Monday, September 29, 2014

9/29 Fire Hoke Quickie

I'm still digesting the experience from the past few days at the Online News Association conference, which I'll hopefully have more to say about in the next day or two. Until then, a few faves:

*Everyone calling for Michigan to fire Brady Hoke today. A few representative samples: MGoBlog's Brian Cook ("Brady Hoke should have been fired walking off the field"), MaizeNBrew's Drew Hallett ("The Fireable Offense of Brady Hoke") and my USA TODAY Sports colleague George Schroeder ("The situation is beyond salvage.") It's not that he has to go at the end of the season -- he has to go right now. His pathetic explanations -- and the even more pathetic statements from the school -- are making things worse.

*The Nationals' no-hitter: I can't count how many baseball games I have been to in my lifetime, but I can count how many my kids have been to -- seven, including yesterday, when my dad took them to the Nationals' season finale, which everyone assumed would be a pro forma walk-through before the team heads into the playoffs. It ended up being one of the defining games of the Nats' franchise history in DC. (If I couldn't be there, it's nice to know that at least my kids got to see it in person.) Meanwhile, talk about mis-managing expectations: Forget winning the NL pennant -- I'll be bummed if this team doesn't win the World Series.

*Teddy Bridgewater: Instant sensation. (So of course he suffers that ankle injury -- but that's temporary; he's going to be good for a long time. Watch highlights here.)

*Steve Smith Sr.: Doing it for the Olds! (Enjoyed this on Smith from Grantland's Andrew Sharp.)

*JR Moehringer on Derek Jeter: My favorite of the many (many) things written about Jeter this past week. Click here - it'll take you 15-20 minutes. (I'm not much of a Jeter fan -- certainly not a Yankees fan -- and, still, that final at-bat on Thursday night was a bonafide sports Moment.)

*Matt Norlander on this past Saturday's 20th anniversary of the release of Dave Matthews Band's "Under The Table And Dreaming": I was 21 and not only in college, but in a fairly typical fraternity, so obviously I have vivid memories of this particular CD, which was ubiquitous. As Norlander notes, that is hard to reconcile with the polarizing opinions about DMB now, but at the time? Whew.

@SportsREDEF: Jason Hirschhorn's REDEF empire (and you should absolutely be subscribing to the MediaREDEF email newsletter) expands into sports, first with a Twitter handle, very soon with its own daily email.

*Re/Code's Kara Swisher: I tweeted about this on Friday from the ONA conference (and will have more later this week), but having been a longtime follower and fan of hers, this was the first time I had ever seen Swisher in person, and it is an understatement to say she is a dynamo. Airport issues kept her from showing up until all but the final few minutes of her assigned panel (on news start-ups, obviously a subject near and dear to me), and she blew the doors off from the second she bounded up the stage stairs and started talking. What an inspiring force of personality.

OK, quick related aside: On Friday night, we were walking in the same direction on the street (I was maybe 10 feet behind her), and I found myself having an internal debate ("Should I go up and introduce myself? How weird/off-putting, because she doesn't know me. But she would never hesitate to do it, if things were reversed and she wanted to talk to me. But still: I'm me, not her. What am I going to do - ask her to take a selfie with me? Ask her some dumb question? Autograph my conference program?" And so on. I had a lot of internal monologues during my few days in Chicago.) Anyway, she was in a conversation with someone, and I deferred to letting her have her night roll along peacefully, rather than interrupted by a fanboy. Hopefully, there will be another chance some other day.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

9/28 Sunday CFB Hangover Quickie

Just got back from a few days in Chicago at an industry conference, so bear with me as I catch up...

The most important story in college football yesterday, by far, is the deplorable, FIRING-WORTHY conduct by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who not only left in a player who obviously had a concussion, but he re-inserted the player later in the game.

In the most charitable interpretation, Hoke is so clueless that he shouldn't be a college football head coach; in a less favorable interpretation, he abdicated his core responsibility, disqualifying him for the role -- not at the end of the season, but today.

It compounds Hoke's mistake if the AD doesn't do anything about it. It compounds Hoke's absence of leadership that not a single assistant coach felt compelled to overrule the head coach's decision.

The editors of MaizeNBrew -- who care about the issue far more than I do -- have the best take on it.

Meanwhile:

*Legitimately stunned that Northwestern won at Penn State.

*Entirely unsurprised that Arkansas would simply try to run it up the gut on their final, futile play of the game.

*FSU has lost whatever air of invincibility it carried into the season.

*If the playoff was today:
(1) Texas A&M
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon
(4) Auburn

Oklahoma is on the outside looking in, with FSU next to OU. A&M's win over South Carolina at South Carolina suddenly doesn't look so impressive, given Mizzou was able to do the same thing.

*Next week's best: Arizona-Oregon on Thursday, Alabama at Ole Miss, LSU at Auburn, Texas A&M at Mississippi State, Oklahoma at TCU, Stanford at Notre Dame, Nebraska at Michigan State, Utah at UCLA -- that's as loaded of a weekend as you could want, with all of the would-be playoff contenders with resume-making (or season-breaking) tests. Hard to say what, but SOMETHING interesting is going to happen. At a minimum, I think Notre Dame and Nebraska take losses and, consequently, exit any shot at the playoff. I could see Oklahoma getting stymied at TCU. And of the three big SEC games, I don't see any upsets, but LSU-Auburn will be a slugfest.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

9/21 College Football Hangover

Welp, that Florida loss to Alabama was even worse than my low expectations...

