Mar 4, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Luka vs. Zion tonight (9:30pm ET, ESPN).

Today's word count: 1,910 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🌲 Sports leagues ease up on weed

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With public support for marijuana legalization at an all-time high, and more athletes using cannabis to treat pain, the four major U.S. sports leagues are reducing restrictions and punishments β€” though the NBA lags behind the other three.

By the numbers: Recreational marijuana use is legal in 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is permitted in 33. 101 0f the 123 teams (82.1%) across the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL play in those states.

The holdouts: Only 22 teams are located in states where neither type of usage is legal, and over a third of them (8) are in Texas.

  • Texas: Astros, Cowboys, Mavericks, Rangers, Rockets, Stars, Spurs, Texans
  • North Carolina: Hornets, Hurricanes, Panthers
  • Tennessee: Grizzlies, Predators, Titans
  • Georgia: Braves, Falcons, Hawks
  • Indiana: Colts, Pacers
  • Wisconsin: Brewers, Bucks, Packers

League policies:

  • NHL: While the NHL tests for cannabis, there is no punishment for positives. If a player has "abnormally high levels" of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, it's treated as a matter of health care (as alcoholism would be).
  • MLB: In December, MLB removed marijuana from its list of banned substances and now treats it the same as alcohol. Players do, however, remain subject to discipline for using or possessing the drug, and the league sent a memo to teams last week warning them not to show up to the ballpark high.
  • NFL: The proposed CBA, which players will vote on soon, would dramatically reduce the testing window from nearly four months to two weeks, raise the threshold for positive tests (from 35 nanograms to 150) and eliminate suspensions for positive tests. Overall, the new policy would "increase emphasis on clinical care over punishment."
  • NBA: Marijuana remains on the NBA's list of banned substances, and players are subject to four random tests during the regular season, with punishment escalating from entering a drug program (first positive test) to a $25,000 fine (second) to a five-game suspension (third) to a 10-game suspension (fourth).

Go deeper ... Marijuana and the NBA: Erasing the stigma and healing the league (NBC Sports)

2. 😷 Coronavirus update
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and presumptive cases from the CDC.

As the coronavirus spreads across the U.S. (105 cases, nine deaths), the sports world is taking all necessary precautions β€” but there have yet to be any large-scale postponements or cancellations like we've seen abroad.

  • The big four: The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have established task forces and issued league-wide memos to ensure that teams have the latest updates from medical experts, and all four leagues held a conference call on Monday to share information.
  • L.A. Marathon: A week after the Tokyo Marathon asked most participants and all spectators to stay home, the L.A. Marathon will go on as planned.

Meanwhile, overseas: In Asia and Europe, where the majority of confirmed cases and deaths have occurred, multiple events have been postponed or canceled, and games are frequently being played without fans.

  • Tokyo Olympics: The International Olympic Committee continues to express confidence that the Summer Games will go on as scheduled, but a senior Japanese official said the contract stipulates only that the event be held at some point in 2020, leaving open the possibility of postponement.
  • NBA Africa League: The launch of the Basketball Africa League, the NBA's first attempt at operating a league outside of North America, has been postponed. It was supposed to kick off next Friday.
  • Soccer: Multiple matches in Italy, China, South Korea and other countries have been postponed, and Valencia (Spain) will play its home Champions League match against Atalanta next week behind closed doors.
  • Cycling: The final two stages of the U.A.E. tour were canceled after two "suspected" cases and four teams remain quarantined. Meanwhile, American cycling team EF Pro Cycling has pulled out of three major races in Italy this month.
  • Formula 1: Travel restrictions have been put in place by Bahrain and Vietnam β€” the hosts of the second (March 22) and third (April 5) stops of the season β€” and races will not be held if any teams are denied entry. In addition, the Chinese Grand Prix (April 19) has been postponed.

Go deeper: All the sports events hit by coronavirus (Reuters)

3. ❀️ Sports forever

Josh Speidel was a highly-touted basketball prospect before a nearly fatal car accident during his senior year of high school put him in a coma and left him with a traumatic brain injury.

What he's saying: In a postgame interview, Josh acknowledged his fellow seniors β€” "I know I scored, but this night wasn't about me" β€” then joked that he considered missing so he could log an offensive rebound. "But ya know, I figured I might as well go 1-for-1 and shoot 100% in my college career."

The bottom line: I love sports, I love Josh Speidel and I love you.

4. πŸ“Έ Yesterday in photos
Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. β€” With Gregg Popovich sidelined due to personal reasons, Tim Duncan served as head coach of the Spurs, leading them to a 104-103 win over the Hornets.

  • What he's saying: Duncan made sure to give credit to his fellow assistant coaches. "We got Becky [Hammon] and Will [Hardy] and Mitch [Johnson]. Mitch prepped the game for us, Becky and Will were making all the calls ... We did it coach by committee, and it could have been any one of us out there."
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

BROOKLYN, N.Y. β€” Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk immediately went down to the ice after taking a blade to the face, before skating off in pain.

  • The backdrop: The incident occurred a little more than a year after Boychuk narrowly avoided having his neck slashed by a blade, and it's the Islanders' third scary incident this season involving an errant skate.
Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

PISCATAWAY, N.J. β€” Rutgers improved to 18-1 at home (school record for home wins) and bolstered its NCAA tournament hopes with a 78-67 win over No. 9 Maryland. The Scarlet Knights are now 8-0 against the spread vs. ranked opponents this season.

