Dec 19, 2019

Axios Sports

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! Last night, Arizona State's Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 43 points off the bench ... but the rest of the team only scored 13 ... and lost by 40 points. One of the weirdest box scores ever. ... Also, Baylor's Juicy Landrum drained an NCAA-record 14 threes.

Today's word count: 1,467 (5 minutes).

1 big thing: ⚾️ Boras' billion-dollar winter

Amy Cole, Gerrit Cole and Scott Boras. Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Last year, the two biggest MLB free agents, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, didn't sign until late February. This year, the hot stove has heated back up β€” and super agent Scott Boras is reaping the rewards.

By the numbers: Boras has already negotiated four deals this winter worth a total of $878 million, which is $43.9 million in his pocket (he gets 5%, per NY Post).

  • Gerrit Cole: $324M ($16.2M for Boras)
  • Stephen Strasburg: $245M ($12.25M for Boras)
  • Anthony Rendon: $245M ($12.25M for Boras)
  • Mike Moustakas: $64M ($3.2M for Boras)

πŸ”œ Looking ahead: With clients like 2019 NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun Jin Ryu, 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and OF Nick Castellanos yet to be signed, Boras should exceed $1 billion in contracts this offseason and lift his career agreements past $9 billion.

πŸ”™ Looking back: Boras was the first agent to negotiate contracts in excess of $50 million (Greg Maddux in 1997), $100 million (Kevin Brown in 1998) and $200 million (Alex Rodriguez in 2000) and has negotiated two of the five guaranteeing $300+ million.

"The greatest joy certainly in my life is when you get to make the phone calls I got to make last week. You've gone on a journey with them that may have taken 10, 11 years for them to reach this point ... It's a very rewarding and prideful moment that often is very emotional."
β€” Boras, per AP

The man: Boras grew up milking cows on his father's dairy farm outside Sacramento. Following a college baseball career at the University of the Pacific, he played four years in the minors before retiring to pursue a career as a sports agent.

  • He's known for his annual media session at the winter meetings β€” which is more of a performance, really β€” and for confusing quotes like "Everyone in D.C. knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom."
  • He's also known for consistently identifying and signing the best young talent, having represented 123 first-round draft picks and 12 No. 1 picks.

The company: The Boras Corporation employs 135 people, ranging from researchers and scouts to lawyers and psychologists, and has emissaries in countries like Japan, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

  • "The Boras Corp. offices, which have been likened to the Death Star by some media members, are tucked into one corner of a business district in tiny Newport Beach, [California]," NY Post's Christian Red writes.
  • "Any Boras Corp. employee has access to the player data through special computer and mobile apps, and the databases where all of the client information is stored are located in the building's basement."

The big picture: The fact that Boras has negotiated this many mega-deals before Christmas is good news for players, who saw free agency move at a snail's pace the last two years thanks to front offices prioritizing young, cheap talent. It's good news for fans, too, as more teams look willing to invest in talent and compete in 2020 (rather than "rebuild").

2. 🏈 Week 16 NFL rankings
Expand chart
Table: Axios Visuals

Coming up: If the Packers, Cowboys, Patriots and Texans win their games this week, they'll be champions of the NFC North, NFC East, AFC East and AFC South, respectively.

  • Saturday: Texans at Buccaneers (+3); Bills at Patriots (-6.5)
  • Saturday night: Rams at 49ers (-6.5)
  • Sunday: Jaguars at Falcons (-7.5); Ravens at Browns (+10); Panthers at Colts (-6.5); Bengals at Dolphins (-1); Steelers at Jets (+3); Saints at Titans (+2.5); Giants at Redskins (-2.5); Lions at Broncos (-6.5); Raiders at Chargers (-6.5); Cowboys at Eagles (+2.5); Cardinals at Seahawks (-9.5)
  • Sunday night: Chiefs at Bears (+5.5)
  • Monday night: Packers at Vikings (-5.5)

Go deeper: All NFL playoff clinching scenarios (Sporting News)

3. πŸ“Έ El ClΓ‘sico in photos
Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Inside the stadium: Nearly 100,000 fans descended upon Camp Nou in Barcelona to watch the latest edition of El ClΓ‘sico (FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid), which was postponed two months due to political unrest after Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to up to 13 years in prison.

Photo: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Before the match: Protesters threw bottles and police opened fire with foam bullets as thousands of Catalan independence supporters staged a demonstration.

Photo: Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images

On the pitch: Barcelona and Real Madrid played out a scoreless draw featuring six total shots, as El ClΓ‘sico ended 0-0 for the first time since 2002 and the two clubs remained tied atop the La Liga standings.

Photo: Xavier Bonilla/AFP7/Europa Press Sports via Getty Images

After the match: Protesters gathered outside, chanting "Independence" and "Free political prisoners," while fires raged in the streets.

