USA Today Sports

Thinking out loud: Sports slowly getting closer to return

John Rooke
May 08, 2020 - 9:11 pm
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Thinking out loud…while wondering where I can book a tee time this weekend in Massachusetts…

  • It may not seem like it much, but we’re inching a little bit closer, every day, to getting sports back.

 

  • Schools are announcing they’ll be returning to on-campus teaching in the late summer and the fall, which in turn could mean college sports will then be back on the menu.  

 

  • The big leagues may seem to be bumbling and stumbling their way to reaching decisions on a comeback, but we already know pro golf returns next month.  NASCAR racing resumes later this month.

 

  • The NFL and the NBA are presently informing teams about how facilities can reopen, while the NHL looks like it may wait until it can open league wide.  MLB is reportedly unveiling a return-to-play proposal to the MLB Players Association within the next week, for a potential early July first pitch…as we mentioned here last week.

 

  • European soccer, specifically in the German Bundesliga, is also preparing for a return later this month…and if MLS (which is opening some training facilities) really wanted to become a front-of-mind sport in this country, they’d probably be well-served to follow suit.

 

  • I mean, if you’re the only game going in town, it stands to reason our sports-starved-and-deprived society will love you up.

 

  • Major League Lacrosse is hoping for a July start, and the Premier Lacrosse League is going to a two-week tournament at the end of July for its’ season.

 

  • ESPN is airing LIVE KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) baseball in the wee hours of our mornings because ‘it’s baseball,’ which brings back remembrances of the channel’s opening few months and years of airing Australian Rules Football and men’s slow-pitch softball.

 

  • Fans are watching Korean baseball, too, just like they watched Aussie Rules Footy 40 years ago.  An average of 173K over three hours though, at 1:00 AM?  We’ll watch anything.

 

  • Contingency plans are forming in almost every sport imaginable for an eventual comeback, ranging from playing in empty stadiums and arenas to security issues and creating social distancing guidelines – which certainly seem like they’ll be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

 

  • So we’re moving the needle, finally.  And that’s great and all, but what happens if this doesn’t work?  What if more people get sick?  Do we go back to the beginning and start over again? 

 

  • I’m reminded of the proverb and the old Aesop fable (really old, dating from 600 B.C.) of the tortoise racing the hare.  Slow and steady won that race. 

 

  • So which one are we here, the turtle or the rabbit?  And which one are you?  It’s a question worth asking about the races we’re all presently running.

 

  • And if you are having trouble understanding the metaphor, Google Aesop’s Fables or search YouTube for “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”  You’ll get it and thank me for it.  Eventually.

 

  • Even if college sports are beginning to peak over the horizon, the summertime primer Media Days all seem to be moving to virtual reality – including for the American Athletic Conference, which traditionally holds its’ in-person PR push in Newport in July.  But not this year.

 

  • If college football skips over to a spring season, as has been rumored as a possible alternative, stand by for the flood of players who will skip it entirely in order to be ready for the NFL combine and draft.

 

  • Kinda defeats the purpose of having a season in the first place if you can’t watch the best players play, doesn’t it?  Just sayin’.

 

  • Ultimately, the feeling here is spring football won’t happen, especially with competition from so many other sports.  Football will figure out a way to play.  In the fall. 

 

  • Even if the season is shortened or rearranged somehow, perhaps with a fall start and a possible spring finish if needed.  Football still makes the wheels go ‘round and ‘round, for everyone.

 

  • Colleges (and many, many other sports) across the country are depending on it.  There’s simply too much money at stake for it not to happen.  Massive revenue hits, cutbacks and thousands of jobs lost will result – several FBS schools (including Football 5’s) have already asked coaches to take pay cuts and agree to furloughs.

 

  • Cincinnati soccer, Old Dominion wrestling, Florida International indoor track & field.  Gone like the dinosaurs.  Who, or what, is next?

 

  • ICYM this ominous note, the NCAA did approve a waiver this week that allows schools to spend below the minimum level on athletic scholarships required to compete at the DI level.

