Strange Happenings…

Let me be clear here; I know that I am certainly not the most sensitive and caring person on the planet.  I plead guilty to having stereotypical images that overlay various individuals and groups of individuals; I even laugh out loud at ethnic humor – when the joke is funny.  But even I in my most incorrigible moments recognize that this next item is more than just a little “over the line”.

The NY Post reported that women squash players at a tournament in Spain were given vibrators and a waxing set as “gifts” – – among other things to be sure.  As you might imagine these women were not happy about this and made their feelings known.  The tournament organizers said that they were sorry that the players felt “aggrieved by the prizes” and then tried to apologize for the situation.  Any attempt at an apology was probably doomed as soon as this statement appeared as part of the apology:

  • “At no moment was it done from a sexist standpoint.”

This incident is more than jaw-dropping; this report deserves a full double face-palm.  And just so you do not think that this is some kind of belated April Fool’s prank on my part, here is the link to the report in the NY Post.

Oh, but there is more bizarre sports “stuff” out there today.  A school has been kicked out of its conference because its football program is – – wait for it – – too good for the rest of the schools in that conference.  No, I am not referring to Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State; I am not referring to Linfield College who has not had a losing season in football since 1956 in the Northwest Conference (Division III).  No, this action comes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (Division III) and the penalty falls on the University of St. Thomas.  The “Tommies” will be “involuntarily removed” from the MIAC at the end of the 2020/21 athletic scheduling year.

  • [Aside:  Doesn’t it sound ever so much kinder and gentler to be “involuntarily removed” from a conference than it does to be “kicked out”?]

Naturally, when I read about this conference action, I had to go and look to see just how much better than the rest of the league St. Thomas has been.  Indeed, they have been putting a hurt on the rest of the conference teams.  Just a couple of stats for you here:

  • In conference games in 2017, St. Thomas outscored its opponents by a combined score of 458-62.
  • In the 2015 season, St Thomas outscored its conference opponents by a combined score of 451-67.
  • In November 2017, St. Thomas ran up the score over one of its conference competitors, St Olaf, and won the game 97-0.

It turns out that football is not the only sport where St. Thomas is dominant.  The conference has an annual trophy awarded to the school with the best overall record in all sports for each gender.  St. Thomas had won both the men’s trophy and the women’s trophy every year from 2008 through 2017.

There are 13 schools in the MIAC today; the MIAC was founded in 1920 with 7 original members; St. Thomas was one of those 7 schools in the original incarnation of the MIAC.  The characterization of St Thomas being involuntarily removed from the MIAC was not the only grandiloquence in the announcement.  The conference mavens felt it necessary to point out that the Tommies were:

“… [one of the] seven founding members of the MIAC and will leave the conference in good standing with a long and appreciated history of academic and athletic success.”

Let me translate that for you:

  • St. Thomas has been in the conference for 100 years and they have dominated the athletic competitions in the conference for much of that time.  The rest of the schools got tired of getting their asses kicked and decided to send St. Thomas packing – – but with best wishes and with appreciation of their prior success.  Oh, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Obviously, it costs money for schools to run an athletic program – no matter if you are talking about a Division 1-A football program or a middle school basketball team.  In those situations where there is marginal revenue generated by the program, there is a need to impose cost controls to stem the flow of red ink.  Watauga High School in Boone NC seems to have come up with an interesting approach to cost controls for their basketball programs.

Laura Berry has been successful in coaching the girls’ basketball team to consecutive playoff appearances and a conference championship in 2018.  The school needed a coach for the boys’ team and decided to hire Ms. Berry to take on both coaching positions simultaneously.  In case you are wondering how she is going to be able to do that, it turns out that the boys’ team and the girls’ team play all their games at the same venue for the season.  That saves the school district the cost of buying one of those “Beam-Me-Up-Scotty-Machines” made famous on Star Trek to get her from one game to the next efficiently.

Here is a link to a report in the Watauga Democrat with all the details on this hiring decision by the school district.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News that demonstrates yet another way to kill two birds with one stone:

“Having drawn the top pick in the NBA draft, the New Orleans Pelicans are expected to select Duke’s Zion Williamson.

“But that’s just when the dealing should begin. If they’re smart, the Pelicans will trade Williamson to Utah in exchange for their long-lost nickname.

“How perfect would that be?

“Utah would be home to Zion, and New Orleans would have back the Jazz.”

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

 

 

Sports And Business Intersect Here

If all I told you was that a local company has entered into an agreement with the local high school to pay $750K for naming rights to the school’s athletic field, you would probably think this was a high school football venue in Texas or maybe this was the high school from which emerged the fabulously wealthy CEO of a business.  In either instance, you would be wrong.

  • The location is not Texas – or even the US.  The location is Leamington, Ontario, Canada and the high school field will be a multi-purpose facility.  Leamington is a small town (population about 27,500 in 2016) located in the southwest part of Ontario on Lake Erie; physically, it is closer to Detroit than it is to any of Canada’s major cities.
  • The benefactor is Nature Fresh Farm a company that provides greenhouse grown non-GMO produce on a year-round basis.

This high school is relatively new and the athletic facilities have been evolving for the last decade or so; there was a student/community fund-raising effort called “Finish the Field” that had raised a bit more than $100K – but even so the “finished field” was going to be a grassy area for football and/or soccer with a few bleachers for spectators.  That is when Nature Fresh Farm honored its ledge to support the school and its quest for a sports facility and kicked in the $750K for the “naming rights”.  Now the vision for the facility has expanded to include a track around the fields with an all-weather surface.

Take the story above and file it under “sports/business stories without a lot of smarminess”.  There just aren’t a lot of them running around out there these days.   And as evidence for that assertion please consider this report related to sports and business.

The topic here is college football in the US – and so you can immediately set your smarmy meter to the highest range setting available.  You might be tempted to dial it back just a bit when I tell you that the story does not involve one of the “football factories” or one of the “power schools” – – but do not be too hasty.