If the playoff foursome was picked today:
(1) Alabama
(2) Texas A&M
(3) Auburn
(4) Oregon

(Oklahoma and FSU on the outside looking in. Normally, Oregon's trouble at Wazzu would negate all of the positives of its win over Michigan State at home, but let's give them another week.)

*FSU's close win at home gets an asterisk without Jameis, but your resume is your resume. (Doesn't matter what I think -- if FSU goes unbeaten, and they will, they're in the playoff.)

*Hard not to think that the next head coach at the University of Florida will be former Gators OC (and current Mississippi State miracle worker) Dan Mullen. Signature win at LSU last night.

*Florida fans think they have it rough, but Michigan fans may have it worse.

*I'm sure everyone had "Indiana winning at Mizzou" as the game that finally gets the conference off the season-long schneid nationally.

*That Arizona Hail Mary ending was awesome.

*Looking ahead to next week: It's kind of a dud week -- UCLA-Arizona State on Thursday night late, but Saturday's best is... Arkansas getting drilled at Texas A&M?

*About this Urban Meyer story coming on Real Sports this week: Wouldn't it be a social good if he would drop the vague tough-guy semantics and just call it what it was: a nervous breakdown. Like Brandon Marshall or Ron Artest, maybe Meyer can become a leader and spokesperson on behalf of mental health?

-- D.S.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

9/20 Weekend Quickie

Did the Ravens (and NFL) cover up the Rice story? Wait, it's not "if" but "how much." This story-shifting reporting from Van Natta and Van Valkenburg -- "Van Squared?" -- begs the same question my old high school newspaper rival/pal Rachel Nichols asked Roger Goodell yesterday before he jingoistically mansplained things away: It's hard not to question clear conflicts of interest between Robert Mueller and the top executives of the Ravens.

Quick take on Goodell's press conference: What did you expect he would say? He lacked -- and probably fundamentally lacks -- Adam Silver's posture of sincere contrition from the Donald Sterling press conference, and he ultimately came across as stone-walling and, not inappropriately, embattled. But even with the latest ESPN revelation, he'll survive. (My colleague Nancy Armour wrote a good column in the immediate wake of the presser.)

Jameis Winston out for the entire game tonight: They won't need him -- Clemson is overrated. (And not just trying to reverse-jinx here.) He might very well have expanded his suspension because he wasn't consistent in his story with FSU leaders, but we're still talking about him yelling a bunch of stuff publicly. I'm no FSU fan -- and in this case, I think the school is overreacting.

Royals lose to Tigers, now 1.5 GB for AL Central: They may still make the one-game coin-flip wild-card round, but they won't make it easy for their hard-luck fan base.

The Timberwolves would be better off with Eric Bledsoe than Ricky Rubio, but I'm mostly concerned with the #FreeRicky situation -- I'd love to see Minnesota trade him to a team where he might thrive. (Or do they plan to reinvent themselves as Phoenix Midwest and play two PG at once?)

Here's an awesome (and not particularly long) read that was published too late yesterday to make the newsletter -- Grantland's Brian Phillips on Katie Ledecky, who I have a particular affinity for because she lives in my town.

Fortunately, enough kids' sports this morning and afternoon to keep my mind off the thumping Florida is going to take at Alabama at 3:30 today (CBS, if you want to enjoy some schadenfreude), but it's coming. And it's not going to be pretty.

-- D.S.

Friday 9/19 Quickie

Jane Coaston on the NFL: "Football has never been good." Fantastic bookend to a week that started with Louisa Thomas' excellent Grantland essay about the state of the NFL, Together We Make Football.

Procter & Gamble: Fundamentally, Roger Goodell is in sales. Typically, in sales, screwing up the P&G account usually means the end of your job -- if not your career entirely.

A passive-aggressive note from Anheuser-Busch is one thing; it's another thing to trigger the cancellation of a high-profile program from one of the biggest marketers in the world, one typically associated with moms.

(And now, per Buzzfeed's Mike Hayes, Marriott hotels is reviewing its relationship with the league.)

Roger Goodell's just-announced 3 pm press conference today will likely be larded with PR spin -- if he doesn't come across as straight-talking and earnest, I suspect this won't go the way the league wants it to. Then again, it's not like popular opinion of Goodell could get any lower, right? Is it too much to expect tough questions?

Auburn: Win at Kansas State -- arguably the single-best win of the season, by any team -- helps AU claim a spot in my next playoff foursome.

As I wrote a few days ago, here's the huge issue:

Because of the playoff selection committee's inevitable commitment to geographic parity -- and false equivalency -- in the playoff's first season, it's not like the quality of Auburn's wins will get it into the playoff if they are a 1-loss runner-up in the SEC.

Beating Kansas State was necessary to make the playoff, but not nearly sufficient -- sufficiency will be winning the SEC title, full-stop.

Actually, that's not even remotely accurate -- if Auburn had lost to Kansas State but finished 12-1 with an SEC title, they would absolutely be in the playoff.

If they finish 12-1 (including this win over Kansas State) but don't win the SEC title, they will almost surely NOT make the playoff -- presuming an unbeaten FSU, unbeaten Oregon and unbeaten or 1-loss Big 12 champ.

Devin Hester: If you're the greatest TD scorer in the history of NFL special teams, you're a Hall of Famer.

Tigers-Royals weekend series: The most significant September baseball Kansas City has played in -- what? 1985? 30 years? (KC is .5 GB Detroit for the division lead with 11 games to play - 10 for Detroit.)

