The Cavaliers Are NBA Champions

Now that we know that the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship, can we put to rest how this one game and this one series affects the “grand scheme of things” in the history of basketball?

    This series does not “validate LeBron James” as the greatest NBA player of all time. He is obviously one of the best players ever; that was evident before this series began and it remains the same now that it is over.

    This series does not “validate” all of the statements from “old-time players” that the Warriors are a soft/jump-shooting team who only got lucky last year. The Warriors won 73 games and lost only 9 all season long; they are a great team.

    This series does not expose Stephen Curry as some kind of “fraudulent star”. His team lost to another team led by a great player. One team had to lose…

    However, most of all, the results of this series does justify putting an end to the hand-wringing columns about the downtrodden Cleveland fans yearning for a championship. They have one; we need not read any more pabulum about their “plight”.

One more note about the NBA playoffs in general … I have watched some of the early games in the College World Series on TV and would like to pose this rhetorical question.

    What is worse in 2016:

      The calling of balls and strikes in the College World Series – – or – –

      The officiating in the NBA Playoffs?

That would be a tough call to make, indeed.

With the playoffs over the NBA looks ahead to the draft later this week – I shall have something to say about that down the line – and then a short off-season where there will be consideration of rule changes for upcoming seasons. In general, I think Adam Silver is a good and positive force as the NBA Commissioner; he is a significant improvement over his predecessor, The Sultan of Smug. However, there are reports that he wants to make a change in the rules that I think is a really bad idea.

According to reports, Adam Silver wants to change the rulebook to eliminate the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy some teams use by fouling opposing players whose free throw percentage is around 50%. The Commish alleges that this strategy slows the game down (no argument there) and said slowdown is bad for TV (where the NBA derives the vast majority of its revenue). I note that The Commish only “alleges” this to be true since NBA Finals’ ratings were higher than ever this year and advertisers paid more to obtain ad slots on NBA telecasts this year than ever before. That data would seem to indicate that viewers are not tuning out nor are advertisers taking their dollars elsewhere

Basically, changing the rule here done to protect three players from embarrassment and to – nominally – shorten games in which their teams play. Those players are:

    Andre Drummond: Career free throw percentage of .380
    Dwight Howard: Career free throw percentage of .568
    DeAndre Jordan: Career free throw percentage of .421

In a sense, changing the rules here is a reward to these players for their ineptitude at one aspect of the game. If that becomes a basis for rule changes, I surely hope that The Commish did not watch any of the Sixers’ games last year because they had loads of players who demonstrated a high level of ineptitude at many levels of the game.

I can understand that the NBA changed the width of the free throw lane when Wilt Chamberlain was playing simply because he was so big, strong and agile that he turned some games into a dunking display. In that case, the rule change was done to increase competitive balance and to make it more difficult for a great player to dominate games. Here is what I mean by dominate:

    In 1961-62, Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game, played in 80 games and averaged 48.5 minutes per game.

    In the first 12 years of his career, he averaged 21.1 rebounds per game or higher.

At the same time, Wilt Chamberlain was a poor free throw shooter (career average was .511) and teams would often resort to fouling him intentionally. There was no hue and cry back then to change the rules to prevent that tactic. In fact, it was a strategy that made a lot of sense back then– as does the current strategy.

Here is the real solution to the “problem of slowing down the game” – if indeed such a “problem” exists:

    Make those guys work to learn to shoot foul shots.

How do you do that? Well, you do it through the power of the purse. If you want to change rules, penalize those players for poor free throw shooting in such a way that coaches will take them out of games and sit them on the bench in close games in the 4th quarter. That will diminish their value significantly the next time they are in free agency – and that will motivate them to spend lots of time with coaches in gyms practicing and learning to shoot free throws. Do not penalize a team for trying to exploit a weakness on their opponent; if you must “penalize” anyone or anything here, penalize the incompetence.

Finally, I ran across this last item somewhere but neglected to note where I found it so I cannot give credit to the originator:

    Q: Why doesn’t Pittsburgh have a pro basketball team?

    A: Because if they did, Philadelphia would want one too.

    BaDaBing! BadaBoom!!!

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

A New Twist On Daily Fantasy Sports

Sometime last Fall, the Nevada Gaming Commission issued a ruling that Daily Fantasy Sports (Draft Kings and FanDuel) classified as sports betting under Nevada law and that meant that the two companies needed to be licensed by the Gaming Commission. The two companies stopped taking wagers from Nevada residents – or as the companies would say they stopped allowing Nevada residents to play. I have seen nothing to indicate that the Gaming Commission has in fact licensed either of these entities and so I assume that Daily Fantasy Sports as represented by Draft Kings and FanDuel remains off-limits in Nevada.

However, the Gaming Commission is considering a proposal to allow people to bet on fantasy sports through the casinos. US Fantasy is a company that claims to have a system that allows for fantasy betting in a pari-mutuel environment. Please do not ask me for details here because it is not clear to me how all of this would work, but US Fantasy asserts that it could provide Nevada casinos with a “turnkey operation” soon after the receipt of an approval from the Gaming Commission.

There is also something in Nevada called the Nevada Governor’s Gaming Policy Committee. This body is comprised of state legislators, present and former members of the Gaming Commission and “industry leaders” from the gaming industry. That Committee is solidly in favor of adding fantasy sports betting to the menu of offerings in Nevada but they have made it clear in previous statements that they do consider fantasy sports to be gambling and therefore should be subject to regulation to protect the public.

