Mar 31, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! 64% of you predicted that the NCAA would grant eligibility relief for all spring athletes. 64% of you were correct.

Today's word count: 1,903 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸŽ“ The coronavirus redshirt

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

The NCAA Division I Council voted yesterday to grant an extra season of eligibility to all spring-sport athletes whose seasons were canceled due to COVID-19.

  • Sports impacted: Baseball, lacrosse, golf, softball, rowing, tennis, outdoor track and field, women's water polo, men's volleyball and beach volleyball.
  • Sports not impacted: Winter sports like basketball and hockey, which had their postseasons interrupted but were able to complete all or much of their regular seasons.

Between the lines: The council left it up to each university to determine how much scholarship aid to offer athletes who were in what would have been their final season of eligibility.

  • Given the financial stress that schools are already under, some athletic departments will have a hard time affording those costs.
  • This means a returning senior could technically have a spot on the team, but as little as $0 in athletic scholarship money.

What to watch:

  • Schools will be permitted to exceed scholarship limits to cover returning seniors while accommodating incoming freshmen and transfers, who will be joining rosters that are suddenly more crowded than expected.
  • The Ivy League, which does not typically allow for fifth-year athletes and has strict requirements for granting redshirts, said in a statement that it supported the NCAA's proposal and is "considering the implications."
  • While some baseball seniors will still enter the MLB draft rather than return to school to play for free, MLB's decision to shorten this year's draft from 40 rounds to as few as five means plenty of pro-ready seniors could come back.

The big picture: For seniors who graduate this spring, my understanding is that they'll have three options if they choose to continue playing sports: enroll in another undergraduate program, begin graduate school, or transfer β€” assuming the extra year can be used at another member institution.

  • So, while seniors now have the right to extend their college athletic careers, it will be interesting to see how many actually choose to do so.
  • Four of the five seniors I spoke with yesterday already have jobs lined up and won't be returning to campus. The fifth said she's considering it "because I love my teammates and we have a chance to win a national title next year."
2. πŸ‹οΈβ€β™‚οΈ Work (out) from home
Data: Axios research; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

"At least 261 million people in at least 31 states, 82 counties, 18 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are urged to stay home right now," per NYT.

  • Among them are athletes β€” ranging from professionals all the way down to middle- and high-schoolers β€” who are having to get creative to stay in shape.

🏈 LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt said he and his staff were able to put together at-home workout programs for their athletes before they left campus earlier this month.

  • "We gave them five options to choose from depending on what equipment they have available β€” some have home gyms, some have nothing. And of course, you can always go for a run outside," said Moffitt, who had just finished a workout with his three sons in their home gym when he called.

πŸŠβ€β™‚οΈ Pro swimmer Michael Andrew, who recently learned that his Olympics dreams would be postponed by a year, hasn't been in a pool in a week and a half.

  • "Swimming is such a specific movement β€” you need to feel the water β€” but for now, I'm just trying to maintain my normal workout routine and, even more so, stay mentally and psychologically sharp," Andrew tells me.
  • Specific workout: "I focus on the muscles I'll be using in the water, so I do a lot of pull-ups (great for butterfly), planks and simple band work.
  • What's next: "Depending on when pools re-open, I'll probably start looking into renting a home with a pool so I can train in the water."

🏫 Lindsey Smith is the athletic director at The Wellington School, a K-12 school in Columbus, Ohio. With kids cooped up at home, her department created an Instagram page to keep them connected to their teams and encourage fitness.

  • "Our sports performance coach is creating workouts for the kids three days a week. Sometimes he records himself, but he's also having students help out β€” and we've even recruited alumni to record videos, which has been a cool way to reconnect them with our current students," Smith tells me.

πŸ—£ How are you staying in shape at home? Write in/send photos for us to include.

3. 🎬 Tonight on HBO: "The Scheme"

Courtesy: HBO

In September 2017, four assistant coaches and several Adidas representatives were arrested following an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption.

  • One of those men was Christian Dawkins, an aspiring sports agent who the government identified as a key figure in funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to steer recruits to certain schools.

Now, Dawkins is telling his story for the first time in "The Scheme," which debuts tonight at 9pm ET on HBO.

  • 10-second review: I got a chance to watch this early, and I thought it was extremely well done. There's some potentially damaging audio of LSU coach Will Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller and, while the story of NCAA corruption is nothing new, it's rarely been laid out this clearly.

Why it matters: NCAA vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan told SI's Pat Forde that he and his colleagues "will be watching and taking notes." So this is more than a sports documentary β€” it's potential evidence.

🎬 Watch: Trailer (YouTube)

4. πŸ€ ESPN moving MJ doc up to April 19

Speaking of documentaries, ESPN is moving up the release of its 10-part Michael Jordan series, "The Last Dance."

  • Original release date: June
  • New release date: Sunday, April 19

Why it matters: This was already the most highly-anticipated sports doc in years. Given our current situation, it now has the potential β€” and I'm serious when I say this β€” to be the most-watched limited series ever.

5. πŸ“Έ Pic du jour
Photo: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

The Tokyo Olympics countdown clock outside Tokyo Station (one of the busiest train stations in the world) is clicking again, reflecting the new start date for the Games: July 23, 2021.

πŸ‘€ Developing story: The sudden rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has raised questions about whether Japan understated the extent of the outbreak while clinging to hopes that the games would start on July 24 as scheduled.

6. 🏟 Stadium construction continues despite bans
Belmont Park arena in Elmont, N.Y. Photo: John Keating/Newsday via Getty Images

With states across the country banning "non-essential" construction, some major stadium projects have been halted β€” but not all of them.


