Oct 23, 2020

Axios Sports

🎉 Happy Friday! The World Series resumes tonight. Who ya got?

Today's word count: 1,920 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 Big Ten football is back

Photo: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Ten football season kicks off tonight after months of a "will they, won't they" narrative, the likes of which we haven't seen since Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's protracted workplace courtship, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Tonight: Illinois at No. 14 Wisconsin (8pm ET, BTN).
  • Tomorrow: Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State; Rutgers at Michigan State; No. 8 Penn State at Indiana; Iowa at Purdue; No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota; Maryland at Northwestern.

Schedule: Each team will play eight regular season games, culminating in a ninth, cross-divisional matchup on Dec. 19 (i.e. the Big Ten Championship, but also No. 2 East vs. No. 2 West, etc.).

  • Because of the late start, the season is not only condensed but also has no open calendar slots. So any COVID-related postponement will likely result in cancellation and the game will be declared "no contest."
  • Thus far, 10.6% of games nationally have been postponed. If that holds, six Big Ten games will be lost, and cancellations for playoff contenders will be particularly damaging.

Friday night lights: The Big Ten joins the Pac-12 and Mountain West as conferences regularly scheduling Friday games this fall.

  • Seven days a week: Add those to Tuesday and Wednesday's MACtion, Saturday's standard college slate and the NFL's Thursday, Sunday and Monday domination and we're looking at football nearly every day in November.

Favorites: Five teams enter opening day ranked in the AP poll, but three stand out as the conference's top contenders.

  • No. 5 Ohio State: The conference's clear-cut frontrunner has a 68% chance to make the College Football Playoff, behind only Clemson (87%) and Alabama (82%).
  • No. 8 Penn State: Important pieces are missing, namely LB Micah Parson who opted out to focus on the draft and RB Journey Brown (medical condition). But the remaining roster is still loaded with star power.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin: Placement in the far easier Big Ten West gives the Badgers the fourth-best CFP odds in the nation (40%). Though they lost returning QB Jack Coan (foot injury), redshirt freshman Graham Mertz is the highest-rated QB recruit in school history.

Players to watch:

  • Ohio State QB Justin Fields: If anyone from the Big Ten is going to challenge Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones for the Heisman, it's Fields (third-place last year).
  • Penn State QB Sean Clifford: He'll need to make a big leap after a fine but unspectacular sophomore campaign, and incoming OC Kirk Ciarrocca (last three years in Minnesota) could be the key to unlocking his potential.
  • Wisconsin RB Nakia Harris: No team has more successfully maximized a unit than Wisconsin's running game, winning four of the past eight Doak Walker awards (nation's best RB). Will Harris continue the tradition?

Go deeper: Answering the Big Ten's biggest questions (ESPN)

2. 📉 The youth sports exodus continues

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Youth sports remain in a moment of crisis, as the health and financial situations brought on by the pandemic continue wreaking havoc, Jeff writes.

By the numbers: The Aspen Institute's recent survey of 1,103 parents with sport-playing kids aged 6-18 paints a rather bleak picture.

  • 29% of parents said their kids are simply not interested in sports, up from 19% when they were last asked in June.
  • 64% cite fear of their child contracting COVID as a barrier to resuming sports.
  • 28% say they'd spend more money on youth sports now than pre-COVID, but 27% say they'd spend less.
  • 6.4 fewer hours: Kids are spending just 7.2 hours per week playing sports, down from 13.6 before the pandemic.
  • Solo sports on the rise: Cycling and golf have risen in popularity during the pandemic, as their relative drops in participation are minimal compared to team sports.

What they're saying: Kids, parents and coaches alike are feeling the weight of uncertainty and the fear of permanent loss.

  • "It’s not enough. It's not nearly enough," 17-year-old Aaron Teklu tells NYT of the minimal basketball he's been able to play. "[Basketball] has always helped me deal with my emotions and what is going on in my life."
  • "The time my boys spend playing is down probably 80 percent," added high school basketball coach Tyrone Riley. "I spend a lot of time wondering how we're going to get out of this."

The bottom line: "This is a moment of historic crisis," says the Aspen Institute's Tom Farrey. Unfortunately, its roots are also deep enough that it's going to take more than the pandemic ending to right the ship.

Go deeper: Coronavirus puts youth sports on pause (Axios)

3. 🏙 Meet the World Series cities

The Rays and Dodgers may be stuck in Texas for the Fall Classic, but that won't stop us from bringing their homes to you.

