In Union, There Is Strength …

After the Niners lost the Super Bowl Game in OT last Sunday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said that he hoped to have everyone on his staff back for next year.  Teams that make it to the Super Bowl need to expect that their coaching staff is ripe for poaching while agents for assistant coaches on Super Bowl teams look at the situation as a way to enhance the bankroll of their clients.  We are 4 days removed from the Super Bowl game and here is the toll to date on the 2023/2024 Niners’ coaching staff:

  1. Asst. OL coach, James Cregg => Raiders as OL Line coach
  2. Pass game Coordinator, Klint Kubiak => Saints as Offensive Coordinator
  3. RB coach, Anthony Lynn => Commanders as Run game Coordinator
  4. Asst. DL coach, Darryl Tapp => Commanders as DL Line coach
  5. Def, Coordinator Steve Wilks => ???  (He was “relieved of his duties.”)

So much for keeping the coaching staff intact…

After the Super Bowl game was over and the Lombardi Trophy was being handed around to notables on the raised platform, Patrick Mahomes declared that the KC Chiefs are never underdogs.  That had been their status three times during the playoffs this season and they obviously overcame that underdog status as the “last team standing”.  When I heard that, I took it for what I thought it was – – an emotional statement in a time when there was an awful lot of emotion overflowing the situation.  Then I ran across some data at ProFootballTalk that indicates Patrick Mahomes is onto something:

  • Since Mahomes took over as the Chiefs’ starting QB, the Chiefs have been underdogs 13 times (9 regular season games and 4 playoff games) when he started the game.  The Chiefs are 10-3 straight up in those games and 11-1-1 against the spread in those 13 games.  It does not take a mathematical prodigy to realize that a bettor who had backed the Chiefs and Mahomes whenever they were in underdog status would have done quite well.
  • Mahomes and the Chiefs win percentage in those 13 “underdog games” is a whopping .769.  Looking at all the games that Mahomes has started for the Chiefs when the Chiefs were the favorites in the game, the Chiefs’ record is 79-22 which is a win percentage of .782.
  • In other words, the Chiefs “pull an upset”/win as the underdog almost as frequently as they win as favorites.
  • Maybe Patrick Mahomes was not venting an emotion last Sunday evening; perhaps, he was simply speaking verifiable truth…

[Aside:  According to ProFootballTalk, the only time the Chiefs did not cover as an underdog in the Patrick Mahomes Era, was in 2022 when the Chiefs were 2.5-point underdogs to the Bills and lost the game by 4 points.]

The NFL schedule for next season will not be revealed in its entirety until sometime in May but we already know something about Week 1.  On Friday, September 6, 2024, the Eagles will open as the “home team” against an opponent to be announced later in the first-ever NFL game in Brazil.  The game will be played in Sao Paulo, and it is part of the NFL’s ongoing effort to expand the NFL brand to new overseas markets.

It is not an all-time first, but it has been more than 50 years since the NFL has scheduled a Week 1 game for a Friday night.  The last time that happened was in 1970 when the Rams hosted the Cards on September 18th.  To give you a perspective on how long ago that was, Jimi Hendrix died on September 18,1970.

In addition to the game in Sao Paulo in Week 1, the NFL will stage these other international games:

  • The Panthers will play a game in Munich.
  • The Bears, Jags and Vikes will each play a game in London.
  • The opponents in these other international games are still TBD.

Moving on …  There is a trend these days in online sites that comment on sports that I find annoying.  There are too many headlines out there that take this form:

  • “A Way-Too-Early Look At XYZ …”

XYZ could be “World Series Teams in 2024” or perhaps “CFP Selections in 2024” or even “NFL Rookie of the Year Candidates for next season”.

What is annoying is that indeed there is little to no solid information in such pieces and the headline is nothing but an attempt to harvest online clicks.  So, whenever I see such a headline on a posting – no matter if the site itself is highly reputable – I refuse to click on it.  For the record, here is my take:

  • If the author admits that it is “way too early” to write such a piece, why should I expend any effort to read it now.  I’ll wait until it is no longer “way too early” and the “time is right”.

Finally, today’s closing words came to me from a former colleague; he attributed them to novelist, Barbara Cartland:

“After forty, a woman has to choose between losing her figure or her face.  My advice is to keep your face and stay sitting down.”

Ms. Cartland is the ultimate pragmatist …

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

 

 

Two Thoughts Today …

Given the nationally televised bed-wetting achieved by the Dallas Cowboys yesterday, there are speculative pieces out there this morning suggesting that Jerry Jones ought to hire Bill Belichick to replace Mike McCarthy on the sidelines and, failing that, just replace McCarthy with anyone other than Charlie McCarthy (not known to be one of Mike’s blood relatives).  Putting emotion and hyperbole aside, let me suggest that you take a moment to read a recent Washington Post column by Sally Jenkins where she makes the case that a smart NFL owner should hire Bill Belichick post haste.