  • New York: All work has stopped at the the Islanders' Belmont Park arena (above), which was set to open in October 2021, but will now likely be delayed.
  • Austin: Construction on the Austin FC soccer stadium has come to a halt under the city's "shelter-in-place" order.

Still going:

  • Los Angeles: Despite a worker testing positive for the coronavirus, construction has continued at SoFi Stadium, the $5 billion future home of the Rams and Chargers.
  • Las Vegas: A worker at Allegiant Stadium (future home of the Raiders) has also tested positive, but work hasn't stopped there, either.
  • Seattle: Thanks to an exemption, construction resumed this week at KeyArena (future home of Seattle's new NHL team). Since the arena's original 44-million-pound roof is being held up by temporary beams while they prepare to reattach it, it qualifies as an "emergency repair."
7. March 31, 1975: πŸ€ Wooden's final title
Photo: Malcolm W. Emmons/Sporting News via Getty Images

45 years ago today, the UCLA Bruins beat the Kentucky Wildcats, 92-85, to win the men's college basketball national championship.

Why it matters: It was coach John Wooden's 10th title, all coming in a 12-year span. It was also his last, as he'd announced his retirement two days prior.

"Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
β€” John Wooden

The man: Wooden was born in Indiana in 1910, playing basketball as a child and later as a standout at Purdue University. He was the first player to ever be named a three-time consensus All-American (1930-32).

  • After spending the first 15 years of his professional life coaching high school hoops and serving in the Navy during World War II, Wooden coached Indiana State (Larry Bird's future alma mater) for three years before heading west to UCLA.

The team: In Wooden's 27 years at the helm, UCLA lost 10+ games just five times, and he won 10 national championships (including seven in a row), which is twice as many as any other coach.

  • First came Kareem: Known then as Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Bruins to three straight titles (1967-69).
  • Then came Walton: Along with Alcindor, Bill Walton is considered one of the best college players to ever live and led UCLA to back-to-back titles (1972-73).

Go deeper: When Kareem led the freshman squad over the varsity (L.A. Times)

8. The Ocho: 🎬 Foosballers
Todd Loffredo (left) and Tony Spredeman go head-to-head. Courtesy: Pull Shot Productions

A new documentary called "Foosballers" charts the rise, fall and resurgence of one of the world's favorite pub games.

The history: In 1921, Harold Searles Thornton of the U.K. patented the foosball table design, based on laying matches across an open matchbox. As for the name, foosball is simply an anglicization of "fußball," the German word for football.

  • Foosball made its way stateside in the early-1950s, and by the 1970s it had exploded into a phenomenon.
  • In the 1980s, video games pushed foosball to the brink of extinction, but it has seen a resurgence this century thanks in large part to children of former players getting into it.

Advanced foosball: Euro pin vs. snake shot.

  • Euro pin: Also called front pin, this is the old-school method, which consists of a quick, clockwise wrist action.
  • Snake shot: Akin to the high jump's Fosbury Flop-aided revolution, the snake shot is counterclockwise and has more torque. "The [snake] shot revolutionized the game. It made players able to compete immediately."
Robert Mares prepares for the World Championships. Courtesy: Pull Shot Productions

Meet the foosballers: The movie follows six players as they prepare for and compete in the Tornado World Championships.

  • Robert Mares: Five-time doubles champ; considered the best player in the world to never have won a singles title.
  • Tony Spredeman: Five-time defending (eight overall) singles world champion and five-time doubles champ; No. 1 in the world.
  • Todd Loffredo: Two-time singles world champ and 23-time doubles champ; considered one of the best players in history.
  • Ryan Moore: Two-time singles world champ; also awarded Cannabis Cup for growing the country's best marijuana.
  • Terry Rue: 2015 doubles champ; Chief of Anesthesia at Louisiana's Lafayette General Hospital.
  • Cindy Head: 25-time singles and doubles champ; the greatest women's player in history.
Cindy Head (left) celebrates a goal. Courtesy: Pull Shot Productions

🎬 Rent it.

9. πŸ€ NBA trivia

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Michael Jordan was famously taken No. 3 overall in the 1984 NBA draft, two picks behind fellow Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and one pick behind mega-bust Sam Bowie.

  • Question: Besides Jordan and Olajuwon, who were the other two NBA Hall of Famers drafted that year?
  • Hint: Both players failed to win an NBA title.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ“š Good reads
Screenshot: @fangraphs (Twitter)

✍️ FanGraphs is in peril. It won't be the last sports media operation to face hard times. (Bryan Curtis, The Ringer)

"In a pandemic, all hell is relative. There are people suffering dire medical and financial consequences. With that proviso, the next few months are going to be a disastrous economic period for sportswriters."

πŸ’ Sacred Heart is no hockey school. $60 million could change that. (Dave Caldwell, NYT)

"With only about 60 men's teams and 40 women's teams, major college hockey is a much smaller world than, say, Division I basketball, so it is more likely for a program to improve quickly, and for a small university to compete with big ones."

⚾️ The best players to wear every jersey number in baseball history (Andy McCullough, The Athletic)

"In 1937, Connie Mack's A's succumbed to the modern trend by putting uniform numbers on their home and road jerseys. Since then, all but three double-digit numerals have been worn in big-league games. ... [And] The Athletic rates the best players to don each one."
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Hi Helen" Baker

Trivia answer: Charles Barkley (No. 5 pick) and John Stockton (No. 16)