Each week at Foul Play-by-Play (follow the link to listen to the audio) we will review the week’s cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports for a sports talk radio show, eventually airing online and on GCNLive radio affiliates. Here are your top law-related sports headlines and cheats of the week for May 11-17, 2018.
The Supreme Court struck down the federal law prohibiting state-sponsored sports betting after almost a six-year legal battle. States can now decide whether to allow or disallow sports gambling, with 20 states having already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.
New Jersey expects to have its sportsbooks up and running before the start of the NBA Finals, but tribal casinos could theoretically open sportsbooks immediately because they are their own sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation of New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible.
Tribal casinos in rural America have the most to gain from the Supreme Court’s decision, because sports gambling could actually cut into the profits of urban, tribal casinos by moving money from most profitable gaming machines to less profitable sportsbooks. Setting up a sportsbook is also expensive, especially an online sportsbook, which gamblers will demand. The cautious approach of urban, tribal casinos to open sportsbooks could allow rural, tribal casinos to be first to market in the American online sportsbook industry. But your state, Montana, has long been against sports gambling. It’s one of nine states prohibiting residents from betting on fantasy sports.
While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.
Newly hired coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was forced to once again express his innocence when Robert Snell of The Detroit News published a story about sexual assault allegations brought against him that resulted in an indictment but no trial for Patricia 22 years ago. Patricia’s accuser declined to testify citing “stress” as a reason, but Patricia and his attorney vehemently denied the abuse ever occurring.
As a former journalist, I’ll just say that Robert Snell of The Detroit News isn’t starting his work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions on the right foot. I had the difficulty of covering a similar story involving a high school golf coach with an alleged history of sexual harassment of female golfers. But when that teacher/coach was first hired by the district, no story was written about his alleged past because no charges were brought against him and his former district sealed all details of the allegations from the public as part of the terms of his termination.
No charges were brought against the coach the second time, either, but despite that, my employer wanted me to write a story based solely on unsubstantiated allegations that could further undermine that teacher/coach’s career. It ultimately resulted in me submitting my resignation, and I feel I was correct in doing so.
Patricia’s case is entirely different because he was charged and indicted, and while I think Snell might have risked his employer’s work relationship with Patricia and the Detroit Lions, somebody should have and would have brought attention to this 22-year-old story.
Also in the news, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, a couple of capable football players who can’t find jobs because of the expression of their personal views, are working out together with hopes of landing on an NFL roster.
Both players have waged grievances against the league for colluding against them to keep them from making a living in their chosen profession. Reid was asked about his anthem protest plans by the Bengals, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, and Kaepernick was similarly asked about his plans for the anthem by the Seahawks, who postponed a scheduled workout with the Super Bowl quarterback because Kaepernick reportedly had no plan in place, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.
But these players aren’t breaking any rules. The NFL owners and players’ association could have collectively bargained for players to be required to stand of the national anthem had they foreseen it as an issue. The NBA did, but the NFL didn’t.
I think my biggest problem with all the haters of these anthem protesters is their attempt at justifying their hate. For once I’d just like to run into someone who says, “You know, I just really like the national anthem as a song, and the protests don’t allow me to enjoy it as much.” I think that’s the only justification for disliking the anthem protests. The whole “honor the military and stand for the flag” argument just doesn’t compute with me because I’ve never seen the flag or the anthem as representative of our military specifically. To me, it’s representative of this nation and the rights of those of us who reside here, especially the right to free speech, which I feel is the First Amendment of the Constitution because it’s most important. Kaepernick even altered his protest, going from sitting to kneeling, acknowledging and accepting the opinion of ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer.
My least favorite justification for hating the anthem protesters is the ‘if I did that at my job I’d be fired’ defense. My old man made that argument just a few days ago, and I wanted to tell him he shouldn’t be mad at Kaepernick for using his workplace as a means to create awareness for a cause for which he’s passionate. He should be mad at himself for not obtaining a job that would allow him to also do so.
The railroad workday is not televised, and they don’t kickoff the railroad workday with what was, for the longest time, a paid advertisement by the United States military exploiting the national anthem to appeal to the patriotic sensibilities of the NFL’s mostly American audience. But imagine every American industry started the workday with the national anthem. Before an attorney tried a case the national anthem would be played in the courtroom. Before I could sit at my desk and read the news, the national anthem would be played over the intercom. Before my dad could fix a locomotive, the national anthem would be played throughout the roundhouse.
Now, assuming the same situation facing the NFL, where players are not contractually obligated to stand for the national anthem, employees of all industries could use the anthem as an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, and, in turn, a cause of their choosing. You might not have the media reporting on a railroad machinist’s decision to kneel for the anthem, but his fellow coworkers would probably ask why he didn’t stand for the anthem.
You might even have employers like NFL owners who dismiss employees for their anthem protests. They’d have good reason if morale or production is effected or damage is done to the employers’ brand. But, I ask you, is it not still illegal for an employer who has terminated an anthem protester to contact all the other employers in his industry and make sure they never hire that employee? It indeed is, and if that’s the case, wouldn’t that employee be due lost wages for the employers colluding to take away his or her right to work? He most certainly would. I don’t understand why so many people insist these guys should be banned from the sport and forced to find a new job. If you were fired from your job for expressing your political views and then colluded against by the employers of your chosen career, would you accept that you were terminated justly and humbly find work at a convenience store?
Honorable mention: Former Texas Rangers’ first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, at 53, got a hit in his second at-bat with the Independent League’s Cleburne Railroaders, his son, Patrick’s team. Patrick also had a hit and made a great play at third base, throwing over to his dad at first to complete it.
ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stu Gotz there’s no way Palmeiro makes it back to the majors because teams want nothing to do with him after lying under oath about using performance-enhancing drugs.
Bronze medalist: Seattle Mariners All-star second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for use of the banned substance Furosemide, a diuretic commonly used to mask performance-enhancing drug use. Cano said in a statement that he was given the substance by licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical condition. Furosemide is used to treat fluid retention in people with congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disorders, as well as high blood pressure, or hypertension. Under MLB's drug policy, a player is not automatically suspended for use of a diuretic unless MLB can prove he intended to use it as a masking agent. Cano reportedly tested positive for the drug prior to the season and appealed the potential suspension, but MLB was apparently able to prove his intent, resulting in Cano dropping his appeal. It will cost him $11,850,000.
Silver medalist: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Rick Brunson resigned amid allegations of “improper interactions with several women while on the job,” according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski. Brunson is still married despite admitting to an extramarital affair with a massage therapist in June 2014 that resulted in him being charged with attempted criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated battery and domestic battery. Brunson was acquitted of the charges.
Gold medalist: New Orleans running back Mark Ingram not only failed a drug test and was suspended four games for a drug “permissible with the proper use exemption from the NFL,” but will also sit out voluntary organized team activities entering a contract year. I probably don’t need to tell you, Mike, but Ingram had one of his best seasons last year, scoring 12 touchdowns and setting a career high in rushing yards.
In Ingram’s case, amphetamine was likely the drug “permissible with the proper use exemption,” a drug that has long been popular amongst athletes, especially baseball players. "'Greenies’" (Dexedrine) were a club house staple for decades beginning just after World War II, when ball players drafted into the military returned to the diamond having been exposed to the stimulant pills, which the armed forces dispensed by the millions. Another incubator of baseball speed-freakery was the winter Caribbean baseball circuit. There, players on seasonal hiatus discovered the two coffee pot system, where each club house had one pot with regular coffee and one with an amphetamine additive."
