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[Posted Sunday p.m.]
NBA Quiz: Since we’re at the All-Star break, 1) Name the six scoring 28+ points per game this season. 2) Name the three averaging 14+ rebounds per game. Answers below.
***This is going to jump around a bit, as the following rocked the international sports world and then bleeds into Major League Baseball’s sign-stealing scandal, as you’ll readily see.
Man City Banned
Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City were banned from European club competition for the next two seasons after being found to have committed “serious breaches” of UEFA’s club licensing and financial fair play regulations. City was also fined 30m euros. The decision is subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Man City said it was “disappointed but not surprised” by the “prejudicial” decision and is appealing.
An independent body concluded City had broken the rules by “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016,” adding that the club “failed to cooperate in the investigation.”
Financial Fair Play was introduced by UEFA to prevent clubs from spending beyond their means and stamp out what its then president Michel Platini called “financial doping” within football.
Under the rules, financial losses are limited and clubs are also obliged to meet all their transfer and employee payment commitments at all times.
Clubs need to balance football-related expenditures – transfers and wages – with television and ticket income, plus revenues raised by their commercial departments. Money spent on stadiums, training facilities, youth development or community projects is exempt.
City may also face Premier League points deduction because the league’s financial fair play rules are similar to UEFA’s.
For starters, City manager Pep Guardiola has said previously he would at least stay until his contract expired in 2021, but he had been assured by the club’s hierarchy they had done nothing wrong.
The Champions League is the playoff for European football, so this is a playoff ban for two years. Yes, this case redounds to Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to levy the penalties he did on the Houston Astros.
I have more on Man City below, but let’s now move on to the other topic....
….MLB...the Big Scandal’s Aftermath.....
First, a reminder. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for one season each, and the team was fined $5 million. In addition, the Astros were stripped of their first-and second-round picks in 2020 and ‘21. The Astros then fired Hinch and Luhnow.
Nancy Armour / USA TODAY
“Take note, Major League Baseball. This is how you punish cheaters.
“European soccer authorities kicked Manchester City, one of England’s biggest and most successful soccer clubs, out of its marquee tournament for the next two years on Friday. Fined them the equivalent of $32.5 million, too.
“Man City’s offense? ‘Serious breaches’ of the financial rules that are designed to maintain a level of parity in European soccer. Or at least prevent a couple of teams with ridiculously wealthy owners from spending into oblivion in pursuit of a title.
“Under the European Football Association’s financial fair play rules, teams are barred from spending more on players than they generate from TV contracts, tickets and sponsorships. Think of it as a salary cap unique to each team. If a team can line up several massive sponsorship deals, it can sign the likes of a Messi or a Ronaldo. If it doesn’t, well, then it can’t.
“Man City is owned by the ruler of the United Arab Emirates’ brother, and he’s spent big in the past decade to transform the team, which used to be kind of awful. The problem is that UEFA found the source of his cash was actually a UAE-backed investment company, which funneled the money through companies with ties to the state, including Etihad, the national airline.
“UEFA has insisted it was serious about keeping the billionaire boys’ clubs in check. That it actually did so was as stunning as the punishment itself.
“Man City has won four of the last eight English Premier League titles, including the last two, and its participation in the Champions League, a tournament featuring the top clubs from throughout Europe, had become a given. Imagine the NFL kicking the New England Patriots out of the playoffs for the next two seasons for Deflategate, and you get the idea.
“But UEFA understood what MLB clearly did not with the Houston Astros. When a team cheats, it damages the entire game.
“Yes, deep-pocketed teams such as Liverpool, Man City, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich and PSG are always going to have an advantage. But UEFA’s rules ensure that small teams like Leipzig or Porto will at least have a fighting chance.
“Had Man City not been held accountable, fans of teams like Brugge, Leipzig and Benfica would wonder why they even bother. They’d look at Man City’s run to the Champions League semifinals four years ago, or its semifinal finishes the past two years, and theorize that it wouldn’t have happened without the deception....
“Which brings us back to MLB and the Astros.
“Astros owner Jim Crane can insist all he wants that the team’s sign-stealing scheme had no impact on its record and definitely not on Houston’s World Series title in 2017. But aside from begging reality – of course a hitter is going to be more successful when he knows what pitch is coming – there's no way to prove what Crane claims.
