It’s Friday, the final day of July, and come tomorrow you will have all the MLB, NBA, and NHL you could possibly watch taking place in August for the first time in our lives.
What’s more, August, September and October have the potential to be the most packed sports calendar we have ever seen. I’m pretty excited about all of this. Especially with NFL training camps getting rolling and the plans for a college football season continuing to evolve.
Right off the top I want to congratulate Mike Golic on 20 years of national sports talk morning radio. I’m not sure anyone will ever equal that performance in sports radio again. Right now I am the longest tenured national sports talk radio guy and we are just about to begin our fifth year with the show. The idea of going twenty years seems insane to me.
Trust me, it requires a ton of talent, discipline, and drive to roll out of bed every morning long before dawn and do multiple hours of radio shows Monday to Friday for twenty years.
So props to Mike Golic for doing his job well for that long.
As a dad it was great to see him surrounded by his entire family for the final hour of the radio show.
Okay, here we go with the mailbag:
“I feel like we need to bring up the anthem protests again and ask the athletes what exactly the end goal of these protests are. What is kneeling/leaving for the anthem actually helping? I feel it’s just creating more divide if anything. Thoughts?”
Worse than creating more of a divide, I think it might be actually resulting in the exact opposite of what the protests are designed to do: make black deaths less common.
If you look at the data from New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Chicago, along with many other large cities, the rates of shooting and murder have skyrocketed since the George Floyd protests began. And the overwhelming majority of those shooting and murder victims have been black.
Why have the shootings and murders increased? Because police have been forced to pull back from doing their jobs. In cities where protests have been most active — going back to Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago — as soon as the media leaves and the protests calm down the overall violent crime rate in these cities skyrockets.
Now we’re seeing the same thing happen all over again.
This is what is so frustrating to me about social media activism in general. The data suggests these protests actually lead to more violent outcomes for people in cities, not less.
I understand being angry about a viral video and the goal of making the world a better place is admirable, but simply screaming to defund the police is counterproductive when you look at all the data.
Having less police on the streets leads to more shootings and murders.
This isn’t a complicated calculus, the data is all there for anyone to see, Republican, Democrat or independent.
What social media creates, all too often, is a demand to tear something down without any intelligent discussion about what is going to replace what has been torn down. Very often there is no replacement which means we’re destroying something and leaving nothing in its place. That’s not intelligent public policy.
We know that all police are not deserving of their jobs. Indeed, a tiny minority of police commit crimes and deserve to be prosecuted for those crimes. But the media and protesters attempting to argue all police are illegitimate sources of authority in this country isn’t making things better for anyone. In fact, it’s leading to more death and violence.
So the question I think is worth asking is this: are athletes, who have largely endorsed the social media goal of defunding the police, actually using their platforms not to make things in this country better, but to make things worse?
I think at least right now you can argue they are making things worse. The data certainly reflects that to be true. Rather than making things safer for everyone, there’s a strong argument that social media activism has made things more dangerous for everyone living in the cities and for the the police.
That is, no one trusts anyone.
And that doesn’t even consider the larger societal divisions as well.
We’re destroying many of the institutions in America and not creating anything to replace them with. That makes things worse, not better.
Furthermore, can we stop calling athletes all doing the exact same thing brave? It’s not brave to do what everyone else is doing. If anything, it makes you a sheep.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with Colin Kaepernick his decision to take a knee was a rebellious act. He was doing something that conflicted with the conformity of the culture when it came to the national anthem.
But when entire leagues and entire teams — even including the officials — are all kneeling, the brave and courageous thing to do, wildly, has now become to stand for the anthem. Think about how crazy that is, it’s now braver and more courageous to stand for the anthem with your hand on your heart than it is to kneel.
The world has turned upside down.
Finally, I’ve been saying this since black lives matter began to protest several years ago. Even if you eliminated all police shootings of minorities, justified or not justified, you’d only replace 2% of all black violent deaths.
Focusing only on police misconduct leads to the vast majority of black lives lost being ignored.
Embracing victimhood is popular on social media, but the stats are clear: they don’t actually help the real victims of violence, in fact they often make it worse.
“The Marlins season was already suspended. Now there are reports this morning the Cardinals have positive tests and will have their season postponed as well. What is the point of opening sports, schools, anything if a positive test means shutting it down?”
It’s a fantastic question.
If your standard is, if someone tests positive we can’t continue, then you can’t open anything back up.
Because it’s inevitable that some people are going to test positive.
That’s why I thought the UFC’s decision way back in April or May was so important for setting a precedent of how to deal with positive tests in sports. They had a fighter and his corner guys test positive and they just sent those fighters home and continued with their event.
Many people screamed that they needed to cancel the event, but they didn’t do that. Importantly, they set the precedent of soldiering on with sports.
I think what has happened is the Marlins coronavirus infections spread so widely that now MLB is terrified the entire team will end up with it in St. Louis like they did in Miami. Which would necessitate a longer stop in action.