Here is a link to an article from about a week ago that will give you an idea where all of this is now and where it might be heading. One of the things I find interesting here is that in addition to maintaining that Daily Fantasy Sports is not gambling, the folks at FanDuel and Draft Kings have also said that regulations would hinder innovation in that industry. Well, while they have been standing still and fighting “regulation” around the country, it would seem to me that US Fantasy has done a bit of innovating on its own and just may elbow its way into the mix as a competitor in the Daily Fantasy Sports wagering “industry”.

Aaron Hernandez is serving a life sentence as a result of his conviction on charges of murdering Odin Lloyd. Nonetheless, he still faces a double murder charge in a separate incident. He must not have been fully satisfied with his previous representation because he hired a new attorney recently. He hired the man who defended Casey Anthony in her trial involving the death of her 2-year old daughter. Anthony was convicted on charges of lying to the police but was acquitted on the murder charge. Her acquittal at trial determines the fact that she is not guilty of the crime; her status in the court of public opinion is very different; I would estimate that she finds herself somewhere between “Vile Hominid” and “Loathsome Creature” on the social spectrum.

I only mention Casey Anthony here because Aaron Hernandez hired the lawyer who got her off those murder charges to represent him in his double-murder trial. The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees anyone charged with a crime the right to “… the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” One consequence of that phrase is that some attorney somewhere has to assist Aaron Henderson in that case just as someone had to assist Casey Anthony in hers.

Let me now say something that will clearly disqualify me from ever serving on any jury in any matter involving Aaron Hernandez – – and/or Casey Anthony for that matter.

    I do not think there has been enough soap manufactured in the history of mankind to wash off the sleaze and the slime one would obtain from “assisting in the defence” of Aaron Hernandez.

Back in the 50s and 60s, Mao Zedong declared the Chinese Great Leap Forward. The idea was to change China rapidly from an agrarian subsistence economy to a more industrialized socialist economy that would be part of the international trade picture. I am not here to provide history lessons or economic analyses but let me just say that it did not work even a little bit. I mention this because it seems to me as if the Detroit Lions have just taken the Great Leap Sideways. The Lions have made a decision to do something different from anything they have done before – – and I doubt that it matters a whit.

    The Detroit Lions – for the first time in franchise history – will have sideline cheerleaders.

When I read that, this is exactly what I typed on my clipboard:

“Whoop-dee-damned-doo!”

Naturally, such a “momentous” change requires a statement from team execs to put all of this in perspective. Lions’ team president, Ron Wood, stepped up to that responsibility with this pabulum:

“The Ford Family is unwavering in their commitment to improving the Detroit Lions fan experience on and off the field … After thorough consideration and receiving input from our fans through season ticket member surveys and focus groups, we believe that this is an opportunity to elevate our game day entertainment.”

If the Lions want to elevate the game day entertainment, they might start by improving on the team record since 2000. Cumulatively that would be 87-169; that means the Lions only win 34% of the time in this millennium. Forget the cheerleaders; I do not need focus groups to tell me that Detroit fans would prefer better teams on the field.

Finally, Greg Cote had these two comments in the Miami Herald recently. They will tell you all you really need to know about these topics:

“Florida Gators are renaming their football field as ‘Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.’ Not wordy enough. Throw in a ‘Ball Coach’ reference, too.”

And …

“Will Power won last week’s IndyCar race. Who was second? Dee Termination?”

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

The Las Vegas Black Knights …

It surely looks as if the NHL will approve an expansion team in Las Vegas at their next league meeting later this month. The cheering has begun in Sin City and pundits around the country – and in Canada too – are starting to take stock of what this might mean. Let me stipulate that my knowledge of hockey is about an eighth of an inch deep but I do have some questions about this decision which will lead me to pay attention to the fate of the Las Vegas Black Knights (that is the rumored team name) in the coming years:

    1. There are about a half-dozen NHL teams in the so-called “Sun Belt”; there are seven teams in Canada. If the league looks at those revenue streams individually, I strongly suspect that the seven Canadian teams – none of which made the playoffs this year – all dominate the “Sun Belt” teams. I have long been an advocate for a pro sports franchise in Las Vegas, but the fact of the matter is that Las Vegas is a “Sun Belt” venue.

    2. The question for any expansion franchise is this:

      Can it build a loyal fanbase?

    The Black Knights claim to have more than 14,000 pledges for season tickets in hand. Their arena will seat 17,000 for hockey so even before the team formally exists, the arena is going to be about 82% full. Sounds good … Now the question morphs into something a bit different:

      Is this wave of support sustainable? Is it based on the novelty of the NHL coming to Las Vegas or is there a core fanbase there for the long haul?

    3. The Black Knights will be the 31st franchise in the NHL. Odd numbers for teams in a league are complicating factors. I would not want to be the guy who has to figure out how to schedule 31 teams for a season if there is a mandate that each team plays a balanced schedule. My intuition says that is not going to work. Ergo:

      What does this franchise portend for the future NHL?

It would seem to me that finding a 32nd venue for a team would make life easier for the NHL. It would also seem to me that they should “follow the money” and put that new team in Canada. I am nowhere near conversant enough with Canadian economics and society to proclaim where the best place for a new NHL team might be, but here are cities that come to mind just based on travels in Canada:

    Halifax: Population about 350K but geographically “inconvenient”.
    Quebec City: Population about 500K but a team failed there in the past.
    Regina: Convenient location but population is much smaller here
    Saskatoon: Convenient location but population is smaller here.

Then there is always the option to put a team in “Southern Ontario” where there are sizeable population centers but there is also the presence of teams in Toronto, Detroit and Ottawa. Nonetheless, the municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton, London and Hamilton might be considered.