“In the absence of that, and with everyone else in baseball still seething, everything the Astros did and will do going forward is open to suspicion. Their World Series title, their AL pennant last year, their players’ individual awards – none of it will ever be viewed with anything but skepticism.
“And when one team isn’t trusted, all of baseball will be suspect.
“Barring the Astros from the playoffs for a season or two, or stripping them of their World Series title, won’t change what they did in 2017 or 2018. It won’t make right the damage they did to opposing pitchers.
“But it would at least be a measure of accountability, a means of holding them responsible and warning other teams not to get similar ideas in the future. It also would show the game’s fans that integrity means something, that you can trust the product MLB is putting out there.
“Man City has already said it plans to appeal UEFA’s decision. But even if the entire punishment is overturned, UEFA at least showed it was willing to fight for the integrity of its game.”
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Listening to the Houston Astros attempt to show remorse for the sign-stealing scandal Thursday was like listening to a guy apologizing for stealing that shiny Cadillac still sitting in his driveway.
“It’s now his car, so why should he be sorry? Nobody is making him give it back, so why should he have any regrets?
“The authorities have shown no real compassion for the victims of the theft, so what’s a thief supposed to do?
“If the Astros didn’t exactly beg forgiveness in their first spring meeting with the media, it’s because nobody is holding them accountable for doing anything wrong.
“Major League Baseball gave them immunity. Their owner cleared them of all culpability. Their manager and general manager took the fall.
“So when the entitled and empowered baseball criminals finally spoke at length at their spring training clubhouse in West Palm Beach, Fla., what did you expect them to say?
“That they apologize for winning 2017 World Series rings? They still get to keep them.
“That they feel awful for cashing those $439,000 individual 2017 playoff shares? They still get to spend it.
“Did you want them to feel bad because they’re no longer champions? They still are, and will forever be, and that leads to the one guy who owes the biggest of apologies.
“Rob Manfred, the weak-kneed baseball commissioner who is little more than a puppet for the owners who employ him, needs to apologize to the baseball world for not ordering that the Astros vacate the 2017 World Series championship.
“He has to apologize for letting ownership off the hook. He needs to apologize for not holding the players accountable. He needs to apologize for acting as if a $5 million fine and four stripped draft picks and suspensions of a general manager and manager even begin to address the wounded heart of the matter.
“By allowing the Astros to keep the trophy and all of its spoils – that's the real loot here – Manfred essentially validated their World Series win over the Dodgers and ruled that the cheating had nothing to do with the victory.
“In doing so, Manfred’s actions were arguably as damaging to baseball as the scandal itself. The Astros stole pitchers’ signs, but Manfred stole a piece of the game’s integrity.
“Blessed by baseball’s highest office, supported by an owner who doesn’t blame them for anything, is it any wonder the Astros either sounded like rehearsed robots or detached fools?
“ ‘I feel horrible for our sport, our game, our fans, our city, our organization,’ said outfielder George Springer.
“You felt sorry for the...Astros? How about feeling sorry for all the fans and cities and organizations that the Astros victimized?
“ ‘We should have stopped it at the time, we didn’t, and we are paying the price for it now,’ said shortstop Carlos Correa.
“Woe is you. It sounds like you’re sorry not for cheating, but for getting caught.
“ ‘I’m really sorry about the choices that were made by the organization, by the team, and by me,’ said Alex Bregman in an awkward, lame news conference before the clubhouse doors opened.
“Sorry to whom? Why can’t you say who? And why are you listed third on the apology string? Take full responsibility for your actions, dude. Clayton Kershaw did when you raked off him in Game 5.
“Bregman didn’t expound on his apology because he didn’t feel it necessary. He has his ring. He has his crown. He already won. The Astros all won. Baseball has officially deemed that losers like the Dodgers can put a sock in it.
“Did you hear delusional Astros owner Jim Crane? With Manfred as his lackey, he felt empowered to make the following comically embarrassing statements:
“The players should not be punished because: ‘They are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from our leaders.’
“The World Series result should stand because: ‘This didn’t impact the game.’
“Even though he runs the cheating organization: ‘I don’t think I should be held accountable.’
“And, oh yeah: ‘I don’t feel it’s necessary to reach out specifically to the Dodgers.’
