Jul 10, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Friday! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,713 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 🎓 Big Ten goes conference-only, others likely to follow

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Big Ten announced Thursday that it will move all fall sports to a conference-only schedule.

  • The Pac-12 is expected to make a similar decision in the coming days, sources told The Athletic (subscription).
  • The ACC will likely follow suit, at least for football, sources told Stadium. And it will assist independent Notre Dame with filling out its schedule if needed.

Why it matters: This will have a snowball effect on the rest of the country, and could force all Power 5 conferences to follow suit, resulting in a regionalized fall sports season.

The big picture: While this news is jarring, non-conference scheduling would improve the chances of fall sports actually being played, as it cuts down on travel and limits outside variables (i.e. conferences having different testing protocols).

  • Going this route also buys time (the football season usually starts with a few weeks of non-conference games) and gives conferences more flexibility to cancel/postpone games and make other real-time decisions during the season.

By the numbers: In the case of Big Ten football, canceling non-conference games affects 36 scheduled opponents.

  • Five marquee matchups — Ohio State at Oregon, Michigan at Washington, Notre Dame at Wisconsin, Penn State at Virginia Tech and Miami at Michigan State — will be eliminated.
  • Six FBS schools — Ball State, Bowling Green, BYU, Central Michigan, UConn and Northern Illinois — were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents.
  • Eight FCS schools will lose their games against Big Ten schools, which also means they'll lose the six- and seven-figure money guarantees that help fund their athletic departments.

The last word: "We're in a perpetual state of fluidity right now in dealing with all of these issues," Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told NYT.

  • "We're taking it one step at a time, and we're also prepared not to play the season if circumstances dictate."
2. 🏝 "Fight Island" has arrived
The octagon at Yas Beach. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

"The imagery evoked by Dana White's crazy idea was undeniably intoxicating: An octagon perched amid swaying palm trees on a white sand beach, waves lapping at the canvas while mixed martial arts fighters traded blows in the tropical sun," AP's Greg Beacham writes.

  • A few months later, "Fight Island" is ready to host fights — though it's not exactly the idyllic setting that its name suggests.

Details:

  • The setting: Rather than a deserted tropical paradise, Yas Island is a modern tourist destination in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. with amusement parks and malls (see satellite image). One friend who has been there described it to me as a "futuristic Scottsdale, Arizona."
  • The schedule: Fight Island will host four UFC events across 14 days, starting with three championship fights at UFC 251 this weekend. Saturday night's main event: Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal.
  • The "bubble": Six square miles have been set apart for the ~2,000 people involved in the UFC's production. Locals went through a 14-day quarantine, and everyone inside the safe zone has passed several COVID-19 tests, per AP.

Go deeper: The inside story of Kamaru Usman, his father and a Texas prison (ESPN)