As of 2009 according to Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times, “[t]he 106 players who received exemptions for attention deficit disorder represent about 8 percent of the major league players, based on 40-man rosters. The percentage of American adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder is somewhere between 1 and 3.5 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, although some experts believe the actual number is much higher, citing a large number of undiagnosed cases.”
As someone diagnosed with Adult Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AADHD), I can tell you it’s very easy to obtain a prescription for amphetamines if you familiarize yourself with the symptoms prior to taking the tests medical professionals administer. I answered the questions as honestly as I could because I long suspected I suffered from ADHD. As early as first grade I would do something, anything, to break the boredom of being seated at my desk in the classroom. It got to the point my teacher had a sticky note attached to my desk with each day of the week, and she would mark the days that I behaved with a smiley face and the days I didn’t with a frowny face, delivering reports to my mother. When I was introduced to pens I clicked them incessantly. Even after being asked to stop, I would revert back to the habit in times of boredom. My teacher’s eventually inherited enough of my pens to never have to visit the school’s materials closet.
Amphetamines streamline your focus, and I imagine it slows down the spin and speed of a MLB fastball ever so slightly. For a running back like Ingram who relies on his vision to find holes in the defense, I’m sure it slows down that part of the game for him to react quicker. He won’t be doing any reacting for the first four games of the Saints’ season, though, and likely won’t be back with the Saints after this year given his free agent status and the abilities of their second-year back Alvin Kamara.
The United States Supreme Court ruled to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) by a 6-3 vote. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling, with Nevada being the sole exception.
The ruling allows states to determine whether they want to allow gambling on sports. While New Jersey expects to have sportsbooks open prior to the start of the NBA Finals, Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are all prepared to get into legal bookmaking. But Indian nations could beat even those states to market.
Casinos on Indian reservations could theoretically open sportsbooks today because they are sovereign nations. The 1993 Nation-State Gaming Compact authorizes the Oneida nation in New York to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted without any further approvals by the State. They intend to open a sportsbook as soon as possible, but other tribal nations are taking a cautious approach.
The reason behind the cautiousness is the fact sports wagering isn’t all that profitable for casinos. According veteran Nevada sportsbook operator Art Manteris, sportsbetting “generates only a four- to six-percent margin, is labor-intensive and requires a major capital investment,” according to a story by Dave Palermo of Legal Sports Report.
Consider this: “From March 2015 to February 2016 a Nevada Gaming Control Board Gaming Revenue Report shows that the “total gaming win” (the casino’s win) over twelve months from slots was $7,066,306,000 (about 7 billion) total. Meanwhile, the total table games win was $4,094,401,000 (about 4 billion). The implication of this is that, even with sports gaming’s comparatively small return of $19,236,000 (about 19.2 million) considered, no casino game even comes close to slots in terms of revenue for the casino.” That’s according to Fact/Myth.
Palermo reports that “16 percent of the tribal casinos – many in urban areas – generate 71.5 percent of the $31.2 billion industry, according to senior economist Alan Meister of Nathan Associates.” These urban, tribal casinos might not have much reason to venture into sports betting since any dollar spent at the sportsbook instead of in a gaming machine is more likely to result in a loss and will certainly result in smaller margins of return.
But rural, tribal casinos could see sports betting as an opportunity. Places like 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, N.D. could supplement its revenue used to fund the needs of reservation residents by providing the first online sportsbook for North Dakotans.
While the consensus of casino experts seems to be that the estimated $140 billion per year illegally wagered on sports in the U.S. according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) is overestimated, there’s tons of money to be made by a score of entities outside the gaming industry.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants his league to get one percent of all bets made on its games. Local newspapers and radio entities in states with legal sports gambling will now be able to provide content related to sports gambling instead of dancing around the subject. Most importantly, though, most of the billions of dollars Americans have stashed with online bookkeepers overseas will find its way back to the states and stimulate the American economy. I say most because these online bookkeepers overseas have been fraudulent in the past.
The Supreme Court decision is long overdue given the amount of revenue that could be raised by state and federal governments simply from administering a sin tax on gambling. Twenty states have already proposed bills to legalize sports gambling.
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Before the National Basketball Association (NBA) season began, almost anyone with any awareness of the NBA’s existence felt they knew which teams would be playing in each of the Conference Finals. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics would meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors would play the Houston Rockets’ James Harden and Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.
That’s exactly how it turned out, minus Irving, who barring injury, would be suiting up against his former teammate in a Conference Final I’d actually watch. Now, I’ll wait to see if Houston can force a Game 7 against Golden State before tuning into the NBA Conference Finals, and it took me betting on Houston to win it all to even have an interest in that series. Basketball’s predictability is the very reason I prefer the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Giant men wearing armor and wielding weapons in their hands and on their feet skate at immense speeds on an ever-changing playing surface chucking a rubber saucer at speeds even faster than their feet can carry them or baseballs are thrown while their opponents do all they can to get in front of that unpredictable projectile. Hockey is a most unpredictable sport, and that’s what holds my interest. The fact it hardly has any stoppages for commercial breaks, provides coaches with just one timeout, and requires live substitutions are all just big bonuses for the sport with the best postseason -- a postseason that can still be improved.
The NBA is also looking to improve its postseason, thankfully. Commissioner Adam Silver floated the idea of eliminating the conferences for the postseason and simply seeding the top 16 teams based on record. This would result in less chance of a lopsided NBA Finals series. For instance, the series most of us believe to be the actual championship series between Houston and Golden State would actually be played for the championship. Houston and Golden State would be the first- and second-ranked NBA playoff teams, respectively, and would only meet in the NBA Finals under the proposed postseason alteration.
While travel concerns and the fact that the seeding of Eastern Conference teams would be skewed based on them playing half as many games against the more dominant, deeper Western Conference might thwart the NBA’s efforts to improve the postseason. But they shouldn’t. As long as there are no back-to-back games scheduled in the NBA Playoffs, travel shouldn’t be a concern. And the seeding of teams from different conferences could be based on their play against similar opponents. For instance, if an Eastern Conference team finished the regular season with a better record than a Western Conference team but lost both games to that Western Conference team, the Eastern Conference team could be seeded behind the Western Conference team based on its performance in head-to-head matchups.
The dominance and depth of the NBA’s Western Conference is forcing Silver to find a way to remedy the lack of intrigue in his sport’s predictable playoffs. A lack of competitiveness results in a loss of fans, which is exactly what has happened with elections due to partisan gerrymandering. Because elections have become so uncompetitive, fewer people vote, thinking their vote doesn’t matter, which, of course, is the intent of partisan gerrymandering.
The same is true of American capitalism. “Free” markets work for the consumer when there’s competition. But businesses want markets working for them. It’s why six companies own the majority of media in America or the means to deliver media messages. Hollywood called this “vertical integration” until the Supreme Court eventually forced movie studios to divest their interest in theaters.
