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, 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………



NFL Pre-Season Analysis For 2020

To the surprise of no one who had been even semi-conscious for the past six or seven months, 2020 has been atypical.  One week from today, the NFL will try to start its 2020 season on time and with a schedule that is intact.  The Chiefs and the Texans will kick off the season and I surely hope that it can go through to a conclusion with minimal COVID-19 interruption/impact.  I doubt that I am alone in that hopeful state.

One of the realities of the state of sports in the US in 2020 is that I have been paying a lot more attention to things other than the NFL’s preparation for its upcoming regular season.  In a normal year, I would have a reference document about player and coaching moves in the NFL offseason and about Draft selections and training camp injuries as the fodder for my annual “exercise in self-incrimination”.  I would use all of that to create here my annual predictions for every NFL team and their final record for the regular season.  This Pre-Season Analysis is the document that normally provides the basis for my great day of shame in February of the next year when I reveal how wrong-headed I was back at the beginning of the season.  I will, however, keep up the spirit of self-humiliation this year and identify specific predictions against which I can grade myself next February.  There are 23 specific predictions here; come next year, I will try to see if I can achieve a passing grade as a modern-day Nostradamus.

This year I cannot do a full team-by-team record prediction because the reference document with all the notations made over the six-months of the off-season does not exist – – because I was focused on other things and never compiled the references.  With a week to go until kickoff, there is no possibility that I could bring it all together in time – – and so, I decided to do it differently this year.  I will try to make predictions regarding the teams to make the expanded playoffs in January 2021 and I will try to make some specific commentary about events that should impinge on specific teams as the NFL season unfolds – – and I shall be assuming that it will unfold in its entirety.

I mentioned the NFL’s expanded playoffs for January 2021 so let me take a moment to remind everyone what that means:

  • There will be 14 teams in the playoffs this year instead of the 12 teams that had participated in recent years.
  • The 4 division winners will make the playoffs as will 3 wildcard teams from each conference.
  • Only the team seeded #1 in each conference will get a Bye Week now; each of the other 3 division winners will host Wild Card teams from their conference.

Let me start with the AFC West Division.  The defending Super Bowl Champs – the KC Chiefs – are in this division and they seem to have found ways to dodge the scourge that hits most Super Bowl winners.  They have most of their starters back again this year; their losses to free agency and COVID-19 opting out have been minimal.  The toughest opponents for the Chiefs in 2020 will be the injury bug and the coronavirus.  So, let me get my first prediction out of the way quickly:

Prediction #1:  The Chiefs will win the AFC West handily and – despite getting a run for the money from the Baltimore Ravens –  the Chiefs will get the AFC Bye Week in the playoffs as the #1 seed.

The rest of the AFC West may not pose a significant threat to the Chiefs but there is plenty of potential intrigue in which team finishes second and which finishes fourth.  I can make a case for any of the permutations and combinations for those three teams.  Taking them in alphabetical order:

  • Broncos:  They have a veteran defense and if you believe that Drew Lock showed himself to be a rising star in the NFL late last season, then Lock and the addition of some added offensive weapons could make the Broncos the next-best team in the division.  Or … Lock could have been a mirage and the Broncos could stink in 2020
  • Chargers:  They must replace Philip Rivers at QB and Tyrod Taylor has been named the starter for now.  If the Chiefs start to run away from the division, Justin Herbert might see action by mid-season.  The Chargers’ defense is good enough to keep them in lots of games this year.

[Aside:  The Chargers will play home games in the spanking new SoFi Stadium but there will be no fans in the stands.  That should not be a shock to Chargers veterans; the Chargers have been playing in front of next to no one for several years now.]

  • Raiders:  So, Jon Gruden is an offensive wizard.  This is his third year at the helm for the Raiders.  Here is the question:  When do we get to see the Raiders as an offensive juggernaut?  When do we get to see the Jon Gruden imprint on QB Derek Carr?  I see no compelling reason to put the Raiders ahead of the Broncos or the Chargers – – just as I see no reason to put either the Chargers or Broncos ahead of the Raiders.  The early schedule for the Raiders is difficult.  After a seemingly easy opener against the Panthers, the next four opponents will be the Saints, Pats, Bills and Chiefs – – all of whom I see as playoff teams.  Welcome to Las Vegas…

Prediction #2:  The AFC West will produce only 1 playoff team in 2020.

