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Archive for Omnibus

July 29, 2021 — An Olympic champion realized

There are just four players on a 3-on-3 basketball team.

Each of the four players have to carry the load when it comes to defense, rebounding, shooting, and even the task of capturing a made shot and passing it out to a teammate over the three-point line for the next possesion.

It’s a quick game requiring precision passing and a knowledge of each other’s tendencies so that the interchange of positions are instantaneous.

Now, it’s a given that the United States could always put together a tremendous 3-on-3 team in either gender. But it’s interesting that, even while the Big 3 professional tournament started four years ago, the United States failed to qualify a men’s team to the Tokyo Olympics.

The women? No problem. The team of Kelsey Plum, Allisha Gray, Jackie Young, and Stefanie Dolson plowed through pool play to gain the No. 1 seed in the knockout round of the Olympics, then beat France and the unbranded Russia Olympic Committee team to win the gold medal.

It’s a great resurgence for Stefanie Dolson, who was an elite player while at the University of Connecticut, but found herself traded to the Chicago Sky her third year in the WNBA. Since then, the team has been a mid-table franchise. Currently, the Sky are at .500 in the Eastern Conference.

But Dolson, coming off a family outbreak of COVID-19, has worked hard on her game and even dropped 30 pounds to become more injury resistance as well as to develop the endurance needed for the rigors of the game. She played beautifully in the pivot for the United States, grabbing rebounds, scoring inside, and making passes to teammates.

Dolson would not have been out of place on the senior women’s basketball team, especially with Elena Delle Donne out with a back injury. But no doubt, she would have been a dominant and intimidating presence no matter which version of the game she chose for Tokyo.

July 18, 2021 — Is the NCAA about to implode?

I wrote this blog entry eight years ago.

The day may be coming for a top-to-bottom reformation of college athletics. And it may be coming quicker than you think.

Last week, Mark Emmert made some remarks in front of a small group of reporters that are going to be poked at like statements from either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve Board. And with good reason: the NCAA should be flush with as much optimism as it is with cash.

However, the name, likeness, and image (NLI) rules which are now the supreme law of the land have promoted Emmert to re-evaluate the landscape of college athletics.

“I think this is a really, really propitious moment to sit back and look at a lot of the core assumptions and say, ‘You know, if we were going to build college sports again, and in 2020 instead of 1920, what would that look like?’” Emmert said. “What would we change? What would we expect or want to be different in the way we manage it. And this is good. This is the right time.”

One of the major changes would be allowing existing national governing bodies of sport, such as USA Field Hockey, to administer national competitions like they did in the 1970s.

“We need to reconsider delegation of a lot of the things that are now done at the national level,” Emmert said. “When you have an environment like that, it just forces us to think more about what constraints should be put in place ever on college athletes. And it should be the bare minimum.”

A deregulation of college sports would see the abolition of an NCAA rule book which has been seen as cumbersome, anti-competitive, and sometimes contradictory in terms of the rules inscribed therein.

Emmert mentioned a number of single-gender sports which are likely to have to decouple from the rest of college athletics at large.

“We need to be ready to say, ‘Yeah, you know, for field hockey, field hockey is different than football. Wrestling is different than lacrosse,’ and not get so hung up on having everything be the same,” he said.

This site has been tracking these things since the O’Bannon decision came down, and now that revenue streams outside of sneaker companies, ladder companies, and television networks are being identified, I find it interesting that the NCAA is ready to spin off just about every sport that loses money and are looking to maximize profit.

We’ll see what happens when or if the football golden goose is killed by way of head injuries and parents pulling their children from the sport.

July 17, 2021 — More than your typical “opt out”

Yesterday, in what could be a seismic shift in women’s basketball universe, Liz Cambage, the leading scorer in the Rio Olympics and a key player for the No. 2-ranked Australian women, decided to opt out of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cambage cited both physical and mental health as reasons for her to miss the Olympics. But given her behavior in the last few days, you wonder if this is an athlete who is close to an inglorious exit from her sport.

