Thursday, October 30, 2014

10/30 Bumgarner Quickie

*Madison Bumgarner: The greatest pitcher in World Series history, full stop.

(Love this from McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee.)

*Russell Westbrook: As scintillating of a solo act as we expected him to be.

*Louisville beating Florida State tonight: Well, theoretically.

*Rachel Sklar's Medium piece: "I'm 41, single, and pregnant."

*Tim Cook.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10/26 CFB Hangover Quickie

Loving the 9:30 NFL Kickoff as a novelty. Wouldn't necessarily want this as a West Coaster every weekend...

*Here's my playoff foursome:

Mississippi State
Ole Miss
Alabama
TCU

Here's why I cannot fathom including Oregon but not Ole Miss -- Ole Miss just lost on the road to a ferocious team (that is particularly ferocious at home); Oregon lost at home to a flimsy Arizona team, giving up points left and right.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Michigan State but not Alabama (or Ole Miss) -- strength of schedule. I give MSU credit for playing Oregon tough on the road (but not as tough as flimsy Arizona, apparently), but Michigan State's conference schedule is a joke.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Florida State but not TCU -- strength of schedule, again. FSU has a single marquee win, over Notre Dame (barely, and that was in Tallahassee). TCU had trouble with two of the nation's best offenses, and otherwise has seen much tougher comp.

If Oregon, Michigan State and Florida State are going to be dropped into the Playoff Foursome just because of their W-L record and gaudy numbers against flimsy opponents, can we skip any pretense that "strength of schedule" matters?

I would love the SEC to go back to my old proposal that they abandon the national college football playoff system, create their own 8-team, 3-round playoff and sell the TV rights for billions.

-- D.S.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday 10/24 End-of-Week Quickie

*Steve Nash: This bums me out tremendously. Nash is one of my favorite NBA players of all time, and it's a shame this is a lost season. Is it too much to hope he can recover over the year and get one last productive year?

*Manning to Sanders, Manning to Sanders, Manning to Sanders: The way Manning distributes TDs is part of his brilliance -- but not so great if Julius Thomas is on your fantasy roster.

*CFB Saturday: Mississippi State at Kentucky screams "trap game" (so does Ole Miss at LSU -- not quite as much, but it's still on the table). The rest of the slate is largely inconsequential.

*Tim Hudson making his first-ever World Series start: Nice milestone. Game 3 isn't a deal-breaker for the losing team -- just one more twist in a solid (if not spectacular) series.

*Your best game of NFL Week 8: Eagles at Cardinals. Other interesting storylines: Seahawks reach "must-win" moment? ... Ravens at Bengals ... If the Falcons lose at home to the Lions to drop to 2-6, does Mike Smith lose his job on Monday? ... Zach Mettenberger Mania.

Enjoy your weekend!

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday 10/19 CFB Hangover Quickie

So we're down to two teams that control their own playoff destiny: The SEC champ (presumably from the SEC West) and Florida State.

The other two slots?

Well, if resume matters, one should almost assuredly be the SEC West runner-up -- but don't discount the Playoff Committee's commitment to the false equivalency of "geographic balance."

The two one-loss conference champs with the best shot at running the table are Oregon and Michigan State. A one-loss Big 12 champ would have a gripe (especially K-State), but good luck with that.

Imagine a 1-loss Auburn with wins over Alabama, Ole Miss, Georgia and Kansas State (but a loss to unbeaten Mississippi State) being left out for an Oregon team that lost to Arizona or a Michigan State team that played the flimsiest conference schedule we've seen in years.

The upshot: The SEC West will continue to clobber itself -- seemingly for a single playoff spot -- while FSU cruises on a weak schedule right into a guaranteed playoff slot.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

10/15 Wednesday Quickie

*Can't think of a better sports story this year than the Royals' unbeaten run through the MLB playoffs. Every time you think it can't continue -- probabilistically or otherwise -- it simply does.

*Hiring the Rays' Andrew Friedman is a huge coup for the Dodgers. Given their willingness to spend (and endlessly deep pockets), it's arguably even bigger than when the Cubs hired Theo Epstein.

*The NYT tries to sort through Bill Simmons' future. (And he's back from his suspension today.)

*Spencer Hall's dispatches from the road are always enlightening -- the latest is from Ann Arbor.

*When you have 30 minutes this week/weekend, don't miss Erik Malinowski's profile of Fay Vincent.

*As a fan of email newsletters (cough), Vox's new effort looks very promising.

*If you are a baseball fan, you will love @joe_sheehan's email newsletter. Read this from Joe, then subscribe.


-- D.S.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

10/12 CFB Hangover Quickie

*Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the top 2 teams in college football, and I cannot fathom how a voter would rank FSU ahead of either, given the "who'd ya beat?" and "how'd ya beat 'em?" tests.

*With Arizona's loss late last night and the other results, there are now just three teams that control their own playoff destiny:

- The Ole Miss/Miss St winner.
- The FSU/ND winner (next week).
- Baylor.

Baylor still plays at Oklahoma and versus Kansas State, with a trap game at West Virginia next week. Given that it took a 21-point 4th-quarter comeback yesterday to beat a very good TCU team, I have little confidence they will go unbeaten.

Ole Miss still has to play Auburn (Nov. 1). Mississippi State still has to play Alabama (Nov. 15). And, of course, they still have to play each other in the regular-season finale.

But let's stipulate that the SEC West champ gets into the playoff, with no-matter-how-many-but-assume-one loss.

Let's stipulate the FSU-ND winner goes unbeaten and is in the playoff.

Let's stipulate that of one-loss conference champs, Oregon and the presumptive one-loss Big 12 champ have the inside track at the other two playoff spots.

