has been “labor peace” in baseball AND it has been in the same time period where gross revenues for baseball have increased most dramatically.  Those two facts are not related by direct cause and effect but the fact that for 25 years the storylines for baseball have been about players on the field as opposed to players off the field has focused fan interest on issues that can produce revenue for the sport.  Players like to say that no one goes to the park to see the owners; that is absolutely true – – as is the statement that no one goes to the park to see the players in street clothes outside the park not playing baseball.

The other aspect of the 1994/95 feud was that it took MLB several years before the “fans came back” and more than a couple of baseball historians believe that it was not until 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire staged their “home run race” that fan interest in baseball “returned to normal”.  The pandemic-reduced 2020 season caused a significantly diminished interest in baseball all by itself; the game does not need a work stoppage in 2021 to magnify that reduction in interest.

The icing on this cake is not pretty.  Right about now, the owners and the union seem unable to agree on anything.  As I pointed out yesterday, the two sides could not bring themselves to be on the same conference call with Federal health officials to learn the latest info on COVID-19 and on effective protocols for baseball to use to have a season run its course with minimal health-related incidents.  The two sides chose to have separate calls with those officials.  How encouraging.

And those are just the short-term challenges for MLB and the MLBPA…  There are systemic problems too and those are going to be much more difficult to resolve.  The current pissing contest can fade into history – the same way middle school feuds do – but the systemic problems are going to remain until they are addressed.

One big problem is “analytics”.  I should say more precisely that it is the “over-reliance on analytics” that is the problem, and that over-reliance affects fans and players and owners.

  • Analytics has produced “The Shift”.  What “The Shift” has done is to reduce the number of base runners which reduces the “excitement” in the games.
  • Because it is more difficult to get a hit against “The Shift”, one adaptation by hitters is to alter their swing to change the “launch angle” thereby hitting the ball over the shift – – and hopefully over the fence too.  That produces more home runs, and it produces more strikeouts, but it does not produce more excitement.
  • Analytics has already had – and will almost assuredly continue to have – a negative effect on the pocketbooks of lots of players.  Recall when Albert Pujols got his 10-year mega-contract at age 31 or 32; that is not likely to happen anymore because analytics says that such deals are a waste of lots of money for the tail-end years of that kind of contract and that money can better be spent on players who will be productive in those years.  Long-range guaranteed contracts for players in their early/mid 30s are going the way of the dinosaur.  I cannot wait to hear the union cry “collusion” here…

So, in the current environment when the league and the union will not participate in the same conference call, what do you think of the chances that the two sides could even begin to have a meaningful discussion of issues such as the above.  But wait; there’s more:

  • The aging fanbase is dying off and is not being replenished with young-uns in part because the games are too long, and the pace of play is too slow for “millennials”.  When I was growing up, a game taking 2 hours and 30 minutes was commonplace; many were shorter than that.  Today, it is the 3-hour game that is commonplace; that is the length of an NFL game – – but there is a lot more excitement and action in an NFL game than there is in today’s MLB games.
  • Attempts to increase pace of play have been cosmetic at best and have been universally ineffective.  Waving the batter to first place in lieu of an intentional walk is cosmetic at best; making relief pitchers face at least 3 batters before they can be relieved saves an in-game change a few times a week.  Ho hum …
  • [Aside: Maybe the way to have fewer in-game pitching changes is to limit the number of pitchers a team can use in a 9-inning game?  Every in-game pitching change takes about 3 minutes to happen and for the fans it is dead time.]
  • Meanwhile, the time between innings has not been addressed; today it is always more than 2 minutes – – and sometimes it is 3 minutes.
  • And the Holy Grail of “getting the calls right” – – so-called instant replay – – produces plenty of dead time every game.  On every close play, managers and players stall for time until the manager can get a sign from his electronic replay wizards telling him if he should challenge the call or not.  When he chooses to do so, the mechanics used by the umpires to do the review is only slightly less cumbersome than working a UN resolution through the General Assembly and the Security Council.  Meanwhile, the fans in the stands and the fans at home are stuck watching a conference call.  Try to manage the excitement there; you would not want to induce any heart attacks…
  • MLB reduced the number of minor league teams around the country by about 25% for this year.  That will save owners some money which is a good thing at a time when revenue has dropped.  However, what does that do to further the objective of growing the game by getting kids interested in and fascinated by the game itself?

