PASPA is Unconstitutional

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) is no more.  By a 7-2 vote, the US Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional; it is no more.  I am not going to pretend to be able to give you a learned interpretation of the court’s decision here, but I will say that I am heartily in favor of getting PASPA off the books.

This legislation was a bad idea when it first appeared in the mind of whomever thought to make it the law of the land.  The fundamental concept had two major flaws:

  1. One premise is that gambling is bad news for sporting events bringing a corps of shady ne’er-do-wells into close contact with athletes whose focus needs to be striving for victory and excellence.  That sounds awfully good, but it does not stand the test of logic.  The fact of the matter is that the sportsbooks – the guys who enable gamblers to “get down on games” are the ones who have alerted the authorities in most of the cases where there was real or attempted skullduggery.  The reason is simple; the sportsbooks do not like to be on the losing side of things and they are highly motivated to point out betting patterns that might indicate foul play.
  2. That first premise leads ever so obviously to the conclusion that minimizing gambling opportunities will minimize gamblers getting close to athletes and possibly encouraging the athletes to shave points or throw games.  This second premise is galactic naivete.  If PASPA were effective, there would be no sports betting in any of 46 States because PASPA only allowed 4 States to do sports betting for the last 26 years. No one with two neurons close enough to play tennis with one another can possibly believe that is the case.

PASPA was flawed at the core and then proceeded to be completely ineffective on top of that.  I don’t think that is the sort of legislative exacta that the Congress would like to trumpet as one of its successes.

The NCAA and the four major sports leagues all opposed the action taken by the State of New Jersey that led to the overturning of PASPA – – until it began to look as if PASPA was a sinking ship and then the four pro leagues scrambled to figure out how to share in the revenue bonanza that could come from widespread sports wagering.  The latest twist here is that the unions representing players in the various pro sports have signaled that they want in on the cavalcade of cash.  Putting this in terms you might recall from The Godfather, everyone wants to dip his beak in the pool here and the open questions are how big a dip will each beak want or get.

In the opinion of the court, it begins by saying:

“Americans have never been of one mind about gambling, and attitudes have swung back and forth.”

I believe that Americans have never been of one mind about lots and lots of different social issues and behaviors.  There was a time when it was illegal to sell alcohol in the US; that worked about as effectively as PASPA has worked.  There was a time when it was legally acceptable to own other human beings as slaves; the country fought a Civil War in the process of adjusting that social issue.  Wavering opinions – even wavering majority opinions – on social issues is not something that should be part of a Constitutional determination.  Even if 80% of the populace thinks that the protections of the First Amendment are outdated, that should not be part of a Supreme Court decision on such matters.  [Aside:  In such a situation, that vast majority of opinion might embolden the Congress to pass and send to the States a new amendment to the Constitution limiting something in the First Amendment.  If ratified, then such limitations would be properly used and enforced by the Supreme Court, but wavering public opinion is not germane to Constitutional decisions.]

Those States that want to benefit from this ruling in the short term will need to get their act together in time for the start of the college football/NFL season.  Sportsbooks take action on baseball and golf and the like, but the big money handles are for football games and then for March Madness.  It will be interesting to see how the major players in this new regulatory environment come together – or fail to come together.  These times call for these folks to reach accommodations one with the others:

  • State Legislatures
  • State Regulators
  • Hotel and casino execs
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Various professional sports leagues
  • The NCAA – and perhaps the football conferences independently

One other thought…  PASPA may not have passed Constitutional muster here, but that does not mean that Congress may take another shot at regulating sports wagering.  The Supreme Court left that door wide open saying that Congress had the authority to regulate gambling but in the absence of doing so, it did not have the right to tell each of the individual States what they had to do.  My guess is a Congressional push to repackage much of PASPA’s misguided intent; I hope it fails.

Finally, speaking about linkages between bad guys and organized crime and the sports world, consider this comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“The IOC is threatening to remove boxing from the 2020 Olympics due to corruption and links with organized crime. Doesn’t the IOC understand? That’s what boxing is. Take away that fun stuff and all you have left is two guys punching each other’s ass in the face.”

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



The College Basketball Commission Report

Last Fall when news broke of the FBI investigation of “criminality” in the college basketball recruiting world, the NCAA created an independent commission to be headed by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to come up with recommendations for reform.  Yesterday, that report and those recommendations hit the street.  Not surprisingly, the recommendations are a mixed bag; the problem is that too many of the recommendations cannot be implemented by the NCAA even if every person at every member institution favored them.

Before I dive into the recommendations themselves, let me reiterate my position that I do not share the FBI’s assertion that there were criminal acts uncovered by their investigation.  There were clear and blatant violations of NCAA recruiting and eligibility rules in what the FBI found, but to my mind that is not equivalent to criminality.

I was not surprised in the least to learn that the Commission thinks that the one-and-done rule is no good.  My guess is that one-and-done enjoys the same favorable ratings among basketball fans as does cannibalism; it takes a while to find someone who likes it and is willing to stand up and say that they do.  I hate the one-and-done situation but there are two things related to the current report that bother me:

  1. Secretary Rice mentioned in remarks yesterday that recruiting shenanigans increased after the creation of the one-and-done situation about 12 years ago.  I agree that we have seen more evidence of and more details surrounding the seamy side of recruiting in recent years, but I would need to see some proof that the situation got worse.  As far back as the glory days of UCLA basketball under John Wooden, there were some “irregularities” surrounding some of the athletes who played there.
  2. The NCAA did not create the one-and-done situation; the NBA and the NBPA did.  The NCAA can no more eliminate one-and-done than it can summon up the Tooth Fairy and use her to fund any of the other recommendations made here.  Until and unless the NBA and the NBPA alter their existing Collective Bargaining Agreement, one-and-done is here to stay.  The good news is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to want to get rid of that CBA provision, but that still does not put any authority or power in the hands of the NCAA.

There is another problem with using one-and-done as a punching bag.  While it may feel good and it may get heads nodding in agreement, it is not the thread that when pulled will unravel the entire mess.  One of the central figures in the FBI investigation – Christian Dawkins – allegedly funneled money to high school recruits AND to upperclassmen.  By definition, upperclassmen are not “one-and-doners”.  The problems here are not simple nor are they easily localized.

A key element here is that top-shelf recruits have different values to different people and institutions.  For college administrators and educators, they have one value; for coaches they have a different value; for boosters yet another value and for apparel companies one more value.  That environment creates a “black market” where shady characters can effect transfers of value among the different institutions.  In such a situation, the deal goes under the table – or as an uncle of mine used to say, the money goes “down south”.

There are some good ideas offered up.  They are easier said than done, but the NCAA ought to make a serious effort to make them happen:

  • The Commission says that schools who are caught cheating should get sanctions that last 5 years and that they would not share in any of the revenues generated in those 5 years.  The NCAA’s “broadcast partners” are not going to be happy to learn that a school or two guaranteed to draw big ratings will be on the sidelines for March Madness for the next 5 years.  Does the NCAA have the fortitude to stand up to that?  I would like to think so, but …
  • The Commission suggests banning coaches for life if they are found guilty of major violations.  This resonates with folks who believe in retribution and who think that all stories should end with everyone living happily ever after.  The problem here is the meaning of “found guilty”.  By whom?  In what tribunal?  To what standard of proof?  This one could take a while – – maybe even a lifetime.
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to declare for the NBA Draft and to return to college as eligible players if they are not selected in the NBA Draft.  That makes a lot of sense – except to the coaches and assistant coaches who are doing the recruiting.  For them, this change will mean that they do not know if a player who declared will be back the next season until after the NBA Draft in June.  Frankly, I think that is a level of discomfort and inconvenience that coaches can tolerate given the annual salaries they are pulling down.

There are other recommendations from the Commission that are akin to the one about eliminating the one-and-done situation; they sound great, but one has to wonder how the NCAA is going to pull them off.

  • The Commission wants the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball to wrest control of “summer basketball camps” from the AAU and make things pure.  First, the NCAA, the NBA and US Basketball would be an unholy alliance; second, this is going to cost a lot of money and it will provide little if any benefit to either the NBA or US Basketball; ergo …  The reality is that the shoe/apparel companies fund the AAU summer camps and as long as they choose to do that, the AAU summer camps will go forward.
  • The Commission also recommends that the NCAA demand more transparency and accountability from the shoe/apparel companies regarding their expenditures of promotional funds.  Secretary Rice said that CEOs and Chairmen of the Board for public companies ought to be on top of how such funds are dispersed.  That sounds so good and so simple that it makes me tingle.  I am afraid however that the two operative words here are “Not” and “Happening”
  • The Commission recommends that players be allowed to deal with agents without losing their eligibility.  If the NCAA could find ways to keep that process from spinning out of control that would be a good idea.  Then again, regulating what agents may and may not do or provide for regarding athletes seems like rewriting the recruiting rules which clearly have not worked all that well or the FBI would not be investigating.