 

  • Don Shula’s passing this week at age 90 brought to mind two distinct memories from my sports past – 1) the Baltimore Colts losing Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the Jets; 2) the perfect 17-0 season of the ’72 Miami Dolphins.

 

  • Both times I was crushed at the end result.  I suppose I looked at Shula like many look at Bill Belichick today.  Hated him.  But respected him, too.  Probably because he won a lot, even if he couldn’t beat Joe Willie back then.  He may have given life to the then-fledgling AFL, and saved football for all of us today.

 

  • Thirty three seasons, 347 wins.  Bill Belichick (25 years, 304 wins) – you remember Shula calling him “Beli-cheat” as recently as 2015? – needs 44 more victories to pass him on the all-time list. 

 

  • The question now may be…how many years will it take BB to get there?  Think he’s motivated?

 

  • I do.

 

  • Keep this in mind – the Patriots have the #1 rated NFL strength-of-schedule in the league for 2020.  So if there were ever a year to maybe miss a couple, this year might qualify.

 

  • It won’t help that the Baltimore Ravens, percentage-wise, have the easiest schedule.

 

  • But there is no question that the 2020 NFL schedule for New England is a (five-letter word for a female dog).  No one is singing any sad songs for the Patriots on Park Ave. 

 

  • Rookestradamus sez this team, anchored by its defense, will push for the playoffs like they always do.

 

  • No international games on the sked does not come as a surprise.  It’s absolutely the right call, even if our overly energetic or slightly daft UK fans (still love ya’ Clare!) don’t agree.  The market share across the pond is in good shape.

 

  • What is a realistic scenario for a return under a ‘normal’ time frame?  Games with no fans, for one. No fans in big numbers until a vaccine is developed for wide distribution.  Widespread and frequent testing of players, team officials and yes, even media.

 

  • Venue and stadium security procedures will undoubtedly change, much like those procedures changed following 9-11. 

 

  • Expect Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones and Arthur Blank to help guide the league toward its eventual return, but don’t be surprised to see Carolina’s David Tepper as a newer influential voice, too. 

 

  • And be on the lookout for new jobs posted for facility hygiene coordinators – which could come from in-house personnel. 

 

  • Me?  I’d hire Mr. Clean.  Solid track record.  Been around awhile.  Looks like a defensive end.

 

  • The MMQB’s Peter King suggests having NFL games with no booze?  Not a problem, provided no fans can attend.  But he has a point if social distancing is still enforced once fans are allowed into stadiums again. 

 

  • It’ll suck, but why create more problems than the ones we already have?  Do you really need to buy a $15 beer?  Three words – Tail Gate Early.

 

  • The Patriots lost director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort to the Tennessee Titans this week, taking their Director of Player Personnel position.  Titans’ GM Jon Robinson worked in New England, remember?  No reason to panic, this is BAU in Patriot-land.

 

  • Ossenfort was blocked for an interview with the Texans last year, for their GM job.  There’s something about Houston that still doesn’t settle well in Fort Foxboro.

 

  • Expectations for Jarrett Stidham’s anointing as QB1 are unrealistic.  Already off the charts.  Settle down, people.

 

  • I like him, sure.  But I can already hear the canned boos being cued up for the sound system at Gillette Stadium, whether he’s only a 2nd year pro or not.

 

  • Fair or unfair, the world needs a scapegoat.  TGAT (The Guy After Tom) gets that thorny crown to wear.  These are the Patriots, amiright?

 

  • Saw this week where the Jacksonville Jaguars are allowing fans refunds for tickets already purchased.  Because of the pandemic, not because of…well…you know.

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but other teams must also offer refunds, especially if there is a shortened schedule for the season.  Flex options will be a choice for future seasons, too.

 

  • Hearing that priority is going to be given to vetting the name, image and likeness issues for college athletes later this month for NCAA membership, pushing off the one-time immediate transfer rule change for a vote until January of 2021…and implementation until ’21-’22.

 

  • Which means URI basketball…and Providence to an extent…have roster work to do before the start of the next season.  Whenever that might be.  

 

  • UConn picked up a four-star big man in Adama Sonogo this week, and he’ll re-classify as a 2020 freshman.  That’s big, literally, for the Huskies’ déjà vu debut in the Big East.

