Mar 16, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! There are no brackets to fill out this morning, and that is incredibly depressing. But don't worry β€” I have a plan to (sort of) save March Madness.

Today's word count: 1,922 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ† Simulating March Madness

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

If the world were still right, Americans all across the country would have crowded around the TV last night to watch "Selection Sunday," and millions would have already submitted brackets.

  • Sadly, we don't get to experience that this year, which leaves a void that can't be filled.
  • But I figured we might as well make the most of this and simulate the March Madness experience that we were all so eagerly anticipating.

How it works: Over the next eight days, we'll be simulating the 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament using ESPN's Joe Lunardi's final projected bracket and a simulation engine.

  • Note: I've already simulated the "First Four" play-in games. NC Central beat Prairie View A&M, Richmond beat Texas, Boston University beat Robert Morris and UCLA beat NC State, leaving us with 64 teams.

Here's the top of the bracket...

And here's the bottom...

Bracket: Axios Visuals

Coming up:

  • Tomorrow: Round of 32 reveal
  • Wednesday: Sweet 16 reveal
  • Thursday: Elite Eight reveal
  • Friday: Final Four reveal
  • Next Monday: Championship reveal
  • Next Tuesday: Champion reveal
2. 🏈 NFL players approve new 10-year CBA

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After months of negotiations, a narrow majority of players voted to approve a new 10-year labor deal that will shape the NFL over the next decade.

  • Final tally: 1,019 voted "yes" (51.5%), 959 voted "no" (48.5%).

Why it matters: The new collective bargaining agreement will allow the NFL to expand its regular season from 16 to 17 games as early as 2021 and expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams starting this season.

  • It also includes an increase in revenue share for the players (up from 47% to 48%), expanded rosters and practice squads, fewer padded practices in training camp (down from 28 to 16) and no suspensions for marijuana.
  • Minimum salaries will increase by 20%, which is important because ~60% of NFL players are on minimum deals.

The backdrop: When the current CBA was signed in 2011, it included a new rookie wage scale that saw the No. 1 pick go from signing for $78 million in 2010 (Sam Bradford) to $22 million one year later (Cam Newton).

  • Those rules fundamentally changed how NFL teams built their rosters and, in the nine years since, impact players on cheap rookie deals have become the ideal roster-building piece.

As we enter the 2020s, the "fundamental change" seems likely to occur on the player health and durability front, as teams adjust to (a) fewer practices and (b) more games.

  • Worth noting: We could see a 17-game season as soon as 2021, but "many think 2022 is the soonest it could happen," per ESPN's Dan Graziano, citing the lack of substantive discussions about how it will actually work (i.e. which team gets the extra home game and whether there will be more bye weeks).

What to watch: While there's still a chance that the start of the 2020 league year will be postponed due to the coronavirus, it remains scheduled to begin at 4pm ET on Wednesday, with the "legal tampering" window set to open at noon today.

Go deeper:

3. πŸ€ An interview with Mark Cuban

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who quickly announced that he'd pay workers "as if the games happened" during the NBA shutdown, spoke with me by email on Saturday.

Based on what you currently know, what do you predict will happen with the rest of the NBA season?

  • "As long as we can keep our players and staffs healthy and see a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, I think it's likely we play some regular season games and then the playoffs."

You were the first NBA owner to announce a payment plan for hourly employees. Are you surprised some of your fellow owners have yet to announce similar plans?

  • "I'm not going to judge what others do. This is a time when we can show some compassion for the circumstances we all are in and help each other out. Just because someone doesn't make an announcement doesn't mean they are not helping in 100 other ways."

How do you think Adam Silver has handled the coronavirus situation?

  • "He handled it exactly right. All CEOs are working with imperfect information, as all of us are.Β In this type of situation you adapt based on the data you receive. That is exactly what happened. I'm proud of how we handled it."

What role do sports organizations play in a situation like this?

  • "Sports has a unique role in our communities.Β It's something people rally around and can bring them so much joy and excitement. That's not something a regular company can do, so we will have to be an agile organization, ready to take on the important role of moving the community forward.Β 

What should teams and athletes be doing during this sports outage to stay connected with fans and provide a sense of normalcy?

  • "You are going to see a social media explosion β€” Twitch streams, TikTok dances β€” as players deal with their own boredom and further connect with fans. As for the Mavericks, once things to start to normalize, we're discussing having clinics to get kids out and exercising."

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin thinks the NBA season should start in December and end in August β€” and we might get a preview of the "end in August" part this summer. Would you support Koonin's proposal?

  • "I've been asking for this for 10 years. Our broadcast partners have resisted because HUT (Households Using Television) is lower in the summer. But the TV landscape has changed, and Steve knows that industry well. I think his timing on this idea is great."

For bored sports fans in need of recommendations: What are your favorite sports movies?

  • "'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,' 'Love & Basketball,' 'Space Jam' and every '30 for 30.'"

Just in ... Sources: NBA teams bracing for mid-June return (ESPN)

4. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Driving the news: As new CDC guidelines recommend cancelling gatherings of 50 or more people, states are imposing drastic measures β€” like ordering bars and restaurants to close and imposing curfews β€” in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

πŸ“Έ Photos...