Here is the lead paragraph from that column:

“If somebody told you to trust your money to Bill Belichick to invest, would you? Now turn the question around. Why would you trust football decisions to a mall developer? It’s that time of year again, the NFL hiring cycle, when billionaire superegos confuse their industrial or inherited wealth with locker room expertise and go haphazardly shopping for a new coach who will establish “a winning culture.” Instead, what most of them will get is what they deserve: organizational misalignment.”

Personally, I think the marriage of Bill Belichick and the Dallas Cowboys would be about as stable as a barrel of nitroglycerin.  Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, is the most “hands on” owner in the NFL and the last thing that Bill Belichick is likely to tolerate is “kibbitzing” by the owner – – in the building or on a weekly radio program.  Sally Jenkins is right; owners should be seriously considering Belichick for openings around the league – – but not in Dallas.

Moving on …  Here is a story that has been around for at least 20 years and has yet to bear fruit.  Dig deep onto your memory bank and recall the last time you heard that there was a plan being formulated to renovate Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the area around the racetrack to assure that the Preakness States would forever be contested at Pimlico.

The framework for this version of “Save Pimlico” revolves around a report to the Maryland State Legislature by a group known as the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority suggesting:

  • “Centering” racing in Maryland in Baltimore at Pimlico
  • Building a new training facility elsewhere in the State
  • Transferring the Preakness Stakes temporarily to Laurel Race Track
  • Redeveloping Pimlico on a schedule whereby it would open in 2027 and Laurel would be abandoned.

The proposal has a $400M price tag – – which makes sense since the previous idea(s) for dealing with the dilapidated condition of Pimlico were in the $300M range; so, with inflation, etc. …  The 2024 Preakness is scheduled to take place on May 18th and the idea would be to run the race at Pimlico at that time; then, shut the track down; move racing to Laurel; tear down Pimlico and rebuild it along with some hotel facilities and an event facility which would be developed and also be ready for business in 2027.  At that point, the new Pimlico would host racing on a “year-round basis”.

Let me set the scene here:

  • Pimlico has been a royal mess for about 30 years now; it has all the charm and appeal of a pile of rotting flesh.  The facilities there make an eyesore appear to be a work of art.
  • Pimlico is in a diverse neighborhood in Baltimore.  Some areas proximal to the track are old residential neighborhoods with upper middle-class residents; other areas proximal to the track are about as appealing as the track facilities themselves.
  • Horse racing is a dying sport in the US.  I have no doubt that the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority can find animals to compete “year-round” at whatever sort of track facility exists at the end of these planned activities, but this is not going to be a gold mine for the area or the State.
  • Yes, off-track betting and sports betting will help with the economics – – but remember that there was already off-track betting available at Pimlico in the past and that was insufficient to keep the operation in the black.

So, all this falderal boils down to this:

  • Pimlico needs lots of work just to be able to host one special race per year.
  • The business enterprises at the “new Pimlico” would not belong to the State; in this plan, they would be “privately developed”.
  • Is that worth $400M to the Maryland State Legislature?
  • Are the neighborhoods around Pimlico worth a $400M investment?

Finally, since Pimlico is in Baltimore, let me close with this observation from the “Bard of Baltimore” – – H. L. Mencken:

“Self respect:  the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.”

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

 

 

An Avalanche Of News

Some mornings when I approach the keyboard here in Curmudgeon Central, I need time to find something to write about.  There are days when I have to dig back a week or so to find an item on my clipboard that I have been saving for a day when nothing of note had come up recently.  Today is NOT such a day.

About two hours after posting yesterday’s rant, the Internet was vibrating with news that Pete Carroll was no longer the coach of the Seahawks but that he would be retained with the organization as an “Advisor”.  Team owner, Jody Allen, characterized this move as Carroll’s role with the team “evolving” from coach to advisor.  Carroll is 72 years old but only a few days ago he told reporters that he would be back to coach the Seahawks next year and had no plans to retire.  Assuming he did not get a visitation from three ghosts overnight – – one of which was the “Ghost of Super Bowls Future” – – this must be seen a serious demotion at the very best and most likely a firing.  And that is a bit shocking to me…

Pete Carroll’s record has been the head coach in Seattle since 2010.  His record over that time span is 137-89-1 with 10 playoff appearances, a Super Bowl Championship and a second unsuccessful appearance in the Super Bowl.  The Seahawks have been to the playoffs 20 times in franchise history since the mid-70s; Carroll has led the team to half of those playoff spots since 2010.  Trying to understand this from a “performance deficiency standpoint” is not easy.

The Seahawks made the playoffs in 2022 with Geno Smith at QB after trading away Russell Wilson to the Broncos and compiling a 9-8 record.  That was not an easy task.  This year, the team was again 9-8 with Smith at QB but that record did not qualify for a wildcard slot.  My take on those last two seasons in Seattle is that they show that Pete Carroll is a very good football coach; with a career backup at QB for two seasons – – 34 games – – his teams won more often than they lost.

