Jul 9, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,751 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎓 A terrible day for college sports

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Ivy League announced Wednesday that it will cancel all fall sports due to COVID-19 and will not consider resuming sports until at least Jan. 1, 2021.

Why it matters: The eight-member conference was the first to cancel spring sports, calling off its basketball tournaments on March 10. Now, it's the first D-I conference to cancel football.

The big picture: While Power 5 conferences could ultimately follow the Ivy League's lead, multiple sources tell Axios that no decisions will be made until late July.

  • It's also worth noting that Power 5 schools and Ivy League schools are dealing with different numbers. The former generates significant football revenue through TV contracts and ticket sales, while the Ivy League does not.
  • The Ivy League generated roughly $30 million in football revenue in 2019, while the Big Ten generated $1 billion, per The Athletic's Scott Dochterman.

Elsewhere:

  • Stanford is permanently cutting 11 of its 36 varsity sports to help offset a projected $70 million, pandemic-fueled deficit. The 11 sports: men's and women's fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men's rowing, co-ed and women's sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men's volleyball and wrestling.
  • Ohio State paused all voluntary workouts on campus due to positive tests. The school didn't release numbers.
  • North Carolina paused all voluntary football workouts for at least a week after reporting 37 positive tests among athletes, coaches and staff.

The bottom line: Wednesday was the worst day in college sports since March 12, when COVID-19 shut everything down.

  • If the Ivy League sets the trend once again, we could be headed for a football-less fall, which would have terrible financial repercussions.
  • And if Stanford — the gold standard of Olympic sports for decades — is eliminating 11 programs, what might happen at other schools?
Bonus: 😷 U.S. coronavirus map
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

33 states saw cases increase this week, continuing a scary nationwide trend that's been getting worse since mid-June.

Go deeper.

2. ⚾️ Projections for MLB's 60-game season
Reproduced from FanGraphs; Table: Axios Visuals

With the MLB schedule officially released, FanGraphs has unveiled its projected standings for the pandemic-shortened season, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The state of play: The 60-game season will see each team play 40 divisional games and 20 interleague games.

  • Divisional: Teams plays their four divisional opponents 10 times each.
  • Interleague: Each division plays its interleague counterpart (i.e. NL East vs. AL East), with an emphasis on geographic rivals (i.e. Mets play Yankees more, Cubs play White Sox more, Dodgers play Angels more, etc).

By the numbers: Exactly half of the league's 30 teams are projected to win between 29 and 33 games.

  • First place teams are projected to win 34.3 games on average, while last place teams are projected to win 24.3 games.
  • The closest divisions are the NL East (top four teams within 3.4 games of each other) and NL Central (top four teams within 1.1 games).
  • The most imbalanced divisions are the AL West (Astros projected to finish 3.5 games ahead of the A's) and NL West (Dodgers projected to finish 5.4 games ahead of the Padres).

The big picture: Standard schedules are made in such a way to maximize balance, but this divisional- and geographic-led slate necessarily favors certain teams over others.

  • The poor Orioles not only have to play two-thirds of their games against their own strong division, but the other third comes against an equally strong NL East.
  • In a standard season, the White Sox were projected to play .501 ball, but their schedule-adjusted projection brings them up to .523 — far closer to a legitimate shot at a Wild Card berth.
  • Regarding travel, the Brewers never have to leave their tiny Midwest bubble, while the Rangers have to spend most of their season traveling to Denver, Seattle and California (visualization).
3. 🏈 XFL takeover bids due at end of month

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The XFL — whose 2020 reboot folded due to the pandemic — has reportedly received several takeover offers and is accepting bids through July 30, Jeff writes.

  • Interested suitors came from both the media/entertainment and pro sports worlds, and offers were for the entire league (as opposed to select assets), sources tell Axios' Dan Primack.

The backdrop: The XFL originally launched in 2001, but lasted just one season. The 2020 reboot showed some promise before the pandemic shut it down.

  • Two months after kicking off, the league suspended operations and filed for bankruptcy, making it the second spring football league to fold in as many years (Alliance of American Football).

