Feb 27, 2020

Axios Sports

Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

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Today's word count: 1,776 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: πŸ… Coronavirus threatens Tokyo Olympics

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

With the Summer Olympics scheduled to open in Tokyo in less than five months, organizers are grappling with the coronavirus outbreak β€” and facing questions about whether the Games could be moved, postponed or even canceled.

The state of play: Longtime International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound estimates that the IOC has until late May to decide if the Olympics can go forward as scheduled.

  • If the answer is no, "you're probably looking at a cancellation," he told AP.
  • "You just don't postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There's so many moving parts, so many countries ... You can't just say, we'll do it in October."

Why it matters: Public-health officials' warnings about the coronavirus are sounding increasingly urgent, so it's imperative that organizers take all necessary precautions ahead of the Olympics, where hundreds of thousands of people from every corner of the world will spend two weeks in close quarters then fly home.

The other side: Despite previous disease outbreaks (Zika in 2014) and frequent geopolitical tensions, the Olympics have only been canceled three times, all due to world wars (1916, 1940, 1944).

  • "[P]anicking, or fretting over what ifs and maybes several months down the road, is pointless. Especially since the IOC has been here before. Many times," writes USA Today's Nancy Armour.
  • "This is not meant to diminish the seriousness of the coronavirus, or suggest that the IOC and Tokyo organizers shouldn't keep a close watch on developments. ... But a dose of perspective is needed."

Worst case scenario: In the unthinkable case of a cancellation, an emergency ~$1 billion reserve fund could cushion the blow for the many international sports federations that rely on the IOC to balance their budgets, per Bloomberg.

πŸ’¬ The last word...

"It's premature to call for the cancellation or postponement of Tokyo 2020. But with the torch relay about to begin and just 150 days remaining to the Opening Ceremonies, it's certainly not too early to ask how the organizers and the IOC realistically propose to keep the Summer Games healthy and secure."
"How can they prevent an outbreak with athletes from 200 countries and 7.5 million ticket holders preparing to jam into villages and venues? They better have a Plan B. So far, they don't."
β€” Sally Jenkins, WashPost
Map: 🌍 Coronavirus update
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry.

The coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica. The WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeper on Axios.com:

2. 🏈 NFL players to vote on new CBA

NFLPA president Eric Winston. Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Day 3 of the NFL combine was overshadowed by labor negotiations, with player representatives from all 32 teams voting by a slim majority (17-14, with one abstention) to send the owners' CBA proposal to the full union membership.

What's next: Now, the owners must wait to see if a majority of the ~2,000 NFL players vote yes on the new 10-year deal, which includes a 17-game regular season and dictates how the league's annual revenue, which is expected to hit $25 billion by 2027, gets split.

  • NFLPA president Eric Winston hasn't set a timeline on when that vote will occur, though it will likely take a few weeks, as the union attorneys will now go to work on a term sheet.
  • "[T]here will be white smoke when there is white smoke," said the retired offensive tackle. "The one thing we are not doing is rushing through this."

What they're saying: Some players have already voiced their displeasure with the proposal.

  • Russell Wilson: "The NBA and MLB are doing it right. Players come first. All NFL players deserve the same. WE should not rush the next 10 YEARS for today's satisfaction. I VOTE NO."
  • Adam Schefter: "Whereas Richard Sherman was one of the loudest voices against the proposed CBA last week, Aaron Rodgers was one of the biggest objectors last night, per sources. Rodgers wanted even more dramatic changes to the off-season program that included more free time for the players."
  • J.J. Watt: "Hard no on that proposed CBA."

πŸ“Ί Coming up ... Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III will try to break John Ross' 40-yard dash record tonight. All the athletic tests to know:

  • 40-yard dash: The "ancient, invented speed test of arbitrary distance" has become an event unto itself on the NFL's calendar.
  • 10-yard split: The first 10 yards of the 40-yard dash; used to measure burst.
  • Short shuttle: Used to measure agility and lateral movement.
  • Vertical jump: Lower body explosion and leaping ability.
  • Broad jump: Lower body explosion and balance.
  • Three-cone drill: Agility, flexibility and change of direction.
  • Bench press: Upper body strength.
3. πŸ€ The last of the unbeatens

Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics

As February winds down, only one team in all of men's college basketball remains unbeaten: Division III Swarthmore (25-0), a tiny liberal arts college outside Philadelphia that's known more for its rigorous academics than its sports teams.

  • By the numbers: Swarthmore accepts just 9% of applicants and had a total enrollment of 1,647 students last year. For reference, Kansas, the No. 1-ranked team in Division I, enrolls ~30,000.
  • Fun fact: The Garnet have held the No. 1 ranking since the start of the season. The last time a D-III team went wire to wire without a loss? 1999 Wisconsin-Platteville, coached by none other than Bo Ryan.

Meet the coach: Since arriving on campus eight years ago, Swarthmore head coach Landry Kosmalski β€” a former Davidson assistant who helped recruit Steph Curry 15 years ago β€” has transformed a destitute program into a powerhouse.

  • From 1950 to 2014, Swarthmore had just seven winning seasons, one conference tournament appearance and zero D-III NCAA tournament appearances.
  • Under Kosmalski, the Garnet have made the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons and even reached last year's title game, falling 96-82 to Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Meet the team: All five starters average double-digit points, and they all came from high schools within driving distance of Swarthmore's 425-acre campus (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia).