The Black Knights would begin play in the 2017/18 season. I hope it succeeds as a franchise because it might open the way to put the NFL and/or the NBA in Las Vegas too.

In my grazing around the Internet to find topics to rant on, I ran across two things related to the Olympics. The first had to do with the games in Rio and how spending on the athletic venues and on security have left some of the poverty areas there in really bad shape. The slums in Rio are called the favelas; if you do a “Google Images” search on “Rio favelas” you can see some pretty grim living conditions for huge numbers of people in extremely overcrowded conditions. Then do a “Google Images” search for “Rio de Janeiro Olympic venues”. If you flip from one to the other and recognize what might have been done with the billions of dollars that were spent on glitzy sports stadiums and on bribes and on corruption and on security, you will want to go and wash the hand that moved the mouse and clicked on the links to give you those images.

The other item related to the Olympics is depressing because of its silliness. The IOC is poised to approve a package of 5 new sports for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The Executive Board of the IOC in making these recommendations to the committee as a whole said that approving it would be the “most comprehensive evolution of the Olympics in modern history”. Given that description, one might expect some momentous recommendations here. You make the call:

    Karate: OK, that is a martial art; it fits with the idea of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”; it has its origins in Okinawa which is part of Japan. No problem here …

    Baseball/Softball: OK, that is a popular sport in Japan which is the host country but haven’t the Olympics been there before? “Evolution” implies a movement in the forward direction and this seems to be a movement back to the past

    Skateboarding: Oh swell, another sport with judges handing out numerical scores to make it appear as if one skateboarder is better than the other one.

    Surfing: Seriously, now … “Most comprehensive evolution…” You cannot be serious … [/ John McEnroe]

    Sports Climbing: Now they are just making stuff up, right?

Oh, just wait… At some time in the future, they may expand this list to include “Synchronized Surfing” and “Team Sports Climbing”. I can’t wait.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in the Seattle Times possibly foreshadowing yet another Olympic sport in the future:

“Eighteen two-man teams — wielding shovels, rakes and pick-axes — convened in plot 37A of a cemetery in Debrecen, Hungary, to take part in the national grave-digging contest.

“The winning team of Laszlo Toth and Janos Racz needed less than 34 minutes to card the day’s first 6-under.”

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

The Tail Wags The Dog

In far too many circumstances, we see examples of the tail (big time athletics particularly football) wagging the dog (a university nominally in place to provide educational opportunities). The late Dr. Myles Brand for whom I had little regard as the head of the NCAA said that it was time for the university presidents to reclaim authority at their institutions from athletic directors and coaches. Let me just say that has not happened yet.

Yesterday, CBSSports.com reported that the University of Tennessee has cancelled classes and will close most of the campus offices on Thursday September 1 because that is the date of the opening football game of the season against Appalachian State. According to an e-mail from the school, they will add a day to the end of the semester to “keep the number of days in the academic calendar consistent”. They did not say “consistent” with whatever but I will assume they mean consistent with however long a semester has been at Tennessee recently.

Of course, the reason given is that there will be traffic congestion and parking issues on campus for that weeknight game and canceling classes will somehow make it easier for people to get in and out of the parking lot at the football venue in mid-day to begin their “preparations” for the game. For the record, I found 11 college football games that will be played on Thursday 1 September all of which will start between 7:00PM and 9:00 PM and none of the home teams decided they needed to cancel classes to ease traffic congestion on that day. Here is a link to that list. Oh by the way, there are lots of games scheduled on weeknights on plenty of campuses around the country this year. What is the OVER/UNDER on the number of schools that will cancel classes and close the campus offices on the day of the game for traffic reasons?

In the wake of the Baylor football mess – and that story is not yet concluded as there are now reports that some high rollers at Baylor want Coach Art Briles back next year after serving only a 1-year suspension – many folks have called for reforms to athletics and athletic departments. Only a fool would try to argue that the status quo is the best that it could possibly be. Some folks have called for a “College Football Czar” or College Football Commissioner” to set things right. Really? Let me toss out the names Roger Goodell, Bud Selig, David Stern etc. Are you trying to tell me that those men have handled disciplinary matters and scandalous behaviors in a model fashion? The existence of a “Commish” is not a panacea.

What we really need is an outbreak of common sense and common decency. In 2016, that is about as likely as finding a unicorn but that is what we need. Let me give you one example:

    The SEC – and the PAC-12 – to their credit have rules in place that forbid an athlete to transfer into any school there if that athlete left behind “serious misconduct issues” at his/her previous school. That is a positive step; there is no doubt about that. I will assume that as time progresses, there will be constantly improving levels of reporting of such incidents and more vigilant investigations by member schools to uncover any such incidents of “serious misconduct.” Kudos to the SEC and the PAC-12 here. Except …

      Mississippi State – an SEC school – just admitted as a freshman a top-shelf football recruit who punched a woman sometime before he enrolled. That was OK with the school and with the conference because he was not a transfer student and therefore was not covered under the existing rule. Puhleeez …

That is what I like to call a distinction without a difference. A football athlete who punches a woman has been involved in something akin to “serious misconduct”. If that “serious misconduct” happens at another college, then the perp cannot transfer to Mississippi State; if that “serious misconduct” happens at Mississippi State, the school will part company with him; however, if it happens while the perp is a “free agent” then – – – it’s all good.

If we had an outbreak of common sense and/or common decency, however…

One step in the right direction would be to institute the following restriction at every college in the country that participates in intercollegiate athletics at any level:

    No assistant coach, coach, factotum in the athletic department or athletic director should ever be part of the process that investigates allegations of player misconduct nor should any of those folks be any part of the decision process to mete out discipline to an athlete when an investigation turns up evidence of misconduct. Period. No exceptions.

