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A World Turned Upside Down
[Posted Sunday p.m.]
Baseball Quiz: The war years for baseball during WW II were 1942-45, with many such as Ted Williams playing the ’42 season, while others like Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller were among the stars missing 1942-44, and then playing partial seasons in ’45.
For the purposes of this quiz, though, give me the home run leaders in each league for the 1943, ’44 and ’45 seasons. This is tough. Answer below.
I posted last early Wednesday morning and by the afternoon, the sports world was changing in unprecedented ways. The world of us fans turned upside down, let alone that of the athletes involved and the hundreds of thousands of employees behind the scenes, worldwide.
By midday Thursday, all the major college basketball conference tournaments were canceled. Then the likes of Duke and Kansas announced they would not compete in the NCAA Tournament, period, and then NCAA president Mark Emmert had no other choice but to “cancel,” not merely “postpone,” March Madness. The women’s tournament was also canceled and then all winter and spring championships, including the Frozen Four and College World Series.
But just look down the last AP Top 25 poll if you want to get a sense of who is most impacted, the truly sad stories of the shutdown. It’s not Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky…it’s Dayton and San Diego State; or a Rutgers and Hofstra. Your heart goes out to all those kids. It is such a cruel twist of fate, and a most painful life lesson. As in “Life sucks…film at eleven.”
Steve Politi / Star-Ledger (NJ Advance Media)
“At 11;42 a.m., the Rutgers basketball players ran out of their locker room and into the empty Bankers Life Arena for the traditional pregame layup line. Before Ron Harper Jr. grabbed a basketball, however, he headed straight to the team’s bench for something else he knew was far more important.
“That’s where a family-sized bottle of hand sanitizer sat atop an Orange Gatorade jug. The sophomore forward pushed down on the dispenser top once, then twice, then slathered his hands as he glanced up at his surroundings.
“ ‘This is crazy!’ he said to a team trainer standing a few feet away. ‘Crazy!’
“Four minutes later, with less than 14 minutes before the game was scheduled to begin, that trainer delivered a message that stopped the Scarlet Knights in their tracks. Back to the locker room, he called out. They turned toward him, holding their basketballs, the look of shocked dismay painted on their young faces.
“He repeated the instruction.
“They turned and trotted off the court.
“That is how this magical Rutgers season, one that was supposed to take this program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 29 years, likely has ended. It was sad, it was surreal, and because of an utter failure of Big Ten leadership, it was completely unnecessary.
“Look: The conference made the right decision to cancel its postseason tournament. That’s not the issue here. But it was a decision that was so painfully obvious to everyone involved on Wednesday night after a stunning series of events in the sports world.
“The moment the NBA suspended its season when a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus was the four-alarm fire that made it clear the games could not go on. Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner, had to have known that when he woke up on Thursday morning with games set to begin here at noon.
“He still allowed Rutgers and Michigan to bus to the arena and got through the pregame routine. Rutgers officials sense something was wrong when the players’ families – the only people who were going to be allowed into the arena to watch – were still not granted access even with less than a half hour until game time. They were right.
“ ‘These are big decisions, they have major ramifications on our scheduling and all of the other different things,’ Warren said. ‘Those things take time to be able to do with peoples’ schedules, and you don’t want to rush these decisions. It would have been great if it could have been two hours earlier this morning, but it wasn’t.’
“I understand this is an unprecedented situation. But when Warren said he was polling university presidents on Thursday morning, it is hard not to wonder what, exactly, he has been doing over the past two weeks. How did the Big Ten get this far? How did the NCAA fail to offer better guidance to all the conferences?
“As of 2 p.m. on Thursday, the NCAA still had not changed its plans to hold its marquee event beginning next week in eight cities across the country….
“(This is) such a cruel blow for this team. Picked 12th in the league, it finished fifth and won 20 games, climbing into the national rankings for the first time in 41 years. It had earned the right to hoot and holler when ‘RUTGERS’ popped up in the bracket during the Selection Show, and the fans were relishing that trip to Greensboro or Tampa or wherever the journey took them.
“ ‘They are numb,’ (athletic director Patrick) Hobbs said.
“Instead, the Scarlet Knights grabbed their equipment bags, boarded their buses and headed back to the team hotel.”
Steve Serby / New York Post
“Your heart breaks for all the student-athletes, all these kids with the biggest dreams at Seton Hall, and the kids with the Cinderella dreams at Hofstra, as well as the kids from the other 66 schools who could not wait to stand and cheer as one for whichever bracket Selection Sunday had waiting for them.
“Your heart breaks especially for the seniors who never got to experience the magic of March Madness, more so than the one-and-dones who will be in the NBA next season.