I do not know either Rob Manfred – – The Commish – – or Tony Clark – – the MLBPA Executive Director.  What seems apparent to me is that neither gentleman has much time nor use for the other one.  Maybe – I said MAYBE – that chilly relationship comes from the fact that The Commish used to be the chief labor negotiator for MLB and the MLBPA Exec Director has been part of the union doing negotiations with MLB for about the last 10 years.  Whatever is the source of their “lack of camaraderie”, it would be best for fans and for “The Game” if they found a way to get past it quickly.  Good luck with that one too…

Here are some fundamental truths about what faces MLB and the MLBPA:

  • The sport needs to make itself into a better TV entertainment product.  To achieve this end, there will need to be cooperation among the owners, players, umpires and “broadcast partners”.  If there is any momentum pulling those forces together now, it is opaque to me.  Notwithstanding the lack of cooperation here, this should be Priority Number One for owners and players because this is the source of the “big money” that flows into the game that drives profits for owners and contracts for players.
  • The sport needs to make itself a more “fan-friendly stadium event”.  Attracting new fans – who will bring “new money” with them to the park – is not going to happen easily if the product is a three-and-a-half-hour game with only 20 minutes of “action” that costs a couple of hundred dollars.  The same four forces needed to accomplish an improvement for TV need to be involved here too …
  • The sport needs added competitive balance.  Consider that the LA Dodgers have two players signed for 2021 – – David Price and Trevor Bauer – – who will make $60M this year between the two of them.  The Cleveland Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a projected 26-man opening day roster that will make less than $50M in total.  The projected Dodgers’ opening day roster would make $250.2M this year.  There needs to be a way to bring a semblance of balance to the talent levels on the various teams.  I know; there have always been talent-rich and talent-poor teams, but this is getting ridiculous.  Why would a young fan in Pittsburgh or Cleveland develop a deep and abiding interest in the local team when it surely looks as if the team is not even trying to be competitive.  [Aside:  And yes, I also remember those spunky Tampa Bay Rays and how they win pennants once a decade or so and the Oakland A’s who “thrive” on Moneyball.  They make for nice feelgood stories, but they do not attract a rabid fanbase; in fact, they do not attract much of a fanbase at all.]

I am not suggesting – let alone predicting – that MLB is about to crash and burn without a new CBA that makes drastic changes to the game immediately.  There are still plenty of baseball fans – me included – to sustain the leagues.  I am suggesting, however, that baseball has lost its dominant role in the US sports cosmos already and that it could well continue its downward trajectory without changes.  MLB needs changes on the field and off the field and the changes need not happen drastically.  But there must be a commitment to making changes that intend to improve the game as a product.  Baseball needs better rules and better marketing.

  • The NFL markets the idea of “On any given Sunday …”
  • The NBA markets its star players.
  • MLB markets its history.

Well, if you are marketing your history and your fanbase is dying off without an equal influx of new fans, think about the logical consequences there.  Baseball owners and players should heed this entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

History:  A cumulative account of the ways a bunch of dead people have screwed up in exactly the same ways we are screwing up right now.”

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

 

 

Social Justice Warriors And Virtue Signalers

Regular readers here know that I do not hold social justice warriors and virtue signaling in high esteem.  It is not that I disagree with the need for advancement in social justice in the US; it is that many social justice warriors take their actions and their pleadings beyond reason.  And virtue signaling is shallow and disingenuous.  Today, I want to address three sports issues that impinge on both social justice warriors and virtue signaling.  What I hope to do is to add a bit of rational thought to the three sports issues that does not seem to be there now.