But it’s happening again, and on a much more massive scale. Not only do media moguls own the media produced but the means of distribution. Comcast owns the “movies” it makes and the “theaters” that distribute them. The theaters are the cable, internet and mobile data arms of Comcast, so not only are they pulling revenue from ad sales of their shows, but they’re making two trips to the bank on just about every customer by being either one of two or the sole provider of cable, internet or wireless data in that customer’s area.
The increasingly deregulated capitalistic markets reward monopolistic businesses at the expense of the consumer. Mergers are great for big business, but they aren’t good for consumers. Sprint merging with T-Mobile would result in one less competitor in the mobile data and mobile phone markets, and with each fallen competitor the price for those services increases.
If you live in rural America you’re probably familiar with the price gouging that occurs because of a lack of competition, especially in the cable, satellite, internet service and mobile data industries. Verizon actually kicked Eastern Montana customers off their data plans because they used too much data. Many of those customers don’t have access to internet otherwise, so Verizon knows they’ll have to come back, and will pay more to do so.
So I don’t watch the NBA Playoffs for the same reason I despise American capitalism: a lack of competitiveness that results from monopolistic mergers, like Durant going to Golden State. Maybe when my Timberwolves actually win a playoff series I’ll give the NBA Playoffs my divided attention. But even with my Minnesota Wild eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I have and will continue to watch the NHL postseason, because there’s no telling what could happen.
The NBA Playoffs tipped off over the weekend, and the results of every Game 1 gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in the first round. Here’s what we learned from every NBA Playoff Game 1.
If Klay Thompson keeps shooting like he did on Saturday, the Warriors won’t need Stephen Curry in the first round. He was 11-for-13 from the floor and hit five of six three-point attempts to lead the Warriors. All the Warriors’ starters had positive plus-minuses, though, so Thompson could have an off day and Golden State would still give San Antonio fits.
Dejounte Murray was the only Spurs’ starter with a positive plus-minus on Saturday. In fact, only two Spurs finished with a positive plus-minus. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrible, going five-for-12 from the field for 14 points, and the age of Manu Ginobili (-15) and Tony Parker (-17) showed, especially on defense.
You don’t need to see it to know it -- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan’s collective reputation precedes them. They struggle in the playoffs, and they struggled in Game 1, especially in the first half. But Serge Ibaka scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in support, as the Raptors won a Game 1 for the first time in 11 tries.
These new Raptors can win when Lowry and DeRozan struggle shooting because of their new “all hands” offensive approach. They’re seeking the most open shot, regardless of shooter, which is why DeRozan could finish six-for-17 from the floor with 17 points against the Wizards and the Raptors still won Game 1. DeRozan also had six assists, and Lowry added nine, mostly on open three-pointers. The Raptors hit 16 of their 30 three-point attempts.
Ben Simmons was a rebound away from scoring a triple-double in his first playoff game, and the Heat couldn’t contain JJ Redick or Dario Saric on the perimeter. They both went four-of-six from three-point range. Hassan Whiteside was a non-factor, playing 12 minutes. The Heat couldn’t even contain Marco Belinelli or Ersan Ilyasova, a couple of late-season waiver claims. They scored 42 minutes combined. How the Heat became the most popular pick of analysts to score an upset in Round 1 is mind-boggling.
Anthony Davis has picked up his game in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and scored four blocks, and despite being just +1 on the night, his supporting cast was just good enough for the Pelicans to steal Game 1 in Portland. Nikola Mirotic hit four of his 10 three-point attempts to lead New Orleans in plus-minus (+13), and Jrue Holiday made half of his shots to finish with 21 points (+12).
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard struggled shooting inside the three-point line, going six-for-23 from the field but four-of-nine from three-point range. CJ McCollum didn’t offer much relief, going seven-for-18 from the field despite shooting four-of-10 from three-point range. Davis defended the rim effectively, and the Pelicans made the Blazers win on the perimeter. They didn’t, shooting under 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were good enough for Boston to beat Milwaukee in Game 1. And they can be enough to carry the underdog Celtics without Kyrie Irving over the East’s seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who turned the ball over a ton. Horford was huge for Boston in Game 1 and is capable of carrying this team into the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he won’t.
Milwaukee’s defensive adjustments late in Game 1 got them back into the game, and should get them a win in Game 2. They finally started forcing turnovers to make up for the 20 they lost, and although the Bucks lost in overtime, Boston showed its susceptible to losing in front of its home crowd. Once that happens, the Bucks just have to win their home games.
The Indiana Pacers are really good. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar in Game 1, and Lance Stephenson did what he does when he’s right, holding LeBron James to a -13 plus-minus despite scoring a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Every Pacers’ starter had a plus-minus of at least +14 while James was the only Cavalier starter in double figures.
LeBron James lost a Game 1 in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in his career, and it happened on his home court. Even King James might not be able to carry these Cavs into the NBA Finals. Even if it’s not Indiana that eliminates Cleveland, Philadelphia very well could. The Cavs have already lost their home court advantage in Round 1 and won’t likely have one in Round 2.
Paul George scored 36 points and finished the night +3. Russell Westbrook scored 29 points but was -1, and Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points to finish +1. The Thunder pulled away from the Jazz when their bench was on the floor, despite Utah’s bench outscoring the Thunder bench 34-17. Alex Abrines led the Thunder in plus-minus (+14), Jerami Grant was second (+12), Raymond Felton was third (+9), Patrick Patterson was fourth (+6), and Terrance Ferguson tied George for fifth on the team in plus-minus.
Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau might lack an effective offensive strategy, but his defensive strategy against Houston seemed to be “make James Harden beat us.” He did, but it took 44 points and 58-percent shooting, including a seven-of-12 effort from beyond the arc. Harden was simply brilliant, but Houston can’t expect him to keep shooting damn near 60 percent from the floor. Once the Wolves locked down Clint Capela, who had 20 of his 24 points in the first half, the Rockets needed every one of Harden’s points to hold off Minnesota.
Is this the recipe to beat the Rockets? Sunday was the closest the Timberwolves have been to beating Houston all season. They lost all four regular season games against the Rockets -- three by 18 points and the final game by nine points. Harden was +10 in that nine-point victory, scoring 14 of his 34 points from the free throw line. Despite 44 points on Sunday night, the Rockets were just +5 with him on the floor. Had the Wolves gotten anything out of Karl-Anthony Towns, they would have stolen Game 1 in Houston. We’ll see if they can steal Game 2 instead, which would be the biggest surprise of the NBA Playoffs.
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I don’t enjoy writing the “fire the coach/GM” letter. I hope no one does. Calling people’s job performance into question publicly isn’t something I long to do. I’m not the current President. Firing people isn’t my thing. But when I feel a change is needed to improve the product for which I and my neighbors pay handsomely, I’m not going to bite my tongue and suffer in silence.
Twice I've written letters calling for sports executives to be fired, and in both instances they were. On Oct. 17, 2011, I called for Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith to resign. Less than a month later, he was dismissed. On July 14, 2016, I called for most of the Twins’ front office to be fired, including Smith’s predecessor and replacement, Terry Ryan. Four days later Ryan was fired.
It’s not that I think these “fire the coach/GM” pieces actually instigate change. I doubt they even reach the decision-makers. But they make me feel better and, hopefully, provide you some insight into the thoughts and feelings of a frustrated season ticket holder and the reasons for that frustration.