The school in question here is Miami (Ohio).  The school is often referred to as the “cradle of coaches” for having produced people like – inter alia:

  • Paul Brown
  • Paul Dietzel
  • Weeb Ewbank
  • Sid Gilman
  • John Harbaugh (father of the current “Harbaugh brothers” in the coaching business)
  • Woody Hayes
  • Sean McVay
  • Ara Parseghian
  • Bo Schembechler
  • Jim Tressel

Now, they seem to be involved in activities that could label them as the cradle of creative accounting.  According to the school newspaper – – The Miami Student – – the school athletic department purchases about 10,000 tickets for each football game so that the school can meet the NCAA minimum attendance requirements for the school to remain in Division 1-A.  And where does the athletic department get the money to buy these tickets that are never used but count as “paid attendance” so that Miami can keep its Division 1-A status in the MAC?  Why they get it from the student fees charged by the university over and above tuition.  Cue the Church Lady from SNL:

  • Isn’t that special?

Miami (Ohio) along with just about every MAC school has trouble getting people into the stadium, but college football attendance is a problem even at the highest level of the sport.  Recall last season that Nick Saban chastised the Alabama student body for leaving games at the end of the 3rd quarter when Alabama had the game in hand.  Saban’s concept then was that the team worked hard all year to be able to dominate those games and that the student support through to the end was the student acknowledgement of the team’s accomplishment.  [For the record, I think Nick Saban is out in left field on this one – if you will allow me the use of that mixed metaphor here.]

I think all these attendance problems for college football – from the really good programs down through the truly mediocre ones – stem from two major sources;

  1. Twenty-five years ago, there was no comparison between the “game-at-home experience” and the “stadium experience”.  Seeing the game in person was the way to go each and every time you had a shot at tickets for the game.  Today the “game-at-home” experience is a light-year better than it was 25 years ago and, in many ways, it is better than the “stadium experience”.  When you watch – or merely tun in briefly – on a Wednesday night in November and see a MAC game in progress you will notice that there are few folks in the stands and that the ones who are there universally look uncomfortable.  That is the Miami (OH) problem – bad conditions on a weeknight in games that really don’t mean a whole lot.
  2. The ability to see top teams play one another more than once ever couple of years in that excellent “game-at-home” environment has made the college football fan more discriminating in the way he spends his time.  After an Alabama fan watches the Tide take on LSU and Georgia and Florida and Auburn – live or on TV – he might not be nearly as excited to stay to the bitter end to watch Alabama toy with the likes of New Mexico State or Western Carolina (two of this year’s sacrificial lambs).

Television has brought more than merely prosperity to college football programs; it has brought the ability for fans to be more discriminating in what they will watch and what they will not watch.  So, maybe instead of buying up phantom tickets to games and pretending that many people showed up for the game (as Miami (OH) has done) or instead of trying to come up with ways to reward students for staying to the bitter end of blowout home games (as Alabama is going to try to do starting this year), maybe some out-of-the-box thinking is in order here:

  • Maybe Miami (OH) and the rest of the MAC schools should consider playing games on Saturday afternoons and not on Wednesday nights?  It is warmer in the afternoon than it is at night – – particularly in MAC country once Halloween comes and goes.
  • Maybe Alabama might consider scheduling fewer cupcake opponents.  Next year they will play Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina as their 4 out-of-conference games.  Yes, I know that the conference schedule for any team in the SEC West is a tough one; but look at those four cupcake opponents and ask yourself if you would want to sit through an entire game watching them get trucked by Alabama.

Finally, business considerations plague sports programs/teams and the sports media too.  Here is an observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times on that topic:

“Golf Digest is struggling to come up with advertisers.

“New in-house marketing slogan:  ‘Get out of the hole’.”

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

 

 

The Warriors Are Still On A Roll…

The Golden State Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals last night sweeping the Blazers and earning the team a bit of rest before facing either Milwaukee or Toronto out of the Eastern Conference.  This makes 5 consecutive Finals for the Warriors and the last time the NBA had that happen was back in the 60s when the Celtics were playing with the likes of Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy.  Teammates, Steph Curry and Draymond Green both posted Triple Doubles in the game and that is the first time in NBA history that ever happened in a playoff game.  Draymond Green had an outstanding game doing just about everything one could want from a player.  Stats do not always tell the story, but these stats will give you a pretty good idea of the impact Green had on the game:

  • 18 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists – – PLUS – –
  • 2 blocked shots and 3 steals.

The Bucks and Raptors will continue their playoff series tonight in Toronto with the Bucks leading 2 games to 1.  The oddsmakers opened this game with the Bucks as a 1-point favorite but that spread has expanded to 2.5 points most everywhere and to 3 points at one of the Internet sportsbooks.

I understand that hyperbole and self-congratulation are staples in the announcements that accompany sports and network deals.  Those deals are always superb and heavenly and the like; so, I was not shocked to see that the WNBA TV deal with CBS Sports Network TV was hailed as one of the great achievements of Western Civilization.  From the CBS side of the table we learned from Sean McManus:

“This partnership is one of the biggest and most impactful women’s sports programming arrangements ever at CBS Sports, offering national exposure of 40 games per year.  This agreement provides great live content throughout the summer in primetime and on weekends, and aligns two great brands in the WNBA and CBS Sports. We look forward to working with the WNBA for many years to come.”

That is pretty standard fare for events of this kind and so we now turn to Adam Silver – the NBA Commissioner – who still fronts for the WNBA 23 years after it came into existence:

“Through our partnership with CBS Sports Network, the WNBA is joining an elite lineup of premium sports programming.  We thank CBS Sports for making such a meaningful commitment to women’s basketball and for providing another platform to showcase the world-class athletes of the WNBA.”

