Warriors-Celtics, Pac-12 Network, Nassar Horror, XFL
Sometimes the real thing is better than watching on TV.
Saturday my wife, Christy, and I attended our first Warriors' game in several years. We've become big fans of the Dubs, like everyone else, because of their unselfish, free-flowing offense, helping defense, amazing three-point shooting, obvious joy playing a game they love, etc., etc. But we hadn't actually seen a game in person.
Like so many others of our generation, we've gotten comfortable watching games on the big flat-screen TV, with the glass of wine, fireplace blazing, parking spot in the garage, bathroom down the hall, and numerous replays from every angle.
Saturday's game between the Warriors and Celtics, possibly a preview of the NBA championship matchup, was a reminder of why it's still better to be in the arena. We had great seats, thanks to our friends Bob and Paulette Moore, and enjoyed every minute.
It was a classic matchup of two teams playing with playoff intensity, hitting an array of seemingly impossible shots, often despite suffocating defense. Under Brad Stevens, the young former Butler coach, the Celts are thriving despite the loss of their second best player, Gordon Hayward.
Mostly, though, it was a thoroughly-entertaining duel between the league's two best point guards, the Warriors' Steph Curry and the Celtics' Kyrie Irving. Curry's long bombs and ball-handling are even more impressive in person. Irving is simply unstoppable.
In fact, Irving was every bit as good as Curry until the final 90 seconds, when Curry scored 13 points and Irving had two drives to the hoop blocked by Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. That was the difference in a 109-105 game.
It doesn't get any better than that.
More Trouble for Pac-12 Net: The Pac-12 Network has reportedly laid off several executives in a cost-cutting and restructuring move.
This after the network was bashed last fall by a number of high-profile sports announcers and the leaders of two conference schools—Washington State President Kirk Schulz and Cal Chancellor Carol Christ.
The problems with the network, as noted previously in this space, are serious and perhaps fatal. The lack of a network partner, the inability to gain widespread distribution, the dubious premise of broadcasting seven network feeds rather than one, and inexplicable scheduling choices have all contributed to an operation that, frankly, has become a punch line across the country.
Unlike the SEC, Big Ten and ACC, which launched their networks with either ESPN or Fox as partners, the Pac-12 chose to go it alone. This has turned out to be a horrible miscalculation. While the other leagues, utilizing the leverage of their heavyweight partners, have gained up to 60 million subscribers, the Pac-12 is limping along with less than 20 million. The inability to forge a deal with Direct TV has been a big part of this issue and shows no signs of resolution.
Maintaining and programming separate Pac-12 networks for the Bay Area, Southern California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Mountain (Utah/Colorado) areas, along with the “national” Pac-12 network, is not only costly but undermines the effort to gain exposure and build the conference brand. If you have a limited footprint (the West Coast) to begin with, and a small base of subscribers, dividing up your market with several different feeds makes no sense.
The network’s ratings information, reported last year by the Mercury News Pac-12 Hotline with Jon Wilner, revealed that—surprise—essentially no one is watching anything other than football and occasional basketball games. If the goal is to provide exposure for the conference's top-notch Olympic sports teams, it's just not happening.
To further complicate matters, the network’s scheduling choices have been irrational. Last year, during the conference’s men’s basketball tournament, Pac-12 Bay Area showed a re-run of a Cal game rather than the live semi-final that was airing in two of the other markets.
Despite disappointing revenues, the conference and the network have staffed up like a thriving money machine. In her rather pointed comments last month, Chancellor Christ specifically cited the conference’s bloated front office. Here’s an example of what she was talking about: prior to last week’s cutbacks, the Pac-12 Network had 15, count ‘em, 15 vice-presidents!
Stay tuned. Things could get worse.
Monster Nassar: The Larry Nassar horror story is even worse than the atrocities committed by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State. Nassar, the former Michigan State and U.S. Gymnastics doctor, has been sexually assaulting girls and young women for three decades. Over the years, Nassar abused gymnasts on the national team and at MSU, as well as female athletes in several other sports on the East Lansing campus.
Though officials at Michigan State and the U.S. Olympic Committee were alerted on numerous occasions, they repeatedly ignored warning signs, tried to silence accusers, delayed sending requested documents to authorities, and did their best to sweep things under the rug. ESPN has reported that this culture of sexual abuse extends to Michigan State’s football and basketball programs as well.
At Penn State, the University President, Vice-President, Athletic Director and famed football coach Joe Paterno were taken down. VP Gary Schultz and AD Tim Curley did jail time; President Graham Spanier was also sentenced to prison but has appealed. Paterno passed away shortly after resigning.
In the Nassar case, the enablers at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, and the USOC are finally being held accountable. Last week, the USOC demanded that the entire USA Gymnastics Board of Directors step down, and Michigan State’s President and Athletic Director resigned. MSU AD Mark Hollis’ fall was particularly precipitous. Hollis had been considered one of the top ADs in the country and a possible successor to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Instead, he has been disgraced and pushed out the door.
This is what happens when making money and protecting the brand becomes more important than the safety of young kids.
Amidst all the horror, the courage displayed by the 156 women who confronted their abuser in open court during Nassar’s sentencing was even more impressive than their athletic accomplishments.
XFL Returns: Vince McMahon, he of World Wrestling Enterprises fame, is bringing back the XFL. The gimmicky football league, co-owned with NBC, lasted only one season in its original iteration back in 2001. The loquacious McMahon, who once faked his own death in an exploding limousine, promises he’ll listen to the fans, “re-imagine football” and get it right this time.
He plans to launch in 2020 with eight teams, 40-man rosters, a 10-game regular season, a four-team playoff and no cheesy gimmicks like cameras in cheerleaders’ dressing rooms. He also promises to shorten games, ideally to about two hours. Good luck with that.
As the sole owner of a single entity, McMahon, whose wife, Linda, is head of the Small Business Administration in the Trump administration, gets to make all the rules. He announced that the league will not employ any player with a criminal record, even a DUI, and that he won’t allow XFL players to make any political statements on the field. So, presumably, Colin Kaepernick need not apply.
It should be interesting.