Let me start with a column in the Washington Post written by Kevin Blackistone.  You can find it here and the online headline reads:

“Why the WNBA can’t wait: Kelly Loeffler should get the Donald Sterling boot”

For the record, I read Kevin Blackistone’s columns in the Post regularly and I enjoy them.  He is an advocate for social change; but normally, his words are reasoned and rational; in this particular work, I think he went over the edge.

Let me be clear from the outset.  I am not someone who is politically or socially aligned with Sen. Loeffler; were I a citizen of Georgia, I would definitely have voted against her in the Senatorial election earlier this month.  I have not supported her in the past; I do not support her now.  Exclamation Point!

The WNBA players themselves – – specifically including players on her own Atlanta Dream squad – – united to campaign against Ms. Loeffler as is their right, and it is to their credit that they acted on what they perceived to be right.  At least some of that political support and activism came as a result of Ms. Loeffler’s continuous support of the unsubstantiated claim that the Presidential election was “rigged” and/or “stolen” notwithstanding the myriad rebuffs of that claim by various levels of the US Federal judiciary.

Ms. Loeffler is a part owner of the WNBA franchise and Kevin Blackistone’s column calls for her to be “booted from the ownership ranks” comparing her to Donald Sterling.  I do not read minds, so I do not know if she and Mr. Sterling share similarly rancid views of race and gender, but I do know that there is a big difference between Kelly Loeffler as a franchise owner and Donald Sterling as a franchise owner:

  • Donald Sterling’s rancid views of Black people and women were in a position to cost the NBA lots of money/revenue.  His unpopular views threatened the pocketbooks of the rest of the owners and the league itself.
  • Kelly Loeffler owns part of a WNBA franchise; the revenues and economics of the WNBA are well beyond the decimal points of the NBA which is the parent company of the WNBA.  Even if fans boycotted Atlanta Dream games – – every Atlanta game on the WNBA schedule – –  the NBA would never notice the difference.

Removing an owner solely for their political/social views and expressions is a path fraught with danger.  Removing an owner who threatens the bottom line for the league is a totally different story.  This is not a matter for the WNBA or the NBA; this is a matter for the WNBA players and fans.

  • If Ms. Loeffler’s views are so toxic, why would any player in the WNBA play for the Atlanta Dream in good conscience?
  • If her views are so toxic, should any player in the WNBA on any other team take the court when the opponent is the Atlanta Dream?

That is the meaningful locus of activism that will carry the day – – not a bunch of moguls meeting in secret and pronouncing their decision(s).  And just imagine the social justice warriors who normally get their knickers in a knot any time a bunch of men do something “bad” to a woman…

The second issue of this type today is a campaign by the marketing folks at Coors Light to have Tom Flores elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Listen to their exhortations on the TV ads and the strongest point made is that he is the first Latino QB and the first Latino head coach in the NFL – – and therefore why is he not yet in the Hall of Fame.  I find that argumentation interesting…

No less a social justice warrior and advocate for equal treatment than Rev Jesse Jackson has routinely pointed to sports as the meritocracy where minorities of all kinds could show their unique skills and expertise to be a winner/champion and there was nothing that recalcitrant majority folks could do about it.  So, let me list here Tom Flores accomplishments in the “meritocracy of sports”:

  • As a QB, he was mediocre – – maybe just a tad better than that but certainly not “really good”.  He had a 9-year career as a player; he started 68 games; his teams were 31-33-4 in those 68 starts.  For his career, he threw 93 TDs and 92 INTs.
  • Bottom Line:  As a QB he is not remotely qualified to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • As a coach, he was good-but-not-great.  He had as 12-year coaching career going 98-87-0 in those years.  However, to his credit, his record in the playoffs was 8-3-0 and he won 2 Super Bowl Championships.  One argument against his selection for the Hall of Fame is that every modern era NFL coach in the Hall of fame has won more than 100 regular season games; Flores did not.
  • Bottom Line:  As a coach I believe he is a stretch to belong in the Hall of Fame and the question boils down to something other than his Latino heritage, “Do 2 Super Bowl rings plus Latino heritage” make up for a 98-87-0 record on the sidelines?”