By the numbers: Gameplay and ratings were a mixed bag.

  • Gameplay: Teams averaged just 20.5 points per game, which would have been in the bottom third for the NFL — and the XFL was designed for scoring.
  • Ratings: Week 1 averaged an impressive 3.3 million viewers, but those numbers declined over time, and Week 5 averaged just 1.2 million.

The big picture: The abrupt conclusion makes it difficult to judge the success of the 2020 XFL season, which has left industry experts split on the future of spring football.

  • "We still don't know that spring football works in this country," former NFL player turned investor Andrew Kline told ESPN. "Football season is so intense ... You wonder if part of the cycle is that people need to come down from it."
  • "I don't think the demise of [the XFL and AAF] is a mandate that there is no need for spring football. I just think those business models were not realistic," said Brian Woods, CEO of The Spring League, a smaller developmental league that has sustained itself for four years.
4. ⚡️ Catch up quick
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
  • ⚽️ MLS: Orlando City beat Inter Miami, 2-1, in the MLS is Back Tournament opener. There were no fans, lots of ads, a Black Lives Matter pregame ceremony, a scary injury and a stoppage-time game-winner. Full recap.
  • 🏈 NFL: Amazon is removing all Redskins merchandise from its online store while the team reviews its nickname, making it the latest company to do so.
A man pays tribute at the scene where Alex Pullin died. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
  • ❤️ RIP, Alex: Two-time world snowboard champion Alex Pullin died Wednesday while spearfishing on Australia's Gold Coast.
  • ⚾️ MLB: The city of Chicago has approved Wrigley Field rooftop stands for 25% capacity setups, and tickets at one venue have gone on sale for $350.
Courtesy: Racing Louisville FC
  • ⚽️ NWSL: Louisville has been NWSL's next expansion destination since last year, but on Wednesday the team unveiled its identity: Racing Louisville FC. I absolutely love the branding. Here's how it came together.
  • 👟 Track and field: 28 athletes, including Olympic sprint champion Allyson Felix, will compete in eight disciplines at seven different tracks in the U.S. and Europe during today's Inspiration Games — the latest and most elaborate attempt to stage a virtual track and field meet during the pandemic.
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters
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Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

18. Washington Wizards

Good luck rebounding against this team. Elvin Hayes (No. 6; 16,279), Walt Bellamy (No. 12; 14,241) and Wes Unseld (No. 13; 13,769) rank in the top 13 all-time, and you've still got Chris Webber (No. 78; 8,124) on the bench.

  • Year established: 1961 (as the Chicago Packers)
  • All-time record: 2,152-2,609 (.452)
  • NBA Championships: 1
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 5

Starters:

  • John Wall, G (19.0 pts, 4.3 reb, 9.2 ast, 19.4 PER/44.3 WS)
  • Earl Monroe*, G (23.7 pts, 3.7 reb, 4.6 ast, 18.0 PER/33.5 WS)
  • Gus Johnson*, F (17.5 pts, 12.9 reb, 2.7 ast, 17.0 PER/36.0 WS)
  • Elvin Hayes*, F (21.3 pts, 12.7 reb, 2.4 blk, 17.9 PER/80.0 WS)
  • Wes Unseld*, C (10.8 pts, 14.0 reb, 3.9 ast, 16.0 PER/110.1 WS)

Sixth man: Walt Bellamy*, C (27.6 pts, 16.6 reb, 2.4 ast, 23.9 PER/57.0 WS)

Bench:

  • Bradley Beal, G (21.0 pts, 4.0 reb, 4.0 ast, 17.8 PER/41.5 WS)
  • Gilbert Arenas, G (25.0 pts, 4.2 reb, 5.7 ast, 21.0 PER/41.5 WS)
  • Antawn Jamison, F (20.8 pts, 8.9 reb, 1.8 ast, 18.7 PER/41.4 WS)
  • Phil Chenier, G (17.9 pts, 3.7 reb, 3.1 ast, 15.5 PER/39.3 WS)
  • Chris Webber, F (20.9 pts, 9.7 reb, 4.4 ast, 21.2 PER/23.5 WS)
  • Caron Butler, F (19.0 pts, 6.6 reb, 3.5 ast, 17.8 PER/25.4 WS)