It was reported that Cambage got into a physical and verbal altercation during a closed-door scrimmage a few days ago against Nigeria, the country of her birth father.

Too, she was reported to have left the confines of the Australian national team’s health and safety protocols and was enjoying the sights of Las Vegas, where the Opals have been training. It is an allegation Cambage denied this morning on Instagram

I think there’s more to this. She has had a lot of pressure put on her ever since she was identified as a U-20 player on the world scene. She once had an issue playing for the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA, leaving the American professional circuit for five years before coming back to play for Dallas and Las Vegas in recent years. She has also complained about the lack of aboriginal and minority representation on Australian Olympic advertising, and has even pushed for the aboriginal national flag to be displayed on the Opals’ uniforms.

The off-court distractions, I think, have made an impact. And not necessarily a positive one.

It’s a shame because this is a good Opals team, one which beat a stacked U.S. team yesterday in a pre-tournament friendly in Las Vegas. Imagine what the Aussies could do with her at center.

July 15, 2021 — Has the Ivy League become an igloo in the middle of a heat wave?

The Ivy League will be making a sporting comeback, albeit a cautious one, after an entire academic year away from the athletic field, courts, and pools of America.

Being an Ivy League coach is tough enough, with restrictions on recruiting budgets, lengths of season, and the postseason which are not found in any other college conferences across America. But the pandemic has thrown obstacles, dilemmas, and Kafka-esque situations at the Ancient Eight that are unprecented.

One major result has been that a number of Ivy League student-athletes have withdrawn from school — sometimes for a year, but on other occasions, making a transfer to another school. This is because the Ivy League has not allowed current student-athletes a fifth year of eligibility, which has led to students seeking other options.

Today came news of two recent transfers from Penn’s field hockey team to that of Duke — goalkeeper Grace Brightbill and outfielder Marykate Neff. They join a number of other former Ivy League athletes to move to other sides, which include Maryland’s Juliana Tornetta and Northwestern’s Maddie Bacskai.

These are game-changing players, and could very well shift the balance of power in field hockey the same way that Charlotte North did when she transferred from Duke to Boston College, where she won a national championship and a Tewaaraton Trophy.

But think of this from a coach’s perspective. You’re trying to fill out your roster, a fourth of which (theoretically) graduates every year, but your own conference rules do not allow any leeway for an event which is out of your control.

Perhaps the regulations regarding graduate-student play in the Ivy League were a mistake.

July 14, 2021 — The impossible Olympics

A week from today, competition in the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics will begin with preliminary-round games in soccer and softball. While these two sports will have the eyes of the world on them for a couple of days, it is on the following Friday when the Opening Ceremonies begin.

What will follow, instead of 16 days of glory, will be 18 days of uncertainty. This Olympics is taking place during a slackening of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic — not at its denouement. This is in stark contract with the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, which took place shortly after a worldwide H1N1 flu pandemic that killed millions in four separate waves. That fourth wave ebbed in April 1920 — just four months before the Olympics.

Here are some of the over-arching stories and issues which are going to be in the news in the next month:

1- COVID, COVID, COVID. You thought there were hair-trigger actions regarding schoolchildren or food-service workers and the Coronavirus pandemic? The regulations put in place for the Olympics are pretty stringent as is, but I’ll be interested to see what happens with the metrics. You have 100,000 athletes and other members of national delegations coming to Tokyo. Some will be athletes from countries which have had very little access to vaccines. Others might be VIPs who may have never gotten the vaccine in the first place. And I’ll also be interested to see if Michael Andrew, an American swimmer which has been resistant to getting the vaccine, will ultimately be allowed to compete.

2- Can anyone police athlete speech? The International Olympic Committee has had to walk back on Rule 50, a regulation which bars political protest, speech or political displays during the window of competition. While that is mostly in place, the IOC is allowing certain types of athlete speech as that speech is not targeted against people, not disruptive and not otherwise prohibited by the international governing body of sport, or by the national Olympic committee. Still, a year after the murder of George Floyd and worldwide protests regarding everything from Coronavirus to Israeli occupation of the West Bank to indigenous murders of children in Canada, there is a lot of potential for all manner of athlete protests.