Frankly, I would not vote to put Flores in the Hall of Fame along with coaches like Shula and Lombardi and Landry and Noll from the modern era.  At the same time, I would not be sufficiently upset if the Selection Committee put him in the Hall of Fame to declare that I would never again visit the facility.  But I do find it a bit unseemly – and even smarmy – for a beer company to be touting a nominee for the Hall of Fame and for him to have allowed it to happen.

The final issue has its roots in late 2017.  The University of Tennessee had had enough of its football coach, Butch Jones, at that point and fired him unceremoniously.  The Athletic Director – and presumably some others in the university hierarchy – let it be known that they wanted Greg Schiano to be the next coach at Tennessee.  At that point, there was a confluence of special interests.  Some folks were against Schiano because he was “not an SEC guy” and others were either genuine social justice warriors or only normal folks who felt an abject need to virtue signal here.  That second contingent of protestors were opposed to Schiano because he had been on the same coaching staff at Penn State with Jerry Sandusky.  There were no allegations that Schiano had done anything wrong – – let alone that he had also abused young boys in the Penn State showers.  It is just that he was there, and all that bad stuff happened and that had to make him a bad guy too.

The combination of protesting factions prevailed and kicked out the Athletic Director – – replacing him with Phil Fulmer the longtime coach at Tennessee who himself had been unceremoniously fired about 10 years prior to all that.  Fulmer went out and hired Jeremy Pruitt for the job.

Pruitt was singularly unsuccessful in the position.  In three seasons at Tennessee, the Vols record was 16-19 and the conference record was 10-16.  It was not the worst coaching record in recent times in Knoxville; Derek Dooley was 16-21 in his three years at Tennessee with a conference record of 5-19.  At the same time, Jeremy Pruitt will not cause the Tennessee alums to forget the names of Johnny Majors and/or Doug Dickey as coaches of the Vols.

Just this week, it was announced that Pruitt was “fired for cause” by the university meaning that Tennessee is going to try to avoid paying him the $12.5M buyout contained in his contract.  [Aside:  I suspect that law firms across the country can smell the “billable hours” here and are looking for ways to get in on that action.]  Pruitt is not accused of anything criminal or smarmy; he is accused of sufficiently severe recruiting violations that could bring significant NCAA sanctions down on the school.

So, the question that needs to be asked of the social justice warriors and activists who got their way in 2017 is simple and straightforward:

  • “So, how’d that work out for you?”

There is plenty of room in sports and in US society for people and athletes to advocate for social justice and social progress.  In fact, the US would not be nearly the country it seeks to be were it not for that open space.  However, there is another phenomenon at play here; those people and various organizations often overplay their hand – – the current jargon is they get out too far over their skis.  I think at least four things need to be done in this realm:

  1. Athletes, teams and leagues need to support actively – with words, deeds and money – those endeavors that are aimed at social progress which align with the values of the athletes, teams and leagues.
  2. Athletes, teams and leagues need to support endeavors aimed at social progress that simultaneously provide material benefits to the organizers/activists – – but they need to make those material benefits clear and acknowledge them.
  3. Fans – – and media outlets – – need to be wary of pleadings based entirely on race or national origin without extensive supporting evidence that specific injuries have happened.
  4. Media outlets specifically need to point out and perhaps even oppose social justice warriors and virtue signalers when there is no objective evidence to support their opposition to the target of their wrath.

Finally, one of the images that social justice warriors and virtue signalers like to portray is that they are altruists; they are acting in a way that is not necessarily in their own best interest but is obviously intended to augment the common good.  For that reason, let me close with this comment by H.L Mencken regarding altruists and altruism:

“Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy.  It is an art like any other.  Its virtuosi are called altruists.”

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

 

 

Bad Ads 2020

When you watch sports on TV as I most certainly do, you are exposed to advertising.  It is a necessary evil; without the ads there would be no sports on TV to watch; if you doubt that, check out your local cable access channels and/or PBS for their sports listings.  The fact that the ads are “necessary” does not excuse the sub-set of ads that are either bad or stupid – – or both.  I keep a listing of such ads as the year goes along and I compile them late in December as a means to leave them in the past – – knowing full well that next year will bring a new crop of Bad Ads.

Nobel Prize winning author, Sinclair Lewis accurately described the advertising genre:

“Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.”

In a sense, I feel disadvantaged this year because there was not nearly as much sports on TV to watch thanks to the guy who ate the bat in Wuhan whenever.  [Aside:  If I came into possession of a bat or three and someone asked me to prepare them for dinner, I would have to confess that I have never seen a cookbook devoted to “Bat Cuisine”.  I would not have a clue as to where to start to cook the things.  Whatever…]  When I sat down to compile this year’s list, I was afraid there would not be a critical mass of items to make it worth doing.  Not the case…  The advertising folks may not have had the quantity of bad ads compared to previous years, but there were plenty of ads worthy of note here.

Remember, 2020 was a Presidential election year; that means the entire year was littered with political ads; that means the TV viewing public was exposed to toxic levels of mendacity from January (during “primary season”) through November.  If the bulls[p]it contained in all the political ads were converted to coronavirus, the pandemic would have wiped out everyone on the planet by now.  To get an idea what I mean about political ads, politicians and mendacity, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds to follow this link and watch a Johnny Carson sketch from The Tonight Show in 1982.  It will bring a smile to your face and it will convince you that politicians and the political ads supporting them are as credible now as “this politician” was in 1982.

Here is what I think about all political advertising:

  • All political ads contain lies and intentional distortions of facts.  All the people involved in making those ads are nothing better than lying weasels.
  • I am The Sports Curmudgeon, and I approved this message…

Added to the quadrennial burden we face with political ads, we also had to tolerate two other classes of ads that happen every year.  They are annoying and they are stupid; moreover, they have the survival abilities of a cockroach.  I am referring here to:

  1. The perfume/cologne ads that appear between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You know the ones I mean.  The one where they guy drives out in a desert and buries a necklace under a rock in the hot sun and that somehow relates to motivating me to buy a certain brand of cologne.  Don’t forget the one where a man and woman seek one another and finally meet in an embrace underwater in a pool making me wonder what the Hell that stuff must smell like out in the air.
  2. The Medicare Advantage Plan ads which serve to convince you that the Congress in setting up Medicare was intentionally penurious with you because for no added cost you can get a half dozen other FREE benefits.  And even  if I were predisposed to think that I needed to review my health insurance status with someone, would that someone be whatever hominid happens to answer a phone at a number hawked by Joe Namath?

There must be something about the Holiday Season that causes whatever remnants of common sense exist in ad creators to vaporize.  This year the folks who create ads for Target announced that Target had sale prices on last minute Christmas gifts and that those prices were good “for this week only”.  What’s that you say?  That is there to inform the consumer about the limits on the offering?  Fine; now consider that ad ran on December 20th.  No one would have any need for a special price on a Christmas gift more than a week in the future so the special prices would be irrelevant.

And speaking of annoying ads that materialized out of the world ether at Holiday Season time, is there an ad currently running on TV that is dumber than the chorus of carolers led by The Burger King as they sing Christmas carols to people in their cars at the Drive-thru ordering Burger King Whoppers?  If that group of masked Burger King folks approached my car, the last thing I would do is cheer them on; I would be closing the windows, locking the doors and gunning the engine.

Fast food purveyors always get a mention in these annual retrospectives, and this year is no exception.  Two ads went beyond the norm:

  1. Papa John’s:  With the societal emphasis on social distancing, just about every purveyor of victuals declared their commitment to contactless delivery of some sort.  The dumbest of these assertions was Papa John’s announcement that they take their pizzas out of a 450-degree oven and put it directly in a box, no touching.  Really?  How is that different from what you did before the shutdown or different from every other pizza maker?
  2. Pizza Hut:  The folks in the test kitchens came up with “plant meat” for their pizzas and the company just had to tell everyone that it was available.  Look, pizza is not a health food; it is never going to be a health food; stop trying to pretend it is a health food.  Just make good pizza; sell it at a reasonable price; do not allow your “chefs” to add any bodily fluids to the orders; deliver it hot.  If you do that, you will be just fine…

There is another food-based ad from this year that is outrageously stupid.  The ad is for a company called Freshly and they deliver meals to you that you can take out of the fridge and put in the microwave for about 3 minutes and then eat.  It is a full meal.  In the ad, the young woman takes a first bite, smiles and announces to her partner that, “We don’t have to cook anymore.”  Folks, taking a dinner in a plastic tray out of refrigeration and putting it in a microwave is how they prepare food on an airplane.  When was the last time you had a meal on an airplane that made you think that if you could only get that food delivered to your home, you would never have to cook again?  If I assume this woman is telling the truth with her declaration, then I must also assume that she has several shots of Novocain in her tongue as she is tasting that wonderful meal.

While on the subject of ads for companies that deliver food to your house, there is one for Uber Eats that goes beyond creepy.  I am referring to the ones involving Olympic gymnast, Simone Biles and an overly effeminate bearded man who do tumbling routines on a gym mat while wearing the same outfit.  In one, Ms. Biles asks if he is wearing her leotard and he says, “Yes”.  I said above that Joe Namath would not entice me to call some stranger to review my health insurance coverage; well, Joe Namath is a pillar of expertise on that subject when compared to the credibility of the  effeminate, cross-dressing dude in this ad…

Old Navy did not disappoint in 2020.  As soon as Black Friday happened, Old Navy was on the air with flashing colors and gyrating people wearing some of the ugliest and low-class clothing imaginable.  When I eventually stop doing these retrospectives, I need to remember to give Old Navy a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the world of insurance advertising:

  • Liberty Mutual has yet to move on from Limu Emu – – and Doug.  Given Doug’s encounters with other members of humanity, I wonder which of the two recurring characters featured in the ad is the more intelligent one.
  • Progressive has been annoying us with Flo and her “colleagues” for years.  Now they have introduced us to Mark and Marcus a pair of blithering idiots who apparently are football sideline officials who man the first down chains.  Surely you have seen the variants on how the chain interferes with their lives because they will not let go of the first down sticks.  And on what planet is that supposed to entice me to consider Progressive as my insurance company?
  • The Nick Saban ad for AFLAC makes me feel sorry for Nick.  He needs the money awfully badly to allow himself to look as stupid as he does in that ad with the duck…

The three major wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – are wearing everyone out with their 5G ads.  This one is the fastest; that one has the broadest coverage; one of them was “built right”.  What is missing is any sort of convincing evidence from the carriers that I need 5G service at all – – let alone from the one that is sponsoring the ad in question.  One ad said that with 5 G you could download an entire movie in less than a minute.

  • Question:  Why would I want to watch a movie – – made for the big screen at a movie theater – – on my phone which has a screen only slightly more than half the area of a square of toilet paper?  Oh, and do not get me started on the difference in audio quality between my phone and movie theater acoustics…

Cricket is not one of the major wireless carriers, but it ran a dumb set of ads of its own for several months this year. There are “monsters” in the Cricket ads that make annoying squeaky noises for no discernable reason.  Then there is also the ad featuring one of the monsters who says he cannot join some sort of social event because it’s “too far to go”.  Turns out it is on the couch 10 feet away and still would prefer to chat on the phone instead of joining its “friends”.  Somehow, someone thought that vignette would make me want to join in that happy social circle using Cricket.

In case you did not know, Senekot is a laxative. Evidently, it now comes in a chewy/gummy form.  A current ad shows one of the animated “gummies” telling you to chew one or two at bedtime – –  “and then in the morning , it’s show time!”  If you go to Thesaurus.com, you will find 48 suggested synonyms for “disgusting” ranging from “abominable” to “yucky”.  Let me suggest that all of them apply to this advertisement.

Speaking about ads for things you take to provide a cure or a therapy for a malady, there is a generic comment that must be made here.  Every drug ad tells you not to take the medicine if you are allergic to it or to its components.  Think for a moment about the intellectual prowess of someone who needs to be reminded not to take something intentionally that he/she is allergic to.  Ponder that for just a moment.  Here is an analogous circumstance:

  • In the Boy Scout manual under the heading of wilderness survival, the author(s) would feel a need to tell the young scout – – if you are lost in the woods and have to take a dump, do not wipe your butt with poison ivy leaves if you know you are allergic to poison ivy.

As the audience, you need to consider how stupid the ad folks think you are.  Every time I hear an ad with that admonition, I think to myself that they are treating me as if I am not nearly as smart as bait.

The Toyota Venza has an ad where it is raining heavily, and a distraught couple is out searching for their lost dog by driving along highways.  Eventually they find the dog – such a feelgood moment – and they dry him off and put him in the car and presumably head on home.

  • Question:  What is the message here?  When you lose your dog and it is raining, Toyota Venza is the best vehicle to use to go and find your dog?
  • Question:  If you lost a child and it is raining, would the Toyota Venza be the car to use in that circumstance too?

There is a new service that is making its debut entry on Bad Ads; it only goes to prove that as new services become worthy of advertising, some creative genius somewhere will find a way to make an annoying or stupid ad.  The new service area is computer cloud services.

I need to apologize for the first entry on the list; I saw it and made a note of the context of the ad but did not note who the advertiser was.  And if I ever saw it a second time, I did not amend my first time note.  So, this ad is from a Mystery Advertiser who is in the business of cloud computing.  The ad goes like this:

  • You see scenes of people in laboratories and at computer terminals and in business meetings and on job sites and all of them are amazing all their colleagues with whatever they have been working on – – of course using the Mystery Advertiser’s cloud computing services.
  • The voice-over is sonorous as it tells you that the Mystery Advertiser’s services allow your company and your people “to come up with new innovations” for problems they face.
  • Question:  When was the last time  you or anyone else came up with an old innovation?

The second Bad Ad from the world of IT comes from Amazon and its IT arm.  The ad features a woman who asserts that she became a teacher to change the way education is delivered to students.  She says that she is an impatient person and that Amazon allows her to change the world at the pace she wants.

  • Memo to Teacher Lady:  Get over yourself.  Looking at the status of public education these days, your pace for change is a lot slower than it needs to be.  There are people out there who must be reminded not to take drugs they are allergic to.  Pick up the pace, please…

Let me close this review of 2020’s advertising blunders with two observations about advertising that supplement the comment from Sinclair Lewis cited above:

“Advertising is legalized lying.”  H.G. Wells

And …

 “Advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.”  George Santayana

[Aside:  Please apply Santayana’s observation here with every political ad you heard or saw this year or any other year.  I think he was spot-on there…]

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

 

 

The Vincent Amendment To The Rooney Rule

The NFL’s Rooney Rule was put in effect in 2003; it requires a team that is seeking to hire a new head coach to interview at least one “diverse candidate”.  Over time, that requirement has been expanded to include hiring searches for GMs and for senior coordinator positions  and etc.  Later, it was expanded again to mandate the interview of more than a single “diverse candidate” in an attempt to avoid tokenism in the interview process.  The rule is well-intentioned, but it has not been acclaimed as being highly successful in achieving the goal of matching the proportion of “diverse players” in the league to the “diverse occupants” in those leadership jobs.

  • [Aside: I use the quotation marks around “diverse candidates” here because the reality is that the Rooney Rule and its modifications applies to Black candidates for the jobs and not any of the other populations that one might normally consider to be “diverse”.]

About a year ago, the NFL mavens tried to enhance the Rooney Rule again to get it to achieve hiring percentages closer to the NFL player population; the idea then was to award teams an extra draft choice if they hired a “diverse” candidate” for a head coaching or GM opening.  That proposal was like waving a white flag because:

  • Minority candidates for head coach and GM jobs did not want to have any “stigma” attached to them when/if they got hired.
  • They wanted to get the job on their merits and not because the team might secure an extra draft pick somewhere down the line tagged to their ethnicity.