“One Shining Moment isn’t reserved exclusively for the eventual NCAA Tournament champions, it can be traveling with your basketball brothers to a city you have never been and stepping on a court inside an arena packed with fans rallying to David’s side and rooting for you to nail Goliath right between the eyes with a slingshot.
“Alas, the lights went out on One Shining Moment, be it at the start of March Madness or at the end of it.
“March Sadness instead.”
So we shed a tear for Hofstra, which was about to go dancing for the first time since 2001. And to Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, who could have made an NBA roster last season had he opted to head for the Draft, but instead chose to come back for his senior season to lead The Hall to the Big East title, with dreams of much more.
“Even though (Powell) will have a legitimate shot to play in the NBA, he will have to…wonder what might have been. No more buzzer-beaters, no more bands playing, no more climbing ladders and cutting down nets, for Myles Powell, for anyone in the spring when One Shining Moment went dark, replaced by One Scary Moment.”
Ben Cohen, Louise Radnofsky and Natalie Andrews / Wall Street Journal
“Just two days ago, when a Republican congressman used his time in a public coronavirus briefing to ask a top U.S. health official about sports, he thought he would get a calming response.
“The Ivy League had recently canceled the rest of its season. The National Basketball Association was still playing in full arenas.
“ ‘Is the NBA overreacting,’ Rep. Glenn Grothman asked, ‘or is the Ivy League overreacting?’
“The unsettling answer that Dr. Anthony Fauci offered to Congress changed everything over a dizzying 24 hours that will be remembered as the most extraordinary day for American sports in decades.
“ ‘We would recommend that there not be large crowds,’ said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an expert who has been a fixture of American public health for nearly four decades. ‘If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.’
“Fauci’s candid remarks caught the NBA and some Trump administration officials by surprise. But they were proven to be prescient almost immediately. By the end of Wednesday, the NBA season was not just spectator-less. It was suspended.
“What happened in between was that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus and became forever known as the patient zero in American professional sports.
“Less than a day after Fauci was in front of Congress answering questions about the NBA, the league had made the decision to shut itself down for at least 30 days, several teams were in self-quarantine, and the entire sports industry was being shaken to its core….
“After defying recommendations from mayors and governors, the leagues and teams had no choice once cities officially banned mass gatherings in a bid to slow transmissions of the virus, Fauci told the country that it was irresponsible to play in front of fans and, finally, the first professional athletes tested positive and sparked fears of a spread through the nation’s locker rooms….
“The 36 hours in which everything changed for American sports kicked into overdrive when Grothman, a Wisconsin conservative who reliably votes with his party, posed the question that he didn’t expect to make such an impact because he suspected he knew the answer.
“He was wrong.
“Fauci, the 79-year-old infectious disease expert who has served six U.S. presidents and distinguishing himself as the most influential person in American public health, burnished his reputation during his work in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. As a child in the 1940s and 1950s, he was obsessed with sports and he idolized Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, the rare Yankees die-hard among Dodgers fans in Brooklyn.
“He played baseball and football, but he always had a soft spot for basketball. He was even the captain of his high school’s basketball team – even if he was one of the smallest guys on the court.
“ ‘I don’t think I would have any chance of playing basketball if I were in high school now,’ he said in 1989 for a National Institutes of Health oral history.
“But this diminutive high-school basketball player, a man perceived as marginalized in the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus, would change the course of sports history.
“Fauci paused for a moment Wednesday before he offered a characteristically blunt response that all but forced the leagues to take their initial reactions.
“Grothman said in an interview that he’d been struck by the difference between the Ivy League and the NBA’s actions. He did not anticipate that Fauci would raise alarms by calling on the NBA to ban crowds. He assumed that he would say the calmer approach was the right one. And he remained surprised when he learned of the season’s indefinite suspension.
“ ‘Because one player’s got it?’ Grothman asked Wednesday. ‘I’m surprised that Americans are willing to change their lives so drastically so quickly.’
“But hours before the NBA put its season on hiatus, the impact of Fauci’s work had quickly spread….
“By the time the league’s owners ended a conference call on Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA had moved forward on plans to hold March Madness without fans, and the league was hoping to decide on Thursday how to proceed with the rest of the season.
“That decision was made for them when Donnie Strack, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s top medical official, sprinted onto the court seconds before tipoff Wednesday night as soon as he found out that Gobert, who was out with an undiagnosed illness, had tested positive for the virus. The players were suddenly pulled off the court, and the season was abruptly suspended….
“That moment would mark the end of the NBA for at least the next month and shock the rest of the country into paying attention to an escalating crisis. ‘There’s no question there is a public-health upside to all these cancellations,’ said (Oklahoma City Mayor David) Holt….