If at age 72 Pete Carroll wants another job as a head coach somewhere, he might be a good fit for a team that does not need a total rebuild and thinks it has the roster necessary to make the playoffs next year.  Of the existing openings in the NFL also f this morning, the team that best fits that description would be the LA Chargers.  Or if his contract is as reported – – $15M per year through 2024 with a team option for 2025 – – he may decide to let his life “evolve” in a direction that does not involve being on the sidelines during a football game.

Bonne chance, Pete Carroll.

And as they say on those late-night infomercials,

“But wait!  There’s more …”

A couple of hours after the Pete Carroll news hit the streets, an even more surprising announcement was made:

  • Nick Saban has decided to retire as the head coach at Alabama.

Delve as deeply into Saban’s “numbers” during his coaching career as you prefer but these data stand out to me:

  • Nick Saban coached for 28 seasons and his teams won 297 games.
  • Ergo, Nick Saban’s teams averaged 10.6 wins per season.
  • Not counting the 2007 season when Alabama had to vacate 5 wins, none of Nick Saban’s teams at Toledo, Michigan St., LSU or Alabama ever finished below .500.

One of the “legacy items” for coaches at the top of college football and/or in the NFL is to “evaluate” their coaching tree.  I do not have the time or the inclination to track down every assistant he has had in his 28 seasons of coaching, but here are current head coaches who I know worked under Nick Saban at Alabama:

  1. Brian Daboll – – MY Giants
  2. Lane Kiffin – – Ole Miss
  3. Dan Lanning – – Oregon
  4. Mike Locksley – – Maryland
  5. Steve Sarkisian – – Texas
  6. Kirby Smart – – Georgia

Bonne chance, Nick Saban.

Now here is something they do not say on those late-night infomercials:

“Hang on!  We’ve got even more for you to consider.

            Early this morning news broke that the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick have gone in different directions.  In a 24-hour period, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and Bill Belichick parted company with teams where the coach and the team were almost synonyms for a long time.  To be sure, the 2023 season was atypical for the Pats during Belichick’s tenure with the team.  I suspect that two elements in owner Robert Kraft’s decision-making methodology were:

  1. Kraft is 82 years old.  If he wants to be around to see his Patriots win the Super Bowl one more time, there must be urgency applied to the efforts.
  2. After Tom Brady left the team, things looked promising in Mac Jones’ first year with the Pats; they made it to the playoffs for a cameo appearance.  Since then, Jones has regressed; a series of bizarre decisions by Belichick have blown up in his face and he exhibits no sense of remorse for at least some of those decisions.

Three coaching icons are gone in the time it takes the Earth to make one rotation on its axis.  I suspect that has never happened before; and there is an interesting irony here:

  • Pete Carroll’s news started this avalanche of coaching change news.
  • Bill Belichick’s news put the exclamation mark on this avalanche of coaching change news.
  • In 2000, Bill Belichick took over the job as coach of the Patriots from – – Pete Carroll.

Bonne chance Bill Belichick.

Finally, the news over the past day represents an upheaval in the football world.  Perhaps the best way to close today is for me to offer this advice from Kelly Ripa:

“If I feel any sort of emotional upheaval, I go for jog and I feel better.”

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

 

 

Black Monday 2024 …

Today is known as Black Monday around the NFL.  The day after the NFL regular season ends always results in the firing of some head coaches which opens jobs at the top of franchises as well as positions such as coordinators around the league.  As of this morning, two teams have fired the coaches who were on their sidelines yesterday:

  • Commanders fired Ron Rivera
  • Falcons fired Arthur Smith.

Given that three teams had interim-head coaches on the job yesterday – – Chargers, Panthers, Raiders – – that means there will be a minimum of 5 horses to ride on the NFL’s head coaching carousel in 2024.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots join the party here.  Reports say there will be a meeting this week between owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.

  • If losing 13 games in a season is a good reason to “move on” from a coach, then the Pats might be “in the market”.
  • If adhering to the idea that Mac Jones is a franchise QB for an NFL team is a good reason to “move on” from a coach …
  • If losing three consecutive regular season games where the defense never gave up more than 10 points in any of those games is a good reason to “move on” …

And …

  • If winning 6 Super Bowl titles for the Pats and leading 9 Pats’ teams to the Super Bowl is a good reason to retain a coach …

The Chargers, Commanders and Raiders at a minimum will definitely be in the market for new GMs in this “hiring season” since the previous incumbent has either been fired previously or – in the case of Rivera was serving double duty.  What makes the most sense in such a situation is that the team should either:

  • Hire the GM and tell the GM to hire the coach he is comfortable working with – – or – –
  • Hire the GM and the new coach as a tandem.

What makes little sense in such a situation is for the owner to hire a coach and a GM as separate events leading to confusion and potential conflict over roles, responsibilities, authorities and the like.  As you read the ongoing reports about various teams going about their business of seeking new GMs and coaches, always keep a focus on the commonality of the candidate search for both positions.