“If anything, Manfred’s lame handling of the sign-stealing scandal has seemingly made the Astros more defiant, more powerful and more certain that their reputation will ultimately triumph over this chorus of whiners.
“It is now, of course, up to baseball to prove them wrong.
“What the spine-challenged Manfred couldn’t do, baseball will now do.
“This season the Astros will be made to feel like pariahs in every place they play. Just because they get to keep their rings doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable wearing them, and they won’t.
“Pitchers will be throwing inside to them, way inside, and while this can be a dangerous option, pitchers will feel it is their way of recovering stolen goods.
“Fans will boo and bring trash cans and sound buzzers every place they play but Houston, and who would blame them?
“Here’s guessing the Astros’ season will quickly turn into a charade, with the baseball landscape laying down the law on baseball criminals who have largely gone unpunished.
“Not that any of it will matter. Not that any of it will change anything. The sad truth will forever loom as large and glowing as that Commissioner’s Trophy displayed for eternity in a case somewhere in the offices of baseball’s no-good cheating champions.
“Playing for the 2017 Houston Astros means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer, who is rather outspoken and not shy about sharing his opinions, blasted the Astros, after previously blasting Rob Manfred.
“They are hypocrites, they are cheaters, they’ve stolen from a lot of other people and the game itself was completely unfair,” Bauer told reporters Friday. “You guys think you are better than everyone and you don’t have to abide by the rules? F—k you. You know? That’s how I feel about their whole operation.”
Regarding Mike Fiers, the former Houston pitcher who rocked the sport when he revealed this offseason what happened:
“If Mike Fiers doesn’t come out and say something, nothing gets done,” Bauer said. “Nothing - even though all the players know this s—t is going on, it’s the worst kept secret in baseball.”
To Astros owner Jim Crane and his statement he didn’t believe the trash can-banging plan impacted the game.
“You’re either lying or you’re a f—king idiot,” Bauer said. “And don’t become a billionaire owner of a team by being a f—king idiot. So, you’re lying.”
Thomas Boswell / Washington Post
“Crane and his team used their showcase to insist they keep their phony title and that Major League Baseball was correct not to fine or suspend any Astros players. Also, we should just trust that they stopped cheating in 2018. Why? No reason at all. Just felt like stopping, even though they, you know, won the previous World Series doing it.
“ ‘Great group of guys who didn’t receive proper guidance from their leaders,’ Crane said.
“That’s when I knew I shouldn’t have left that barf bag on the plane.
“Time after time, Astros players, at their lockers, repeated the same vague talking points with the same buzz phrases. To any tough specific question, they all said the same words: ‘We’re not going into details today.’
“Could that be because the devil is in the details.
“On the other side of the park*, Kurt Suzuki, a Washington Nationals catcher who gave complex signs in the World Series to foil the Astros’ thievery, wasn’t buying any of it.
*The Astros and Nationals, ironically, share a spring training base...Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm.
“ ‘Do you think the Astros were still cheating in the ‘19 World Series,’ I asked.
“ ‘Oh, yeah, no question,’ Suzuki said. ‘We could hear it from their dugout. We heard their whistling. What are you going to do?’
“What the Nats did was change their signs on every batter of the Series and sometimes within an at-bat when they sensed that a swing at a tough pitch was ‘so good’ that the Astros’ cheating might have, momentarily, caught up with the Nats’ coding system. The Nats were never sure how well they were succeeding....
“Josh Reddick conceded that, at times, he asked not to get stolen signals. But when he was ‘struggling or facing a tough left-hander' he did. When did he first feel guilty? ‘Sometime in ‘17 it crossed our minds that it was wrong....But we didn’t step in to stop it.’
“And when did he feel remorse?
“ ‘I don’t know a date,’ he said, then paused. ‘When it comes out, maybe.’
“Unfortunately, getting caught is usually what does it. Then, in the Astros’ refrain of the day, Reddick said, ‘If we win, we shut everybody up.’
“No, you don’t. The Black Sox threw the 1919 World Series. Seventy years later, they were still in a metaphoric cornfield in ‘Field of Dreams,’ coming out at dusk to ask whether they could just be allowed to play a game of baseball again.
“Maybe, with time, some Astros will be more forthcoming with authentic feelings, not practiced phrases, that will show their human dilemma – most of them not $100 million stars or future Hall of Famers, just normal ballplayers caught on a runaway train with, realistically, no emergency brake available for them to pull.