Notes:

  • Bellamy holds one truly wild record, playing 88 games during the 1968-69 regular season, thanks to a midseason trade from the Knicks to the Pistons.
  • Arenas was once one of the most cold-blooded scorers in the league. From 2005 to 2007, his 27.7 ppg ranked fourth behind only Kobe Bryant (31.8), Allen Iverson (30.1) and LeBron James (28.6).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. 🏈 Zach Banner: "Let's all uplift each other"

Zach Banner. Photo: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Steelers OL Zach Banner shared an emotional video Wednesday, reacting to anti-Semitic messages Eagles WR DeSean Jackson posted on Instagram.

  • "There's a common misbelief among black and brown people ... that Jewish people are just like any other white race. You mix them up with the rest of the majority, and you don't understand that they're a minority as well."
  • "We need to understand Jewish people deal with the same amount of hate and similar hardships ... I want to preach to the black and brown community that we need to uplift them and put our arms around them."
  • "When we talk about Black Lives Matter and elevating ourselves, we can't do that while stepping on the back of other people. ... Change your heart, put your arm around people, and let's all uplift each other."

The backdrop: Jackson has apologized for his post that referenced a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler, and former NBA player Stephen Jackson apologized on CNN Wednesday night for defending Jackson, saying he used the "wrong words."

7. July 9, 2006: ⚽️ The headbutt
Photo: John MacDougal/AFP via Getty Images

14 years ago today, France's Zinedine Zidane was ejected in extra time of the World Cup Final for headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi.

  • Italy and France were tied, 1-1, thanks to a brilliant PK from Zidane and an equalizing header from Materazzi.
  • In the 110th minute, a match-long battle between the two finally came to a head when Materazzi insulted Zidane's sister.

Why it matters: The lasting image of one of soccer's all-time greats isn't a goal, an assist or the hoisting of a trophy, but rather a moment of fiery, impulsive passion. Come to think of it — perhaps that's fitting for Zizou.

"If you look at the 14 red cards I had in my career, 12 of them were a result of provocation. This isn't justification, this isn't an excuse, but my passion, temper and blood made me react."
— Zidane

The aftermath: With Zidane sidelined, the game was decided by penalties, which Italy won, 5-3.

🎥 Go deeper: Highlights from the Final (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🚲 Biking on a volcano
Source: GoPro (YouTube)

GoPro athlete Kilian Bron rode along the smoky (and smelly) ridges of a sulfuric volcano in Sicily, Italy.

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia
Giphy
  • Question: Which pitcher has the highest career strikeouts per nine innings in MLB history? (minimum 1,000 IP.)
  • Hint: Active. Not American.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Comiskey Park drawing. Photo: Mark McMahon/Corbis via Getty Images

Chuck H. (originally from Chicago) writes:

"I blogged about the Chicago White Sox from 2005 to 2011. That first year was a propitious time to start, as the Sox became World Series champs for the first time in my — and even my Dad's — lifetime.
"But the seasons I remember most fondly were 2009 and 2010. 
"My Mom died before the 2009 season began, and I'd call my Dad every night to say Kaddish (a Jewish prayer recited by mourners) together. After the prayer, talk would invariably turn to the Sox, and I'd read him my blog entry for the day. 
"We both thoroughly enjoyed going over the day's Sox developments together, so much so that we kept up the nightly calls well after the 11-month period that Jewish ritual prescribed.
"In December 2010, when it became apparent that my father had only a few days left to live, I flew to Chicago for our final visit.
"As soon as I walked through the door of his room in the nursing home, he asked me how the Sox looked for the 2011 season. I gave him my views on the entire roster and we traded thoughts about the team.
"Having that common love of the White Sox made what might have been a tough conversation easier — and made our time together even more special."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Agent Zero" Baker

Trivia answer: Yu Darvish (11.12 K/9)