5. πŸ—ž The Athletic's future likely "hinges on sale"

Adam Hansmann (left) and Alex Mather, co-founders of The Athletic. Courtesy: The Athletic

"Sportswriting's future may depend on The Athletic, which is either reassuring or terrifying," writes WashPost's Ben Strauss.

  • "The Athletic has raised $140 million, is approaching 1 million subscribers and is valued at about $500 million, according to the company."
  • "But it's not yet profitable. It hasn't released any revenue figures. And it has continued to raise money."

The big picture: The range of outcomes for the company and its massive newsroom still varies widely, but investors "believe its future hinges on a sale."

  • "In other words," writes Strauss, "it could represent the idyllic future of sports journalism, a venture capital-backed mirage or something in between."

Keep reading.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Photo: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images
  • πŸ€ Twenty 50-point games: During the 2010-11 regular season, there were just two 50-point games. This season, there have been 20, with Brooklyn's Caris LeVert joining the club last night. 37 of his 51 points came in the fourth quarter and OT in a win over Boston.
  • ⚾️ $215 million: 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich is nearing a deal that would keep him in Milwaukee long term. The new contract will reportedly run through 2028 and pay him $215 million β€” more than double Ryan Braun's $105 million deal, which had previously been the richest in franchise history.
  • πŸ—½ 27 days: New York has 27 days to get mobile sports betting on the budget, per The Action Network. A recent report said the state lost $6.2 million in tax revenue in 2019 because a projected $837 million in wagers went to New Jersey, where New Yorkers regularly travel to place mobile bets.
7. March 4, 1993: ❀️ Jimmy V's ESPY speech

Courtesy: ESPN

27 years ago, Jim Valvano delivered his iconic "don't give up, don't ever give up" speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards.

  • "To me, there are three things we all should do every day. ... No. 1 is laugh. ... No. 2 is think. ... No. 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears ... That's a full day. That's a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."
  • "Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you, and God bless you all."

In related news ... Maura Mandt, the longtime executive producer of the ESPYs who grew it from a small show into one of the sport's calendars signature events, died unexpectedly last Friday. She was 53.

"Maura treated every year as a new chance to create moments that would inspire ... It was Maura who convinced 140 of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse survivors to come to Los Angeles ... It was Maura who crafted unforgettable tributes on the show to heroes like Pat Tillman ... It was Maura who honored Caitlyn Jenner in her first major appearance in the world, in many ways amplifying a conversation about shifting gender norms in our society."
β€” Aaron Cohen, The Ringer

Go deeper:

πŸ’΅ Donate to the V Foundation

8. The Ocho: 🎳 Candlepin bowling

Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Candlepin bowling is a variation of bowling that actually predates standard tenpin bowling and is found mostly in New England and Eastern Canada.

How it works: There are two main differences between candlepin and tenpin bowling: the equipment and the gameplay.

  • Pins: Candlepins are taller but significantly thinner than tenpin bowling pins. They taper out a bit in the middle (don't we all) but are basically cylinders.
  • Ball: Candlepin balls are much smaller and lighter than tenpin balls (roughly the same size and weight of bocce balls), and thus, doesn't have finger holes.
  • Gameplay: In tenpin, bowlers throw one frame at a time, two balls per frame; in candlepin, they throw two frames at a time, three balls per frame. Any pins that are knocked down during the first or second throws are left on the lane and can be strategically used to help knock down the remaining pins.

What they're saying: Here's Slate's Elizabeth McCracken, who grew up playing candlepin bowling, on why it's harder (and better) than tenpin:

"Because both the pins and balls are lighter, play is unpredictable. People have been bowling perfect games in tenpin since the turn of the 20th century; nobody has ever bowled a perfect game of candlepin."
"In other words ... tenpin is easier. This is a statistical fact. Tenpin is a game of brute force and pure slapstick. Candlepin is full of heartbreak and poetry and luck. The pins dance and dodge. Sometimes they fall over when you least expect it. Sometimes they persevere."

Go deeper: The rules of candlepin bowling (YouTube)

9. ⛳️ Golf trivia
  • Question: Who are currently the top two men's golfers in the world golf rankings?
  • Hint: Both are European.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ€ Most popular college hoops teams by county
Courtesy: Vivid Seats

Texas Tech, Kentucky and Minnesota are the most popular college basketball teams by county, according to a map powered by Vivid Seats ticket sales data.

By the numbers: Texas has by far the most counties of any state, including a number of sparsely populated ones near Texas Tech, so that's a big reason why the Red Raiders top the list. In 119 counties, they're the most popular team.

  1. Texas Tech (119 counties)
  2. Kentucky (116)
  3. Minnesota (97)
  4. Arkansas (96)
  5. Nebraska (88)

Worth noting:

  • Duke claims 20 counties, but only three in North Carolina β€” evidence of the Blue Devils' national following and their stiff in-state competition.
  • Arkansas is the only program that owns an entire state, claiming all 75 counties. Woo! Pig sooie!

Explore the map.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Big Lebowski edition (weed + bowling + golf)" Baker

Trivia answer: Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland) and Jon Rahm (Spain)