“For now, Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is baseball’s version of heaven and hell, divided exactly down the middle.
“ ‘We don’t even know that the Astros are there unless we play them’ in an exhibition game, Nats Manager Davey Martinez said of the vast two-team complex where you can go weeks without an iota of interaction between the teams.
“ ‘I can’t speak on their behalf,’ Martinez said. ‘But we had a great day.’”
--Cody Bellinger thinks Houston’s Jose Altuve stole the 2017 AL MVP award from the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and the Astros swiped that year’s World Series title from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“These guys were cheating for three years,” Bellinger said at the Dodgers spring training camp. “I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from Judge in ‘17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”
Bellinger called Manfred’s punishment “weak.” While MLB found the Astros guilty of using video to steal catchers’ signs in 2017 and 2018, Bellinger thins the conduct continued throughout last season.
“One-hundred percent,” he said. “I don’t know why they would stop.”
Veteran Dodgers infielder Justin Turner said: “It’s like ripping open a scab. Rip off the scab and you try to re-heal, I guess. But there’s no way to hit the re-set button. What’s done is done. Lucky for us, we don’t play them this season. Let everybody else deal with them.”
Clayton Kershaw is surprisingly calm about the whole situation, even though the cheating impacted him as much as anyone on the Dodgers, including his legacy. “It’s just a bad feeling, because you’re kind of helpless.”
So then an interview with Astros shortstop Carlos Correa aired on the MLB network, and Correa directly addressed Cody Bellinger, challenging his thoughts.
“This is America,” Correa said. “You can say whatever you want. But Cody Bellinger’s job is to look for information. Get informed. Know the facts, for sure, before he stands in front of cameras to talk about other players. You should get informed. You should be informed before you talk about other players. If you don’t know the facts, then you’ve got to shut the f—k up.”
Someone drill Correa for Cody.
Earlier, pitcher Justin Verlander, who did not join the Astros until the end of August in 2017, said he regretted not speaking up. He said he hoped opposing pitchers would not target Astros’ hitters this season in retaliation.
“ ‘Look, when we step away from the field, we have families,’ he said. ‘I have a little girl, Jose has kids. It’s different when you bring health into the question. I think the commissioner’s been very clear in the past that’s not an appropriate form of retribution, and I would hope that stands to reason with this as well.”
Sorry, Justin. The players are indeed talking amongst themselves about retaliation during the season. It’s coming. Houston players will be hurt. Nothing in the head, guys....but everything else is fair game.
Commissioner Manfred and league officials will be overwhelmed trying to control it. The blowback on them if they just start handing out five-game suspensions when they haven’t done anything to the Astros’ players will destroy the Commish further.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still waiting for Manfred to rule on an investigation into their 2018 championship season.
Outfielder Andrew Benintendi said when the team arrived at spring training, “All of us are confident in what’s going to come out. We know that we didn’t do anything.”
So Rob Manfred gave an extensive interview to ESPN’s Karl Ravech, explaining why he didn’t punish any Astros players.
Manfred told Ravech that any discipline of the players likely would have resulted in grievances from the players’ union, citing Luhnow’s failure to communicate to the players the contents of a 2017 memorandum outlining MLB’s policy on the use of technology.
Manfred said that although he doesn’t absolve the Astros players, he believes that Luhnow and Hinch were obligated to inform the players of the memo and enforce MLB’s rules.
Manfred also said he understands the sport’s reaction to the scandal, especially after the Astros’ ill-received news conference, particularly the comments of owner Jim Crane.
But all MLB is going to do going forward is restrict access to video during games.
The problem is, I don’t see Manfred changing his position. Nancy Armour’s idea of a postseason ban is a good one, but it’s not going to happen.
But now having weighed all the evidence, that which we know, and having listened to the bullshit from the Astros players themselves and their owner, Houston should be stripped of the title.
--The Mets struck out with billionaire Steve Cohen in terms of finding a new owner (though Cohen supposedly hasn’t totally given up), but now there are reports that Alex Rodriguez is contemplating trying to put together a group, a la Derek Jeter in Miami, to buy the Metropolitans. The New York Post said he’s “kicking the tires” on the idea.