3- New competitions: who will watch? There are a number of sports which are entering the Olympic stage — or, in the case of baseball and softball, re-entering. Thing is, a number of these sports are those are derivatives of other competitions. Karate joins judo, boxing, wrestling, and taekwondo as another combat sport. Another version of basketball, the 3-on-3 half-court variation, comes into the Olympics.

4- Attempts to appeal to the world’s young people. Millenials are being targeted with the addition of skateboarding, surfing, and sport-climbing adding to the Olympic program. A lot of these have professional competitions outside of the Olympic umbrella, and it will be interesting to see whether the top athletes in these competitions will be willing to spend time away from the traveling circuses of extreme sports competitions in the midst of a pandemic.

5- Are the American basketball teams ripe for a fall? It was nearly 30 years ago when a group of 11 future Naismith Hall-of-Famers would change basketball from an American sport into a truly world-level event. Since the addition of professionals to international basketball, the slow-building drama has surrounded the question as to when other nations would break the American grip on the sport.

Early indications show that the American men are in a transitional period. While the team has the likes of Draymond Green, Damian Lillard and Kevin Durant, the pre-Olympic period has been rough. The United States lost its first two tune-up games, without three players who are currently playing in the NBA Finals. However, it must be noted that the struggles for the United States in men’s basketball are not limited to the five-a-side game; the U.S. 3-on-3 team didn’t even qualify.

On the women’s side, the team is star-studded, but it is an older group. Diana Taurasi is 39, and Sue Bird is 40. Friends, that is your likely U.S. starting backcourt. The U.S. frontcourt is missing the star player of the last Olympics, Elena Delle Donne. She has been out with back surgery. The U.S. team is also missing players like Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery who have turned their attention away from basketball to focus on social justice issues.

This leaves the 5-on-5 team vulnerable to other national teams, which could take advantage of their quickness and shooting. But I think the American 3-on-3 team, including Stef Dolson and Katie Lou Samuelsson, is a lock for gold.

6- White elephants, unoccupied. The Tokyo Olympic organizers and government have spent more than two billion dollars on the Games, including building all-new stadiums for sports like field hockey, volleyball, and swimming. Many such specialty buildings have, regrettably, been left to rot after Olympics past. For example, you haven’t seen field hockey at purpose-built stadia in the last several Olympics. Some venues have been left to rot, others were deconstructed and repurposed.

In Tokyo, however, all of these stadia will have one thing in common: they will be unoccupied. A national state of emergency will be keeping people out of the stands, and will cost the International Olympic Committee a billion dollars’ worth of lost ticket revenue.

I’ll also be interested to see which sports team will take over the timber-covered Olympic Stadium, which is not only a central location for the Games, but has been a logistical and political issue since 2012. Is this stadium going to host a J-League side, a new pro baseball team, a future NFL team, or might the site become Japan’s equivalent of Wembley Stadium, reserved only for the national team and/or cup-final level events?

7- Gender and mixed competition. There has been much made of transgender athletes over the last couple of years, with a number of track athletes running afoul of allowable testosterone levels in the runup to the games. I’ll be interested to see if the IOC will want to see a controversy surrounding a trans athlete in these Games.

Almost as if on cue, a number of mixed-gender events are debuting at these Games. Normally, the only mixed-gender competitions at an Olympics are found with the equestrian events (the horse is the real star here) and mixed doubles in tennis. But in Tokyo, you’re going to see mixed-gender relays in triathlon, swimming and track, mixed team events in judo, archery, and shooting, and the mixed doubles in table tennis.

8- What will all of this mean for next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing? Next February, the Olympics are going to come to Beijing, where it does not snow all that much. Instead, many of the events will be held in a cluster of towns in the neighboring Hebei province. Still, some of the big youth-oriented events, such as big-air snowboarding and freestyle skiing, are scheduled to be held in urban Beijing. That could be a problem if the temperature does not support a snowpack.