“An elite lineup of premium sports programming?” Seriously?  CBS Sports Network simulcasts sports-talk radio programs for much of the day but here is the elite lineup of sports they will present to you for the next several days – until the first WNBA telecast – during prime time:

  • College Bowling
  • PWBA Bowling
  • British Touring Car Championship
  • Blancpain GT World Challenge (White Bread?  Is this a cooking show?)
  • Supercars Championship
  • PBR Bull Riding
  • Pickleball
  • Collegiate Bass Fishing (Do they give athletic scholarships for fishing?)
  • Major League Rugby
  • WNBA game (Sky versus Lynx)
  • Lion Fight 55 (It’s some sort of MMA event)

That is the family of elite/premium sports programming the WNBA has joined.  If that is elite, I am pleased to be a plebian…

Speaking of TV deals, the XFL 2.0 has reached 2 TV deals – each of 3-years in duration – with Disney and with FOX.  The league will begin play in February 2020 and these deals will put every XFL game on television – either on cable or on over-the-air network TV.  About half the games will be on network TV; that is important because that means fans will have a better chance of finding the games and then choosing to watch them or not.  [Aside:  The lineup above on cable CBS sports TV does not afford the WNBA such a luxury.]  And as the Bard of Avon might say here:

“Aye, there’s the rub…”

The XFL product on the field must be accepted by the viewing public as an interesting and acceptable way to spend a few hours a week because there will be a laser focus on the ratings that the games attract.  The audiences have to be “of a certain size” AND the audiences must continue to show interest in the product.  No one is going to dig deeply into the demographics of the WNBA game (Sky versus Lynx) next weekend to read any kinds of future tea leaves.  The ratings for that game will be down in “infomercial territory” and most everyone knows that from the start.  The XFL 2.0 will not enjoy such a lax overview.

The good news for the XFL 2.0 TV deal is that the league is not buying the TV time from the network as did the AAF.  Rather, the networks will absorb all the costs of producing the games for telecast and the networks will keep all the advertising money that comes in.  The networks’ coverage of production costs is a plus for the XFL 2.0; it means they will burn money at a lower rate.  The lack of any split in the advertising revenue that comes in is not a plus because the XFL 2.0 must have incoming revenue to survive and getting money back from the networks as part of the rights package is one of the big revenue streams.  The AAF business model did not work; we shall see about the XFL 2.0 business model…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this comment in the Seattle Times recently:

“Colts owner Jim Irsay forked over $718,750 to buy John Lennon’s famed piano.

“Hey, Jim, when the player-personnel people said they wanted Peppers, they meant Julius, not Sgt.”

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

 

 

Sports Venues today …

The Preakness Stakes run last Saturday had lost much of its allure when the on-track and disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby skipped the Preakness AND the tote-board longshot winner of the Kentucky Derby also shunned the race to prepare for some as yet unidentified stakes race later this summer.  Nevertheless, there were two interesting things to emerge from this race that deserve attention – – and neither have to do with the winner of the race.

  1. Longshot, Bodexpress, unseated its rider, John Velasquez in the first few steps out of the gate in the 1 3/16-mile race.  What happened then is a tribute to the training that the horse has had.  He continued to run with the pack for the entirety of the race without causing any chaos or dangerous incidents.
  2. Fans at Pimlico faced new evidence of the track’s decrepit state of repair.  On Thursday before the race, a water main broke in front of the track; hasty repairs were made – – but obviously there was more to the problem.  During the day, the water pressure in the top floor of the grandstand was so low that officials had to close all the rest rooms on that level making the waits to use the other rest rooms “abnormally lengthy”.

I have argued for years that Pimlico should be closed because it is an inadequate facility as it stands and because estimates of what it might take to bring it up to acceptable standards all go north of $400M.  This “bathroom inconvenience incident” is not the only problem that Pimlico officials had to deal with this year.  In the Spring, it was necessary to close off the Old Grandstand area of the track.  The reason for the closure is probative for razing the facility and using the land for something else:

  • Engineers determined that if indeed the Old Grandstand would be filled to capacity as used to be normal on Preakness Day, the structure itself could not bear the weight of those 6500 patrons.

Let me change the subject here and talk about an athletic facility that is nowhere near needing to be shut down or be subject to renovations that might cost $400M.  In fact, this venerable facility is in sufficiently good repair that its uses are being expanded significantly.  I am talking about Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN.

This stadium opened in 1930 and until very recently, it served as the home field for Notre Dame football and nothing else.  Please note that there are no corporate naming rights sold for this facility; it is plainly and simply Notre Dame Stadium.  Tony Kornheiser has referred to Notre Dame’s football history by saying that Notre Dame is actually, “The University of Football in North America.”  That is only a slight exaggeration.  For several decades many people thought of this as a holy land of football – – which come to think of it is not such a stretch of the imagination given that “Touchdown Jesus” stands at one end of the field.

But time marches on and things must adapt – – or risk obsolescence.  In the case of Notre Dame Stadium, the adaptation has to do with increasing the facilities revenues.

  • Last year, Notre Dame Stadium was the site for a concert for the first time in its life.  Garth Brooks performed there; Google tells me that about 85,000 folks showed up for that event.  That is all I can possibly say about it because I don’t know Garth Brooks from Our Miss Brooks – – Google that one if you are under 65 years old.
  • On New Year’s Day this year, Notre Dame Stadium was the venue for the NHL’s annual outdoor hockey game on New Year’s Day.  The Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks participated in this event.  Presumably, the Blackhawks were the home team because South Bend is a whole lot closer to Chicago than it is to Boston.
  • Come July of this year, Liverpool FC of the English Premier League and Borussia-Dortmund BVB of the German Bundesliga will turn the football field at Notre dame stadium into a futbol pitch.

The reality of 2019 is that organizations are always on the lookout for ways to increase revenue streams and to monetize every possible asset within their organization.  What was a “College Football Mecca” is still a football stadium primarily – – but it is used in other ways so as to bring added monies into the university and the city of South Bend IN.  In addition to its reputation for football excellence, Notre Dame also enjoys an excellent reputation for its business school.  Finding ways to blend those two aspects of Notre Dame’s image probably sits well with alums and the administration – – but I wonder if somewhere in the cosmos folks like Knute Rockne and/or Frank Leahy are shedding a tear.