If any of those folks are involved in any of these processes, you have built in a conflict of interest situation that cannot help the process come to a fair, reasonable and logical conclusion. If the NCAA had the ability to do anything akin to organizational introspection, they might come to realize that they have a principle that underlies many of the eligibility rules in their tome of a rule book. That principle is:

    No athlete should have access to benefits or privileges that are not available to all students at a member institution. This is a foundation element to the ideal of the “student-athlete”.

Well, that ought to mean that an athlete ought not have access to the benefit of an athletic director or a coach of his being part of any disciplinary processes that involve him when that benefit would not be available to any random student on campus.

The late Dr. Myles Brand was a university president before he took over as NCAA major domo. He wanted the university presidents to assert their authorities over coaches and athletic directors. It did not happen then and it surely is not happening now. In 2016, university presidents agree that it is OK to cancel classes because football season is about to begin. The tail continues to wag the dog.

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

TV Time …

Last night, I watched the maiden voyage of FS1’s new program, Speak For Yourself, hosted by Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock. It was a good program; it has plenty of potential; it also had a few rough edges. In terms of its competition in the time slot – 6:00PM ET – there is not a big threat out there. In the sports domain, ESPN is running SportsCenter at that time and SportsCenter is eminently missable because you can see it over and over again almost any hour of the day on one of the ESPN channels. Here is what I liked about Speak for Yourself last night:

    When people disagreed with one another, they did not shout at or over one another.

    The positions taken by the participants were rational and were explained clearly.

    Everyone with a speaking role was intelligent and articulate.

Here is what I think the program mavens at FS1 Need to work on with regard to Speak For Yourself:

    I wonder if the program would be better suited to a half-hour time format as opposed to the current 1-hour format. Last night, they had the NBA Finals and the Draymond Green suspension to float the discussions. I wonder if they can fill an hour during some of the “sports droughts” that happen at various times of the year.

    The show can exist and can flourish even if there are some topics where neither host injects controversial opinions into the discussion. I had the idea that they were stretching some points to make sure there was something a bit outlandish in each discussion. Forcing that kind of stuff can create a bad environment for the show – – see ESPN’s First Take as Exhibit A.

    Jason Whitlock should not wear a hat on the show. He is indoors; you are supposed to take your hat off indoors.

Enough television reviewing … Yesterday, I happened to have a conversation with a man who does not read these rants because he is not a sports fan. Nonetheless, he knows that I write them on a regular basis and he asked me what I had written about Brock Turner – the Stanford swimmer who infamously got a light sentence from a judge in a sexual assault case. I told him I had not written anything on the matter and he was surprised because in his mind that was a major happening that touched on the sports world. So, after I got home, I thought about what he said and here is why I had not written about it in the past:

    1. The story was extensively reported and there are not a lot of nuances in it. This is not a “he said/she said” matter; the facts are no longer in doubt as a result of a trial in a court. There was a sexual assault and Turner was the perpetrator.

    2. According to reports, under California law, the judge has the leeway to apply leniency to sentencing in cases of this type. If those reports are accurate, then the judge made his decision and that is what he gets paid to do. You can agree with it or disagree with it, but you should not demonize the judge; he did what the law allows him to do.

    3. You can criticize the self-serving letter that Turner’s father wrote to the judge seeking leniency in this matter. At the same time, I wonder how many parents would not have done essentially the same thing in the same circumstances. You can also look at that letter to the judge as one more foundation piece in an edifice that surrounds Brock Turner with a sense of entitlement. If you do that, I would probably agree with you.

    4. The victim also wrote a letter to the judge regarding the sentencing and she – not surprisingly – did not seek any leniency in the matter. That long letter was read verbatim on television by a reporter. That was a sensational TV moment but I wonder if having that letter read on TV – and then again replaying it a jillion times on the Internet – is helping the victim to heal from her suffering. I hope it did; I wish I were more confident that it did.

Damn! I circled back to television reviewing … OK, I have one more TV-related item on my clipboard this morning so let me get it out of the way. I found this in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score, yesterday. Too bad we don’t do TV Bloopers anymore; this would be a good one:

“Here’s what Harold Reynolds, an analyst for the MLB Network, offered up when outfielder Kyle Lewis was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the free-agent draft on Thursday: ‘He’s 20 years old. That’s what stands out. Most people are 21 at that age.’ . . . You can’t make up stuff like that.”

About a week ago, Madison Bumgarner said that he would like to participate in the Home Run Derby during the All-Star break. Reporters ran with that and lots of people chimed in saying he should do it; someone actually suggested having two different Home Run Derbies – one for pitchers and one for position players. Giant’s manager Bruce Bochy let it be known that he did not want his ace pitcher involved in any such nonsense.

Bochy is right. Rather than TWO Home Run Derbies, what we really need is ZERO Home Run Derbies. The idea has run its course; it was fun while it lasted. It has become a waste of oxygen; it is time to put it six feet under.

Finally, here is an observation regarding fan behavior from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Rory McIlroy was almost hit by a golf ball thrown from the gallery. You look at this incident, drunk NFL fans, NBA fans tossing debris on courts, baseball fans running on the field – the best behaved people in sports now follow the WWE.”

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

RIP Gordie Howe …

Gordie Howe passed away last Friday at the age of 88. He is known as “Mr. Hockey” and his career spanned 1946 – 1980. In his final NHL season, he was 52 years old and in that season he scored 15 goals and had 26 assists in 80 games. Gordie Howe was also a tough guy; over his career he spent a total of 2084 minutes in the penalty box. His toughness led to the creation of something that came to be known as the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”:

    A goal and an assist and a fight in the same game.