“As the NCAA tournament was canceled, the NHL suspended its season and Major League Baseball postponed games, the NBA made plans to be shut down for at least 30 days, while acknowledging it could be much longer. What comes next is so uncertain that (Commissioner Adam) Silver said he suspended the season because he didn’t want to lose it entirely – though he left open the possibility that it could be.
“It began to feel as if something else that Fauci said in his congressional briefing the day before was becoming reality.
“ ‘Is the worst yet to come?’ Rep. Carolyn Maloney asked him.
“ ‘Yes,’ Fauci said. ‘It is.’”
The other sports and major athletic events quickly followed the lead of the NBA and NCAA.
The PGA Tour was going to soldier on this weekend, without crowds at The Players Championship, Hideki Matsuyama shooting a course record-tying 63 on Thursday, but then the inevitable happened under pressure from all the other sports organizations packing it in and the tournament was canceled, as well as the next three…and then The Masters, a tradition unlike any other, on CBS, was “postponed,” not canceled.
Scheduled for April 9-12, it is hoped the event could yet be staged at a later date. As of today, though, the folks running the Heritage on Hilton Head Island the following week say they remain a go, though this could have changed by the time you read this.
NASCAR took awhile but finally caved. Formula One called off races, after the cancellation of Sunday’s Australian season-opener.
The Premier League suspended play until April 4, but the epidemic is getting worse in the UK. [Poor Liverpool…just three wins from clinching the title.] All leagues across Europe have done the same.
The Boston Marathon was postponed until Sept. 14.
Churchill Downs has yet to rule definitively on the Kentucky Derby, slated to be run May 2, but five-time winner Bob Baffert said he’s hearing the race could be moved to the summer or fall.
Earlier, the Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit shut down in Europe.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“What do we do now? What do we watch? Whom do we cheer? How do we cheer?
“I planned to spend this weekend awash in the excitement of conference college basketball tournaments, particularly the desperate season-saving journeys of USC and UCLA.
“Those courts have emptied.
“Friends were headed to Sacramento to watch the state high school basketball championships, especially the Hollywood-draped team from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon.
“Those games have disappeared.
“A buddy from Dallas was coming to town Monday to join me in watching the Clippers host the Mavericks in a possible playoff preview.
“Staples Center will be locked.
“My favorite four days in the sports calendar were next week, the first rounds of March Madness, an event that annually brings together the country with millions participating in office pools and school pride.
“Every bracket has been busted.
“The month was going to splendidly culminate in two weeks, opening day, Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw back on the mound, the hated San Francisco Giants in the other dugout, friends already asking if I can find them a ticket.
“Chavez Ravine will be closed.
“Finally, in exactly three weeks, I couldn’t wait to make the trip to Anaheim to watch, and listen, as the Angels opened their home schedule against a sure-to-be-booed Houston Astros team that cheated the Dodgers out of the 2017 World Series championship.
“The stadium will be shuttered.
“Where do we go now? How do we connect with our friends? What do we talk about at work?
“Thursday will be forever remembered as the day sports went dark, turning off its lights, nailing plywood over its windows, bolting its doors to the insidious approach of the coronavirus.
“Left outside in the cold is a nation full of fans whose silenced passion will have a profound effect on this country’s spirit.
“The one thing that has long helped America endure a national crisis was its games and, now, suddenly, just as this health crisis is peaking, the games have disappeared, poof, vanished….
“The blackout could last at least a month, maybe more. For many whose days revolve around highlights and news and debates, it is an unimaginable stretch that will feel like an eternity.
“How many times do you check your phone for a score? How often do you endure a mundane workday because of the promise of a great game that night on TV? How many of the best conversations in your daily life revolve around sports?
“Welcome to cold turkey.
“Yes, certainly, smart people will sigh at your discomfort and urge you to fill this sports vacancy with books and Netflix and intelligent debates, and that’s all good.
“Just don’t let them tell you to get a life. Sports is a life, one engaged in by millions in many different ways, and a month without cheering and jeering and hugging and taunting will drain a feverish and chilled America….
“Sports have always distracted us from the realities of life. Now it has become the awful focus of those realities, which include the awful impact of cancellations on stadium workers who depend on games for their livelihoods. Here’s guessing many people, even non-sports fans, didn’t take the pandemic seriously until the NBA suspended its season.
“Sports have always been a vehicle to bring us together. Now it has become frighteningly symbolic of the danger in us being together. The voice of the pandemic is not one of a health official, but that of the public-address announcer urging fans to leave the arena Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
“That’s what makes this so unsettling. Sports were supposed to be stronger than this. Sports were supposed to be healthier than this. For fans, losing sports is about more than just losing games. It’s about losing part of the foundation on which you view yourself….
