April 24, 2020

🎉 Happy Friday! Let's sports.

  • 📆 Mark your calendars: "Axios on HBO" is expanding its 2020 season and moving to a new night and time. We return on Monday at 11pm ET/PT with interviews featuring New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.
  • 💵 Morning headline: DraftKings will begin publicly trading on the Nasdaq today under the ticker DKNG. Interesting timing with sports on pause.

Today's word count: 2,030 words (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 NFL virtual draft goes smoothly

Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the picks from his basement in Bronxville, New York. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

The virtual NFL draft went off without any major hitches (hats off to the ESPN production team), and while it was certainly low-energy at times, it was the closest thing we've had to live sports in over a month and a welcome distraction.

  • Highlight packages and player analysis filled much of the airtime, and ESPN was ready with plenty of human-interest sidebars (childhood photographs, heartbreaking and heartwarming stories).
  • It was cool to see prospects react to being picked, though most reactions were delayed and there is simply no substitute for the classic "camera pans to player answering his phone, player smiles and potentially cries, hugs family, wipes away tears, fist bumps agent, walks to stage, shakes Goodell's hand and poses with new uniform" routine.
  • Personally, my favorite part of the night was getting a glimpse into the homes of coaches, general managers and prospects, alike. At the end of the day, the NFL draft is a reality show, and this was the first time we got to see the characters in their natural habitats.

By the numbers: The night belonged to the SEC, which produced 15 of the 32 first-round picks, breaking the previous common draft era record of 12 (ACC in 2006; SEC in 2013 and 2017).

  • LSU accounted for five of those first-rounders, one shy of the common draft era record, held by the 2004 Miami Hurricanes.
  • And get this: With QB Tua Tagovailoa going No. 5 overall to the Dolphins, Nick Saban has now coached a first-round NFL pick at all 12 non-specialist positions.

Here's how it went down...

Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow after being selected No. 1 overall by the Bengals. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

1. Bengals → QB Joe Burrow, LSU: No surprise here. Coming off his historic season at LSU, Burrow was considered a potential franchise-altering QB. Considering the Bengals scored 21+ points just four times last year, he'll have to be.

  • 2. Redskins: DE Chase Young, Ohio State
  • 3. Lions: CB Jeff Okuda, Ohio State
  • 4. Giants: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Tua Tagovailoa on draft night
Tua Tagovailoa after being selected No. 5 overall by the Dolphins. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

5. Dolphins → QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: After starting last season 0-7 and trading away several top players, it was widely assumed that the Dolphins were "tanking for Tua." When the team finished the season at 5-11, it looked like the plan had fallen apart, but one hip injury later, everything worked out.

  • 6. Chargers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
  • 7. Panthers: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
  • 8. Cardinals: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
  • 9. Jaguars: CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
  • 10. Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
  • 11. Jets: OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
  • 12. Raiders: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
  • 13. Buccaneers: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
  • 14. 49ers: DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
  • 15. Broncos: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
  • 16. Falcons: CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones in his Bond villain lair. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

17. Cowboys → WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: Drafting from his $250 million mega-yacht, Jerry Jones pulled the trigger on Lamb, a slippery route-runner with elite body control who will compete for targets with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Suddenly, last season's top offense just got even scarier.

  • 18. Dolphins: OT Austin Jackson, USC
  • 19. Raiders: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State
  • 20. Jaguars: DE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
  • 21. Eagles: WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
  • 22. Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
  • 23. Chargers: LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
  • 24. Saints: C Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
  • 25. 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Jordan Love
Jordan Love after being selected No. 26 overall by the Packers. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

26. Packers → QB Jordan Love, Utah State: 15 years after Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers to eventually replace Brett Favre, they drafted Love to eventually replace Rodgers. The Utah State product was already a gamble. With the Packers, that gamble has even higher stakes given the awkwardness this will inevitably cause.

  • 27. Seahawks: LB Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
  • 28. Ravens: LB Patrick Queen, LSU
  • 29. Titans: OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
  • 30. Dolphins: CB Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
  • 31. Vikings: CB Jeff Gladney, TCU
  • 32. Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

What's next: The vast majority of NFL players aren't first-round picks, so the next two days are even more important to a team's long-term success than the moves they made in Round 1.

  • Tonight (Rounds 2-3): After trading out of the first round, the Patriots have the most Day 2 selections (one second-round pick, four third-round picks).
  • Saturday (Rounds 4-7): Take a look at the full draft order to see where your team picks in the later rounds.

2. 💵 NCAA closer to letting athletes get paid

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NCAA is moving closer to allowing Division I athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) as early as next year.

