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[Posted early Wed. a.m.]
Players Championship Quiz: The tournament has been held since 1974, with the first time at TPC Sawgrass in 1982. Name the six with multiple wins. Answer below.
Sports Schedule in Turmoil
Folks, events around the world thanks to the coronavirus are moving at lightspeed. Paraguay has just two cases, yet Tuesday they suspended all schools and public events for 15 days. Now I’m guessing none of you care about this place, but when you see something like this, you have to ask yourself, ‘What the heck is going on?’
Tuesday night, we learned the first Premier League game was called off, Wednesday night’s Manchester City-Arsenal affair. Turns out some of the Arsenal players were in contact with the Greek owner of a Europa League opponent who has tested positive. Announcements of this sort are going to start flooding in.
By the time many of you read this, will the NCAA have made major decisions about its upcoming tournament? We may begin to see how the sporting public feels with the crowds at The Players Championship this weekend. Tournament directors may decide to make a drastic change between Friday and Saturday’s rounds, for all we know.
The NBA’s board of governors is going to have a critical conference call today with the commissioner’s officer. One scenario being discussed is moving some games to cities yet to suffer an outbreak.
Or the NBA could play without crowds, or just suspend operations for a period of time.
San Francisco health officials have yet to mandate that the Golden State Warriors play games without fans, yet, but this seems inevitable.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recommended that indoor teams in that state play without fans for the immediate future. The Cavaliers don’t return from a six-game road trip until March 24.
The Mid-American Conference and the Big West announced minutes apart Tuesday that they would hold their tournaments – in Cleveland and Anaheim, Calif., respectively – without spectators. The MAC followed the recommendation of DeWine.
USC’s athletic teams are going to continue to play, but without fans present for the foreseeable future.
But back to the immediate biggie… A decision is going to be made shortly.
Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“Next week, about 1800 college basketball players and a few hundred more coaches will fly in from college campuses around the country and congregate at multiple NCAA tournament sites.
“Given the spread of COVID-19 around the United States and the uncertainty of how many people actually have it due to lack of testing, it’s conceivable that someone participating in a tournament game will be carrying the virus. Let’s say that hypothetical person then tests positive a week later, at which point they’ve already come into close contact with two other teams who are in the Sweet 16.
Stephen Wade and Graham Dunbar / Associated Press
“The tentacles of canceling the Tokyo Olympics – or postponing or staging it in empty venues – would reach into every corner of the globe, much like the spreading virus that now imperils the opening ceremony on July 24.
“The International Olympic Committee and local organizers say the games are on, but the clock is ticking.
“The fate of the Tokyo Games touches 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes, coaches and sports officials, local organizers, the Japanese government and national morale, international broadcasters, fans and world sponsors. Add to this hotels, airlines and taxi drivers – and even 80,000 unpaid volunteers who will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity….
“The Olympic brand could be damaged, although the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee may be among the least affected parties financially if the games are called off. The IOC has been resolute in its message, although it has a several-month window to decide….
“ ‘From what we know from numerous other mass-gathering events including sporting events, it is very easy to spread diseases worldwide from such events – from meningitis to Zika,’ (Dr. Ali) Khan (an epidemiologist and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska) told the AP. ‘Besides welcoming athletes and spectators with their tiny microbes, there is and may be ongoing disease in Japan.’
“Kazuhiro Tateda, an expert on infectious diseases and a member of a Japanese government panel, said the virus may not die out quickly.
“ ‘Unlike the flu that disappears with warmer weather, the response to the new coronavirus, I think, will have to continue for half a year or a year,’ Tateda told Japanese broadcaster NHK on Tuesday.”
Much of any losses suffered by the IOC as a result of cancellation of the Games would be covered by insurance.
But Tokyo is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a government audit says it’s at least twice that much. About $1 billion in the local operating budget is to come from ticket sales.
73% of the IOC’s income of $5.7 billion in the latest four-year Olympic cycle (2013-2016) was from selling broadcast rights.
NBC signed a deal to pay $4.38 billion for four Olympics – 2014 through 2020. It has a new agreement to pay $7.75 billion for the following six Olympics – 2022 through 2032.
Tuesday night, a Tokyo Olympic Committee executive board member told the Wall Street Journal that if the Games can’t be held this summer, a delay of one or two years would be the most realistic option.
In other moves….
--All sport in Italy has been suspended until at least April 3 because of coronavirus, the country’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte has announced.
This includes Serie A, Italy’s top flight in football, but not Italian clubs or national teams participating in international competitions.