Next up will be the AFC South.  Any team here other than the Jags has a shot to win this division but there are no dominant teams here.  The Titans shocked the world last year making the playoffs with a 9-7 record and then going on to the AFC Championship Game only to lose there to the Chiefs.  The tendency would be to give the Titans the nod here because they have kept most of their team together through the off-season but that may or may not be a good thing.

  • Titans:  They have bet the farm that Ryan Tannehill is indeed a franchise QB and will not regress to the QB he was for the first six years of his career in Miami.  The Titans’ fans also have to hope that Derrick Henry continues to do his “Jim Brown imitation” once again in 2020 despite 386 carries in the 2019 season (including the playoffs).
  • Colts:  The key variable here is obvious.  How much tread is left on Philip Rivers’ tires?  The Colts’ defense is ordinary; they will need to score points to win.  Can Rivers give them the leadership – and more importantly, the passing game – to score those points?  He must be an upgrade over the 2019 showing of Jacoby Brissett, right?  Those young receivers – other than TY Hilton – really are NFL caliber players, right?
  • Texans:  If I tried to tell you that I understand the reasoning behind most of the Texans’ off-season moves, I would be a big enough liar to run for the US Senate.  DeShaun Watson is the offensive key to this team; JJ Watt’s health/availability is the defensive key.
  • Jaguars:  The Jags are going to stink this year.  I think the only question here is if they will be bad enough to secure the overall #1 pick in the 2021 Draft.

Prediction #3:  I will take a rejuvenated Philip Rivers to lead the Colts to the division title and the playoffs in 2020.

Prediction #4:  There will be only 1 team from the AFC South in the playoffs in 2020.

Turning now to the AFC North.  Last year the Ravens dominated the regular season and then laid a giant egg in the playoffs after having a BYE week.  I like them to dominate their division this year, but they will not enjoy a playoff BYE this time around.  Maybe that will be a plus?  The addition of Calais Campbell will make a very good defense even better; the loss of Earl Thomas may – if you believe reports – improve the locker room “chemistry” but it is hard to imagine that he will be fully replaced on the field.

Prediction #5:  The Ravens will win the AFC North comfortably.

  • Browns:  Last year, they were the “trendy pick” to make it to the Super Bowl only to see the team flop like a mackerel in a parking lot puddle.  It appears that the Browns may actually have adult supervision in the management and coaching ranks this time around and that may be what the team needs to exploit an awful lot of football talent on the roster.  Baker Mayfield had a huge sophomore slump in 2019 (22 TDs and 21 INTs); he needs to prove that was merely a bad season and that he is in fact the Browns’ franchise QB for the years ahead.

Prediction #6:  The Browns will make the playoffs and will win double-digit games in 2020.

  • Steelers:  Having Ben Roethlisberger healthy for more than 2 games will make a big difference this year.  Does anyone really need to see more of either Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges to recognize that?  Last year, the offense was unreliable from game to game and quarter to quarter.  The defense was very good last year and should be good once again.

Prediction #7:  The Steelers will make the playoffs in 2020 making it three teams from the AFC North to play on to January 2021.

  • Bengals:  Joe Burrow will get loads of attention and opportunity to air it out because the Bengals’ defense should be giving up points generously.  The return of AJ Green at WR ought to be a big plus for the rookie QB.  Last year, the Bengals has the overall #1 pick; they will be within shouting distance of that “honor” again in the Spring of 2021.  The thing for Bengals’ fans to look for is competitiveness; the Bengals rolled over and played dead too often last year; it needs to be different this time around.

Now it is time to close out the AFC by examining the AFC East.  For the last decade, it was a clear choice as to who was going to win this division.  The only “judgment” involved projecting if the Patriots would get a playoff BYE and if one of the other teams would be able to muster up sufficient fortitude to become a wild-card team.  Not so in 2020 …  Much like the AFC South, there are 3 teams in this division who can take the division race down to the final weeks of the season – from Christmas Day until January 3, 2021.  I think the division champion will be decided on December 28 when the Bills visit Foxboro to play the Patriots; the winner of that game will be the AFC East champion.  Not to worry for fans of either side, the loser will be a wild-card team in the playoffs.

Prediction #8:  The Bills will win the AFC East.  The last time the Bills won the AFC East, Jim Kelly was their QB.

  • I think the addition of Stefon Diggs at WR combined with the added experience of QB, Josh Allen will make a big difference for the Bills’ offense.

Prediction # 9:  The Pats will continue their streak of playoff appearances as a wild card team in 2020.