Let’s just hope that the “revenue maximizers” exercise a modicum of restraint here.  Hockey games and soccer games are athletic events; no problem hosting those sorts of things in Notre Dame Stadium.  Many, many stadiums around the country are used as concert venues for singers and bands and whatevers; no problem there either.  However, where is “the line” that should not be crossed:

  1. A monster truck rally?  Or a motocross event?
  2. Wrestlemania?
  3. A Formula 1 race through the streets of South Bend with laps around the field in the stadium?
  4. An “International Dog Show” put on by the Indiana Kennel Club.  [Think of the clean-up activities after that one…]

There is a line somewhere; the good folks in charge of Notre Dame need to find that line and then – to invoke a tried and true football phrase – – hold that line.

Finally, in the spirit of sporting events that may not belong in certain venues, consider this remark from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“The Olympic hopes of a top Russian skateboarder were dashed when Maxim Kruglov, known as ‘Mad Maxim,’ was slapped with a four-year doping ban. Whoever heard of such a thing? And by that, I mean, who knew skateboarding was an event at the 2020 Tokyo Games?”

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

 

 

Off-Field Issues Today …

Earlier this week, I noted that the Rays would visit the Marlins for a 2-game series and that they are the two worst draws in MLB.  Then I wondered if the 2-game set would draw a total of 20,000 folks.  Boy was I ever optimistic…

  • Game 1 was in Miami and the box score for the game said the weather was 77 degrees and the roof was closed.  There were no weather-related events to hinder a crowd and the attendance for the game was 6,306.
  • Game 2 was in Miami and the box score for the game said the weather was 78 degrees and the roof was closed.  Once again, no weather impediments and the attendance for the second game was 5,947.  The total for the two games was 12,253 fans.  That is less than the average attendance for a single game for every MLB team except for the Marlins.

I wondered if on the night of Game 2 if there were minor league games with more than 5,947 fans in the stands.  It took me less than 5 minutes of Googling to come up with these numbers:

  • Norfolk at Toledo (AAA level) drew 10,100 fans
  • Bowie at Akron (AA level) drew 7,501 fans
  • Frederick at Wilmington (Advanced A level) drew 6,504 fans

It used to be the case – and so I assume it is still the case – that the visiting team in MLB gets a cut of the ticket revenue for their performance.  If that is the case, all the other 29 teams have to be unhappy when they have to go to Miami because they have to know in advance that this will be a meager payday.  I really believe that MLB needs to get out of Miami as soon as they can without legal entanglements; despite all the positive indicators for MLB in that area, it has not worked, and it is not working.

By the way, if and when that happens, the good folks in Tampa/St. Petersburg should take careful notice…

The WNBA has its first Commissioner; in the past, it has had a league President; and if you read the reporting, you will see that plenty of folks think this is a big step forward for the league.  You say tomato; I say to-mah-to.  Cathy Englebert – former CEO at Deloitte – is the Commish and her first order of business is to negotiate a new CBA with the players union.  Here are two opposing forces in that negotiation:

  • The WNBA is a losing proposition; it only stays afloat because the NBA pumps money into the league; team owners would all be “in the red” absent that largesse from the NBA
  • The WNBA players receive in salaries approximately 22% of the league revenue; that compares to about 50% of the revenue that goes to NBA players and NFL players under their CBAs.

In 2019, there is energy behind the movement for “equal pay for equal work” – as it should be.  In situations of public sector jobs and in situations where private entities are at least breaking even, there are no good arguments to deny women equal pay for equal work.  However, that goal is a bit murkier in terms of its righteousness when that business entity is a women’s league and the comparison to the comparable men’s league does not also include the profitability factor.  Ms. Englebert has an interesting challenge on her plate…

Oh, and there is another thing Madame Commish needs to do in her role as the custodian and protector of the league’s image:

  • She must make it clear to the players and the union that being a no-show for a scheduled game because the flight to the city got in late is unprofessional and unacceptable.  It happened once last year; that must be the last time it EVER happens if the WNBA hopes to be taken more seriously than the late but hardly lamented AAF.

I swear that aliens from the Xygork Nebula are observing humankind from nearby in the solar system and they have irradiated the water supply in NYC to see how humans react to this altered state of water.  It is the best explanation I can come up with for team behaviors there.

  • Two years ago, the NY Knicks fired Phil Jackson as their GM/team President about a week after Jackson organized and ran the Knicks’ draft and took Frank Ntilikina with the first pick.  That draft came only a couple of months after owner James Dolan extended Jackson’s contract – actually, l I believe he picked up an option in that contract – for several more years.  Two years later, the Knicks are no better off than they were when Dolan showed Jackson the door.
  • This week, the Jets fired their GM who – since the end of last season’s disappointing results – hired a new coach, signed free agents to the tune of about $150M, organized and ran the NFL Draft and traded for a much-needed interior lineman.  And they handed the job to the new coach that he hired who has never been in a GM role in his life.

Memo to NY Jets ownership:  The team name – JETS – is an anagram for JEST.  If your new coach is not the offensive guru you have made him out to be, he will be the franchise equivalent of an ADAM Bomb.  Take a deep breath and think before you make your next move…

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:

“Speculation that an NFL team would take a chance on Colin Kaepernick once he settled his collusion case against the league now appears to have been too optimistic.  The draft is over and so is most of free agency, and still he sits.  Never say never, but I don’t see him returning to the field.”

I agree here; however, I think now his absence from football is of his choosing.  I think he has moved on to other things in his life.

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

 

 

 

 

The Jets Lead The News…

In recent years, the Bengals, Browns, Cardinals, Jags, Lions, Raiders and Skins have dominated NFL news items involving ineptitude and outlandishness.  A team that has been on the periphery of that septet has now seemed to demand entry into that “fraternity”; welcome to the NY Jets.  Yesterday, they fired their GM and handed that job – on an interim basis to be sure – to their new head coach who arrives with a career record of 23-25 and whose experience as a GM is ZERO.  As if that is not bad enough, consider:

  • The GM they just fired is the guy who just hired this hugely successful coach
  • The GM they just fired is the guy who signed up all the team’s free agents for the 2019 season.
  • The GM they just fired is the guy who organized and ran the NFL Draft that just passed.

If the GM was found to be embezzling team funds, I can understand this decision at this time.  If there are allegations that he has been sexually abusing household pets, I can understand this decision at this time.  Absent anything of those natures, this decision is ever so indicative of a franchise in disarray.  Welcome to Disarray Island, NY Jets.

Earlier this week, there was a headline at CBSSports.com that read:

  • Ten Storylines to Watch at the PGA Championship 

As you might imagine, the examples here were nonsensically focused on Tiger Woods to the extent that the entire compilation read like an old David Letterman routine on “Ten Things…”  This is NOT the CBSSports.com list; it is my impression of what the author there wanted to write – – but the editor demanded a slightly broader coverage:

  • Will Tiger Woods Eat the Same Breakfasts at the PGA as He Did at the Masters?
  • Did Tiger Woods Sleep Well Last Week?
  • How Regular Has Tiger Woods Been – A Septic Tank Check-up.
  • Does Anyone Dare Challenge Tiger Woods for This Championship?
  • Notice That Tiger Woods Always Wears Matching Socks in Majors
  • Will Adverse Weather Affect Tiger Woods at All?
  • Is Tiger Woods’ Caddy the Smartest Caddy on The Course?
  • Can Tiger Woods Go “Back-to-Back” in Majors? [On the golf course; not with waitresses. Get your mind out of the gutter…]
  • Can Tiger Woods Fart His Way to Fame This Week – – and the most important story line form this weekend’s PGA Championship
  • Which is Closer to the Bethpage Clubhouse – a Perkins Pancake House or an IHOP?

Since I was speaking about a headline to an article at CBSSports.com just above, let me note here that all the way back in 2016, those same good folks reported that Caitlyn Jenner would pose nude for a Sports illustrated cover.  I wish it were not so because the image evoked is significantly worse than disgusting – – but here is the link:

For anyone seeking a sign that the apocalypse is upon humankind, take that event and put it high up on your list of things to watch for…

Speaking of silly storylines and/or headlines, here is one from The Onion.

  • Kyrie Irving Promises He Won’t Quit on Whatever Team He Signs with This Offseason

When you read the stories going around now that the NCAA is contemplating changing the 3-point line in men’s basketball from the current distance to the “international distance”, the best advice I can offer is the title of a former cable TV comedy show:

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm

If my calculations are correct, the displacement of the 3-point line will be a grand total of 20 inches.  A difference of 20 inches would be important if you were comparing:

  • A home run that just cleared the left field wall in a baseball game
  • A horse race involving a purse of $2M
  • A 4th and 20 play in the Super Bowl that gained 19 yards and 16 inches
  • Porn Star A versus Porn Star B.

With regard to men’s college basketball, this would be a cosmetic change and nothing more than that.

Finally, here is another golf comment from an author and golf champion of the past, Horace G. Hutchinson, since the PGA Championship will commence later today:

“If profanity had any influence on the flight of the ball, the game of golf would be played far better than it is.”

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

 

 

NBA Reflections…

The Kentucky Derby likes to bill itself as “the greatest two minutes in sports”.  Given the hype leading up to the race and then the 7-hour pre-race TV extravaganza on Derby Day, you might think it was the most anti-climactic two minutes in sports.  But, then, there is the NBA Draft Lottery.  Finally, last night, the Lottery passed into history like a bad case of constipation.  It did not produce anything near 2 minutes of excitement or wonderment, but it finally gave us the NBA Draft order for about 5 weeks hence.

In case you have been in a sensory deprivation chamber, the New Orleans Pelicans won the lottery and the speculation has already begun that they will try to convince Anthony Davis that he and Zion Williamson along with Jrue Holiday can form the nucleus of a young team that will be championship contenders very soon.  That is surely not a bad start – assuming that Davis is open to such an overture.  I think it is more interesting to ponder what the Pelicans might do in the event that Davis tells them that he has had it in New Orleans and that he wants out ASAP.

  • If I were the Pelicans’ GM in that circumstance, I would get the best deal I could get for Davis out of a competition among the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, Clippers – and anyone else who might throw an offer into the pot.
  • THEN – I would also trade that overall #1 pick the Pelicans “won” last night for more young players plus picks NEXT year and build around Jrue Holiday who is signed through the end of the 2021/22 season.

Speaking about NBA teams that might be looking to redesign their roster, there is a lot of chatter out there now about the Sixers going through a shake-up.  The logic train here goes like this:

  • The Sixers bench is not very good and not deep at all.  If they are going to be a serious playoff contender, that must change.
  • Three starters – Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Reddick – will hit the free agent market this summer.
  • AND – there are plenty of folks who are begging to fall out of love with Ben Simmons.

The issue with Simmons is very basic; he cannot shoot outside 6 feet from the basket and opposing defenses have taken note of that inability and they just don’t guard him when he is even 15 feet from the basket.  That allows teams to play “5-on-4 defense” much of the time against the rest of the Sixers on the floor.  When Simmons is effective offensively, he is down on the low post where his 6’ 10” frame makes him a mismatch against opposing guards who are not that big.  The problem there is that the Sixers offense also relies on Joel Embiid to work in that confined area of the court and Simmons’ presence there adds another defender to that phone-booth sized area of the court.

Lest this sound totally negative, Ben Simmons’ performance in just about every other phase of the game is more than acceptable.  He is a better-than-average defender and he is an excellent passer; he needs to develop a 15-foot jump shot.  The problem is that just about anyone who watched him play last year recognized that he needed to do that in the off season, but he didn’t do it.  His shooting this year is no better than it was last year, and some have attributed the lack of improvement to a lack of commitment on Simmons part.