“Sports inspires, enrages and empowers us through our daily lives, and during this time of national panic, it is the one cornerstone we thought we could lean upon.
“Yet, at least for the next month, sports have been dramatically pulled out from under us.
“Seriously, what the hell are we supposed to do now?”
Mike Vaccaro / New York Post
“Look, we are a reasonable people, a rational nation. Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, we know sport isn’t life and death, that it is only vaguely real life at all. We may care too much at times. We may yell too much at times. Sometimes, inexplicably, we paint our faces outlandish team colors.
“Sometimes we lose sleep over a buzzer-beater, a walk-off, a shootout.
“Mostly, we know. We understand. When the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, we knew enough that sports would have to go away for a while (even if Michael Strahan and Kevin Mawae had to stand up on behalf of New York and remind the rest of the NFL first, both men’s finest hours in Hall of Fame careers).
“Pete Rozelle spent the last 33 years of his life knowing, and understanding, how profoundly he had erred in allowing the NFL to play a full slate of games just two days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. Rozelle, wanting to honor the last president, cited football as ‘his game’ in explaining that decision. Forever, he had to answer for that.
“ ‘Some things,’ he said in 1988, ‘are simply beyond the games.’
“This, in the end, was beyond the game – this virus, COVID-19, which is suddenly a part of our every waking moment, which insinuates itself in everything we do. It is still mysterious enough that many of us aren’t quite certain just how serious it must be taken, or how much peril we are really in. But by now, we are quite certain of one thing:
“It merits our attention, undivided, unfiltered. It takes precedence over the routines of our lives now. The St. Patrick’s Day parade. Broadway shows. College semesters. Concerts.
“Thursday – March 12, 2020 – was the day sports died, or at least the day they went into temporary hibernation. It was a day that had been brewing and percolating for some time, the drip-drip-drip of a nation trying to assemble a responsible course of action. First, media contact was limited. Then, fans were banned. Some collegiate leagues canceled seasons.
“But Thursday was when the lights went off for good, when the men and women who control sports in the United States finally understood it was time to reach for the red phone, the nuclear option.”
Christine Brennan / USA TODAY
“When the books are written about the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, it’s quite possible they will record that the moment that most startled us, that shook us out of our daydreams and showed us just how real the crisis had become was when we heard the news that the NBA was suspending its season.
“Before that bombshell landed on our phones and televisions Wednesday evening just after 9:30 ET, the sports world’s response had been a patchwork of quick fixes, followed by some high-profile and gut-wrenching cancellations and postponements, along with the hopeful but bizarre compromise choice of holding spectator-less events.
“But when the NBA said it was done, that there would be no more games because one of its own had tested positive for the virus, it was clear the sports world had found its voice, and so too, perhaps, a nation. Then, when the NCAA announced Thursday afternoon that it was cancelling the immensely popular men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the message was clear:
“If anyone ever questioned the power of sports in America, doubt no more. The coronavirus became real to many millions of Americans who otherwise had no direct connection to it when we started losing sports. Even if you don’t particularly care for or watch the NBA, Wednesday’s news most assuredly got your attention. And Thursday’s news sealed the deal.
“Sports, our great escape, has become our sobering reality. With its absence, sports is telling us that something is very wrong and it’s time to take it seriously. Hopefully, as sports goes, so goes the nation.”
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“We often celebrate the diversion of sports and seek that opportunity to escape. We can get overly protective of this diversion, acting as if it is our right and growing angry whenever anything disturbs the obsession. But these games aren’t always a magic safe place in which real life doesn’t exist. They don’t just divert. They exemplify society. They magnify it. They amplify it. Because we’re so intensely interested, they have the power to send messages that large portions of the population might not receive otherwise, and they can do it in a more convincing manner.
“In the United States, the current hope should be that sports can make people wake up and live with appropriate concern and diligence. While there’s nothing wrong with being grumpy that the coronavirus is interrupting the sports schedule, we must also think about it this way: Athletics are ubiquitous – always on, always entertaining, something you can set your clock to – and when they’re not, we should be more concerned than frustrated. To disrupt sports, it takes great tragedy, war or crisis. It’s unreasonable for anyone to deny that this is one of those frightening times….
“I live in Seattle, 12 miles from Kirkland, Wash., which has been dubbed the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus. It feels as if we reside in America’s future unless it becomes proactive about preventing the spread of the contagious covid-19….