Photo: Ron Vesely/Getty Images

GLENDALE, Ariz. β€” Where do players go during a sports outage? The NBA, NHL and MLS are requiring players to stay in their home markets, while MLB is allowing players to leave spring training and go home to their families.

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

DULUTH, Ga. β€” On a weekend without sports, Professional Bull Riders reigned supreme over the American sports landscape, as riders competed in an empty arena 30 miles north of Atlanta.

5. 🌏 The latest worldwide

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 outside of China has exceeded those from within the country for the first time, Johns Hopkins data shows.

πŸ“Έ Photos...

Photo: Lucas Uebel/Getty Images

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil β€” Players from Brazilian club Gremio took to the field wearing masks yesterday in protest of their match being held. "This protest by our players makes implicit our support for the championship to be halted β€” life must take precedence," said Paulo Luz, Gremio's director of football.

Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

SYDNEY, Australia β€” Former Providence star Bryce Cotton (31 points) and the Perth Wildcats crushed Andrew Bogut and the Sydney Kings, 111-96, on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the NBL Grand Final, which was played in an empty arena.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
  • πŸ€ 770-271 record: Rick Pitino, who has been out of college basketball since Louisville fired him in 2017, is taking over at Iona. The Hall of Famer has a 770-271 record in college and is the only coach to take three schools to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville).
  • 🏈 $118 million: The Titans have signed Ryan Tannehill to a four-year extension worth $118 million, making him the NFL's seventh-highest paid QB in terms of average annual salary, trailing only Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan.
  • ⚽️ 60+ days: "A professional soccer team from Wuhan, China, went to Spain for preseason training and got stuck. For weeks. Now, as the virus spreads in Europe, they may be safer back home." From NYT: The stranded stars of Wuhan F.C.
  • πŸ’΅ $400 million: 15 years ago, the NCAA built up a $400 million safety net in case March Madness ever got canceled. Unfortunately, that money is now gone, per USA Today: Half was spent to help schools with increasing costs and the other half was used in a legal settlement.
7. March 16, 2000: πŸ“Ί March Madness is born
Photo: NCAA Photos via Getty Images/Rich Clarkson

20 years ago today, WRAL, a CBS affiliate in the Raleigh/Durham market, made TV history by offering viewers the first chance to watch every NCAA basketball tournament game.

  • Two decades later, the first two days of the NCAA tournament are basically a national holiday, as Americans watch more basketball in the span of 48 hours than they did all season. Except this year, of course (I'm dying inside, too).

What they saw that year: The 2000 tournament was a doozy. Due to a string of upsets, only one top-four seed advanced to the Final Four, which looked like this: No. 5 Florida vs. No. 8 North Carolina (see above) and No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Wisconsin.

  • Title game: Mateen Cleaves and Michigan State beat Mike Miller and Florida, 89-76, to win the Spartans' first championship since 1979. Cleaves was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, while teammate Morris Peterson was its leading scorer.
Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

πŸŽ₯ Watch: Florida vs. Michigan State (full game)

8. The Ocho: ❄️ The Iditarod mushes on
Photo: Lance King/Getty Images

The Iditarod dog sled race began two weekends ago, and while celebratory events were cancelled following Alaska's first confirmed case of the coronavirus, the race is mushing on with many teams already past the halfway point.

  • Where things stand: Thomas Waerner of Norway sits in first place, while Brent Sass of Alaska is behind him in second.
  • What to watch: Jessie Royer of Alaska is currently in third place and vying to become the first female "musher" (aka dog sled driver) in 30 years to win the Iditarod.

Go deeper: At the Iditarod, 'they do a very good job of social distancing' (WashPost)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Calais Campbell, who the Jaguars traded to the Ravens yesterday, is one of four players with 80+ sacks and 30+ batted passed over the past 10 seasons.

  • Question: Can you name the other three?
  • Hint: One plays in Texas, one plays in Ohio and one plays in The Big Easy.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ“š What to read: "The Hot Hand"

For decades, statisticians, psychologists and economists have wondered whether streaks actually exist. In "The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks," Wall Street Journal sports reporter Ben Cohen explores that question.

  • The backdrop: In 1985, research seemed to indicate that the "hot hand" didn't actually exist, but new research β€” aided more advances in data collection β€” suggests that it's very much real.
  • What's inside: The book includes chapters on Steph Curry and the iconic "NBA Jam" arcade game but extends far beyond sports and illustrates just how present the hot hand phenomenon is in our lives.
  • My personal favorite: Cohen tells the story of David Booth, a business school dropout who turned himself into a billionaire by learning how to recognize β€” and then bet against β€” streaks.

What he's saying: I spoke with Cohen about "The Hot Hand," which was released six days ago. Here's his answer to "what inspired you to write the book?"

"I wrote a few stories about the 'hot hand' for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago and I just couldn't get it out of my head. After I write a story, I'm usually sick of it immediately and ready to move on, but with this, the opposite happened.
"When I realized I was only scratching the surface on all the areas where the hot hand can be applied, I knew there was potential for a book. It was a very convenient excuse to use basketball to explore parts of the universe that I don't get to write about as a sports journalist."

Buy the book.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Mateen Cleaves is all of us" Baker

Trivia answer: J.J. Watt (Texans), Carlos Dunlap (Bengals), Cameron Jordan (Saints)