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How Can The NFL Still Play When Colleges Won’t?

“Medical advisors convinced the Big Ten and Pac-12 to cancel football, which should have compelled the NFL to do the same — except a greedy league can bank even more media money from the college shutdowns.”

Jay Mariotti

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They actually think this is a game, don’t they? Not that it speaks well for their world purview, but the NFL and three remaining college power leagues see the coronavirus as some sort of extreme manhood test instead of what it really is: an unshakeable, unforgiving, invincible fiend with no interest in curtailing its all-points spiking mayhem.

“Next man up,’’ they shout, as they would on a sideline, dismissing the Big Ten and Pac-12 as hobbled weaklings in a survivalist gauntlet.

Truth be told, we need to jolt the remaining resisters from their delusional daze. The same medical concerns that prompted two-fifths of major college football to postpone seasons in a close-contact, saliva-fraught sport also apply to the arrogant holdouts. NFL players are just as vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID-19 throughout a season of potential outbreak tsunamis. So are players in the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences. Yet where are the announcements that they, too, are cancelling seasons in the name of health and humanity?

I’m still expecting the three college holdouts to fold at some point, based on the disclaimers they keep issuing. Take the Big 12, which still intends to start a season, with a caveat from the conference’s board leader, Texas Christian chancellor Victor Boschini: “If at any point our scientists and doctors conclude that our institutions cannot provide a safe and appropriate environment for our participants, we will change course.” But the NFL? Roger Goodell and the billionaire owners are smelling blood and seeing a sweet opportunity. Know the staggering advertising sums — well over $1 billion — that ESPN, Fox and CBS stand to lose from the college football shutdown?

The networks would shift much of that investment, or all, to the NFL.

So a $15 billion season, as even Dan Snyder can tabulate, becomes a $16.5 billion season.

Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys will induct Gil Brandt into Ring of Honor -  UPI.com

Damn right we’re playing, shrieks Jerry Jones, who vows to have spectators at every Cowboys game, too!

Stunning and heartbreaking as any football shutdown is for families, college communities and an increasingly battered American psyche, it’s non-sensical that the NFL and, for now, other college teams would even ponder carrying on. What leaves me alarmed — outraged, actually — is how those leagues conveniently ignore medical research gathered by the Big Ten and Pac-12, as if to say, “Our doctors are better, our kids are stronger, our administrators are smarter’’ — and, in the NFL’s case, “We’re just too big and rich to fail.’’

Virology doesn’t play favorites. As soon as prudent, sensible decisions were made to protect lives instead of quarterbacks, the other three college dominoes should have fallen, followed by the NFL, which remains obstinate as a regular season preposterously nears. There isn’t a responsible person in the industry who shouldn’t be alarmed about myocarditis, the heart condition that can prove fatal without care — and linked directly to even mild cases of COVID-19, including at least 10 infected players in Big Ten programs.

“There has been a lot of discussion about myocarditis,” said the first-year Big Ten commissioner, Kevin Warren, who was fearless in ignoring the lobbying of Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Day and other high-profile league figures. “Any time you’re talking about the heart of anyone — but especially a young person — you have to be concerned. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to keep our student-athletes safe. … As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.’’

Yet when powerful, wealthy people want something desperately enough, they don’t care much about heart muscle inflammation. They hunker down and demand football anyway. After all, Robert Kraft and Nick Saban need something to do on fall weekends, as do the millions of zealots who feed off football cults. This is an offshoot of what we’re dealing with so tragically in America: a cultural divide about masks and the virus, which many COVID-iots still think is a conspiracy, including Southern folks living in the very geographic regions of the holdout conferences. The Big 12 does much of its business in Texas, where case numbers and hospitalizations won’t allow the state to reopen. But shut down football, even when the conference could have won some much-needed intellectual cred?

No chance. Hook ‘em, Horns. “Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the board’s collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being,” said Boschini, whose coach at TCU, Gary Patterson, recently dropped the n-word in a wretched attempt to make a teaching point to a Black player. The Big 12 still plans a start date of Sept. 26, same as the SEC, which at least allows monitoring time — unlike the ACC, which insists on starting … in three weeks? Go get ‘em, Dabo!

Our country is beyond repair. As long as we’re split on football, face coverings and how to proceed through a killer pandemic, the virus will continue its extended residency, leaving almighty sports as part-casualty, part-dangerous contradiction.

Without apologies, the NFL conducted a conference call with reporters in the very week of college football’s reckoning. The health message was vastly different. “We’re very confident in our protocols, and focused on a season that ends on Feb. 7, and starts and ends as scheduled,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president for club business and league events. “We’ll learn a lot in the months ahead, and we’re confident in our protocols and laser-focused on Feb. 7.”