“Earlier this week, a model predicting the spread of the virus and its impact on local King and Snohomish counties was released here. The research was done by an acclaimed trio of researchers: the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Wash. Their study anticipates that, if the area can’t slow the spread of the virus, there would be 25,000 infected citizens and 400 deaths by April 7, which is less than a month from now. This is why (Gov. Jay) Inslee and governors across the country are using their powers to ban large events and promote social distancing.
“Overblown? That’s a common reaction from people who just want us to stop being scared and keep living. American pride can trick us into believing we are too mighty to suffer the way China or Italy has. But we’re playing from behind. If we don’t get proactive, there’s simple evidence the virus will spread in devastating ways….
“ ‘This is the most serious problem that I can remember in our country that there’s no answer for,’ (said 69-year-old North Carolina coach Roy Williams) after the Tar Heels were eliminated from the ACC tournament Wednesday night.
“ ‘This is the possibility of people getting very sick and dying, and it’s something that in my mind is more serious than anything I can remember, and I’m way older than most of you guys. I remember when I was little that people were preparing places for you to go and hide underground because of nuclear weapons, and that was not a very comfortable time, and I was really little. But I know my mom was really, really scared.
“ ‘But this is something that you can’t see. …We have very intelligent scientists and doctors and people that are in charge of this kind of thing, and the American people have been very resilient over the years, and I think we’ll come out of this thing, but this is a scary time period.’….
“Getting more people to take the coronavirus seriously is a very good thing, an essential thing, a challenging thing to do when people can escape mindlessly. Moving forward, sports leagues must use their platforms and become leaders in changing indifferent attitudes. That should include Olympic organizers, too. And they must do so with an unprecedented level of uniformity.
“During the news conference, (Gov.) Inslee pulled out his cellphone and read a text message from a woman in Italy for emphasis.
“ ‘Stop saying it’s just flu or severe flu,’ Inslee read. ‘Please come and see our intensive care units in northern Italy. People can’t breathe, and we don’t have anywhere to put them. You [expletive] idiots.’”
--There was a speck of good news from the NCAA, which on Friday granted another year of eligibility to thousands of college athletes whose seasons were abruptly cut short.
The Division I Council Coordination Committee announced its “leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.”
While this is a fair move, it also creates all kinds of complications. The concept is great, the mechanics of it could be a mess.
The NCAA is discussing whether to extend the measure to winter sport athletes.
The thing is teams have scholarship and roster limits, with freshmen set to enroll next season, many of which are already on campus. Yes, the NCAA can just raise the number of scholarships allowed per sport, but it’s not like they are paying for it.
But it also means you could have a ton of grad transfers.
--On the financial side, 85 percent of the NCAA’s annual operating budget is via revenue from the NCAA Tournament thanks to $billions from TV and marketing rights fees as well as tickets sales, etc. Aside from tickets obviously needing to be refunded, it’s not clear if the NCAA has to return some of the broadcast money.
The money flows through the NCAA to college conferences and schools, an estimated $600 million the NCAA is distributing, as well as hundreds of millions spent across the country by fans attending games.
The NCAA and its broadcast partners, CBS and Turner Sports, are in the middle of a 14-year, $11 billion deal to broadcast the men’s tournament through 2024. In 2016, the parties extended the contract through 2032 for $8.8 billion. Those deals essentially fund the NCAA’s existence.
The NCAA told Bloomberg this month that it had a business-interruption insurance policy that it believes would partially cover losses, as well as some money in reserve.
But I heard Mark Cuban on CNBC the other day talking about insurance for the Mavericks and he said his business-interruption policy didn’t cover the coronavirus.
The Power Five conferences – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – have football television contracts and the lucrative College Football Playoff to help mitigate the loss from basketball revenue. But smaller conferences are essentially dependent on basketball to fund their annual operations.
In the Atlantic 10, for example, basketball funds 60 percent of their annual expenses.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf notes that in 2018, Loyola-Chicago made $8.45 million (paid out over a six-year stretch) for its league by making the Final Four. That was an average $845,000 overall for each of the 10 schools in the Missouri Valley Conference. For a school like Illinois State, that $845,000 represents about 10% of its $9 million budget for men’s athletics. It’s a difference maker.
$100s of millions of NCAA dollars fund scholarships, grants and other operations at 1,200 member schools across the country.
As for CBS and Turner, they would have clauses in their broadcast contracts protecting them from unforeseen and unpreventable disasters that cancel events, like a natural disaster or terrorism. But coronavirus? Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, which owns NBC, recently said his network had insurance to cover losses if the Olympics were canceled.
But CBS and Turner, regardless, are going to lose big on advertising income. According to Kantar Media, last year the men’s tournament brought in $910 million in ad spending.
Lastly, you have Atlanta, site of the Final Four. The NCAA alone had booked 32,000 rooms, and a local economist estimated the financial impact on the region from the Final Four at more than $100 million.