Driving the news: Recommended rule changes will be reviewed by college sports administrators this week before being sent to the NCAA Board of Governors, which meets next Monday and Tuesday, AP's Ralph Russo reports.

Why it matters: "If adopted, the rules would allow athletes to make sponsorship and endorsement deals with all kinds of companies and third parties, from car dealerships to concert promoters to pizza shops, according to a person who has reviewed the recommendations," writes Russo.

  • "The recommendations also call for allowing athletes to sign autographs for money, sell their memorabilia, and be paid for personal appearances and working as an instructor in their sport."

The backdrop: California and Colorado have passed legislation to allow college athletes to earn endorsement money starting in 2023, and 32 other states have introduced similar bills, including one in Florida that would take effect next July.

  • Fearful that this patchwork of state laws will lead to competitive imbalance and regulatory chaos, the NCAA has asked Congress for help in creating a national standard.
  • The recommendations being reviewed this week come from a working group set up 11 months ago and led by Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Big East commissioner Val Ackerman.

The bottom line: The NCAA appears to have finally realized that there's no stopping this train and looks poised to pass sweeping reform, but as ESPN's Ivan Maisel puts it, "let's not confuse belated acceptance of responsibility with leadership."

Bonus: 🇺🇸 States with NIL bills

Reproduced from Student Player; Cartogram: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Student Player; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

3. ⚽️ MLS is facing a quarter-life crisis

Data: WorldFootball.net; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: WorldFootball.net; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Major League Soccer should be celebrating its 25th season right now. Instead, the league is waiting out this pandemic like the rest of us with a tentative return date of June 8, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

Why it matters: Despite rising team valuations and soccer's growing popularity among young people, MLS attendance has declined for two straight seasons and the league faces an uncertain future heading into the 2022 World Cup cycle.

The backdrop: Like any startup, MLS has seen its share of peaks and valleys since launching in 1996.

  • Turbulent early years: MLS lost $250 million in its first five seasons and nearly folded in 2001. The league survived, but not without cutting two teams to get back down to the number it had launched with five years prior (10).
  • Expansion: Since 2005, MLS has added at least one new team every year in all but two years (2013 and 2016). Six more expansion teams are planned between now and 2022, meaning MLS will have gone from 12 teams to 30 in the span of 17 years.

The big picture: The last two decades of MLS attendance growth — including its ebbs and flows — is a result of a variety of factors, but can also be neatly tied to how the USMNT has performed at the World Cup.

  • 2002: USA reaches the quarterfinals on the backs of young stars like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, leading to a 12% increase in average MLS attendance between 2001 and 2007.
  • 2006 and 2010: The 2006 team showed promise with an exciting draw against eventual champion Italy, and the 2010 team advanced to the knockout stage. The ensuing domestic fervor led to three straight years of steady growth in MLS attendance.
  • 2014: The team made the knockout stage once again, narrowly losing to a strong Belgian squad. The next year, MLS attendance rose a best-ever 12.7%. Things were looking great, until...
  • 2018: Disaster. USA failed to qualify entirely, and MLS attendance growth has since dipped in consecutive years for the first time since 2008-09.

The bottom line: The next couple years were an opportunity for MLS to flex its way to a new level of popularity alongside an improving USMNT team powered by established, young stars like Christian Pulisic.

  • Instead, all that progress has been put on hold. It's certainly not a death sentence, but it is a quarter-life crisis.

4. 📸 Pic du jour

Soccer player training with kids
Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Australian soccer player Leigh Broxham training in isolation at his Melbourne home with his children, triplets Billie, Sonny and Mila.

5. 🏀 The NBA's chemistry problem

Let'S Cook Breaking Bad GIF by Petter Pentilä - Find & Share on GIPHY

SB Nation's Michael Pina went deep on one of the NBA's most challenging issues: how to create team chemistry amid accelerated player movement and roster turnover.

"The constant shuffle [has] sparked an existential question among hundreds of affected players, coaches and front office executives: How can chemistry be fostered in an increasingly erratic era of impatience, load management, reduced practice time and youthful inexperience?"

A side effect of so much player movement may be the thinning of playbooks and a simplification of the overall product.

"Right now with the influx of new players, you're having to really keep your playbook and your schemes at a basic level because you are teaching more. You're just starting almost at a ground level every single year."
— Hornets coach James Borrego

Keep reading.

6. April 24, 2004: 🏈 Manning for Rivers

Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

16 years ago today, the Chargers selected Eli Manning with the first pick in the 2004 NFL draft, then traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers.

