Mar 17, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! I'm thrilled to announce that we've added Jeff Tracy to the team as our newest sports reporter. He starts today (impeccable timing, Jeff) and I had him formally introduce himself below.

  • Why this is exciting: (1) He's really good. (2) Adding another person will improve our coverage and allow us to do things that I simply wasn't able to do on my own. (3) When I go on vacation, this newsletter won't stop.

⚡️ Breaking: The Japan Olympic Committee deputy head has coronavirus.

Today's word count: 2,245 (8 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots
Screenshot: @TomBrady (Twitter)

Tom Brady broke the internet this morning, announcing that he will leave the Patriots and continue his NFL career "elsewhere" next season.

  • "To all my teammates, coaches, executives and staff, Coach Belichick, RKK and the Kraft family and the entire organization. I want to say thank you for the past twenty years of my life and the daily commitment to winning and creating a winning culture built on great values.
  • "I am grateful for all that you have taught me — I have learned from everyone. You all have allowed me to maximize my potential and that is all a player can ever hope for. Everything we have accomplished brings me great joy and the lessons I have learned will carry on with me forever.
  • "I couldn't be the man I am today without the relationships you have allowed me to build with you. I have benefitted from all you have given me. I cherished every opportunity I had to be a part of our team, and I love you all for that. Our team has always set a great standard in pro sports and I know it will continue to do just that.
  • "Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments."

Go deeper: Brady wrote a separate post thanking Patriots fans. "My children were born and raised here and you always embraced this California kid as your own."

  • P.S. ... 12 days ago, I asked you where you thought Brady would sign. A reminder of the results: Patriots (62.6%), Titans (9.7%), Chargers (9.4%), Raiders (8.7%), 49ers (5.6%), Other (4.0%). The top two options are now both out.
2. ⚾️ Baseball's uncertain future

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

MLB has delayed Opening Day until mid-May at the earliest, per recommendations from the Center for Disease Control that gatherings of 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks.

Why it matters: Of all the major sports leagues, MLB faces arguably the most disastrous outcome from this unprecedented sports outage, and some of its minor league affiliates might not survive the summer.

  • While the NBA and NHL should be able to extend their seasons into the late summer if necessary, any plan to extend the MLB season into November would have to clear a significant hurdle: winter weather.
  • MLB teams remain "committed to playing as many games as possible," per commissioner Rob Manfred. Should that desire remain, the 2020 postseason will almost certainly have to be held at neutral-site ballparks that have roofs or warm weather.

The big picture: While MLB's 30 teams will do everything in their power to make up missed games, the roughly 250 minor league teams know that any games lost in April and May — and the associated revenue — are gone for good.

  • Minor league clubs make the vast majority of their revenue from ticket sales and concessions, so every canceled game brings them one step closer to having to lay off employees or potentially even halt operations.
  • "If this pandemic lasts six months and the season is wiped out, all bets are off [on how many clubs would potentially have to fold]," one minor league team owner told JohnWallStreet.

The backdrop: In October, MLB unveiled a plan to overhaul the minor leagues and eliminate 42 clubs. It was not popular then and it will likely be even less popular now.

What to watch: Minor league players are paid (very poorly) by the big league clubs they're affiliated with, but paychecks won't arrive until Opening Day, which has players facing uncertain futures.

  • "The understanding is that MLB is in discussions with the MLB Players Association about how to pay major leaguers during this break and will shift its attention to the minor leaguers after that is figured out," per WashPost.
  • But in the interim, some minor leaguers will have to get part-time jobs, all while staying in shape for the impending season.
"If it's a couple weeks, fine, we can scrape by and handle this. But if it gets to be a month, two months, you could see guys quit because they just have to do something else to support themselves. That's my biggest worry, that this isn't sustainable."
— Anonymous Nationals minor league player, per WashPost

The bottom line: The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt by every sports league, but thanks to scheduling limitations and the vulnerability of its minor league system, MLB faces a particularly daunting next few months.

3. 🏀 Simulation Madness: Top of the bracket

We're simulating the 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament using ESPN's Joe Lunardi's final projected bracket and a simulation engine.

