A large foam finger.
Mar 27, 2020

Axios Sports

๐ŸŽ‰ Happy Friday! Quick shoutout to my new wingman, Jeff Tracy, for coming on board at the strangest possible time and crushing it so far. Great first two weeks, my friend.

  • In related news, today's edition is one of my favorite newsletters ever. Just absolutely packed with information, which is weird because I thought we weren't going to have anything to talk about this week! Love you all! Stay safe!

๐Ÿ’ฌ Got feedback for us? A story to pitch? Just want to say hey? To contact me, reply directly to this newsletter or message me on Twitter. To contact Jeff, email him at jeff.tracy@axios.com or message him on Twitter.

Today's word count: 1,784 (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐ŸŽ“ The ripple effects of March Sadness

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NCAA men's basketball tournament makes up more than 75% of the organization's annual revenue, so ever since March Madness was canceled, college administrators have been bracing for an economic gut punch.

Driving the news: The NCAA delivered the blow yesterday, announcing that it will distribute just $225 million to Division I conferences and schools for 2020 โ€” less than half of the $600 million that had originally been budgeted.

  • The NCAA said $50 million will come from its reserve fund, while a $270 million event cancellation insurance policy will help pay off the remaining distribution.

Between the lines: Lower divisions will also be taking a substantial hit, with D-II schools projected to receive $30 million less than last year (~$13.9 million), and D-III schools projected to receive $22 million less than last year (~$10.7 million).

Why it matters: This massive slashing of revenue distribution will affect athletic departments big and small, "likely starting with staffing reductions or salary freezes and eventually causing schools to reduce scholarships and potentially cut sports entirely," writes The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach (subscription).

The big picture: Many schools are already refunding student fees for the semester, and with spring (and potentially winter) athletes expected to be granted an extra year of eligibility, rosters and costs could balloon next year.

  • Add it all up and the impact that the coronavirus will have on college campuses is almost hard to fathom. A D-I basketball tournament was canceled and a D-III swimmer might feel the brunt of it.

The bottom line: The college sports world was already living in a new financial reality before yesterday's announcement, but now that they know the extent of the damage, "it feels more real," says NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan.

2. โšฝ๏ธ "Europe's last dictator" won't let sports stop

Photo: Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Belarus is the only European country that is still playing soccer. Why? Because President Alexander Lukashenko, a man often referred to as "Europe's last dictator," said so.

  • ๐ŸŒ Geography lesson: Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest.
  • ๐Ÿ”™ History lesson: Belarus was part of the Soviet Union until it was dissolved in 1991. Lukashenko has been president since 1994 and continued many Soviet-era policies.

What he's saying: "[The coronavirus] is just another psychosis, which will benefit some people and harm others," Lukashenko said last week. "The civilized world is going nuts. It is absolute stupidity to close state borders."

  • Instead of panicking "like those in Western Europe," he suggested having 40โ€“50 grams of vodka daily and frequenting saunas. He also told farmers to keep working, as "tough work and a tractor can cure anything."

The state of play: The 2020 Belarusian Premier League season began last Thursday as planned and games are scheduled to be played this weekend.

  • The league is benefiting financially, with TV networks in Russia and Ukraine acquiring the broadcast rights, the first time anyone from outside of Belarus has done so.
Fans watch a match between FC Slutsk and Slavia Mazyr last weekend. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Images

Between the lines: Some players are concerned about their health, but the lack of confirmed coronavirus cases in Belarus (86 in a country of 10 million) appears to have kept fears at a minimum.

  • "There is no panic in the team, but surely all of us hear and see what's happening in the world and it does get in our heads," one player told ESPN.
  • "It is indeed a nice feeling that the whole world is watching. ... I'm happy to be playing while most of my colleagues around the world are killing time sitting at home."

Elsewhere ... Soccer is also still being played in Central America (Nicaragua), Africa (Burundi) and Asia (Turkmenistan and Myanmar).

3. โšพ๏ธ MLB owners and players strike deal

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks with MLBPA head Tony Clark. Photo: LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images

On the day the 2020 season would have started, MLB players and owners struck a deal on salary and service-time issues as they prepare for a delayed, and potentially canceled, season, ESPN's Jeff Passan reports.

  • The players agreed to an advance of $170 million over the next two months (<4% of their total salaries in a full season) and prorated salaries for however many games end up being played. If the season is canceled, the players keep the advance but can't sue for the remainder of their salaries.
  • In exchange, the owners agreed to credit players with as much service time for 2020 as they compiled in 2019, even if the season is canceled. This means pending free agents are guaranteed to hit the market in November, so Mookie Betts could leave the Dodgers without ever playing for them.

Between the lines: As part of the deal, MLB now has the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds, down from the usual 40. And undrafted players would have their signing bonus capped at $20,000, per MLB insider Jon Heyman.

  • Why it matters: "With so little financial incentive to go pro, we could see a cascade of talented college prospects return to campus, and an unprecedented percentage of top high school seniors could play college ball," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann.
Bonus: โšพ๏ธ Opening Day at home, a recap

The bat flip heard 'round the world. Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

In lieu of Opening Day, MLB programmed a day of 30 classic games โ€” one for each team. Here are the scores and highlights:

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

4. ๐Ÿ˜ท Coronavirus: By the numbers
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ 83,000+ cases: The U.S. reported the most coronavirus cases in the world for the first time yesterday, exceeding China and Italy with more than 83,000 infections and over 1,200 deaths, per data from Johns Hopkins. Go deeper.
  • ๐Ÿ“ฑ 28-minute interview: Steph Curry interviewed White House coronavirus task force member, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for 28 minutes on Instagram Live yesterday. Tens of thousands of viewers tuned in, including former President Barack Obama.
  • ๐Ÿ€ $1 billion in losses: That's how much the NBA could lose as a result of the season suspension and the fallout in China stemming from Daryl Morey's tweet, per WashPost. One potential solution to salvage revenue: Hosting an in-season tournament in Las Vegas.
5. ๐ŸŽฎ Betting on simulated sports


What does a sports bettor do without sports? If you're David Hill, you bet on an NBA 2K simulation, then write about it for The Ringer.