Rest in peace, Gordie Howe.

Believe it or not; I want to talk about Deflatgate once again. The thing I want to say about the matter is that Roger Goodell and the NFL ought to find a way to settle this matter in a face-saving way for everyone and they need to do that now. The reason I say they need to do that now can be summed up in two words:

    Casey Martin

Recall that Casey Martin was a golfer who had a congenital problem with his leg such that while he could still play PGA quality golf, he could only do so if he rode in a cart; his legs could not take the walking of the course. Here is a summary of his dispute with the PGA:

    PGA rules say no carts; players have to walk.

    Martin asked for a waiver. The PGA said, “No.”

    Martin sued the PGA citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The PGA won at the US Court of Appeals level. The PGA could have settled for that and granted a one-time exemption to Martin at that point and secured legal precedent for themselves but did not.

    Martin took the case to the Supreme Court where the Justices ruled decisively – and properly in my mind – that Federal Law supersedes the rules of golf and the rules of the PGA.

    The PGA not only had to allow Martin to use a cart; it also now has a significant legal precedent hanging over its head with regard to the sacred “Rules of Golf”.

The NFL is where the PGA was with a win at the US Court of Appeals level. It has legal precedent to support the idea that the NFL Commissioner can indeed discipline players in the NFL as he chooses. If that stature is nearly as important to Roger Goodell as he says it is, then the last thing he ought to do is to risk losing it.

The worst thing that might happen to Tom Brady and the Patriots is that Brady will sit out 4 NFL games at some point in his career – assuming that he does not simply retire before that suspension can take effect. The likelihood that Goodell can add to the penalty is infinitesimal so the Commish is now sitting at the peak of victory in this matter. His powers have been sanctioned by Federal Courts and he can now bask in that glory. There is nothing more for him to gain here.

And that is exactly why he ought to find a way to make this whole matter go away. Suspending Tom Brady and/or punishing the Patriots ought not be nearly as important to Roger Goodell than the affirmation of his power of discipline. So, unless this has morphed into an ego-stroking situation for him, he should be the one leading a charge to settle the matter and to move on to whatever the next issue is to face the league.

Is this going to happen? Probably not. However, it would happen in a flash if I were the Commissioner…

Now I have 2 things to say about the NBA Finals:

    1. Draymond Green needs counseling. He got himself suspended from a Finals game. Ostensibly, the suspension is for a flagrant foul involving him punching LeBron James in the “man-zone”. However, that is NOT the reason he is suspended for this game. He is suspended for this game because he has accumulated a boatload of technical fouls and flagrant fouls – other times where one of his limbs found itself in contact with an opponent’s “man-zone”. The issue is one of simple self-control.

    2. Cavs’ coach Ty Lue said after Game 4 that LeBron James does not “get a fair whistle” and that the officials are not giving him the calls he deserves. If true, that would be precedent-setting for the NBA; star players have gotten nothing but deference from officials going back to the days when I began to watch the NBA. Moreover, I will say as a former basketball official and a neutral observer here that if officials called Lebron James for every offensive foul he commits by pushing off, James would never make it to the second quarter of an NBA game.

If you watch NBA games on network TV, you have certainly heard Mike Breen doing the play-by-play. I like Breen’s easy going way of doing a game; he gets excited when excitement is called for but he does not dominate the program. Katie Baker wrote a very interesting biographical piece on Breen for TheRinger.com. I commend it to your reading.

Bob Molinaro had this observation in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week. I can find no way to dispute his point:

“TV timeout: Saw a headline this week that read, ‘NBC Sports Network to present 330 hours of Rio programming this August.’ To most people, this may look like a simple promo. To me, it’s a mental health warning.”

Finally, consider carefully this point made by Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

Last month, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake released a list of wasteful and distasteful government expenditures.

Among the revelations was a $1 million grant, part or all of which went to learning what music monkeys like. Another $1 million helped study why yawning is contagious. If you want to know whether cheerleaders are more attractive as a group, $1.1 million should help the cause. And a $3.9 million grant funded research on what makes goldfish feel sexy.

All of which pale in comparison to the Houston Rockets spending $87 million to find out whether Dwight Howard can play.

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

A New NFL Rule For 2016…

The NFL – demonstrating once again that the acronym might stand for the No Fun League – has a new wrinkle in the rule book for the 2016 season. The basis for the rule change goes back to a game last year when Green Bay Packers’ WR, James Jones, wore a green hoodie under his jersey and had the hood sticking out over the back of his jersey when he was on the field wearing his helmet. Jones said that the reason he did that was because it was cold and he wanted to keep warm. For the record, there is meteorological evidence that it does indeed get cold in the late Fall and early Winter in Green Bay Wisconsin.

That solution to the cold will be against the rules as of this year and the reason is simple, incontrovertible – and at the same time sort of silly. Hoodies under jerseys cannot be worn because the hood obscures – at least partially – the nameplate on the back of the player’s uniform. As I said, “simple” and “incontrovertible”. Also “silly”. Then again, it is a part of the league’s “uniform policy” meaning that “silly” is a standard feature.

Fear not. The uniform rule only applies to players. Bill Belichick will still be allowed to dress like a homeless vagrant on the sidelines so long as there is a Patriots’ logo on the hoodie he sports…

To read about some of the other rulebook tweaks the NFL has put in place for the upcoming season that have nothing to do with the rules of play, check them out here.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times dug up this tidbit about an athletic “dress code” and it makes the NFL policy look reasonable:

“The Iran soccer federation’s ‘morality committee’ has suspended national-team goalkeeper Sosha Makani for six months for wearing inappropriate off-field attire — specifically, loud yellow pants reminiscent of SpongeBob SquarePants.