The Commission suggested that the NCAA expand its Board of Governors to include outside/independent members who would be voting members of the Board.  I like the idea but wonder just how “independent” a new member might be given that he/she would be nominated and vetted by the NCAA and its Board of Governors before taking a seat.  I know that is a cynical stance and I need to stifle it because putting a few “outsiders” on the inside is a step in the right direction.  It may not be perfect, but it is better than what exists today.  After all, this works for public corporations and non-profits…

The Commission suggested that the NCAA create a robust and independent investigative and adjudicative entity to do serious enforcement of whatever rules are on the books.  Again, I wonder about the “independence” of such an entity if it ever were to come to pass given that its budget would have to come from the NCAA itself.  Also, without the ability to compel “testimony”, the robustness of such an entity is open to question.

The Commission recommended – and I think this is a great idea – that the schools create a fund that would guarantee any athlete who left school to turn pro after two or more years and who was a student in good standing at the time of his departure scholarship status to return to school and finish his degree.  Given the potential costs involved here, I doubt there will be a lot of schools rushing forward to make this happen, but it is a great idea.

Let me make a suggestion of my own here that departs from what the Commission recommended and would put a dent in the one-and-done world.  It will not cure the problem, but it might change some of the recruiting dynamics.  For me to be transparent about this, let me acknowledge that I have cribbed most of this idea from remarks made by Coach Bob Knight about 30 years ago.  Do not confuse the message here with the messenger.

  • Each school should have a fixed number of scholarships that they can issue at any given time.  They are all full scholarships; none of them can be sliced and diced and distributed to more than one player.
  • Once signed onto, that scholarship sticks to that player for 5 years – or fewer than 5 years if the player graduates from that college before the 5 years have expired.  If the player quits the team, he keeps the scholarship and the team cannot issue it to another player.  If he transfers and gets a scholarship from another school, he then has two scholarships stuck to him from two different institutions.
  • A player loses all eligibility if he transfers more than once.

A school that recruits a class consisting of 4 or 5 “one-and-done players” is going to be hamstrung when they leave because they will be down 4 or 5 scholarships for the next 4 years until the 5-year expiration date allows them to re-issue the scholarship.  That will possibly decrease demand for top players – or at least disperse them among the colleges.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is as good an idea as many of the Commission’s suggestions.

The biggest issue that the Commission failed to address is the hallowed NCAA concept of the “student-athlete”.  There may indeed have been a time in the idyllic past when people went to college to earn a degree and who also decided to play basketball for the school at the same time.  That may still happen in some corners of today’s game but do not fall for the rhapsodic pronouncements of the NCAA on this subject.  College basketball players are only amateurs because the NCAA demands that they appear to be so, and it is that demand that creates the black market that led to the need for this Commission in the first place.  I have no insight into any deliberations or any of the dynamics of the Commission; nevertheless, the fact that Mark Emmert – the head honcho of the NCAA – was a member of the Commission that reported out yesterday might lead one to wonder if his presence assured that “amateurism reform” was not part of the final recommendations.

Overall, the Commission did a good job.  They had a monumental task.  In the 12 Labors of Hercules, he was tasked to clean out the stables of King Augeus – a rich man with lots of cattle and livestock – in a single day.  The Commission had a huge mess on its hands and only about 6 months to come up with recommendations.  Hercules solved his problem by diverting the water from two rivers through the stables to clean them up.  The Commission did not have access to enough river water here.

To me, the things that could have the largest and most far reaching effects on the recruiting process are these:

  1. Create and fund the independent investigative and adjudicative body recommended by the Commission.  The members would have to accede to authorities granted to those bodies or suffer sanctions from the NCAA directly.
  2. Increase the penalties for getting caught cheating.  Maybe lifetime bans need to be reserved for those who behave like Dr. Larry Nassar or Jerry Sandusky or Dave Bliss but keeping a coach or an assistant off the coaching carousel for 10 years might just keep folks a bit more honest.

The NCAA takes in almost a billion dollars a year in television rights fees from college basketball.  That is not chump change; that is real money.  [Aside:  The amount of money here puts the lie to the notion that the players are “amateurs” and that college basketball is anything but a business enterprise for the NCAA.]  The independent investigative and adjudicative body will not come into existence cheaply nor will it ever be self-sustaining financially.  Whether the NCAA members step up to this “cost of doing business” will be a significant indicator of their seriousness in trying to clean up this mess.

This story is not over.  Stay tuned for further developments …

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



Current Players To The Hall Of Fame

About a week ago, I wrote about the thought processes I would use to vote for or against a player nominated for a sports Hall of Fame.  What engendered that essay was the naming of the 2018 class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  I pointed out specifically that I have never had such a vote, nor did I ever anticipate having such a vote; but that statement evidently primed this question from a reader:

“If you did have a vote for the NFL Hall of Fame, which current players would you vote for?”

So, let me adjust my glasses and put on as erudite a look as I can muster and go through a list today.  I will surely miss some candidates here; I expect “nominations from the floor” and calls for removal of candidates from the list.  Nonetheless, with trepidation here I go.

I’ll start with the QBs simply because the Pro Football Hall of Fame seems to take kindly to players at that position.

  • Tom Brady – cannot be any argument here
  • Drew Brees – cannot be any argument here
  • Eli Manning – twice the MVP in the Super Bowl
  • Philip Rivers – gaudy stats but no “playoff achievements”
  • Aaron Rodgers – cannot be any argument here
  • Ben Roethlisberger – cannot be any argument here

Running backs are difficult to project because lots of great running backs have short careers.  Two examples of RBs with short careers who are deservedly in the Hall of Fame are Terrell Davis and Gale Sayers.  I admit that I have done some significant extrapolation with some of the players here.

  • LeVeon Bell – no extrapolation needed here
  • Ezekiel Elliott – needs to prevent his off-field behavior from curtailing his career
  • Frank Gore – longevity, durability and production put him on this list
  • Todd Gurley – lots of extrapolation here
  • LeSean McCoy – no extrapolation needed here
  • Adrian Peterson – his off-field behaviors will make him a controversial candidate

Next come the tight ends – and there are not a whole lot of tight ends in the Hall of Fame.  Tony Gonzalez will be eligible in the next couple of years; if he does not get in, then no one on my list here has a chance.

  • Antonio Gates – from undrafted free agent to the All-Decade Team of the 2000’s
  • Rob Gronkowski – a no-brainer in my opinion
  • Travis Kelce – lots of extrapolation here
  • Greg Olsen – a borderline call
  • Jason Witten – talk about longevity, durability and production …

At the wide receiver position, I think there are 3 shoo-ins and a couple of possibilities.

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. – possibly
  • Antonio Brown – a shoo-in
  • Larry Fitzgerald – a shoo-in
  • AJ Green – possibly
  • DeAndre Hopkins – an extrapolation here but an impressive start to a career
  • Julio Jones – a shoo-in
  • Jordy Nelson – possibly

If I am going to list offensive linemen here, I must admit from the beginning that I do not understand what the standard has been in the past for inductees.  What I am going to list here are the offensive linemen (not by position) who stand out to me when I watch games on TV.  Surely, I have over-valued some players here and have missed others completely.

  • David DeCastro
  • Jason Kelce
  • Alex Mack
  • Zack Martin
  • Jason Peters
  • Josh Sitton
  • Joe Staley
  • Trent Williams

On defense let me start with the defensive linemen and outside linebackers.  Given the way defensive coordinators line up their resources, sometimes it is difficult to tell if a player is a defensive end or a linebacker.  So, I’ll lump them together here.

  • Joey Bosa – an extrapolation from a good start to his career
  • Fletcher Cox – awfully good and awfully young
  • Aaron Donald – awfully good and awfully young
  • Everson Griffen – maybe yes, maybe no
  • James Harrison – a stud for the last decade
  • Justin Houston – a tackling machine
  • Khalil Mack – a younger version of Von Miller
  • Von Miller – has game-changing abilities
  • Terrell Suggs – a stud for the last decade with some off-field issues
  • Ndamukong Suh – anger management issues might keep him out
  • JJ Watt – injury problems starting to catch up to him

As with the defensive linemen and linebackers, I will group together the cornerbacks and safeties since some players go from one position to the other.

