Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

January 24, 2023

πŸ‘‹ Happy Tuesday! I'm back home in D.C. after my European adventure. Binged "Vatican Girl" on Netflix on the flight home β€” highly recommend.

πŸ€ 904 days later: Magic forward Jonathan Isaac scored 10 points on Monday in his first NBA game since Aug. 2, 2020, when he tore his ACL in the Orlando bubble. Welcome back, kid.

Today's word count: 1,733 words (6 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏈 The Rashada saga

Jaden Rashada

Jaden Rashada during an official visit to Florida in November. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

A high-profile breakup between a top QB recruit and a storied football program has thrust the messy side of NIL into the spotlight, Axios' Jeff Tracy and I write.

What's happening: Jaden Rashada, a four-star prospect and the No. 7 QB in the 2023 class, was granted a release from his letter of intent with Florida on Friday after a $13.9 million NIL deal fell through.

  • The deal was with Gator Collective, one of over 100 such groups across the country in which wealthy donors (boosters) pool funds to facilitate NIL deals for the schools they support, unofficially of course.
  • The NCAA prohibits such collectives from getting involved in recruiting, but Rashada's story shows they're doing just that, blurring the lines between endorsement deals and employment contracts.

The backdrop: This all began when Rashada originally committed to Miami in June. Five months later, he flipped to Florida, where an even bigger paycheck reportedly awaited.

  • June 26: Rashada commits to Miami amid reports of a $9.5 million NIL deal with Miami mega-booster John Ruiz.
  • Nov. 11: Rashada announces that he's flipping to Florida. This comes a day after he inks the $13.9 million deal with Gator Collective, per The Athletic ($).
  • Dec. 7: Gator Collective terminates Rashada's deal due to an inability to pay such a hefty sum, per SI. It's unclear if Rashada knows the deal has fallen through at this point.
  • Dec. 21: Rashada signs his letter of intent ahead of the High School All-American Game, where he expresses his excitement about playing for the Gators and poses for pictures with other signees.
  • Jan. 10-20: Rashada is not among the 16 early enrollees to report to campus in Gainesville and later requests his release from his letter of intent. Three days later, Florida grants him his release.

The big picture: NIL was meant to give student-athletes an opportunity to earn money via third-party partnerships, and most deals do exactly that (think: sponsored social media posts).

  • Yes, but: What keeps the NCAA up at night are deals like Rashada's, where wealthy donors are seemingly inducing recruits to sign with their school under the guise of NIL.
  • These "pay for play" schemes existed long before NIL, mostly in the shadows. Now it's all out in the open, with money that can easily be disguised as legit sponsorship payments.

What's next: Rashada's recruitment is back on, and TCU has emerged as a candidate to sign the highly coveted QB out of Pittsburg, California.

2. 🎾 Spotlight: Ben Shelton

Ben Shelton

Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Ben Shelton had never been outside the U.S. before flying to Australia this month. Now, he's the first American in 20 years to reach a major quarterfinal before turning 21 (Andy Roddick, 2003 Wimbledon).

The backdrop: While most teenage tennis stars attend elite academies and travel the globe for junior-circuit tournaments, Shelton developed his game while living a relatively normal life at home.

  • He played football and other sports for much of his childhood and went to a public high school before enrolling at the University of Florida, where his father, an ex-pro named Bryan, is the tennis coach.
  • This past spring, Shelton won the NCAA singles title as a sophomore. A few months later, he beat No. 5 Casper Ruud in Cincinnati, becoming the youngest American to beat a top-5 opponent since Roddick in 2001.

The big picture: At this time last year, Ben Shelton was a college kid ranked No. 569 in the world. Twelve months later, he's in the final eight at the Australian Open and will debut in the ATP top 50 next week. Life comes at you fast.

What's next: After beating compatriot J.J. Wolf on Sunday, Shelton will face another fellow American, Tommy Paul, tonight.

🚨 While you were sleeping … No. 24 Victoria Azarenka upset No. 3 Jessica Pegula, 6-4, 6-1, to reach her first Australian Open semifinal since winning the title there in 2013.

3. ⚾️ Moreno takes Angels off the market

Arte Moreno

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Angels owner Arte Moreno formally took the Angels off the market on Monday, five months after announcing that he was exploring a sale.

By the numbers: Moreno bought the Angels from the Walt Disney Company for $183.5 million in 2003, a year after their only World Series title. Two decades later, the franchise is valued at $2.5 billion, per Sportico.

The backdrop: Moreno, an outdoor advertising mogul and the first Hispanic owner of a major U.S. sports team, showed a willingness to spend big on talent after acquiring the Angels.

  • That paid off immediately, resulting in five AL West titles in Moreno's first seven seasons. But the Halos have struggled mightily since then, failing to win a single playoff game in 13 years.
  • Despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, and a payroll that consistently ranks near the top of the league, the Angels own MLB's longest active streak of losing seasons (seven).

Between the lines: Angel Stadium is MLB's fourth-oldest ballpark and desperately needs a major renovation. Moreno has twice negotiated deals with the city of Anaheim to purchase the ballpark and redevelop it, but both transactions fell apart, most recently due to a political scandal.

What to watch: The Nationals, valued at $2.2 billion, are now the only MLB franchise on the market.

4. ⚑️ Lightning round

Caitlin Clark

Photo: Ben Hsu/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

πŸ€ Clark joins Wade: Caitlin Clark (28-15-10) led Iowa past previously undefeated No. 2 Ohio State on Monday, joining Dwyane Wade as the only college basketball players this century to record a triple-double against an AP top 2 opponent.

⚾️ HOF announcement: The Baseball Writers' Association of America will announce the results of its 2023 Hall of Fame vote at 6pm ET today on MLB Network.

