Dec 20, 2019

Axios Sports

🎁 Happy Friday! This is the last edition of Axios Sports until Jan. 2 (where I'll review the decade). Enjoy the holidays and be safe. Have you ever realized we're kind of like pen pals?

  • πŸ‘€ Check the bottom: I put your selfies in a Twitter thread. Couldn't fit them all, but I got a good amount in there.
  • πŸ“± Refer a friend: We're making changes to our reader community for 2020, and all I'll say is this: You're going to want at least 1 referral.
  • How to refer: Use your custom link at the bottom of this email. It's right below the trivia answer.

Today's word count: 1,731 (6 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ€ College hoops is losing relevance

James Wiseman. Photo: Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Former No. 1 recruit and potential No. 1 draft pick James Wiseman announced on Instagram yesterday that he will leave Memphis, hire an agent and prepare for the 2020 NBA draft.

  • Background: Wiseman missed the past seven games due to a 12-game suspension, which came as a result of his coach Penny Hardaway paying Wiseman's mother $11,500 in 2017 before accepting the Memphis job. Per the NCAA, Hardaway was considered a booster at the time, making his payment an "improper benefit."

Why it matters: When the NCAA tournament begins in March, three of the top five American draft prospects will be nowhere to be found, and it's not because their teams won't make the field β€” it's because they won't be in college.

  • LaMelo Ball (No. 1 pick in ESPN+'s latest mock draft) is playing professionally in Australia.
  • R.J. Hampton (No. 5) is playing professionally in New Zealand.
  • Wiseman (No. 3) officially withdrew from Memphis this week.

The big picture: This isn't about the NCAA enforcing its rules and suspending Wiseman (Hardaway should have known better). Rather, it's about the nation's top recruit deciding that five months of training is more valuable to him than playing college basketball, notes USA Today's Dan Wolken.

  • Wiseman still could have played the final 16 games for the 9-1 Tigers, who are currently ranked 11th in the country. He could have won a conference title, been named an All-American and maybe even played in the Final Four.
  • You know he dreamed about that as a kid, too β€” cutting down the nets for his hometown university. And yet, he gave it all up in an instant. What does that say about college basketball's relevance in our culture? And what does it say about Wiseman's generation?

The bottom line: With the NBA's one-and-done rule expected to be abolished by 2022 and the G League beginning to resemble a true developmental league, college basketball could be in deep trouble once it's no longer a mandated pit stop.

  • Even non-superstars could decide to skip college, especially if the G League continues to mature financially (players are reportedly unionizing, which could increase salaries) while the NCAA fights against athlete pay.
  • And let's not forget the overseas route, where players can build an international fanbase in an increasingly global sport and prove to scouts that they can compete alongside current pros, all while getting paid.

Looking ahead: With built-in student and alumni bases, college basketball has the G League beat when it comes to exposure, but even that benefit may be eroding.

  • In an era where an athlete's brand is often built on social media rather than the court, Wiseman (167,000 Instagram followers) was going to be a marketable star on Day 1 in the NBA with or without college basketball and the platform it provides.
2. 🏈 Weekend preview: FCS, Division II, Division III

Carson Wentz in college. Photo: David K Purdy/Getty Images

Bowl season starts tonight, which should be fun. But instead of previewing those games like every other sports publication in the world, I'm throwing you a curveball and previewing the FCS, D-II and D-III action instead. Sorry/you're welcome.


Tomorrow, 2pm ET (ESPN2): No. 1 North Dakota State vs. No. 5 Montana State in the FCS semifinals.

  • How they got here: North Dakota State will play in its ninth straight FCS semifinal after squeaking past Illinois State, 9-3; Montana State is in the semis for the first time since 1984 after beating Austin Peay, 24-10.
  • Notable alumni: Carson Wentz (North Dakota State); NFL Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud (Montana State).

Tomorrow, 6:30pm ET (ESPNU): No. 2 James Madison vs. No. 3 Weber State in the FCS semifinals.

  • How they got here: James Madison shut out the University of Northern Iowa, 17-0; Weber State blocked a punt for a TD in the fourth quarter to beat Montana, 17-10.
  • Notable alumni: Five-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame LB/DE Charles Haley (James Madison); infamous Bills kicker Scott Norwood (James Madison); longtime NFL LB Arthur Moats (James Madison); former NFL journeyman QB Jamie Martin (Weber State).