Photo: Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

Tampa, Florida

  • Area: 175.83 square miles
  • Population: 399,700 (metro area: 3.2 million)
  • Mayor: Jane Castor
  • Distance from Globe Life Field: 1,270 miles
  • Best thing to do: Walk around historic Ybor City, nicknamed "Cigar City" for its booming cigar industry from the late-19th century. It's also the proud owner of perhaps the best flag I've ever laid eyes on.
  • Signature food: The Cuban sandwich was actually invented in Tampa, catering to the Cuban workers in the city's sugar mills and cigar factories.
  • Championships: Three (Lightning, 2; Bucs, 1)

Tropicana Field

  • Year opened: 1990
  • Capacity: 25,000 (least in MLB)
  • Ballpark food: Their signature items are a short rib grilled cheese and, of course, a Cubano.
Photo: Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

Los Angeles, California

  • Area: 502.73 square miles
  • Population: 3.99 million (metro area: 13.1 million)
  • Mayor: Eric Garcetti
  • Distance from Globe Life Field: 1,394 miles
  • Best thing to do: You can't go wrong with a morning hike at Runyon Canyon (be sure to spot the Hollywood sign in the distance) and an afternoon of arts and culture at The Getty.
  • Signature food: We have Mexico to thank for the taco, but L.A. is where it first made U.S. landfall when Mexican immigrants — specifically women known as "chili queens" — sold them out of food carts beginning in 1905.
  • Championships: It's a tricky question, but we're going with 28 based on the city winning, not just its franchises (Lakers, 12; Dodgers, 5; Galaxy, 5; Sparks, 3; Kings, 2; Raiders, 1)

Dodger Stadium

  • Year opened: 1962
  • Capacity: 56,000 (most in MLB)
  • Ballpark food: They've got everything, but it's Dodger Dog or bust. They wanted to keep a taste of home when they moved from Brooklyn in 1962, so the 10-inch Dodger Dog is their take on Coney Island's famous footlongs.
4. 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles stormed back to beat the Giants, 22-21, and put themselves in the driver's seat in the horrendous NFC East. Philadelphia has now beat New York eight straight times.

Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

ABU DHABI, U.A.E. — Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje successfully weighed in at 155 pounds for their UFC lightweight title unification bout on Saturday in the main event of UFC 254 on "Fight Island."

Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

BRESCIA, Italy — The golf world may be focused on the Zozo Championship in California (where Tiger Woods is tied for 74th out of 77), but don't sleep on the Italian Open. Beautiful setting.

5. 🇦🇺 Rugby, explained

The Storm (white) and Panthers during a game in June. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The National Rugby League Grand Final, one of Australia's biggest sporting events, goes down this weekend.

  • Rugby has two versions: Rugby League and Rugby Union. The NRL plays the former, which has fewer players (13 vs. 15) and is generally faster-paced.
  • Finals matchup: Penrith Panthers vs. Melbourne Storm

How it works: The object of rugby is to score more points than the opposing team within the 80 minutes of play by doing things like carrying the ball over their goal line and kicking it through their goal posts.

  • You can run forward with the ball, but you can only pass it backward or sideways.
  • You can also kick the ball. It can travel forward, but any teammates in front of it are considered offside until the kicker or another teammate runs ahead of them.
  • Each team has 13 players (plus four subs), and the field is roughly 100 yards long and 70 yards wide.

Scoring:

  • Try (4 points): A try is scored when a player touches the ball down inside the opponents' in-goal area (basically an end zone).
  • Conversion (2 points): After scoring a try, that team can add two more points by kicking the ball between the goal posts and over the crossbar from a spot in line with where the try was scored.
  • Penalty (2 points): When awarded a penalty after the opponent commits a foul, a team may choose to kick the ball between the goal posts.
  • Drop goal (1 point): Teams can also kick the ball between the goal posts at any time during open play. To do this, a player must drop the ball on the ground and kick it on the half-volley.

Go deeper: Rugby League vs. Rugby Union (World of Rugby)

6. 🇦🇺 Australian Rules Football, explained

An AFL game in May 2019. Photo: Jono Searle/AFL Photos/Getty Images

The Australian Football League Grand Final also takes place this weekend. What a time to be a sports fan down under!

How it works: The object of Australian Rules Football is to score more points than the opposing team within the 80 minutes of play by kicking the ball through their posts.