3. 🏀 NBA exit interviews

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

While the 22 NBA teams still in the hunt descend upon Walt Disney World, the eight eliminated teams are already looking ahead to next season (and could be headed to a second bubble in Chicago), Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Charlotte Hornets
  • Record: 23-42
  • Future outlook: Not great. This was by far Charlotte's worst year since 2012-13 (Kemba Walker's second season), and they'll need to strike gold like that again in the draft to build around their cast of moderately talented misfits, led by breakout guard Devonte' Graham and athletic wing Miles Bridges.
Chicago Bulls
  • Record: 22-43
  • Future outlook: In desperate need of stability. Zach LaVine is an electric but mercurial scorer and Lauri Markkanen took a major step back in year three. Until they get a true leader, including a coach who commands his players' respect in a way Jim Boylen has not, its hard to see them taking the next step.
New York Knicks
  • Record: 21-45
  • Future outlook: Who knows with them. Do they ever plan to play 21-year-old Frank Ntilikina more than 20 minutes a night? Will they keep signing good-stat, bad-team power forwards? Young center Mitchell Robinson is a unique talent and R.J. Barrett clearly has potential. Otherwise, good luck.
Detroit Pistons
  • Record: 20-46
  • Future outlook: Not as bad as it seems. The wheels really fell off in late January, when they lost 18 of their final 21 games. The if-they-stay-healthy All-Stars (Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose) plus breakout guard Luke Kennard form a solid core to help move on from the Andre Drummond era.
Atlanta Hawks
  • Record: 20-47
  • Future outlook: Quite rosy, actually. Budding superstar Trae Young has the perfect running mates in stretch four John Collins and newly-acquired center Clint Capela. And because their team is so young, they have plenty of cap space to play with.
Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Record: 19-45
  • Future outlook: The important pieces are in place. Superstars are the name of the game, and they've got, well, one-and-a-half in Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. If they learn to play defense and complementary players like Malik Beasley (restricted free agent) stick around, they could be fun.
Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Record: 19-46
  • Future outlook: Probably not making the playoffs anytime soon, but it's not for lack of trying. If young guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland reach their potential, a starting five of those two plus Drummond, Kevin Love, and Cedi Osman/Kevin Porter Jr. could be pretty exciting.
Golden State Warriors
  • Record: 15-50
  • Future outlook: Pretty darn good. They picked an unbelievable time to accidentally rebuild, with injured superstars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson set to return next year alongside a rested Draymond Green, a hungry-to-prove-himself Andrew Wiggins and a top draft pick to be determined.
4. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Tiger Woods after winning the 2012 Memorial Tournament. Photo: Chris Condon/PGA Tour via Getty Images

  • ⛳️ Golf: Tiger Woods will make his first PGA Tour appearance since the start of the pandemic at next week's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, where he has won five times.
  • 🏀 College hoops: Zion Williamson's stepfather accepted a $400,000 payment from a marketing agent in 2018 prior to Williamson's only season at Duke, according to a court motion and sworn affidavit filed on Thursday.
  • 🏒 NHL: The Devils hired veteran coach Lindy Ruff to take over one of the NHL's youngest teams, while also making Tom Fitzgerald their permanent GM after six months in an interim role.
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 17)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

17. Phoenix Suns

Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash joined Phoenix the same year (2004-05), taking over a 29-win team and proceeding to average 58 wins a season for the next four. The coach with the crazy idea ("seven seconds or less") was the perfect match for one of the most electric point guards to ever play the game.

  • Year established: 1968
  • All-time record: 2,212-1,987 (.527)
  • NBA Championships: 0
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 5

Starters:

  • Steve Nash*, G (14.4 pts, 3.1 reb, 9.4 ast, 20.8 PER/82.7 WS)
  • Kevin Johnson, G (18.7 pts, 3.4 reb, 9.5 ast, 21.0 PER/90.9 WS)
  • Shawn Marion, F (18.4 pts, 10.0 reb, 2.0 ast, 20.9 PER/93.2 WS)
  • Charles Barkley*, F (23.4 pts, 11.5 reb, 4.4 ast, 24.7 PER/44.4 WS)
  • Amar'e Stoudemire, C (21.4 pts, 8.9 reb, 1.4 blk, 22.6 PER/67.9 WS)

Sixth man: Walter Davis, F (20.5 pts, 3.2 reb, 4.4 ast, 19.6 PER/66.4 WS)

Bench:

  • Larry Nance, F (17.3 pts, 7.8 reb, 2.6 ast, 19.8 PER/53.6 WS)
  • Connie Hawkins*, F (20.5 pts, 9.0 reb, 4.3 ast, 18.4 PER/36.2 WS)
  • Paul Westphal*, G (20.6 pts, 2.2 reb, 5.2 ast, 21.3 PER/51.5 WS)
  • Jason Kidd*, G (14.4 pts, 6.4 reb, 9.7 ast, 18.8 PER/37.5 WS)
  • Alvan Adams, C (14.1 pts, 7.0 reb, 4.1 ast, 18.3 PER/73.5 WS)
  • Tom Chambers, F (20.6 pts, 6.6 reb, 2.3 ast, 17.9 PER/34.6 WS)

Notes:

  • Nash is one of just 11 players to win consecutive MVPs, and he's also 11th all-time in 3pt% (42.78%), third in assists (10,335) and second in FT% (90.43%).
  • Barkley was an enigma. Listed at 6-foot-6, but apparently closer to 6-foot-4, he's the shortest player to ever win a rebounding title (14.6 in 1986-87), and is also 20th all-time (12,546).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks, 18. Wizards

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 10, 1999: ⚽️ Brandi wins it
Photo: Hector Mata/AFP via Getty Images

21 years ago today, the USWNT outlasted China, 5-4, in an epic penalty shootout to win the 1999 World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Details: It was Brandi Chastain's final spot kick that sealed the deal for the U.S. after 120 minutes of scoreless play. Please enjoy.

"It was complete slow-motion between my foot and the net ... And when it hit the net: an explosion. Noise, cheering, cameras, teammates, everything."
— Brandi Chastain

The big picture: This final remains one of the biggest stages women's sports has ever seen, with 90,000+ fans in attendance and 40+ million watching from home.

  • Two years later, the world's first female professional soccer league, the Women's United Soccer Association, was born.
7. 📚 Good reads

Mike Trout running the bases. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

⚾️ One (weird) week down, two to go: MLB's "mad dash" to opening day (Bob Nightengale, USA Today)

"There were opt-outs, failed tests, missing delivery trucks, angry emails, cancelled workouts, terse statements, retirements, World Series ring deliveries, and two seasons worth of schedules released 72 hours apart."

🏈 So long, goal-line fade: Why one of the NFL's least efficient passing plays is disappearing (Mina Kimes, ESPN)

"Just 13.5% of those 37 fades were caught for touchdowns in 2019, compared with 57% of flat routes, 42% of slants and 42.5% of out routes. Although last season was historically awful, the play has always been a dubious option."

⚽️ Game time beer? For MLS, make that a kickoff cappuccino (Andrew Keh, NYT)

"Bed head, morning breath, fatigue. The 9 a.m. kickoffs for Major League Soccer games restarting this week could be one of the bigger challenges for players taking the field."
8. The Ocho: ⚽️ Goalball
Source: IBSA Goalball (YouTube)

Goalball is an official Paralympic sport, specifically designed for visually-impaired athletes.

How it works: The format is relatively simple, harkening back to the childhood favorite, Goalie Wars.

  • Games are three-on-three, comprised of 12-minute halves, with players attempting to throw the ball into their opponents' court-width goal (can't be thrown in the air).
  • Because visual impairment differs by athlete, eye shades are worn and it's a penalty if you so much as touch them.
  • The ball has bells inside so players can better hear it coming towards them.

🎥 Watch: How to play (YouTube)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia
Giphy

Only two players in NFL history have recorded 300+ receptions over their first three seasons.

  • Question: Can you name them?
  • Hint: Both are active and play in the same division.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Ian and his son at a Phillies game. Photo: Ian S.

Ian S. (Cherry Hill, N.J.) writes:

"In September of 2011, my oldest son, then 12 years old, collided knee-to-knee with a goalie during a soccer game.
"I heard the crack from clear across the field, and when he didn't get up, I bolted out of my chair and ran over to him. When I got there, he wasn't even crying. He just looked at me and said, 'Dad, my knee's really messed up.'
"I carried him to the car, and brought him straight to an orthopedist. An X-ray and an MRI later, we learned that he'd suffered a 'Grade 4 Growth Plate Fracture,' which is apparently just one level short of needing a complete knee reconstruction.
"The doctor said it normally takes 18 to 24 months for a kid to completely heal. My son just looked at me and said, 'Dad, I'm playing in my team's season-ending tournament,' which was less than nine months away.
"Fast forward nine months — which included two months in a cast, even longer in a brace and weeks upon weeks of intense physical therapy — and there he was, playing in his team's tournament.
"He could barely move at times, and he only played a few minutes each game, but he did play. I've never been more proud of his determination, and seeing him on that field will always be my favorite sports memory."

✍️ 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 until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "The bubble is what you make it, man" Baker

Trivia answer: Michael Thomas (321) and Christian McCaffrey (303)