Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

May 04, 2021

👋 Good morning! We've got a short and sweet edition for you today. Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,252 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 Inside the CFP expansion debate

Illustrated pattern of footballs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Expansion is likely coming to the College Football Playoff, but exactly how and when remains a mystery, Axios' Jeff Tracy and I write.

Driving the news: CFP executive director Bill Hancock sent shockwaves through the college football world late last month when he said that the CFP Management Committee was exploring expansion models.

  • According to Hancock, those models range from six to 16 teams, but the playoff will remain at four teams for at least the next two seasons.
  • The 11-member committee has a four-member subgroup leading the charge: Greg Sankey (SEC commissioner), Bob Bowlsby (Big 12), Craig Thompson (Mountain West) and Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame AD).

What they're saying: Five of the 11 committee members told SI this week (subscription) that they are in favor of expansion, while another three said they're open to it.

  • "I'm not about to predict the timing, but there is a general acknowledgement that the CFP will expand," said one commissioner.
  • Yes, but: TV and bowl partners have not been included in any expansion talks, evidence of how preliminary they are. "Don't read too much into it," says Hancock. "This is due diligence."

The big picture: Getting all 11 committee members to unanimously approve a single model is a tall task, but it's hardly the only obstacle in the way of CFP expansion.

  • Scheduling: A 16-team playoff would require two additional weeks of games, and while there are options (i.e. start a week early, end a week late), they all come with a cost.
  • Contracts: The CFP's deal with ESPN, as well as its individual deals with each of the "New Year's Six" bowls, all run through 2025. Any CFP changes will necessitate restructuring those contracts.
  • Bowl game dilution: Since the CFP debuted, the importance of bowl games has waned considerably. Expanding the playoff would only continue that trend.

The backdrop: During the BCS era (1998–2013), it became increasingly apparent that a two-team playoff sidelined too many great teams and left too much money on the table.

  • The CFP's four-team model was an improvement, but the BCS-era arguments have simply evolved from complaining about the third-best team missing out to the fifth-best.
  • The FBS postseason is also a uniquely exclusive endeavor: The average NCAA sport includes ~20% of its teams in the playoffs, compared to just four of 130 FBS teams (3%).
  • It gets even worse when you realize that only 11 schools have made the CFP in seven years, and that 20 of the 28 spots have gone to just four schools: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.

What's next: Several commissioners told SI that they expect a formal expansion presentation to be made at their next meeting in June, "the first true step in the process of changing the model."

2. 🏀 Melo, Westbrook make history

Table: Axios Visuals
Table: Axios Visuals

Carmelo Anthony has moved into the top 10 on the NBA's all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes.

"Top 10 in anything of all time is a special thing. I don't want to take this moment for granted. I understand how big this moment is. It don't seem real because I'm still in it, I'm still doing this."
— Anthony

Speaking of history ... Russell Westbrook (14-21-24) on Monday became the only NBA player with multiple 20-assists, 20-rebound games.

  • Westbrook also secured a fourth season averaging a triple-double. Oscar Robertson is the only player to do that and he did it just once.
  • Russ could put up zeroes the rest of the way and still average a triple-double this year. We don't appreciate this man nearly enough.

3. ⚽️ Champions League: England hosts semis

Bracket: Axios Visuals
Bracket: Axios Visuals

The Champions League semifinal round picks back up this week, with the second legs of each matchup set for today and tomorrow.

  • Today, 3pm ET: Manchester City (up 2-1) vs. PSG
  • Tomorrow, 3pm: Chelsea (tied 1-1) vs. Real Madrid

The backdrop: Both matches will be played in England, where the fallout from the failed Super League still lingers like a foul stench.

  • Three semifinalists (all but PSG) were founding members of the breakaway league, which would have threatened the very existence of the competition they're currently playing in.
  • Today's game is at Etihad Stadium, just four miles from Old Trafford, which was invaded by angry Manchester United fans over the weekend.

4. 🇮🇳 IPL suspends play amid COVID-19 crisis

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Indian Premier League, one of the world's most popular sports leagues, has suspended play indefinitely amid India's COVID-19 crisis.