Now if you combined A-Rod's and J-Lo's net worth, you might have a shot at getting other investors to buy in. J-Lo would certainly be an improvement on the current “Mrs. Met,” companion of Mr. Met. The New York Post’s Page Six could have a field day with that.
--I have weighed, and re-weighed the facts, and read all the various opinion pieces. Now I’m against Pete Rose being reinstated, though I reserve the right to change my mind again. I could go back and show you tens of times over the 21 years of this column where I said he should get in, after he dies. We owe him no special favors. The real travesty was Marvin Miller not getting in until he had passed.
--Former five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove shortstop, Tony Fernandez died of kidney disease Saturday. He was just 57.
Fernandez was outstanding with Toronto from 1983-1990, as well as San Diego 1991-92, before bouncing around through 2001.
Fernandez finished his career with 2,276 hits, a .288 batting average and 246 steals. He had 17 triples in 1990.
And then in 1993, after starting the season with the Mets, he was traded back to Toronto, where he hit .333 in the World Series, the dramatic Blue Jays win over the Phillies, Joe Carter with the bottom of the ninth clinching home run off Philadelphia’s Mitch Williams.
Fernandez was one of many stars to emerge out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
--Japanese baseball is mourning the passing of Katsuya Nomura, one of the country’s greatest catchers before going on to a long second career as a manager. He died on Tuesday, age 84.
In his 26 years as a player and a player-manager, Nomura hit 657 home runs and had 1,988 RBIs, both second on the all-time list behind Sadaharu Oh. He also had the second-highest hit total, 2,901.
In 1965, Nomura became the first Japanese player in the postwar era to win the triple crown, hitting 42 home runs, driving in 110 and batting .320.
College Basketball Review
--After my last post, Wednesday night, 10 Seton Hall had one of those awful performances they seem all-too-capable of, losing to 23 Creighton 87-82 at home, as Myles Powell was 3 of 16 from the field (1 of 11 from three). It was the Pirates’ second league loss and in the other, a loss to Xavier, Powell was 3 of 14.
Also Wednesday, 5 Louisville was upset on the road at Georgia Tech 64-58.
--Then Thursday, I had said that Indiana needed to beat 21 Iowa at home and they did, 89-77, despite the Hawkeyes’ Luke Garza going off for 38, Garza averaging 23.7 on the season. A player to watch come March.
My “Pick to Surprise,” meaning Elite Eight, 16 Colorado, lost to 17 Oregon on the road 68-60.
--So then Saturday....
1 Baylor moved to 23-1, 12-0, easily handling 14 West Virginia at home, 70-59, while 2 Gonzaga (26-1, 12-0) beat Pepperdine (14-13, 7-6) 89-77.
3 Kansas (22-3,11-1) defeated Oklahoma (16-9, 6-6) 87-70, which is setting up the big showdown in Waco next Saturday against Baylor.
[4 SDSU this afternoon beat Boise State on the road 72-55...the Aztecs now 25-0, 14-0]
5 Louisville shockingly lost again, this time on the road to Clemson (13-12, 7-8) 77-62, the Cardinals falling to 21-5, 12-3.
So after the two losses, 7 Duke is now first in the ACC, 22-3, 12-2, and destined to move up a notch or two, the Blue Devils mauling the Fighting Irish 94-60 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Notre Dame 15-10, 6-8.
6 Dayton is 23-2, 12-0, after beating UMass (10-15, 4-8) 71-63 on the road.
But 10 Seton Hall lost again, this time on the road at Providence (14-12, 7-6) 74-71 as the Friars’ Alpha Diallo had a career-high 35 on 11 of 15 shooting from the field, including 5 of 5 from three, after entering the game shooting 29% from downtown. The Pirates were down 34-9 with 7:00 to play in the first half, rallied back to 52-50, but it wasn’t enough. [The final score is a little deceiving due to a late technical on Providence.]
So one week after The Hall was riding high after finally winning at Villanova for the first time in 26 years, we had another lost week, the Pirates falling to 18-7, 10-3, and in danger of losing a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament, which is critical because if it’s a 3 or 4, they likely would be seeded in the East and thus go to the regionals at friendly Madison Square Garden, assuming they won the first two games of the tourney.
I have to admit I’ve watched every Seton Hall game since the start of the year and it’s disturbing they look like a Final Four team one night, and a totally clueless one the next.
