Nov 8, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

πŸ‘‹ Happy Friday! Axios on HBO is back on Sunday (and includes an interview with Edward Snowden). Let's sports.

  • FYI: You can always sign up (or tell your friends to sign up) at
  • Announcement: We're off on Monday for Veterans Day.

Today's word count: 1,687 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 🏈 All eyes on the "Game of the Century"

llustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

On Nov. 5, 2011, No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama met in Tuscaloosa in what was billed as college football's "Game of the Century." The Tigers prevailed, 9-6 in OT, in a game that featured 49 future NFL players.

  • Two months later, Alabama beat LSU, 21-0, in the BCS National Championship Game β€” a controversial rematch that led to the demise of the BCS and the birth of the College Football Playoff.

"Game of the Century," Part II: The Tigers visit the Crimson Tide tomorrow afternoon (3:30pm ET, CBS) in the first regular-season AP No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting since their game eight years ago.

  • Interestingly enough, the very thing they helped birth β€” a system where humans, not computers, rank the nation's best teams β€” has LSU and Alabama at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the playoff rankings.

The stakes: If Alabama loses, they'll almost certainly miss the playoff for the first time since its 2014 inception. If LSU wins, they'll be in the driver's seat the rest of the way.

Betting info:

  • Spread: ALA -6.0
  • Over/Under: 63
  • Moneyline: LSU + 185 (bet $100, win $185); ALA -220 (bet $220, win $100)


  • Will Tua play? Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (ankle) remains a game-time decision. "We'll continue to monitor him and see how he progresses, but we're pleased with where he is," coach Nick Saban told ESPN yesterday.
  • Home field advantage: The Tide have won 31 straight home games, and they've lost just four regular-season home games since 2008 (78-4 record in that span).


  • New look Tigers: LSU has forever been known for hard-nosed, ground-and-pound football. Now they're competing statistically with Mike Leach's Air Raid. "I'd like to play just one game with that playbook. Heck, just one quarter," said former QB Tommy Hodson.
  • Heisman watch: QB Joe Burrow has completed 78.8% of his passes this season, which would be the best single-season completion percentage of all-time. Hence why he's the current Heisman favorite (though Tagovailoa isn't far behind).

Meanwhile, off the field: After attending a World Series game two weeks ago and a UFC fight last weekend, President Trump is expected to be in attendance, adding a heightened sense of drama to an already massive spectacle.

Go deeper:

2. πŸŽ“ A small college commits to diversity

Amherst College campus. Photo: Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The youth sports economy has doubled in size over the past decade to more than $15 billion, ushering in an era of private coaching, travel teams and summer showcases.

Why it matters: This prices out young athletes from low- and even middle-class households, which might explain why the average child today spends less than three years playing a sport and quits by age 11.

  • It might also explain why college sports teams are increasingly lacking in diversity, especially when football and basketball are excluded.

By the numbers: According to a 2018 NCAA survey, nearly 70% of its athletes competing outside of football and basketball were white. The disparity was even greater at the Division III-level, where that number was almost 80%.

Fighting back: Roughly three years ago, Amherst College, a small liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., embarked on a mission to make its sports teams (23% students of color) look more like its overall student body (45% students of color).

  • "Amherst coaches, with a slightly augmented recruiting budget, have since looked beyond the most popular, suburban-based youth sports tournaments and frequently taken the less-traveled path to far-flung locales," writes NYT's Bill Pennington.
  • "They have beat the bushes with blind calls, targeted distinct youth clubs from mixed neighborhoods and expanded an existing program that flies prospective minority applicants to the Amherst campus to substantially include recruited athletes."
  • The results: The school's most recent recruiting class was 32% athletes of color, a 21% increase from what it was in 2002.

The big picture: While it's worth acknowledging that Amherst's deep pockets and ability to give financial aid ($2.4 billion endowment) may have helped, it's not like this can't be replicated elsewhere. After all, the school simply made diversity a priority in recruiting β€” and coaches put in the work to accomplish that goal.

β€œIn terms of resources, we're talking ... tens of thousands of dollars, but we're not talking millions of dollars. What matters more than money to travel is the effort, the awareness and the commitment."
β€” Amherst president Biddy Martin, per NYT

The bottom line: The current youth sports model shuts out far too many Americans, and that's a problem that needs to be addressed.

  • But in the interim, colleges can, and should, make an effort to counter that imbalance from the top-down, rather than waiting for a broken system to fix itself from the ground-up.
3. πŸ“Έ Last night in photos
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

OAKLAND, CALIF. β€” Unless they host a playoff game, last night was the Raiders' final night game in Oakland before the franchise moves to Las Vegas next season.

  • Perhaps sensing the moment, the Silver and Black played one of their best games of the year, beating the Chargers, 26-24, on a late 18-yard TD run by rookie Josh Jacobs.
Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

SUNRISE, FLA. β€” Tom Wilson scored two goals, including the game-winner 17 seconds into overtime (above), as the Capitals beat the Panthers, 5-4, to win their fifth straight game and improve to an NHL-best 12-2-3.

  • Best teams: Capitals (27 pts), Blues (25), Bruins (24), Islanders (23), Oilers (22), Flames (22), Maple Leafs (21), Canucks (21), Golden Knights (21), Sabres (20), Avalanche (20), Predators (20), Coyotes (20).
Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES β€” Kawhi Leonard had 27 points and 13 boards the night after missing a nationally televised loss to the Bucks, and Lou Williams added 26 points and 8 assists off the bench to lift the Clippers over the Trail Blazers, 107-101.

