What the new Yahoo!!! college basketball report says about Michigan State

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Yahoo!, which somehow still staffs a sports department and definitely isn’t a Jeb!-like holdover from the Web 1.9 days, has a new college basketball report out today that is Very Important. I know it’s Very Important because “federal investigation,” “meticulous,” “prominent,” and “underbelly” all appear in the first sentence.

Cutting through the heady haze of college athletics journalism, this is an article based on expense reports from a sports agency called ASM Sports. Those reports apparently document “cash advances, as well as entertainment and travel expenses for high school and college prospects and their families.”

The only document– and please know that the tireless staff of Yahoo! Sports “viewed hundreds of pages of documents,” according to Yahoo! Sports– mentioned that references Michigan State’s men’s basketball program in any respect is an expense reimbursement request Christian Dawkins, a former ASM agent, filed with the agency. One of those requests was dated May 3, 2016: “Redwood Lodge. Lunch w/Miles Bridges Parents [sic]. $70.05.” Another was from the same date: “ATM Withdrawl [sic]: Miles Bridges mom [sic] advance. $400.” The article also states: “According to the documents, Dawkins has dinners listed with plenty of boldface names in the sport – Tom Izzo . . . .” That’s everything on the Spartans.

As one possible starting point, we can acknowledge that the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving money from agents. Whatever the wisdom behind or efficacy of that policy, I’m not sure we even have evidence of a payment to Bridges, the Spartans’ premier player, here.

First, despite that exhaustive (well maybe not quite that exhaustive: “Yahoo[!] did not view all of the documents in the three criminal cases tied to the investigation, but . . . .”) doc review, Yahoo! declined to publish the records referencing Bridges. They published multiple pages of reports mentioning other players but, for some undisclosed reason, decided not to publish those that mention Bridges (or Izzo). That means we have to take the authors’ word that the records they saw but did not include with their article said what they say they do.

Second, assuming those records exist and are as described, I don’t think they actually evidence payments to Bridges himself. A– and perhaps the only– reasonable reading of the two entries are for a lunch with Bridges’ parents and a payment to Bridges’ mother. The negative implication is that Bridges himself did not attend the lunch and did not receive the payment. This distinction is significant in light of the NCAA’s prior case against Cam Newton. There, the NCAA suspended Newton on multiple occasions arising out of allegations that Newton’s father, Cecil, tried to secure a pay-for-play agreement on Newton’s behalf with Mississippi State but ultimately reinstated him based on Auburn’s successful argument that Newton was unaware of his father’s efforts. If Dawkins, in treating Bridges’ parents to lunch and giving Bridges’ mother cash, acted without Bridges’ knowledge, there would appear to be no basis for the NCAA to punish Bridges.

Third, a technical but not legally insignificant point is that these records are, at most, indirect evidence of payments to Bridges’ family. They’re good evidence, but they aren’t direct evidence that the payments actually were made. Even if Dawkins had a receipt of the ATM withdrawal, for example, we don’t have direct evidence that he provided that cash to Bridges’ mother.

Finally on the direct issues, the passing reference to Tom Izzo obviously is meaningless, but it’s good for SEO. There is no indication or allegation that any MSU official had any knowledge of or involvement with these payments. Continue reading

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2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated

baseball time

With the MLB and MLBPA finding it difficult to engage in substantive, productive conversations with each other, Commissioner Rob Manfred was poised to enact rule changes unilaterally in an effort to advance his ill-defined pace-of-play goals.

In his three years in office, Manfred already has made changes in this area, including a reduction in the time of the between-inning breaks and an informal request for hitters to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. More fundamentally, one year ago, he made what I still believe to be “the most significant change to the sport since 1879” when he eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, an alleged pace-of-play reform he later conceded was merely “symbolic.”

Rumored to be chief among those new, unilateral rule changes for 2018 was the institution of a pitch clock, which the upper levels of the minor leagues have been using since 2015. While a less-fundamental change to the game than the intentional-walk rule, in my estimation, a pitch clock in the majors likely would have drawn a louder critical outcry from fans.