  • Eric Berry – seems obvious to me
  • AJ Bouye – an extrapolation here
  • Josh Norman – a real “shut-down corner”
  • Patrick Peterson – a real “shut-down corner”
  • Jalen Ramsey – a big extrapolation here
  • Xavier Rhodes – needs only to stay healthy
  • Richard Sherman – probably
  • Earl Thomas – probably

Punters and placekickers get into the Hall of Fame as often as Cookie Monster shows dietary restraint.  Therefore, I am not going to expend any effort on those positions.  Even though I was not asked to do so, let me consider the coaches in the NFL who may wind up in the Hall of Fame down the road.

  • Bill Belichick – a shoo-in
  • Tom Coughlin – a shoo-in
  • John Fox – took 2 different teams to the Super Bowl; he’s a longshot
  • Andy Reid – if he wins a Super Bowl; otherwise he is a fat Marty Schottenheimer
  • Mike Tomlin – 7 times in the playoffs and a Super Bowl win

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



Halls Of Fame Voting

Mixed in among all the hubbub of the Super Bowl, the 2018 class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was announced.  In case you missed it, here are the 8 members of that class:

  1. Bobby Beathard
  2. Robert Brazile
  3. Brian Dawkins
  4. Jerry Kramer
  5. Ray Lewis
  6. Randy Moss
  7. Terrell Owens
  8. Brian Urlacher

I have no argument with any of those selections; in fact, I was surprised to see Jerry Kramer’s name on the list only because I assumed that he had been inducted long before now.  The name on the list that can spark discussion is – of course – Terrell Owens.  Let me use his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a reason to proclaim what would be my voting criteria for Halls of Fame if I had such franchise.

I believe that any Hall of Fame is supposed to honor the achievements and the memory of the greatest players and coaches and “contributors” to the sport.  [Aside:  I am only talking about sports Halls of Fame; I consider the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a museum.  That’s just me…]  I believe that there is a significant distinction that I would make between “great players” and “very good players”.  If someone wants to start up the Hall of Very Good Players as an adjunct to the Hall of Fame, that would be hunky-dory with me.  However, I would not add the “very good players” to the Hall of Fame.  Remember, this is how I would vote if I actually had a vote…

Terrell Owens has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for several years and was denied entry until this year.  Many folks have opined that the voters were “teaching him a lesson in humility” by delaying his entry because Owens was not the greatest teammate ever and was not a great “ambassador of the game”.  Since I am not part of the process that selects Hall of Fame members, I have no idea how true that is; so, let me assume it is true for the sake of argument.

I think that sort of behavior is petty, childish and small-minded.  If in fact, someone with a vote thought that Owens’ behavior was such that it made him unworthy of entry in Year 1 of his eligibility, then changing one’s vote a couple of years later makes no sense since none of his “bad teammate-ness” or “bad attitudes” have been cleansed away in the intervening time.

I believe that members of the Hall of Fame should be there because of their performance on the field – – or in the Front Office or the League Office or whatever.  The Hall of Fame should not be an assembly of “Great Players Who Also Happen To Be Great Humanitarians”.  In fact, there are players in various Halls of Fame who are not particularly nice people but who happened to excel in their sport.

  • Ty Cobb was not a nice person by most accounts.
  • Tris Speaker may indeed have thrown games as a manager and bet on them.
  • Babe Ruth was hardly a model citizen or role model for children.
  • OJ Simpson – – you know…
  • Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was accused of sexual harassment and plead to charges of bribing of a governor.
  • Marvin Harrison has been in and around several shooting incidents in Philadelphia.

You get the idea…

Notwithstanding any or all of the human frailties of the players above – and the team owner on that list – they all deserve to be in their Hall of Fame because they were outstanding practitioners of their sport when they were involved in their sport.  I would have voted in favor of every one of the people on that list – and probably would have done so in the first year of their eligibility unless voting restrictions in that year precluded such a vote.

Please note that Ray Lewis is on this year’s list of inductees.  He was involved in an incident where someone died, and Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice.  Notwithstanding that reality, there can be no doubt that Ray Lewis was a great player in the NFL for about 15 years and the Pro Football Hall of Fame is there to honor that achievement in his life.  He belongs there.

To be sure, there is a level of heinous behavior that can trump the most outstanding on-field career achievements and that behavior would cause me to ignore the on-field stuff and to vote against someone’s induction.  Let me give two examples.  Neither of these people have any achievements that are “Hall-of-Fame-worthy” but pretend for a moment that they had them.  I would still vote against:

  • Rae Carruth:  Convicted of conspiracy to murder his pregnant girlfriend.
  • Dr. Larry Nassar:  I’m not big on child molesters.

For me, the real conundrum comes when considering steroid users in MLB.  My problem there is very simple:

  • Steroids – and Performance Enhancing Drugs as a class – were a part of the regimen that produced the eye-popping career stats that brought Joe Flabeetz’ name to the voters.  In that case, the “greatness” of the athlete becomes a bit fuzzier than I would prefer it to be.
  • I would not vote for a known steroid user.
  • If there were a preponderance of evidence (say 75/25) indicating steroid use, I would not vote for a player.

So that is what I think about people in Halls of Fame and that is why I have no problem with all the inductees in the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame; Bobby Beathard was a great GM/Personnel Guy and the others were great players.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“At Super Bowl opening night, Tom Brady was asked if he’d rather battle a duck the size of a horse or 100 horses the size of a duck. Folks, this is what we’re left with when newspapers lay off lots of sports reporters.”

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



The Future Of The NFL – Conflicting Data

Sometimes you receive conflicting data; and in such circumstances, you need to avoid leaping to a conclusion that you prefer to be the case because some of that data point in that direction.  In the early days of 2018, the “future of football” as the “dominant sports focus” in the US is the subject of much scrutiny.  Lots of different people have totally opposing views on what will happen to football as a sport – and the dominance of the NFL very specifically – in the coming decades.  For those who believe that football has an ominous future, consider:

  1. Nielson reports that NFL TV ratings were down 9.7% over the course of the 2017 regular season.  That translates to an average of 1.6 million fewer people watching a typical NFL game this year as opposed to 2016.
  2. This drop comes on the heels of an 8% drop in ratings/viewership in 2016 that was “explained away” by extraneous factors such as Presidential debates; this year, the “issue du jour” was the National Anthem Protest.
  3. Undeniably, lots of people are “cutting the cord” and that means fewer people can have access to all the games.
  4. Fewer kids are playing youth football (from “ankle-biters” through high school) nationally.  Some estimates say the drop from 2016 to 2017 is approaching 20%.  The interpretation here is that fewer young players will eventually result in fewer adult fans who will passionately follow the games.

If you do not like football for any reason or if you feel some compulsion to be a Cassandra on its future, you can look at any or all of those data and use it to lead yourself to the point where you believe the NFL is about to implode.  And – hold your breath here – you may be correct!   Then again, you may be dead wrong because there are conflicting data and other ways to interpret the data cited above.

Let me start with #4 above.  I have no reason to doubt that fewer kids are playing football now than in recent years and that concern by parents over things like CTE and player safety are significant contributors to the decline.  I resonate with those injury concerns because I held those concerns as a parent myself.

  • When #1 son was about 8 years old, he wanted to be a football player.  I would not allow him to play youth football; I was not so concerned about CTE; I was worried about permanent injuries to his joints which had not completely formed at that age.  I told him he could play once he got to 9th grade and not before.  My adamancy here was a bone of contention between me and my son for years.
  • My son now has a son of his own (age 10) and my grandson has not been part of any football activities.  Moreover, my son now holds the position that HIS son will never play football at any time until my grandson is of an age to make decisions independent of his parents.  Where you stand on any issue depends on where you are sitting at the moment…

The issue of the future of football, however, is not linearly linked to youth participation.  My grandson LOVES to watch televised NFL games and he follows the teams and the players league-wide as only an enthusiastic 10-year old fan will.  Projecting to the future, this non-participant in youth football will be a future consumer of televised NFL games.  I do not want to make future projections based on only one kid who happens to be related to me, so let me consider the linkage of “participation” with “fandom” and “viewership” through a different lens.

For years – even multiple decades – people have been telling me that the significant increases in youth participation in soccer in the US will make professional soccer in the US explode.  Indeed, more kids play soccer now than ever before.  More telling is the fact that the number of girls playing youth soccer has increased almost 30-fold over the past 20 years.  And none of that has translated into a fanbase for soccer – men’s or women’s – that is anything more than a rounding error when estimating the NFL fanbase.  I believe there is only a tenuous linkage between “playing a sport as a kid” and “being a fan of the sport as an adult”.

Now let me point out some data that will be refreshing to those who think football is omnipotent and that it will be the “the king of US sporting world” forever and ever.

