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Archive for Omnibus

Dec. 29, 2019 — One of the world’s most lucrative sports leagues takes a page from another

TELESIDE, USA — The final week of the English Premier League is run like many others in that all of the games start at exactly the same time so that there is no “scoreboard watching” as there has been on occasion in professional sports.

The tension builds over the course of two hours as the top four teams for European competition are identified, and the lowest three teams for relegation to the EFL Championship are also identified.

This has led to a number of unforgettable situations that have unfolded in real time as games have ended.

Today, the National Football League scheduled its 16 games so that every one of them was a divisional matchup, and that most of the pairs of games were scheduled to occur simultaneously in the usual 1 o’clock and 4:25 windows, with the showcase San Francisco-Seattle game being broadcast at 8:15.

This led to a situation when the games between New England and Miami and between Kansas City and San Diego had a pair of late touchdowns occurring within seconds of each other.

The same occurred with some of the late games, as the Dallas-Washington and Philadelphia-New York contests wound to their conclusions simultaneously.

This didn’t happen in the past, the management of competition to have games potentially influencing other teams’ playoff chances rescheduled to occur simultaneously. But I did see the look on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s face when he put forth the notion of scheduling all 16 games on the final Sunday of the regular season.

That, frankly, can’t happen with NFL franchises in four time zones.

But Decision Sunday made for a pretty good spectacle.

Dec. 28, 2019 — Tinkering around the edges?

Meet the new U.S. women’s soccer team. Same as the old U.S. women’s soccer team.

That is, I think, the takeaway from the release of the training roster for the team as it embarks on CONCACAF qualification for the Olympics.

As usual, the constraint for the program is numbers; the team could simply take its 23-player roster from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Olympic rosters are just 20 players.

We all know that Alex Morgan is unlikely to play in Tokyo because she is expecting during the late spring, meaning that, aside from paring down one goalkeeper, there could be as few as one cut from the World Cup roster to make up the Olympic roster.

Then again, there are the six players that new head coach Vlatko Andronovski has brought in. This includes known quantities such as Casey Short, Lynn Williams, and Andi Sullivan, all of whom have proven themselves in the National Women’s Soccer League.

A couple of interesting adds for the U.S. team during this training camp are Stanford’s Sophia Smith and Portland Thorns leading scorer Margaret Purce. These are younger players whose best days are ahead, but they are being given a shot at proving themselves on the world stage right away.

I’ll be interested to see the product on the pitch next month, since it will have to evolve between now and this summer because of injury, age, and unforeseen circumstances.

Dec. 18, 2019 — An unusual guru

This fall, I have been drawn in by some compelling sports television: the series by the NFL Network selecting the 100 greatest players and coaches of the first 100 years of the NFL.

The most interesting parts of these “reveal” shows isn’t just the revelations of the players and coaches. For me, it’s the discussions between host Rich Eisen, commentator Cris Collinsworth, and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick’s public persona may be of the coach with taciturn statements to the media, but who loves to discuss lacrosse with Baltimore-area reporters during teleconferences whenever the next opponent is the Ravens. He is a six-time Super Bowl champion who was, frankly, within a possession of three more titles.

And, given what the NFL has written about the selection process, and his comments during the broadcasts, Belichick is a historian of the game of pro football. He teamed with former Oakland coach John Madden in doing research on the first 60 years of the NFL to give context and perspective to the rest of the selection committee so that the TV Era of the league does not get too much influence in terms of the selectees.

And Belichick’s comments have been wonderful and incisive, especially when former players have been brought in. The discussions between he and Jim Brown and Ray Lewis and Emmitt Smith and Lawrence Taylor have been incredible. There was some special repartee between Belichick and Lewis, especially when it came to a certain pass route that Lewis and teammate Ed Reed would sniff out and intercept just about every time the Patriots tried it.

There are a few more installments left to broadcast, and replays are available on demand from the NFL’s YouTube channel. It’s a wonderful time capsule, and it’s the kind of historical perspective on sports that I very much enjoy.

Dec. 15, 2019 — Healing in a town that certainly could use it

It was seven years ago yesterday when a madman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and shot 26 people, 20 of whom were elementary school students.

There has been precious little done in terms of Federal law — much like in the instances of Jonesboro, of Columbine, of Orlando, or of Las Vegas — to contain unfettered access to military-grade weapons.