Thankfully, we’ve learned today, a pitch clock will not be a part of the game in 2018. Instead, Manfred has made what I think are very good choices, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

In case those tweets are hard to read or disappear, that’s a cap on mound visits per nine innings at six (with limited exceptions for extra innings and other defined situations in the umpire’s discretion) and a reduction in inning breaks during the regular season to 2:05 (with scaled expansions for postseason games).

By further (although it’s unclear by how much) reducing the between-inning commercial breaks and limiting mound visits, Manfred tracked two important reform guidelines: a) avoid changes in the on-field game and b) keep the focus on the players. There’s plenty of time in a baseball game for pitcher coaching and coordinating, and I have no problem putting more pressure on pitchers (who, collectively, now are enjoying probably their greatest advantage relative to hitters in the game’s history) to work out struggles on their own.

More than anything, though, I’m glad that baseball, at least at the top level, remains an area of life not dictated by a clock, a space where anything is possible so long as you’re alive.

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Related
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

Bag it Jam

After Phish released its St. Louis ’93 box set, which chronicles two separate concerts four months apart in that city’s American Theater, I had the idea that I would write a two-part review of the release. In the first part, I would explain how the recording of the April 13 performance fit nicely between the raw, excitable energy exhibited on the At the Roxy box set, which captured three nights at the former Roxy Theater in Atlanta in 1992, and their breakout in 1994 (most widely distributed in the form of the two-disc release entitled A Live One).

That’s about as far as I got, because I came up with the idea after listening to the April concert, but I hopefully anticipated that, after listening to the August 16 performance, I’d be able to note something about the band’s noticeable growth over a short but very dynamic period in the group’s history.

As those of you who read this website with due care already know, I wrote neither of those reviews. That happened (or didn’t) in not-insignificant part because I don’t think the second night demonstrated the sort of growth, coalescence, or development I had believed it might. Top to bottom, the first night clearly is better, in my opinion, and I have returned to it more often than the second.

It wasn’t a mistake to include the August performance, though. The theme of the set wouldn’t make much sense, or really even exist at all, without it, of course, and if the plan simply was to release one night from 1993, maybe there were better options even than the April date in St. Louis. I don’t know. More than mere marketing logic, however, the August concert belongs because of its peaks. For example, the second set Mike’s Groove opener is solid, and the “Rocky Top” encore finisher is fun.

The real highlight, though, and what I suspect was a major factor in the decision to do this release at all, is the first-set “Reba.” Listen for yourself, and have a sublime weekend.

Ashes Jam

John Perry Barlow, an advocate for an internet free of government regulation and longtime Bob Weir friend and songwriting collaborator died this week. I don’t know for sure where Barlow is right now, but if he’s on his way to Hell in a bucket, I at least am reasonably confident he enjoyed the ride thus far.

Super Bowl LII Preview

[I lied. We do have the resources to produce a preview of Super Bowl LII, and it begins right after this sentence. -ed.]

Well it’s time for the Super Bowl again. Do you like the Super Bowl? It’s ok if you don’t because none of this really matters. Whether the New England Patriots or Philadelphia Eagles win, nothing about the world will really change! There will still be all sorts of good stuff happening, and also all sorts of bad stuff. That’s just kind of the way life works. It’s important to keep perspective, but also to enjoy things like the Super Bowl if that’s something you’re into. Even if you don’t enjoy football it’s fun to go see your friends and hang out! You should always treasure the time you get to spend with your friends and family, even if it’s when you’re doing something like watching the Super Bowl and you don’t really enjoy football. But if you do enjoy football then it’s even better because you get to hang out with your friends AND watch a sport you enjoy.

Anyway there’s going to be football that happens. I am writing this on a phone so there won’t be any fancy tables or anything. The Patriots have Tom Brady who has won more than one Super Bowl (can’t fact check the exact number right now, sorry). They also have Rob Gronkowski aka Gronk. I like how Gronk lives his own life and doesn’t need validation from anyone. I think we could all learn a lot from Gronk about being our best selves and not caring about what other people think of us. But it’s important not to treat alcohol the way Gronk does. Alcohol is best enjoyed in moderation, and you should never let anyone tell you that you need alcohol in order to have a good time. Also Gronk is very big, so what might be an ok amount for him to drink might not be an ok amount for you or me! Anyway those are the two Patriots players I know. Their coach is Bill Belichick and he is always very grumpy, however he is very good at his job. I think he would be a good coworker because even though he’s not very personable he gets stuff done and doesn’t seem like he makes extra work for other people.