Felix Hernandez: Last night, he threw 7 scoreless innings with 11 Ks. He didn't get the win, but that's par for the course for King Felix in his should-be Hall of Fame career. (He should be the AL Cy Young winner this season, too.) And he presents the ultimate opportunity if the Mariners make the one-game Wild Card (the M's are currently just 1 GB for the second WC spot behind the suddenly atrocious A's).

Bill Barnwell on the future of football: I loved this -- what a great combination of projecting the future while using relevant historical comps (Barnwell citing the creation of the Premier League was A+.)

I have a lot of thoughts/reactions to this, and I need to sift through them over the weekend to try to make sense of them.

I will preview it this way: I will present a not-complicated, not-unrealistic pitch for a business that could/would significantly disrupt the NFL.

Buzz Bissinger on the hazards of youth football: I'm not much of a fan of Bissinger, who over the years has morphed into a caricature of a journalist -- a professional troll when not a celebrity stenographer -- but I totally agree with his argument here that youth tackle football (including high school) should come with a far more serious warning of its physical consequences. I have said this before, and I'm hardly in a minority: I wouldn't let my kids play tackle football (and I think that's still entirely compatible with the idea that they are huge NFL and college football fans).

Weekend college football viewing: Florida-Alabama at 3:30 on Saturday (CBS), but I suspect it won't be pretty for Gator fans.

Weekend longreads:

*The best chess moment no one heard of (Seth Stevenson, Slate)

*Yoda of the Air Raid Offense, He Is (Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN)

*The Jacksonville Jaguars at 20 (Ryan Nanni, SB Nation)

*Ditching Twitter (Erin Kissane)

*You Will Weep and Know Why (William Browning, SB Nation)

*How Gary Hart's Downfall Forever Changed American Politics (Matt Bai, NYT Mag)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

9/18 NFL Travails Continue Quickie

Jon Stewart on the NFL mess: "Actual Vikings don't treat their children like that!" Click here to watch the full segment. Obviously, he takes it to the league, and it's absolutely worth a watch.

There are a couple levels of pressure at work here. When you are mocked by Jon Stewart (or, more recently, by John Oliver), that's a biggie. But there are limits to mockery -- the NFL can largely deflect those.

The ultimate, of course, is pressure on the NFL from its sponsors, which is why the condemnation Tuesday from Anheuser-Busch and, yesterday, from Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, were both huge.

Those corporate partners -- and the others sure to follow -- are protecting their own investments (and brands), in part because they are pragmatic and in part because they can (per Will Leitch) read the public mood.

The next level down are the major media influencers -- Schefter and King, most notably. They drive so much of the conventional wisdom that when they report things out (with any level of atypical outrage) or take strong positions, the league is paying very close attention.

King's suggestion that Goodell have an "I'm NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- Ask Me Anything" press conference is a good one, if unlikely for the league to heed, in part because I think they must be scared out of their minds that Goodell won't or can't present genuous enough responses to not make things worse.

(It's an inaccurate comparison, but consider the way NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his Sterling press conference completely changed the Sterling scandal -- and public perception of him, albeit filling in what was a largely blank canvas at the time -- simply by plain-spoken, straight-forward answers, which Goodell has been averse to providing for most of his tenure.)

Below that -- not unlike the way that smaller, repetitive blows to your head through a football helmet ultimately erodes your brain and shortens your life, or at least the quality of it -- it is simply the constant background of news and punditry about all this from every source, reaching almost every fan, that puts the league in an increasingly untenable position without some sort of executive leadership change.

Sure, mockery on the Daily Show is a signal. But the league was losing this this well before 11 pm last night.

More Faves:

Sarah Manchester: The Takoma Park (MD) Middle School math teacher won $1 million on Wheel of Fortune last night, and the moment is as awesome as you think it would be.

"Wheel" gets scoffed at by "Jeopardy" snobs, but Wheel's signature moments of triumph are vastly more telegenic than the monotonous -- if astonishingly impressive -- definition of success on Jeopardy.

Misty Copeland: You've seen the instant-classic Under Armour ad -- next, the profile of her in this week's New Yorker provides essential context to better understand one of the great athletes of this era.

David Ash quitting football: Whether it was his choice or not, the Texas QB walking away from football after multiple concussions will likely add years -- if not decades -- to his life, at a vastly higher quality.

Here is the natural follow-up question: How many concussions are enough to convince someone to get out of the sport? How many of the above-referenced infinitely repeated little knocks to the head, which probably ends up causing even more damage than the single big hits? And how old do you have to be to worry -- college? Prep? Pee-wee?

FWIW: This week's Time cover and cover story are on the massive risks of playing football, with the line: "Is Football Worth It?" (h/t Rebkah Howard)

Wait: Do you need a 2,000-word reported story to answer that? What if you flipped to the page where the story started and it just printed a huge "NO."

(Now, let's be clear: The Time story isn't about Rice/domestic violence or Peterson/child abuse or the NFL/teetering -- it's about the risk of kids playing tackle football, and to a lesser extent, the risks taken on as they progress to the college or pro level.)

FWIW, cont'd: Here's "Friday Night Lights" director Peter Berg, calling out youth football coaches and programs for putting kids in harm's way -- and suggesting kids skip tackle football altogether.

iOS8: I upgraded my 5S and... I mean, it's OK, I guess? Not really seeing the revolutionary utility yet, but I suppose I will when they finally add in the Pay system? (I downloaded the much-vaunted Swiftkey app to replace the standard keyboard, but I'm sort of skeeved out by the level of access Swiftkey wants to my data.)