Switching gears …  Just out of curiosity, how many folks here remember who won the first of the NBA’s In-season Tournaments from about a month ago?  I’ll save you the trouble of Googling; it was the LA Lakers.  And after their trophy winning game, the Lakers proceeded to lose 10 of their next 13 games.  There are lots of conclusions to be drawn here such as:

  • See, a mediocre team (current record is 18-19) won this tournament meaning the players on other teams did not take it so seriously.
  • See, the Lakers proved that games involving qualifying for the Elimination Round of the Tournament were more important to them than any garden-variety regular season games.

Rather than try to psychoanalyze an entire team from afar, let me reject those explanations as perhaps fitting this famous observation by H. L. Mencken:

“Every complex problem has a solution which is simple, direct, plausible – – and wrong.”

Rather, I think the Lakers as a team are not nearly as motivated by an 82-game grind of a regular season as they are by an immediate challenge that has some recognition attached to it.  Winning a regular season game against the Raptors as part of a 4-game East Coast road trip is a grind; there is no recognition to come from winning that game or losing it.  The only thing the Lakers care about in the regular season is making it to the playoffs where every game in every series matters and recognition/affirmation is directly attached to winning as opposed to losing.

In the NBA, 20 out of the 30 teams will make it to the playoffs – – including the play-in rounds of the playoffs.  That being the case, I think the experienced Lakers’ roster only cares about finishing 10th or better in the Western Conference such that they get to be part of the NBA playoffs in April/May/June.  For those games, I would expect the Lakers to be focused on strategy and tactics game by game because every win and every series win adds to the overall reputation of the franchise and its players.

I am not nearly convinced that the majority of NBA players care a whole lot about the In-season Tournament nearly to the extent that the teams who finish in the standings in the “play-in zone” for each conference care about those play-in games.  I think that the Lakers have a roster made up in a way that will make them formidable in any sort of playoff/tournament situation and less-than-formidable in a random regular season encounter.

Now before anyone here can hit the “comment button” at the bottom of this rant, let me say clearly that my explanation fits the “Mencken Observation” very well.  It is simple and direct and plausible – – and perhaps wrong…

Finally, just because I enjoy doing so, let me close today with another piece of Mencken’s wisdom that sadly may portend much of the news in 2024:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

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

 

 

Writing Schedule …

I will be doing a rant later today (Dec.26th) and tomorrow (Dec 27th).

I will do a rant on Dec. 28th; it may be a Football Friday on Thursday if I have enough time to do the preparation work to get one of them done. If I do not have enough time for that, there will still be a rant a but there will not be a Football Friday this week.

I will also finish writing the annual Bad Ads rant sometime  in the next day or so and will post it before New Year’s Day.  Time = TBD…?

There will not be any rants from Dec 29th through Jan 2nd.  The Irish contingent of our family – – #1 son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, known in these parts as The Fog – – are in the US for the Holidays and will be visiting for that period of time.  I don’t have a firm schedule for those 5 days, but I know that the agenda will be jam-packed.

Best I can tell, I will be back on the air on Jan 3, 2024.

Happy New Year, everyone…

 

 

Heisman Trophy Perspective

The Heisman Trophy finalists have been announced; and among the quarterbacks who are always included, you can find Ohio St. WR, Marvin Harrison, Jr.  I want to put a bit of perspective around his nomination even though I do not expect him to win the award.  I know this is an award given – nominally – to the best college football player of the year, but I want to begin with this:

  • The two best NFL WRs I have ever seen play are Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.

I never saw either Rice or Moss play college football because:

  • Randy Moss played for Marshall University at a time when Marshall was a Division 1-AA school.  Not having any connection to Marshall nor living anywhere near Marshall, I was never motivated even to try to find a Marshall game on TV that I might watch.
  • Jerry Rice played for Mississippi Valley State, a school in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.  Again, their games never made it to TV status in the Washington DC viewing area.

I have seen Marvin Harrison, Jr. play at Ohio St. at least a half-dozen times and based on those games I will say:

  • Marvin Harrison, Jr. is the best college WR that I have ever seen.

Does that mean he should win the Heisman Trophy?  That is for the committee to decide, and I am not on the committee.  Does that mean he will have an NFL career approaching the Hall of Fame accomplishments of Randy Moss or Jerry Rice?  I think he might – – and because I think he might, I would be sure to take him very early in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Having said all the above, I suspect that one of the three QBs named as finalists for this year’s Heisman will win the award.  I have seen those three QBs play and if I had a vote, I would pick Jayden Daniels from LSU as the best of the three..