Tomorrow, 3pm ET (ESPNU): West Florida vs. Minnesota State in the D-II national championship.

  • West Florida: The Argos, who lost in the 2017 national championship, took down three undefeated teams in three weeks to get here, knocking out last year's national champs (Valdosta State), last year's runner-up (Ferris State) and snapping Lenoir-Rhyne's 15-game home winning streak.
  • Minnesota State: The Mavericks have the best scoring offense in D-II (48 points per game; scored 60+ points four times) and the second-best scoring defense (12.9 points allowed per game). Juggernaut.

Tonight, 8pm ET (ESPNU): Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. North Central (Ill.) in the D-III national championship.

  • Background: The last two D-III national championships β€” also known as the Stagg Bowl β€” saw Mary Hardin-Baylor and Mount Union square off. This year, we get powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater (which knocked off Mary Hardin-Baylor) and red-hot North Central (which knocked off Mount Union).
  • Fun fact: Wisconsin-Whitewater has made 10 appearances in the Stagg Bowl and won six championships, both of which rank second all-time behind Mount Union (21 and 13). Meanwhile, North Central is playing in its first-ever national championship.
3. πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ Senators urge NBC not to air Beijing Games

Photo: Fred Durfour/AFP via Getty Images

Sens. Rick Scott and Josh Hawley have called on NBCUniversal, which has broadcast rights for the Olympics, to refuse to air the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, according to a letter obtained exclusively by Axios.

Why it matters: Consider this the opening shot in the struggle between human rights advocates, who believe that a country currently operating concentration camps should not host the Olympics, and the Chinese Communist Party, which will defend its successful bid to host the 2022 games at all costs, writes Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

What they're saying: In a letter dated Dec. 19 and addressed to top NBC executives, Scott and Hawley point to China's "abysmal" human rights record.

  • By agreeing to air the Beijing Olympics, the senators write, NBC is "placing profits over principles and ensuring that China can be accepted into the international system even as it violates its basic rules and tenets."
  • The lawmakers also warn about China's mass surveillance regime, pointing to recent leaked government documents that reveal how the Chinese security state is using mass data collection for predictive policing and mass detention.


  • The Chinese Communist Party has built a vast network of detention camps, where it holds over a million Uighur Muslims in a sweeping attempt to stamp out their culture and religion.
  • Recent leaks of classified Chinese government documents revealing the inner workings of its mass detention camps have galvanized government officials in the U.S. and Europe to ramp up pressure on Beijing.

The bottom line: The run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw global protests against China's human rights abuses. Expect the 2022 Olympics to generate just as much controversy β€” though this time, China has far more economic and diplomatic leverage to push back.

4. 🏈 OK fine, I'll preview the bowls

Here are the 10 most intriguing bowls, in my humble opinion:

  1. Fiesta (Ohio St.-Clemson)
  2. Peach (Oklahoma-LSU)
  3. Rose (Oregon-Wisconsin)
  4. Citrus (Michigan-Alabama)
  5. Sugar (Georgia-Baylor)
  6. Cotton (Memphis-Penn St.)
  7. Outback (Minnesota-Auburn)
  8. Orange (Florida-Virginia)
  9. Alamo (Utah-Texas)
  10. Holiday (USC-Iowa)

And here are some good reads:

  • β›ͺ️ Big-money faith, football, and forgiveness at Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Liberty University: "The president helps him recruit. His coach and AD left their prior jobs amid scandal. He's a cable news staple. But can the bulwark of the religious right build evangelical Notre Dame by marrying theology, politics, and major college football?" (Jordan Ritter Conn, The Ringer)
  • πŸ€” The 12 biggest questions for bowl season: "Will Alabama show up with a point to prove against Michigan? Who will get a bowl bump heading into next season and which game could feature a points explosion? These are the storylines we'll be watching." (Bill Connelly, ESPN)
  • πŸ’΅ Inside the quiet home office of the Football Bowl Association's $200,000-a-year CEO: "[Wright] Waters, 70, made $205,000 last year to run the FBA, whose $800,000 in revenue comes from a combination of annual dues from bowls and a trade show each April. He is the FBA’s lone full-time employee, and he works from his stately, brown brick home on the shore of Lake Tuscaloosa." (Will Hobson, WashPost)
5. πŸ€ Yesterday in basketball
Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE β€” Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points and a career-best five 3-pointers as the Bucks beat Anthony Davis (36 and 10), LeBron James (triple double) and the Lakers, 111-104, in a battle of the NBA's best two teams.

Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Image

NEWARK, N.J. β€” Quincy McKnight scored a season-high 17 points and undermanned Seton Hall used a swarming defense to stun No. 7 Maryland, 52-48. The Pirates blocked more shots (15) than the Terrapins made (14).

Photo: Seffi Magriso/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL β€” Former first-round NBA draft pick Jimmer Fredette and Panathinaikos (Greece) fell to former Florida Gators star Scottie Wilbekin and Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) during yesterday's Euroleague action (highlights).

  • Panathinaikos: Rick Pitino is the head coach, and players include NBA vet Wesley Johnson; 2016 first-round pick Georgios Papagiannias; and former college stars Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Nick Calathes (Florida) and Tyrese Rice (Boston College).
  • Maccabi Tel Aviv: Players include projected 2019 first-round pick Deni Avdija (18-year-old from Israel); NBA vets Quincy Acy, Omri Casspi, Nate Wolters and Tarik Black; and former college stars Tyler Dorsey (Oregon) and Othello Hunter (Ohio State).
6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Screenshot: @darrenrovell (Twitter)

πŸ’ 30th anniversary

The AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds are changing their name to the Springfield Ice-O-Topes for a week in honor of the long-running TV series "The Simpsons," which is celebrating its 30th anniversary and has used the "Isotopes" name in several sports-themed episodes.

πŸ€ 13 rings

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Chris Bosh β€” who combined for 13 NBA championships, three MVPs, six Finals MVPs, 59 All-Star appearances and 40 All-NBA selections β€” headline the 2020 class of potential inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

πŸ•° 5 minutes

After firing executive VP of player development Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, the first thing the Jaguars did was reset the clocks. Known for his strict approach, Coughlin had reportedly set every clock in the building five minutes ahead to prevent tardiness.

7. Dec. 20, 1921: ⚾️ MLB trades nine games for seven
Babe Ruth in 1921. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

98 years ago today, Major League Baseball voted to revert to a best-of-seven World Series after three seasons of using a best-of-nine format. The Fall Classic has remained best-of-seven ever since, and other leagues have followed.

Background: The first World Series in 1903 was best-of-nine, and in 1919, MLB decided to bring it back. But thanks to attendance dips and travel logistics, the experiment lasted just three years.

  • 1919 World Series: The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago White Sox, 5-3, in a series known for the "Black Sox Scandal." Here's some footage.
  • 1920 World Series: Player-manager Tris Speaker and the Cleveland Indians beat the Brooklyn Robins, 5-2.
  • 1921 World Series: Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees lost to the New York Giants, 5-3. Look at the fans lining up for tickets!!!

Go deeper: Who invented the seven-game series? (Grantland)

8. The Ocho: 🏐 Badgers, Cardinal head to the 'ship

Photo: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

No. 4 Wisconsin upset No. 1 Baylor in four sets to advance to tomorrow's D-I women's volleyball national championship, where they'll play No. 3 Stanford, which swept No. 7 Minnesota in the other semifinal.

  • Wisconsin is seeking its first title, having lost its previous two trips to the national championship (2000 and 2013).
  • Stanford is seeking its third title in four years and ninth overall.

Go deeper: Bracket

9. πŸ€ NBA trivia

Last night was Giannis Antetokounmpo's 63rd career game with 30 points and 10 boards, passing LeBron James for the third-most such games by a player age 25 or younger over the last 30 years.

  • Question: Who are the only two players with more?
  • Hint: One is retired (but still involved with the NBA). The other currently plays in the Western Conference.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ“Έ Meet your fellow readers
Screenshot: My Twitter

Click for selfies.

Enjoy the holidays,

Kendall "See you next year" Baker

Trivia answer: Shaquille O'Neal (109) and Anthony Davis (99)

Editor's note: The seventh item has been updated to correct that the New York Giants won the 1921 World Series (not the New York Yankees).