If that is indeed the case, the Sixers’ “Process” did not work out well at all.  In fact, before “The Process” began in Philly, the Sixers drafted good players who hung around in the league productively for a good while such as:

  • 2004:  Andre Iguodala (started for the Warriors last night)
  • 2005:  Lou Williams (averaged 20 points per game with the Clippers this year)
  • 2006:  Thabo Sefolosah (came off the bench for the Jazz this year)
  • 2007:  Thaddeus Young (12 points and 7 rebounds per game for the Pacers)
  • 2008:  Marresse Speights (10 years as a journeyman center around the NBA)
  • 2009:  Jrue Holliday (see above)
  • 2010:  Evan Turner (came off the bench for the Blazers this year)
  • 2011:  Nickola Vucevic (15 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Magic)
  • 2012:  Maurice Harkless (came off the bench for the Blazers this year)

And then “The Process” began:

  • 2013:  Michael Carter-Williams – – not a good shooter
  • 2014:  Joel Embiid – – an excellent player when healthy
  • 2014:  Elfrid Payton – – traded for Dario Saric
  • 2015:  Jahlill Okafor – – cannot even pretend to play defense
  • 2016:  Ben Simmons – – can’t shoot
  • 2016:  Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot – – bench player
  • 2016:  Furkan Korkmaz – – 6 points per game off the bench for Sixers this year
  • 2017:  Markelle Fultz – – can’t shoot
  • 2018:  Mikal Bridges – – the jury is still out
  • 2018:  Landry Shamet – – traded away to the Clippers

The listing here from 2013-2018 only represents the first round picks the Sixers had.  Over that period, they also had 20 second round picks.  “The Process” indeed amassed picks; the problem is that way too many of those picks turned to dust.

One rumor out there is that the Lakers might offer to trade LeBron James for Ben Simmons.  [Evidently, LeBron does not have a “no trade clause” in his deal with the Lakers.]  That deal makes little to no sense from either side of the table.

  • LeBron James’ career is on the downward arc; he is in win-now mode; the sixers roster does not look like a “win-now roster”.
  • LeBron James – like Ben Simmons – plays a part of his game on the low post where he and Joel Embiid will create a crowd in a phone booth.
  • With LeBron James comes a ton of drama.  Philly fans may not put up with that drama nearly as well as fans in Cleveland, Miami and LA have in the past.
  • Ben Simmons lack of shooting ability paired with Lonzo ball’s lack of shooting ability would create a Lakers’ backcourt that will drive a coach to drink.

Finally, with the PGA Championship starting tomorrow, here is a comment from Jimmy Demaret – a three-time Masters champion in the 1940s and 50s:

“Golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at either of them.”

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

 

 

Counting The House During the Game?

The MLB schedule for tonight includes the start of a series in Miami wherein the Marlins host the Tampa Bay Rays.  Not to put too fine a point on this, but it seems as if just about no one wants to pay money to watch either of these teams play baseball.

In 2018, the Marlins ranked 27th among the 30 MLB teams in terms of average home attendance; the Rays were dead last in home attendance.  To date in 2019, the Rays are 29th in home attendance (14, 540 fans per game) while the Marlins are a distant dead last in that category (9,668 per game).  Marlins Park holds 36,742 fans; on average, 75% of those seats are empty when the Marlins take the field.

This series matches the two teams that people seem to want to see the least.  If Rays’ fans do not want to see them in St. Petersburg, I doubt that thousands of them will travel approximately 300 miles to go and see them play in Miami.  Marlins’ fans have shown that they are apathetic to cross a couple of roads to see the Marlins play.  So, here’s the deal:

  • Check the box scores for these games.
  • Unless there is a game with a no-hitter or a game where the final score is something like 18-15, ignore all the stats there except for the attendance figures.
  • This is a 2-game series.  If I set the Over/Under for Total Attendance at these two games at 20,000, are you taking OVER or UNDER?

Relevant to this topic, there was a headline at The Onion website last week that is particularly relevant here:

  • The Marlins are looking into eliminating the unprofitable baseball wing of the organization.

While on the subject of MLB, can you recall about a month ago when the Cubs started the season 1-6 and after a discouraging dozen games into the 2019 season, there were reports that Joe Maddon’s job might be in jeopardy?  I can – – and I can remember thinking that even an organization as historically inept as the Cubs could not possibly be thinking that was a good idea.  Well, check out the standings as of this morning:

  • Cubs are 24-14 as of this morning meaning that they have gone 23 – 8 since that 1-6 start to the season.
  • Joe Maddon is not the reason for the bad start just as he is not the reason for the surge since then.
  • The Cubs pitching got a lot better and the players started hitting better – – particularly Kris Bryant who has been on a tear for the last couple of weeks.

Moving on …  It would have seemed that the college basketball game of coaching musical chairs had ended several weeks ago; schools that wanted to get a new coach had already done so; it was now “recruitment time”.  Yesterday’s news informed us that the coaching carousel is going to spin at least one more time.  John Beilein is leaving Michigan (not a shabby program by any standards) to take the job of coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA.  Beilein has a 5-year deal with the Cavs; Beilein is 66 years old; Beilein would have made – reportedly – $3.2M at Michigan next year; terms of his deal with the Cavs were not announced, but the going rate for NBA coaches is significantly higher than that on an annual basis.

Beilein has been a winner at every level from high school through Divisions 3 and 2 and 1 at the college level.  Can he maintain that record in the NBA?  Frankly, I doubt it for reasons that have nothing to do with John Beilein himself:

  • The Cavs were 19-63 last year.  They have no superstar players on the roster.  The roster is Kevin Love, Colin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson plus a “buncha guys”.
  • It is nearly impossible to win 30 games in an NBA season without a superstar on the roster.
  • Absent some legerdemain at the front-office level, I suspect that John Beilein is confined to losing records – – or break-even records at best down the road – – in his NBA experience.