  • Elsewhere: LaMarcus Aldridge (39 pts, 19-23 FG) led the Spurs past the Thunder ... Jimmy Butler (34 pts, 11-16 FG) led the Heat past the Suns ... Boston's Kemba Walker (14 pts) got a win in his return to Charlotte.
4. ⛳️ Tiger picks Woods
Screenshot: @PresidentsCup (Twitter)

Tiger Woods, the captain, has chosen Tiger Woods, the player, as one of his four wild-card selections for the 12-man U.S. Presidents Cup team, which will compete against the International team next month at Royal Melbourne in Australia.

U.S. Team:

  • 4 wild-cards: Woods, Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed.
  • 8 automatic bids: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay.

International Team (captained by Ernie Els):

  • 4 wild-cards: Jason Day (Australia), Sungjae Im (South Korea), Joaquin Niemann (Chile), Adam Hadwin (Canada).
  • 8 automatic bids: Hideki Matsuyama (Japan), Adam Scott (Australia), Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa), Marc Leishman (Australia), Abraham Ancer (Mexico), Haotong Li (China), Cam Smith (Australia), C.T. Pan (Taiwan).

Looking ahead: The U.S. Team will be an overwhelming favorite, as 11 of its 12 players are ranked among the top 16 in the world, while the International Team's highest-ranked player is No. 17 Adam Scott.

  • Yes, but: Royal Melbourne is the site of the only International victory in President's Cup history, a 20.5-11.5 win in 1998.

Go deeper: Preview the course (YouTube)

5. ⚾️ Sluggers of the year

The AL and NL Silver Slugger Awards were announced last night. Eight hitters won for the first time, Atlanta led the way with three selections, Mike Trout won for the seventh time in nine seasons and Boston had a pair of third-time winners.


  • AL β€” Mitch Garver, MIN: .273 BA, 31 HR, 67 RBI, .995 OPS
  • NL β€” J.T. Realmuto, PHI (2): .275 BA, 25 HR, 83 RBI, .820 OPS


  • AL β€” Carlos Santana, CLE: .281 BA, 34 HR, 93 RBI, .911 OPS
  • NL β€” Freddie Freeman, ATL: .295 BA, 38 HR, 121 RBI, .938 OPS


  • AL β€” D.J. LeMahieu, NYY: .327 BA, 26 HR, 102 RBI, .893 OPS
  • NL β€” Ozzie Albies, ATL: .295 BA, 24 HR, 86 RBI, .852 OPS


  • AL β€” Xander Bogaerts, BOS (3): .309 BA, 33 HR, 117 RBI, .939 OPS
  • NL β€” Trevor Story, COL (2): .294 BA, 35 HR, 85 RBI, .917 OPS


  • AL β€” Alex Bregman, HOU: .296 BA, 41 HR, 112 RBI, 1.015 OPS
  • NL β€” Anthony Rendon, WSH (2): .319 BA, 34 HR, 126 RBI, 1.010 OPS


  • AL β€” Mike Trout, LAA (7): .291 BA, 45 HR, 101 RBI, 1.083 OPS
  • NL β€” Cody Bellinger, LAD: .305 BA, 47 HR, 115 RBI, 1.035 OPS


  • AL β€” George Springer, HOU (2): .292 BA, 39 HR, 96 RBI, .915 OPS
  • NL β€” Christian Yelich, MIL (3): .329 BA, 44 HR, 97 RBI, 1.100 OPS


  • AL β€” Mookie Betts, BOS (3): .295 BA, 29 HR, 80 RBI, .915 OPS
  • NL β€” Ronald AcuΓ±a Jr., ATL: .280 BA, 41 HR, 101 RBI, .883 OPS


  • AL DH β€” Nelson Cruz, MIN (3): .311 BA, 41 HR, 108 RBI, 1.031 OPS
  • NL P β€” Zack Greinke, ARI/HOU (2): .271 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI, .883 OPS
6. 🎩 Fresno magic!
Photo: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Speaking of baseball, get this...

  • Last week, the Nationals became the fifth parent team of the Fresno Grizzlies to win the World Series this decade.
  • The Grizzlies were previously the Astros' AAA team when they won the World Series in 2017 and the Giants' AAA team when they won in 2010, 2010 and 2014.
7. Nov. 8, 1984: 🌊 MJ dazzles in MSG debut
Photo: Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

35 years ago today, Michael Jordan recorded 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his first NBA game at Madison Square Garden, leading the Bulls past the Knicks, 121-106.

The backdrop: After being taken with the No. 3 pick in the 1984 draft (behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie), Jordan wasted no time in announcing his arrival, averaging 27.3 pts, 5.5 reb and 4.7 ast through his first 10 games.

  • By season's end, he had upped those numbers to 28.2 pts, 6.5 reb and 5.9 ast to go along with 2.4 steals, all while shooting 51.5% from the floor.

Go deeper: If you want to know what TV was like in 1984, please watch this video of MJ's debut at The Garden. Just a completely different broadcast style, it's crazy.

8. The Ocho: 🐳 Whales love rugby
Credit: Alon Kowen on Facebook

A human and a beluga whale had some fun with a rugby ball, and it was beautiful. Truly incredible how a ball and the concept of "play" can break all communication barriers and allow two species to connect like that.

9. 🏈 CFB trivia

Alabama junior wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III are tied for second in program history with 22 career receiving TD.

  • Question: Who is No. 1 on the list?
  • Hint: He's currently in the NFL.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🚨 Question for you...

What do you think about the new trivia placement (No. 9 instead of No. 7)?

Kendall Baker

Talk Tuesday,

Kendall "Currently on repeat" Baker

Trivia answer: Amari Cooper (31)