Good morning! Great day to be alive.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Former Adidas executive James Gatto (nine months), former Adidas consultant Merl Code (six months) and aspiring manager Christian Dawkins (six months) were all sentenced to prison yesterday for their roles in pay-for-play schemes designed to steer top recruits to Adidas-sponsored schools.
Background: The three men were convicted in October following a three week trial that included former Adidas consultant and AAU coach T.J. Gassnola testifying that he provided five-figure payments to highly-touted recruits.
What they're saying:
What's next: All three men will reportedly appeal their convictions, while Code and Dawkins are scheduled for another trial next month over alleged payments to assistant coaches at Arizona, USC, and Oklahoma State. The saga continues.
Defender Matthijs de Ligt and his teammates celebrate Ajax's momentous victory. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Ajax, the Dutch club known for churning out talent for richer clubs to enjoy, stunned one of those richer clubs yesterday, beating Real Madrid 4-1 to win 5-3 on aggregate and advance to the Champions League quarterfinals.
Why it matters: Real Madrid had won the past three Champions League titles, and despite having a down season, they were still the heavy favorites.
More Champions League:
The Islanders (38-21-7) are on pace to finish with a better record than the Rangers (27-28-11) and the Devils (25-33-9) for the first time since 2001 — and just the second time since 1987.
Why it matters: Aside from the occasional playoff berth, the past decade of Islanders hockey has been defined by chaos (multiple venue changes) and disappointment (losing John Tavares). When you're the top dog in New York for much of the season, that narrative starts to change.
The big picture: Despite their success, the Islanders are still struggling to put people in seats (NHL's worst attendance). Perhaps a more consistent product, coupled with a deep playoff run, will change that.
Go deeper: Meet Barry Trotz, the mastermind behind the Islanders' unlikely season.
A race at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Photo: Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images
Santa Anita Park, the storied Los Angeles-area racetrack where "Seabiscuit" was filmed, indefinitely suspended all future races yesterday following the 21st horse fatality in the last 69 days, the L.A. Times reports.
What's happening: Nobody knows. The initial thought was that there was something wrong with the surface, but no irregularities were found during testing last week.
What they're saying: "Something is drastically wrong. I’ve been around a long time and have never seen this," said famed horse trainer Art Sherman.
"We first noticed it in mid-January, but we've had situations in the past where there were extraordinary flurries and then nothing for a long time. You don't know if it's an anomaly. But here it went from bad to worse."— Rick Baedeker, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board
The bottom line: It took 21 horses dying in the span of 69 days to get this place shutdown. If only 15 had died, it would have apparently just been an "anomaly." Forget the racetrack; something is drastically wrong with this sport.
55 years ago today, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali shortly after announcing he was converting to Islam.
"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it."— Muhammad Ali, 1964
Background: Before changing his name, Ali had already won his first world heavyweight title against Sonny Liston and was one of the biggest names in the sport. After he changed his name? That's when the legend was truly born.
Answer at the bottom.
Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS via Getty Images
At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this past weekend, two curling analytics gurus named Gerry Geurts and Kevin Palmer presented a research paper called "The Evolution of Curling Analytics."
Why it matters: Geurts and Palmer consult for several national teams, including the U.S. men's team and the Swedish women's team, both of whom won gold at last year's Winter Olympics.
What they're saying:
"All analytics really is is analyzing what wins. You start with win probability and work backwards. [Curling] isn't as complex as basketball, but there's real work to do, and these guys know what they're talking about."— Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey (via the Washington Post)
Kendall "Thousandaire" Baker
Trivia answer: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz