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Archive for Omnibus

March 30, 2020 — The first of many?

The game of rugby has always struggled to gain a foothold in the crowded American sporting landscape.

It was at one time a semi-regular feature on the sports anthology series Wide World of Sports, and in the late 1990s, Fox Sports built a pub on the set of one of its studios to host rugby coverage on the Fox Sports World channel, mostly taped National Rugby League matches from Australia and not-very-well produced highlights of American club rugby matches.

In the last 20 years, there has been a grass-roots swell in the sport, with a number of states, including California, introducing it into their high schools.

There’s been a plethora of televised rugby in the last few years — rugby league, rugby union, rugby sevens, and even wheelchair rugby — a sport which has gotten pretty good ratings when the Paralympics were on.

There has also been a professional circuit in North America, called Major League Rugby. In addition, there has also been the rise of a North American team, the Toronto Wolfpack, in England’s top division.

But all of these advances in the sport are being threatened with today’s announcement that USA Rugby is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“The current suspension of sanctioned rugby activities caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the existing financial challenges facing the union, and a reorganization process will now be progressed with input from World Rugby,” USA Rugby said in a statement after the decision, which was made Sunday.

According to wire service reports, USA Rugby is coming off a difficult 2018 year when the national governing body lost some $4 million from hosting a world-level rugby sevens tournament and hosting a lightly-attended game in the District of Columbia between Wales and South Africa.

This development should make every other national governing body with an Olympic imprimature shudder. If this can happen to the rapidly-growing sport of rugby, is any governing body immune?

March 28, 2020 — Three extraordinary voices

We’ve heard volumes about sex discrimination in sports even though it’s been nearly 50 years since the passage of Title IX.

Rare is the time that we’ve heard from the students first-hand. But a softball player, a lacrosse player, and a power-lifter from Palo Alto (Calif.) have penned a pretty extraordinary triptych of stories about their high-school experiences, and it’s a good read.

March 25, 2020 — The rest of the balloon

This morning, word came down from the government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed to the summer of 2021 because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Much as the IOC might have liked to have said that it was a joint decision between itself and the Japanese government (which serves as the de facto host of the Games), the fact is that the move was announced only after Canada and Australia pulled out of the competition, and a number of governing bodies of sport in the United States recommended the same.

In other words, as Eurocentric as world sport has become over the last 25 years, I find it interesting that North America and Oceania brought the pressure to bear on one of the most imperious and tone-deaf governing bodies of sport. Yep, more than FIFA, more than the NCAA.

But then again, I think the IOC had to have seen what has been going on in the geopolitical sense. Today, for example, India put its entire population of 1.3 billion on lockdown. Think about what kind of logistical and governmental nightmare that is in terms of being able to get your populace on the same page.

It’s a scenario that is likely happening in 200 world capitals all over the globe. And it could get very ugly.

 

March 23, 2020 — The emptying of another balloon

Over the last few hours, hopes for a 2020 Tokyo Olympics have taken a number of hits as individual governing bodies have called for a postponement in the wake of the worldwide Coronavirus contagion. This has led to a wholesale pullout from Australia and Canada in the last few hours.

As things stand now, this has knocked down the number of teams in the Olympic field hockey tournament by three. But it also has effects in other sports such as basketball, track, and swimming.

Now, it’s been said that the International Olympic Committee has been considering a meeting to decide on a postponement plan in a month. But somehow I think the spread of the virus will force even this dinosaur of an organization to make the needed choice.

March 22, 2020 — Simulation Nation

The last few days has seen the ebb tide of live athletic competition finally encompass Australia, as the Australian Football League suspended operations after last night’s games.

But what I find interesting is that, in the absence of live sports, broadcasters are now turning to computer-generated athletics. Just in the last 24 hours, Fox Sports broadcast a simulated NASCAR race, with a number of actual NASCAR drivers behind the wheel, including Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Busch brothers. Also, NBC Sports Washington broadcast a basketball game on the NBA 2K platform between Washington and Milwaukee.

These two join the digital Eleven Sports Network, which broadcasts an occasional series from the Simulation Football League, which simulates a single-table football conference playing pretty much by NFL rules.

I’ve been wondering for a while when it might come to this. We’ve had the technology since the 1980s with laser discs and sophisticated computer programming languages.

One of my college roommates, all the way back in 1986, wrote a simulation of a tackle football game, play by play. Some of the outputs were not exactly logical:

THE QUARTERBACK HANDS IT OFF TO THE FULLBACK WHO GIVES IT OFF TO THE RUNNING BACK WHO GIVES IT TO THE RUNNING BACK WHO LATERALS IT TO THE RUNNING BACK WHO PASSES IT OFF TO THE RUNNING BACK WHO IS BURIED!

A few years later, when our senior baseball columnist passed away, I inquired about whether he had maintained an archive of some of the games he broadcast in the late 1940s. He was the radio voice of the Trenton Giants, the Class AA farm team of the New York Giants.

I had posited that a computer simulation of the Eastern League, with the voice of the columnist, could have been an attraction for a sports museum which was planned for the city. It might be a pretty good way to pass the time during self-quarantining.

March 18, 2020 — World sport, way out in front

The last few days have seen postponements of all manner of athletic events, from tennis and golf to soccer and high-school sports.

Many of these postponements may seem a little like overkill, such as the postponement of the European soccer championships for men. The tournament, originally scheduled for early June, wasn’t just pushed back a few weeks, but pushed all the way back to the summer of 2021.

Do the people who run soccer know something we don’t? In truth, they do. They are looking at the disruption to the world calendar that is the 2022 World Cup.

You see, the Qatar 2022 tournament is scheduled to run from Nov. 21 to Dec. 17, 2022, during the Middle Eastern oil state’s late autumn.

Usually, World Cups are held during the summer, when most soccer nations have their offseasons. But that could still happen for the next World Cup cycle. If the current suspensions of most leagues drags on through this summer, the rest of the season could take place this fall, allowing most leagues to begin the next season in February. That means a 2021 calendar that ends in December. Then, the 2022 season starts in February, ending shortly before the World Cup.

It’s a thought, but a lot depends on Europe, and how its member states (and football federations) handle their business during this crisis.

March 16, 2020 — An existential crossroads?

As of this morning, 32 states and the District of Columbia have announced plans to close public schools for an extended period of time because of fears of the coronavirus.

These closures are sure to put a crimp in the plans of more than just athletic teams at these schools. They will affect families who suddenly will have children at home, some of whom will be turning to distance learning for their studies and homework.

I do not envy the state governing bodies of sport who are going to have to clean up after this. How, for example, are teams going to finish off their state playoffs in winter sports, much less handle fixture congestion in spring sports?

It must be emphasized that, although a good swath of the country had started spring sports already, that the regular season in many states is still a good three weeks away from starting.

I have a feeling that, especially in lacrosse, you’re going to see a chaotic June with more than just Maine, Minnesota, and Massachusetts finishing around the 15th of the month. I think a number will follow suit.