In other games, 11 Auburn fell to 22-2, 9-2, losing at Missouri (11-13, 3-8) 85-73.
But Colorado recovered as it continued its trip on the Oregon Trail, assaulting the Beavers of Oregon State (15-10, 5-8) 69-47. The Buffaloes are hanging in there, 20-6, 9-4, and still have a shot at a 5-seed. Big difference between a 5-12 and 6-11 matchup in the first round.
Rutgers had an important 72-57 win over 22 Illinois (16-9, 8-6) 72-57 in Piscataway, the Scarlet Knights tied for third in the Big Ten at 18-8, 9-6. The Illini have suddenly lost four in a row.
Here’s the thing, though. Rutgers should be a lock for the NCAA tournament, but they are 8-0 at home, 1-6 on the road. If Rutgers goes on a bad run and flames out early in the Big Ten tourney, the Selection Committee will have an excuse to keep them out. They need another road win badly.
Virginia (17-7, 9-5) will be the fourth ACC team in the tourney, last night winning at Chapel Hill, 64-62, the Tar Heels a shocking 10-15, 3-11. [UNC is 0-5 since freshman star Cole Anthony returned from his knee surgery.]
Lastly, I’ve semi-praised Wake Forest for at least playing tough the past month, not losing a conference game by more than 10 points in its last nine ACC contests. But yesterday they could not have sucked more, falling at Miami (13-12, 5-10) 71-54, the Deacs 11-14, 4-11.
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post...on the state of the game....
“This is basically the tapas menu of college basketball seasons: full of delicious small portions, but no main dish. Despite achieving ideal parity on the men’s side, it somehow falls short of compelling. Entertaining? No doubt. Engrossing? Not quite. All the delightful upsets, turbulent Top 25 polls and fresh Final Four contenders have not elevated it in the manner that a transcendent player or dominant team would.
“It has been a wild season and a tame one because there is no focal point, no standard, no transparent greatness to probe and put what you’re viewing in context. The competitive balance has been negated by limited star power. While the die-hards don’t feel like they are missing anything, the unfortunate reality is that generalists define whether a season can reach viral interest. And there happens to be a scarcity of household names, elite NBA prospects and undeniable excellence to captivate an even larger audience.
“There is no Zion Williamson, no Anthony Davis, no Kevin Durant. There is no epic scoring race to rival the Adam Morrison-J.J. Redick duel of 2005-06. There are no teams playing for immortality.
“What’s the big deal? Well, on a micro level, nothing. This occurs a few times every decade in major college athletics. It’s a result of the transience. So you enjoy or tolerate Baylor, Dayton and San Diego State getting to shine, hope the parity makes for a greater NCAA tournament and move on. No problem, on the surface. But there is a bigger picture to consider.
“This peculiar season offers a fairly accurate glimpse of the sport’s near future, and that should concern you. A major reason for college basketball seeming underwhelming is the lack of a great freshman class, and guess what could occur by 2022? The NBA is expected to lower its 19-year-old age limit and allow players to jump from high school to the pros again. Though the most proactive college programs already are making plans to adjust, it won’t be an easy transition for the sport....
“For all the challenges of the current era, for all those uneasy feelings that the college game has become a glorified pro developmental league, the sport is in a better place now. On the court, college basketball has been the best version of itself. That is often forgotten amid the debate over how to improve the sport, reduce its lawlessness and eliminate some of the exploitation disguised as protecting amateurism.
“In reality, the freshman phenom has been as equitable a relationship as you’ll find in the NCAA.
“Many of these young stars have come to college, showcased their game while raising their profile during a brief stay and gone to the NBA with enhanced marketability. College programs and the entire NCAA makes a lot of money off them in a short time, and the players turn it into a lot of money over a potentially long time. It’s indirect, delayed compensation, if you will, which is about as fair a deal as the so-called student-athlete is going to get in this game.
“The one-and-done superstar hasn’t defiled the spirit of college athletics. He has simply provided fleeting entertainment while hustling the hustler. And as we’ll find out in a couple of years, his presence will be missed.
“This season is a bit of a warning. It hasn’t been a disaster, but it hasn’t been all that satisfying, either. This season, there’s just not enough greatness.
“The freshman class is weak. It’s only mid-February, but it is safe to declare there won’t be a freshman named to the All-America first team for just the fourth time in the past 14 seasons. For 10 straight seasons, the NBA has selected a one-and-done freshman No. 1 overall in the draft, and that streak is very much in jeopardy.”