  • Senior captain Zac O'Dell is a chemistry major and recently co-authored a paper on "nanoparticle dissolution kinetics" that appeared in Environmental Science & Technology β€” an example of the kind of student-athletes that make up Swarthmore's roster.
  • Kosmalski says some of his players can athletically compete at the D-II level and that others could even play D-I. "Whatever the reason, they just ended up with us," he told SI. "Everyone has something unique to offer."

What's next: After finishing the regular season with an average scoring margin of 15.5 points, Swarthmore will play Muhlenberg in its Centennial Conference Tournament opener tomorrow.

Go deeper: D-III men's basketball rankings...

  1. Swarthmore (Pa.)
  2. St. Thomas (Minn.)
  3. St. John's (Minn.)
  4. Wittenberg (Ohio)
  5. Randolph-Macon (Va.)
4. πŸ’ NHL Power Rankings: Post-deadline edition
Expand chart
Note: As of Feb. 25; Table: Axios Visuals

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and teams are gearing up for the stretch run.

  • The top tier: Bruins, Lightning, Capitals, Penguins, Blues, Avalanche
  • Very good: Golden Knights, Stars, Flyers, Oilers
  • Pretty good: Islanders, Canucks, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Coyotes, Panthers, Flames, Jets, Predators, Wild, Canadiens
  • Not very good: Blackhawks, Devils, Sabres, Ducks, Sharks, Kings, Senators
  • Just awful: Red Wings

Note: "Diff." is short for goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed).

5. πŸ“Έ Yesterday in photos
Photo: Alex Livesey/Danehouse/Getty Images

MADRID β€” Manchester City have found little enjoyment in anything to do with UEFA lately thanks to their pending two-year ban, but a thrilling 2-1 victory over Real Madrid β€” the club's first win over the Spanish giant in five attempts β€” offered a brief reprieve.

  • Meanwhile, in France: Lyon pulled off a 1-0 upset over Cristiano Ronaldo and Serie A points leader Juventus.
  • What's next: Second leg action picks back up in mid-March, with these two matchups, plus RB Leipzig vs. Tottenham (down 1-0); Valencia vs. Atlanta (up 4-1); PSG vs. Borussia Dortmund (up 2-1); Liverpool vs. AtlΓ©tico Madrid (up 1-0); Barcelona vs. Napoli (tied 1-1) and Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea (down 3-0).
Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY β€” Jayson Tatum (33 points, 11 rebounds) led the Celtics past the Jazz, 114-103 and is averaging 30.5 points per game on 51.4% shooting this month. The only other Celtic to average 30 ppg on 50% shooting in a month in the three-point era? Larry Bird.

Photo: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

ALTENBERG, Germany β€” Savannah Graybill of the U.S. in action during a training run for the Women's Skeleton during the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation World Championships.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  • 🏈 364 pounds: At his current weight of 364 pounds, Mekhi Becton, a first-round OT prospect out of Louisville, would be the second-heaviest player in the NFL, trailing only Raiders OT Trent Brown (380 pounds).
  • πŸ€ 20 conference games: In 2018, the Big Ten became the first conference to implement a 20-game schedule (up from 18). Two years later, the conference is poised to set a league record for NCAA Tournament bids (could be as many as 11), with high-loss totals not hurting teams the way they had for decades.
  • πŸ’΅ $38.2 million: Penn State football coach James Franklin is guaranteed at least $38.2 million over the length of a new six-year contract that runs through 2025.
7. Feb. 27, 1960: πŸ’ The other "Miracle on Ice"

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years ago today, the U.S. stunned the Soviet Union en route to winning America's first hockey gold medal at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.

The big picture: 20 years later, the official "Miracle on Ice" took place in Lake Placid, New York, and immediately overshadowed the 1960 team's accomplishments. Today, they've been largely forgotten.

"I've always said, the difference between '80 and the '60 team, their film was in color, ours was black and white."
β€” 1960 team member Bill Cleary, per Sports Collectors Digest

πŸŽ₯ From the vault:

8. The Ocho: πŸŽͺ The circus is no joke

Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images

"Circus acts may lack the competition of sports, but [Cirque du Soleil's] shows are no less physically demanding. At times, they can require even more specialized athleticism," writes SportTechie's Joe Lemire.

By the numbers: During a catch-and-throw exercise for Messi10, a new show based on the life of soccer icon Lionel Messi, one performer experienced 15 times the force of gravity (15 G).

"Apollo and Mercury astronauts in the first days of the space program, they were hitting 8 G. Now we know that a Cirque performer is potentially doubling the G-force of an astronaut who is re-entering Earth. That is [expletive] cool, right?"
β€” Steve Gera, CEO of Gains Group

"Cirque also has a long performance season, exceeding even the marathon schedule of big league baseball," writes Lemire.

  • "Resident shows are staged 380 to 470 times a year, and touring shows perform around 300 times β€” with training of about 12 hours per week."
  • "And while ball clubs have the luxury of deep farm systems, Cirque's specialization means there's little by way of a minor leagues outside of maybe one or two understudies."
9. ⚾️ MLB trivia
  • Question: Who was the last MLB player to record 150 or more RBIs in a season?
  • Hint: Happened in 2007. American League.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ—ž Everything else

Screenshot: CCY Architects

  • 🌊 Pro surfer Kelly Slater plans to build the world's largest artificial wave in the California desert.
  • ⚾️ Tim Tebow, whose parents were missionaries in the Philippines when he was born, will play for the Philippines in next month's World Baseball Classic.
  • πŸ€ The 2020 NBA draft is barren, making wings like Duke's Cassius Stanley a prized commodity.
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "I want Kelly Slater's life" Baker

Trivia answer: Alex Rodriguez (156 RBIs for the Yankees)