  • While ratings on TV shows may be down, actual viewership may be up.  TV ratings are just that; they are measures of how many folks are watching games on the telecasts by the networks.  Some people now watch NFL Red Zone instead of individual games; those numbers are not captured.  [Aside:  I happen to HATE NFL Red Zone; I will watch it if my only option is to watch an infomercial for acne medicine, but that’s it.]  Similarly, the number of people who tune into NFL Network to get updates on all the Sunday games as they are in progress are not counted here.
  • Notwithstanding the ratings decrease, Nielsen ratings showed that 20 of the top 30 TV shows in 2017 were football games.  For all the networks that telecast games (CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC), NFL football games were the highest rated programs on each network all year long.
  • Sunday Night Football (NBC) was the highest rated prime time TV program in 2017 for the 7th year in a row.  By the way, the second highest rated prime time TV program last year was Thursday Night Football (CBS).
  • According to, advertising revenues paid to the networks for NFL games through Week 15 of the regular season was up 16% to $3.7B.  That figure does not include added revenues to NFL Network and added revenues to the NFL from the “digital/mobile transmission sector”.  As of now, the league and its TV partners are all “getting fat”.

I have been on Planet Earth long enough – and I am sufficiently realistic – to recognize that nothing is permanent and times change.  When I was a kid, the plum assignments for sports writers in newspapers were boxing, horse racing and baseball.  Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a newspaper that has a boxing writer or a horse racing writer of any kind.  In fact, my local paper – The Washington Post – does not even publish the entries or the results of the local tracks except for Preakness Weekend at Pimlico.

When I was a kid, baseball dominated pro football and overshadowed college football in most of the country.  Not intending any disrespect to MLB at all, but that is simply no longer the case.  I make these observations to note that the same thing might happen to football and the NFL 50 years from now.  I have no crystal ball; I am not Cassandra nor am I Pollyanna.

What I think is important for all of us to avoid is coming to a conclusion about the future/fate of the NFL and football as an activity and then finding data to support our previously drawn conclusion while ignoring all other data.  Now that I mention it, maybe that is a good behavior model for everyone to emulate as they evaluate more important things than the future of football in our world – – like maybe social reforms and political candidates and “family values”.

Just saying …

Finally, when you think about “fandom” in its most rabid forms, consider this comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“USA Today speculated the Dolphins as a possible landing spot for Tom Brady should the Patriots dynasty come apart. Hmm. Is wishing and hoping for a QB who’ll be 41 next season not its own form of sadness?”

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



Bad Ads 2017

There is a comfort in periodicity; the Super Bowl is the first Sunday of February; March Madness ends on the first Monday in April; the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May; coincidentally, that is also the date on which the Oakland A’s are usually eliminated from MLB’s postseason action.  I take comfort in my annual compilation of Bad Ads that adorn my TV set while I am watching sporting events; that compilation is my final rant of every calendar year.

Since the focus of today’s offering will be television advertising, I guess I should start with disclaimers:

  • Do not read on if you are allergic to bad ads.
  • No animals were harmed in writing this screed.
  • Your mileage may vary.
  • Valid only at participating locations.

The real challenge here is where to start because there are plenty of Bad Ads to fill up the space here. There were two beer ads that I found particularly annoying/idiotic:

  1. Sam Adams Boston Lager ran an ad where the background music included lyrics to “follow me into the jungle”.  Can someone tell me what Sam Adams lager has to do with the jungle – or Sam Adams the person for that matter?  Just plain dumb…
  2. Coors Light had an ad where they showed a sequence of people involved in strenuous activities culminating with a group of folks reaching the summit of a snow-capped mountain.  The tag line is that the tougher the climb, the better the reward.  Let me say this gently.  If the reward is Coors Light, then the climb should have been made on an escalator.

Samsung ran an ad about millennials making movies on their phones because someone told them they couldn’t do that.  The ad exhorted these millennials to “Do what you can’t.”  Immediately, I resonated with that ad and that direct message; I came up with this response:

  • Here’s something millennials can’t do.  Stop acting like a bunch of self-absorbed, insufferable, know-it-all assholes.
  • Get to it…

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

For some reason – known only in the highest creative circles of the advertising community – this year was a year focused on poop and pooping in TV ads.  I know we have had the bears who use Charmin toilet paper to “enjoy the go” in past years, but this year was different; this year went to places that had not been examined before.  Pardon the play on words, but I would not shed a tear if any of these were eliminated:

  • There is a product out there called VIPoo.  It is a liquid in a small spray bottle that is sprayed on the top of the water in a toilet prior to “dropping a deuce” and its purpose is to eliminate the odor.  The ad lets you know that you can use someone’s rest room and not leave behind any aromatic evidence of what you did in there.  In the ad, they refer to one’s elimination as “the devil’s donuts”.  We can do without that – rather easily.
  • Febreze tackled the same “problem”; Febreze asked if your bathroom is ready for halftime at your Super Bowl party.  That is less graphic than the VIPoo ads but no less revolting.
  • An ad for CharcoCaps, an activated charcoal anti-gas product, has an animated ad showing people going about with little “fart clouds” emanating from their nether regions.  Obviously, the assertion is that the little charcoal pill can resolve that problem for you.  The ad would have been in borderline bad taste if it stopped there but it went just a tad further with a tag line telling you there would be “less boom in the room”.  Question:  When did frat-boy level fart jokes become a good way to sell products?
  • Quaker Oats spent time extolling the virtue(s) of oats and oat fiber in one’s diet.  No problem at all; there are indeed plenty of health-benefits provided by maintaining a good level of fiber in one’s diet.  What I did not need was for the ad to ask me, “What good will you pass along today?”

Let me pause for a moment here to refer to a news report that I saw earlier this year; it is not an advertisement, but it does seem to fit into the discussion here.  NBC News reported on a model of American Standard toilets that can flush 18 golf balls at once.  Obviously, at this moment you are thinking I made that up, so here is a link to show you that I did not.  However, if you need a toilet in your bathroom with that level of “flushing power”, might I suggest that you do something to alter your diet.   And do not even think of using anyone else’s bathroom not equipped with such a toilet.  VIPoo will not help you out here…

Jimmy Dean Breakfast Frittatas announced with pride that they are made from “real ingredients”.  Well, thank Heaven for that.  I know I would not want to eat anything made from phlogiston for breakfast…

During the Holiday season, KFC ran ads where the Colonel replaces Santa and brings presents to a family comprised of some of the dumbest bipeds ever to exist.  The mother of this consortium of cretins is the recipient of a “KFC $20 Family Fill-up Meal”.  In her ecstatic reaction to that gift, she declares that it is a home-made meal that we don’t have to cook at home.  There is something very fundamental about a “home-made meal” that has eluded this genius.

Some sort of breath mint – I don’t even remember the brand name indicating just how effective this ad is – shows us a young woman talking with a man in an office; she is going through the paper work of being hired.  She says she will need 3 weeks’ vacation; the man says that 2 weeks is standard.  She pops a breath mint; a unicorn appears; she tells the man she is not standard and demands 3 weeks; the man acquiesces.  In the real world – you know, the one we all exist in – the way that conversation likely ends involves the man escorting the young woman to the door and telling her to take her fresh breath and her unicorn and find somewhere else to work.

There was a Hyundai ad where a guy is stuck in a traffic jam and he starts singing Sweet Caroline at the top of his lungs.  That gets a woman in a car in the adjacent lane to start singing the song with him.  Really?  What does Sweet Caroline have to do with Hyundai vehicles?  Is this targeting the Boston Red Sox fan demographic?  Combien stupide…

The Black Friday car ads for GMC vehicles announced that you can get 20% off the MSRP during the sale.  Sounds good – – but this delivers another message to me besides the one convincing me to run out and buy a new vehicle.  Since I am relatively certain that the folks at GMC and at the various dealerships are not out to lose money on every sale for the week or so that the Black Friday prices are in effect, that means no one should EVER pay more than 80% of the MSRP for a GMC vehicle.  They are making money at that price.

I don’t know if this next ad is a local ad or if it is one that can be seen in lots of markets.  It is for RE/MAX Realty and the scene shows us a couple that is mightily confused about the housing market.  They cannot figure out if it is up or down; they think they want to sell and move elsewhere, but they are in a fog.  To the rescue comes a RE/MAX agent who gives the couple confidence by telling them that all the houses that he has listed in their neighborhood have gotten multiple offers above the asking price.  The young folks look at one another and nod peacefully.  Excuse me, let me tell you what just happened there.

  • That realtor just told those folks that he is really bad at setting prices on the houses that he lists in that neighborhood.  He prices them too low!
  • Here is the important takeaway for confused couple.  Find another realtor!

