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A's Slither Off to Sacramento; The Women's Basketball Boom

The latest chapter in the sad saga of owner John Fisher's destruction of the Oakland A's baseball franchise was written last Thursday, when Fisher announced his team would play its next three seasons in Sacramento, before moving to its "permanent" home in Las Vegas.


Unable to reach an agreement to continue playing at the Oakland Coliseum, where the team's lease expires after this season, the A's instead will play their games at Sutter Health Park, home of the Sacramento River Cats, a Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, from 2025-27 (with an option for '28), until its new Vegas stadium is completed.



The A's temporary home will be a ballpark with a seating capacity of 14,014 and minor league level clubhouses, weight/training rooms, food service, amenities and field conditions.


Of course, the A's haven't been a major league team for several years, so perhaps it's fitting they'll play in a minor league park.


But this is the iconic franchise that came to the Bay Area in 1968, won four World Series Championships and built a tremendous local following over 56 years. 


This is the team that brought us Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Vida Blue, Dave Stewart, Catfish Hunter, Dennis Eckersley, Sal Bando and Joe Rudi.  


Not to mention Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Rollie Fingers and Barry Zito. 


But all that changed under Fisher, who declared that he needed a new, modern stadium to be able to compete, and that even a rebuilt or renovated Coliseum couldn't meet his requirement for a "downtown" ballpark.


Oakland officials did everything possible to give the A's what they wanted, but during the process of trying to find a new home (see Laney College, Howard Terminal), the team blamed the city for every problem, delay, misfire and controversy.


Fisher and his duplicitous president, the once-upon-a-time good guy Dave Kaval, simultaneously promoted being "rooted in Oakland" while pursuing a "parallel path" in Las Vegas, with Kaval tweeting tasteless "in-your-face" selfies from Sin City.


It was sickening to watch, and heartbreaking for the loyal fans who had stood by the A's despite years of decay.


Over time, it became obvious that Fisher was simply looking for the best deal for himself, or more specifically, a city he could take advantage of.


As the betrayal played out, Major League Baseball served as a willing partner, somehow continuing to support an owner who actively tanked his franchise, traded away his best players, sported the lowest payroll in the league, hid from the public and the media, and failed at multiple potential stadium re-locations.


As a final "screw you", Kaval alerted his front office that a staff reduction would be coming in November, as employees of the Sacramento Kings and River Cats would take over some of their responsibilities.


Classy.


Women's Basketball Has Arrived: When folks look back on the growth of the game, they will point to this year's NCAA Tournament as a real turning point.


Thanks to Iowa's all-time NCAA scoring leader Caitlin Clark, a transformational player who brought millions of new fans to the game, along with the undefeated South Carolina juggernaut, the return of UConn superstar Paige Bueckers, and the arrival of freshmen phenoms JuJu Watkins of USC and Hannah Hidalgo of Notre Dame, women's basketball captured the fascination of the whole country and attracted historic TV audiences.


The ratings for the Elite Eight game between Clark's Hawkeyes and LSU's defending NCAA champions were, as predicted, enormous. 


The game drew 12.3 million viewers, peaking at 16 million, shattering previous records for women’s basketball games, including last year’s championship game between the same teams. 


But that record only lasted a few days. The Iowa vs. Connecticut semi-final drew 14.2M viewers and peaked at 17M.


That tops every 2023 World Series game, every NBA and NHL Finals game last year, every Masters final round since 2013, Thursday night NFL football, and all but five college football games in 2023.


Ratings for the NCAA final between Iowa and South Carolina aren't in yet, but they could reach in excess of 18M.


The game itself was a testament to the quality and depth of the program coach Dawn Staley has built at South Carolina.


After a very even and entertaining first half, the Gamecocks pulled away after intermission to win their third national title, 87-75.


They simply had too much size, too much offensive rebounding, and too much bench scoring from freshmen Tessa Johnson and MiLaysia Fulwiley for the outmanned Hawkeyes.


Clark scored 18 points in the first quarter, but proved she was human after all and tired down the stretch. Some of her precision passes led to blown layups by teammates, but that didn't decide the game. 


South Carolina deserved to win.


There have been some ill-informed Clark critics, including former Texas Tech/WNBA great Sheryl Swoopes, who falsely claimed Clark had played an extra COVID year to break the scoring records and took 40 shots a game.


Staley is not one of them. After the championship game, she said:


“I personally want to thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport. She carried a heavy load for our sport. She’s going to lift that league [WNBA] up as well. Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you’re one of the GOATs of our game. We appreciate you.”


Twenty-eight years ago, when Anne Cribbs, Steve Hams and I founded the American Basketball League, we dreamed of sold out arenas and strong TV ratings. Dawn Staley was one of our founding players.


Now it's become reality. 


I guess we were ahead of our time.


The surviving pro league, the WNBA, averaged only 750,000 TV viewers last season. Hopefully, the arrival of Clark, Stanford's Cameron Brink, and LSU's Angel Reese will translate into much bigger audience numbers this season.

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Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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