“And you thought the NFL fashion police were tough?”

Maria Sharapova has been suspended by the tennis mavens for 2 years for using a banned substance and failing a drug test. She has claimed that she took it under doctor’s orders for a heart condition and that she had been taking it for many years on that basis. She also claimed that she was unaware that the drug had been added to the “no-no list” and therefore she continued with what was her medical regimen. Who knows if any or all of that is true?

The original recommendation was for her to serve a 4-year banishment but the tribunal that heard her appeal reduced it to a 2-year hiatus. This will be a tough thing for her to come back from; she will be 31 when her suspension ends; for most tennis players, that can be the twilight of the career.

I do not follow tennis assiduously and – as I have stated many times before – I do not read minds. Nevertheless, I wonder if some small part of the lengthy banishment here is a way for the tennis mavens to demonstrate that they are going to “be tough” on Russian athletes who test positive for PEDs/banned substances. The stories about Russian athletes doping for the Winter Games in 2014 and for other recent international competitions are myriad. Maybe this is a grandstand play on the part of International Tennis Federation?

Once again, let me turn to Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times for a summary of the Maria Sharapova situation:

“Tennis grunt queen Maria Sharapova has been suspended two years for using a banned substance.

“Here’s guessing she didn’t take the news quietly.”

With all the news of on-air talent “defecting” from ESPN – or being asked to leave – and rumors of retirements, there is one broadcasting icon at the network who is not going anywhere. Brent Musburger has signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN and will continue to call SEC football games on the SEC Network with Jesse Palmer as the color analyst. In addition, Musburger will continue to do college basketball games after the football season is over.

Musburger turned 77 a few weeks ago and he started his broadcasting career with CBS Radio in 1968. He stayed with CBS until 1990 when a change in management there found him “expendable”; he signed on with ESPN in 1990 and has been there ever since. I have not read any reports on how long the contract extension is.

Speaking obliquely about college football, there was news recently that the Sun Belt Conference will hold a Conference Championship Game starting in 2018. If you give me a couple of weeks to think about it, I may come up with something equally inconsequential as the determination of the Sun Belt Champion. The conference itself is in a state of turmoil at the moment; let me review the bidding:

    Two members (Idaho and New Mexico State) are “football-only members” and they are being kicked out of the conference at the end of the 2017 season.

    Coastal Carolina – graduating from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A – will join the conference in 2018.

If you Google “Sun Belt Conference”, you find that there are no powerhouse programs there. In fact, what you will find are a lot of teams that serve as Homecoming Opponents for powerhouse programs.

I pay attention to college football but I have to admit that I had no idea who the Sun Belt Champion was last year – or the year before that. So I went and looked. My guess is that you too were not aware that:

    Arkansas State has won or shared the conference title 4 times in the last 5 years.

    Georgia State was the conference champion in the year that Arkansas State was not.

Finally, let me close with one more comment from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Federal agents set up a fake university — the University of Northern New Jersey — to break up a ring that sold more than 1,000 bogus non-immigrant student visas.

“The ruse was so convincing, insiders say, that eight SEC teams already had them on next season’s nonconference football schedule.”

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

Strange Doings Today …

Well, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned things around last night. They dominated the Warriors about as thoroughly as the Warriors had dominated them in the first two games. Perhaps an interesting final series is on the menu …

Until yesterday, I believed that everyone over the age of 12 realized the professional wrestling was a fantasy and not actual carnage and brutality. Then I read a report about a woman in Georgia who was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after she pulled a loaded gun and pointed it at the “bad guy” in a match. Yes, she did that…

This was a match put on by the American Wrestling Federation between Paul Lee (the bad guy) and Iron Mann (the good guy). At one point in the match Lee had managed to tie Iron Mann up and was hitting Iron Mann with a chair. The lady in the audience had exchanged words with the bad guy during the match but at that point she had had all she could take. She entered the ring with a knife and cut Iron Mann free and pointed the loaded gun at Lee. According to reports, there was a round in the chamber and the safety was off.

As things evolved – before the gendarmes arrived and restored a semblance of order – the woman also pointed the gun at the “commissioner” of the American Wrestling Federation in attendance. The fact that the commissioner was identified as “Robbie Rude” would lead me to suspect that he was part of plot for the evening that wound up with Iron Mann tied up and taking chair shots.

Lest you think I am making this up – or embellishing the story – you can check out the newspaper report of the incident here.

OK, that was outrageous enough and on a normal day, it would be the only outrageous item to report. However, there is another report that came out yesterday in the Seattle Times that scores highly on the Scurrilous Scale. As I go through the explanation of what happened here, please do not forget that this is a HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PROGRAM. This is not big time college football or professional football where revenue streams amounting to tens of millions of dollars are involved.

Bellevue High School is in a northern suburb of Seattle and the football team has been a powerhouse over recent years; it has been the state champion 11 times in the past 15 years. It now faces a 4-year ban on any postseason play on the basis of an investigation that uncovered “significant and long-standing violations”. Here are some of the issues:

    Families provided false addresses to have players eligible to play for that school and that team.

    Some players were “directed” to an alternative school where they took courses that guaranteed them good grades so they could stay eligible. One of the players told investigators that a teacher provided him with the answers to tests and that the alternative school was “day care” for the players.

    The head coach gave cash – collected from team boosters – to the family of at least one player.

