From Wayne Train to Crazy Train: Dan Campbell is the Motor City’s new mad man, and also the Lions are going to kick you in the teeth and bite off your kneecap

For the woebegone Detroit Lions, this offseason has offered a fresh take on an old theme. Controlling owner Sheila Firestone Ford Hamp cleaned out most of the front office, something her mother and father had done before. This time, though, Hamp first brought in two Lions legends, Chris Spielman and Barry Sanders, to work on the task of hiring Detroit’s next general manager and head coach.

So far, the results of their work have received widespread praise. GM Brad Holmes, who came up as a scout with the Rams, was their first hire. With the Matt Millen era still fresh in the minds of many fans, and thoughts of suboptimal picks by Bob Quinn due to frictious relationships between players and coach Matt Patricia even fresher, the idea of a general manager with a modern take on scouting and a successful track record to match is quite exciting.

Today, the team formally introduced its new head coach, former Lions tight end Dan Campbell. After a ten-season NFL playing career that finished with three seasons in Detroit (he signed with the New Orleans Saints before the 2008 season but never played due to an injury), he worked as a coach for the Miami Dolphins– rising to interim head coach following the firing of Joe Philbin– and Saints.

Campbell’s approach to football was on full display during an hourlong media conference that peaked right around this moment:

This is not Patricia’s faux tough-guy act, and even if it ends up descending into a WWE-meets-Tom-Thibodeau disaster, we’re playing with house money here. The situation really cannot get worse. From a perspective of pure entertainment, no one loses like the Lions lose, and, whatever the result, Campbell showed today he’ll add much more than a spark to that entertainment value.

If you haven’t already concussed yourself trying to run through the nearest brick wall, you can watch Campbell’s entire appearance here.

InDirecTV: A battle over television access to NFL games continues

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court sat with a full bench for the first time since the passing of the long-tenured Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among other actions on Monday, the Court (Justice Amy Coney Barrett not participating) released an order in the antitrust lawsuit challenging NFL teams’ collective arrangement with DirecTV in which the former permit the latter to be the sole provider of live, out-of-market game telecasts through the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

On its face, the order is good news for those challenging that arrangement, because it allows their lawsuit to continue, letting stand a lower-court order that reversed an even-lower-court order that would have dismissed the challengers’ case.

But while the media coverage of yesterday’s order also noted the portion of the statement included with the order from Justice Brett Kavanaugh that the Supreme Court’s decision “should not necessarily be viewed as agreement with” the lower court’s decision to revive the case, I have not seen any further discussion of the entirety of Justice Kavanaugh’s statement, which goes much farther than what that out-of-context quotation might suggest.

More than a neutral, “we’re not saying one way or the other” comment, Justice Kavanaugh’s statement pours cold water on the hopes of those who saw this lawsuit as a vehicle to break up the NFL’s antiquated, frustrating, and expensive approach to delivering television access to its product. Most fundamentally, the statement suggests the possibility that the challengers may not have a right to bring their lawsuit at all: “This Court’s case law authorizes suits by direct purchasers but bars suits by indirect purchasers. The plaintiffs here did not purchase a product from the NFL or any team, and may therefore be barred from bringing suit against the NFL and its teams.” (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.) And even if the challengers do have a right to sue, their claims may fail in substance if the NFL and its member teams are organized and operate as a cohesive legal unit:

Under the existing contract, the 32 NFL teams have authorized the NFL to sell the television rights for out-of-market games to a single buyer, DirecTV. The plaintiffs argue, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that antitrust law may require each team to negotiate an individualized contract for televising only its own games. But that conclusion appears to be in substantial tension with antitrust principles and precedents. The NFL and its member teams operate as a joint venture. And antitrust law likely does not require that the NFL and its member teams compete against each other with respect to television rights.

(Citations omitted.)

To be sure, these are the preliminary views of one justice on a nine-member court that might never see this case again. If the case does return to the Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh’s expressed concerns might not be relevant to the questions at issue for the Court at that time, or, if they are, they might not be shared by a sufficient number of his fellow justices to be consequential.

As the case heads back to the trial court, however, Justice Kavanaugh’s comments could prove influential and find their way into the analysis of a judge who already has shown some disinclination toward the challengers’ claims and, more certainly, the arguments of the league and teams.

DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package may survive this legal challenge, but the service separately is facing financial difficulties that could render the lawsuit practically moot. Five years after buying it for $49 billion, AT&T has been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell DirecTV as it hemorrhages subscribers, the rate of losses recently slowing only because it’s running out of subscribers to lose. With the NFL’s agreement with DirecTV set to expire in the next year or two, attrition rather than litigation might be the most fruitful course for those seeking more football-viewing options on Sunday afternoons. Stay tuned.