  • Pats:  It may take some time to adjust to the new look on offense for the Pats in 2020.  Cam Newton is a fundamentally different QB than Tom Brady and the Pats will have to change up their offense to maximize Newton’s skills.  I think the Pats will be more of a ball-control/run-oriented team this year than we have seen in the past because I think it will take time for Cam Newton to adjust to the system and the players he has at the skill positions in New England.  Free agent, Leonard Fournette, is the kind of “big back” that Bill Belichick has used effectively in the past.  If Belichick passes on Fournette, that would indicate to me that he dislikes something about Fournette that goes well beyond his physical talents.
  • Dolphins:  They really surprised folks last year; they looked like a “2-win team” if things went their way.  They won 5 games last year and they improved their roster in the Draft and with free agency signings.  They will make things interesting in the division, but they are not ready to be a playoff team just yet.
  • Jets:  It will be a long season for NYC football fans.  The Jets are not a good football team.  Their defense was OK – but nothing better than that – until they traded Jamal Adams to Seattle.  You can hire all the spin doctors who will be out of work after the Presidential campaigns are over and they cannot spin that trade to mean that the Jets’ defense got better.  The schedule does the Jets no favors; the first 8 games look as if the team could be fortunate to be 2-6 when November rolls around.  If the Jets are worse than 2-6 at that point, I suspect there will be a coaching change in mid-season with Gregg Williams taking the helm.

So just to review, the AFC playoffs will have the Chiefs resting up for a week while the Bills, Browns, Colts, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers take part in Wild Card Weekend.

Moving along, here is a synopsis for the NFC West.  Top to bottom, this is the best division in the NFL overall.  The Seahawks were a playoff caliber team last year and made two particularly good additions in the offseason in Greg Olsen and Jamal Adams.  Those two moves make me think that Seattle is in “Win-Now Mode”.  The Niners must battle the curse of being the Super Bowl loser, but that roster is young and talented; they will be a tough out every week.  Both the Rams and the Cardinals would be dominant forces in any other NFC Division, but I think they trail the field in this division.

Prediction #10:  The Seahawks will win the NFC West and will be the top seed in the NFC playoff bracket.

Prediction #11:  The Niners will be one of the NFC wildcard teams.

  • Rams:  Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley are no longer part of that offensive unit and I think that will show up in the season results.  On defense, Aaron Donald remains THE dominant defensive lineman – – perhaps the most dominant defensive player? – in the NFL.
  • Cardinals:  Even before the Cards acquired – – or stole – – DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans, there was every reason to believe the Cards’ offense would be better this year as Kyler Murray developed his game and the offensive scheme evolved a bit.  I think the Cards’ first round pick, Isaiah Simmons, is going to be a star in the NFL; he will help that defense right away.  The Cards are a good team, but they have 6 tough games against these division opponents on their dance card.

Next under the microscope is the NFC South.  Just as the departure of Tom Brady from the Patriots causes me to believe that the Pats will not be as formidable as in recent years, the arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa makes me believe that the Bucs will be significantly better this year as compared to last year.  Consider that Jameis Winston threw 30 INTs for the Bucs last year; Tom Brady has thrown 29 INTs in the last 4 seasons combined.  The Bucs defense is a good unit and the fact that they will not have to deal with nearly as many “sudden changes” is a big plus.  The Saints are always a threat with Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara on the offense.  The rub here is that Kamara is an uncertainty this year.  He was injured for some of last year – presumably fully recovered – but he has been conducting a so-called “hold-in” where he has reported to training camp but is not practicing.  The Saints do not have a replacement for Alvin Kamara.

Prediction #12:  The Bucs will be the NFC South champions this year.

Prediction #13:  The Saints will be one of the NFC wildcard teams in the playoffs.

  • Falcons:  The Falcons added Todd Gurley to the offense to give them a more respectable running game.  The question here is the soundness of Gurley for a 16-game season.  If he is the same player he was in 2017-2018, the Falcons got themselves a bargain.  We shall see…  Weep not for that offensive unit under any circumstances.  With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the field, that offense will be just fine.
  • Panthers:  Matt Ruhle has been a miracle-worker in turning around sad-sack college football programs, but it has usually taken him a couple of years to make those adjustments.  Here he gets a double whammy.  Not only does he have a roster with holes; he has not had the off-season time with his players to start the learning processes for his new systems until mid-July.  Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Mc Caffrey will provide some excitement – and hope for the future – but this is going to be a tough year in Carolina.  Replacing Luke Kuechley and Thomas Davis at LB all in one season is a tall order, indeed.