πŸ€ Lakers-Wiz swap: The Lakers made a trade with the Wizards on Monday, sending three second-round picks and guard Kendrick Nunn to D.C. in exchange for former No. 9 overall pick Rui Hachimura.

⛳️ LIV schedule: Saudi-backed LIV Golf has released its 14-event schedule for 2023, which includes three tournaments at courses owned by former President Trump.

πŸ€ Kansas falls again: Baylor beat Kansas, 75-69, on Monday in a matchup of the past two national champions. The Jayhawks have lost three straight games, tied for their longest losing streak under Bill Self.

5. πŸ€ 47 years later, a poll without Texas

Data: Associated Press; Table: Axios Visuals
Data: Associated Press; Table: Axios Visuals

For the first time in the 47-year history of the AP women's basketball poll, there are no teams from Texas in the Top 25.

The big picture: Until this week, every women's AP poll had featured at least one of these 11 teams:

  1. Baylor
  2. Houston
  3. Lamar
  4. Rice
  5. Stephen F. Austin
  6. TCU
  7. Texas
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Texas Tech
  10. UTEP
  11. Wayland Baptist

Between the lines: Texas teams have won six NCAA titles: Baylor (3x), Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Baylor and Texas are the modern powers; at least one had been ranked every week since Dec. 4, 2000.

State of play: Connecticut now owns the longest active streak for a state thanks solely to UConn, which has appeared in 557 consecutive polls.

6. 🌎 In photos: Headshots

The theme of today's photo gallery: Hits to the face, which happen quite often in sports.

Boxing punch
Richard Riakporhe punches Krzysztof Glowacki. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, England β€” It will not surprise you to learn that the guy on the left won this fight.

Aliyah Boston
Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. β€” Aliyah Boston takes a hand to the face during South Carolina's 92-46 win over Arkansas on Sunday, the Gamecocks' 26th consecutive victory dating back to March.

Women's rugby
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

HAMILTON, New Zealand β€” Portia Woodman-Wickliffe of New Zealand fends off Natasja Behan of Ireland during Sunday's match at the 2023 World Rugby Sevens Series.

Hockey stick to the face
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

ELMONT, N.Y. β€” Anders Lee takes a stick to the face during a recent game against the Capitals, which the Islanders lost. Double whammy.

7. πŸ“Ί Watchlist: Battle of Los Angeles

Basketball orbiting around a palm tree

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Clippers and Lakers face off tonight (10pm ET, TNT) at their shared home, looking to put recent cold streaks farther in the rearview on the strength of their red-hot superstars.

  • Clippers (25-24): They've won three of five after losing seven of eight; Kawhi Leonard is averaging 30-7-4 across seven games in January.
  • Lakers (22-25): They've won three of four since dropping three straight; LeBron James is averaging 35-10-8 in 10 games since turning 38.

More to watch:

  • 🎾 Australian Open: Quarterfinals (7pm, ESPN2) ... The action will last throughout the morning, just in case you were planning an all-nighter.
  • πŸ€Β NBA: Celtics at Heat (7:30pm, TNT) ... Rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
  • πŸ’Β NHL: Golden Knights at Devils (7:30pm, ESPN+) … First in the Pacific vs. second in the Metropolitan.
  • πŸ€Β NCAAM: No. 5 Kansas State at No. 12 Iowa State (9pm, ESPNU) … KSU has its highest ranking since reaching No. 3 in 2010-11.
  • ⚽️ Serie A: Lazio vs. AC Milan (2:45pm, CBSSN) … Top-six matchup.

8. 🌊 The Ocho: Wetsuit shaming

Alcatraz Race

Wetsuit or no wetsuit? Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

Wetsuit shaming is dividing Bay Area swimmers, writes WSJ's Robert McMillan ($).

"A year ago, Adele Gower used to cherish daily 90-minute swims in the frigid Bay here. Now she can only stand it for 30 minutes."
"She abandoned her wetsuit after being shamed by fellow San Francisco Bay swimmers β€” a peculiar, zealous breed, who jump off boats near Alcatraz Island and swim with seals in the city's Aquatic Park."
β€” McMillan

The backdrop: The wetsuit has a long history in the Bay Area, dating back to the early days of surfing. But San Francisco swimmers remain divided on the potentially lifesaving device.

  • Some locals call them "wuss suits." The 150-year-old South End Rowing Club, home to generations of early morning swimmers, prohibits them in its changing room.
  • But #TeamWetsuit isn't backing down: "We're here, we wear gear. Get used to it!" they once chanted to protest South End's anti-wetsuit culture and policies.

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Joe Burrow

Photo: Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Joe Burrow is just the third QB in NFL history to win at least five playoff games within his first three seasons.

  • Question: Name the other two.
  • Hint: Both this century.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🍿 1 dynamic duo: Ben and Matt

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Affleck and Damon on the set of "Air" last summer. Photo: Bellocqimages/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

"Air," a new movie starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon that tells the story of Nike's pursuit of Michael Jordan in the 1980s, will hit theaters on April 5, per the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Affleck directs, while also portraying Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Damon plays former Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro, who helped facilitate the shoe contract that changed sports forever.
  • Affleck and Damon have shared the screen on numerous occasions ("Good Will Hunting," "Dogma," "The Last Duel"), but this is the first time Affleck has directed his longtime friend.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "#TeamWetsuit" Baker

Trivia answer: Russell Wilson (6 wins, 2012-14) and Ben Roethlisberger (5, 2004-05)

πŸ™ Thanks for reading!Β Follow us for more (@kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy). Friends can sign up here. Thanks to Carolyn DiPaolo for copy edits.