--Major League Baseball has decided to restrict media from the clubhouse as a preventive measure to try to lower the chance of anyone on a team contracting Covid-19. [MLB joined the NBA, NHL and MLS in issuing a statement barring reporters from clubhouses/locker rooms.]
For now, MLB is planning to play the rest of spring training, begin the regular season on time on March 26 and continue to have fans at the games. But executives are preparing for the worst. On a conference call with all 30 teams Monday, MLB officials conceded they will have to stay vigilant in monitoring the situation.
Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball – the second biggest baseball league in the world – announced it would not start its regular season on time and there were no current plans when it would begin.
Back to MLB, no one has said what would happen if a player or coach or clubhouse attendant tests positive. You quarantine the whole team for two weeks?
And then there’s the NHL. Monday, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, leaving the San Jose Sharks with the possibility of playing their next three home games in an empty SAP Center, playing at neutral sites or postponing the games altogether. The next home game is March 19.
And you’ve all heard that the prestigious BNP Paribas Open tennis event at Indian Wells, California, was canceled.
But Tuesday, the Ivy League announced it was canceling its upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to the Covid-19 threat; meaning Yale is the men’s champ, Princeton the women’s…the automatic qualifiers to the NCAA tournaments.
This was an atrocious decision. Play the games! Even without spectators.
And then we have the following….
Scandal at the Track
Gabrielle Fonrouge and Bruce Golding / New York Post
“XY Jet, a striking gray thoroughbred, was making his third appearance at the annual Golden Shaheen race in Dubai when the gates sprang open on March 30, 2019.
“The gelding, who’d finished a close second in 2016 and 2018, burst out to an early lead and won wire-to-wire.
“Trainer Jorge Navarro gave all credit to the 7-year-old horse, which had overcome multiple knee surgeries to compete at the highest levels of the $100 billion thoroughbred industry.
“ ‘He won the race and he was the best against the best horses here tonight,’ Navarro said at the time.
“But behind the scenes, the trainer had secretly plotted to illegally boost XY Jet’s ability as part of an international equine doping scheme that included dozens of other racing insiders, including the trainer of the legendary racehorse, Maximum Security, the feds alleged Monday.
“In all, 27 trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors were charged in four separate indictments that the feds say detail a ‘systematic, international scheme’ to corrupt races by doping horses with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
“Eight days before the Golden Shaheen, Navarro ‘personally administered various adulterated and misbranded PEDs to XY Jet, including a substance Navarro referred to as ‘monkey,’’ according to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court.”
So then there is Jason Servis, Maximum Security’s trainer. On Feb. 29, the horse captured the inaugural running of the world’s most valuable race, the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh.
Recall, Maximum Security was also first to cross the line at last year’s Kentucky Derby, but was disqualified for interference by making contact with War of Will, which ran into Country House, later declared the winner.
The indictment doesn’t allege any wrongdoing in any of those races but says that Servis doped “virtually all of the racehorses under his control” – including Maximum Security. Cue Jeff Spicoli.
The colt allegedly got “a shot of SGF-1000” ahead of the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park (N.J.) last June.
But it was after this injection that Maximum Security was tested by regulators, leading to a wiretap of a phone call between Servis and a co-defendant, veterinarian Kristian Rhein, who the feds say “reassured him that Maximum Security would not test positive.”
“They don’t even have a test for it. …There’s not a test for it in America,” Rhein allegedly said.
Navarro replied on the wiretap, “I don’t want to talk about this s--- on the phone, OK.”
But Maximum Security was upset in the race by King for A Day, finishing second. The horse did go on, however, to win four of his next five races, including last month’s Saudi Cup, where Maximum Security won $10 million.
Back to Navarro, on Jan. 8, he announced that XY Jet had died of a heart attack at age 8. An investigation into the circumstances of the death is continuing, the feds said.
This case is so awful, one veterinarian, Louis Grasso, allegedly distributed cobra venom to be used as a painkiller.
At a news conference announcing the charges, Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said that the case was the most far-reaching prosecution of racehorse doping in the history of the Department of Justice and that the investigation was continuing.
Benjamin Weiser and Joe Drape / New York Times
“Horse racing has a long history of trainers’ repurposing drugs in pursuit of a performance edge. Frog and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, heart medicines and steroids have all been detected in drug tests. This reliance on performance-enhancing drugs combined with lax state regulations has made American racetracks among the deadliest in the world.
“Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at U.S. racetracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That figure is anywhere from two and half to five times greater than the fatality rate in Europe and Asia, where rules against performance-enhancing drugs are enforced more stringently….