More than 300,000 people in the Atlanta region work in the hospitality sector dependent on the steady flow of visitors staying in hotel rooms and dining in local establishments. [Will Hobson and Ben Strauss / Washington Post]
--Needless to say, Vegas sportsbooks and sportsbooks around the country, and world, for that matter, are going to take a huge hit. Nevada took in $498.7 million in wagers on college basketball and the NBA combined in March 2019 and won $36.5 million, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board. An estimated 70 percent of that handle, $349 million, was wagered on March Madness.
By comparison, Nevada sportsbooks took a combined $154.7 million in bets on last month’s 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl and won $18.8 million.
Not only do the sportsbooks not get that tournament revenue now, they have to refund any NCAA championship futures bets made since April 9, 2019 – the day after last season’s final when 2020 futures were posted.
I know last night DraftKings refunded all my sports bets. I caught a break with my bet at 60-1 on Colorado! After they lost their first-round Pac-12 tournament game, that made five losses in a row for the Buffaloes and I seriously doubt they would have gotten into the Big Dance in the first place.
--Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday the league will take a 30-day hiatus and use the time to further discuss whether the league can resume play and how it can do so.
“Of course the issue becomes now, what we determined today, that this hiatus will be most likely at least 30 days….
“But then the question becomes is there a protocol frankly with or without fans in which we can resume play,” Silver continued. “I think the goal [is]…what makes sense here without compromising anyone’s safety. It’s frankly too early to tell.”
--We have some names in the December file for “Good Guy” award consideration amidst the gloom.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love was the first to pledge $100,000 for arena workers during the NBA shutdown. Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee then stepped up, and then New Orleans’ rookie sensation Zion Williamson, who pledged to cover the salaries of all Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days, the initial length of the shutdown.
Zion made the announcement via Instagram, citing values his mother instilled in him.
“The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at Smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization.
“Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus. My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Workers for the next 30 days.”
“This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my teammates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis.
“This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community.”
Others have been following the good deeds of the first three, and Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who vowed to take care of arena employees. The Pistons’ Blake Griffin is another who did so.
The Bulls and Blackhawks said they would pay their approximately 1,200 game-day employees through the remainder of the originally scheduled season.
And Rudy Gobert, who you know feels awful about that microphone incident you all saw, not knowing he would test positive, pledged to donate $500,000 to part-time employees at the arena and coronavirus relief services in Utah, Oklahoma City and his native France.
--Charles Oakley had some interesting thoughts the other day on the Knicks bringing in Jeff Van Gundy to return to the team he coached successfully for five seasons in the 1990s, Oakley having played for Van Gundy during some of that time.
During an appearance last week on the “Knicks Fan TV” podcast, Oakley said of the prospect of Van Gundy: “With these guys, a Jeff-type coach?,” Oakley said. “If I know Jeff correctly…I think it would be tough to come back and coach young guys. What he believes in for his offense and defense in this day and age, it’s totally different.”
“You can make three, four turnovers and miss four three throws in the first few minutes and take bad shots,” Oakley said. “You look at these teams. Out of 80 shots, 30 shots are bad.
“Basketball has changed. You’re not getting the 1990s back. The game has a totally different atmosphere. You got to build a team with leadership and players willing to sacrifice. These kids don’t care about basketball. All they care about is getting the check, playing video games and the social media.”
The Oak Man has that right.
And Oakley doesn’t speak highly of his teammate of 10 years, Patrick Ewing.
“He was one of the most difficult guys I’ve played with. I played with Patrick 10 years. He should know me. I should know him. It was a hard 10 years because he’s not easy to play with – high maintenance.”
--Back in the day, no one was better at grabbing the spotlight and shining it on himself than coach Rick Pitino. Then he had his fall from grace.
But Saturday, there he was again. In a shocking announcement, Iona College’s Athletic Director Matthew Glovaski said in a press release: “I am delighted to welcome Rick Pitino to Gael Nation. Rick is a Hall of Fame coach who has won at the highest levels and he is committed to leading our student-athletes and our program to national prominence. He brings passion and energy and shares our desire to build a winning program that will make our community proud.”
Iona’s longtime successful coach, Tim Cluess, who took Iona to six NCAA tournaments, sat out this past season for an undisclosed illness, and then earlier in the week resigned.
Pitino: “My passion in basketball started in New York and will end there at Iona College. Tim Cluess has done a spectacular job creating success and a winning spirit. I wish Tim a speedy recovery and Iona will always cherish his accomplishments. At Iona, I will work with the same passion, hunger and drive that I’ve had for over forty years. There is a real professionalism in how things are run here and this is a very tight, strong community. The priority in New Rochelle right now is helping students continue their education online in light of the coronavirus and I very much look forward to the day when the community is back on campus and to get to work on further elevating this strong program.”
