The week in “sports”: 4/10/20

tillman winston

From the Hey, We’re Trying Department:

  • Sports were cancelled again: Amidst alternatively gloomy and pie-in-the-sky loony outlooks shared on the prospect of the near-term return of anything not horse racing and NASCAR videogaming, the best hope– really– this week was UFC don Dana White’s proposal to stage MMA fights on a mysterious private island. Promptly after that story broke, the UFC announced the cancellation of its next round of scheduled fights. It also turns out White & Co. don’t actually own that island just yet. Meanwhile, plenty of viral bluster from a couple of college football’s biggest mouths, Mike “I’m a Man” Gundy and Dabo “Dabo” Swinney; NASCAR’s iRacing coverage insists on consistently using a very annoying term with regard to Bubba Wallace (not going to link that one); and MLB’s floated plan to play its 2020 season in the summer in the desert with lots of players and staff but no fans and no player or staff family members hits some too-obvious roadblocks. Also, Al Kaline died. More on him in a forthcoming post, but if you feel like just packing it in and trying again for sports in 2021, I won’t blame you.
  • A college basketball champion was crowned: The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game would have been Monday night, and the young cyborgs at FiveThirtyEight determined that, had it been played, it would have featured Michigan State and Kansas, with the Spartans prevailing to claim their third national championship in program history. (I couldn’t bear to read that article, so I’m sorry if it’s the wrong link.) In case you have the desire to empty an entire bag of Morton System Saver salt into your March Madness wound, here’s the site’s full projected 2020 bracket.
  • Other news: Chris Johnson maybe had two guys killed? And the Masters twitter account is posting pretty pictures and video highlights in memory of what would have been Masters week 2020.
  • Coming up: Previews indicate that Marshawn Lynch will return in Sunday night’s episode of Westworld.

The Pirate Has Landed: Raw footage of Mike Leach’s Starkville arrival portends things

This afternoon, the news broke that Mississippi State had hired Mike Leach away from Washington State, and, this evening, the Bulldogs’ new head football coach had landed in Starkville, where he was greeted with fanfare he greeted with his own reaction.

I’m not sure what I expected, nor am I sure what Leach expected, but this is what everybody got, and it’s difficult– perhaps very difficult for some– to be more excited about the 2020 SEC football season.

Immediately following the announcement of the new hiring, I asked Mississippi State football superfan Stingray Steve for a comment, which invitation he declined.

UPDATE: Alternate angle in extended footage now available here:

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Previously
Washington State’s 2019 football season already a flop
Is it time to worry about Mike Leach’s allegiances in the event of a Planet-of-the-Apes situation?
Mike Leach: Selling Bigfoot, buying aliens
Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars

The People’s Preview of the 2019 College Football Conference Championship Weekend

Don’t call us Bleacher ReportSB NationFansided, but we’ve decided to pick up a little #content buzz around here by completely outsourcing our content for this exciting preview of the 2019 college football conference championship weekend to unpaid labor/digital aggregators. Finally(!), our reader(s) have a chance to find out what the people themselves have to say about these games and no longer must wade through the filtered editorial morass of our (also unpaid) writers’ unavoidable human biases.

A game(s) preview is, at its essence, a telling of whether a game should be good. Here then are the tellings of whether this weekend’s college football games should be good told by the people–free and rational economic actors all–according to the comparative differences between bottom-level ticket prices available on the secondary market as of this morning.

$¢ indeed.

2018 Rapid Review

The year 2018 was a year. Here are some of our favorite things from the year that was 2018.

  • Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup, at home, in their second year of existence.
  • America’s women’s hockey team beating Canada to win gold at the winter Olympics.
  • Phish summer tour. My first time seeing them three nights in a row. That they never repeated a song during that stretch was notable but not terribly surprising. What was remarkable and never received the treatment at this site that it deserved was the overall quality of the performances, especially on Friday, August 3 but really consistently throughout the weekend, where a wide array of songs from across their thirty-five-year catalogue provided launching pads for fresh, collaborative jams time after time. It feels like the band has reached a new level.
  • Hamilton College’s Francis Baker, the American hockey goalie who stood up to Hitler. This was your most-read story posted on this site in 2018.
  • Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan. This, from Sports Illustrated, was my first foray into the true-crime podcast genre. The gist: what we were told was an open-and-shut case probably has a lot more to it than what the investigating police department allowed to meet the public eye. Story had some additional resonance for me because I had been living in Nashville at the time.
  • Maryland-Baltimore County beating Virginia to become the first-ever sixteen seed to beat a one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
  • Justify‘s dominant Triple Crown achievement.
  • Baseball Hall of Fame adding Alan Trammell. Still no Cooperstown spot for teammate Lou Whitaker, though.
  • The Supreme Court clearing the way for states to authorize sports wagering.
  • J.R. Smith delivering the most memorable moment of LeBron James’ final series with Cleveland.
  • Shohei Ohtani making his major-league debut.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence.
  • Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in football again. The Commodores have won five of the last seven games in this series. (If you’d lost track of him, Derek Dooley’s currently working as the quarterbacks coach at Missouri.)
  • Baseball Prospectus revised its flagship bating metric and now concedes that Miguel Cabrera, not Mike Trout, deserved the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP awards.
  • Tiger Woods winning the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake.
  • In personal news, I published my first article at Baseball Prospectus, which took a look at whether MLB teams were colluding to depress player wages.
  • In memoriam:

Thank you for your readership this year. Look for more great content here in 2019.

UPDATED: Playing the Fields: Justin, Jake, and Jacob

News broke last night that Justin Fields, Georgia’s number-two quarterback behind Jake Fromm, is considering a transfer. Initial reports indicated that he had decided to transfer, but follow-ups this morning have softened that somewhat. Still, from Fields’ perspective, a transfer makes some sense for the second overall recruit from the 2018 class who, thus far, has not overtaken Fromm and probably wants– and would receive– a starting opportunity at another top-tier program.

If Fields does leave after this season, he will be the second highly regarded QB to depart Athens under the Kirby Smart regime. Former starter Jacob Eason left after he lost the job to Fromm in the 2017 season, transferring to Washington (in his home state). He had to sit out the 2018 season, though he was allowed to practice with the Huskies and play on the scout team. Although Washington coach Chris Peterson told Eason during his high-school recruitment that, if Eason “ever needed to or had the opportunity to come home, he would have a place for” Eason, there obviously is no guarantee of a starting job for him in Seattle. In fact, a report yesterday shows that Eason will face a challenge from a former high-school rival, Dylan Morris, who will enroll early to begin the competition with Eason this spring. While the Seattle Times regards Eason as the presumptive starter– “of course”– for 2019, the report also notes that Eason will be one of five scholarship quarterbacks on campus this spring.

Even if Fields doesn’t have to sit out a year, something he obviously hopes to avoid even if it isn’t clear how he would do so under current NCAA rules, Eason’s situation should serve as a reminder that there are no certainties in college football.

The rest of us can occupy the moments between bowl games trying to guess if and, probably more significantly, where Fields might transfer. Some reading the tea leaves are seeing early indications that Fields is setting his sights on Columbus.

UPDATE: Fields has taken the necessary step to commence the transfer process. Coaches at other schools now are free to recruit him to join their programs without having to receive permission from UGA. It apparently is possible that the SEC still could restrict Fields’ ability to transfer within the conference, however.

UPDATE: Fields is transferring to Ohio State. The immediate reports do not indicate whether he’ll have to sit out a year, but I think that’s the reasonable expectation absent extraordinary circumstances.

Is it time to worry about Mike Leach’s allegiances in the event of a Planet-of-the-Apes situation?

leach monkey

I only saw one of the Planet of the Apes movies, and I don’t remember it very well, but I take the basic premise to be that monkeys get their act together and fight humans for control of Earth. It’s not implausible to think that our planet, sick and tired of humans’ environmentally destructive habits, might rise up against us, and monkeys seem as good a candidate as any to lead the charge of nature’s backlash. When that happens, it probably means our time as a species is up, and, assuming we haven’t invested sufficiently in space travel, we’ll need to transition quickly from long-term goals to short-term ones. That means banding together to stave off the simian attack as long as possible. Humans uniting on anything seems like a long-shot these days, but if we can manage that, I like our chances.

Mike Leach, head football coach at Washington State, has me worried though. On June 1, without additional comment, he tweeted a video comprised of a few different clips of monkeys attacking people. When I saw it, I figured he simply was spreading some standard-issue viral web content just like anyone else would. Nothing to worry about. I didn’t even watch the whole video at that time, because I don’t like thinking about monkey attacks.