In the past, I wrote my “fire the coach/GM” letters in reactionary anger. They were fueled mostly by emotion, not logic. With Ryan, it was an inactive trade deadline that set me to punching the keys. With Smith, a slew of bad trades got me started down the same path (JJ Hardy, Johan Santana, Wilson Ramos). Only the Twins’ on-field success kept me from writing. But when Smith traded Delmon Young for Minnesota local, lefty Cole Nelson in A-ball and Lester Oliveros, I had had enough. I didn’t need to know both players’ careers would end three years later to know the trade was no good for the Twins. And while Delmon Young was hardly a hot commodity, he did go on to carry the Detroit Tigers to a World Series, winning ALCS MVP honors the following season -- a year after posting an 1.170 OPS in 21 plate appearances for the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS.
This time I’m taking a different, more reserved approach. I’ve been putting this off for months with hopes of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau giving me a reason not to write this. He hasn’t, so I am.
I’ve been a supporter of Thibodeau’s since his first season with the Chicago Bulls. In fact, I hadn’t watched an NBA game since Jordan’s last in 2003 until Thibodeau took over in Chicago and installed an attitude instead of an offense. The Bulls’ physicality on defense was nostalgic in its ferocity, raising memories of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman frustrating the hell out of everyone they guarded. I always liked the idea of figuratively “punching opponents in the mouth” and literally hurting them with physical play on defense.
I enjoyed watching low-scoring games in which baskets were hard to get, and scars and bruises were just the price paid to play in the paint. I loved hard fouls, not because of the violence or the further potential for violence they sometimes instigated, but because I am a firm believer that if you’re the last line of defense between your opponent and the basket, and your opponent gets by you, it’s your job to make sure your opponent doesn’t hit a shot. And if you could put them on their ass in the process of fouling, you did your job, even if your opponent hits the foul shots. Now everything’s a flagrant foul and players on defense are more apt to shy away from contact rather than initiate it.
I so wanted Thibodeau to succeed while much of the league started exploiting the three-point line. I feel like it was the last chance to save basketball as I knew and loved it, and Thibodeau inherited a pretty good team when he left Boston for Chicago. The Bulls finished at .500 the season prior to Thibodeau’s arrival and were 11th in defensive efficiency but 27th in offensive efficiency.
Thibodeau made me look like a genius that first season, as the Bulls finished first in the Central Division at 62-20, 11th in offensive efficiency and first in defensive efficiency. But was it Thibodeau who made me look like a genius or league MVP Derrick Rose? It certainly wasn’t Thibodeau’s offensive schemes, which boiled down to Rose playing in isolation, driving the lane, with or without a screen, and either dishing or finishing.
Not much has changed, except instead of Rose driving and dishing or finishing, it’s Jeff Teague dribbling and dribbling and dribbling until the shot clock expires. Teague can’t finish at the rim like Rose could, so defenders happily trap him under the basket where they know he can’t finish over them and an interior pass is difficult. Teague can’t hit the three, either, so defenders can play him closer to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of Teague’s dribble drive. It’s hard to beat a defender off the dribble when he’s so far away, and if there’s no help needed to defend against the dribble drive, there’s nobody left open to take a shot off Teague’s pass.
Thibodeau has done very little on the offensive end to adapt to the players he has and the skills they possess. It’s still isolation plays in a spread offense with virtually no movement away from the ball except the occasional high pick and roll. He’s not putting his players in a position to find success or even an open shot. Phil Mackey crunched some numbers at NBA.com, and the Wolves take more contested shots than any team in the NBA and take the second fewest wide open shots. A team that struggles shooting like the Wolves needs all the open shots it can get.
Thibodeau has long been known to be a defensive guru, but his offensive schemes leave much to be desired. The Timberwolves didn’t hire him to improve their offense, though. It was already ranked 12th in efficiency before he got there, thanks to an effective facilitator in Ricky Rubio, whom Thibodeau traded for Oklahoma City’s 2018 first round draft pick and cap space to sign Teague. Thibodeau blew up a successful offense to add a score-first point guard on a team with its three top scoring options already established. It seems Thibodeau thought he could just assemble five effective scorers and not have to worry about designing offensive schemes for them. If they can all create their own shot, there’s no need to run a play, right? But this time he didn’t have a 22-year-old Rose to hide his lack of offensive ingenuity behind highlight reel finishes at the rim.
So Thibodeau made the move that sold seats at the newly renovated Target Center and gave Wolves fans reason for hope. He traded for Jimmy Butler -- a trade that already looks like Chicago won despite almost everyone in the sports media agreeing the Wolves had fleeced the Bulls on draft day. Regardless of who won the trade, the Wolves won my money. I became a season ticket holder because Butler was coming to town (and the seats at Target Center were comfortable). He was my favorite player in the league at the time because, again, he plays defense, and does it better than almost anyone. Since he’s been gone, we’ve all seen how truly invaluable he is. Before Butler went down with a torn meniscus, the Wolves had the eighth best net rating in basketball (2.6). Since Butler’s injury, the Wolves are 19th in net rating (-1.0).
Butler was Thibodeau’s way of covering for his weak defenders until they learned how to play defense. Correcting poor footwork takes time. You can’t blame Thibodeau for the poor defense of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Expecting him to turn Towns into the young Joakim Noah (4.2 DBPM in 2010-11) and Wiggins into Ronnie Brewer (3.2 DBPM in 2010-11) in two seasons is unfair. Noah was already an elite defender before Thibodeau arrived (3.3 DBPM in 2009-10, his third season after four years in college), and Brewer was already trending up in his fourth season (1.6 DBPM in 2009-10). Wiggins is also trending up on defense in his fourth season, albeit from a lower starting point. His -1.5 DBPM this season is a vast improvement on the -2.9 and -2.5 DBPM he posted the two previous seasons. Towns’s 1.0 DBPM is better than positional peers Kevin Love (-1.5), Channing Frye (-1.0), Tristan Thompson (-0.7), Tyler Zeller (-0.6) and Robin Lopez (-0.2).
Both Towns and Wiggins have the offensive ability to make up for their subpar defense, though. So if they aren’t scoring -- a lot -- they’re a liability. With Butler gone, they’re the top two scoring options -- just like they were last year. Towns gets the touches on offense to cover for his defensive shortcomings. He had 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting for a +10 rating in Denver, Thursday night.
Wiggins doesn’t get those dedicated touches Towns demands in the paint, however. He has to settle for Teague’s desperation passes when his dribble drive fails to draw a helper on defense, which never leaves Wiggins an open shot and forces him to shake a defender before settling for a contested jump shot at the end of the shot clock. Wiggins is at his best when driving to the basket, but you don’t see too many high pick and roll plays called for him. In fact, it’s as if Thibodeau’s spread offense has gone and made the Wolves’ best athlete into a spot-up shooter, and a bad one at that. Wiggins had nine points on Thursday night on four-of-12 shooting, and the Wolves allowed 13 net points while Wiggins was on the floor. He needed to score 22 to avoid being a liability. If the defense isn’t there yet, the offense must be, or there’s no reason to have Wiggins on the court. The Wolves were 11 net points better with Jamal Crawford and 24 points better with Rose on the court. They scored nine and four points, respectively, but were buoyed by their defensive ability.