  • The trade was made out of necessity, after Eli threatened to sit out the season rather than play in San Diego, but it ultimately worked out pretty equally for both teams.

What they said: To this day, confusion abounds regarding who among Eli, his father Archie and his agent Tom Condon was most responsible for the anti-Chargers sentiment, though it appears their prior handling of 1998's No. 2 pick, Ryan Leaf, had something to do with it.

"Archie and his family had called my father and wanted to know how they treated his son, and that was a huge part of [Eli demanding a trade]. Because, even as poorly as I behaved, there was no support."
— Ryan Leaf, during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show last month

By the numbers: Aside from the (obviously extremely important) two Giants Super Bowl victories, Rivers and Manning — and by extension, the Chargers and Giants — have followed similar paths.

  • Consecutive games: Rivers' still-active streak of 224 consecutive regular season starts is second all-time to Brett Favre (297), while Manning's 210 ranks third.
  • Franchise passing leader: Both QBs are the all-time passing leaders for their respective franchises (Rivers: 59,271 yds, 397 TD; Manning: 57,023 yds, 366 TD).
  • 123 vs. 117 wins: Though Rivers will get a chance to extend his slim lead with Manning retired, their regular success through 2019 was nearly identical.

7. 🐇 Rabbit hole: 1980s "Albert" commercial

YouTube screenshot
Screenshot: YouTube

Trying out a new section called "Rabbit hole," where we travel down an internet rabbit hole and explore the most random sports topics imaginable.

So I stumbled upon this commercial yesterday that is apparently well known in Canada, where it ran for several years in the 1980s.

  • Title: "Albert"
  • Company: Canadian Tire, which apparently sells a wide range of automotive, sports, home and hardware products (what a combo!).

Some thoughts:

  • First of all, just an awesome commercial. So wholesome. They don't make them like this anymore.
  • Fun fact: Albert's jerk older brother is played by the same actor who was Flick in "A Christmas Story" (the kid who gets his tongue frozen to the flagpole).

Lastly, and this will only make sense after you watch it: Why does someone named "Albert" have "Albert" on the back of his hockey jersey? A few theories, via Grantland (RIP):

  • Theory #1: His name is Albert Albert.
  • Theory #2: His name is Al Bert, his brother's name is Andrew Bert, and they're both on the team. Having two A. Berts on the same team would result in Al having to wear his full name on his jersey, which explains "Albert," though there's still the issue of the missing space. Hmm.
  • Theory #3: "It's all a sad daydream: The ending is just Albert's wishful thinking after being cruelly humiliated by his peers. It's probably taking place later in his miserable failure of a life, possibly while he's plotting his revenge."

Rabbit hole complete. See you next time.

8. The Ocho: 🛹 Skatercross

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Skatercross is awesome. How did this never take off?

9. 🏈 NFL draft trivia

Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert after being selected No. 6 overall by the Chargers. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

This is the first time since 1999 that three of the top six picks in the NFL draft were used on QBs.

  • Question: Who were the three QBs selected in the top six in 1999?
  • Hint: Browns, Eagles, Bengals.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Reader submission
Courtesy: Phoebe G.

Phoebe G. (Hoboken, N.J.) writes:

"2011 was a really hard year for me on a personal level. I'd been struggling with bipolar disorder for years, but it had never been as bad as it was that spring. Nobody even knew that I was suffering from anything (I was very good at hiding it), which meant that I was all alone.
"Things came to a head in May, and suffice it to say that my most painful secret was out in the open. I spent the summer dealing with psychiatry, and everybody treated me like I was a ticking time bomb, or made of glass. It sucked, and I felt even more lonely. And even sports felt hopeless.
"But then that summer, my medication started to work better and my St. Louis Cardinals went on the most magical run I could have imagined, turning what had once seemed like a lost season into a playoff berth and eventual World Series title. I still consider Game 6 of that 2011 World Series the greatest day of my life, and I wasn't even there in person.
"It's hard to explain to people how much that season means to me. It felt like a sign of hope. Hope that things could be OK again. Hope that I wouldn't be suffering forever. Hope that the seemingly impossible might be possible.
"Sometimes I still watch the 'Some Nights You Win the World Series' video to relive that beautiful feeling because it's just that powerful for me.
"They just won't go away." (-Joe Buck) ... and they didn't. The Cardinals kept fighting. And it made me think that I should keep fighting too. So I do."

✍️ 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 all month.

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Steelers nailed their pick" Baker

Trivia answer: Tim Couch (No. 1 to the Browns), Donovan McNabb, (No. 2 to the Eagles), Akili Smith (No. 3 to the Bengals)