Frankly, I love the move. Others, many among you, probably hate it because you want Pitino to burn in hell, and I know I expressed similar sentiments in the past about the guy.
But he’s served his time and, what the heck, he’s great copy as well as one of the greatest coaches of all time; the only one to ever claim national titles with two different schools (Kentucky and Louisville). And it would be very cool for college basketball if little Iona in two years was a power among the mid-majors, getting 6- and 7-seeds in the NCAA tournament. He’ll certainly be able to recruit some major talent from the area.
So good luck, Coach.
--Today, the NFL Players Association voted 1,019 to 959 to approve a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will expand the playoff field and allow owners the option to lengthen the regular season. The new 10-year labor deal* extends through the 2030 season and offers increased compensation for every minimum-salary player, or about 60% of the NFL.
*The CBA actually tears up the current deal that was expiring after 2020, so you can call it an 11-year deal.
“We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
The new CBA will increase the playoff field to 14 teams from 12 for the 2020 season and give owners the option to expand the regular season to 17 games from 16 as early as 2021.
The players will get 47% of all league revenue, in keeping with their number from the current CBA, but with the postseason expanded by two teams, that will generate further revenue, an estimated $70.5 million for the players. Starting in 2021, the players will get at least 48% of league revenue. It could be higher depending on new television deals to come.
The minimum salary, now $510,000, will rise to $610,000 in 2020, and then incrementally throughout the deal.
And the game-day active roster will increase from 46 to 48 players, i.e., more jobs.
The new CBA also eliminates suspensions for positive marijuana tests, with the focus on clinical care as opposed to punishment.
But adding one regular season game for each of the NFL’s 32 teams had been one of the more divisive elements of the deal.
“We understand and know that players have been split on this deal, including members of our EC,” the NFLPA Executive Committee said in a statement. “Going forward, it is our duty to lead, however we may feel as individuals, to bring our men together and to continue to represent the interests of our entire membership.”
Player reaction was mixed. Tom Brady tweeted: “Well done, De,” offering his support for the agreement and the work of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.
“Can’t believe we agreed to that lol,” tweeted Indianapolis tight end Eric Ebron. “We can only play this game for so long and y’all didn’t want everything we could get out of it?”
--So the new ‘league year’ begins on Wednesday, with Monday at 11:59 a.m. the deadline for putting a franchise or transition tag on players.
Free agency then kicks off tomorrow at noon, with the legal tampering period, and players officially able to change teams Wednesday.
Not all the big names, like Tom Brady, may make their moves this first 72 hours, but the likes of Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, Jadeveon Clowney, Amari Cooper, and Philip Rivers most likely will.
The Cowboys are expected to put the franchise tag on Prescott, while Brees no doubt stays with the Saints.
Rivers could be Tampa Bay or Indy bound.
But Brady? There’s a lot of talk about the Chargers this weekend.
--We note the passing of one of the great receivers of his time, Del Shofner, 85.
Shofner played with the Rams and Giants from 1957-67, catching 349 passes for 6,470 yards and 51 touchdowns, with an 18.5 yards per reception average. He was a five-time All-Pro.
Sam Huff, the Giants’ Hall of Fame middle linebacker, recalled in his memoir “Tough Stuff”: “We called (Shofner) ‘Slim’ or ‘Blade,’ and when I think of him I think of Clint Eastwood. Lean and mean out on that field, great speed and better moves, with legs strong enough to break tackles and leap into the air.”
Shofner had four, 1,000-yard seasons receiving, including in each of his first three years with the Giants after the Rams gave up on him at the age of 26. Y.A. Tittle to Shofner deep throws thrilled Giants fans.
The Giants went to the NFL championship game in 1961, ’62 and ’63, but lost twice to the Packers and then to the Bears.
Shofner, born in Center, Texas, played halfback at Baylor, starred as a sprinter and was named most valuable player in the 1957 Sugar Bowl game for his 54-yard run setting up a touchdown in a 13-7 upset of unbeaten Tennessee.
--As noted above, the last races of the Alpine skiing World Cup season were canceled Wednesday, meaning Federica Brignone is the overall title holder on the women’s side, denying Mikaela Shiffrin a chance to defend her crown.
Brignone thus becomes the first Italian women’s overall champion in the 53-year history of the World Cup.
Shiffrin had announced earlier that she would compete at a 3-day event in Are, Sweden, after taking a six-week break from the sport following the death of her father. It was during this absence that Shiffrin lost her lead to Brignone.