On the other side are the Philadelphia Eagles. What I like about Philly is how their fans are very crazy and do all sorts of stunts like driving an ATV up the art museum steps. How fun! I know one Eagles player: Nick Foles. He plays QB but I am like 90% sure that another guy used to play QB for the Eagles earlier this season. I think he got hurt or maybe he’s using his PTO. The Eagles have both an offense and a defense, like the Patriots. I’m not sure if they have special teams because to be honest I have not watched more than five minutes of Eagles football this year and most of that time I was browsing Reddit on my iPad. I don’t know the name of the Eagles coach or whether he is grumpy.

Anyway that’s the rundown on both teams. The line is NE -5 and the over/under is 48. Take the Pats and the under, I say. It’s fun to gamble a bit, but also only in moderation! If you win money you can buy some products from the brands you see advertising during the game. Gotta love brands. Where would we be without them? What’s your favorite brand? Maybe drop us a note in the comments. I really like Brooks, personally. I always buy their shoes!

Final Score: Patriots – 22, Eagles – 5

My favorite piece of Super Bowl trivia

Our resources can’t support a full Super Bowl preview this year. Instead I give you, by way of sports trivia maestro and fellow Pizza Cave Podcast guest Eastside Paulie, my favorite piece of Super Bowl trivia, which I learned from my dad on a trip to Houston.

Get your vote in before six o’clock today, and enjoy the game on Sunday.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/22/2017

aslr - xmas

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Gymnast abuse: Earlier this month, a judge declared that a doctor with ties to USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics in the United States; Michigan State University; and a gym in the Lansing area, who was facing multiple civil and criminal accusations of improper sexual conduct in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of young female athletes was “a danger to children” and sentenced him to sixty years in prison. Now, one of his most prominent victims, U.S. gold-medalists McKayla Maroney, has sued USA Gymnastics, which, she alleges, tried to stop her from publicly accusing the doctor of abuse. According to Maroney’s complaint, the situation arises out of a prior $1.25 million settlement agreement Maroney reached with USA Gymnastics that contained mutual non-disclosure provisions. Maroney’s current attorney says that while Maroney willingly agreed to that settlement, she did so at a time when she was suffering from emotional trauma and needed the money for “lifesaving psychological treatment and care.” USA Gymnastics says that the parties included the confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement at the insistence of Maroney’s then-attorney, Gloria Allred. Maroney’s complaint also names Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the doctor as defendants. The doctor still is awaiting sentencing on ten state-law counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
  • Baseball injury: Dustin Fowler, currently an outfielder for the Oakland A’s, filed a negligence action against the Chicago White Sox and Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates Guaranteed Rate Field, because of an injury he suffered when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he ran into an unpadded electrical box in the right-field foul territory of Guaranteed Rate Field during a game last summer. Fowler damaged his knee in the collision, causing his rookie season to end before his first plate appearance, and he ultimately required surgery. Fowler claims that the defendants should have done more to secure the box or protect players from running into it.
  • Sleeve suit: A tattoo artist, whose clients include LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Danny Green, is suing the makers of the NBA2K17 video game because, he says, the game’s graphics are so realistic and detailed they include replications of his work, over which he claims copyrights, and he alleges he is entitled to compensation for their use in the game. It’s unclear whether the artist (somewhat confusingly named James Hayden) has sought to protect these rights in other circumstances, such as game broadcasts or television commercials, featuring his clients. This isn’t the first lawsuit against the makers of the NBA2K series of games, however. A different owner of copyrights on NBA player tattoos sued over prior editions of the game and lost because it had not registered those copyrights with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It isn’t clear whether Hayden has registered his trademarks.
  • Super Bowl ticket shortage: A federal appeals court will allow a proposed class action to proceed against the NFL based on allegations that the league’s ticket lottery program for Super Bowl XLVIII, which was played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, only released a fraction of the available tickets to the public. The legal basis of the suit is a New Jersey consumer protection statute that requires the public sale of at least 95% of the tickets for events hosted in the state. The named plaintiff’s claim relies in significant part on an expert economic opinion that the plaintiff paid more for tickets he bought on the secondary market than he would have had the league not withheld more than five percent of the game tickets from the primary public market in violation of the New Jersey law. The federal court now has certified the question of whether the state law applies to the NFL’s actions to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
  • Hockey island: The State of New York’s economic development agency, Empire State Development, has selected a $1 billion bid by a joint venture directed in part by New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon to develop an entertainment complex that will be the new home of the New York Islanders. The move is significant in that the site, which is part of the Belmont Park racetrack property, is located on Long Island, the place the team called home for all but the last three years, when the franchise left Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (which, as a geological matter, is part of Long Island but whatever).
  • Music City soccer: On Wednesday, MLS announced that it would award an expansion franchise to Nashville, where the new team is expected to play in a new arena to be built at the city’s fairgrounds. The day before, a local judge had dismissed a lawsuit by opponents of the stadium’s construction because she concluded the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the project and determined that the stadium would not impair existing fairground activities, including the state fair.
  • RICO soccer: On Friday in a New York federal court, a jury convicted the former leaders of the Brazilian and Paraguayan soccer associations on racketeering conspiracy charges related to millions of dollars in bribes received in exchange for marketing rights. The jury is continuing to deliberate over similar charges against the former head of the Peruvian soccer association. The maximum sentence for each charge is twenty years in prison.
  • Thursdays are for the lawsuits: On Thursday, Barstool Sports served the NFL with a notice to cease and desist the marketing and sale of a line of apparel the website contends were “made with the intent to trade off of the goodwill associated with” a Barstool-owned trademark, “Saturdays are for the Boys.” (Interestingly, Barstool did not create “Saturdays are for the Boys,” though it did popularize, market, and register as a trademark the phrase one of its writers overheard at a bar.) The allegedly offending products are shirts the NFL is selling with the phrase “Sundays are for” followed by one of its team names or nicknames. The one shown in the cease-and-desist letter is the Dallas t-shirt, which reads “Sundays are for the Boys.” The NFL had pulled that shirt from its online store prior to the sending of the letter, but the others remain available.