  • Ball movement: Unlike rugby, the ball cannot be thrown. Instead, you can run with it (must bounce on the ground every ~15 yards), kick it in any direction, or "handball it" (pass to teammate by striking the ball with a clenched fist).
  • Marking the ball: If you kick the ball more than 15 yards and a teammate catches it in the air, this is known as marking the ball. The player is then awarded a free kick from that spot.
  • Defense: Players can block kicks, intercept the ball, push you off the field, or tackle you. If they tackle you, they're awarded a free kick from that spot.
  • Each team has 18 players (plus four subs), and the oval-shaped field is roughly 200 yards long and 170 yards wide.

Scoring: There are four posts at each end of the ground; the two middle (and taller) posts are the goal posts, and the two outer (and shorter) posts are the behind posts.

  • Goal (6 points): To score a goal, a player must kick the ball through the middle posts.
  • Behind (1 point): If you hit a goal post or the ball is deflected by another player through the goal posts, or if you kick the ball between a goal post and a behind post, you're awarded one point.

Go deeper: Aussie Rules, explained (YouTube)

7. ⚡️ Lightning round

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  • 🐎 Another one: Bob Baffert is a horse racing legend, but his horses keep failing drug tests. In September, another one tested positive for a banned substance — Baffert's 28th drug violation, and third in six months.
  • 🏈 Bills Mafia: The Bills have filed an application to trademark the fan base's "Mafia" nickname and plan to sell branded merchandise and apparel.
  • 🌊 Good read: From SI's Greg Bishop, an unlikely tale about an Ohio mechanic who lost his cherished surfboard on one side of the Pacific and a teacher from the Philippines who found it on the other. Enjoy.
8. Oct. 23, 1993: ⚾️ Carter walks it off

Photo: Rick Stewart/Allsport via Getty Images

26 years ago today, Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter hit a walk-off HR in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series to clinch Toronto's second straight title.

  • Why it matters: It remains one of only two homers to end a World Series (Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski in 1960).

What they said: As Carter hopped around the bases like a little kid, Blue Jays announcer Tom Cheek uttered the famous words, "Touch 'em all Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!"

  • Carter: "When I made contact, I looked up and I couldn't see the ball … I knew I hit it good, but I didn't know if I hit it high enough … To see it go out was like an out-of-body experience."
  • Pitcher Mitch Williams: "I knew it was gone. I gave it the courtesy double-look back and I just kept walking. Remember it like it was yesterday," he said 25 years later.

Go deeper: Carter's World Series walk-off, 25 years later (Sportsnet)

9. ⚽️ Soccer trivia
Pelé in 1963. Photo: John Pratt/Keystone/Getty Images

Pelé turns 80 today. Happy birthday, legend!

  • Question: Pelé scored 12 World Cup goals. Who are the only four players with more?
  • Hint: Three are from Europe, one is from South America.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Shane and his dad. Photo: Shane S.

Shane S. (Scranton, Pa. native) writes:

Jets fans don't have much to celebrate these days, so we're forced to look anywhere we can for slivers of joy — and today is the 20-year anniversary of the Monday Night Miracle, the biggest comeback in team history.
I was there, with my dad, sitting in the last-row seats we had for years at Giants Stadium. I'm still not sure why he kept 10-year-old me out on a school night when the Jets were down 30-7 at the end of the third quarter and we had a two-hour drive home to Scranton, but he did.
And the rest is history. The Jets scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, tying the game on a touchdown pass to offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott, and won the thing in overtime.
My clearest memory of that night is my dad carrying me on his shoulders down a packed escalator filled with the other diehards who stuck it out to the end. For better or worse, that night made sure I was always going to be a Jets fan.
My dad passed away last year. His cancer diagnosis had granted us the clarity of knowing that our annual Jets trip — in 2016, in 2017, in 2018 — could be our last together. And I'm happy to say that all three of those games were somehow all wins, despite the recent state of the team.
They were all sweet, and I'll never forget them. But I already know when I look back on being a Jets fan in another 20 years, the view from my dad's shoulders after a win that never should have happened is still going to be the first thing that comes to mind.

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports impacting your life? To share, simply reply to this email.

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Hey Bob, stop drugging your horses" Baker

Trivia answer: Miroslav Klose, Germany (16 goals); Ronaldo, Brazil (15); Gerd Müller, West Germany (14); Just Fontaine, France (13)