Feb 18, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! The Champions League Round of 16 begins today, with four games across Europe set for 3pm ET kickoffs today and tomorrow (TNT, B/R Live).

  • 🇩🇪 Germany: Borussia Dortmund hosts PSG (France)
  • 🇪🇸 Spain: Atlético Madrid hosts Liverpool (England)
  • 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Tottenham hosts RB Leipzig (Germany)
  • 🇮🇹 Italy: Atalanta hosts Valencia (Spain)

Today's word count: 1,416 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ Rob Manfred, the villain

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to grant Astros players immunity in exchange for confessions about their sign-stealing scheme has undermined his reputation — and he only made himself look worse on Sunday.

The interview: In a 45-minute conversation with ESPN, Manfred asserted that public shame was punishment enough for the Astros. He also called the World Series trophy "just a piece of metal" and said that taking a title away from Houston "seems like a futile act."

The reaction: Fans and the media were critical of the first comment, confused as to why it was up to them, not him, to impose some kind of lasting toll on the Astros. And Justin Turner laid into him for the "just a piece of metal" line:

"I don't know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life. Maybe he hasn't. But the reason every guy's in this room, the reason every guy is working out all offseason ... is specifically for that trophy, which, by the way, is called the Commissioner's Trophy.
"So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says 'commissioner' on it."
Dodgers infielder Justin Turner

More player backlash:

  • Mike Trout: "They cheated ... I don't agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything ... Guys careers have been affected ... I lost respect for some of those guys."
  • Kris Bryant: "I know everybody around the league is really upset [because] it's a disgrace to the game. ... I personally think it's worse than steroids. I really do."
  • Kenley Jansen: "Everybody in the world is laughing [at how MLB has handled this]. ... What are you gonna teach kids out there? You're not gonna teach anything."

The big picture: As I pointed out on Friday, MLB's problems extend far beyond Houston, with things like juiced balls and minor league cuts making Manfred the target of even more scorn. But his "just a piece of metal" comment, in particular, has taken the outrage in a new direction.

  • That lack of respect for winning, combined with the fact that he presides over an economic environment that encourages an alarming number of teams to trade their best players in the name of tax savings or even intentionally get worse, casts Manfred as more than just a spineless leader.
  • Now, he's a villain — just like the Astros.
2. 🏁 Photos: 62nd annual Daytona 500
Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ryan Newman is in "serious condition" but expected to survive after a major wreck less than 100 yards from the finish line at the Daytona 500 that sent him careening into the wall and lifted his car into the air after a direct collision with a trailing driver.

Photo: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Denny Hamlin won his second straight Daytona 500 (and third in five years) by less than a foot, but his celebration was subdued in light of the Newman crash.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump arrived via Air Force One and served as the grand marshal, leading the drivers in a lap around the 2.5-mile racetrack and giving them the command to start their engines in front of a sold-out crowd of 101,500 people.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The race was postponed after two lengthy rain delays halted Sunday's action and choked some of the excitement from an event that had been a raucous celebration all weekend, with RVs and sponsored pop-ups (Wendy's, Barstool Sports, Anheuser-Busch) littering the infield.

👀 Coming tomorrow: I was there. It was wild. Will share my experience tomorrow.

Bonus photo: 📸 "The Man In the Arena"
Screenshot: @kingjames (Instagram)

Caption: "The Man In The 🏟" Are You Not Entertained?! 👑 #ThekidfromAKRON

P.S. ... The new NBA All-Star Game format was wonderful.

3. 🏥 Coronavirus hits Tokyo Marathon
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Tokyo Marathon is barring nearly 40,000 participants from its annual race because of new cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed within Japan. The race will be restricted to elite runners only (~200 people).

The big picture: As China pushes to contain the spread of coronavirus — placing around 780 million people under travel restrictions, per CNN — the repercussions continue to be felt globally.

  • U.S. cases: There are 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., in California (8), Illinois (2), Texas (1), Wisconsin (1), Arizona (1), Massachusetts (1) and Washington state (1), the CDC said Monday.
  • Apple: The company issued a rare earnings warning on Monday, saying it would not meet quarterly revenue expectations due to limited iPhone production and product demand in China.

What to watch: There are some signs that new cases are growing at a slower rate now, although the World Health Organization said Monday it's "too early to tell" if this will continue.