One major overarching issue for next year is whether and which a further variant of the Coronavirus will be entering the general population next winter. Will world health authorities be able to stay out in front after playing catch-up in the last year?

July 11, 2021 — Into the wild wild West

Yesterday, a message appeared on my Twitter feed. Have a look:

Yep, that’s Erin Matson, the two-time Honda Award winner in field hockey and still a current University of North Carolina student-athlete, making an endorsement for an athletic supply company. But because of the new dynamics surrounding the uses of a player’s name, likeness, and image (NLI), the nation’s most prominent field hockey player is able to make a sponsorship deal.

It’s only about 11 days since NLI regulations have taken effect, and there’s a bit of a “wild West” atmosphere as all manner of college athletes have been forming deals with various companies. People from coast to coast have been named in stories about the opening of this new frontier in sports sponsorships.

I’m a little concerned, however, about how some of these companies are attached to sports betting. As I mentioned three years ago, college athletes being linked with sports books and casinos is a recipe for disaster. College athletes are supposed to be amateurs. But we all know that some revenue sport participants are often given benefits over and above those of regular students at these colleges.

Many student-athletes live in their own dormitories, right next to training facilities. Some expenses are covered by boosters or wealthy donors. Many of these expenses skirt the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. Some, as in the case of convicted felon Nevin Shapiro, crash right through any boundaries whatsoever.

When football players participate in bowl games, they are given “goodie bags” which include electronics, backpacks, watches, and even cowboy hats, as long as they are under a certain value; in 2019, that value was $550.

With NLI deals, will this kind of corruption threaten the very integrity of college sports?

It’s going to be interesting to see.

July 10, 2021 — A “delta variant” surge that is not to be ignored

This morning, I saw a frightening graph on my Twitter feed.

It showed that, in several countries around the world, there has been a massive upshoot of COVID-19 cases in several countries over the last two weeks. One of the most stunning surges is in The Netherlands, which ended most restrictions June 26th, then saw an absolute moonshot of a trend. Holland had under 1,000 cases a day on July 2, but yesterday zoomed to 6,926.

Similar surges have occurred in England, Indonesia, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, shows data from a Financial Times analysis.

These surges are coming at the absolute worst time when it comes to the world sporting calendar. We mentioned earlier this week that the government of Japan has imposed a state of emergency just two weeks before the start of the Olympics, which means that events are going to be held without fans in the stands.

In the last day or so, it was also announced that the Curacao men’s national soccer team is being withdrawn from the CONCACAF Gold Cup after positive tests within the team, meaning that today’s fixtures are having to be altered in order to have Guatemala participate.

Too, the Capital Cup, an international club competition featuring D.C. United and three Central American teams, has been riven with COVID withdrawals. Puebla, a mid-table pro team from Mexico’s first division, withdrew four days ago because of 10 new positive cases. Today, another Capital Cup team, Alianza FC of El Salvador, also withdrew because of COVID-19 protocols stemming from a positive test, leaving only the hosts and Costa Rican side Alajuelense, which will play tomorrow to finish off what was supposed to have been a six-game competition.

I can’t help but think that, as the United States has been able to get at least one injection to roughly 70 percent of the population, other nations, which may not have the economy, health systems, or logistics to inoculate their citizens at a similar level, are seeing our success as a license to open their nations up.

This is not good.

July 8, 2021 — Another preventable health disaster in the works?

Today, the news that Japan is imposing a state of emergency a mere two weeks before the start of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is a development which calls into question much of what we know about the nature of sport as well as the execution of good public health policy.

You see, Japan is a country which should be light years ahead of most of the rest of the world when it comes to technology, wealth, and public health. Heck, part of Japanese culture is, believe it or not, the surgical mask. Wearing one on a subway or walking in public during cold and flu season is seen as an act of helping out their fellow citizens and the country at large.

