👋 Good morning! Let's sports.
Today's word count: 1,564 words (6 minutes).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Bracketology, via ESPN:
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.
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:
Bracketology, via ESPN:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
🎥 Highlights: England vs. Wales (YouTube)
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.
Answer at the bottom.
Kendall "Horse racing is the worst" Baker
Trivia answer: Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire (231 assists per season)