There are tons of banks and credit unions that run ads on sports programming.  Let me offer the folks who run their ad campaigns some free advice.  You can entice me to use your bank and its products/services by:

  • Offering higher rates than other banks on deposits
  • Offering lower costs than other banks on products/services
  • Offering more convenient locations/hours than other banks
  • Offering unique products/services that I might need

Here are some messages that are meaningless, and you might want to avoid:

  • You do not “share my values”; you are a bank and I am a person.  Please do not try to pump that sunshine up my ass.
  • You do not “care about our community”; you participate in community events as a way to keep your name in front of the citizenry involved in said community events.
  • You are not “on my side”; the first time there is any sort of controversy between you and a client on a product or service will demonstrate that fact directly.

Sprint hired the guy who used to do the Verizon ads asking every 10 feet if you “can hear me now”.  He says his name is Paul; I have no reason to doubt that.  The problem is that Paul’s pitch for Sprint is an unappealing one.  He tells you that Sprint costs less than Verizon and AT&T and he also tells you that the Sprint network is less reliable – – it is close; but Sprint is not as good.

My reaction to advertising is that every ad campaign tries to convince me that its product is superior – – even when I know it is not.  See for example – Coors Light. Miller Lite, Hyundai autos, Taco Bell, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Papa John’s … you get the idea.  Now consider that Sprint is going out of its way to tell me that it is not as good as its major competitors.  Thanx, but I will choose not to touch that service with a fork…

There is an ad campaign that is very active now for a product called Alpha Force.  It is one of the family of products that is aimed at aging males and it insinuates that the use of this product can “turn the clock back” on their “maleness”.

  • Memo to Aging Males (of which I am one):  The “arrow of time” is a phrase coined by a British astronomer about 75 years ago denoting that time has only one direction.  Turning the clock back only happens when Mr. Peabody fires up the Wayback Machine with his boy Sherman.  Al Gore thought his climate warning was “An Inconvenient Truth”; well the irreversibility of time is yet one more inconvenient truth.

Having disposed with the fundamental instability of the foundation for the ad’s claims let me now turn to the ad itself.  It uses Bo Jackson as the spokesthing to convince me that this stuff works because Bo Jackson uses it to stay in top shape.  OK, I can live with that sort of nonsense, but here is where I get off the train.

  • Bo Jackson tells me in this ad that HE has “looked into the science behind this stuff personally” and with that sort of endorsement, how could it be anything but the real thing.

When I want some sort of scientific or nutritional verification, I tend not to go to great athletes/Heisman Trophy winners for that sort of confirmation.  By the same token, if I were drafting players to play in the NFL, I would not start my search with people who may have been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine nor would I contact the incumbent Poet Laureate of Manitoba.

There is another category of ads that I find repulsive and they are sort of attached to the Alpha Force ad cited above.  These are the ads for drugs manufactured by reputable pharmaceutical firms for serious conditions.  The object of the ads is to get people who suffer from those serious conditions – or their families/caregivers – to “ask the doctors” about this specific drug.  When I am in my most magnanimous mood, these ads seek to inform people with serious medical conditions to seek every possible option to alleviate their serious condition.  Momentarily, I think those ads are good…

And then comes the time in the ad when the drug manufacturer needs to list the side effects and the possible “adverse events” that may or may not occur with taking the drug that is the subject of the ad.  In one such case, I counted 21 potential adverse events – including death which must be the ultimate adverse event – from using the drug being advertised.  I understand; the lawyers require this sort of “disclosure” because we are a humongously litigious society; nonetheless, if there are more than 20 adverse conditions that are sufficiently bad that they need prior notice to mitigate lawsuits, maybe there should not be any advertising?  Just saying…

I am sure you have seen the ad for where the guy wears a Raiders’ sweater to Christmas dinner at the home of a bunch of Chiefs’ fans.  This ad sends so many mixed messages that I wonder if anyone associated with the NFL ever screened it.  Let me walk through the ad:

  • Guy is wearing a Raiders’ jersey; wife tells him he cannot wear a Raiders’ jersey to her family’s Christmas dinner; he takes off the jersey to reveal a Raiders’ sweater.  We never do learn why she finds that as acceptable attire.  The message is that the guy is a doofus for wanting to wear a football jersey to a Christmas dinner, but he is a docile doofus because he removes the jersey as soon as his wife tells him it is inappropriate.  Or, maybe he is a manipulative SOB, because he knows there is a Raiders’ sweater underneath.  Or, maybe he is henpecked…
  • Then, seated at the Christmas dinner table with the wife’s family – all of whom are dressed in Chiefs’ jerseys – the guy has his Raiders’ sweater on with blinking Christmas lights.  Everyone at the table is offended; the wife tells him to turn off the lights; the guy just sits there blinking away.  The message is that the guy is not henpecked; he is a passive-aggressive asshole.  Oh, and the family that eats their Christmas dinner wearing football jerseys is a piece of work too.  Passive-aggressive guy has a wife who is the spawn of these cretins and will probably need lots of therapy down the road.
  • Final scene has the family dog – also decked out in Chiefs’ gear – growling at Raider guy.  The message here is that even a dog is smart enough to know that everyone seated at that table is a cretin.

Remind me to check out the great values an so I can enjoy my Christmas dinner next year the same way those folks enjoyed theirs this year.

I saved the best – or worst depending on your vantage point – for last.  There was an ad for Dairy Queen that touted the fact that drinks and pretzels are only two dollars every day during “Happy Hour” at Dairy Queen.  I think there is a hugely important message in this ad campaign:

  • If you are spending “Happy Hour” at Dairy Queen – even once a year – you have no social life that is supportive of claiming any time period as a “Happy Hour”.

The New Year is about to start.  Companies have already committed millions upon millions of dollars to produce and air ads during the Super Bowl.  Other companies will agree to ad campaigns that the “creative people” at their ad agencies tell them are targeted just right.  And the fact of the matter is that I will be back here at the end of 2018 – just as I have been here at the end of previous calendar years – pointing out the Bad Ads of the year.

Not to worry; you can ignore the ads in whatever way fits your lifestyle.  I’ll be here – Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – to point out the next tranche of Bad Ads.  Until then …

  • No sub-atomic particles were created or destroyed in the writing of this rant.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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


A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

Merry Christmas to all …

As I sat down to watch some football yesterday afternoon, I discovered that in the DC area there would be only one game televised in the 1:00 PM time slot.  That was the Skins and Broncos in one of the more meaningless games of the day, but I had a cup of coffee in hand and no social commitment until 5:00 PM and so I watched.  By the middle of the third quarter, I found myself thinking of Charles Dickens.  What I was watching was – with apologies to Mr. Dickens – A Tale of Two Quarterbacks.  The month of March in 2016 joined these two quarterbacks at the hip; they are Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler.

They both came to the NFL in 2012; neither set the league on fire until the 2015 season; even in 2015, what they showed was more like a campfire than like a forest fire.  Nonetheless, competency at the QB position is important in the NFL and two teams took very different approaches with these two young men.

  • On March 1, 2016, the Skins applied the franchise tag to Kirk Cousins.  At the time he signed that offer sheet, he was guaranteed a $20M salary for the 2016 season with no assurance that he would be back with the team after that.
  • On March 9, 2016, the Texans signed Brock Osweiler to a 4-year contract worth a total of $72M with $37M of that contract guaranteed.

According to reports at the time – and I have nothing else to go on besides those reports – the reason the Skins and Cousins could not reach a long-term deal was that the Skins would not go beyond $16M per year for 5 years with only $35M guaranteed.  That was a low-ball offer and probably served as a starting point for the Skins in what should have been a back-and-forth deal making process; reports say the Skins refused to budge.  Whatever.

In the 2016 season, Osweiler stunk out the joint in Houston and lost his starting job.  The Texans gave him and a draft pick to the Browns in the aftermath of that 2016 season in exchange for the Browns picking up the tab on the rest of the guaranteed money in that contract.  The Browns cut Osweiler to go with DeShone Kizer at QB and Osweiler went back to the Broncos – the team he started with in the NFL – for a less-than-mediocre season in 2017.  Cousins had a good year 2016 throwing for 4917 yards and leading the Skins to an 8-7-1 record and he has had a solid year so far in 2017.

Not only did the Skins fail to sign Cousins at the end of the 2016 season, they franchised him again; that time the franchise tag was worth $25M (approximately) and was guaranteed the moment the ink was dry on Cousins’ signature.  As the 2017 season ends, the Skins still have no assurance that Cousins will be their QB in 2018.