If you missed it yesterday: Louisa Thomas' essay about the state of the NFL is definitely worth reading. It got a ton of notice yesterday, deservingly.

Football on TV tonight: Are you ready for some... cognitive dissonance? Auburn-Kansas State on ESPN/WatchESPN (arguably the best Thursday night college football game of the entire season) and Bucs-Falcons on CBS/NFL Network, which is probably worth tuning into if only to watch the awkward attempts to not talk about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Roger Goodell.

(It's not a cognitive disconnect at all that I'm also thinking about fantasy football -- whether to start hobbled Bucs RB Doug Martin or his backup, Bobby Rainey.)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

9/16 Peterson Quickie

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson on Adrian Peterson: I feel really strongly about this situation, and I've had a tough time figuring out how to articulate it appropriately. (I probably set a personal record over the last 72 hours of drafted-then-deleted tweets.)

Davidson comes the closest to my larger view: Beyond Peterson's use of the switch and the "whoopings" as his common, very-much-intended practice, there is no such thing as "unintentional" harm. Intended harm is -- if not the entire point -- an inevitable and absolute result. Peterson's (or his lawyers') cynical citation of "discipline" and "parenting" -- and, yes, "intent" -- as a defense is a grim distortion.

Although you wouldn't think so from the way they have handled the Ray Rice situation -- and now the Peterson situation -- the NFL cares most about its image (and, consequently, its income streams). Vikings sponsor Radisson temporarily suspending its sponsorship (most visibly, of the team's backdrop during press conferences) is an important harbinger here.

Then again: Take 6 minutes to read SI's SL Price on the NFL's essential imperviousness, even after (perhaps evidenced by) arguably the worst week in league history.

And one more good read on the state of the NFL: Slate's Stefan Fatsis on the restrained-yet-strained relationship between the media that cover the NFL and the NFL.

Darren Sproles: And here it is, in full relief, the cognitive dissonance between the NFL's sclerotic core and its most dynamic moments -- like the tiny, zig-zagging, untouchable Sproles putting on one of the most impressive Monday Night Football performances in years. Sproles and Chip Kelly are one of those perfect combinations, like Kurt Warner and Mike Martz 15 years ago. Sproles vaults up the NFL's "must-see" list.

ESPN.com's redesign: Starting as an editor at the gloriously branded "ESPNet.SportsZone.com" back in the mid-1990s and since, as both a columnist and an avid user/observer, I have paid close attention to essentially all of ESPN.com's redesigns (shout-out to Satchel Sports, ESPN.com's original name!)

There are always inevitable gripes, but the new version coming today (previewed here) is particularly seismic -- and in a very positive way.

I'm going to explain why in tomorrow's newsletter. (I actually wrote it up for today, but let's save it to lead tomorrow's edition. Or maybe, if it's not overstepping, a separate email I can send later today -- it'll take you just a minute to inhale it.)

The Greatest/Worst Fake Punt Ever: This happened on Saturday but only really gained traction last night -- look for the player who fell over and pretended to pass out (or die???). This is totally absurd but mesmerizing.

SEC West: SB Nation's Bill Connelly walks you through how amazing this group of teams is. I will offer a larger interpretation: It is clear that the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee is committed -- certainly in Year 1 -- to "fair" regional representation, even at the expense of false equivalency:

That somehow FSU's laughably weak schedule it will run through unbeaten is more qualifying than a 1- or even 2-loss SEC runner-up, who will inevitably be shut out of the playoff.

(The upside: When that happens, the SEC will force an expansion to 8 teams -- it is ludicrous that the SEC would be artificially limited to one playoff team per year, and it's also not unreasonable for the rest of the country to be upset if the SEC was given half the playoff spots every year, even if the SEC deserves them.)

Minecraft as the new Legos: I'll admit Minecraft was a blind-spot for me, but after reading this from The Verge's Ben Popper on the parenting/Minecraft nexus, I think it's something I want my kids to try.

(More good Minecraft context: This from Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein on the macro media landscape of games like Minecraft signaling a tectonic shift in gaming.)

Nieman Lab on native ads: If you work in journalism or media, you absolutely have to understand the role of native advertising. The Lab's Josh Benton (filing from paternity leave, no less) smartly takes you through the current state of the landscape.

Another really important recent Nieman report, on women in leadership roles in news organizations. (I feel incredibly fortunate to work with fantastic women leaders, with USA TODAY Sports managing editor Mary Byrne at the top of the list.)

(Anyone going to the Online News Association conference in Chicago next week? I'll be there. Be sure to say hi.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

9/15 NFL Week 2 Hangover Quickie

Get the college football hangover directly below...

*This Adrian Peterson story has me sick to my stomach. It's hard for me to believe that the Vikings are going to reinstate him (and the NFL isn't going to do anything about it).

*The most interesting developments coming out of Week 2:
(1) Kirk Cousins Mania in DC.
(2) The Chargers beating the Seahawks.
(3) The Bills being 2-0.
(4) The Saints being 0-2.
(5) The Panthers being 2-0.

*Amazing kids-sports story from the weekend: Our 3rd-grade soccer team played a super-hard-fought battle with a rival and lost 5-4. It was as hard as I have seen the kids play in four years of them all playing together, across all sports. It was actually pretty remarkable.

