Mar 10, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,564 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 📆 Reimagining the sports calendar

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With TV viewership down, the NBA is weighing all kinds of ideas to rejuvenate its regular season (fewer games, midseason tournament, etc.) — and it's even open to making basketball more of a summer sport.

Driving the news: During a panel at this past weekend's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin proposed starting the NBA season in mid-December rather than mid-October.

  • Koonin believes such a shift would allow the NBA to avoid having to compete with the NFL and college football's regular seasons, which it currently does for the first 2.5 months of each campaign.
  • It would also result in the NBA Finals taking place in August rather than June, giving the league an opportunity to dominate more of the summer months when the only other show in town is baseball.

What he's saying:

"We have built the architecture of our season based on the ad market, not based on the consumer. ... The reason the Finals are in June is because there are more ad dollars in the second [fiscal] quarter. Why? It doesn't exist anymore."
— Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin

Why it matters: Koonin simply proposing this change would not have been news. But right after he mentioned it, a league executive said the NBA was open to such an idea — evidence of the league's willingness to shake things up.

"We certainly have no issue with reconsidering the calendar. ... We're open to that ... there's no magic to [the season going from] October to June."
— Evan Wasch, NBA senior VP of strategy and analytics

The big picture: There's one land grab left in the crowded American sports calendar, and it's the six to eight weeks in July and August.

  • Even in World Cup and Olympic years, it remains relatively quiet compared to the football-crazed fall or the madness of March.

P.S. ... According to yesterday's reader poll, October is the best sports month and July and August are the worst. So this proposed change would make the most awesome time of the year a little less awesome, while improving the summer.

  • October (36.5%)
  • March (25%)
  • April (10.5%)
  • September (7.5%)
  • January (4%)
  • June (4%)
  • November (3.5%)
  • December (3.5%)
  • February (3%)
  • May (2%)
  • July (0.5%)
  • August (0%)
2. 🐎 Doping scandal rocks horse racing

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

27 horse racing employees (trainers, veterinarians and others) were charged yesterday in a "widespread, corrupt" doping scheme that cheated the betting public and likely contributed to the rise in racetrack fatalities.

  • Among those charged was Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, the horse that won last year's Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for impeding the path of two other horses.
  • "Maximum Security went on to win four of his next five races — including the $10 million first-place check last month in the world's richest race: the Saudi Cup at the King Abdulaziz racecourse in Riyadh," per NYT.

Why it matters: This scandal comes amid a time of increased scrutiny on the horse racing industry, particularly in the U.S., where fatal racetrack injuries have been on the rise.

  • Nearly 10 horses died per week at U.S. racetracks in 2018, per the Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database, and California's Santa Anita Park, alone, has seen 40 deaths since December 2018.

Between the lines: The horses were "force-fed all manner of illegal and experimental drugs" that allowed them to run unnaturally fast and mask pain, often leading to injuries or death due to overexertion.

What they're saying:

"It's sad to know that there are people who are prepared to go to these lengths to cheat in our sport. ... If it happened in any sport it would be disappointing, and when you're talking about horses being put at risk, it's even more troubling."
— Longtime trainer Graham Motion, per WashPost

What to watch: This should build momentum around the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would establish an independent organization to regulate medication policy in horse racing.

3. 😷 Coronavirus: Bans, cancellations continue
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Sports have ground to a halt in Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the country announcing last night that all sporting events have been suspended until April 3.

Why it matters: The dramatic steps that Italy has taken could be a sign of things to come in the U.S., where leagues, governing bodies and athletic programs face the increasingly difficult question of whether to carry on as planned.

The last 24 hours:

  • Locker room ban: The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS are restricting locker room and clubhouse access to players and essential personnel until further notice, the leagues announced in a joint statement last night.
  • Large gatherings ban: The status of three San Jose Sharks hockey games, the NCAA women's basketball tournament at Stanford and one MLS game are in doubt after Santa Clara County announced a ban of all large gatherings (1,000+ people) for the rest of the month.
  • College campus impact: Several universities have moved classes online, and some are limiting athletic events to coaches and players.
  • Tennis cancellation: "We're here and still deciding what's next," tweeted Rafael Nadal after the BNP Paribas Open was canceled. "So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation. Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe."
4. 🏀 Snapshot: Men's college hoops
Data: AP; Table: Axios Visuals

Kansas received all 65 first-place votes to remain at the top of the rankings for a third straight week, while No. 4 Florida State has its highest ranking in nearly five decades.