Yesterday, these two QBs faced each other on my TV in a meaningless game.  So, I concentrated on watching them; I wanted to compare them.  Here is my assessment:

  • Kirk Cousins is a better-than-average NFL QB.  He would be the starter on at least a dozen teams and probably on 20 teams as of this year.  He is a solid and methodical player who makes few mistakes other than the times when he tries to do something that is beyond his athletic skill level.
  • Brock Osweiler is a stop-gap back-up QB at best.  He is sonly 27 years old; he may improve with time and experience.  However, in December 2017, he is clearly inferior to Kirk Cousins.

I doubt that the Broncos would shed crocodile tears if they had to part with Brock Osweiler one more time.  I believe it would take a Hollywood twist of fate to see him as the starting QB in Denver in 2018.  The Skins’ situation is very different.

Recall that the Skins would not guarantee Cousins more than $35M back in 2016 (according to reports).  Well, with the two franchise tags they have used, they have already paid him about $45M in guaranteed money – and have no assurance that he will be back.  If they apply the franchise tag again, it will cost them $34M in guaranteed money in 2018 and after that they cannot prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.  If they do that – and they might – they will have committed $79M in guaranteed money to a player they refused to give a contract with more than $35M in guaranteed money.  The going rate for franchise QBs in the NFL these days seems to be in this range:

  • $25-27M per year with about $80-85M in guaranteed money over 5 to 6 years.

Before the naysayers chime in here to tell me that Kirk Cousins has never won a playoff game so how can he possibly think he is worth that kind of money, let me point out that those sorts of numbers are what Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford received as long-term deals in 2016.  And just like Kirk Cousins, neither Carr nor Stafford has ever won a playoff game.  In fact, Carr has never participated in a playoff game.

Someone in the Skins’ braintrust back in 2016 had the chance to sign Kirk Cousins with a competitive offer – such as the one the Texans made to Brock Osweiler.  Maybe Cousins’ agent would have been more aggressive; maybe the Skins would have to “overpay” a bit – as the franchise has done with free agents more than a few times in the last 20 years.  The fact is that they might have been able to have Cousins set to enter the third year of a 5-years deal having guaranteed him not much more money than they have already paid him in guaranteed money.  Moreover, the annual salary level from a 2016 contract would be several millions of dollars less than what it will cost the Skins to sign Cousins to a long-term deal – or to sign a free agent of comparable capability.

Or, the Skins could draft a QB and hope that he turns out to be another Kirk Cousins and not another RG3 – both of whom came to the Skins in the same draft in 2012.

I started out this rant thinking about Charles Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities.  Having gone through the thought processes here, I will go to the far end of the literary scale for my next metaphor.  This thinking applies to the folks who oversaw the Skins’ Front Office in 2016 and the “literary” moment comes from the screenwriter for I Love Lucy.  Desi Arnaz was wont to say:

“Lucy, you have some ‘splainin to do.”

Enough venting for the day.  My long-suffering wife and I are off to a neighbor’s house for Christmas dinner.  I hope everyone has a good a time celebrating Christmas as we are sure to have at this event.

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



Will “Parity” Kill The NFL?

There has been a change in the NFL over the past couple of decades.  The NFL used to be a “5-tier league”; there were elite teams at the top; there were pathetic teams at the bottom; and there was sufficient variation in the middle to carve out three categories of teams.  True, teams could improve or “deprove” as the season progressed and move from one tier to another, but it was usually possible to discern 5 different levels.  That is just not the case today.

The NFL is now a “3-tier league”.  You can call that “parity” or you can call that “mediocrity” or you can call that “evolution”; putting a label on it really does not matter.  What you have today is a grouping of teams whose records and whose on-field performances are just better than the rest of the league; let me call them the “Category 1 Teams”.  As of this morning I would make this grouping:

  • “Category 1 Teams”:  Pats, Steelers, Eagles, Vikes, Saints, Panthers, Rams, Seahawks.

At the other end of the line, we can pull together the list of bottom-feeders for 2017; let me call them the “Category 3 Teams”.  As of this morning, here is my grouping:

  • “Category 3 Teams”:  Niners, Bucs, Bears, Giants, Broncos, Colts, Texans, Browns.

By default, everyone else falls into “Category 2”; all the teams in “Category 2” are better than the teams in “Category 3” but nowhere near as good as the ones in “Category 1”.  And unlike 20 years ago, it is nigh onto impossible to separate the “Category 2” teams into a more fine-grained structure.  Moreover, if you look at the “Category 2 Teams”, you probably would have a hard time convincing yourself that perception might change in the final weeks of the season such that any of the “Category 2″ teams might wind up in either “Category 1” or “Category 3”.  And to make it worse, half of the league is in that amorphous “Category 2”.

To the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in the 2017 season, I suggest that this “parity” among the teams and the unlikeliness of any change in category for any team is part of the problem.  I look at this “parity” situation as “mediocrity”; when I turn on a game between two “Category 2” teams”, the game lacks a compelling tone.  What I see on my TV screen is good-but-not-great football; and in my mind, I know that the outcome of this game is really not all that important.  I continue to watch about the same amount of NFL games as I did in prior years, but I wonder if others are tempted to do “other stuff” because the product on the air is too often mediocre.

My theory is that the cause of this situation is the fiscal success of the NFL.  Writers and commentators love to spin the narrative about the competitive desire of owners to field championship teams and how they will “do anything to bring a championship home to the fans”.  Really?  I suspect that owners of teams that do not win championships – or even win more than half their games – can apply a psychic balm to their injured competitive spirit when they look at the books and see that they netted a profit in the 8-figure range last year plus Forbes says that the value of their franchise just went up in the 8-figure range.  Owners – and by extension their teams – have gotten fat, dumb and happy.  That is analogous to Dean Wormer’s assessment of the frat boys in Animal House and that is not a good way to go through life.

To my mind, the epitome of a team having more profit than brains is the Cleveland Browns and their Front Office dominated by people who have had some success managing baseball teams.  There is a line of thinking in organizations that someone who can manage one thing well can manage anything well.  I have seen so many examples that disprove that line of thinking that I wonder how it maintains currency – – and then I look at the Cleveland Browns’ Front Office and the fact that the owners there set it up that way and …  Now, I ask myself why the Browns’ owners need to change anything because they are not losing money and they have a franchise worth $1.9B (according to Forbes) for which they paid $987M.

Here in the DC area, fans have a team mired in mediocrity.  The franchise is worth something north of $3B; Forbes puts last year’s earnings at $145M before all of the accounting legerdemain of amortization and depreciation and all that stuff.  Juxtapose those numbers with the fact that the owner cannot find a way to provide the team a field to play on that has live grass on it after late November.  Why should he care?  Why should he care if the team wins 8 games this year or only 6?  He will probably make another $145M next year too.

I said above that “to the extent that NFL football’s popularity has declined in 2017 …” and I used that wording specifically because I wonder just how much it has.  The narrative goes that the NFL is in decline; the 800-lb. gorilla in the world of professional sports in America is aging and is fast approaching its expiration date.  That narrative allows commentators to list and complain about all the evils of the NFL.  You know the list; here are a few items that are always good for a column or a hot-take:

  1. Concussions/CTE:  Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to play football…
  2. Domestic violence:  Players do it; the league ham-handles it.
  3. Anthem protests:  The league is squarely in the middle of the country’s culture wars.
  4. Officiating blunders:  Been happening for years; will continue to happen; live with it.
  5. Obscene salary for the Commish:  An employee is worth what his employer pays him/her.

With all those issues as a backdrop to games on TV that are not compelling, you could conclude that an implosion is imminent.  However, there is some contrary evidence that does not support the narrative and seems to have gotten scant attention. tracks issues related to the financial aspects of the media; they reported the following:

“The NFL’s October take was stronger in national TV ad dollars versus a year ago.

“Confirming other recent reports, the NFL is picking up steam when it comes to higher national TV advertising revenues. October TV dollars grew 3% over the same month the year before.

“Across all TV networks, national TV advertising grew to $757 million in October 2017 against $738 million in October 2016, according to Standard Media Index. From the start of the season — early September through November 6 — national TV advertising totaled $1.76 billion against $1.44 billion, according to

“In October, across all five NFL TV networks, the average unit 30-second commercial rate rose 7% to $482,000 in October 2017.”

Could the prevailing narrative be “overstated”?  Is it even possible that the prevailing narrative is “dead wrong”?  The NFL economy is driven by advertisers on its programming; when advertisers buy time and pay premium prices, networks pay premium TV rights’ fees.  Talk about how that revenue will dry up due to “cord cutting” and “streaming” is interesting if you believe that the NFL will give “streaming services” a free ride as opposed to whatever rights fees they have come to enjoy from networks.  It also assumes that fans will not find ways to watch games even if they cut cords.