Bracket: Axios Visuals

Scoreboard (🚨 = lower seed won):

  • Kansas 84, Siena 57: Devon Dotson, KU (16 pts, 6 ast); Udoka Azubuike, KU (12 pts, 12 reb)
  • 🚨 Marquette 73, Houston 66: Markus Howard, MAR (30 pts, 6-11 3PT); Nate Hinton, HOU (16 pts, 9 reb)
  • Auburn 69, Liberty 56: Isaac Okoro, AUB (17 pts, 7 reb); Caleb Homesley, LIB (20 pts)
  • 🚨 North Texas 80, Wisconsin 78: Javion Hamlet, UNT (24 pts, 6 ast); Aleem Ford, WIS (16 pts)
  • Iowa 78, East Tennessee State 76 (OT): Luka Garza, IOWA (19 pts, 10 reb); Isaiah Tisdale, ETSU (15 pts, 8 reb)
  • Duke 90, Belmont 68: Vernon Carey Jr., DUKE (24 pts, 11 reb); Tre Jones, DUKE (20 pts, 4-5 3PT)
  • 🚨 Arizona State 64, Providence 63: Rob Edwards, ASU (18 pts, 6 reb); Alpha Diallo, PROV (13 pts, 10 reb)
  • Kentucky 80, North Dakota State 48: Ashton Hagans, UK (21 pts); Nick Richards, UK (12 pts, 4 blk)


  • Gonzaga 91, North Carolina Central 54: Filip Petrušev, GONZ (23 pts); Killian Tillie, GONZ (18 pts, 4-5 3PT)
  • LSU 73, Oklahoma 72 (OT): Trendon Watford, LSU (22 pts, 8 reb); Kristian Doolittle, OKLA (17 pts, 11 reb)
  • 🚨 Yale 76, Michigan 75: Jordan Bruner, YALE (19 pts, 13 reb); Zavier Simpson, MICH (14 pts, 8 ast)
  • Oregon 84, New Mexico State 71: Payton Pritchard, ORE (25 pts, 10 ast); Will Richardson, ORE (16 pts)
  • 🚨 Indiana 80, BYU 79: Trayce Jackson-Davis, IND (17 pts, 8 reb); T.J. Haws, BYU (22 pts)
  • Seton Hall 79, Eastern Washington 68: Myles Powell, SHU (24 pts, 7 reb); Quincy McKnight, SHU (17 pts)
  • 🚨 Texas Tech 73, Arizona 67: Davide Moretti, TTU (16 pts); Nico Mannion, ARI (12 pts, 9 ast)
  • San Diego State 65, UC Irvine 48: Malachi Flynn, SDSU (20 pts, 6 reb); Yanni Wetzell, SDSU (12 pts, 9 reb)
4. 🏀 Simulation Madness: Bottom of the bracket

We're simulating the 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament using ESPN's Joe Lunardi's final projected bracket and a simulation engine.

Bracket: Axios Visuals

Scoreboard (🚨 = lower seed won):

  • Dayton 83, Boston University 57: Obi Toppin, DAY (28 pts); Jalen Crutcher, DAY (15 pts, 7 ast)
  • 🚨 Florida 75, Colorado 70: Kerry Blackshear, FLA (18 pts, 8 reb); Evan Battey, COL (16 pts, 10 reb)
  • 🚨 Richmond 75, Butler 74: Blake Francis, RICH (21 pts, 5-8 3PT); Sean McDermott, BUT (15 pts, 8 reb)
  • Maryland 88, Akron 62: Aaron Wiggins, MD (22 pts, 4 stl); Anthony Cowan, MD (18 pts, 6 ast)
  • Penn State 74, UCLA 69: Lamar Stevens, PSU (18 pts, 7 reb); Chris Smith, UCLA (24 pts)
  • Villanova 81, Hofstra 70: Collin Gillespie, VILL (21 pts, 5 ast); Saddiq Bey, VILL (16 pts, 9 reb)
  • West Virginia 71, Utah State 66: Derek Culver, WVU (19 pts, 11 reb); Sam Merrill, UTSU (23 pts)
  • Florida State 72, Northern Kentucky 49: Trent Forrest, FSU (15 pts, 7 ast); Malik Osborne, FSU (10 pts, 10 reb)


  • Baylor 86, Winthrop 74: Macio Teague, BAY (22 pts); Jared Butler, BAY (14 pts, 4 stl)
  • 🚨 Rutgers 77, Saint Mary's 69: Myles Johnson, RUT (13 pts, 13 reb); Jordan Ford, SMC (26 pts)
  • Ohio State 78, Stephen F. Austin 72: Kaleb Wesson, OSU (24 pts); Gavin Kensmil, SFA (22 pts, 13 reb)
  • 🚨 Vermont 75, Louisville 71: Anthony Lamb, UVM (18 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast); Jordan Nwora, LOU (19 pts)
  • 🚨 Cincinnati 68, Virginia 59: Jarron Cumberland, CIN (18 pts); Kihei Clark, UVA (12 pts, 7 reb, 8 ast)
  • Michigan State 77, Bradley 61: Cassius Winston, MSU (24 pts, 6 ast); Xavier Tillman, MSU (14 pts)
  • Illinois 83, USC 74: Kofi Cockburn, ILL (26 pts, 12 reb); Jonah Mathews, USC (21 pts, 7-9 3PT)
  • Creighton 80, Little Rock 53: Marcus Zegarowski, CREI (18 pts, 7 ast); Damien Jefferson (16 pts)
5. 👋 Introducing Jeff Tracy
Source: Jeff's phone

Jeff writes ... So, yesterday was my first day on the job. The past 10 weeks have been a whirlwind, to say the least.