Moving on up to the NFC North, I see a ton of question marks.

  • Vikings:  Is this the year that the Vikings figure out how to avoid losing those games they simply must win?  Is any thing more important to the Vikings than the health of Dalvin Cook?  Is Justin Jefferson an adequate replacement for Stefon Diggs?
  • Packers:  Is the Green Bay defense a top-shelf unit or did they markedly over-achieve in 2019?  Can the so-called “Smith Brothers” continue to dominate games?  Other than Davante Adams, who in the Packers’ receiving corps is a major threat?  Devin Funchess?  Why did the Packers use their first-round pick on a QB?
  • Bears:  The Bears’ quarterback play cannot be as bad as it was in 2019, can it?  Can Tarik Cohen be the main RB on the team for 16 games?  Will the secondary improve noticeably in 2020?
  • Lions:  There are always questions with the Lions; and, when they are answered – usually in the most negative way –  the reason is always the same:  It’s because they are the Lions.  Last year the Lions were awful on defense – and that is how Matt Patricia earned his stripes in the NFL.  Last year the Lions’ defense gave up more yards than all but one other team and ranked 26thin scoring defense.  In the offseason they lost Darius Slay who was the brightest light on that defensive unit.  The Lions must turn that around – – quickly.

Prediction #14:  The Vikings will win the NFC North.

Prediction #15:  The Packers will make the playoffs – – but neither of the other two teams in the NFC North will finish at or above .500.

The last division on the list is the NFC East.  Last year, I said the division was clearly bifurcated into two “Haves” and two “Have-nots”.  Such remains the case in 2020.  The Cowboys and the Eagles are solid, respectable teams; the Giants and the WTFs will stink.

  • Cowboys:  Let me put this simply.  Dak Prescott will make about $31M this year on the franchise tag.  He has been in the league for 4 seasons and has 67 starts – counting playoffs – under his belt.  It is time for him to avoid coming up small in big games.  The Cowboys have real potency at the WR position; they should score plenty of points.  The biggest concern for the offense is that the OL is aging – but it is still a top-shelf unit.

Prediction #16:  The Cowboys will win the NFC East.

  • Eagles:  Let me put this simply.  They have to avoid rampant injuries; their training camp has resembled a M*A*S*H unit this year.  Last year they won the division without having  speed, size or experience at the WR position.  Presumably, that will not be the case in 2020…

Prediction # 17:  The Eagles will make the NFC Playoffs.

  • WTFs:  Here is what this team will look forward to in the next offseason.  It will look forward to getting a new team name, that’s what.  There is a new coach in DC; that is a good thing because they have needed one for a while and Ron Rivera is good football coach.  He inherits a team with exactly one real strength – – the defensive line where the team has 5 first-round picks in the unit.  That’s it; that’s the list.  While in the process of “changing the culture” there, Rivera also gets to battle cancer this year and there will be distractions provided courtesy of the investigations into sexual harassment in the team executive suite.  I doubt that Tinkerbell has enough Pixie Dust on hand to get the WTFs up to .500 for the year.
  • Giants:  The good news is they have a new coach, an excellent running back and a second year QB who showed significant promise in his rookie year.  The defense – and particularly the secondary – will scare no one and that is the rest of the story.  Like the crosstown NY Jets, the Giants will be sad sacks in 2020.

Summarizing the NFC playoff picture, the Seahawks will get the top seed and the playoff BYE week while the rest of the bracket will be the Bucs, Eagles, Niners, Packers, Saints and Vikings.

One other feature of my pre-season predictions has always been coaches who I see on the hot seat and what I think will happen to them. So, in alphabetical order – – because I have no intention of trying to rank these entries – – here are my NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2020:

  • Adam Gase (Jets):  His “calling card” in the coaching ranks is that he is a “QB developer”.  His recent record brings that into question since Ryan Tannehill blossomed as soon as he left Adam Gase and since Sam Darnold is still a “work in progress”.  Moreover, Gase has gotten himself crosswise with Jamal Adams – – who demanded and got a trade out of NY – – and with LeVeon Bell.  If the Jets are as bad as I think they will be, I will not be surprised if Gase is relieved of his role with the Jets before the end of the season.

Prediction 18:  I think Adam Gase will not make it to January 2021 as the head coach of the Jets and that Gregg Williams will be his interim replacement.