Minnesota doesn’t have much time to rebuild their chemistry with Butler, but they’ll immediately be better thanks to Butler guarding the opposition’s best player whenever possible. What’s worrisome is that Butler’s addition doesn’t seem to be showing itself in the numbers. Minnesota’s defense was 27th in efficiency last year, and the Wolves remain the 27th-ranked team in defensive efficiency after adding one of the best two-way players in the game. Butler’s DBPM is just .1 this season, a career low and way down from the 1.1 he posted last year. His defensive rating is also at a career low this season, so Butler is having a down year on defense, and his offensive numbers are understandably down having gone from a team where he was the scoring option to a team with ample scoring options.
All that said, after the season, regardless of outcome, Thibodeau should step down as the Timberwolves head coach. I don’t have much faith in his ability to act as president of basketball operations, either, but he did bring me Jimmy Butler, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, he should remain the president of basketball operations. I don’t even mind him serving as a defensive coordinator on the coaching staff, but the best thing he could do as president of basketball operations is go out and hire the offensive Yin to his defensive Yang. The Timberwolves could have avoided giving Thibodeau so much control and just hired David Blatt like Joseph Gill recommended at SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus back in January of 2016. But Thibodeau can make it up to them by hiring Blatt himself. It would be a classy move and allow Thibodeau to focus on team-building and management, so Minnesotans have a quality basketball team worth watching for years to come.
If Thibodeau fails to win a playoff series, he isn’t going to be on the hot seat. But the Tweeters are rumbling and the word “fire” is being thrown around the Internet. That’s the spark that leads to letters like these being sent to ownership and published online, and then as letters to the editor in newspapers (although getting this down to 700 words will be a challenge).
You have to give Thibodeau some props, though. Despite running his players into the ground under an avalanche of minutes, potentially shortening Derrick Rose’s and Joakim Noah’s careers, and being known for having an abrasive attitude, his former players love and defend him. Without Thibodeau, the Wolves wouldn’t have Jimmy Butler or a shot to make the playoffs, so despite me calling for the end of his head coaching career, I’m just like one of his players. I love Thibodeau for giving me a reason to watch professional basketball again, and I’ll defend his ability to build a winner, but I can’t defend his offensive strategy anymore. 1953 called, Tom. It wants its pace and playbook back.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
The best days of the Minnesota sports year are here, and I’m not just saying that because Target Field opens its gates for baseball on Thursday. The Minnesota Twins are, as of this writing, playing their home opener against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon.
Even if the foot of snow the Twin Cities received Tuesday doesn’t melt by game time or more rain and snow moves into the area forcing a postponement, at least Minnesota sports fans will have two more games to watch later that night. Both the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves play games that could affect the postseason, and both play at the same time, which is frustrating and frankly, should be illegal.
Thursday is going to be the best day of the Minnesota sports season. That is until Saturday, April 14, when four professional sports teams in Minnesota could all play on the same day for the first time ever. We know the Twins and Minnesota United FC (MNUFC or Loons for short) will be in action. But with the NBA Playoffs set to begin that same day, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs also underway, Minnesota sports fans could watch their home teams for up to 11 consecutive hours on April 14. The Twins host the Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. CDT and MNUFC’s match in Portland kicks off at 9:30 p.m. That leaves plenty of room in the television schedule for both the Wolves and Wild.
These really are the best days of the Minnesota sports year, and they’ll continue for as long as the Wild and Timberwolves allow. Here’s the potential schedule for the best days of the Minnesota sports year. You’ll notice this is not a complete schedule of upcoming sporting events featuring a team from Minnesota. Days during which just one Minnesota sports team plays a game are not included. Each day listed has the potential for at least two games to be played by a team from Minnesota. All times are Central. Asterisks indicate a potential game not yet scheduled. Check back for updates.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch
The number one overall seed in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament fell to the 64th overall seed -- the first time a 16-seed has beaten a one-seed in the history of the Final Four tournament. But that one upset hardly tells the story of the bad beats abound during March Madness.
My friend and I experienced the bad beats abound during March Madness on a blue chip parlay betting the spread -- even though I had planned to not bet the spread beforehand. We placed $20 on Duke, Kentucky and Kansas to cover their respective spreads because the $76 payout on our $20 bet was too attractive to avoid. (We made another $20 parlay bet on the same three teams to win outright to cover our potential loss on the spread parlay.)
Duke doubled the 10.5-point spread against Rhode Island, and Kentucky easily covered the 5.5 points by which they were favored, winning by 20. Kansas just had to win by five over Seton Hall and we would have won almost $150.
With 1:20 left, Kansas led by eight, but then Khadeen Carrington scored seven points in a minute to keep Seton Hall just five points back. After a pair of free throws by Malik Newman, we were good, leading by five. But there was plenty of time for Seton Hall to get off a three, and despite being well defended, Myles Powell knocked down a fade-away three as the buzzer sounded to deliver our money to the house.
We managed to find one of the few bad beats specifically betting the spread. I even went to Vegas with a plan for betting the Final Four that included never betting the spread, but the potential payout for betting the spread was just too attractive for me to avoid.
If you were betting on Texas Tech to cover the 11.5-point spread over Stephen F. Austin, you were disappointed that the Red Raiders didn’t try to score in the final 20 seconds while up 10. If you had your money on Purdue covering the four points by which they were favored, you were ecstatic when Dakota Mathias hit a three-pointer with 17 seconds left to push the Boilermaker lead to five. Even after Kelan Martin hit a layup to cut the Purdue lead to three with three seconds to play, if P.J. Thompson hits the front end of a one-and-one, you at least get your money back. If he hits both free ones you’re a winner. That had to hurt.
You might not have predicted Buffalo upsetting Arizona let alone covering the nine-point spread. But you might have been willing to bet that the two teams would score more than 158 points. The brutal irony in Buffalo’s drubbing of Arizona is that the Bulls actually took their foot off the gas pedal after Wes Clark hit a three to make it 89-64 with 1:17 left. The four points Arizona scored the rest of the way was two points short of 159 and a win for those betting the over.
Eight of the 32 first-round games ended with an underdog on top. University of Maryland-Baltimore County led the charge with its win over top-seed, Virginia. But two 13-seeds (Buffalo and Marshall) also upset two four-seeds (Arizona and Wichita State).
Syracuse, an 11-seed and a team some said didn’t deserve to be in the tournament, upset six-seed Texas Christian University. Another 11-seed, Loyola-Chicago defeated sixth-seeded Miami. Tenth-seeded Butler rounded out the upsets by double-digit seeds with its win over seventh-seeded Arkansas.
Alabama and Florida State both upset eight-seeds Virginia Tech and Missouri, respectively.
Six of the 16 second-round games resulted in upsets. Syracuse went on to upset Michigan State to make the Sweet 16. But Syracuse isn’t the only 11-seed in the Sweet 16. Loyola-Chicago also beat a three-seed in Tennessee to join Syracuse as a Cinderella.
Florida State is the next lowest seed left in the dance, defeating one-seed Xavier. Two seven-seeds also remain, as Texas A&M and Nevada defeated four-seed Auburn and two-seed North Carolina, respectively. Fifth-seeded Clemson beat fourth-seeded Auburn to conclude the second-round upsets.