That proposal died a natural death – – but to relate to a common storyline in horror movies – – no one put a wooden stake in the heart of that proposal.  For that reason, it came back to life last week in an announcement from NFL Senior VP for Player Engagement, Troy Vincent.  Here is the essence of the “Vincent Amendment” to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” (the VARR):

  • The NFL will give two third-round compensatory draft picks to any team that has a “diverse candidate” hired away from them into head coaching or GM positions.

This is not a good idea on several levels:

  • First, it still links the hiring of a “diverse candidate” into one of those jobs with a draft day event.  Granted in this case, there is a reward to the team that “developed” the “diverse candidate” as opposed to the first scenario where there was a reward for the hiring team.   That is not an insignificant difference.  Nonetheless, it makes EVERY hiring of a “diverse candidate” subject to a level of scrutiny that is not necessarily going to happen if Caucasian Joe Flabeetz gets the job.
  • Second, if you buy into the idea that the NFL Draft is a semi-science wherein teams select the best fits for their team needs every time it is their turn to draft, this idea flies in the face of the fundamental reason to have a draft in the first place.  The draft is supposed to allow the weaker teams to get better in the draft at the expense of the stronger teams based on the order of selections.  The VARR will kick that concept in the head.
  • “Diverse candidates” will always be sought from the stronger teams than from the weaker teams.  Not a lot of coordinators from teams that just went 4-12 or worse are going to get serious interviews for head coaching jobs or GM positions.  Therefore, under the VARR, it is going to be the stronger teams who will be rewarded for having hired “diverse candidates” for those coordinator positions now that another team has poached them for a more senior position.
  • What is the need to reward the stronger teams with 2 extra third round picks?
  • How will the hiring of coordinators be influenced by the potential to harvest future third-round picks down the line if the hiring decision is successful?

This is another well-intentioned idea that is not a good idea.  This idea incentivizes the hiring of “diverse candidates” below the head coaching level such that the hiring decision MIGHT bring a draft pick bonanza down the road.  If “diverse candidates” did not like the idea of having a “price on their head” in the previous suggestion to award picks for their hiring, why should they like the same idea to be applied to the hiring decision to make them coordinators?

I have no reason or intention to trash Troy Vincent here; I am completely convinced that his intentions in this initiative – and in the previous one about a year ago – are pure as the driven snow.  However, the best way to achieve “color-blindness” in the senior hiring decisions in the NFL is NOT to attach a price to influence those decisions in either direction.  There are two shining examples as of this morning for NFL owners to examine and consider when/if they move to “take their franchise in a different direction”:

  1. Brian Flores:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired last year to a team that seemed to all in the outside world as a “tanking candidate”.  They won 5 games last  year and they are squarely in the playoff race in the AFC this year.
  2. Mike Tomlin:  He is a “diverse candidate” who got hired in 2007 and has never had a losing season with the Steelers since he arrived on the scene.

Not every “diverse candidate” will be a Brian Flores or a Mike Tomlin – – just as every “majority candidate” will not be a Bill Belichick nor a Richie Kotite.  Hiring a head coach or a GM – – or both – – is a crapshoot.  Some owners make good decisions; others make bad decisions.  AND some owners make choices that work out famously just by dumb luck.  For the NFL to put its thumb on the scale so to speak in that decision making process in any way does not conform with the idea that NFL football is a meritocracy where skill at one’s job augmented by dedicated hard work are the keys to success.

Dan Rooney created the Rooney Rule.  Dan Rooney died in 2017.  We can never know what he might think about the Vincent Amendment to the Rooney Rule as announced last week.  He may have thought it was a brilliant extension to his proposal – – or he might have thought it was a step backward.  I think it was the latter…

Finally, Alfred Adler was a psychotherapist who was the person responsible for identifying the concept of a human inferiority complex.  Here is what Dr. Adler had to say about humans and noble principles:

“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.”

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