The ref came over at the end and said he had it scored "5-5." We knew that was wrong. Of course, the kids were jubilant. Our head coach brought the kids together, had them acknowledge that we only scored 4 -- that we lost the game -- and that the unquestionably right thing to do was to report the score to the league as a 5-4 win for the other team.

The best part was that the kids totally knew it was the right thing to do, and there were no complaints. Meanwhile, what a lesson about how you can accept a loss -- even a tough one -- when you know you've come pretty close to giving your best possible effort.

*If you don't understand Minecraft, here's a good explainer about why parents like it.

-- D.S.





Sunday, September 14, 2014

9/14 College Football Hangover Quickie

*If the playoff foursome was determined today, the teams should be (1) Oregon, (2) Texas A&M, (3) Alabama, (4) FSU. (Next team out: Oklahoma)

*What is most surprising is that a mere three weeks into the season, it's unclear if there are any more than a half-dozen teams worthy of the discussion (add in Auburn and, say, Baylor).

*And the best news is that A&M, Alabama and Auburn organically sort themselves out over the next two months (and Oklahoma and Baylor do the same thing on Nov. 8.)

*It's self-reinforcing, but it is laughable to look at the schedule the SEC teams have to play, then compare it to the cupcake schedule played by FSU and a would-be unbeaten Big 12 playoff rep.

*Georgia KO'ed from playoff race: They were a longshot anyway - it was unlikely they'd beat the SEC West champ in the SEC title game, and the SEC isn't getting two playoff teams this year.

*USC is out, too: Not that anyone thought they would be challenging Oregon for the Pac-12's title (and playoff spot). But - Transitive Property Alert - the loss at BC revealed a lot about Stanford, too.

*Speaking of Transitive, Ohio State is indeed mediocre: The same Virginia Tech that waxed them in Columbus last week turned around and was beaten at home yesterday by East Carolina.

*Charlie Strong deserves a lot of leeway in Year 1 at Texas, but he's off to a terrible start. (And sticking in Texas, that was a very tough, decisive loss for Texas Tech at home to Arkansas.)

*Florida: Welp, sometimes things go your way. If it makes Gator-haters happier, UF is going to get drilled at Alabama next week on national TV.

*Next week's best: Auburn at Kansas State on Thursday night, Alabama-Florida (ugh, not really), Mississippi State at LSU and Clemson at FSU.

*Set your fantasy lineups! It's a great Red Zone day today, with 5 games at 4 pm to go with the usual slew kicking off at 1.

-- D.S.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 Goodell Quickie

Obviously, it's hard to ever write about things as inessential as sports (or anything, really) in the shadow of the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Thinking of everyone who lost someone or was impacted in other ways.

In case you missed it: Here is yesterday's newsletter (which went unpublished here for some no-good reason). It's on the journalism implications of the Apple Watch. Don't miss anything -- sign up here to get it in your email.

Roger Goodell: Hoo boy. A couple points I'm paying closest attention to:

*The NFL is all-in on "incompetence" over "malfeasance." That's not a great look, but latter would be/have been a much bigger problem. (Dan Wetzel has a clear-eyed take on that.) The release of the AP story was the first time I allowed myself to even contemplate Goodell might not make it through this. That's not saying he won't -- but that I could even remotely envision it now? Yikes.

*This "independent" investigation is a necessary PR move but not necessarily sufficient. It's hard to say "independent" when the investigator is being overseen by two owners, one of whom (Mara) is on the record supporting Goodell and the other (Rooney) owning a team without an exemplary record as it relates to their star players' run-ins with violence against women. This committee will face much more scrutiny than your typical whitewash.

*What are owners telling the most tapped-in NFL reporters (like Peter King) about Goodell. What is the language? Is it unequivocating or are there cracks? Because cracks are the things that ultimately undo a seemingly untouchable commissioner. The "independent" investigation probably buys Goodell some time with owners -- unless the AP story yesterday turns into something bigger.

*The owners are loyal to Goodell, but they are even more loyal to their business interests. His future rests on the owners' evaluation of whether Goodell can still maximize their investment or whether he has been diminished enough that keeping him around devalues their league even slightly. Because it's a lot easier to find a new commissioner with 100% maximization potential than hope that Goodell can recover whatever he has lost.

*That Goodell is indelibly tarnished is a given here -- he has also overseen the tarnishing of his beloved "Shield." He obviously can live with that, because he loves his job more than he loves the league itself. At a minimum, the Rice story has shown that his monarchical consolidation of power has not been in the best interests of the league.

Upshot: Goodell's entire role rests on unquestioned authority. The questions are there now.

-- D.S.

Monday, September 08, 2014

9/8 NFL Week 1 Hangover Quickie

I had been waiting for the Ray Rice developments to play themselves out, and they have -- the Ravens have cut him. His career is -- if not over -- tabled indefinitely (and certainly more than the 2 games that the NFL would have seen him sit, which now seems laughably low).

The entire situation begs larger questions about how the NFL handled it, how the Ravens handled it and how the media handled it. But there is a pretty good chance that the move by the Ravens will curtail all of those discussions, and it'll be back to football tonight.

The best things I have read today on this were Vox's analysis of where the power in this story is (with the people who have the video footage) and Deadspin's fair questions about how the media was largely led along on this back when it broke.