Well, for now, in the coming weeks, enjoy Dayton’s Obi Toppin (Johnny Mac’s favorite), Louisville’s Jordan Nwora, Seton Hall senior Myles Powell, and some other very good college players. No Zion Williamson’s in the bunch, but the tournament won’t disappoint.
--Speaking of Zion, he is off to a super start, averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in the first ten games of his injury-delayed campaign, the 23-32 Pelicans going 5-5 when he’s in the lineup.
And it’s not all bad Zion is buried in New Orleans in terms of national PR. As the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay put it:
“Right now...Zion is Zion. Amid a turbulent month in American life, he has been able to take a breath, properly find his footing, and be himself. No sneakers have exploded, but he’s everything promised and more. Let’s keep it to ourselves a little longer. Shhhhh.”
--In case you haven’t figured it out...I never, ever, gave a blank about the NBA’s All-Star weekend. I literally haven’t watched, nor will I, a single minute of it.
--My favorite non-major / Players Championship event of the year, the Genesis Invitational (renamed) at Riviera had a delicious final threesome...Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.
Kooch had 9 career wins, Scott 13, and Rory 18. Scott won at Riviera in 2005, but it was an event shortened to 36 holes due to heavy rain, so while he received the winner’s check of $864,000, the tournament was declared unofficial because of only two rounds.
And when they started out, Rory and Scott were sitting at –11 heading to the fifth hole, and then out of nowhere, Rory had a triple on 5, Scott a double, and the whole tournament changed.
I have to admit, while I was following both closely, I had Daytona* on as the fifth hole was being played, after which I basically didn’t miss a minute as the rains hit Daytona.
And in the end, Adam Scott came through, his 14th win and a well-deserved one.
*Daytona was postponed until Monday afternoon...a massive disappointment for all, including grand marshal President Trump, though he stealthily left early.
--Tiger Woods had a miserable tournament, after a scorching hot first nine on Thursday, -4.
On Saturday, Tiger had his second four-putt of the season (second in as many starts), the first time this has happened since 1998. That will stick in his memory bank forever as he looks to get that record-setting 83rd win and another major.
And he then finished last among those making the cut, after a 73-76-77 last three rounds.
Tiger isn’t playing in next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship, and that field is nowhere as strong as sponsors would want, with Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson also out. At least Rory is in.
--Koepka made the cut this weekend, but finished T-43. He has not been playing like a World No. 2 and it’s all about his knee. In October, he revealed he had played through an injury for much of last season that required him to get a painful stem-cell injection following the Tour Championship, and after staying off his feet for a few days, he entered the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, insisting he could “finally practice again, which is nice, without pain.”
But it’s been one issue after another since then, and in mid-October it didn’t help he slipped on wet concrete at the CJ Cup in South Korea, aggravating the injury.
And then he traveled to Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia for two Euro Tour events and played just so-so.
So Koepka this week told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis that his knee “was a lot worse than we let on. A lot of pain. I’m nowhere near 100 percent, I don’t know if my knee will ever be 100 percent. It’s one of those things where I’m just trying every day.
“To be honest with you, Monday [at Riviera] was the most pain I’ve had since I tore it.”
Koepka said it’s all about strengthening the knee and it will take time.
But this sucks. You’d hate to think we’ve already seen the best of the guy.
Premier League / Man City
--The PL schedule has been disjointed as the teams have had a midwinter break, half basically playing last week, half this week, though there are matches early this coming week as well.
Ergo, no standings. But...Liverpool defeated a ‘game’ last-place Norwich City 1-0 on Saturday; poor Norwich so much better than their record, while my Tottenham Spurs beat Aston Villa on the road today 3-2 in the final minute of extra time.
This coming week we not only fill out the PL schedule, but we also have some Champions League Round of 16 matches.
--So back to the battle between Man City and UEFA....
....Rory Smith / New York Times
“(As City appeals the massive penalty), For UEFA, it is only a slight exaggeration to say the battle is existential. Defeat would mean effectively admitting that Europe’s biggest, richest teams are now too big to tame, and that the body theoretically in charge of corralling them is, in reality, nothing more than the organizer of the occasional glitzy draw event in Monte Carlo.