The people of Newtown have therefore had to find solace and comfort in other ways.

One way is through sports. This fall, Newtown’s field hockey team earned the No. 1 seed in the Class L championship with an undefeated record.

Had Newtown carried that form through the tournament, it would have been a great story. But New Milford (Conn.) ended the Nighthawks’ dream with a 2-1 win in overtime.

Which brings us to last night — seven years to the day since the Sandy Hook massacre.

Newtown’s football team had won its way into the state Class LL final against Darien (Conn.).

The Nighthawks and Blue Wave fought to a 7-7 draw into the final seconds of play.

And then, this happened.

Mind you, no football win, no matter how dramatic, will bring back the 26 lives lost seven years ago.

But in the long road towards healing, it’s a pretty good start.

Dec. 12, 2019 — When Blue meets Red

One of the aftereffects of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s victory in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is the fact that a number of teams in the U.S. domestic league, the National Women’s Soccer League, are demanding, and receiving, better facilities.

I think, however, the biggest upgrade occurred with Sky Blue FC. The team called Yurcak Field at Rutgers University home. And, from every indication, hated it.

Indeed, there were numerous stories coming out of the locker room about the lack of decent locker rooms and showers for players, and the inability of the Sky Blue front office to find a better deal on a home field.

Apparently, that has been struck. A few weeks ago, it was announced that Sky Blue’s new home would be the $200 million Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

“The move to Red Bull Arena builds upon the positive momentum we gained last season and will help propel our club and the league to the next level,” said Sky Blue GM Alyse LaHue. “After our players and fans experienced Red Bull Arena in 2019, we knew it was the perfect venue to host Sky Blue and showcase this incredible league.”

Sky Blue played two matches at the home of MLS’s New York Red Bulls, earning draws against Orlando and Reign FC.

Dec. 11, 2019 — Change is coming to the Bay State, but in what form?

There has been a lot of chatter about how the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is considering a statewide format for its scholastic tournaments.

The MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee is readying a vote of membership to make changes to the postseason which is expected to jumble up what had become somewhat stagnant bracketing, even across sports.

There were a number of years when the same two teams would fight their way to the sectional final, and only the matchups between state semifinalists would determine who would be the sole survivor.

In addition, there were a number of years when the West bracket might have as few as seven or eight teams, while the other brackets qualified as many as 19 or 20 teams.

We’re not privy to what the future makeup of MIAA tournaments will look like, but there are plenty of questions. Will there be three, maybe four enrollment classes? Will certain sports have the top seeds all in the same area of the state? Will there be situations when two local rivals both go to a faraway neutral site in order to play a state championship final?

We’ll have to see what the lords of Massachusetts scholastic sport have to say once the votes are in.

Dec. 9, 2019 — An unbelievable penalty that should give pause

Today, it was announced that the International Olympic Committee was instituting a blanket four-year ban on international competition by athletes representing the Russian Federation.

This follows on the blanket ban of the Russian Olympic team in Rio, was extended through PyeongChang, and now runs through the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics.

This means that there are going to be two entire Olympic cycles without full participation from Russian athletes. Any athlete from Russia who wishes to participate in an Olympics is now required to compete as an unaffiliated athlete.

The ban from international competition is not only for multisport athletic competitions such as the Olympics. It also extends to the next FIFA World Cup in 2022. Oddly enough, it does not affect Russian participation in the European Championship for men’s soccer next year, as UEFA is not defined as a “major event organization” regarding drug testing.

Now that Russia is now pretty much a pariah in world sport, it’s instructive to note that it could have very easily been the United States in this position, given its role in sports doping in the last 90 years.

Let’s not forget the United States has mixed controlled substances with sport as early as the 1930s, when the six-day bicycle race required teams to ride lap after lap on a velodrome over the course of six days.

The United States, thanks to a long-forgotten team physician named John Ziegler, introduced the oral anabolic steroid methandrostenolone by 1960.

And let’s also not forget that BALCO, the laboratory that developed so-called “untraceable” steroids, was founded in California. The company’s athletic portfolio included a raft of American athletes such as Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, and Bill Romanowski.

Makes you wonder if there’s more coming down the pike when it comes to blanket bans of athletes.