 

  • DePaul picked up two transfers this week – 1st team all-Missouri Valley guard Javon Freeman-Liberty from Valpo, and DII all-American guard Courvoisier McCauley. 

 

  • Creighton may have found a replacement for TyShon Alexander in 6-5 Georgian shooter Rati Andronikashvili, one of the top, young Euros out there.

 

  • Junior guard Mac McClung will return for Georgetown, says coach Patrick Ewing.  For now, that keeps the Hoyas out of last place in the Big East for next season.  Yikes.

 

  • Speaking of which – Villanova definitely deserves the way-too-early plaudits for the Big East top spot.  Creighton stands second.  But slots 3 through 9 should be a toss-up, and the Friars are already being woefully undersold by some on the national scene, based on returning experience.

 

  • The University of Louisville is on the clock, given 90 days this week to respond to a Notice of Allegations by the NCAA.  Louisville was hit with a Level I and three Level II violations, stemming from the FBI investigation of Rick Pitino’s tenure and subsequent departure.

 

  • The NCAA has also reportedly responded to Kansas’ numerous allegations of significant violations (5 Level I violations) in basketball and football as well, with a 92-page document according to Sports Illustrated.  That can’t be good.

 

  • Can’t see either ‘national’ program hit with a death penalty.  But I can see them missing out on an NCAA Tournament or two, and/or scholarship reductions.  That will hit ‘em where it hurts most – in prestige as well as the pocketbook.

 

  • Don’t hold your breath for ESPN, Fox and any other sports event carrier to reimburse you (or cable companies) for their lack of live events over the past two months.  According to their contracts, they’re not in breach of anything until September of 2021 at the earliest, sez the Sports Business Journal.

 

  • And you can expect more remote production upon return to LIVE TV sports.  By that I mean announcers calling games and producers producing them from studios, not the actual game sites.  Safety measures = cost cutting.

 

  • Takeaways from ESPN’s The Last Dance, episodes 5 and 6?  This is definitely MJ’s story the way HE wants it told, let’s be clear about that.  Although director Jason Hehir – a Newton, MA guy – sez he’s surprised some of the footage he’s seen has made the series. 

 

  • Some. Of. The. Footage.  Not all.  This is not a journalistic endeavor, entertaining as it might be.

 

  • Several AHL and ECHL teams have applied for the national PPP loans in order to stay afloat.  The Providence Bruins have not responded to a query on their status, although they have furloughed most of their employees.

 

  • The AHL’s Board of Governors met Friday for an announcement expected by Monday on the fate of the current season.

 

  • Tweet of the Week, from @ESPNStatsInfo: “On this date in 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a sub-4 minute mile. He was clocked at 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.”

 

  • Which is about as long as it takes these days for most people to figure out they’re going the wrong way down the grocery store aisle.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

 

  • My buddy “Big E” sez yes, he and “Mrs. E” are among those folks putting on a few extra LB’s lately.  He told me he overheard his grandson telling a neighbor “my Grandpa and Grandma are very religious. Every morning they go into the bathroom, stand on this flat box with numbers on it and scream “Oh God!”

 

  • Want someone who puts their money where their mouths are?  Pitt football and basketball coaches, plus their families and the athletic director have made an $800K donation to the school Center for Vaccine Research – where they are currently working on a Covid-19 vaccine.

 

  • Massachusetts had been the lone state holdout over allowing the public to return to local golf courses, until Thursday when Mass Golf announced the terms for (hopefully) a safe reopening. 

 

  • Probably should applaud the owners of Wachusett and Kettle Brook who weren’t waiting for permission and announced they would open this weekend – in apparent defiance of Governor Baker, and perhaps forcing his hand on the issue.

 

  • Would have been a pretty messy sitch to fine everyone on those crowded courses or jail the owners.  Stupid is as stupid does.  But good to know, whichever side of the fence you fall on, that cooler heads can prevail…even if they needed a nudge (with a 3-wood in hand?) to do so.

 

  • We ain’t all the way back, and it will still be awhile before we are.  But it’s a start.  Fore!

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, whenever they play again) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.