“For Manchester City, it is, primarily, a chance to prove that it is the clubs who make the rules now, that it is not UEFA’s job to dictate who can invest money in the sport, to demonstrate that financial fair play is nothing more than a device to lock in soccer’s status quo, to keep out the young and the daring and the ambitious.
“The club can take that stance, of course, because soccer is – like all sports – inherently tribal. Few, if any, of its fans blame their team for any of this. On social media, as on match days at the Etihad Stadium, it is hard to find any sense of disappointment that City may have bent the rules.
“Instead, wagons have been circled, lines drawn. City’s fans have long booed the pompous anthem that blares out at the start of Champions League games – something that predates the current investigation – but, when it next plays at the Etihad before the visit of Real Madrid next month, expect a torrent of hostility. City’s fans are arrayed behind their club: UEFA is against them; it is a witch-hunt; it is time to drain the swamp.
“But the reason the club has no choice but to fight, and to fight for as long as possible, is different. City may want the charges to be overturned because it believes in its own ‘irrefutable’ innocence, but the anger with which it has reacted at every stage speaks to another motivation: not the need to vindicate its loyalists, but to maintain the validity of the project for those who it was designed to win over.
“Whatever the source of its funding, it should hardly be controversial to suggest that what attracted Sheikh Mansour, City’s ultimate owner, and his Abu Dhabi United Group to a Premier League soccer team in the first place was the blue-chip prominence it brought. City fans might reject the idea their club is being used as a ‘sportwashing’ vehicle by a state with a questionable record on human rights, but the idea it is a marketing ploy is self-evident.
“Manchester City gives Abu Dhabi a platform: not just to attract tourists and investment as the United Arab Emirates seeks to diversity its economy; not just to become a significant landowner and real estate developer in the city of Manchester; but to embed it in the global public consciousness. It is precisely the same logic that inspired Qatar Sports Investments to buy Paris St.-Germain.
“The whole concept rests, though, on positive associations: beautiful, successful soccer; clean, admirable values; an air not only of glamour, but class, too. It is why, in part and on a much smaller scale, the club could not tolerate players as gifted, but as challenging, as Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.* That was not the image Abu Dhabi wanted to cultivate for itself.
*Two former Man City stars who were forced out after discipline issues.
“Nor, of course, is the stain of cheating – the intimation that City has not done things in the right way – something that can be tolerated. City must not just prove its innocence on some technicality; it must demonstrate that the allegation itself was in some way corrupt and that the body making it is illegitimate....
“City has clearly decided the principle is worth the risk of some sort of reputational damage. There will be those who see in that no little honor, a self-sacrifice to bring down the flawed framework of financial fair play. But that is not why City has to fight, and to fight with fire and fury, until the bitter end. It does not, ultimately, have a choice.”
--Separately, the U.S. men’s national team on Wednesday called on the U.S. Soccer Federation to at least triple the pay of women’s national team players and accused the federation of “working very hard to sell a false narrative” in opposing their quest for higher pay.
Last year, all 28 members of the U.S. women’s squad sued the governing body for soccer in the United States, alleging gender discrimination ahead of their successful World Cup title defense. A trial is scheduled for May.
Top 3 songs for the week 2/13/71: #1 “One Bad Apple” (The Osmonds) #2 “Knock Three Times” (Dawn) #3 “Rose Garden” (Lynn Anderson)...and...#4 “I Hear Your Knocking” (Dave Edmunds) #5 “Lonely Days” (Bee Gees) #6 “My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison) #7 “Groove Me” (King Floyd) #8 “Your Song” (Elton John) #9 “If I Were Your Woman” (Gladys Knight & The Pips) #10 “Mama’s Pearl” (The Jackson 5...#8 tries to salvage the week single-handedly, but can’t... ‘C+’...)
NBA Quiz Answers: 1) 28+ points per game: James Harden, 35.3; Giannis Antetokounmpo, 30.0; Trae Young, 29.7; Damian Lillard, 29.5; Bradley Beal, 29.1; Luka Doncic, 28.9. 2) 14+ rebounds: Andre Drummond, 15.8; Rudy Gobert, 14.6; Hassan Whiteside, 14.1.
Andre Drummond has led the league each of the last three seasons, four of five, including this season.
Giannis is fifth in the league in rebounding at 13.5.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.