But here’s the larger issue, none of these guys testing positive are having major health issues. In fact, most of them, as is the case with other young and healthy people, don’t even know they have this virus. There’s a presumption that a positive case in baseball is a major danger, but the data just doesn’t reflect that to be true at all.
So far with all the positive cases on college campuses and in pro athletes has there been a single person hospitalized with serious issues? I haven’t seen it yet.
Now that doesn’t mean it might not happen — with thousands and thousands of people out there it’s certainly a statistical possibility — but it truly isn’t a very likely possibility at all.
“Why are all of these baseball games getting cancelled? I thought they increased the roster sizes for this exact situation. We should have no cancelled games and younger guys getting some big league experience.”
I don’t understand it either.
I thought that was the entire point of the expanded rosters as well, to ensure that the games would go on even when positive tests occurred.
But I think the number of Marlins infections have rattled baseball.
Which is why I think the new plan is going to be to play a ton of seven inning doubleheader games and shut down teams when positive tests happen.
That doesn’t seem like anywhere near as a good of a plan because it makes keeping the schedule rolling very difficult, but I think it’s what is being planned.
“Do you think that the NFL should immediately consider designating cities to host games and create there own bubble in order to play the season?”
It’s an interesting question and I certainly think the NFL should be trying to take advantage of whatever they can learn from the leagues returning to play before they do.
The benefit the NFL has, at least compared to other sports, is there is very limited travel and very limited games. To play an entire NFL season a team would just need to play 16 games in the regular season and they’d only need to be on the road for eight of those games.
Most of the time an NFL team is only on the road for one night in a hotel, meaning eight nights in a hotel total to complete a regular season.
Heck, if you really wanted to be aggressive, many of the games in division or against teams in the same geographic area could even take place without requiring an overnight stay. A team could fly in the morning of a game and then fly back out right after, meaning you could probably get your nights in a hotel down to three or four total during the course of an entire season.
I have no idea what flying in on the day of the game would be like in terms of player performance, but it’s at least an option.
The biggest issue here, at least so far as I see it, is not about what happens during football games or football practice, it’s about how disciplined players will be away from the team facility. Will players avoid going out socially in large crowds or will they be unable to resist the allure of women, alcohol and fun?
If you 100% wanted to guarantee a season, I think the best way to do it would be to create 32 individual NFL bubble situations. Every team takes over a hotel near their training facility and no one is allowed in that hotel or team facility unless they are part of the team’s bubble group.
But that would need to start a couple of weeks before the season starts and potentially go all the way through the holidays at the end of the year.
Would players be willing to make that sacrifice? Would they be willing to go that long without being around their families?
Remember that MLB players weren’t willing to participate in a bubble environment which is how they ended up playing their games in this manner. And we aren’t sure if NFL players would be willing to do so either. (Presumably it has at least been talked about behind the scenes and rejected so far).
But, look, I started saying back in March and April that if your goal was to keep players from getting any cases at all they had to be playing in a sanitized bubble. In fact, when I floated that idea on my radio show, many people ridiculed the very idea of the bubble concept.
Now it seems to be working well, at least so far, for the NBA, NHL, and MLS.
Putting every NFL player in a single bubble environment, given the sheer number of players, coaches, and gear involved, feels like it would be nearly impossible to manage.
Plus, the teams don’t play frequently enough for it to make sense to have everyone in the same place.
But I do think the idea of having 32 different individual bubble environments for NFL teams in each city makes a ton of sense and could work just as well as having one singular bubble environment.
And I think it’s an idea that makes sense for college football too.
It’s the best way to ensure a football season happens without substantial stoppages.
But are NFL players willing to do it? Many may not be. Which is why I think ultimately the NFL season, to a large degree, will come down to whether players are disciplined enough to avoid large public events in their free time.
“Is it surprising that the college conferences decided to submit their plans with no coordination at all? If the Big 10 decides to just not play, ACC 10 plus 1 and SEC all conference games, doesn’t this scream for some sort of federal oversight of college athletics? NCAA can’t do it.”
What you really have is five distinct countries in college football. That is, unlike the other pro sports leagues who have one top down leader, you have a loose coalition of leaders in college football, each of whom has their own constituency to keep happy.
What’s more, many of these countries have very different constituencies.
Let’s compare the SEC states to the Pac 12 states, for instance. The SEC states are all planning on playing high school football in the fall, most of the Pac 12 states are not. None of the SEC states are shutting back down, some of the Pac 12 states are shutting back down. That external political reality impacts the decisions that are made in a big way. And that external political reality is not the same everywhere.
So I think it’s not surprising that you’d end up with situations like these, where it basically turns into every conference for itself.
As it pertains to the scheduling plans, I’m actually more excited for ten SEC games than I am for a 12 game schedule. I didn’t think it was very likely that SEC schools would agree to go to ten games and play a conference only schedule because that’s frankly far more difficult than a 12 game schedule with eight SEC games, one out of conference big five opponent, and three smaller schools, which is the schedule most schools end up adopting.
I also talked about this on my radio show, but some people are comparing my SEC reaction to the Big Ten going conference only several weeks ago. The Big Ten formatted their announcement poorly and suggested that they were doing so because it made things safer for their players. I don’t believe that argument is true.