By all reports, the college coaching ranks is losing one of the “good guys” here.  Given all the huffing and puffing around the sordid process of college basketball recruiting, no one has ever suggested that John Beilein was one of the coaches to cut corners in all of that stuff.  Maybe distancing himself from all of those recruiting “irregularities’ done by his rival schools was a motivation to get himself a place on an NBA bench starting next year?  I don’t read minds…

In any event, Michigan is a sufficiently worthy coaching destination that it can get a coach from a recognizable school if that coach fits their hiring profile.  And that would set in motion the start of a mini-version of the college basketball coaching musical chairs game much later than normal.

Bonne chance, John Beilein.

There is something out there known as the Mascot Hall of Fame.  It honors those things that run around stadiums and arenas whipping up support for various teams while simultaneously annoying the heck out of fans like me.  I have argued here more than a couple of times that there are too many Halls of Fame and this one would certainly fall into the category of Why does the world need this?  Having said that, I do have a couple of observations about this Hall of Fame.  As of this morning there seem to me to be two glaring omissions:

  1. Sparty – the Michigan State mascot – is not one of the inductees.
  2. The Mariner Moose – of the Seattle Mariners – has not been recognized.

If this Hall of Fame is going to continue to exist, I want to know how to nominate future inductees because both of those mascots belong here alongside the 21 mascots already enshrined.

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding this year’s NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis:

“A sex-trafficking sting operation led to nearly five dozen arrests during this year’s Final Four.

“Or as it’s now known in Twin Cities police circles: 58 shining moments.”

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

 

 

International News Today …

There is a first time for everything; so here is a first for these rants.  Today’s opening topic involves the use of a foreign correspondent whose report is exclusive to The Sports Curmudgeon.

You may recall several weeks ago that I was in Dublin, Ireland and reported on the semi-final match of the UEFA Rugby Championship Tournament.  When I left, I told my grandson that I would need him to give me a report on the final game because I would not be able to see it here in the US.  It turns out that he could only watch the second half; nonetheless, here is his report on that second half of the match between Leinster and Saracens:

“I hear the first half was very tight and Leinster started strong with ten quick points but Saracens came back right before half time to tie it up😫.  In the second half Leinster started on the back foot because in the words of my dad: ‘Saracens were 5-10 pounds heavier of muscle at every position and they were just as fast.’  That was basically the story of the second half with Leinster barely keeping Saracens from scoring until finally the Saracens scored off a penalty kick right after a try that was revued and overturned making it 13-10 Saracens😫.  Leinster continued to battle being beaten back all the time until, finally, the Australian born Scott Fardy was given a yellow card for an atrocious offside and could not play for the next ten minutes.  In that time Leinster were slowly pushed further and further back until finally Bobby Vunipola, a notorious English player hauled three defenders over the try-line with him making it 20-10 Saracens😫.  Not much more happened in the game until the very end when Leinster pushed up the field in a final attempt to make the score more respectable than 20-10, which is quite pathetic in a final as big as this one, but were intercepted about ten seconds after normal time had ended so, obviously, Saracens kicked it out and in doing so ended my suffering.”

And there you have it from the keyboard of an 11-year old fan of Leinster Rugby Club.  For the record, I know that I could not have written a game summary as good as that one when I was 11 years old.  Since I may need to call upon his eyes and ears again, I will need to give him a nickname for here.  Hmmm…  I think I shall refer to him as The FOG – standing for The First and Only Grandson.

Moving on …  In the NBA Western semi-finals, the Warriors eliminated the Rockets last weekend.  The Warriors were playing without Kevin Durant and without Boogie Cousins.  Steph Curry was virtually AWOL in the first half and then exploded in the second half scoring 33 points – 23 of those points coming in the 4th quarter.  That game and that performance was worthy of note here but I think there is a bigger picture to consider.

We know that Kevin Durant, Boogie Cousins and Klay Thompson will be free agents for the Warriors; that will make for some anxious moments among that fanbase once free agency kicks in this summer.  However, the free agency period may be equally interesting for the Rockets – a team that has been eliminated by the Warriors in the last two NBA playoffs.

It would be easy to say that if the Warriors lose all three free agents – getting nothing in return – that the Rockets would be poised to unseat them as the top-shelf team in the Western conference.  But that may be too simplistic; consider:

  • Folks who understand the NBA Salary Cap – I am NOT one of them – keep saying that the Rockets will be “over the cap” this summer and will not be able to afford any major addition(s) other than what they get from the draft down in the lower end of the first round.
  • This year’s NBA regular season highlighted the significant improvement of the Nuggets, Clippers and Jazz in the West and it will be the Blazers who will take on the Warriors for the Western Conference Championship.
  • Who’s to say that those three Warriors free agents will all leave the Western Conference?  If any of them are added to the rosters of those contending teams in the west and the Rockets are unable to make any moves, it may be that the Rockets are not the heir apparent in the West.
  • I wonder if the Rockets will try to do something unexpected over this summer…

Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot last week:

“Numbers game: When tempted to figure out how many games the Orioles are on pace to lose, I’m happy to be very bad at math.”

I doubt that he is bad at math; nevertheless, I am sufficiently good at math to tell you here that the Orioles project to lose 105 games this year with 75% of the season remaining.  In no way should the team or the fans in Baltimore be happy about this situation, but I will point out that at this pace the 2019 Orioles will lose 10 fewer games than did the 2018 Orioles.  Moreover, the 2018 Orioles were far and away the worst team in MLB last year.  Given extrapolations from here to the end of the season, the Orioles will relinquish that label to the Miami Marlins who project to lose whopping 120 games this season.