What’s a little bit concerning, though, is that Coach Leach just retweeted his own tweet of the video, and I watched it all this time. Again, there’s no comment from him with the tweet, but it has me worried, because it makes me think he thinks the activities depicted in the video are funny or good, and that’s a bad sign for humans in a battle of humans against monkeys. Coach Leach is the type of guy we need on our side if we want to win. Granted, the monkeys will be lobbying hard to sign him to their team because he represents their best chance of developing an air attack (besides just jumping out of trees onto our heads), so we need to keep that in mind regardless.

On the other hand, this may be a warning from Coach Leach about the danger of monkey attacks, and that’s how I’m going to choose to interpret it, because he has good judgment and monkey attacks are dangerous. Be safe out there.

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Previously
Mike Leach: Selling Bigfoot, buying aliens
Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars

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.

A Word on SEC Championship Game Rematches

The conventional “wisdom,” if you can call it that, from the ESPN pundits is that Auburn so thoroughly dominated Georgia the first time around, that there isn’t much Georgia can do if they play again. If you watched the game, and I did, that is certainly the way it looked. Auburn’s defensive line dominated, their offensive line won the battle, Auburn moved the ball, Georgia didn’t, and they led the game 40-10 before a meaningless late touchdown. So… case closed right?

Well, that’s an interesting theory, or, uh… hypothesis, if you will. How does it hold up to further analysis, or, uh… data. Yes, data. Let’s see. Like many things in college football, the data is limited. Small sample size yada yada yada. The sample size is 7. But here they are. All of the SEC Championship game rematches in history (plus LSU-Bama in 2011, rematching in the national title game):

Year Teams Regular Season Postseason Difference
1999 Florida/Alabama Alabama by 1 Alabama by 27 26
2000 Florida/Auburn Florida by 31 Florida by 22 9
2001 LSU/Tenn Tenn by 8 LSU by 11 19
2003 LSU/UGA LSU by 7 LSU by 21 14
2004 Auburn/Tenn Auburn by 24 Auburn by 10 14
2010 Auburn/S.Car. Auburn by 8 Auburn by 39 31
2011 LSU/Alabama LSU by 3 Bama by 21 24

First things first, only 2 times in 7 rematches has the result changed, in that the loser of the regular season matchup won the postseason game. Those occurred in 2001 and 2011. However, perhaps the biggest takeaway is that 6 times out of 7, the game changed significantly. Only in 2000 was the result basically the same – that being a comfortable win for Florida both times. The other 6 games all went from a close game to a blowout, or vice versa. The average difference in score is over 19 points. Maybe the first game is not a very strong predictor of the second game?

Well, hold on you say. This is only 7 games. And you’d be right, it is a small sample size, but you work with the data you’ve got. Here, I can also add this list of bowl games that have been regular season rematches. Going back to the same starting point (1992, beginning of the SEC title game), there have been 14 such games, and only 4 of these 14 bowl games were won by the team that won the regular season game (excluding the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the “Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter,” because the two teams tied the regular season game).

So, still a small sample size. But the data certainly suggest the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. Not at all. Stated differently, the hypothesis that the first game played between two teams will be a reasonable predictor of a hypothetical rematch has very little support. Thus, when two teams play twice in the same season, the first game is not a good predictor of the second game. That is the “what.”

The “why” is just speculation. We don’t have any data that goes to the cause. However, I can guess as to some reasons. First of all, I’d simply say that the logic is wrong in the first place. Most fans seem to think that a football game is good evidence of something. It shows you who the better team is. I’d argue that’s wrong. Maybe a team’s 12 or 13 game record is good evidence (maybe it’s only so-so evidence). But I’d argue that one game isn’t good evidence of anything. Too many variables, too much luck. In other words, the first game might be a poor predictor of the second game because the first game has a significant luck factor, and so does the second game.