  • On Christmas Eve, I applied for the Sports Reporter role at Axios, hoping to join Kendall in delivering what you already know is the best daily sports newsletter on the planet to your inbox each morning.
  • After being informed that I'd landed my dream job and was set to start in March, my wife and I flew to Thailand for our long-awaited honeymoon.

While I was abroad, the COVID-19 situation went from tame to a little scary, and has since upended the world.

  • While I would love to be poring over the bracket and gearing up to cover MLB's first week and the NBA and NHL's stretch runs, all of that takes a backseat right now.
  • I'm grateful to Axios for providing a seamless onboarding experience despite this strange new virtual world we're all a part of.
  • And I'm grateful to the healthcare providers, grocery store employees, and anyone else still doing the jobs that will help us all get through this as unscathed as possible.

About Jeff:

  • The basics: My name is Jeff Tracy, I grew up outside D.C. (Bethesda, Maryland, to be precise), and now I live in Brooklyn with my wife and my dog, Griffey.
  • Favorite sport to play: I was always best at soccer, but my increasingly old-man back has pushed me into the more reasonable pursuits of softball and darts in recent years. Also, though I only just played for the first time two weeks ago, Soccer Golf (see above) has quickly vaulted into contention. Seriously, when this global nightmare is over, we should all find the nearest course and play a round together.
  • Favorite sport to watch: Baseball. I know. I'm strange.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Let's sports.

6. 💵 Sportsbooks seek contingency plans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sportsbooks are flummoxed over what to do about the lack of sporting events for people to bet on.

  • Why it matters: 2020 was supposed to be the year that sports betting really took off, but with games being canceled across the globe, sportsbook operators are looking for contingency plans, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

What they're saying: "These are unprecedented times to be sure," said Joe Asher, CEO of U.K.-based sportsbook William Hill, in an interview with Axios.

  • "Obviously the timing was pretty bad, coming right before the NCAA tournament, and basketball and hockey being on hiatus."
  • "A lot of industries are being hit and this is one of those industries that's being disproportionately impacted. ... But this too shall pass."

What's next: Despite esports being well-positioned to fill the current void, Asher said the company isn't thinking about esports from a betting perspective just yet, preferring instead to focus on sports that haven't been canceled yet or will be played in empty stadiums, like rugby and Mexican soccer.

  • "We've done a few esports things in the past and I think given this slowdown, it's something we'll look at, but it's modest in the overall scheme of things."

Go deeper: Media companies eye sportsbook partnerships to juice engagement (Axios)

7. March 17, 2005: ⚾️ "I have never used steroids"
Photo: J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

15 years ago today, Rafael Palmeiro categorically denied using steroids in a Congressional hearing, alongside fellow MLB sluggers Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco (also, Curt Schilling was there).

  • What he said: Palmeiro was the most vehement in his denial, famously pointing his finger at members of Congress as he firmly stated, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."

The big picture: Six weeks later, Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol, and though he claimed the results were due to a tainted B-12 vitamin injection, his fate was sealed.

  • Then-commissioner Bud Selig promised a zero-tolerance policy for players who tested positive for PEDs moving forward and implemented a 50-game suspension for first-time offenders.
  • Steroid use in MLB has hardly been eradicated since then, but after this infamous hearing, it ceased to be the all-consuming scourge on the league it once was.

How they've been remembered:

  • Palmeiro: 569 HR (13th all-time); one of six of members of the 500 HR, 3,000 hit club; Not in the Hall of Fame.
  • McGwire: 583 HR (11th); .588 SLG (7th); Not in the Hall of Fame
  • Sosa: 609 HR (9th); Not in the Hall of Fame
  • Canseco: 462 HR (37th); Not in the Hall of Fame
8. The Ocho: 💪 Gyms stay open while closed
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Caption: "Owners and operators of Method MMA in Forest Hill, Maryland, provide Brazilian jiu-jitsu training via livestream in an attempt to keep their sport clients active and progressing while their gym is closed."

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
9. ⚾️ MLB trivia
  • Question: Who was the last player to lead the American League in HRs in back-to-back seasons?
  • Hint: AL East.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🏈 Roundup: NFL free agency, Day 1

With the sports world on pause, it's (kind of) business as usual for the NFL offseason, which officially kicked off yesterday.

Day 1 highlights:

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "With help from my new wingman" Baker

Trivia answer: José Bautista in 2010 (54 HR) and 2011 (43)