LEAKED: ALDLAND’s list of the most boring professional sports teams

Since the sports world ground to a halt this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the actual world, sports fans have been waiting with great anticipation for the return of sports. Now, the return of sports has arrived, but with it has not come, I don’t think, a full delivery on the anticipation with which sports fans had been waiting. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but sport is spectacle, and without the full-scope resumption of the sporting surround, satisfaction escapes us. It’s one thing to watch a telecast of regular-season baseball in an empty chamber. Quite another for playoff hockey, playoff basketball, or even the circumstance of regular-season NFL or college football, or so I would assume; I haven’t mustered the mustard. Especially meaningful team sports, it turns out, really are team events. It’s difficult to summon the scene in solitude.

It’s particularly difficult to do so when the teams involved are boring. I wasn’t going to release this list of the most boring professional sports teams before it was ready, but then the list leaked out, so you might as well view it, in its current state, here, presented in descending order of boringness.  Continue reading

Rob Gronkowski retired to avoid a trade to the Detroit Lions

We’re trying our best to bring you positive news from the sports world during these times that also are trying, but it’s tough to find the energy to put a positive spin on this one. As penance, the group’s laughter at the end should be the Lions’ new fight song for at least as long as it takes them to win a playoff game.

(HT: Fredi The PizzaMan)

NFL Draft Jam

Yesterday, the NFL held round one of its 2019 draft on Lower Broadway in Nashville, which, predictably, meant the night’s biggest news involved a bachelorette party and a Taylor Swift song premiere.

Realistically, though, when you look back on this night a few years from now, all you’re going to remember is whether the leadership of your favorite pro football team found its generational franchise player of the future or continued to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, only this time the Lions are unduly obsessed with tight ends instead of wide receivers. If you’re at the point where the thought of NFL roster construction makes you sick to your stomach, or maybe you’re seeing visions of Lombardi trophies, or maybe you’re somewhere in between and just thankful you were smart enough to plan your pre-wedding bar crawl for literally any time and place other than last night (a Thursday, I’ll just pause to note here) in Nashville and therefore did not appear on a now-viral piece of local news footage that may or may not send a tremble through the foundations of your anticipated marriage, this week’s Jam is for you:

And, if you just want T-Swift’s new video, I get that. Find it here.

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.

Lions do another trade

Last week, Detroit Lions General Manager Bob Quinn sent waves of excitement through the team’s fan base when he completed a trade with the collapsing New York Giants for Damon Harrison, a strong run blocker who seemed like a perfect fit to bolster the Lions’ struggling defense at a moment when the team seemed poised to make moves in the competitive NFC North after early season wins over New England and Green Bay.

Now, though, following a disappointing and uninspired defeat at home against the Seahawks that dropped Detroit below .500, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Quinn & co. are punting on 2018. That’s because they just traded Golden Tate to Philadelphia for a third-round draft pick.

Sure, Tate’s contract is up at the end of this season and he’s (barely) in his thirties, but he consistently has been one of the Lions’ top players since coming to Detroit in 2014, regularly performing as top a yards-after-catch receiver who, after Matthew Stafford, probably has been the most essential part of the Lions offense.

giphy

This is especially disappointing because of the apparent opportunity this season offered to Detroit. The Seattle game on Sunday was bad, but they still sit only a game out of first place, with the divisional competition appearing far less invincible than they appeared at the season’s start. Green Bay looks bad and already lost to Detroit. Chicago is a much weaker team without new acquisition Khalil Mack, who’s battling a leg injury, and the Vikings haven’t yet lived up to the hype they earned coming off last season’s appearance in the NFC Championship game.

In assessing the trade value of a draft pick, it’s important to account for how well the team receiving the pick does in drafting. Here, I think it’s too early to tell.

In the immediate aftermath, it’s difficult to reconcile the Harrison and Tate moves, but at least there’s some comfort in the familiarity of this team giving up on a season, and the transparency should help lower fans’ stress levels as they can turn their attention to other, less-frustrating diversions this fall.

2fn212

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Previously
Lions do a trade

Lions do a trade

The New York Giants (1-6) have seen the writing on the wall and are unloading whatever assets they have in an apparent attempt to reload next year around rookie standout Saquon Barkley.

This morning, New York sent defensive lineman Damon Harrison to Detroit in exchange for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft. Harrison, who’s nickname is “Snacks,” sounds like a pretty good run-stopper and should have an immediate positive impact on a defense that really has struggled against the run.

The cost for Harrison seems pretty low, especially considering the Lions still will have one fifth-round pick, having previously acquired an extra one in a trade with San Francisco.

The NFC North is the NFL’s most interesting and competitive division, and every team’s still in the mix for a playoff spot. Adding Harrison should go a long way toward helping Detroit to keep pace as they prepare to enter a critical stretch of their schedule in which they’ll face three divisional opponents in four weeks, including two games against the Chicago Bears in an eleven-day span.

It’s August 10, 2018, and football officially is back

It’s the first full week of August, which obviously means football season is upon us. The first NFL preseason game actually happened last week in Canton, Ohio, where the Bears and Ravens played in just the second first Hall of Fame Game since the great paint debacle of 2016, which surprisingly had nothing to do with Bruce Arians’ childhood.