Switching gears …  The optimism and the attempt to view the NY Jets’ season through rose-colored glasses has come face-to-face with a cruel reality.  The Jets’ hopes for a playoff appearance at the end of this season actually ended in Quarter #1 of Game #1 when Aaron Rodgers was injured and could not play any more this year.  Fans and writers could and did conjure up scenarios whereby the rest of the team steps it up and makes it to the playoffs wherein Aaron Rodgers makes a miraculous recovery and returns to action in the playoffs.

Rodgers himself seems to have bought into that phantasm; he has made oblique statements that can be taken in many ways – – and sometimes with a grain of salt – – about how fast he is recovering and how he might be ready for late-season action.  However, the predicate for any such thinking must be that the Jets would remain a viable playoff contender once December arrived, and that is simply not the case.

The Jets’ record as of this morning is 4-8 meaning if they win out, the best possible record for the Jets is 9-8.  In the AFC, there are 11 teams that have a better record than the Jets have today.  Only 7 teams make the playoffs meaning the Jets would have to climb over 5 other teams that have a head start on them in a race to the playoffs.  Reality says that is not going to happen.

And that bit of reality leads me to beg sportswriters and sports radio hosts to stop with the teaser stories about Aaron Rodgers’ returning to action for the Jets in the 2023 season.  In fact, if the NY Jets are run by even marginally competent managers/coaches, they will not put Aaron Rodgers into an NFL game for the rest of the season.  Remember, Rodgers is under contract with the Jets for next season meaning once he is fully healed, the Jets can approach 2024 with optimism equal to the way the team approached 2023 pre-injury.

  • The injury back in September was season-ending.
  • An injury that might be incurred by playing in an NFL game before the previous one was fully healed could be career-ending.
  • Since there is little to nothing to be gained from a return to action this year, why would Jets’ management take that risk?

Finally, I’ll close today with an observation by Oscar Wilde that just might apply to the way Jets’ fans have looked at the 2023 season:

“When one is in love one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others.  This is what the world calls a romance.”

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

 

 

Praise For A Politician ?

            I – like many other people – have a healthy disregard for the stereotypical politician.  You know, the kind of person who fits the description of a politician offered by Charles De Gaulle:

“In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.”

            Well, today I have to tip my hat to a former politician who left that profession to take up one that attracts even more scorn that your typical politician – – President of the NCAA.  Charlie Baker was formerly the two-term Governor of Massachusetts who now succeeds Mark Emmert as the leader of the NCAA.  All politicians know how to face a problem and kick the can down the road; some recognize that tactic will not work forever and find means of compromise to allow for some creativity to emerge that might resolve the problem via a change process.  As of this morning, I am willing to put Charlie Baker into that latter category.

            NCAA President Baker has sent a letter to the 350+ Division 1 schools in the country proposing that the NCAA create a new and separate class of schools to compete in a different tier of collegiate athletics.  For now, let me call this the “Baker Model Of Competition” or “BMOC” in a new context.

            In the “BMOC”, schools would be required to offer at least 50% of their athletes a payment of $30K annually via a trust fund yet to be established.  In addition, all the Division I schools – – those in the “BMOC” and the others – – would offer unlimited educational benefits to athletes and schools would be allowed to enter into NIL contracts with their athletes.  The “BMOC” does not represent a “tweak” to collegiate athletics; the “BMOC” takes the concept of the amateur college student who just happens to play a sport and crushes it.

            President Baker recognizes and deals with a fact that previous NCAA officials have tried to obfuscate.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain …  Here is that fact:

  • There exists now a degree of disparity in the resources available to athletic departments and booster organizations at the top levels of collegiate athletics that affects competition. 
  • Moreover, there is no indication that this disparity might “resolve itself” to level the playing field.

            Later today, President Baker is scheduled to speak at an Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Las Vegas organized by the Sports Business Journal.  Surely, there will be a lot more information and commentary out there after he makes his remarks.  I suggest that we need to follow this story closely; it will have twists and turns along the way, but this appears to be a transformative idea for college athletics in the future.

            Switching gears, I want to reset my thinking from optimism to realism.  I will transition my mind from the aspirational “BMOC” to a narrative that has been around for a few years that seems a bit threadbare to me now.  I am referring to the narrative that Eric Bienemy is living proof that Black men are denied head coaching opportunities purely and simply because of their skin color.  Before anyone gets their undies in a bunch, I did NOT say that Black men have it as easy as White men have it when it comes to getting an opportunity to coach an NFL team.  I said, I am growing tired of the narrative that Eric Bienemy is the prototypical victim of “the system”.

            I say that because as a resident of a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington DC I am inundated with coverage of the Washington Commanders, and I get to see every game they play.  Eric Bienemy rode into town last Spring to take over the offense and to demonstrate that with proper tutelage, the Commanders’ offense could transform itself from a ham-and-eggs unit to a filet-mignon unit.  After all, it was under Bienemy’s brilliance that the KC Chiefs were constantly atop the AFC West and serious Super Bowl contenders every year.  The Commanders in 2024 would lay bare the truths of discrimination in head coaching searches in the NFL.