Duke has the best odds of making the Final Four final and the second-best odds of becoming champion. They’ll face the lowest overall seed remaining in the tournament, Syracuse, whom they beat by 16 back in February. Syracuse’s zone defense was and still is superior to Duke’s, and it didn’t and still won’t matter.
Duke hit just two of 18 three-point attempts against the Orange zone, but the Duke zone sent Syracuse to the free-throw line just six times. The Blue Devils hit 14 of 16 free throws, 14 of which went to big men Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Marques Bolden. They hit 12 of those 14, which is well above their season average. Bagley shoots 62 percent from the charity stripe, Carter shoots 74 percent from the line, and Bolden hit 59 percent of free ones this season.
Syracuse will have to put the Duke bigs on the line again and hope they miss more often. It’s really the only chance they have unless they shoot the lights out against a Duke zone that has improved since they last played.
The team with the best odds to become champion is one-seed Villanova. They get a tougher test than Duke to open the Sweet 16, though. Fifth-seeded West Virginia will hope its full-court press can limit Villanova’s league-best scoring efficiency, a tall task for the gritty Mountaineers.
Gonzaga checks in with the third-best odds to reach the final and win it all. Florida State stands between Gonzaga and the Elite 8, where either third-seeded Michigan or seventh-seeded Texas A&M will be waiting.
Second-seeded Purdue has the fourth-best odds to become champion despite having just the sixth-best chance to reach the final. That’s because Purdue has the toughest road to the Final Four, playing three-seed Texas Tech and potentially facing one-seed Villanova.
Fifth-seeded Kentucky has the fifth-best odds to be one of the Final Four and tournament champion and has one of the easiest paths to those ends. Ninth-seeded Kansas State awaits on Thursday, and if Kentucky wins, the Wildcats will either see seventh-seeded Nevada or 11-seed Loyola-Chicago.
Michigan has the sixth-best chance of reaching the final and becoming champ, with Kansas, a one-seed, checking in at seventh. The Jayhawks’ low odds despite their seed likely has to do with how Duke and Clemson have looked in the tournament thus far. Fifth-seeded Clemson smoked fourth-seeded Auburn by 29 in the second round, and Duke won both its games running away.
So if you’re looking to make back some of the money you lost on the bad beats abound during March Madness’s first two rounds, Duke and Villanova are the best bets to reach the Final Four.
I’m going to Las Vegas for the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and intend to place a few bets while I’m there. I’m no college basketball expert, nor am I a sports betting expert. But I do know a little about both, and I have a guide for betting the Final Four so I can enjoy games I’d otherwise not watch and leave Sin City with some money in my pockets. So whether you’re in Sin City, Atlantic City, or wherever sports betting is legal, here are four tips for betting the Final Four to help you enjoy March Madness to the fullest.
The first rule of betting the Final Four is to bet the moneyline. Unless you have intimate knowledge of the teams playing the game, betting the spread during March Madness is just that -- madness.
More often than not, betting the spread will burn you. It’s hard enough to pick the winners of the 32 first-round games let alone determine by how much each team will win or lose. Sure there can be more money in it, but there’s nothing worse than picking the winner and losing your bet because of the spread. So don’t bother.
The over/under isn’t much better because determining how many points two teams will score can be just as risky as betting the spread. You’re still dealing with points instead of outcomes. Stick to the simplicity the bracket provides and pick the winners and leave it at that.
Pooling your picks together into one bet is a great way to win that money you left on the table by not betting the spread or the over/under. Out of 64 teams, you should be able to pick at least three teams you’re confident will win or lose and parlay them together for a satisfying win.
Parlays are also the most fun. Since more teams are involved, you’ll have a vested interest in watching more games. Parlays also give you an opportunity to enjoy winning and losing with friends. Have two friends each pick a team to add to your parlay and split the bet three ways. You and your friends will enjoy rooting on the same teams, and whether you win or lose, the entertainment you’ve received and bonding you’ve done thanks to your friendly parlay should make for a nice consolation prize.
Putting your entire nest egg into one exchange traded fund or behind one business isn’t good investment advice. The same goes for sports betting. Betting on your favorite team to win it all isn’t a great way to invest your money. First off, you’re betting your heart instead of your head, which is only excusable if you win and tends not to happen on bets of the heart.
The only bets of the heart I’ve won are the two times Duke has won the National Championship since I started filling out a Final Four bracket (2010, 2015). Duke is the only winner I’ve ever picked since I started filling out a bracket regularly, but I’ve never actually had any money on it. Still, it’s a good example of what not to do, because I’ve been wrong 10 of 12 times. And while I have money down on Duke to win it all this season, I also have money on a few other teams.
Instead of picking your team to win it all, pick your team and then three others you think can win the championship. Maybe they’re your Final Four teams. Maybe they're FiveThirtyEight's projected Final Four. Maybe they’re the odds-on favorite, your local team, your alma mater, and a sleeper. Whatever combination you decide, when making the long bet on the champion, it’s best to have a few horses in the race with varying odds of winning. Your best bet would be to pick a pair of high-seeded, title contenders, one four- or five-seed, and one team with long odds you feel is best equipped to make a run to the Final Four. That way, if your favorite team is knocked out early, you still have reasons to watch and a chance to win your money back.
No guide for betting the Final Four would be complete without warning you of games for which you should simply sit on your wallet. No need for you to lose your entire roll in the first round because you bet the wrong way on a bunch of coin flips. These toss-ups will be fun to watch whether you’ve got money riding on them or not. I just don’t think you should risk your hard-earned money betting these games -- unless you know something I don’t.
Since 1985, a 12-seed has upset a five-seed in all but four tournaments, and Davidson is probably the best 12-seed in the tournament. There’s just nothing safe about a 5-12 matchup, and with the spread at six points, this will likely be the biggest nailbiter of the 5-12 games.
Davidson is one of the best in the tournament at limiting possessions, which could be a problem if Kentucky comes out a little wild, turns the ball over early, and finds itself playing catch up with very few possessions. And Davidson won’t give them many extra possessions, either. They don’t turn it over often or take bad shots, so they could have a chance behind senior forward Peyton Aldridge, who averages 21 points per game. If you’re looking to bet an upset, though, this would be one worth a look. Otherwise, leave it alone.
Alabama has relied on freshman guard Collin Sexton, described by Tully Corcoran of The Big Lead as “The Russell Westbrook of College Basketball.” Virginia Tech is the complete opposite, with six players to rely on for quality minutes and points. But Bama could be missing a formidable presence in the paint if Donta Hall isn’t cleared to play after sustaining a concussion in the SEC Tournament. Regardless of Hall’s status, I recommend staying away from this one. Virginia Tech is favored by two according to Intertops, so this one could be determined by a bad bounce.
The spread in this one is 1.5 points for Arkansas, but I’m not betting against a team with the Bulldogs’ postseason pedigree, no pun intended. I’m also not betting on a team that slows down the game like Butler, because that sort of play can’t help you when you’re behind, and it’s just not fun to watch. As someone who has watched Virginia play twice this season, I can tell you once was one too much.
The Razorbacks’ take risks on defense and could get burned by the sure-handed Bulldogs, who seldom turn it over. The Bulldogs have the shorter trip to Detroit and should be well-represented at Little Caesars Arena. Butler senior forward Kelan Brown needs to be great, or seniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon will be too much for the Bulldogs. I like Arkansas, but I’m not confident enough to bet on it nor intrigued enough to watch it.