“Among the defendants charged in the case were seven veterinarians, Berman said at the news conference. One, Louis Grasso, who was licensed in New York and New Jersey, created and sold customized performance-enhancing drugs and advised others on how to administer them, according to one indictment.
“In an intercepted phone call in October, a trainer, Thomas Guido III, told Grasso about the death of a horse who Guido had been training who had been doped with a drug used to reduce bleeding in a horse’s lungs during periods of exertion.
“ ‘It happens,” Grasso responded, adding that Guido ‘probably over-juiced him.’
“ ‘I’ve seen that happen 20 times,’ Grasso said.”
National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop called the charges “abhorrent.”
“There is no place in our sport for individuals who treat horses with disregard for their well-being or who undermine the integrity of our competition for personal gain,” Waldrop said. “We support the effort to bring these charges to light and are hopeful that their swift adjudication will help assure other horse racing participants and the public at large that our sport will not condone or tolerate the behavior alleged in the indictments.”
Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“For generations, horse racing has been a sport rife with crooked trainers and veterinarians, taking advantage of the sport’s regulatory hodgepodge and a drug-testing system that isn’t nearly as advanced as the drugs being used. But it’s a problem the sport has been unable, and perhaps unwilling, to grapple with in a meaningful way.
“As of today, that’s no longer going to work.
“A sport whose economy relies on the trust of owners pouring millions into horseflesh and the confidence of gamblers that races are on the up-and-up can no longer be trusted.
“It would be too aggressive to say the Southern District of New York delivered horse racing a death blow Monday, but unless the sport gets its act together quickly, you can go ahead and start reading the last rites.
“That Servis, in particular, has been caught up in this doping scheme is a big deal – if not altogether unsurprising given the backside chatter about how he achieved his success.
“According to Equibase, Servis’ horses have won 1,306 races and $52.2 million in his career, with much of that coming in the last few years.
“From 2010-2016, Servis’ runners averaged $2.5 million annually in purses. But in 2017, his win percentage started shooting up from the low and mid-20% to around 30%, with a significant portion of that success coming with horses like Shekky Shebaz who were claimed or purchased and suddenly started winning once they got to his barn.
“That led to owners like Gary and Mary West, who own Maximum Security, sending Servis higher-class horses that put him into the top echelon of the sport. Fewer than two weeks ago, he was in Saudi Arabia winning the first-ever $20 million race and cementing Maximum Security’s claim as the best horse in the world.
“Or so we thought. What can we really believe anymore?
“But for the horse racing community to do its typical circle-the-wagons things and try to pin this completely on a couple dirty trainers while seeing no evil elsewhere in its ranks would rather quickly lead to the sport’s demise….
“Everything we suspected about the corrupt side of horse racing has now been exposed by the FBI in a way that should rock the sport to its core. A growing percentage of the public already thinks of horse racing as animal cruelty, particularly after the still-unexplained spate of deaths at Santa Anita last winter. Now a new sector of the American public will think of it as rigged.
“A sport that relies on people placing bets on the outcome of races cannot exist in between those two realities in 2020. Horse racing can clean itself up and still survive – maybe – but as of Monday, the clock is ticking.”
Tuesday, Maximum Security owner Gary West sent the colt to Bob Baffert. Thankfully, the face of the sport, Baffert, hasn’t been swept up in all the crap of the past few years.
Meanwhile, also Tuesday, the California Horse Racing Board’s investigation into the fatalities last year at Santa Anita validated many of the prevalent theories as to why there was a spike in deaths, but found no smoking gun or overriding reason for what happened.
As the Los Angeles Times’ John Cherwa reported:
“Most of the findings dealt with the well-known idea that horses who suffer a catastrophic breakdown have preexisting conditions. Many of those conditions are not detected because of a lack of proper equipment or way to detect the problem.”
The study was confined to the 23 deaths at Santa Anita between Dec. 2018 and March 2019, and 21 of the 23 had pre-existing pathology, while 39% of the fatalities happened on surfaces affected by rain.
“The report also confirmed that trainers felt pressured by the track to run their horses, although only one trainer could give a specific example. No trainer interviewed blamed the track for any fatality.
“There was criticism of trainers for mostly poor record-keeping and a lack of knowledge about the anatomy of horses or curiosity about past necropsies. And the investigation said that veterinarians reporting to the track is an inherent conflict….