The whole story casts an entirely deserved gloom over what was otherwise a pretty amazing opening Sunday of the NFL season, full of comebacks and weird results and fantasy awesomeness (and cringing) and the glorious return of NFL Red Zone Channel.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday 9/7 CFB Hangover Quickie

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If the playoff was held today:

(1) Oregon
(2) Georgia
(3) Texas A&M
(4) Florida State

Notes:

*Best win of the season: Oregon (at home over Michigan State) edges incumbent Texas A&M (on the road at South Carolina), with USC winning at Stanford sliding into 3rd.

*Michigan State: Big Ten champs, zero chance at playoff? MSU fans should have every reason to believe that the team will run the table from here and finish 12-1 with a Big Ten title. But as it relates to the playoff, they are in trouble.

They are going to remain behind unbeaten (or 1-loss Pac-12 champ) Oregon, unbeaten FSU and whoever wins the SEC (if not the 1-loss SEC runner-up), plus whoever inevitably comes out of the Big 12 unbeaten or with one loss. MSU will have a single quality game on its schedule -- a loss at Oregon. (No, wins over Nebraska and Ohio State in East Lansing won't count as "quality.")

*Confirmed: Ohio State without Braxton Miller is exactly what we thought they were.

*Not ready to believe in Notre Dame yet. But the most overrated team in the country is clearly UCLA.

*Texas is... not good. But Baylor's amazing QB situation is astonishing.

*Sort of can't believe what Florida was able to do on offense (I know, I know: Eastern Michigan is terrible. But still. Last year's team would have won 13-0, not 65-0.)

*Sort of can't believe where Northwestern is at right now -- it's a mess, and the coaching staff doesn't seem to have any capacity to fix it.

*Next week's best: Georgia-South Carolina, potentially the play-in game for the SEC East title.

Enjoy the return of NFL Sundays.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

9/3 Wednesday Quickie

(Republished from my new email newsletter. Get this first by subscribing here, or just come here to see the repub.)

After the lead item: Schefter, Sam, Mo'ne Mania, Crux, "Buzzfeed's X-factor," Kliff Kingsbury, Robin Roberts, AOL's new media honcho, "old person hoops leagues" and more. But first...

FanDuel
: A company with no more than 400,000 paying customers just brought in $70 million in funding because it prints cash in a category that has both historical traction and gobsmacking upside.

OK, let's unpack that, because it had me up last night thinking about it, so I spent some late-night hours organizing some thoughts (if you don't care about the topic, just zip down the email to the other entries - I won't be offended!):

In the past two weeks, $110 million in VC money has been invested into the "daily fantasy" category, which market leader FanDuel - which picked up $70M yesterday - calls "one-day fantasy."

Here's how it works: You put some money in an account. You pick players you think will do well on a given day (or week) and enter them in a league, which costs various amounts to join and presents various parameters for success. If your picks are better than other people's picks in your league, you win more money.

- FanDuel says it has 65% of the daily fantasy market. It also says that it projects to have 500,000 users in 2014. That pegs the total daily fantasy market right now at roughly 800,000 players.

- The total market of current fantasy players -- the vast majority playing in your typical season-long head-to-head or roto-style leagues -- is just north of 40 million.

- While traditional fantasy appears to have reached a saturation point, daily fantasy participation rates could compound at 50% annually for the next five years and still barely scratch the surface of its potential market.

- Why? The superficial hook of daily fantasy is "new games every day," rather than "stuck in a long/lost season." The real hook is that you get to bet (and win) money, based on your ability to project sports outcomes better than other people.

- This is all on the up-and-up -- there is a longer explanation of why/how, but let's just stipulate that. FanDuel's founder offers the most convincing analogue: He says it's just like paying to enter a golf tournament.

- And 80% of FanDuel's participants are paying. FanDuel says it will pay out $400 million this year. Now consider that the losers subsidize the winners, but - like the golf tournament - the platform makes money facilitating everyone's transactions.

Traditional fantasy juggernauts - focused on market share and with a price to play set at "free" -- are largely limited to sponsorship revenue, with (very) modest subscription income for expert advice.

That is a lot of money left on the table. It shouldn't surprise you that the leading mainstream sports media company without a traditional fantasy-game platform -- NBC Sports -- is an investor and partner in FanDuel. (It helps that NBC Sports' digital arm acquired Rotoworld - a subscription-based fantasy-intel site - years ago and installed its forward-looking founder, Rick Cordella, as NBC Sports Digital's top executive.)

- There is too much potential here for the category not to accelerate. It is a matter of time before ESPN, Yahoo, CBS and - yes - the NFL leverage their existing fantasy user bases to create games. (Disclosure: USA TODAY Sports Media Group launched our own daily fantasy game last month.)

- This is where it can get interesting: There can be an "everyone wins" outcome if big players partner with start-ups like FanDuel, DraftKings (which secured $41M last week) or RT Sports (USA TODAY Sports' partner). MLB is involved with DraftKings as its "mini-games" partner (which was presumably a highlighted slide on DraftKings' investor pitch deck).

- On the other hand, the most valuable thing that a company like FanDuel has going for it is that it owns the relationship with the player -- the connection to the bank account. Do big players want to hand that over?

(To be sure, customer acquisition costs are THE costs in the business. Yes, FanDuel and the others have to upgrade their mobile product offerings, but the money is really to subsidize/pay partners and fund marketing.)

- Let's recap: At even modest adoption rates, platform valuations in the space will ultimately combine to nearly a billion dollars, and that's before Disney or Viacom or Yahoo or Fox or the leagues really get involved. Total money in play will quickly combine upwards of billions a year.