            Except …  Let me compare for a moment the bottom line for an offensive football team – – Points Scored:

  • In 2022 – under the guidance of someone the narrative has labeled as an unsalvageable dolt, Scott Turner – -, the Washington Commanders scored 18.9 points per game.
  • In 2023 – – under the guidance of someone the narrative has labeled as an indisputable offensive genius, Eric Bienemy – -, the Washington Commanders have scored 20.0 points per game.

            Let me compare the Commanders’ offensive player assets from 2022 to 2023:

  • WRs:  Basically, the same cast of characters; good not great
  • TEs:  Same guys; mediocrity
  • OL:  Sub-standard in 2022 and similarly sub-standard in 2023 with a few new sub-standard guys
  • RBs:  Same guys; average performers.

            If you just look at those positions, you might say that increasing point production by 1.1 points per game is all that is to be expected.  But then you must look at the QB position.

  • Scott Turner had Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke as his QB choices.
  • Eric Bienemy has Sam Howell as his QB.

            Now here is a stone-cold fact:

  • Sam Howell is a significant upgrade at QB as compared to Carson Wentz and/or Taylor Heinicke.

            So, Eric Bienemy, with a better QB for the entire season and basically the same guys on the rest of the offensive unit, has produced all of 1.1 more points per game than did Scott Turner.  Wow!  Maybe – – just maybe – – it is easier to average 29.7 points per game (as the Chiefs did with Bienemy in 2022) if you have Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce etc. at one’s disposal.

            Should Eric Bienemy get interviews for head coaching vacancies this year?  Probably he should based on his previous success with the Chiefs’ offense.  But if he does not get a head coaching job again this year, the old narrative doesn’t work anymore.

            Finally, I began today by praising a former politician.  So, let me close with a perspective on politicians from my favorite curmudgeon, H. L. Mencken:

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

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

Baseball, Baseball And More Baseball …

We are getting into late November; so, naturally, this is the time to talk about baseball.  Let me start with the vote by MLB owners to approve the move of the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas and to accept all the inconveniences associated with that move.  Lots have been made about the finances in this matter; the A’s want – – and actually need – – a new stadium; the Oakland Coliseum under whatever name is on the façade these days is beyond repair.  The owners want significant public funding for that stadium either in terms of direct payments for the construction costs or in terms of tax abatements and other financial considerations over a period of time.  The city of Oakland could not meet those conditions.

Back in the mid-90s, Oakland and Alameda County ponied up to bring the Raiders back to Oakland from Los Angeles.  The investment in that case was not a new stadium from the ground up; it only involved adding about 20,000 seats to the existing Coliseum, but it was sufficient in magnitude to cause the government entities there some fiscal agita for a while.  Perhaps that experience made those government officials “gun shy”; maybe you could say that having been fleeced once, they were smart enough not to fall for the same con twice.  Whatever…  The fact is that Oakland and Alameda County have chosen to live within their means even if that meant losing pro sports franchises.

  • The Raiders left Oakland for Las Vegas in 2020.  The Raiders got a sweetheart deal and a new stadium there; some estimates were that the folks in Nevada paid $750M to “acquire” the Raiders.
  • The Golden State Warriors used to play in Oakland; they moved across the Bay to San Francisco in 2019.  Once again, financial considerations played the major role in the Warriors’ decision to leave Oakland.
  • Now, the A’s are leaving town to take up residence in Las Vegas and according to reports, the good folks in Nevada will be contributing about $250M to aid in the “moving costs”.

Oakland cannot afford that kind of money; it is a city that has more than a handful of issues that need its financial attention and building a playpen for a billionaire sports franchise owner is not high on its list of priorities.  So, on one hand, feel sorry for sports fans in Oakland who have “lost their teams”.  At the same time, appreciate the way the folks in government there have refused to give into financial demands from sports owners and leagues.

Now comes the period of uncertainty for the A’s and for MLB:

  • The A’s have a lease to play in Oakland through 2025.  Attendance at A’s games has been embarrassingly low for years now; it will only get worse in the next two seasons.
  • The new stadium in Las Vegas will not be ready until the start of the 2028 season – – if everything adheres to schedule between now and then.
  • So, where will the A’s play their games in the interim?

There are lots of unappealing options here.  MLB and the owners of the A’s need to pick the least unappealing one from the lot:

  1. Extend the existing lease for the Oakland Coliseum for 3 more years.  Do not count on getting any beneficence from the city fathers in Oakland during those negotiations nor should the A’s expect tons of fans in the stands.
  2. Have the A’s and the San Francisco Giants share the Giant’s stadium.  This poses scheduling headaches, and it would inconvenience the Giants who may not want this to happen.
  3. Play in the existing minor league stadium in Las Vegas.  More scheduling headaches and how does that minor league team accommodate the change.  Moreover, do other clubs want to play in minor league facilities?
  4. Split seasons having two venues share the A’s home schedule?
  5. Something else…?