After seeing NBA betting lines on his bookie's website, Hill clicked a link that took him to a broadcast of an NBA 2K game on Twitch, where the voice of a teenager was addressing the chatroom.

"The kid explained that they simulated an entire NBA season and had been doing it for a while. They would let the game take control of each team and play itself, letting the game's internal algorithm ... dictate the results."

Hill placed two bets โ€” $80 on the Rockets and $20 on the Knicks โ€” and settled in to watch some virtual hoops. But that's not quite what happened.

"Once the game tipped, I couldn't believe my eyes. ... A clock began to rapidly tick down. Where were the simulated players? Where was the virtual game? Within seconds the entire box score, all four quarters, was filled with numbers. The Knicks had been crushed. I had lost $20."

Confused by the lack of gameplay, Hill asked the kid running the chat if they were going to get to watch video game basketball at any point, rather than just seeing simulated box scores.

"'Nah, bro. If we actually watched the games we'd be here all night,' the teen responded. By the time he had finished speaking, the Rockets had lost by 40 points to the Cavaliers, and I was $100 in the hole."

Keep reading.

6. ๐Ÿ“ธ Pics du jour
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

FLUSHING, N.Y. โ€” A father and daughter play catch with a softball outside an empty Citi Field, home of the Mets.

Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

TOKYO โ€” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wears his stress on his sleeve during a budget committee session at parliament on Friday morning.

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

BROOKMONT, Md. โ€” Despite the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Team USA kayakers continued their training in the Potomac River. "The dream never dies," said kayaker Joshua Joseph. "Another year to push ... another year to get better." Hell yeah.

7. March 27, 1939: ๐Ÿ€ The first March Madness
Nice knee pads. Photo: NCAA Photos via Getty Images

81 years ago today, the Oregon Webfoots beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 46-33 (!!!), to win the inaugural NCAA men's basketball tournament. Yup, there's footage.

Details: It was technically the first March Madness, but the tournament bore little resemblance to what we know and love today.

  • Eight teams: The East region consisted of Brown, Ohio State, Villanova and Wake Forest; the West had Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Utah State.
  • Three venues: The East and West regionals took place at The Palestra (Philadelphia) and the California Coliseum (San Francisco), respectively, and the championship was held at Northwestern's Patten Gymnasium (Evanston, Illinois).

Fun fact: Webfoots didn't actually refer to ducks, but rather the group of Massachusetts fishermen that helped George Washington and his troops cross the Delaware River before the famous battle of 1776.

  • In the 1920s, an actual duck named Puddles began appearing at Oregon sporting events, and the association stuck.
  • In the 1940s, drawings of Puddles that circulated around campus began to resemble Donald Duck, and eventually the school received permission from Walt Disney himself to use Donald as their official mascot.
8. The Ocho: ๐Ÿ›’ Shopping cart racing

Screenshot: National Film Board (YouTube)

While browsing the internet yesterday, I somehow stumbled upon a 2008 documentary called "Carts of Darkness" about homeless men in Vancouver who race shopping carts.

  • Did I watch it? You bet I did. Finding content for "The Ocho" is a lifestyle.
  • Was it good? Yes. In fact, it blew me away.

๐ŸŽฅ Watch: Trailer or full movie

9. ๐Ÿˆ NFL trivia

Five of the 10 players who were drafted No. 1 overall last decade are not currently signed to an NFL team.

  • Question: Can you name all five?
  • Hint: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 drafts.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐ŸŽฌ Top 50 sports movies: Nos. 10โ€“1


This week, our resident film buff Jeff Tracy unveiled his Top 50 sports movies, concluding today with the top 10. (ICYMI: 50โ€“41, 40โ€“31, 30โ€“21, 20โ€“11)

10. Field of Dreams (1989) An absolute classic that can, and should, be watched over and over again. Still holding out hope we'll get to see this year's Field of Dreams game between the Yankees and White Sox.

9. Love & Basketball (2000) Sanaa Lathan (who had never picked up a basketball before filming) and Omar Epps are perfect as Monica and Quincy, and put the age-old game of strip basketball firmly back on the map.

8. Creed (2015) Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan may just be the modern-day equivalent to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro ("Fruitvale Station," "Creed," "Black Panther"). Can't wait to see their next joint project.

7. Bull Durham (1988) Tell me how it's possible that in consecutive years Kevin Costner made "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams?"

6. Friday Night Lights (2004) Boobie Miles flashing his signature bravado as he cleans out his locker; Boobie Miles breaking down in the car minutes later, a once-exciting future seemingly all but dashed. Sometimes, life isn't fair.

5. The Sandlot (1993) Heroes are remembered, but legends never die.

4. Rocky (1976) I'm cheating a bit here and rolling up the entire Rocky series into this slot. But if I had to pick just one, give me the first; give me the best.

3. Major League (1989) "Well then I guess there's only one thing left to do ... win the whole f---ing thing." Not sure what this movie has more of: unbelievable lines, or curse words.

2. Remember the Titans (2000) "YOU BLITZ ALL NIGHT!!! If they cross the line of scrimmage, I'll take every last one of you out! You make sure they remember FOREVER the night they played the Titans."

1. Moneyball (2011) How can you not be romantic about baseball?

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Gives me chills every time" Baker

Trivia answer: Sam Bradford (2010) Cam Newton (2011), Andrew Luck (2012), Jadeveon Clowney (2014) and Jameis Winston (2015)