Yep, the NFL is “laser-focused’’ on Super Bowl Sunday in Florida, where COVID-19 is the new lurking swamp alligator. Never mind that every metric known to medicine indicates the virus infects those in their 20s and 30s in sizable numbers, and that just one infection can trigger an outbreak that sidelines a sports team — see: St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins. And never mind the words of University of Oregon president Michael H. Schill, who said of the Pac-12’s decision: “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes.’’ There’s always a blubbering voice to drown out common sense and try to play doctor.

“These football players are very young, strong people, and physically, I mean they’re physically in extraordinary shape,” President Trump said in a Fox Sports Radio interview. “So they’re not going to have a problem, you’re not going to see people, you know, could there be? Could it happen? But I doubt it. … So I think football is making a tragic mistake.’’

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey Not Sure About Having College Football - WDEF

Even Trump hedged a bit there. Could there be a problem on a line of scrimmage, a transmission inside a confined locker room? Could players get sick? The thought entered his brainstream, which is enough to confirm the obvious. But just as the anti-maskers fight on, so does the football-is-safe mob. Said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who three weeks ago was worried about the efficacy of a season: “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”

The ACC went so far to trot out the chairman of its medical advisory group, Duke infectious disease expert Dr. Cameron Wolfe, who told Sports Business Daily, “”We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe. Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.’’ Note that Wolfe is paid by the conference. Also note his acknowledgment that safety will be a challenge.

You think?

We’re starting to see cracks throughout the pandemic version of sports. Adam Plutko tore into Cleveland pitching mates Zach Plesac and Mike Clevenger for breaking virus protocol to go out in Chicago, saying, “They hurt us bad. They lied to us. They sat here in front of (media) and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. So those `grown-ass men’ can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re gonna do to fix it.’’ NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, lacking the wisdom of a champion, lost his cool and head-butted the inconsequential Moritz Wagner. Social media wars are beyond stupid, especially when they fire up Damian Lillard to drop 61 points after scoring 51 for a Portland team that might upset the troubled Lakers in the first playoff round. The NBA is requiring that players prove “long-standing relationships’’ with non-family members to gain permission into the Bubble later this month, meaning one-night stands and casual flings are out. The NHL allowed a postseason game to extend six hours and five overtimes when the idea of a restrictive environment, I thought, was to get athletes in and out of a Bubble quickly (next time, postpone it until the next day).

But when we venture into amateur-hour debates about whose doctors are right or wrong, the familiar nausea returns: Money, of course, is driving the play-or-not debate. The NFL can’t fathom losing media billions, instead force-feeding players through protocol-dominated training camps. I cringed while watching the season’s first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,’’ blown away by the elaborate layers of safety measures and details required of Rams and Chargers personnel. The virus was the overriding theme for coaches Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn, who barely talked football with players — though Lynn did reveal he had COVID-19. When a fascinating but very bizarre and boring show ended, I just sat there, wondering why the NFL was even attempting a season.

NFL Films and Hard Knocks announce teams: Chargers and Rams to debut on HBO  in August - DraftKings Nation

And then I remembered the billions, waved frantically by desperate TV executives who realize the future of their sports divisions depends mostly on a complete NFL season. Rather than ponder a shutdown, the league is envisioning eventual postponements by the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — and figuring it can play on Saturdays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well as Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays, COVID-19 and player safety be damned. Am I kidding? I’m not sure. I still haven’t heard Goodell explain how the league can avoid an outbreak when respected virologists say it’s inevitable during a long football season. “We’re essentially going into a contact season asking them right now to disregard a lot of the guidelines, both federally and locally,’’ said Dr. Doug Aukerman of the Pac-12, telling the New York Times that football is a Petri dish for the virus. “Playing contact sports, we know there’s going to be a higher risk of spread.”

In good conscience, the entire sport should pause until next autumn. Play college football in the spring? Sounds like more abuse and exploitation of athletes who, again, wouldn’t be paid for TWO seasons within a calendar year. Said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: “We’re going to exhaust every opportunity to leave open that opportunity for our student-athletes,’’ a scenario that wouldn’t allow much time to be student-athletes. A rogue program such as Nebraska is considering a break from Big Ten ranks and barnstorming. Really? If I didn’t care about Nebraska when it was playing Ohio State, why would i care about a program-in-denial that still thinks Tom Osborne is coaching national title teams?

My “laser-focus’’ is on the NFL, the colossus, the closest semblance to “normalcy’’ sports can offer. In the media Zoom call, league officials spoke excitedly about sponsors, parties, the usual Super Bowl festivities. How many times was “COVID-19’’ or “coronavirus’’ mentioned?

Not once.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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