The real reason to go conference only games isn’t to protect the health of your players, it’s to provide greater schedule flexibility. When you only play conference opponents it’s much easier to build in additional weeks and reschedule games where necessary.
Once you go conference only you control everything.
Which is why I think every conference is ultimately going to go to conference only. Not for health, but because it makes playing the games — and rescheduling them if necessary — much easier.
Personally, I think the part of the SEC decision that isn’t being talked about enough is two-fold: First, the SEC is essentially letting it be known that the bowl season isn’t happening outside of the college football playoff. By pushing its title game back to December 19th, it seems highly unlikely, at least to me, that bowl games are happening at all. Second, by pushing back the start until September 26th the SEC is trying to buy as much time as possible. They want to see how the NFL manages the start of its season, how infection rates on campus with college kids go — it seems likely these will be very high for a month or more when kids get back on campus — and what the overall trajectory of the early fall looks like in SEC states. Plus, if the Big 12 sticks with its schedule then it will have four full weeks to see how other conferences do before getting underway.
It appears the worst with the coronavirus has now peaked in most SEC states, particularly the two biggest, Florida and Texas. That is, the number of new cases and hospitalizations are declining. But the death rate lags that a bit. The past three days Florida has gone over 200 deaths a day, but those numbers are a fraction of what New York saw. The same thing is true of Texas. (One other complicating factor is the deaths are sometimes being reported from months earlier due to updating stats. So it can be hard to determine which deaths are actually occurring in the 24 hours in question as opposed to months ago). So while the media is reacting to the death rate now, we’re on the backside of these outbreaks.
Indeed Florida reported its lowest number of cases and case positivity rate in weeks this morning.
I think the most reasonable analysis you can make at this point in time is that every state will have a peak of some sort. What we did by shutting down back in March was flatten the curve to such an extent that many places never had any case surge at all.
Now we’re seeing many states have their own individual surges.
The biggest positive that the data is showing us is that is the death rate in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona is nothing like what we saw in New York or New Jersey. Indeed Texas and Florida combined are going to end up with somewhere, it appears, around 1/8th of the overall death rate of New York and New Jersey despite having more confirmed cases than either of those states.
“With the NBA totally unwatchable without the fans do you believe the eventual winner will be looked at as a valid CHAMPION? Does anyone care? I don’t at all.”
I actually thought the NBA’s actual TV product looked fine.
The absence of fans wasn’t very noticeable to me, it felt more like an Olympic basketball event than it did an NBA game, but it didn’t feel that much different to me purely from a viewing experience.
Now I believe all the politicization of the sport is ultimately going to hurt the NBA this season and for years to come as well, but in the short term I think we’ll see the same thing as we’ve seen in all sports: an immediate surge of viewing interest that then returns to a period of normalcy after that. We saw viewership spikes for the WWE, NASCAR, UFC, the PGA, MLB, and I suspect we will see it for the NBA and the NHL as well.
The first games back draw in the casual viewer in a big way.
But then water returns to its level and the subsequent events don’t drive the same level of interest.
I suspect when NBA ratings come out the woke sports media will be sprinting around the Twitter streets arguing this is evidence that fans want politics mixed with sports. But I think that’s the wrong lesson to take. Hard core fans are going to watch their favorite sports no matter watch, especially when they haven’t been on for months. Casual fans will come back in the short term, but they don’t stay in the long term.
And it’s not the hard core fans who are lost over time with politics, it’s the casual fans, the people who tune in for the playoffs for a sport, as opposed to the regular season games.
Remember, the audience for most NBA, MLB, or NHL regular season games is pretty small.
It’s the playoffs where the audiences explode. And the playoffs feature the most casual fans of all.
The example I always like to use is the Super Bowl. The audience more than doubles between the AFC and NFC title games to the Super Bowl. Think about how crazy that is. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t watch the AFC and NFC title games, yet a whole new crowd shows up for the Super Bowl.
Who are these people?
Casual sports fans, big event fans, non-sports fans looking for a night’s entertainment, the kinds of people who talk through the entire Super Bowl party and make it impossible for real fans to actually watch the games.
Finally, like I said on my radio show this morning, I don’t know anyone who wasn’t watching the NBA because they were standing for the national anthem. But I do know people who won’t watch because they are kneeling.
Purely from a business perspective, if your actions cost you viewers and gain you none, that’s a poor business choice to make.
And I think that’s where sports are going to find themselves by embracing politics.
Final caveat: 2020 is, however, a TV year unlike any we’ve ever seen before. There are going to be more sports played this weekend than any days in August we’ve ever seen. And we’re also playing all these sports without crowds present and with many people unable to watch these games in sports bars. So how will all this balance out? In theory there will be more sports fans at home in front of the TV than ever before, but also there will be more viewing options than ever before.
Then you toss in an election year on top of it, which makes things even more complicated.
How will that play out? Heck, how will any of 2020 play out?
Good luck guessing.
Thanks for reading and supporting Outkick. Hope you guys have fantastic weekends.