Remember, this is HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

The school has the right to an appeal; it is not clear to me at the moment if they will do that. Here is a link to the report in the Seattle Times about this matter and in that report you can find the full investigative report. It is more than 60 pages long; I did not read all of it but the part that I did read indicates that the investigators were competent and dedicated to their task. I suggest you read the summary report in the Seattle Times if you do not have the time or the stomach to read the full investigative report.

The fact of corruption and payoffs related to FIFA is not mysterious. While I was on hiatus in the UK, I read a report in the Sunday Telegraph that shows the level of concern that has been generated about that. We saw the defrocking of Sepp Blatter and then we had the name of his successor show up in the “Panama Papers”. FIFA has not cornered the market on sleaze but they do have a large inventory of it.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, England could be forbidden to host future World Cup Tournaments, European Championships and/or Champions League Finals if the English Football Association (FA) “continues to resist reform”. The way that would be enforced is that the government would refuse to sanction the FA hosting action. The English government has a position titled Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; that is far too cumbersome for newspapers and so it is known there as the Culture Secretary. The current incumbent is a Member of Parliament, John Whittingdale, and he said that the FA would stop getting the £30M it receives from the government every 4 years if the FA did not reform its governance structure.

I mentioned that the English government was poised to block any move by the FA to host a major soccer event. The way they can do that is to refuse to allow various lucrative tax breaks that are important conditions that FIFA or UEFA demand as part of the deal to place those events in the selected countries. Evidently, the government has been pushing the FA for reforms for a while now. Back in 2005, the FA received a report that it commissioned from Lord Burns recommending wide-ranging reforms and changes to the FA structure and governance. In the intervening years, the members and the governors of the FA have resisted all attempts to implement any changes.

Finally, since I mentioned a serious report in the Seattle Times above, let me close with a not so serious observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

Ex-Washington QB Robert Griffin III’s mansion in Aldie, Va., is up for sale, with an asking price of $2.75 million.

In keeping with the theme, it’s actually $3 million, but you get a quarter back.

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

Speak For Yourself?

According to a report in the Washington Post, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock are going to team up on FS1 to do a “debate show” akin to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. The working title for the new show is Speak for Yourself and it is supposed to hit the air sometime this month.

The time slot for the new show was not mentioned but I would think that FS1 would find a way not to put its new show up against Pardon the Interruption directly. According to ratings, PTI is ESPN’s most popular program other than game telecasts. Moreover, Colin Cowherd does a radio/TV simulcast program for FOX from noon to 3:00 PM every weekday and the reports are that he will continue to do that program. That being the case, it would seem logical that the new program would best start several hours after the radio program ended in order to allow for prep time with Whitlock for the program.

Interestingly, both Cowherd and Whitlock used to work for ESPN and both of them left recently “under a cloud”. Cowherd made some remarks on his ESPN program that many folks took as derogatory toward baseball players from the Dominican Republic. Whitlock was supposed to be the guy in charge of ESPN’s site TheUndefeated.com but problems arose in that enterprise supposedly related to Whitlock’s managerial style. All of that is water under the bridge; these two commentators will try to re-create the style that makes PTI so successful. [Aside: It has been on the air for 15 years now.]

I will tune in to sample the program once it is on the air. I realize that some folks will tune in to see these two innately polarizing figures collide with one another. Both of these guys have loyal followers/acolytes and both of them have dedicated antagonists who would find fault with either one even if he announced that he had a cure for cancer. In my case, the reason I want to tune in is that both Cowherd and Whitlock are interesting figures for a very simple reason:

    Both of them make me think about events in the sports world beyond the initial reaction that is governed by emotion. Often, they can each provide a viewpoint that reminds me that thinking is best done by one’s brain and not by one’s glands.

Having said that, the bar for success here is rather high. The reason PTI is so entertaining is that there is a long-standing and genuine friendship between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon going back to their days as columnists at the Washington Post for about 35 years. That friendship comes through in the midst of their “debates” and it is noticeably absent when either of them is replaced on the program by some other ESPN figure. The challenge for Cowherd and Whitlock will be to create a similar atmosphere such that their “debates” do not appear to be contrived.

You probably read reports from last weekend that Broncos’ CB, Aqib Talib, had been shot in the leg outside a nightclub in Dallas and had been taken to a hospital. As of this morning, the Dallas police do not have a suspect in custody in the case and there are reports that Talib has not been particularly helpful. According to a TV station in Dallas, Talib told the police that he was too drunk to recall any details of the incident and that he was shot in a park and not outside a nightclub. Whatever…

    [Aside: Let us hope that he had a designated driver with him or was sober enough to call a cab for his transportation home that night…]

Surrounding all of this fluff are some hints that Talib may have shot himself in the leg. If that is true, that would put him in an exclusive NFL club joining Plaxico Burress in the Self-Inflicted Wound Society. The Dallas TV station also reported that the bullet took “an interesting path”; given that the venue is Dallas, the idea of a bullet taking an “interesting path” is hauntingly familiar. Supposedly, this bullet entered the rear of Talib’s thigh and exited through his calf. He has been released from the hospital and is expected to recover fully; this is not going to be career threatening or life threatening. However, the matter is not yet ready to conclude…

Also over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox acquired pitcher, James Shields, from the Padres in exchange for two minor league prospects. The White Sox started the season like gangbusters and were on pace to win more than 100 games this season for a while there. The recent weeks have not been nearly as kind to Sox fans; as of this morning, the team is at .500 and they sit in 4th place in the AL Central. The reason they are not in 5th place is that the Twins have already staked their claim on that position in the standings for 2016.