The two most glaring opportunities here, beyond the growth of FanDuel and its direct competitors:

(1) Big players build (or buy) their own daily fantasy platforms, leverage their existing user bases and directly own the relationships (as Starwave/ESPN, Commissioner/CBS and Yahoo did in the mid-1990s).

(2) Start-ups in the payment space like Venmo or Tilt (which had an interesting partnership with ESPN for this fantasy football season) or even a new start-up entirely dedicated to sports transactions (or, ahem, Apple) insert themselves into the most critical piece of the chain -- the financial transaction between a player's bank account and the game platform. Players can take their account to any game platform. Hard to believe a billion(s)-dollar industry can't beget a couple of million-dollar seed bets to play in the middle.

Again, the takeaway: A company with no more than 400,000 paying customers just brought in $70 million in funding because it prints cash in a category that has both historical traction and gobsmacking upside. Pay attention.

More Loves:

*Adam Schefter: The preeminent sports-news transactional reporter of the era.

Transactional news is a tough gig these days, because as fast as something is broken, it is a commodity. But you have to admire Schefter's ethic and his results; someone is going to be first, and, when it comes to NFL news, it is Schefter with an astonishing plurality. By every account, he is also a really good person, which makes it even easier to appreciate his success.

*Michael Sam on the Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones the GM loves the help on defense. Jerry Jones the Owner loves -- as Don Van Natta put it on Twitter -- Sam's ability to help "change the subject." (Haven't seen a piece of sportswriting this year get a wider, better reception than Van Natta's profile of Jones.)

*Mo'ne Davis: The Summer of Mo'ne continues, this time at Dodger Stadium, where she threw out the first pitch, signed an autograph for Yasiel Puig and met doppelganger Clayton Kershaw.

*Crux, the Boston Globe's stand-alone site dedicated to covering Catholicism. I am extremely bullish on hyper-topical news sites -- to the extent that a topic with a billion potential consumers qualifies as "hyper."

(Then again, it was five years ago that I launched TimTeblog.com, which was a hyper-topical site focused on Tim Tebow, who has a pretty big following of his own. In retrospect, there was a much bigger opportunity there that I missed -- enthusiasm for all things Tebow remains extremely high.)

The details in the Nieman coverage of the Globe's effort dovetails with my "starters vs. stars" theory, which is quickly developing into stars-as-starters.

*Dao Nguyen, Buzzfeed's "secret weapon," who heads up the company's all-important data group. I got to meet her at a conference earlier this year and see her in small-group settings as we got into the weeds -- I was blown away by how brilliant she is.

(And I didn't even know at the time that she was at Concrete Media during the same time I was at Bolt -- Concrete and Bolt were fixtures of "Silicon Alley" during the original Web bubble.)

Bolt was a proto-social network for teens whose IPO was scheduled for the week after the first big stock market nosedive in 2000, and that ended that.

It struck me yesterday that teens who were on Bolt back in 1999/2000 are now 30+(!)

*Kliff Kingsbury: I'm a sucker for all things Kingsbury -- last March, I produced a SXSW session featuring Kingsbury and my colleague George Schroeder, and the coach was awesome. Bruce Feldman debunks some of the Gosling-ification of Kingsbury here.

If you had your pick of any coach in the country to lead your college program for the next 8-10 years, your wish list would probably be (1) Chip Kelly, (2) Kevin Sumlin, (3) Kingsbury -- with (1) in the NFL for the foreseeable future and (2) headed there eventually. (And I wonder if Kingsbury - like Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern - is entirely content with where he is, making him just as unattainable.)

*Robin Roberts, media impresario.

*AOL's Luke Beatty: Taking over the AOL Brands division from Susan Lyne, he is in charge of media brands in tech, autos and entertainment. I worked for Luke at Associated Content, and I have never met a more sincere person, who wanted to get the best out of me both for the company's benefit and my own. I really enjoyed working for him. AC's growth and exit, followed by Luke's work at Yahoo, with TechStars and, most recently, at AOL, is a testament to his talent and vision. And he's a huge sports fan, which is always a plus.

*Reinventing "Manny Being Manny" (via FoxSports.com)

*Spencer Hall's weekly college football recap: I'll read anything he writes, but this conceit is particularly terrific.

*That first game back after the summer in your weekly "old person" basketball game: That moment when you think you kept yourself in pretty good shape over the summer, only to find out it's not quite "old person basketball game" shape.

9/2 "Who's Your Four?" Quickie

It took all of one day of college football for the traditional "Who's No. 1?" discussion to become "Who's your four?"

It is absurd (but amazing) to project college football's four-team playoff field after a single week of play, but we're all doing it anyway.

I woke up on Sunday morning and flipped on SportsCenter just in time for Kirk Herbstreit's Top Four. Throughout the weekend, everyone weighed in. Instantly, it was addictive and fun.

My turn:
(1) Texas A&M
(2) Georgia
(3) Florida State
(4) North Dakota State

The playoff is having exactly the impact we talked about last week - it widens the discussion.

Never mind that the SEC champ - regardless of number of losses - is guaranteed a spot. Never mind that Florida State is guaranteed a spot if it goes unbeaten, despite a soft schedule.

Consequently, we are really talking about two spots up for grabs, among three teams: a would-be unbeaten Pac-12 champ, a would-be unbeaten Big 12 champ and a would-be unbeaten Big Ten champ.

That is a big reason why this weekend's Oregon-Michigan State game so intriguing. It's the "All Other Things Being Equal" Bowl, as "unbeaten" inevitably becomes "one-loss."