My All-America picks:

  • G: Payton Pritchard, Oregon
  • G: Markus Howard, Marquette
  • G: Myles Powell, Seton Hall
  • F: Obi Toppin, Dayton
  • C: Luke Garza, Iowa

Bracketology, via ESPN:

  • No. 1 seeds: Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, Dayton
  • Last four byes: Marquette, Arizona State, Texas Tech, UCLA
  • Last four in: Stanford, Indiana, Texas, NC State
  • First four out: Richmond, Xavier, Wichita State, Memphis
  • Next four out: Mississippi State, Tulsa, Purdue, Northern Iowa

Automatic bids (6): Utah State (Mountain West champion), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Winthrop (Big South), Bradley (Missouri Valley), Liberty (Atlantic Sun), East Tennessee State (Southern)

📺 Tonight: Five more conference champions will be crowned.

  • Horizon: Illinois-Chicago vs. Northern Kentucky (7pm ET, ESPN)
  • Northeast: St. Francis (PA) vs. Robert Morris (7pm ET, ESPN2)
  • Colonial Athletic: Northeastern vs. Hofstra (7pm ET, CBSSN)
  • West Coast: Saint Mary's vs. No. 2 Gonzaga (9pm ET, ESPN)
  • Summit: North Dakota vs. North Dakota State (9pm ET, ESPN2)
5. 🏀 Snapshot: Women's college hoops
Data: NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

Oregon received three first-place votes and moved up one spot to No. 2 after winning the Pac-12 tournament, while Baylor fell one spot to No. 3 after losing to unranked Iowa State.

My All-America picks:

  • G: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
  • G: Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
  • G: Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M
  • F: Satou Sabally, Oregon
  • F: Ruthy Hebard, Oregon

Bracketology, via ESPN:

  • No. 1 seeds: South Carolina, Oregon, Baylor, Maryland
  • Last four in: James Madison, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Boston College
  • First four out: UCF, Bradley, St. John's, Georgia Tech
  • Next four out: Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, Middle Tennessee

Automatic bids (10): NC State (ACC), South Carolina (SEC), Maryland (Big Ten), Oregon (Pac-12), Connecticut (AAC), DePaul (Big East), Boise State (Mountain West), Southeast Missouri (Ohio Valley), Dayton (A-10), Samford (Southern)

📺 Tonight: Three more conference champions will be crowned.

  • Horizon: Green Bay vs. IUPUI (Noon ET, ESPNU)
  • Summit: South Dakota State vs. No. 17 South Dakota (2pm ET, ESPNU)
  • West Coast: Portland vs. San Diego (4pm ET, ESPNU)
6. 👏 Maya Moore is a legend
Screenshot: @NBCNews (Twitter)

A year ago, WNBA superstar Maya Moore took a hiatus from basketball to advocate for Jonathan Irons, a man she believed to be wrongfully convicted. Yesterday, Irons' 50-year sentence for burglary and assault was overturned.

  • Irons: "She saved my life. I would not have this chance if not for her and her wonderful family. She saved my life and I cannot say it better than that," per NYT.
  • Moore: "It felt so surreal. We finally have justice. I was just thinking, 'Did this really happen? Did it?'"

The bottom line: It takes an incomprehensible amount of selflessness to press pause on your burgeoning career and dedicate yourself to the pursuit of justice. Maya Moore, I salute you.

7. March 10, 1976: 🎵 The birth of a sports adage
Giphy

44 years ago today, the first recorded use of the now popular sports adage, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

"Despite his obvious allegiance to the Red Raiders, Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter was the picture of professional objectivity when the Aggies rallied for a 72-72 tie late in the SWC tournament finals.
'Hey, Ralph,' said [SWC information director] Bill Morgan, 'this ... is going to be a tight one after all.' 'Right,' said Ralph. 'The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings.'"

Two years later, the phrase gained further popularity when Washington Bullets coach Dick Motta made it the team's motto during their miraculous run to the 1978 NBA championship despite a mediocre 44-38 record.

8. The Ocho: 🏉 England leads Six Nations
France's Mohamed Haouas punches Scotland's Jamie Ritchie. He was later thrown off. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

The 2020 Six Nations Championship, the annual rugby competition contested by the national teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, is currently underway, with England in first place heading into the final round.

  • Yes, but: It's unclear when the final round will be played. Due to the coronavirus, Italy's matches against Ireland and England, and France's match against Ireland have been postponed.

Standings:

  1. England (3-1)
  2. France (3-1)
  3. Scotland (2-2)
  4. Ireland (2-1)
  5. Wales (1-3)
  6. Italy (0-3)

🎥 Highlights: England vs. Wales (YouTube)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Photo: Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

John Stockton and Karl Malone formed the second-best assist combo of the 2000s, with Stockton assisting on 225.3 Malone baskets per season in their three years together this century.

  • Question: Who ranks ahead of them?
  • Hint: Both players are retired.

Answer at the bottom.

10. Vote: 🎓 College athletic fees

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Question: Should the tuition paid by nonathletes at Division I schools be used to underwrite the costs of that school's sports programs?

Click to vote:

Coming tomorrow: Inside the world of college sports financing

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Horse racing is the worst" Baker

Trivia answer: Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire (231 assists per season)