There’s just one problem, however. During the current Coronavirus pandemic, Japan had only managed to inoculate 2.3 percent of its population as of May 21st. That percentage has grown somewhat, but it has not been enough to prevent the spread of the diseases across the islands of Japan in recent weeks.

Now, the thing about the Japanese spread in COVID cases is that the number of cases there, compared to the United States, is incredibly small. Currently, the American COVID death rate is about 225 per day. In Japan, a country a third of the size of the United States, the number of deaths per day is only about 20.

The principle, however, is that you’re going to have nearly 100,000 people from around the world coming into Tokyo, then leaving after a couple of months.

This could lead to athletes bringing COVID-19 back home, to countries which have had either very little exposure to the virus, or to countries which have not spent the money to inoculate their populations against a possible outbreak.

Stay tuned. This could become an extremely ugly situation.

July 7, 2021 — A second chance for the “first four out”

A few days ago, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, decided to allow teams playing in the Tokyo Olympics to have 22 players available for competition rather than the previous limit of 18 players.

This has the effect of extending rosters, even though only 18 can be dressed for individual games. This allows coaches to rotate players in and out of the lineup — a necessity, since there are only two rest days between games at an Olympics, as opposed to the usual break of anywhere from three to six days for most other major tournaments, like a World Cup or a continental championship.

For the United States, this will allow head coach Vlatko Andonovski to freely substitute in some of the players who might never get playing time except for injury, such as goalkeeper Jane Campbell, defender Casey (short) Krueger, teen sensation Catarina Macario and forward Lynn Williams.

Which brings us to the players who didn’t make it. Of the 17 non-World Cup players from the original 39-player provisional list from Olympic qualifying, several names stand out.

Brianna Pinto was a star at the University of North Carolina before signing with Gotham FC shortly after UNC’s season ended. Midge Purce also plays with Gotham, and she was thought of as being one of those “flex” players who could play in multiple roles, a key factor in Olympic roster selection.

Jaelin Howell is a young American star who currently plays her soccer with Florida State University. Andi Sullivan, the current captain of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, was the league’s top draft pick in 2018.

Now, we’ve known that the depth of women’s soccer in the United States, burgeoned by the NWSL and players going overseas to play professionally, was going to present a puzzle for Andonovski and the U.S. selectors. It’s gotten to the point, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that more is being written about players who didn’t make the roster as opposed to those who did.

Today, the team travels to Tokyo. I do wonder what kind of Games will be there for them. More on that tomorrow.

July 2, 2021 — A cautionary tale

I didn’t want too much time to go by before making a note of Olivia Moultrie, the 15-year-old who signed with the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Moultrie has had her childhood altered from the usual. She was homeschooled from the fifth grade and put on a boys’ US Soccer Developmental Academy team to get used to a faster game. Two years ago, she even made her verbal acceptance to play women’s soccer at the University of North Carolina. This is when she was in middle school, one of a number of athletes for whom many of the new rules on recruiting were written to address.

But a few days ago, after training with the Thorns for some time, she signed a professional contract with the team. That signature came after some legal wrangling which only ended with an injunction in Federal court. The NWSL had sought to prevent the underage signing, but the Moultrie family was able to persuade the court that the league, in imposing a minimum age of 18 to sign with the league, was engaged in an anti-competitive act, which is covered under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

So, Moultrie joins a number of teen signees in American professional soccer including the likes of Freddy Adu, Bobby Convey, Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, and Christian Pulisic.

But not all of the young signees have had successful careers in the long term. All you have to do is look at Adu’s Wikipedia page.

Freddy Adu splashed onto the U.S. scene with D.C. United in 2004, but has become something of a journeyman. He has played for 15 different clubs in seven countries during his professional career. Since leaving the Philadelphia Union in 2013, he has played exactly 36 first-team matches for the clubs to which he was signed.

Earlier this year, Adu lasted one month with Osterlen FF of the Swedish third division before his contract was terminated.

I sincerely hope that Moultrie takes care of herself and her career doesn’t fizzle out like that of Adu.