Some perspective on that last set of extrapolations:

  1. The Orioles projection to lose 115 games last year and 105 this year is not nearly as bad as the consecutive seasons the Detroit Tigers suffered through in 2002 and 2003.  The Tigers lost 106 games in 2002 and then followed that horrid season by losing 119 games in 2003.
  2. The Marlins would be on pace to challenge the then-expansion NY Mets for the worst season in modern MLB.  In 1962, the Mets record was 40-120; that winning percentage is .250.  [Mercifully, MLB did not bother to make-up those two remaining meaningless games on the schedule.]
  3. Notwithstanding the incompetence noted here, no team in 2019 is likely to come close to the ineptitude demonstrated by the Cleveland Spiders in 1899.  That team played in the era of 154-game seasons; in 1899, the Spiders record was 30-124; that winning percentage was .194.

Finally, here is a comment on ineptitude from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Lions’ owner Martha Ford has ‘a lot less patience’ for mediocrity than her late husband did according to team president Rod Wood.

“And just to prove she’s serious, Ford immediately ordered a recall on the 2006, 2008 and 2009 models of the Lions.”

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

 

 

Three Things Today…

There have been more than a few reports and studies done which conclude that female athletes are more prone to ACL injuries than male athletes.  If you doubt that assertion, please Google, “female athletes ACL injuries”.  When looking at such data sets or thinking about the basis for how this may be the case, it is always tempting to hypothesize that there is some genetic cause for such a predisposition.  After all, if one could find some genetic coding on the X-Chromosome that led to such a predisposition, one might then conclude that female athletes are merely suffering from a genetic make-up accident since women have 2 X-Chromosomes and men have only 1 X-Chromosome.

Such hypotheses rarely – if ever – pan out; and in these times of increased emphasis on gender equality, that sort of thinking is not generally well-received.  Nonetheless, in an article in The Telegraph in the UK, here is the lead paragraph:

“Sportswomen should go on the pill to avoid career-ending injuries, the authors of a groundbreaking study have suggested.”

You can read that entire article here.

I am surprised that this report appeared a week ago and there has not been a flurry of protest because that kind of reporting tends to draw the ire of fairly diverse subsets of the populace.  I am also surprised that it seems not to have attracted any attention in the media here in the US where women’s sports are seeking to get additional coverage.

The study in question was done by researchers at Brown University – so it is more than fair to assume that the research was controlled carefully and that the peer-review system for the work was not slipshod.  The report says that the number of women studied here was 82,874; I may not have a PhD in statistics, but that is a large sample size to have studied over a ten-year period.

Imagine for a moment the delicate nature of the following scenario:

  • A male head coach of a women’s athletic team [Let’s say Geno Auriemma as head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team…] stands up in front of the team with this study in his hand and tells those young women that he thinks it would be a good idea for them to “get on The Pill.”
  • What could possibly go wrong…?

Two of the NBA’s flagship franchises are in a bad way at the moment.  The LA Lakers have been a jewel in the league crown since the 1960s; the team hit a dry spell starting about 5 years ago but everyone assumed that had been brushed away when LeBron James signed on with the Lakers last summer.  Well, the Lakers’ fortunes have not soared to previously known heights nearly as quickly or as surely as Lakers’ fans anticipated – or even expected.  The Lakers missed the playoffs again in 2019 and then the franchise seemed to be coming apart at the seams:

  • During the season, the team produced lots more drama than it did wins.
  • Team President, Magic Johnson, abruptly quit his job without giving his boss, Jeanne Buss, prior notice of his decision and of his announcement.
  • Head coach, Luke Walton, was fired/scapegoated.
  • The Lakers’ top candidate for Walton’s replacement chose to go to the Phoenix Suns rather than the Lakers.  Think about that; he chose to cast his lot as a first-time head coach with a team that was 19-63 last year and which is owned and operated by the mercurial Robert Sarver as opposed to signing on with an “NBA flagship”.

Now, it appears as if Tyron Lue has walked away from talks to become the Lakers’ new head coach and there are reports that there is tension in the Lakers’ executive ranks about the power that LeBron James is trying to wield upon the franchise.  The Lakers have seen better days…

Meanwhile, in Boston the Celtics’ season in 2018/19 was almost as under-achieving as the Lakers’ season.  Yes, the team had injuries, but this was a team expected to challenge for the NBA Championship and not be a “middle-seed” in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  Most of the problems and angst in Boston focus on Kyrie Irving.  He is going to be a free agent once the playoffs are over and the rumblings have already begun regarding:

  • Can or will the Celtics resign Kyrie Irving to a Super-Max Contract?

Personally, I think that is the wrong question to ask because I think there is another question that needs to be answered in the affirmative before you can get to the question above.  Here is the predicating question:

  • Do or should the Celtics want to sign Kyrie Irving to a Super-Max Contract?

Kyrie Irving is a more than accomplished scorer; and every other week or so, he will effect a defensive effort which demonstrates that he can play that part of the game too – – when he chooses to do so.  Add to the frustration that kind of play might engender and consider:

  • Kyrie Irving is rarely happy about anything.  He takes the slightest criticism of his play or his demeanor so personally that you have to be glad that the age of dueling is deep in the past.
  • He refers to himself as a “basketball genius” even when the team loses – – casting aspersions on the other folks who are wearing the same color uniform as he is.
  • He left a championship caliber team in Cleveland because he did not want to be the ‘second-best” player on such a team; he wanted to go somewhere else to be “The Man”.  The result of that is that he went elsewhere but did not show himself to be of such leadership caliber as to be “The Man” on a team that aspires to a championship.

Looking at Kyrie Irving as a whole, I think he is a perfect free-agent signing for the NY Knickerbockers.  He will fit in just fine with the crowds in the Garden and with James Dolan as the guiding spirit of the team.  Maybe if the Knicks’ fans are really lucky, the team can also convince Carmelo Anthony to return to the team to play under the wing of the self-proclaimed “basketball genius” that is Kyrie Irving.  I can only hope…

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson about a new brand of shoes:

“There’s a new type of shoes for kids called Hickies. I’m just glad there is no possible negative connotation for this name.”

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