Go deeper: Catalonia crisis in 300 words (BBC)

4. 🏈 CFB recruiting class rankings

With the first day of the 2019 Early Signing Period in the books, here are 247Sports' updated recruiting class rankings:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Ohio State
  4. Georgia
  5. LSU
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Auburn
  8. Florida
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Notre Dame

11–20: 11. Texas, 12. Michigan, 13. Penn State, 14. Washington, 15. Tennessee, 16. Oregon, 17. South Carolina, 18. Miami, 19, UNC, 20. Nebraska

Go deeper:

5. πŸ€ Last night on the hardwood
Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA β€” The Heat beat the 76ers, 108-104, to hand Philadelphia its first home loss of the season and move into third place in the East. ... Standings: 1. Bucks (24-4), 2. Celtics (18-7), 3. Heat (20-8), 4. Raptors (19-8), 5. 76ers (20-9).

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS β€” Utah jumped out to an early lead over No. 6 Kentucky, gave it all back and then held on late for a seismic 69-66 victory in front of a stunned pro-Wildcats crowd.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Screenshot: @guardian (Twitter)

πŸ’΅ $422 million

Denise Coates, the co-founder and CEO of gambling group bet365, was paid $422 million last year, making her the U.K.'s highest-paid executive ever. The 52-year-old β€” whose company opened its first U.S. operation in August when it unveiled its app in New Jersey β€” is No. 244 on Forbes' Billionaires list (net worth: $12.2 billion).

πŸ€ 1,049 points

James Harden's 1,049 points in 1,020 minutes of play is the highest total through the first 27 games of a season since Wilt Chamberlain had 1,371 points in 1962-63.

🏈 3 Sooners suspended

The Oklahoma Sooners have suspended three players β€” starting DE Ronnie Perkins, RB Rhamondre Stevenson and WR Trejan Bridges β€” for their College Football Playoff semifinal game against LSU, per reports.

7. Dec. 19, 2010: 🏈 "Miracle at the New Meadowlands"
Photo: Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images

Nine years ago today, the Eagles scored four touchdowns in the final seven-plus minutes β€” including a dramatic walk-off punt return by DeSean Jackson β€” to beat the Giants, 38-31.

  • Why it mattered: The win gave the Eagles the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Giants, which earned them the NFC East title. They'd go on to lose in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers, while the Giants missed the postseason despite a 10-6 record.

πŸŽ™ The call: Jackson's last-second runback was the first walk-off punt return in NFL history and was recently voted the greatest play of all time. Here are Eagles broadcasters Merrill Reese and Mike Quick on the call...

  • Reese: "14 seconds to go. 31–31. Matt Dodge to punt, gets a high snap, gets it away, it's a knuckler. Jackson takes it at the 35, fumbles it, picks it up, looks for running room. He's at the 40, he's at the 45, midfield."
  • Quick: "OH!"
  • Reese: "He's at the 40."
  • Quick: "OH!"
  • Reese: "He's gonna go! DeSean Jackson!"
  • Quick: "OH!"
  • Reese: "I don't care if he jumps, dives, he's running around and he's in the end zone, and there's no time, and the Eagles win! THE EAGLES WIN!
  • Quick: "This is Miracle at the Meadowlands No. 2!"


8. The Ocho: πŸ€Έβ€β™€οΈ "Leotard bias" in gymnastics
UCLA's Kyla Ross at a recent intrasquad event. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The NCAA gymnastics season begins the first week of January and comes on the heels of a 2019 campaign shrouded in controversy over scoring bias, writes Axios Sports contributor Katherine Weaver.

Background: Over the same weekend, two gymnasts from D-I powerhouse Florida and D-III Wisconsin-Stout earned wildly different scores for similar vaults, causing a social media uproar that resulted in the NCAA sending a memo to judges warning them to "make sure scores are justifiable."

The state of play: This phenomenon β€” where scoring is influenced by the judges' perceived value of the gymnast or team for which she's competing β€” is called "leotard bias," explains Katie Norris in College Gym News.

The big picture: Concerns about fair scoring in gymnastics extend beyond just leotard bias. But unlike elite gymnastics, which is considering the adoption of robot judges, the NCAA hasn't made real moves to fix the problem.

  • Much of the oversight comes from the sport's fanbase, whose social media presence arguably brought awareness to the problem to begin with.
9. 🏈 NFL trivia
  • Question: Who leads the NFL in passing yards this season?
  • Hint: NFC.

Answer at the bottom.

10. πŸ—“ 10 years is a long time
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

81% of you said you'd prefer a "Decade in Review" over a "Year in Review," so that's what we'll be doing for our New Year's Special Edition.

How long ago was 2010? Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (and D.J. Mbenga!) were champions of the world, the Giants won the World Series, the Blackhawks won the Cup and the Saints won the Super Bowl.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "OH!" Baker

Trivia answer: Jameis Winston (4,573 yards)