For the record, I buy into part of the narrative about NFL economics.  I do not believe that the growth rate in revenues/profits or that the growth rate in terms of franchise value can be sustained at the current level for long.  Using the example of the Browns from above, the current owners bought the team in 2012 and have – approximately – seen the franchise value double in 5 years.  That represents a growth rate of about 14.5% per year; that is not sustainable over the next decade; if that were to be the case, the Browns would be worth $7.6B in 2027.  Personally, I don’t see that happening.

However, I also do not believe that parents will not allow their kids to play football to an extent where the talent pool dries up.  The US population today is about 325 million folks; for the NFL as it is currently constructed, the league needs about 60 players per team totaling a little less than 2000 players.  Even if you can imagine a future where the number of high school football players is halved from today’s level, the NFL will still be able to find 2000 “employees” for their enterprise – particularly if the league’s economics continue to support a salary structure where the minimum salary for rookies is $450K per year.

I also do not believe that the NFL’s blatantly stupid handling of domestic violence incidents – or more generally its handling of anti-social behaviors by its players/coaches/others – will doom the league.  Another popular narrative making the rounds today is that women are now feeling empowered sufficiently to call out powerful and famous people for sexual harassment/assault.  Some commentators have even said that we have reached a tipping point here and if that is the case, then there is no going back.  That is what happens if there is really a tipping point…  If that empowerment is real, then it ought not to be very long until women also no longer tolerate domestic violence incidents or other manifestations of anti-social behavior by men in general and football players in particular.  In other words, if the trend afoot among women today is real and continues on its trajectory, the “domestic violence issue” for the NFL will likely resolve itself with or without any impetus from the league.

I believe that the biggest threat to the NFL and its economic dominance resides in its relationship with its players as seen through the lens of collective bargaining.  Other than social hot button issues on which just about every rational human being agree, the NFL and the NFLPA are at odds with one another.  I find this to be amazing.  One of the foundations of the trade union movement in the US over the past century or so has been that workers wanted to share in the economic bounty that their labors produced.  For a time, the idea of “profit sharing” was an important union goal in negotiating new contracts with management.

In 2017 – and for the last two decades or so – profit sharing is precisely what NFL players have.  Strip away much of the verbiage that makes the Collective Bargaining Agreement into a tome approaching 100 pages; the CBA defines classes of “shared revenue” and after audits of those classes of income for each season, a fixed percentage of that revenue must be paid to players as salary.  That is the source of the “salary cap” and the “salary floor”.  What this means is that the NFL and the NFLPA are business partners not adversaries.  When revenues go up, salaries must also go up.  When revenues decline, salaries must also decline.  The league and the union may squabble over the exact percentage paid to players from one CBA to another; they can argue about how fines and suspensions are adjudicated; however, they must recognize that they are squabbling and arguing with a “partner” and not an “evil opponent”.

Check the statements and the interactions and the legal battles between the NFL and the NFLPA over the past couple of years and ask yourself if that is the way “partners” deal with one another or if those pitched battles represent the behaviors of “opponents” or even “enemies”.  This is the area of concern for the NFL if it is going to continue as a growing enterprise in the entertainment industry.  [Aside:  The NFL economic success is built on the fact that it is a TV series more than a sporting event.  The NFL is the highest rated programming on all 4 of its “broadcast partner” networks.]  The NFLPA needs also to come to this recognition.  What that mutual recognition might accomplish is that both parties will act in such a way as to be sure that their actions do not offend significant portions of the audience.

The NFL has issues; but in too many places, those issues have been inflated beyond reality.  Consider:

  • TV ratings are down – – but ad revenues are up.
  • “Parity”/” Mediocrity” does not help TV ratings; we have lots of “Parity”/” Mediocrity”; that does not seem sufficient to kill the league.
  • There will always be sufficient numbers of players to provide the league with employees.
  • There is no cure to poor officiating.
  • People will get over the “obscene salary” paid to the Commish.

The big issue for the NFL is to find a way to reach a much more constructive relationship and modus operandi with the NFLPA.  That is a two-way street; the NFL cannot fix that alone; the NFLPA has to accept that its partnership with the NFL is not enhanced by obstinate opposition to the NFL on any and all issues that arise.  I think that is the most important challenge for the league that poses the greatest danger.  Given the adversarial history between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, is it optimal to have these two folks as the “point persons” to change the nature of the relationship?

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


Benching Eli Manning

The NFL has provided sports fans with more than a few examples of boneheaded leadership.  Just to give a couple of examples:

  • Leonard Tose had to sell the Philadelphia Eagles to pay off his gambling chits to casinos in Atlantic City.
  • Al Davis hung on as the capo di tutti capi with the Raiders for a decade after he lost more than a little bit off his fastball.
  • The “Matt Millen Era” in Detroit.
  • Everyone in a position of authority with the “Cleveland Browns 2.0”.
  • Daniel M. Snyder – – need I say more?

That is hardly a complete list; I am sure that a historian could provide lots more examples of boneheadedness in the NFL for those who crave that sort of thing; I merely want to establish the existence of the phenomenon because it is time to add to the list.

The New York Football Giants [ / Howard Cosell] have apparently mistaken a rabbit hole for a NYC subway entrance.  They issued a press release yesterday announcing that in the midst of a disastrous – and highly disappointing – season, they are going to bench Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.  Let that sink in for just a moment…

The Giants’ record stands at 2-9; the Giants have been outscored by 95 points this season; they have not scored more than 24 points in any game this year; they have been held to 10 points or less 4 times this year.  Last year, the Giants were 11-5 and made the playoffs.  In no way would I suggest that there is anything in this season’s performance that merits praise.  The 2017 version of the NY Giants stinks!

There were reports a few weeks ago that “people in ownership” had made it known to “the football people” that “the football people” should pay attention to the anticipated mother lode of college QBs slated to be in the NFL Draft in 2018.  There is nothing wrong with that; Eli Manning is about to turn 37 years old; it makes sense to plan for the future.  Indeed, if the Giants had a young QB on the roster who had been a highly touted pick, it might make sense to bench Eli Manning now to see what “the kid” can do.  But that is not the case…

There are two QBs on the depth chart who were behind Manning until yesterday.  They are Geno Smith and Davis Webb.  Let me begin with Davis Webb here:

  • He played 4 years of college football.  Three of them were at Texas Tech and the fourth was at Cal.  He had impressive numbers at both schools and it should be noted that both of those schools play “pass-happy football” making impressive numbers easier than normal to come by.  Overall, he played in 35 college games where he threw 83 TDs and 34 INTs.
  • He is about to turn 23 years old.  He was taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft about 6 months ago.

If the Giants had announced that they were benching Eli Manning and replacing him with Davis Webb, I would be surprised – maybe even shocked – but I would understand that there might be a strategic purpose to that move.  If Webb had been announced as the starter for this week’s game, I could interpret that to mean that Webb’s practices had been sufficiently enticing to make the “big thinkers” in the organization want to see if they already had their QB-of-the-future on the roster.  After all, no one on the planet has any empirical evidence related to Davis Webb as an NFL player; he has never seen the field on a Sunday in his career; he may be the next Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field – – or he may be the next Kevin Kolb sitting on the sidelines behind a franchise QB on the field.  I don’t know and the Giants’ “big thinkers” don’t know either.

What the Giants’ move tells me, however, is that the Giants’ coaching staff does not think that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith at this point.  And that – ladies and gentlemen – is where I must get off the bus.  In the statements surrounding this decision, here is what head coach, Ben McAdoo had to say:

“I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback, but at this point it is my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis [Webb] and give them the opportunity to show what they can do heading into next year.”

Let me deconstruct that sentence for you:

  1. You damned well better have confidence in Eli as a player and as a QB, coach.  He has won the Super Bowl twice – over the Pats both times I might add – and was the MVP in both of those Super Bowl games.  He has been to the Pro Bowl 4 times and in the 12 consecutive seasons where he has started every game for the Giants, they have had only 3 losing seasons.  Eli Manning is not the greatest QB of all time – and maybe not even the best Giants’ QB of all time – but he is an excellent player and QB.
  2. Your “responsibility to the organization” is to win football games until such time as your bosses tell you not to worry about that so much because they will not mind having a good draft pick next year.  Is that what just happened?
  3. You say you need to “take a look at Geno”.  Excuse me, but you and I and a jillion NFL fans have already looked at Geno and just about everyone else is pretty sure that Geno Smith is a career backup QB.  Period – – and exclamation point.  What Geno Smith can do next year is what he did last year; he can go looking for a job in the NFL with a team that has a solid starting QB where he is the guy on the sidelines that everyone hopes is never needed on the field in a real game.
  4. You say at some point you also need to take a look at Davis Webb.  I agree that would be a reasonable thing to do – – if and only if your assessment now is that Davis Webb is better than Geno Smith in terms of winning NFL games – – unless that is not the objective anymore.