Last night, week one of the NFL preseason officially began, with the Bills, Panthers, Bears, Bengals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Browns, Giants, Steelers, Eagles, Saints, Jaguars, Redskins, Patriots, Rams, Ravens, Texans, Chiefs, Titans, Packers, Colts, Seahawks, Cowboys, and 49ers all in action. I didn’t realize there were that many games last night before I began typing that sentence. But there’s absolutely no denying it: football is back.

Did somebody just out-XFL the XFL?

xfl fans orlando

Baseball may be the de jure national pastime and the NFL may be the de facto national pastime, but, heretofore, the official sport of ALDLAND always has been the XFL. Almost twenty years ago, the brash and innovative XFL upended the stogy NFL with a fan-first (or certainly not player-first) approach that, while not long-lasting in its then-current form, lives on through a variety of changes it forced the NFL to make to stay current with its most ardent fans.

Almost two decades after the XFL folded, however, the NFL under Roger Goodell is as stiff and outdated as it’s ever appeared, which made initial reports that Vince McMahon was bringing the XFL back welcome news indeed in many quarters, including this virtual one. The NFL once again is ripe for upheaval, and a revived XFL seemed like just the vehicle for the job once again. Unfortunately, further revelations from McMahon have made clear that the new XFL, which is planned to resume play in 2020, has a mission devoid of the brash, raw, boundary-pushing, potentially/probably dangerous approach the league took in 2001:

On January 25, 2018, Alpha Entertainment announced a new incarnation of the XFL, which would begin with a 10-week inaugural season beginning in January or February 2020. In a press conference, McMahon stated that the new XFL would be dissimilar to its previous incarnation, stating that “There’s only so many things that have ‘FL’ on the end of them and those are already taken. But we aren’t going to have much of what the original XFL had, including the cheerleaders, who aren’t really part of the game anymore. The audience wants entertainment with football, and that’s what we are going to give them.” McMahon stated that the league would feature eight teams as a single entity owned by Alpha (the previous XFL was also a single-entity league), which will be revealed in 2019. Alpha Entertainment was established in order to keep the league’s management and operations separate from that of WWE.

The XFL will discourage political gestures by players during games (such as, for example, taking a knee in protest), and will forbid any player with a criminal record from participating. He justified this by stating that the XFL would be “evaluating a player based on many things, including the quality of human being they are”, and that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained”. He suggested that players who wish to express political opinions should do so on their personal time.

He’s had a lot of success, but here, McMahon’s being too big of an idiot in too many ways. The second coming of the XFL wasn’t going to be a cookie-cutter version of the first edition, of course, but its organizing principle, by McMahon’s own admission, has nothing to do with football. Nobody ever thought the XFL would offer a better on-field product than the NFL because the best players always play for the most money, but you’re lying if you said you thought the XFL would return to play the role of a more conservative NFL. (And not to get too deep into the water here, but does anyone think he could’ve saved a lot of words by just saying he only wants white players?) What a waste.

Thankfully, somebody else saw an opening here. That somebody is Charlie Ebersol, the son of Dick Ebersol, the longstanding NBC executive who, along with McMahon, formed the original XFL. Charlie, who directed the recent 30 for 30 movie about the XFL, plans to scoop his father’s former partner by debuting his new league, the Alliance of American Football, a year earlier than XFL 2.0:

The league plans to kick off on February 9th, 2019, one week after the Super Bowl, with 50-man rosters and a ten-week season.

The news just gets worse and worse for the XFL, as Ebersol’s league has already recruited some heavy hitters from the NFL world. Ebersol has brought in retired Indianapolis Colts General Manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian to help oversee the league, with former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu doing the same for the player side of the new venture and former USC star J.K. McKay for the team side. Adding to the league’s growing star power are Hines Ward, Justin Tuck and Dick Ebersol, who are all league advisors.

The league’s financial backing comes from a variety of sources, including former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen, Billionaire Peter Thiel and the Chernin Group. This stands in contrast to McMahon, who is financing his new XFL through personal wealth. That creates more upside for him personally, but Ebersol is taking a longer view of his new league saying “I think where businesses like this fail is that they expect to have ludicrous and unrealistic ticket and media deal projections in Year 1. Our investors here understand that it’s a 7-10-year plan.”

Significantly, AAF already has a television broadcast deal with CBS, and it claims it also will offer live streaming on a free mobile app. Plus, according to an ESPN report, there will be no TV timeouts, substantially fewer commercials, and mandatory two-point-conversion attempts after every touchdown.

The younger Ebersol hasn’t said much about the AAF’s broader mission beyond a general goal to provide fans and players with a quality on-field performance which, while vague, is better than the position McMahon’s staked out. It’s tough to read the tea leaves on the league’s backers and advisors– Polian presents as an NFL-stooge type; Thiel funded the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that mortally wounded Gawker Media Group; Chernin owns a majority of Barstool Sports and recently upped its stake; and Polamalu, Ward, Tuck, and Allen all seem like fun, personable characters in the former-player role.

The XFL of 2001 may never (and arguably shouldn’t) return, but, sitting here today, I have far greater hope in what the AAF can offer the world of football than I do in McMahon’s soft retread effort.

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Pre/Postmodern football fans rejoice: The SPFL cometh