🎧 Listen: The next pandemic (Axios Pro Rata podcast)

4. 🏀 Men's poll: Bring on Baylor vs. Kansas
Expand chart
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

No. 1 Baylor and No. 3 Kansas just keep winning, setting up an epic showdown on Saturday that could decide not only the Big 12 title but the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

  • Rising: Creighton jumped eight spots from No. 23 to No. 15 following an impressive win over then-No. 10 Seton Hall, while Penn State moved up four spots to No. 9, matching the program's highest ever ranking.
  • Falling: Louisville fell six spots from No. 5 to No. 11 following back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson, while Seton Hall also fell six spots after suffering losses to then-No. 23 Creighton and Providence.

Meanwhile, in the land of the unranked ... North Carolina (10-16, 3-12) blew a 15-point lead to Notre Dame last night and has now lost six straight games, the longest losing streak of the Roy Williams era.

📚 Read: Filip Petrusev is right where he belongs at Gonzaga (The Athletic)

5. 🏀 Women's poll: UConn's top five streak ends
Expand chart
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

UConn fell to No. 6 in the latest women's AP poll, ending a streak of 253 consecutive weeks as a top-five team — a historic run that dwarfs the No. 2 all-time mark of 96 set by Louisiana Tech in the 1980s.

  • The last time the Huskies weren't in the top five was on Feb. 5, 2007, which is the same month Barack Obama declared his candidacy for president.
  • The longest current streak is now held by South Carolina at just 11 weeks — a massive drop off that illustrates just how dominant the Huskies have been.

🎥 Highlight: Preseason No. 1 Stanford moved back into the top five thanks to Kiana Williams' buzzer-beater against Colorado on Sunday.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
  • ⛳️ 11 under par: Australia's Adam Scott (-11) survived a disastrous Sunday to claim victory at the Genesis Invitational, while Tiger Woods (+11) — plagued by back stiffness — finished dead last among the 68 players who made the cut.
  • 🎾 8 years: After eight years away from tennis, four-time Grand Slam singles champion Kim Clijsters — now a mother of three — began her comeback yesterday with a promising loss.
  • 🏈 One top-5 team: After having three of the top five teams in the 2019 preseason Football Power Index rankings, the SEC enters 2020 with only one: Alabama. ... The top five: 1. Clemson, 2. Ohio State, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Alabama, 5. Penn State.
7. Feb. 18, 1986: 🏀 The rare quadruple double
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

34 years ago today, Spurs guard Alvin Robertson recorded the NBA's second-ever quadruple double with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals in a win over the Suns.

The others: Only three other NBA players have ever recorded a quadruple double, though Robertson is the only one to do it with steals rather than blocks.

  • 1974: Nate Thurmond, Bulls (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, 12 blocks)
  • 1990: Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets (18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 11 blocks)
  • 1994: David Robinson, Spurs (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 blocks)

Worth noting: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain recorded multiple quadruple doubles (and maybe even a quintuple double) in their day, but since blocks and steals weren't official NBA statistics until 1972, they are considered unofficial.

8. The Ocho: 🏔 Mountain climbing in Norway
Courtesy: Reuters

Kílian Jornet, arguably the finest endurance runner and probably the greatest adventure skier in the world, trains in Norway.

  • The 32-year-old Spaniard has run "up and down Everest, twice, within five days," Reuters' Mitch Phillips writes.
  • "Fastest known times" up and down Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Kilimanjaro and more were knocked off as part of his "Summits of My Life" project.
  • And he dominates ski mountaineering.

🎬 Watch: "Summits of My Life" (Movie trailer)

9. 🏒 NHL trivia

Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning won their 11th straight game last night, which is both a franchise record and the team's second double-digit winning streak of the season.

  • Question: The Lightning debuted alongside the Ottawa Senators in 1992. What two expansion teams arrived the following year?
  • Hint: Opposite coasts.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🗣 Vote: College-to-pros transition

Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

A "miserable" John Beilein and the Cavaliers are considering parting ways after just 54 games — a reminder of how challenging the jump from college to the pros can be for head coaches.

Question: Is the college-to-pros transition more difficult for basketball coaches or football coaches? Click to vote.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Aaron Gordon got robbed" Baker

Trivia answer: Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks ("Mighty Ducks of Anaheim")