By the numbers: India is now recording around 3,500 deaths per day, and the true rate could be two to five times that many, according to University of Michigan epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee.

The big picture ... We seem to have arrived at a fork in the pandemic: Pockets of the rich world are beginning to move past COVID-19, while some less-fortunate countries are facing greater danger than ever, Axios' Dave Lawler writes.

5. 💵 Sports biz roundup

illustration of a woman basketball player dunking a quarter

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

🏀 The WNBA has agreed to a multiyear partnership with Google with the goal of bringing more viewers to women's sports.

🏈 Amazon will be the exclusive home of "Thursday Night Football" beginning in 2022, one year earlier than originally announced.

💵 Better Collective, a Denmark-based platform aimed at sports bettors, has acquired Action Network, a U.S.-based competitor, for $240 million.

🏆 Sports Business Journal unveiled the nominees for its annual Sports Business Awards. Winners will be announced on June 23.

📚 Good read: Virtual reality's missed 2020 opportunity was years in the making (Jacob Feldman, Sportico)

6. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

Jayson Tatum and son
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

BOSTON — Jayson Tatum raises his son Deuce in the air following a recent Celtics victory. Pure joy.

Hockey goal
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Goal, Islanders.

Notre Dame campus
Photo: Quinn Harris/Getty Images

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Looking good, Notre Dame.

7. 🌍 Photos around the world

Barcelona celebrating
Photo: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

BARCELONA — Members of FC Barcelona's women's squad were overcome with emotion after advancing to the Women's Champions League final. They'll play Chelsea on May 16.

Divers
Photo: Toru Hanai/Getty Images

TOKYO — The FINA Diving World Cup is underway in Tokyo, with multiple Olympic spots up for grabs.

Rugby match
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

BATH, England — Rugby, man. What a sport.

8. 📆 May 4, 1871: Pro baseball's first league game

Forest City Baseball Club

The Cleveland Forest Citys pose for a photo in 1870. Photo: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

150 years ago today, the Fort Wayne Kekiongas beat the Cleveland Forest Citys, 2-0, in the first ever pro baseball league game.

  • The teams combined for just three errors, "a marvel in those days of bare hands and rutted fields," writes MLB historian John Thorn.
  • Each team recorded four hits, but the Kekiongas' young pitcher, Bobby Mathews, was the difference-maker with six strikeouts.

The backdrop: In 1857, the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed with 16 teams that a decade later grew to over 400, but it was meant as an amateur league.

  • In March of 1871, nine teams turned pro and paid the $10 entry fee to join the new National Association of Professional Base Ball Players.
  • Founding members: Philadelphia Athletics, New York Mutuals, Washington Olympics, Troy Haymakers, Chicago White Stockings, Cleveland Forest Citys, Rockford Forest Citys, Boston Red Stockings and Fort Wayne Kekiongas.

The big picture: The National Association lasted just five years before giving way to the National League, which debuted in 1876, and the American League, which was founded in 1901.

Go deeper: Box score and play-by-play (Retrosheet)

9. 💬 Submit your trivia questions!

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We're running low on trivia questions and need your help.

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10. 🍿 1 movie thing: Disney's megaverse

Twitter screenshot
Source: @espn (Twitter)

Last night: The Warriors-Pelicans game featured a "Marvel-inspired alternate presentation," inserting an Avengers storyline and custom graphics into the ESPN broadcast and seeing stars play for "Hero Points."

Tonight: The Yankees-Astros game will featured a Star Wars-themed telecast in celebration of "May the Fourth," with custom on-screen animations and ESPN commentators dressed in full costume.

Darth Vader
Darth Vader throws out the ceremonial pitch before a 2014 Rangers game. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The big picture: Like any entertainment giant, Disney (which owns ESPN, Marvel and Star Wars) has assets to merge.

  • These special events are "part of the larger project of trickling loyalty up to a larger brand from its individual components," writes The Ringer's Alison Herman.
  • "A service like Disney+ collects a constellation of properties under one roof. A sports tie-in breaks them out from behind the walled garden and inserts them, and their custodians, into everyday life."

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Luke, I am your middle reliever" Baker