Intertops has Florida State favored by one point in this one, and that’s enough reason not to like it. Missouri just got six-foot, 10-inch freshman forward and projected top-five NBA draft pick Michael Porter, Jr. back from a back injury that cost him most of the regular season. His production being a question mark is likely why the Seminoles are favored, but Florida State defends the paint well regardless.
Florida State makes teams bet them from beyond the arc, so the Tigers will have to match their season average of 38.5 percent from behind the arc to stick with the Seminoles, who played a tough ACC schedule and struggled with the best of the best conference. They beat UNC by one, but their next best wins are over Clemson (a five-seed) and Miami (a six-seed). For that reason, I like Missouri, but I’m concerned about what Porter can do after shooting 30 percent from the floor in his return against Georgia on Thursday.
All bets are off when it comes to the streaky shooting of freshman phenom Trae Young. Rhode Island is favored by two, but if Trae Young is hot, you can tear up your bet on the favorite. If he’s not, you can breathe easier knowing he’ll simply be setting up his teammates with fantastic looks.
Some say the only reason Oklahoma made it to the dance is so the NCAA would attract more eyes to televisions because of this kid’s ridiculous shooting (at times) and passing prowess and confidence (at all times). He’s a dynamic player who should raise ad revenues for the NCAA that they won’t share with him.
Frankly, Oklahoma is lucky to have pulled Rhode Island instead of, say, Nevada, who beat the Rams. Arkansas earned a split with fellow seven-seed Texas A&M, and even the length of the Aggies would give the Sooners trouble, both shooting and rebounding the basketball. Verdict: someone on the selection committee wants Oklahoma to stay and dance for a while.
That’s not a knock on Rhode Island. I just think they’re the most vulnerable seven-seed. Danny Hurley’s Rams have the experience but not the size. The Rams don’t have anyone on the roster taller than six-foot, eight-inches, so Young should get good looks at the basket, and if his shot isn’t falling, the painted area will be open often. But will all those twos be enough to hang with Jared Terrell and the Rams?
Terrell attempts more than five threes per game and hits 41.5 percent of his long-distance shots. But Young averages more than 10 attempts from beyond the arc per game, sinking 36.1 percent of them. The math isn’t in Rhode Island’s favor, so the senior, Terrell, will have to lock down the freshman, Young, defensively and shoot more threes than he’s averaged this season for the Rams to advance. I like Oklahoma in this one, and would bet on it if the Sooners were treated like underdogs. The moneyline for them to win pays just $120 on a $100 bet, according to OddsShark. That's not worth a bet, but it will be a fun one to watch anyway.
This one comes with an asterisk because Kansas State may or may not be at full strength for this game. If they aren’t, go ahead and take Creighton. But if the Wildcats do get all-conference forward Dean Wade (foot) and all-conference guard Barry Brown (eye) back for Friday night, keep your money out of this one. You’ll enjoy watching it regardless.
Creighton can score the rock and do so faster than just about anyone in the tournament, averaging 84.3 points per game. That’s an insane pace, but K. State held its opponents to less than 68 points per game, so don’t be surprised if this one ends up coming down to a final possession. The spread is two in favor of Creighton, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t cover. But I’m not going to find out the hard way.
So there are four tips for betting the Final Four so you can hold onto your money throughout March Madness and come home from the big dance feeling like a winner.
The eventual champion of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament may not get a chance to hang a championship banner from its rafters if the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants it that way.
Given what we know about the investigation uncovering recruitment violations committed by seemingly every competitive college basketball program, 2018 might be a repeat of 2013. If you remember, Louisville emerged from March Madness as champion that year only to have that championship vacated for paying escorts to “recruit” players. While those 40 alleged acts warrant the punishment received, not all recruiting violations should be treated equally. Some shouldn’t be violations at all.
For instance, it is alleged that the FBI has a recording of Arizona head coach Sean Miller speaking of a $100,000 payment to secure freshman center DeAndre Ayton, who could be the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton makes Arizona a legitimate title contender, and one of those teams who could win the national championship only to have it taken away. This, too, would warrant a punishment on par with Louisville’s.
Handing out bags full of money is obviously a violation of the NCAA’s “amateurism” policy -- a policy alleged to exist to preserve the “integrity” of collegiate athletics while coaches and athletic directors “earn” million-dollar salaries on the backs of slave labor. You used to have to go pro to earn pro money. Now coaches can avoid the humiliation of failing at the highest level and still live like they made the big time.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of those coaches, and many wonder how he manages to recruit the best high school players without violating NCAA rules. Being the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I basketball and having a chance to win a national championship every year can’t be only reasons why Duke has secured the top three high school recruits next year. He must be breaking the rules, right? Well, Krzyzewski wasn’t implicated in the FBI investigation, but one of his players was.
Duke University freshman forward Wendell Carter, Jr. is accused of violating the NCAA’s amateurism policy because his mother, Kylia Carter, had dinner with ASM sports agent Christian Dawkins and may or may not have paid for it. The meal cost $106.36, and Wendell Carter, Jr., who was a junior in high school at the time, wasn’t even there. This is where the NCAA can start revising its amateurism policy.
Buying someone food should never affect the eligibility of a student-athlete to compete in collegiate athletics, whether that food is consumed by the student-athlete or a member of that student-athlete’s family. Kylia Carter took time out of her day to accommodate Dawkins and discuss the future of her son. She shouldn’t have to pay for a meal -- a meal she might not be able to afford -- just to talk to someone about her son’s future, whether it be with a college coach or a sports agent. Wendell shouldn’t have to pay for his meals, either, regardless of who’s buying. If an agent wants to wine and dine him, Wendell shouldn’t have to say, “I can’t accept because I’m an amateur.”
Not a single collegiate athlete or high school recruit should have to pay a dime for food. This is the least the NCAA can do with its billion-dollar revenues: provide a per diem for meals to all NCAA student-athletes and stop considering meals as “benefits.”
Meals are calories; they are fuel. The athlete does not benefit from eating a meal. They might enjoy it, but there isn’t a meal in the world or a chef in the world capable of persuasion. No decisions are being made like Cypher’s decision to mutiny in The Matrix because of the juiciness of a steak. Let the student-athletes eat. Hell, for some of them, that dinner with an agent might be the last fancy meal they ever eat. They could tear their ACL the next day and never hear from another agent or college coach again.
Even when those recruits get to college they incur costs for calories. If you’re unaware of how meals work in college, here’s a crash course. Most colleges and universities include meal plans with room and board. That was the case when I attended the University of Washington as a freshman. Since I was living in the dorms, which all freshmen are required to do unless they’re living with family, I was required to pay for a meal plan. I didn’t want a meal plan. I wanted to buy groceries and cook my meals in the dormitory kitchenette, but there was no way around it. I had to buy a meal plan.
So I bought the cheapest meal plan available, and while it allowed me to buy groceries from the campus market, those groceries were much more expensive than they were at nearby grocery stores. The only way I could use my meal plan money, though, was using my student ID card, which, of course, was not accepted anywhere but on campus. It’s a convenient monopoly on food for the university, which probably helps offset the losses incurred when Amazon revealed to students the true price of their textbooks when purchased anywhere but a college bookstore.