Sports court is in recess.

“The passion I have for this game I can’t hide.” – Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, 1935-2017

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Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg died yesterday at the age of eighty-two. The Michigan native grew up dreaming of playing right field for the Detroit Tigers, a job, he always acknowledged, went to his contemporary Al Kaline. Many people have been sharing many special memories of Enberg, who broadcast baseball, tennis, and nearly every other sport in a career that spanned five decades and earned him many awards and accolades. In addition, Enberg may be the most prominent graduate of Central Michigan University, although Jeff Daniels may give him a run for his money. An off-the-cuff ranking of the most famous Chips:

  1. Jeff Daniels
  2. Dick Enberg
  3. Clark Howard
  4. Dan Majerle
  5. Tom Crean
  6. Chris Kaman
  7. Dan LeFevour
  8. Alveda King
  9. Ray Bentley

(Opening up the list to non-graduating attendees would add Antonio Brown and J. J. Watt.)

Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

baseball notes

Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current offseason issues in the sport.

On the hot stove‘s slow burn:

An underappreciated element of the utter sameness that permeates baseball today is the number of executives who came through the commissioner’s office at Major League Baseball either as an intern or early in their careers. Jobs there aren’t just pipelines to teams. They are breeding grounds for the proliferation of commissioner Rob Manfred’s doctrine, honed during two decades as the sport’s chief labor negotiator.

How does it work? Consider the case of Tommy Hunter, the relief pitcher, who late last winter was holding out for a major league contract. On the same day, according to two sources, at least two teams called Hunter offering the exact same deal – an occurrence that in the past might have screamed of collusion. In this case, the sources said, it was likelier a reflection of how teams value players so similarly.

It’s not just the algorithms with minuscule differences that spit out the same numbers. It’s a recognition of how to manipulate the new collective-bargaining agreement. “Clubs are maneuvering to take advantage of the significant salary depressors in the CBA,” one agent said. An example: One large-revenue team telling agents that his team is wary of getting anywhere close to the luxury-tax threshold, lest it be penalized for exceeding it.

“Of course that’s what we’re saying,” the GM said. “We’d be stupid not to.”