Other possible explanations for this phenomenon are psychological. The players and coaches from the winning team feel like all they have to do is not make any mistakes, and they’ll win again the same way they won the first time. They may have a hard time getting up for the game. The coaches may feel pressure not to change their scheme. After all, it worked the first time. Meanwhile, the second team is adjusting. Its players are angry, and out to prove the first game was a fluke. The opposite can also happen. Consider 2010 – Auburn may not have thought it was a great team during the first matchup, early in the year, when they beat South Carolina by 8. But after finishing the year unbeaten, Auburn was in a different mental state, and out to prove they actually were much better than a 3 loss South Carolina team.

Those are my two best guesses, but there are other conceivable explanations. However, the facts are what they are. And the facts suggest that if Auburn and Georgia play in the SEC Championship game, Auburn may not be as big of a sure thing as the media thinks. In fact, Auburn did get a number of apparently lucky breaks the first time around (fumbled punt, the “leaping” personal foul) which resulted in extra possessions. For whatever its worth, the computers mostly think Auburn would be favored by about a field goal and would have perhaps a 55-60% chance to win. That doesn’t sound very much like the first game. Based on the above, that probably means its exactly right.

Perhaps UGA fans should be cheering for Auburn to win this weekend, so they get a rematch, rather than playing Alabama for the first time.

Sports Law Roundup – 10/20/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

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

  • Penn State child abuse: A court has denied the request of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University assistant football coach who sexually abused children, for a new trial. Sandusky contends his conviction on those charges was wrongful due to the claimed inadequacy of his legal representation at trial and the prosecutor’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory information.
  • NFL hiring collusion: Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick has filed a labor grievance with the NFL alleging that the league’s member teams are colluding to keep him out of a job because of his leading role in player protests during the National Anthem. Kaepernick identifies President Donald Trump as a significant actor whose public statements condemning protesting players motivated the owners’ decision. Kaepernick faces an uphill legal climb, though, because circumstantial evidence– the observable fact that no team has hired him despite his track record and apparent needs at his position– is insufficient to prove collusion. Under the collective bargaining agreement, “no club, its employees or agents shall enter into any agreement, express or implied, with the NFL or any other club, its employees or agents to restrict or limit” a team from negotiating or contracting with a free-agent player. To make his case, Kaepernick will need to demonstrate that the owners, together and not independently, made an affirmative decision not to employ him, or that the NFL itself directed or encouraged teams to take that position. Depending upon how this matter evolves, however, the stakes for the league and union could be high, as, under certain circumstances, proof of collusion could terminate the CBA.
  • Wrigleyville: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has denied a request for rehearing filed by owners of Wrigley Field-area owners of rooftop restaurants and bars who claimed the Chicago Cubs violated an agreement to prevent the obstruction of field views from the neighboring rooftop establishments when the team included a new, large, outfield video board in its updates to Wrigley Field. The court offered no explanation for its decision to reject the petition for a rehearing of its prior judgment that the agreement itself and MLB’s antitrust exemption barred the neighbors’ claims.
  • North Carolina academics: After spending more than six years investigating the University of North Carolina for academic fraud, the NCAA issued a final ruling subjecting the school to minimal sanctions that do not affect any of UNC’s athletic programs, a decision that, according to Mark Titus, “should come as no surprise.”

Sports court is in recess.

Mike Leach: Selling Bigfoot, buying aliens

More specifically, Washington State head football coach Mike Leach doesn’t think Bigfoot is out there, but hopes he is, and “take[s] the biblical” approach when it comes to aliens:

Coach Leach isn’t a big “lightning striking mud” guy, though, whatever that is.

After listening to and watching Leach for years, I think the thing that comes through most for me from moments like these is that it’s clear that he has fairly well-formulated thoughts about a variety of subjects outside of football. Some coaches have a comedic vein and can improvise quips that will garner broader attention. By contrast, Leach rarely appears to be improvising. He isn’t hunting a quick laugh. Instead, he’s sharing his real thoughts on non-football topics, and it’s his ability and willingness to do that– when his peers are incapable of or unwilling to do so– that makes him compelling. He’s someone who’s good at being a football coach, but he seemingly doesn’t require the total life subjection and destruction necessary for most people to get to or near that point. People like that are harder to spot in the football coaching ranks than a sasquatch in the wild.

College football’s officially back.

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Previously
Mike Leach Prefers Solo Cougars
Mike Leach: Prospective time traveler
Mike Leach officially ushers in the 2015 college football season
Cougar dating tips from Mike Leach
Mike Leach Favors Cougars