The approval of the move by the MLB owners – – the vote was unanimous by the way – – marks the first baseball franchise move since the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nats in 2005.  Leagues and teams do not like to move franchises and only do so when brand new facilities become available at little to no cost to the owners or the leagues.  While that did not happen in Oakland, it seems as if that is going to happen in Milwaukee.

The Brewers want renovations/upgrades to their home field (American Family Field).  Various plans and pipe dreams had been floated but it seems that the most reasonable plans would cost about $500M for upgrades plus infrastructure improvements plus maintenance of the facility.  Like Oakland, the city of Milwaukee cannot afford that price tag.  However, in the Brewers’ case, the State of Wisconsin had become involved, and the legislature has approved spending some State revenues on this project.

There was always the threat of the Brewers packing up and leaving Milwaukee, but the threats were never nearly as serious as the ones in Oakland became.  Nevertheless, when the State funding approval was announced, the Governor of Wisconsin made it a point to note how important the Brewers’ presence in Milwaukee is to the economy of the region and the state.  I have no idea if his statements are real or if they are affected by rose-colored glasses; what I am sure of is that the owners of the Milwaukee Brewers are happy recipients of this largesse and that the executives in MLB HQs are happy to see this matter settled quickly and quietly.

One last baseball note today …  Clayton Kershaw will undergo surgery on his left shoulder and in Kershaw’s announcement of that surgery he said specifically that he hopes to be back on the mound “at some point next summer”.  Kershaw will be 36 years old next March; he has been with the Dodgers for the last 16 seasons; he has thrown over 2700 innings in his career.  That is a lot of wear and tear on an arm/shoulder even if there had never been any sort of injury involved.  However, Kershaw has spent time on the Injured List in each of the last 4 seasons, so the announcement of surgery to the shoulder ought to make teams and fans a bit anxious about his possible return to the game at a reasonable level of competence.

Clayton Kershaw is a three-time Cy Young Award winner and an MVP winner as well.  He will be in the Hall of Fame one of these days.  Nonetheless, this announcement of shoulder surgery makes me consider the possibility that his career may be over.

 Bonne chance, Clayton Kershaw.

Finally, since today was only about baseball, let me close with an observation from Yogi Berra:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.”

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

 

 

Football Miscellany …

I usually save a bunch of football comments for Football Friday; but I have several on my mind this morning so let ‘er rip.

First, I want to comment on the unfolding sign-stealing scandal in college football involving Michigan and some of its opponents.  The investigation must continue because a critical element is the involvement of various coaches in the chain of command there.  What was done – – and there has been sufficient evidence reported for me to believe that “sign spying” happened – – is a violation of NCAA rules.  It is not illegal; it is a rule violation.  Even if I think the rule is “wrong”, it is a rule and it has been violated.  So, it is not incumbent on the NCAA super-sleuths to figure out who did the violating and who initiated the violating and who knew about the violating without putting an end to it.

Those activities are aimed at sanctioning individuals.  There is – – in my mind at least – – already sufficient information to levy a sanction against “Michigan Football” as an institution.  If the NCAA honestly believes that this rule is important to the fabric of college football, it needs to come down hard on “Michigan Football “right now such that “Michigan Football” is not a beneficiary of breaking that rule the NCAA considers important.  Here is my suggestion:

  • As of this moment, “Michigan Football” is under a two-year post-season ban.  No CFP invitations and no bowl game invitations.
  • AND … the NCAA proclaims that any other school or football program that engages in anything like this will face a five-year ban in the future.

The next issue is also related to college football.  Last week, the first of the 2023 CFP
rankings were released by the Selection Committee.  Here are the Top Seven:

  1. Ohio St.
  2. Georgia
  3. Michigan
  4. Florida St.
  5. Washington
  6. Oregon
  7. Texas

I have been saying for several weeks in my Football Friday commentaries that Florida St. deserves consideration for a CFP bid.  No one should seriously consider me a “Seminole-hater”.  However, if you look at the Florida St. schedule to date, they have played one significant opponent (LSU) and two (better than average opponents (Duke and Clemson).  The problem with the Seminole’s schedule is that their conference opponents in the ACC just aren’t all that good in 2023.

Notwithstanding my suggestion above that Michigan be banned from any and all post-season action this year – – and next – – the Wolverines have played no one of consequence to date.  Looking at their schedule, is it possible that the best team Michigan has played – and beaten – in 2023 is UNLV?

So, my questions now are simple:

  1. Why does the Selection Committee place such a low value on “strength of schedule”? 
  2. Wouldn’t college football as a whole and the CFP more specifically, benefit from having top schools schedule other top schools instead of cupcakes? 

Conference schedules cannot be regulated; this year the ACC is a week-sister conference in the Power-5: and this year, Michigan’s rotating Big-10 schedule has presented them with no serious opponents to date.  However, the CFP selectors have it in their power to make teams schedule much stronger out of conference teams by rewarding the schools that do so.  It seems to me there is a basic psychological principle at work here:

  • You get the behavior that you reward; you change the behavior that you sanction.