The Top 25 is a nice vanity metric and helps to frame games worth paying attention to next weekend, but "Who's your four?" is the ultimate question of the day -- and the season.

More Faves:

*Multiple-pitcher no-hitters: More compelling than single-pitcher no-hitters. There have been only six since September 1, 1976 (compared to 80 no-hitters thrown by a single pitcher since then).

I would add that in the hierarchy of no-hitters, the totally unexpected no-hitter -- by a pitcher for whom the no-hitter will most definitely be THE career highlight, by far -- is still superior to multiple-pitcher no-hitters.

*NFL rookie starting QBs in Week 1. Derek Carr may have been the 4th quarterback taken overall, but he had the best (worst?) opportunity to emerge as a starter of any rookie QB. (That doesn't keep the Raiders from settling near the bottom of Bill Barnwell's preview of the NFL's 8 worst teams.)

*JJ Watt: A longtime favorite among the 8-and-under fan base in my house. (I presume he's a favorite among kids whoare NFL fans more generally -- how could he not be?)

*Kevin Durant finding sneaker clarity. I really did think he'd end up with home-state Under Armour. It's easy to see the appeal for Nike - no basketball star feels more accessible than KD, and he has at least another ten years ahead of him in a career that will end with him being among the Top 10 players ever.

*Cookie Monster and John Oliver report the news.

*Speaking of Michigan State, if you want to understand their incredible defense, no one will explain it better to get you ready this weekend than Grantland's Chris B. Brown does here.

*CJR on Elise Andrew, the little-known 25-year-old impresario behind "I Love F---ing Science," a journalism start-up clearly worth a little more attention.

*Lockhart Steele blogging daily again. (Hell of a month for Vox.com.)

*Giving myself 30 seconds to decide what Big Idea I'd focus on first if I was the new publisher of the Washington Post.

*The Awl's "Fall Preview" (via the inimitable Alex Balk)

*Madden '15 on the iPhone as Labor Day kids' distraction.

*One more time: Don Van Natta Jr on Jerry Jones.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

8/31 College Football Kickoff Hangover Quickie

If the season ended today and based on quality of win (including who they played), these four teams would make my playoff ballot:

(1) Texas A&M
(2) Georgia
(3) Florida State
(4) North Dakota State

Next four:
Alabama
Oklahoma
Auburn
Oregon

 And here's my Heisman ballot:

(1) Kenny Hill
(2) Todd Gurley
(3) Marcus Mariota

Good start, Florida weather-cancellation aside.

-- D.S.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

8/29 Weekend Quickie

Republished from my new newsletter. To get it in your email in-box as soon as it's ready, subscribe here.

This weekend will kick off my 14th fall of Florida Gators football fandom.

I came by it honestly -- but not because I grew up in Florida or went to college there or had a parent who passed down the passion.

On the same first date in the summer of 2001 when I fell in love with my future wife, I fell in love with her football team.

What I found instantly addictive: The expectations -- championship or bust. (My expectations with her were slightly more modest -- just that we’d end up getting married. No biggie!)

Part of the appeal of college football is that at its highest level, it allows for merely a smidgen of error: “Every game counts.” Flukes derail contenders, but champions are not flukes.

Few teams manage to actually make it through a season unbeaten - that scrum of near-mint teams (plus gobs of cash) begat the four-team playoff system making its debut this season.

The margin of error is now slightly wider -- instead of 4 or 5 teams with a legit chance to win a national title, the pool is closer to double that.

One unintended consequence will be that, not unlike college basketball, teams will be celebrated for just making it to the (lowercase) final four, not only for winning the title.

That’s OK, though: At the core of college football fandom has always been expectations management (or mismanagement), whether that means “national champs” or “bowl-eligible.”

And if the wider playoff berth’s biggest and best outcome is that it expands the number of fans who will have myopically high expectations -- that’s an amazing outcome.*

* - Except when your team - cough - falls into a Swamp-sized rut.

*Kenny Hill: It’s an open question whether the Texas A&M QB - who had a break-out performance last night in A&M’s win at South Carolina - should be nicknamed “Kenny Football” or “Johnny Who?”

*Some worthwhile weekend reads, if you haven’t gotten to them yet from earlier this week:

"Jerry Football"
Don Van Natta, ESPN

"The Right Thing To Do vs. The State of Florida"
Michael Kruse, SBNation

"Confessions of a Fat Bastard"
Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly

"How to Be a Saint"
Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN

"Maybe the home page is alive after all"
Joseph Lichterman, NiemanLab

"The 60-Second Interview with The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson"
CapitalNewYork

"The Problem With the Black Cast Member on SNL"
Wesley Morris, Grantland

"The Glue"
Bryan Curtis, Grantland

Outtakes from SI's Kobe profile
Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated
(Original story here.)

College football opening essay
Spencer Hall, SBNation

*What I’m watching on Saturday: Florida-Idaho and Northwestern-Cal are locked in as personal rooting interests, but keep your eye on Michigan’s rematch with App State to start the day, the late-afternoon Auburn-Arkansas grudge match (in which Auburn might score 70) and, in primetime, how defending-champ Florida State looks against a solid Oklahoma State.

*Last thought about expectations: Typically, I would say that it’s healthiest to have modest expectations about almost everything (including this email!), but it’s entirely OK to have a small, benign corner where you allow yourself to have irrationally high expectations (and the capacity to deal with the almost-inevitable disappointment). Talking to you, Alabama and Oregon fans.