“The report also outlined 47 recommendations, 12 of which are already in the regulatory pipeline process. Most dealt with establishing protocols for training, racing and when to cancel racing. …It also asked for an examination of how the use of the riding crop, or whip, and breakdowns may be related.”
No California-based trainers were named in the federal investigation, and California was not a state listed where the alleged doping took place.
Baffert is based at Santa Anita.
The Stronach Group, which owns both Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, will not allow Servis or Navarro to enter horses at any of its racetracks until the matter is resolved.
Both Servis and Navarro are now in the December file for serious “Dirtball of the Year” consideration.
--IF there is a Kentucky Derby in May, as who the hell knows what’s going to transpire in the coming weeks, Baffert appears to have a real winner in Authentic, who went wire-to-wire in the San Felipe Stakes last weekend at Santa Anita. Authentic is thus the early Official Pony of Bar Chat, recommended by our railbird Johnny Mac.
Or it could be Ete Indien…or….
Let’s just hope they run the thing…with a live crowd in the stands.
College Basketball…heading to Selection Sunday…
AP Poll (records thru Sunday)
1. Kansas (65) 28-32
2. Gonzaga 29-2
3. Dayton 29-2
4. Florida State 26-5
6. San Diego State 30-2
7. Creighton 24-7
8. Kentucky 25-6
9. Michigan State 22-9
10. Duke 25-6
11. Villanova 24-7
12. Maryland 24-7
13. Oregon 24-7
14. BYU 24-7
15. Louisville 24-7
16. Seton Hall 21-9…down 8
17. Virginia 23-7
26. Stephen F. Austin (28-3)…if you carry out the votes.
--Monday, in a West Coast Conference tourney semifinal, Saint Mary’s picked up a big win in terms of its NCAA prospects, 51-50 over 14 BYU, the Gaels 26-7.
So that meant it was Saint Mary’s taking on Gonzaga in the final Tuesday and the Zags ran away with it, 84-66, but the Gaels are in.
--Congratulations to Hempstead, Long Island’s Hofstra Pride, 26-8, 70-61 winners over Northeastern in the CAA championship final, the Pride going to their first NCAA tourney in 19 years.
--Wake Forest finished 13-18, after back-to-back 11-20 seasons, the Deacs losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament to Pitt, 81-72. In six seasons, Wake has won one ACC tourney game under Danny Manning, 30-80 in ACC regular-season games.
But tonight, Manning said he’s sure he’ll be back.
[North Carolina defeated Virginia Tech in the other meaningless first-round tourney game, 78-56, though I did say weeks ago the Tar Heels would make a run.]
As the league waits to see what is going to happen re Covid-19, the Lakers had an important 112-103 win over the Clippers Sunday night, LeBron continuing to play as well as ever at age 35…28 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, but also coming up clutch whenever it mattered, on both offense and defense.
But then last night, suffering a letdown, the Lakers lost at home to the Nets, 104-102, a huge win for Brooklyn. The Nets had been 8-19 against winning teams, with just two of those victories away from home, but nothing as impressive as this.
So the Nets are 2-0 under interim coach Jacque Vaughn and remain in the seventh spot in the East.
The teams that matter, records thru Tuesday…
Oklahoma City 40-24
--Despite a final-round 76 at Bay Hill on Sunday, Rory McIlroy’s T-5 was his seventh-straight T-5 or better dating to last year’s Tour Championship victory. But it also meant he was atop the Official World Golf Ranking for 100 cumulative weeks, thus joining Tiger Woods and Greg Norman as the only players to hold the OWGR crown for 100 or more weeks in the ranking’s 34-year history.
Tiger holds the record with 683 weeks, followed by Norman at 331. As Golfworld’s Joel Beall noted, this means that Rory would “only need to hold the No. 1 spot for the next 11 years, two months and three weeks to catch Woods.”
--Didn’t have a chance to note Ernie Els’ win in the Champions Tour event last weekend in Newport Beach, Calif., his first win on the senior circuit in only his third event.
Els won by two over Fred Couples, Robert Karlsson and Glen Day. Ernie is one of those guys the Champions Tour needs…he can draw a crowd…assuming crowds will be allowed!
But I have to mention Wake Forest’s Jay Haas and his sixth place finish, just four back of the Big Easy.
Haas shot 67-67-67, -12, and he’s 66! As Ronald Reagan would have said from the veranda, while sipping an Arnold Palmer, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
--Separately, the PGA Tour announced a new nine-year media agreement with CBS Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN, the deal running from 2022 through 2030, and essentially maintaining the status quo. CBS will average 19 events per year through the lifetime of the contract, while NBC will get eight events in addition to airing early round and early weekend coverage on its Golf Channel platform. The networks had previously agreed to alternating FedEx Cup Playoff coverage, with NBC assuming command in 2022.