The Sox can use help in the rotation. Mat Latos started the season looking as if he would contend for the Cy Young Award; he allowed only 2 earned runs in his first 4 starts. However, he has regressed to the mean and has an ERA of 4.62 as of this morning. Miguel Gonzales has only pitched 34.1 innings in 7 games this year; that puts the bullpen for the Sox in play and the fact is that they do not have a great bullpen. The addition of Shields should help because he is an “innings eater”. Since 2007, he has thrown more than 202 innings in every season and he carries a career ERA of 3.76.

There is an interesting angle to the trade beyond the help the Sox hope to get from it. One of the minor league players they gave to the Padres is Fernando Tatis, Jr. His father is also named Fernando Tatis, Jr. and “Father” Fernando holds a distinction in baseball history. “Father” Fernando did something that I suspect will never happen again.

    In 1989, playing for the Cardinals, “Father” Fernando hit two grand slam homeruns in the same inning off the same pitcher, Chan Ho Park.

    “Father” Fernando had an 11-year career in MLB as a shortstop hitting .265 with a career OPS of .785. More than likely, the Padres hope that “Son” Fernando can duplicate “Father” Fernando’s accomplishments.

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

“Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is engaged to Kate Upton. Just when you think a guy who’s paid millions of dollars to work every five days couldn’t get luckier.”

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

The NBA Finals So Far…

The NBA Finals are underway and the Warriors have dominated the first two games; actually, “dominated” is an understatement. From what I have seen – I saw the first game after the fact because of a social engagement – the Cavaliers look absolutely overmatched in this series. It is hard to understand how that can be given how good the Cavs have looked during most of the regular season and in the earlier rounds of these playoffs. Nonetheless, that has been the case.

The Cavaliers have one “all-time great” player and two “really, really good players” as the core of the team. Normally, that makes a team competitive with anyone else in the league but the Cavaliers have been anything but threatening in either Game 1 or Game 2. The Cavs cruised to having the best record in the NBA East this year and swept two of their previous playoff opponents. Now they look only marginally better than the Knicks.

To make things worse, the Warriors are dominating the series without getting any super-human production from either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. They are, however, getting super-human production from Draymond Green (the MVP of Games 1 and 2 without much doubt) and from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. Let me give you a couple of cumulative stats to demonstrate what I mean by “domination”:

    Warriors 55 assists – – Cavs 32 assists

    Warriors’ points in the paint 104 – – Cavs’ 82

      Note: This is the area where the Warriors are supposed to be “vulnerable”.

    Cavs shooting from the floor is below 37% (60 for 163).

In Game 2, the Cavs tried to play up-tempo with the Warriors; whoever thought that was a good idea is living in a delusion. The Warriors have beaten the Cavs in their last 7 games now; that means the Cavs face two significant challenges:

    1. How are they going to win a couple of games to make this series look respectable?

    2. How are they going to find a way to blame this debacle on David Blatt?

The NBA gave the teams an extra day off between Game 2 and Game 3 so perhaps the Cavs should use that day to fly someone to Lourdes and back. There are probably good connecting flights through JFK Airport…

Notwithstanding all of the above, the line the morning for Game 3 of this series – to be played in Cleveland tomorrow night – is Warriors – 1. It will be interesting to see how much if any that line moves over the next 36 hours…

Changing the subject to the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, here is an item from the May 30 issue of Sports Illustrated:

    Forty-two (42) condoms per athlete will be available at the Rio Olympics. 450,000 condoms will be placed in the athlete villages – more than triple the number than at London Games in 2012.

    [Insert your own punchline here…]

News Flash! There has been a Keith Olbermann sighting. Evidently, he will be writing for TheRinger.com; he has a piece there related to his interactions over the years with Muhammad Ali. I thought it was a good read; you can find it here.

You can find “listicles” on loads of websites with some variation on the theme:

    Which NFL teams have the worst QB situations?

I will resist any temptation to do anything like that until much closer to the NFL regular season when injury situations and starting QBs are known. However, I must say that I find two of the NFL QB situations more than a bit strange:

    The NY Jets impasse with Ryan Fitzpatrick: Look, it is not as if either party in this squabble has any other legitimate options. Fitzpatrick has said he will play on a 1-year contract for $12M; there are no reports out there indicating that any other NFL team has made him an offer anywhere in the neighborhood of that number. On the other hand, the Jets have 3 QBs on the roster and none of them should get fans’ juices flowing:

      Geno Smith: Getting sucker-punched last year thereby opening the door for Fitzpatrick to start was his greatest contribution to the Jets in his career.

      Bryce Petty: Has never seen the field in a real NFL game.

      Christian Hackenberg: Has never seen the field even in an NFL exhibition game.

    The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning retired; Brock Osweiler took a huge contract offer from the Texans. Currently on the roster:

      Mark Sanchez: Really? For all 16 games? Mark Sanchez?

      Trevor Siemian: In one game last year he attempted zero passes and ran the ball 1 time for minus-1 yard.

      Paxton Lynch: Just drafted this year, he probably has a bit of a learning curve moving up to the NFL from the American Athletic conference.

    Yes, I realize that the Broncos won with their dominating defense last year but even the greatly diminished Peyton Manning inspired more confidence than any of the trio above. Oh, and that dominating defense has been weakened to some extent by players signing elsewhere and by Aqib Talib getting shot in the leg in a barroom fight.

As I said, those QB situations look a tad off-center to me…

Finally, I found this item in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Keeping Score, recently:

“Richmond, B.C., blogger TC Chong weighs in on the fight of the week: ‘Odor was handed an eight-game suspension for his part in the brawl with the Blue Jays. This will give him enough time to sign an endorsement contract with Hawaiian Punch. Not to be outdone, look for Bautista to sign a contract with Odor Eaters.’”

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