Happy Friday! Let's get right into it.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The Alliance of American Football, one of a handful of upstart pro football leagues looking to sell Americans a side of football with their football, begins play this weekend.
Details: 10 weeks. 40 games. Typically, there will be 2 Saturday games and 2 Sunday games each week, with 1 in the afternoon time slot and 1 in the evening.
Teams: 7 of the 8 teams are located in the southern U.S., occupying space that the NFL currently doesn't.
Thought bubble: I'm honestly kind of pumped for this, mainly because if the games are even mildly entertaining, we won't have to pretend to care about the 3 cone drill at the NFL combine anymore.
Related: Bob Stoops will coach in the XFL
Of the top 6 teams with the best odds of making the NBA Finals, 4 are in the East: Toronto Raptors (+800), Boston Celtics (+1200), Philadelphia 76ers (+1200) and Milwaukee Bucks (+1400).
Meanwhile, on TNT: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo picked their teams in the first-ever All-Star draft.
Professional golfers are hitting the ball so far that classic holes are being rendered obsolete. It has the sport at a crossroads:
Full report coming Monday.
Frank Robinson circa 1970. Photo: Louis Requena/MLB Photos
Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win MVP in both leagues, died Thursday at the age of 83.
"Robinson's life in baseball is its own multigenerational epic," writes The Ringer's Michael Baumann. "He broke into the big leagues as MLB was still adjusting to integration and recovering from World War II."
Watch: Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon's favorite Frank stories.
🇬🇧 Premier League: 8 months after longtime CEO Richard Scudamore announced his plan to resign, the Premier League is no closer to naming his successor. In November, it looked like TV exec Susanna Dinnage would take the job ... until she changed her mind on New Year's Eve. The Wall Street Journal has more.
🇺🇸 USMNT: SB Nation analyzed the demographics of the U.S. men's national team and the findings are super interesting. Get this: In 2008, 68.8% if USMNT players had played college soccer. By 2018, the number was down to 39.6%.
🇪🇸 La Liga: Real Madrid (42 points; 3rd place) travel to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano for a cross-city derby with Atlético Madrid (44 points; 2nd place) tomorrow morning. Pretty epic stadium.
Just in: Sad news out of Brazil this morning, as a fire tore through a dormitory at a top youth soccer academy, killing at least 10 people.
Mike writes: As we close in on the final month of the regular season, here’s what the major college basketball landscape looks like:
Big Ten: Its best teams may not be quite as good as the best of the ACC, but the Big Ten's depth from top to bottom is impressive. All 14 teams in the league are within the kenpom top 100, with Rutgers being the only one outside the top 70.
ACC: Virginia (20-1, 8-1 in conference), Duke (20-2, 8-1) and UNC (18-4, 8-1) sit atop the conference, fueled by a bevy of NBA talent including Duke's Zion Williamson, UNC's Nasir Little and UVA's DeAndre Hunter.
Big 12: This conference isn't scared of Kansas anymore. Both Texas and Kansas State have beaten the Jayhawks in the last few weeks, and KSU leads the way with a month left to go.
SEC: The biggest thing standing in the way of Tennessee and the No. 1 overall seed: Kentucky. They play the Wildcats twice over the next month.
Big East: Villanova got off to a slow start, but they've hit their stride and are undefeated (10-0) in conference play. Marquette (8-2), led by elite scorer Markus Howard, is nipping at their heels.
Pac-12/AAC: Pac-12 fans, please don't be offended that we're comparing you to a mid-major. And AAC (American Athletic Conference) fans, please don't be offended that we're comparing you to the Pac-12...
Answer at the bottom.
Competitors at the 2014 U.S. Sumo Open. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Mike writes: Sumo wrestling might be one of the last things you'd think of when someone asks you about American sports, but Japan's 2,000 year old martial art has a home in the U.S.
What's happening: Dozens of heavy hitters, to put it lightly, are competing in trial matches this Saturday at the U.S. Sumo National Championships for a spot at the World Sumo Championships in Hawaii.
Details: The double-elimination trial matches will be held between amateur wrestlers in 5 different weight classes, including:
Notable names: Trent Sabo, a lightweight silver medalist in the 2017 World Championships, and Roy Sims, a former Arena Football League player turned heavyweight, are expected to earn slots in their weight division for the national championships.
83 years ago today, the NFL held its inaugural draft. The first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger (University of Chicago), was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the first overall pick.
Then things got weird: Berwanger's rights were traded to the Chicago Bears, as the Eagles were unable to meet his demand of $1,000 per game (most players were making $50).
Fun fact: Drafted with the 31st overall pick by the Brooklyn Dodgers? Paul "Bear" Bryant. See the full draft.
Kendall "Might need to hire a sneakers beat reporter" Baker
Trivia answer: Lou Gehrig (#4)