ESPN picks up the digital/streaming rights within the United States, which will be offered on ESPN+. So PGA Tour Live, the Tour’s subscription video service, will live exclusively on ESPN+ beginning in 2022.
Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the New York Times and Variety report an increase of at least 60 percent from media companies over the previous deal, which was claimed to be valued at $400 million. Sports Business Journal reported in December that the pending deal could be worth $700 million.
--By the way, the U.S. Open is being held just a few miles from New Rochelle, New York, Covid-19 hot spot.
--Big win for the New York Rangers last night, 4-2 at Dallas, as Mika Zibanejad had his 40th goal and goalie Igor Shesterkin got back on track. The Blueshirts are three points out of a playoff spot.
--Tottenham lost its second leg in Champions League Round of 16 play at RB Leipzig Tuesday, 3-0, aggregate 4-0…bye-bye, as the season of disaster continues for my Spurs.
--Just have to note that Joey Logano won his second NASCAR Cup race of the season late Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, outgunning “King of the Desert” Kevin Harvick, who has nine wins on this track, in a green/white checkered finish, Logano’s 25th career Cup Series victory.
--Led Zeppelin’s long nightmare is over, having finally triumphed in a long-running copyright dispute after a U.S. appeals court ruled they did not steal the opening riff in “Stairway To Heaven.”
It’s a relief to the music industry, which long backed Led Zeppelin in the case, fearing the reversal of the jury verdict would lead to a flood of new copyright infringement lawsuits based on the use of common musical elements.
In 2014, the British rock legends were accused of ripping off a song called “Taurus” by the U.S. band Spirit. Taurus was written in 1968, three years before “Stairway To Heaven.”
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a 2016 trial verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not copy it.
“Semantics do not characterize legal arguments – substance does,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the majority. She said the plaintiffs failed to show how the common elements they cited formed a selection and arrangement worthy of copyright protection.
“These disparate categories of unprotectable elements are just ‘random similarities scattered throughout [the relevant portions of] the work,” the judge wrote, quoting in part from another ruling. “Labeling them a ‘combination’ of unprotectable elements does not convert the argument into a selection and arrangement case.”
Lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, who wrote the song, could have faced a bill for $millions in damages if they had lost.
The Spirit song was written by the band’s guitarist Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California, who died in 1997. The case was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for his estate.
Led Zeppelin and Spirit played live together after Taurus was written, and Mr. Skidmore suggested Page may have written his riff after hearing Taurus live.
I urge you to go on YouTube if you haven’t already gone through the exercise and listen to Spirit’s “Taurus.” First off, the song sucks…a total mishmash…like a good few bars, then goes in a stupid direction, good bars, stupid direction….
As opposed to Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” which has the greatest beginning of any Rock/Motown song of all time and stays strong throughout…but I digress…
Actually, I’m not finished….this song peaked at #4 in the summer of ’69, but in an era where songs surged and then disappeared, depending on what the record companies and the stations wanted, “What Does It Take…” was #5 for three weeks, before one week at #4, then #9 and poof…
The reason? Freakin’ Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525” was #1 for six weeks! And what tune was prevented from the top slot, sitting at #2 for three weeks?
Only “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” one of my top three songs of all time.
So, yeah, I’m miffed.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/11/78: #1 “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (Andy Gibb) #2 “Night Fever” (Bee Gees) #3 “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill…not anymore! Social distancing, Dano!...)…and…#4 “Emotion” (Samantha Sang) #5 “Lay Down Sally” (Eric Clapton…easily his worst…) #6 “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees) #7 “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” (Chic…just godawful…) #8 “I Go Crazy” (Paul Davis…heroically tries to save the week with this good one…) #9 “Just The Way You Are” (Billy Joel…my favorite of his…) #10 “Can’t Smile Without You” (Barry Manilow…#8 and #9 prevent this crappy week from being a ‘D’… ‘C-‘…I was in the midst of spring semester, sophomore year at Wake…what would end up being the single worst year in the history of American academia…parents ticked off…time to join the circus and ride the rails…)
Players Championship Quiz Answer: Six multiple winners….
Jack Nicklaus (3…he won three of the first five, which were held at various sites).
Fred Couples (2)
Steve Elkington (2)
Hal Sutton (2)
Davis Love III (2)
Tiger Woods (2)
Next Bar Chat, Monday…Selection Sunday…