The worst part about the meal plan is if you don’t use it you lose it. At the end of each quarter, I ended up drinking a gallon of milk every few days just to meet the minimum spending requirement of my plan so I could get the rest of my money refunded. You read that right: there’s a minimum amount you must spend in order to get your own money back from the college.
I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t these student-athletes on scholarship?” Well, some of them are, but most aren’t. Most have scholarships covering tuition only. Some have no scholarship at all. But even those with “full-rides” aren’t getting full-rides. There aren’t meal plans for collegiate football players who need to consume more than 4,000 calories per day. And who do you think pays for something a student-athlete needs that isn’t included with their meal plan? A coach or university administrator can’t or they could be found in violation the NCAA’s amateurism policy.
Consider this: a six-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound college freshman is still growing into his body. His coaches have asked him to bulk up, which means consuming more protein. I don’t know if you’ve been to college lately, but the last I was there (2013), the cafeteria didn’t have many protein-packed options. You could usually find chicken in some way, shape or form, and hamburger, but there’s only so much meat you can eat. Fish can be found, but a student-athlete can’t be expected to pound tuna sandwiches, peanuts and jerky after a workout. Pounding a protein shake, though, provides the muscles with what they need immediately, but you won’t find protein powder for sale on too many campuses. That’s a cost incurred by the athlete to fuel the vehicle that creates the revenue they’ll never see.
Slave owners fed their slaves because their revenue depended on it, but like the NCAA, fed them just enough to do the work and nothing more. The NCAA is on the verge of suffering a similar fate as those slave owners. The chatter slaves must have heard about the Union paying runaway slaves to serve as soldiers in the Civil War after Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is an uncomfortable simile to the NCAA’s amateurism problem. The appeal of playing for money internationally is growing and costing slave owners recruits, and talk of the G-League serving as a development league for high school recruits unwilling to attend college must feel like a Gettysburg Address waiting to happen to the NCAA.
If the NCAA doesn’t do something to appeal to new recruits, they stand to lose everything, because the NCAA isn’t a billion-dollar industry without March Madness, and March Madness isn’t March Madness without the best “amateurs” in the world.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a mess without Jimmy Butler, and the question isn’t whether Butler will be able to return for the playoffs, but if the Wolves can make the playoffs without him.
Karl-Anthony Towns did everything he could to carry his Wolves to a win in Portland to no avail on Thursday night. He scored 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, went 11-for-12 from the free throw line and grabbed 17 rebounds, which was still only good enough for a -6 plus/minus. But a -6 plus/minus is better than not having Towns on the floor.
Towns followed Thursday’s performance with an ejection in the closing minutes of the first half the following night in Utah -- a game in which his plus/minus was +6 and replaced by the -2 of Gorgui Dieng, who scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes. Towns couldn’t have picked a worse time for the first ejection of his career.
Minnesota nearly pulled off a comeback without Towns, but things spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter -- as usual -- culminating in Jeff Teague lowering his shoulder into Marco Rubio, sending him into the seats with 5:20 to go and the Wolves down nine. It was the first time in franchise history the Timberwolves had two players ejected in the same game. Head coach Tom Thibodeau also earned two technical fouls. While the Wolves’ struggles on defense and scoring in the fourth quarter without Butler were evident on Thursday, their collective frustration and lack of leadership was ever present on Friday.
The Timberwolves might be leading the NBA’s Northwest Division despite the consecutive losses in consecutive nights, but they are not a lock to make the playoffs let alone win the division. The Denver Nuggets, the eighth seed in the Western Conference currently, are just two games behind the Wolves in the standings. Utah is just four games back after its win on Friday, and things only get tougher for Minnesota.
The Wolves play 10 of their remaining 16 games against teams with records above .500 and another against a young, running Laker squad that gave the Wolves trouble when Butler was on the floor. The Wolves probably don’t have to worry about the Los Angeles Clippers taking their spot in the playoffs. While the Clippers are just a game and a half behind Denver for the eighth seed in the West, they play 16 of their final 21 games against teams over .500.
The Jazz are most likely to replace the Wolves in the playoffs. They play nine of their 20 remaining games against teams above .500. So not only do the Jazz have four games in hand to gain ground on the Wolves, but they play an easier schedule, despite three back-to-backs to Minnesota’s two.
It wouldn’t be unrealistic to see Minnesota lose its next six games, which would make for an eight-game losing streak. The Wolves’ current three-game losing streak is the longest of the season, but they host Boston and Golden State, visit the Wizards and Spurs, and then host the Rockets and Clippers -- all teams above .500. A single win during that stretch would be a huge lift for a young team struggling to manage its emotions in the face of adversity.
During the same stretch, Utah has already beaten Sacramento and get to face Orlando, Indiana, Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Phoenix, Sacramento again, and the hapless Hawks. If the Jazz can win just four of those eight remaining games, and Minnesota goes winless, Utah would be just half a game behind Minnesota in the West, and Butler would still be out at least another five days.
Butler had surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee on Sunday, Feb. 25. The expected recovery time is four to six weeks, which keeps him out until March 25 at the earliest. You can be sure the moment Butler is physically cleared to play, he will play. That’s just his nature, which is probably why he and Thibodeau are inseparable. They’re both old-school ballers.
Given the best case scenario, Butler could return in time to get his feet under him during the Wolves’ final eight regular season games. But the Wolves won’t likely be able to extend Butler the courtesy of easing back into the game. The Timberwolves need Jimmy Butler just to make the playoffs. By the earliest time Butler can play, Minnesota could be 39-35 and no longer in control of its postseason destiny. While Minnesota has the Knicks to recover from the grueling stretch of their schedule and end a potential eight-game losing streak, the Wolves play in Philadelphia the very next day.
Luckily, the Jazz enter the tough stretch of their remaining schedule during Butler’s potential return. After playing in San Antonio, the Jazz travel to Golden State and then play host to Boston and Memphis before an April 1 game in Minnesota that will be bigger than anyone could have imagined when the two teams met in Minnesota’s home opener of the renovated Target Center on Oct. 20. If the Jazz win the games they should and lose to Indiana, New Orleans, San Antonio, Golden State and Boston, they’ll enter that game in Minnesota 41-35.
If Butler can’t return in four weeks, the Wolves can take some comfort in their schedule while they wait. Memphis, Atlanta and Dallas fill the schedule prior to the April 1 meeting with the Jazz, giving Minnesota a chance to gain some ground on Utah. Wins in all three of those games would put Minnesota at 42-35 -- a half game up on Utah.
Regardless of where the Wolves sit in the standings come April 1, winning that game would give them the tiebreaker over the Jazz. A loss wouldn’t eliminate Minnesota, though. Utah has to deal with the running Lakers twice, the Clippers, the Warriors and the Trail Blazers to finish the regular season. The Wolves also visit the Lakers, but get Memphis at home and Denver twice to close the regular season.
If it takes Butler the six weeks to be physically cleared to play, the Wolves will have him for two games at home against Memphis and Denver. Whether he returns at all will depend on where the Wolves are in the standings at the time, but odds are they’ll be fighting for their playoff lives rather than resting their legs for the playoffs. Without Butler, the Wolves are the worst defensive team in the NBA, according to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. With him, they have the 11th best defensive rating in the league. They have five days off to prepare for the visiting Celtics on Thursday in a nationally televised game.