I want to create the following scenario.  Imagine that the Giants’ record is 2-9 (as it is this morning) but in the first game of the season, Eli Manning suffered a season-ending injury; the Giants have gone with Geno Smith at QB since Manning left that game on a stretcher.  What would be the likely narrative in the football punditry today?

  • It has been a horribly disappointing season for the Giants, but what can you expect?  They lost their star QB in Game 1 and had to go with Geno Smith for the entire season.  Davis Webb is still too green to throw out there because he played in a spread offense in college and is still learning the pro game.  The Giants will be all right next year once Manning is healthy and back under center.

That sounds about right to me…

So, forget the fact that the two best WRs on the team have been lost to injury for almost all the season and that the third best WR has missed games due to injury.  Forget that the targets for Eli Manning’s passes are the likes of Tavarres King, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph.  Forget that the Giants’ OL looks like dancing bears on ice skates in pass blocking situations.  Forget that players on the defensive unit have played such that people label them “quitters”.  None of that matters – – and here is why none of that matters.

  • The fundamental problem with the 2017 NY Football Giants is not the QB and it is not the injuries to the WRs.  The fundamental problem is that the roster is poorly constructed.
  • There was no depth at WR in the event of injury.
  • The OL was sub-standard last year and nothing was done to improve it for this year.
  • The RB situation is mediocre at best – – even if any Giants’ RB had a functional OL in front of him to block and open holes.
  • The Giants’ star rookie TE, catches only 52% of the balls thrown his way.

All denunciation for the problems listed above must be directed at the Giants’ Front Office.  None of that is a “QB problem”.

On the other side of the ball, some of the defensive players have earned the label of “quitter”.  That is not a term thrown around lightly in NFL circles or in NFL reporting; but it has appeared this year relative to the Giants.  The blame for that – ladies and gentlemen – belongs on the coaching staff for deficiencies in motivational skills and on the individual players who have allegedly done the “quitting”.  None of that is a “QB problem.”

The “big thinkers” for the NY Giants have crossed the Rubicon here.  This decision can only mean that Eli Manning will not be the Giants’ QB in 2018.  It has been reported that Manning has a no-trade clause in his contract; it has also been reported that the Giants will owe him a $5M roster bonus in mid-March 2018.  I have to think that the Giants will arrange not to pay that money and the way for that to happen is for Eli Manning to be off their roster by mid-March.  That puts the coaching staff – whether or not it includes Ben McAdoo and company – and the front office – whether or not that includes Jerry Reese and company – and the Giants’ ownership mavens – the Maras and the Tischs – squarely in the spotlight.

It is easy to see what happens to NFL teams without a franchise QB.

  • The Browns have not had one since returning to the NFL and they are a laughingstock.
  • The Jets have not had one since Joe Namath.  Nonetheless even in their state of desperation, they gave up on Geno Smith.
  • Check out the 2017 version of the Miami Dolphins.
  • The Broncos have an excellent defense – that no one thinks has “quit” this year – but lack of QB play gives the Broncos a 3-8 record with one of those losses being to the Giants.
  • Compare the Houston Texans with Tom Savage to the Houston Texans with Deshaun Watson.

The Giants have just run off a franchise QB – an aging one to be sure but still a franchise QB.  If the “big thinkers” there do not find a replacement for Eli Manning – or someone who can become a replacement for Eli Manning in a year or two, the Giants are going to experience life down that rabbit hole they mistook for a subway entrance.  They can pick their QBs from the attendees at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the coaches/execs can busy themselves the way the White Rabbit did by rushing off hither and yon being late for a very important date.

In the end, they need a replacement for Eli Manning – and it will be more difficult to find one in his absence than it would be with him playing QB.  It takes time for most young QBs to learn to play the position at the NFL level; with a QB mentor on the team, a young QB can be eased into the position to play when he is ready.  If Geno Smith is the starter going forward, the pressure to win games and keep the fans from open revolt will be felt right down to the youngster(s) in the QB room.

All I can say is, whoever made the decision to bench Eli Manning starting right now had better be the smartest football guy on the planet – or the luckiest – because that decision is a career defining one.  Right now, this looks to me as if the caboose is pulling the engine.

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



The UNC Academic Fraud Scandal

What is “malodorous” to a skunk?  What is “disgusting” to a maggot?  What is “too good” for a child molester?  I pose these questions only to provide a context for the real question that is on my mind this morning:

  • What is “shameful” or “embarrassing” or “humiliating” or even “contemptible” to the NCAA?

The announcement last week – in a Friday news dump no less – the NCAA announced that it would not punish UNC for about 20 years of academic fraud.  Athletes in the “revenue sports” – and that phrase is VERY important here – were steered to sham courses in the African and American Studies Department where they all got good grades in exchange for no academic work so that they might stay eligible.  After deliberating on this matter for about 5 years after being made aware of it by outsiders, the NCAA decided that behavior was not in their ambit and it was a “university issue”.

Here are some reasons why the NCAA threw up on its shoes last week:

  • The minute the NCAA made the decision to “investigate” this matter as a potential violation of its rules on “impermissible benefits to student-athletes”, it was obvious that UNC would have to be found innocent because these courses were open to every student on the campus and students who were not athletes took those courses.  That decision was made several years ago and yet the NCAA pretended to “investigate” and “deliberate” and “adjudicate” this matter.
  • The fact that this involved the UNC football and basketball programs meant that any sanctions levied would have to restrict the participation of a major revenue generator – UNC – and so, there were significant economic barriers to finding any wrong-doing here.
  • The NCAA overloaded the hypocrisy meter on Friday when it abandoned the individuals who comprise the corps of its most sacred class of people – the “student-athletes”.  Dozens – maybe hundreds – of “student-athletes” came to UNC on “NCAA scholarships” in a deal that the NCAA says offers them a free college education in exchange for their athletic performance(s).  By turning a blind eye to what happened here, the NCAA has told all the “student-athletes” that those scholarships may in fact be meaningless because schools can offer them courses that teach the “student-athletes” exactly nothing.

I have never been – and I am not yet – a proponent of paying college athletes to play football and/or basketball.  I am not a Pollyannaish guardian of the ideal of “amateurism” in that position; I simply think that there are ways for athletes to be paid to play sports and that they should seek out those places if they do not want to go to college for the primary purpose of getting an education beyond the high school level.  I am making no value judgements here; high school graduates are adults – or close to it – and they should be able to make those kinds of choices for themselves with the understanding that all choices have consequences and some consequences are good while others are bad.  In and of itself, that is a life lesson – a molecule of “education” if you will…

I mention that because the NCAA has been violently opposed to paying athletes for the entirety of its existence; that is the core reason that they have come up with their multi-hundred-page rulebook over the years.  What the NCAA has done here is to advance the case made by the proponents of paying college athletes for a simple reason:

  • The NCAA position is that the scholarship is a thing of value and that thing of value is what is exchanged for services rendered.  The scholarships provide opportunity to the “student-athlete” and he can seize that opportunity or not at his choosing.
  • The real value of that scholarship drops like a turd into the bowl if the schools – with no fear of sanction – can steer their “student-athletes” to content-free courses by using “academic advisors” who are employed by (note the advisors are paid by) the athletic departments.

As all this unfolded, there has been a category of losers that have received little attention.  These are the folks who graduated from UNC without inflating their GPAs by taking courses such as the ones the “student athletes” were steered to.  Those alumni have had their diplomas devalued and defaced – and no one has done anything about it.  The alums who are not fanboys of the basketball and football teams ought to be outraged by that and ought to be pressuring the school to do things to assure no further damage be inflicted on their diplomas.  Somehow, I don’t hear those cries.

Similarly, the faculty at UNC should be outraged.  In academic circles – the ivory towers of scholarly pursuit – there should be a level of contempt for courses designed from the outset to teach students nothing at all.  There has to be “collateral damage” done to members of the UNC faculty where that sort of thing happened without anyone noticing for almost 20 years.

I have said before that the only reason to tolerate the existence of the feckless and hypocritical NCAA is because it stages the single best athletic event every year – – March Madness.  My first thought last Friday was this:

  • Once this passes over, maybe those goofs in Indianapolis can stumble through the months to March without any further incidents.
  • Then I remembered the FBI investigations of “fraud” and “bribery” that are ongoing and realized that my hopeful vision for the next 4 months is an unlikely outcome.

Finally, let me leave you with this comment from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“What I love about college sports is the purity. That’s why I go to ESPN Classic and watch only games played prior to 1910. The hi-def sucks, but you can’t beat the purity.”

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