Shiffrin also lost the slalom discipline title she won six times in the past seven years. Her biggest rival, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, is 20 points ahead.
But as Karen Crouse of the New York Times reported, Shiffrin hit the slopes at Are. She said she felt “really nothing but fear.” She went on to make seven runs and Shiffrin said after she felt reborn.
“It was probably the biggest, most successful day that I’ve had so far, maybe in my career.”
“If nothing else, I’m grateful that we came this far, even with the races canceled,” Shiffrin said. “So I got to get out there for that training session with full intentions of preparing for a race and skied with that intensity. I accomplished that, and that was all I had set out to do.”
--Orioles star outfielder Trey Mancini, who left the team last Saturday to have a medical procedure that wasn’t related to baseball, had a malignant tumor successfully removed from his colon Thursday, the team announced.
According to the Orioles, it was discovered last week during a colonoscopy, and lab results and a timetable for Mancini’s recovery will not be known until perhaps next week.
Mancini had 35 home runs, drove in 97, and hit .291 for the Orioles last season in a breakout year. He had reportedly been feeling ill, but it was initially believed to be part of an illness going around the clubhouse.
--U.S. Soccer appointed Cindy Parlow Cone as interim president to replace Carlos Cordeiro, who has resigned.
Cordeiro quit after taking responsibility for “offensive” language used in court papers submitted in the equal pay case.
The papers said the U.S. women’s team were “less skilled” and “had fewer responsibilities than their male colleagues.”
“My one and only mission has always been to do what is best for our Federation,” said Cordeiro. “The arguments and language contained in this week’s legal filing cause great offense and pain, especially to our extraordinary women’s national team players who deserve better.”
Former player Parlow Cone, 41, who made 153 appearances for the U.S., steps up from vice-president and will take charge until February 2021, when a new president to see out Cordeiro’s original tenure until 2022 will be chosen.
The gender equality lawsuit over equal pay was filed by 28 women’s national team players. The court case is expected to start on May 5.
Women’s national team co-captain Megan Rapinoe described the language used by Cordeiro as “painful” and “unacceptable” following her side’s 3-1 victory over Japan to secure the SheBelieves Cup in Dallas.
The men’s national team has never won a significant international trophy, while the women’s side are four-time world champions and have won five Olympic gold medals.
American women footballers also generated more income from ticket sales than the men’s side between 2016 and 2018.
Baseball Quiz Answer: Home run leaders 1943-45.
1943 – Bill Nicholson, Chicago, 29
1944 – Bill Nicholson, Chicago, 33
1945 – Tommy Holmes, Boston Braves, 28
1943 – Rudy York, Detroit, 34
1944 – Nick Etten, New York, 22
1945 – Vern Stephens, St. Louis Browns, 24
Bill Nicholson led the league in both home runs and RBIs both years; 29-128, 33-122, finishing 3rd and 2nd, respectively, in the MVP vote.
Tommy Holmes had an outstanding season in ’45, 28-117, with a .352 batting average, finishing 2nd in the MVP balloting.
Rudy York is an all-time Tigers great, with five, 100-RBI seasons for Detroit, six overall, including one with the Red Sox, slamming 277 home runs and driving in 1,149 in his career, while making the All-Star team seven times.
Vern Stephens was a power-hitting shortstop who would go on to have two monster campaigns with the Red Sox in 1949-50, 39-159, 30-144, leading the A.L. in RBIs both seasons.
As for first baseman Nick Etten, boy, I wonder how many Yankees fans even heard of him, but he had three good seasons in the power category, 1943-45, going 14-107, 22-91, and 18-111.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/17/79: #1 “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor…kind of ironic given how she has put the tune back into the national spotlight with her clever hand-washing bit on social media…) #2 “Tragedy” (Bee Gees...this tune is one…) #3 “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (Rod Stewart…not one of his best…)…and…#4 “Heaven Knows” (Donna Summer with Brooklyn Dreams…actually, not bad, save for a ‘bridge’ or two in the body of the work…) #5 “Shake Your Groove Thing” (Peaches & Herb) #6 “What A Fool Believes” (The Doobie Brothers) #7 “Fire” (Pointer Sisters) #8 “Sultans Of Swing” (Dire Straits…interminable…) #9 “A Little More Love” (Olivia Newton-John) #10 “What You Won’t Do For Love” (Bobby Caldwell…solid tune…especially compared with the rest of the crapola of this era… C- week…)
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.
*Folks, I’m a busy guy these days given my other responsibilities, including on the family front. I’m not going to make up news for this segment when there is none. But I have some things lined up, and eventually this too shall pass…though I’m guessing not as soon as some of the sports leagues would have us believe today.