The last football item for today involves a high school program in Texas.  Tomorrow is election day, and the Prosper Independent School district has a bond referendum on the ballot for voter approval or rejection.

  • Prosper Independent School district wants to issue bonds (borrow money) for four projects.
  • The total amount of the bond issue is $102,425,000.
  • Of that amount, $94M would go toward the construction of a new stadium for the Prosper Independent School District high school football team.

I do not support public money being used to build stadiums for billionaire football owners.  Neither would I support spending $94M of public money to build a high school football stadium.

Finally, I’ll close today with these words of wisdom from former Notre Dame football coach, Lou Holtz:

“Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.”

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

 

 

Get Set For The World Series …

I don’t know about you, but back in March I did not have the Rangers/D-Backs as the participants in the 2023 World Series.  Congratulations to both teams.

  • The Rangers outlasted the Astros in the ALCS in a series that put the lie to Dorothy’s mantra in the Wizard of Oz.  Home teams did not fare well at all in that series; the visitor won all 7 games.
  • The D-Backs just kept grinding and somewhere between Game 5 and Game 6, the Phillies’ bats went AWOL.

Should be an interesting World Series starting Friday night in Texas …

Last week, reports said that Roger Goodell has signed a contract extension that will make him the NFL Commissioner through the end of the 2027 NFL season; he has been in that position since 2006.  Roger Goodell is not a “fan favorite”; there have been lots of times and lots of issues when a large measure of the public’s reaction to something or other has resulted in Goodell being the figurative punching bag.  It is almost as if he is the guy they put in the stocks in colonial times for screwing up something or other.  Reports say that in his current deal, he has made $63.7M annually – – and that number infuriates the people who “hate” Roger Goodell.

Make no mistake; I have disagreed with some of his decisions and his edicts over the years; I am not a “Goodell acolyte”.  Having said that, he deserves the contract extension and whatever salary is included in the deal – – presumably north of $63.7M per year.

Roger Goodell is employed by the 32 owners of the NFL teams; his job description does not really include “keeping fans happy all the time” as a key element of the job.  As I see it, he has 3 major roles to play:

  1. He is supposed to grow the business of the NFL
  2. He is supposed to be the ultimate arbiter in discipline cases involving players, teams and/or owners.
  3. He is to “take the heat” when fans get their dander up over something or other.  He is the buffer between owners and angry fans.

Let me look at those three things separately:

  • The NFL “business outlook” is rosy.  The latest round of media rights deals will bring in just under $110B after all of them run their course.  NFL games dominate TV ratings in the US and the game is growing overseas; London games sold out in less than a day when tix were made available last Spring.  The last two times a franchise changed hands, the price tags were $4.6B and then $6B.
  • He has been the league’s head disciplinarian for almost 20 years now and has had to “preside” over some dicey issues.  Lots of people “took sides” in matters involving Bountygate, Tom Brady, Spygate, Ray Rice, Colin Kaepernick, Ezekiel Elliott, Myles Garrett and Deshaun Watson; those are the ones that come off the top of my head; there have to have been hundreds of other discipline cases in his time on the job that generated far less agita than the one’s mentioned here.
  • He has been the one pilloried by some fan faction or activist group in lots of those matters acting as a human shield between angry people and the 32 owners who are the ones keeping him in their employ.

The bottom line here is that Roger Goodell is not expected to behave in ways that make fans happy; the NFL product is what makes fans happy.  So long as he grows the business and shields the owners from scorn, he is a success.  Remember, the owners are the ones paying him something north of $63.7M per year – – not the fans.

Another report from last week should provide some tangential benefit to the NFL in terms of “growing the fanbase”.  The IOC decided that flag football – – along with some other sports – – will be part of the 2028 Summer Games to be staged in LA.  Yes, I am aware that flag football is not NFL football, but the premise of the two games and the “strategies” of the two games are closely aligned.  Making this an Olympic sport can only bring flag football and NFL football greater exposure in various parts of the world where it is largely ignored today.

Are there areas of the world that meet these two criteria:

  1. There is a high standard of living there such that many folks have “disposable income” – – AND – –
  2. Folks there would “take to” American football if they were ever exposed to the product.

Putting the game in the Olympics could be a good way to find such areas of the world so that the NFL might slowly cultivate the interest there and begin to exploit it.  I think this is a decision that might provide a huge business benefit to the NFL – – as if it needed one.

There are some reports that say current NFL players want to be on the US Flag Football Team in 2028.  Of course, that is their right, but I do not think that is the best thing that could happen for the NFL from a business standpoint.  Yes, the NFL could field a “dream team” in 2028 and crush the other competitors.  Maybe that is not the best way to “introduce” the game to lots of folks around the world?  Whatever …

Finally, let me close today with an observation by former Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz:

“If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today.”

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