  • Doug Marrone (Jags):  This will be Marrone’s fourth year as the coach of the Jags and ever since they gagged away the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots in 2017, the team has been a mess.  Given the denuding of the roster over the last two years – five Pro Bowlers on defense and one on offense are gone – the Jags will probably be a doormat this year.  I do not think Marrone will survive the carnage of this season unless there is a real “Minshew Miracle” on tap.

Prediction 19:  I think that the clock will strike twelve on the Doug Marrone Era in Jax at the end of this season.

  • Matt Nagy (Bears):  He was the Coach of the Year in the NFL in 2018; then the Bears – and particularly their offense – were less than miserable in 2019.  Nothing seemed to be working in Chicago.  The Bears now have an overpaid Nick Foles and an under-achieving Mitchell Trubisky vying for the QB job.  Things do not look good in Chicago and Nagy could well be the casualty in that catastrophe.

Prediction 20:  I think Matt Nagy survives as the Bears’ coach as fans and “NFL Insiders” pin the blame for the Bears’ lack of success on the guy who built the roster.

  • Bill O’Brien (Texans):  The Texans have been in the playoffs four out of the five years that O’Brien has been the coach so this entry on the list is a long shot.  Coach Bill O’Brien’s biggest problem is the roster makeup given to him by GM Bill O’Brien.  He has made some strange personnel moves over the past couple of years and none make me scratch my head more than trading away DeAndre Hopkins for in injured running back and then “replacing” Hopkins with Brandin Cooks by sending away a second round pick.  The QB magic produced by DeShaun Watson could save O’Brien’s coaching job – – but the Texans really do need a GM…

Prediction 21:  I think the Texans definitely get a new GM for next year.  And Coach Bill O’ Brien will be a casualty – collateral damage if you will – of that GM decision.

  • Matt Patricia (Lions):  This will be his third season at the helm of a downtrodden franchise that had risen to the level of a “break-even team” under its previous coach, Jim Caldwell.  In his two seasons in Detroit, Patricia’s Lions have gone 9-22-1.  Yes, I know that Matthew Stafford was injured and out for 8 games last year; nonetheless, the Lions remain an irrelevant team under Patricia’s leadership.  I think it will take a 9-7 record and a healthy Matthew Stafford to achieve that record to save Patricia’s job after 2020.

Prediction 22:  I think Matt Patricia is coaching his final year in Detroit.

  • Dan Quinn (Falcons):  Lots of people were surprised when Quinn survived the BYE week last year.  The Falcons started the year 1-7 and looked lost in many of those games.  But he – and the team – turned it all around and went 6-2 in the second half of the year.  Quinn has been in Atlanta for 5 years and has been to the Super Bowl with the Falcons.  His seat is warm but not hot.

Prediction 23:  I think Dan Quinn makes it through 2020 without great jeopardy.

Mike Zimmer (Vikings):  I had him on my “watch list for hot seats” because 2020 was to be his final year under contract in Minnesota and there had been no extension given during the off-season.  However, in mid-July he did get a multi-year extension and his seat is now just a comfy one.

Before wrapping this up, let me just list here some of the things I jotted down about question marks hanging over some NFL players this year.  As I was musing about the season, these things cropped up in my mind, and even when I recognized that they were important questions, I was not confident that I had the answers.  So, just for fun and in alphabetical order:

  • Antonio Brown – – Will a team take him on with his 8-game suspension and his soap opera atmosphere?
  • Jadeveon Clowney – – So, where is he going to play in 2020 – – or will he sit out a season?
  • Todd Gurley – – Can he stay healthy?  Did the Falcons get a bargain signing Gurley for only $5M?  Did they get 2017 Todd Gurley or 2019 Todd Gurley?
  • Alshon Jeffrey – – Is he recovered from Lisfranc surgery?  Do he and Carson Wentz hate each other?  We shall see …
  • David Johnson – – Can he stay healthy?  If so, he will be an important part of the Texans’ offense.
  • Xavier Rhodes – – Had a lackluster year in Minnesota last year and signed on with the Colts for only $3M because of that performance.  But he used to be an All-Pro as recently as 2017.  Is he a bargain or is he washed up?
  • JJ Watt – – Can he stay healthy?  Great player when healthy and Texans need him on that defense.

The only thing left now is for the teams and the players in the NFL to maintain vigilance against an outbreak of COVID-19 such that the season can proceed as scheduled.

            So let it be written; so let it be done.

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