But let's also stipulate that, this season, a one-loss SEC West runner-up would have a far more impressive resume than any of those three teams.

Let's say the first half of this season holds and that SEC West champ turns out to be the Ole Miss-Miss State winner and the SEC West runner-up turns out to be that game's loser:

I cannot imagine that the playoff committee would be interested in an Egg Bowl rematch as a playoff semifinal, a month after the teams have played a "decisive" game (although they should!)

What is endlessly fascinating is that this college football season hinges on the two national powerhouses from Mississippi -- the top 2 teams in the country.

-- D.S.

(P.S.: As Bradley Beal is my favorite NBA player, yesterday's news of his broken wrist -- putting him out for at least two months -- is depressing, yet so familiar for any hard-luck Wizards fan.)


Sunday, October 05, 2014

10/05 CFB Hangover Quickie

Submitted while trying not to think about last night's 18-inning Nats loss...

From Oregon's late-night loss to Arizona on Thursday to UCLA's late-night loss to Utah early this morning -- with losses by Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M -- this was as voluminously wild of a week of Top 10 upsets as we've seen in years, if not ever.

(That doesn't even count Wisconsin or USC - who were already out of the playoff discussion but experienced shocking losses, relatively for the Badgers and absolutely for the Trojans - or LSU and Stanford, who lost to still-in-the-playoff-mix teams.)

There is a single clear controls-their-own-destiny playoff scenario left - if ridiculously tenuous:

(1) SEC champ.
(2) Unbeaten FSU-ND winner.
(3) Unbeaten Baylor-TCU winner.
(4) Unbeaten Arizona.

That's it -- and the chances that next week's Baylor-TCU winner runs the table is meh (Baylor still has to play Oklahoma, TCU still has Oklahoma State and Kansas State), and Arizona going 13-0? Please.

And so we are left with the idea that as long as everyone is losing, then many of the losers still at least have a shot. That's not entirely true. It's a small pool of eligible candidates:

Presuming Arizona will still choke away at least one regular season game (if not more), Oregon is not finished.

And it seems totally absurd that a 1-loss SEC (West) runner-up would be ineligible, simply because the Playoff Committee wants the false equivalency of regional balance in its first playoff field.

Let's digress about the SEC for a sec: Mississippi State throttling Texas A&M (my pick as the No. 1 team going into yesterday) followed by Ole Miss's stunning win over Alabama was as exciting as it gets for back-to-back games on a Saturday afternoon.

If the season ended today, based on resume, I'd have both Mississippi teams in my playoff:

(1) Mississippi State
(2) Ole Miss
(3) Auburn
(4) TCU

Of course, that's not how it works.

The SEC West now becomes a round-robin thresher: Mississippi State playing Auburn, Ole Miss playing Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss playing each other, with Alabama cranky and still good enough to spoil Mississippi State or Auburn's season and with Texas A&M cranky and still good enough to spoil Ole Miss or Auburn's season.

Consider next week's SEC schedule: Auburn at Mississippi State and Ole Miss at Texas A&M. Setting aside the fact that those games are harder than any single game any of the non-SEC playoff "contenders" will play this season -- let alone next week -- yet are part of a standard gauntlet for contenders in the SEC West, that's like a de facto playoff. (Although let's just stipulate that even if the SEC champ - presumably from the West - finishes with one loss, it is guaranteed a playof spot.)

Layer in that TCU plays at Baylor in a de facto playoff playoff -- the winner retains "control-their-own-playoff-destiny" status -- and that Arizona could easily lose to a ticked-off USC that can feel entitled to hate anything related to the State of Arizona (yuk yuk) -- and next week could see at least four Top 10 teams (and four off the quickly dwindling list of playoff contenders) lose.

It's glorious.

Look: We could still end up with a reasonably projectable playoff field of the SEC West champ (with however-many losses), unbeaten FSU, unbeaten TCU and WHYTHEMNOTUS (say, Oregon).

But we'll always have yesterday, when the long-held physics of college football -- particularly down in Mississippi -- were upended.

-- D.S.

Friday, October 03, 2014

10/3 Oregon Whoa Quickie

Just like that, the college football playoff landscape is a mess.

Yesterday, it was all so clean: The four playoff teams would be the SEC champ (presumably unbeaten), unbeaten Florida State, unbeaten Oklahoma and unbeaten Oregon.

Now, Oregon has a playoff-killing loss on its resume -- at home, against an Arizona team that is undefeated but hasn't been all that impressive this season (but clearly has Oregon's number). Even if it runs the table and wins the Pac-12 title, its argument (and resume) is less strong than, say, a 1-loss SEC runner-up (if still stronger than Michigan State).

Look ahead: The SEC champ is in. Unbeaten FSU is in. A presumably unbeaten Oklahoma is in.

The fourth spot is now up-for-grabs among several would-be 1-loss teams: Pac-12 champ Oregon? Big Ten champ Michigan State (which lost to Oregon)? A 1-loss SEC runner-up in a year when the playoff committee will be focusing as much on regional diversity as picking the four "best" teams?

And that's all before Saturday's shake-out: Either Texas A&M or Mississippi State will be knocked out. Either Alabama or Ole Miss will be knocked out. LSU could absolutely beat Auburn. Notre Dame could (should?) lose to Stanford. Nebraska will be knocked from the unbeatens by Michigan State. And Oklahoma -- looking at a clear path to the playoff after last night -- could absolutely lose to TCU, which would make things even messier.

If you thought a playoff would make things less contentious, Arizona's seismic upset at Autzen in the middle of the night is a good reminder that it will be even more so this year than ever.

PS: Hard not to root for the Royals to dispatch the Angels.

-- D.S.


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.)