On Julio Teheran and what happens when player-value metrics tell different stories:

At Baseball-Reference, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017. He allowed heaps more runs than he had in 2016. It’s more complicated than that — a ton of work has gone into the calibration — but at a basic level this is what we’re talking about. By bWAR, based on runs allowed adjusted for things like ballpark and the quality of his defense, Teheran was worth 1.6 wins in 2017, close to league average.
. . .
At FanGraphs, Julio Teheran was much worse in 2017, worse even than he was at Baseball-Reference. His strikeout rate went down, his walk rate went up, and he allowed way more home runs. It’s more complicated than that, but at a basic level it’s not much more complicated than that. By fWAR, which is based on a stat (FIP) calculated with those three factors alone, Teheran was worth 1.1 wins. He pitched considerably worse than a league-average starter.
. . .
But now it gets complicated, because at Baseball Prospectus Teheran’s WARP was 3.8, identical to his 3.8 WARP in 2016. He ranked 24th in baseball, ahead of Alex Wood, James Paxton and Robbie Ray. We’ve found a story that says Teheran was actually good.
. . .
Which takes us to a third level of storytelling, observing not just what happened or what should have happened but what should have should have happened.

In WARP’s telling, Teheran walked more batters than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have walked fewer than he did. He allowed far more home runs than he did in 2016, but he pitched like somebody who should have allowed fewer. Specifically, given his pitch types and pitch locations, he should have beat batters who actually beat him.
. . .
There are those who complain there are multiple WAR models telling us different things about players. Stats are supposed to resolve uncertainty, we figure, not exacerbate it. But these are complicated questions. The worst thing a stat could do it mislead us about how simple baseball is, or about how much we know. It’s not simple. We don’t know all that much.

On the weekend’s big throwback trade between the Dodgers and Braves:

With five players involved, [Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, and Charlie Culberson,] this is a big trade for two teams to make. But then, if we’re going to be realistic, this isn’t about the players at all. This is a swap of money, or, more accurately, this is a swap of debt. There is short-term debt, and there is shorter-term debt.
. . .
Gonzalez is already a free agent. The Braves designated him for assignment so fast that it was part of the initial press release. Kemp is unlikely to play a game for the Dodgers, since they’re already looking to flip him, if not drop him outright. Kazmir didn’t pitch in the majors this past season. McCarthy did, but he threw just 92.2 innings. Culberson batted all of 15 times before making the playoff roster because Corey Seager was hurt. All of these players combined for a 2017 WAR of +0.7. It was all thanks to McCarthy, and his 16 adequate starts.
. . .
[H]ere’s how this works. Gonzalez’s 2018 salary belongs to the Braves now. Then his contract is up. The same is true for McCarthy, and the same is true for Kazmir. Culberson does come with some years of team control. The Dodgers are also sending the Braves $4.5 million. And Kemp’s 2018 salary now belongs to the Dodgers. So does Kemp’s 2019 salary. In each year, he’s due $21.5 million.
. . .
[T]his exchange is more or less cash-neutral. That is, neither the Braves nor the Dodgers are taking on the greater obligation. But the Dodgers are spreading it over the next two years, reducing their 2018 payroll figure. The Braves will face the greater short-term burden, and then, come 2019, there will be sweet, sweet freedom. The Braves ditch a future obligation, giving them more financial flexibility a year from now. The Dodgers assume a future obligation, but they, too, will get more financial flexibility a year from now, and beyond, because they likely won’t have to pay the most severe competitive-balance taxes. All they’re worried about is getting the overage penalties to reset. . . . Next offseason, Bryce Harper, for example, is expected to be a free agent. Manny Machado is expected to be a free agent. All sorts of good players are expected to be free agents, and, significantly, Clayton Kershaw could opt out. The Dodgers are presumably planning to spend big, so resetting the overage penalties now could and should eventually save them eight figures. All it requires is one year of dipping down.

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Previously
Baseball Notes: Baseball’s growth spurt, visualized
Baseball Notes: The WAR on Robbie Ray
Baseball Notes: Save Tonight
Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup
Baseball Notes: The In-Game Half Lives of Professional Pitchers
Baseball Notes: Rule Interpretation Unintentionally Shifts Power to Outfielders?
Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
Baseball Notes: The Crux of the Statistical Biscuit
Baseball Notes: Looking Out for Number One
Baseball Notes: Preview