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Olympics On, Phil Swarmed, NBA Parties — Don’t Be Stupid, Sports

Be it staging the Summer Games in virus-ravaged Japan, allowing a dangerous scene for Mickelson’s coronation or NBA players clubbing as big crowds attend games, the industry must be careful in rushing toward normalcy.

Jay Mariotti

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David J. Phillips

It happens every weeknight newscast. Proud as a pimpin’ peacock, NBC has a disembodied voice praise the network as America’s most trusted information source. You almost want to bear-hug anchor Lester Holt when he warmly signs off, “Please take care of yourself … and each other.”

Yet, only recently, NBCUniversal hosted a public function and completely ignored the state of emergency in Japan. There, less than three percent of the population has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, hospitals are overwhelmed, infection and death rates remain high and, according to a survey, 83 percent of residents — some demonstrating in the streets — want the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled. Why the abrupt disconnect in news-gathering integrity? Seems the corporate suits at NBCUniversal were smooth-selling advertisers during a virtual “upfronts” presentation, gleefully detailing extensive plans to broadcast the Summer Games beginning July 23 — even if the event looms as a potential health catastrophe in a host nation that can’t afford more tragedy.

Tokyo Olympics Should Be Cancelled, Doctors Association Says : Coronavirus  Updates : NPR
Courtesy: AP

Not long ago, Japan was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami. It numbs the mind to think the Games could cause more pain and suffering, but, in 2021, the “Network Of The Olympics” has no conscience.

“NBC will be bringing it all to America,” proclaimed host Mike Tirico, who every year becomes less a journalist and more a puppet.

This as the State Department warns Americans to avoid all Japan travel, citing virus variants that make even double-vaccinated people vulnerable to infections. Only eight weeks from the scheduled opening ceremony, wouldn’t the advisory unnerve U.S. athletes already debating the point of competing in the most abnormal Olympiad ever staged? The Games are intended as a global festival uniting thousands in the spirit of sport. Tokyo will be the antithesis of that mission statement, with athletes required to reduce time in Japan to an isolated minimum while spectators from all other nations are banned and no one is certain if Japanese bodies will occupy any seats.

The competition will be diluted. The atmosphere will be lifeless. More than 11,000 athletes, only 60 percent vaccinated to date, will be vulnerable to virus outbreaks that could impact tens of thousands of officials, coaches, support staffers and media. Hell, not one karaoke bar is open. But Tirico tells us the Games must go on, and so does NBC’s partner in pandemic crime, the always-trustworthy International Olympic Committee, which ignores travel warnings and simple common sense — how many people might die? — in declaring these Olympics “absolutely” will proceed. With Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on record that all Games decisions are made by the IOC, it means Japan basically will be governed this summer by Thomas Bach, the governing body’s president, and Steve Burke, chairman of NBC Universal.

They have billions to protect, you see. Japan is spending more than $25 billion to organize the Games. The IOC depends largely on NBC to fund $4.2 billion in broadcast revenues every four years, which is 75 percent of Bach’s budget. The dominos cannot afford to fall. They’d rather have people die and athletes get sick than lose their windfall, with insurance covering only $3 billion for the government in the event of cancellation.

“The athletes definitely can make their Olympic dreams come true. We have to make some sacrifices to make this possible,” said Bach, coldly referring to Japanese citizens who thought the Games would symbolize a recovery. His comment is juxtaposed against an anti-Games petition signed by more than 300,000 residents, who ask, en masse, “Are we still going to hold the Tokyo Olympics, even if it puts lives and jobs in danger?”

The money grab is profoundly rude, insensitive and greedy. Rejecting every morsel of medical logic, including the pleas of 6,000 primary-care doctors to cancel the Games, the alphabet-soup boys are pushing their business-as-usual mandate as if the competition is more important than possible casualties. Said IOC vice president John Coates: “I know from my own athletes in Australia how appreciative they are of the efforts of the Japanese people to give them the opportunity to live their dream, despite the current situation.”

At least in the U.S., we can take some comfort that 40 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated and 49 percent have had at least one dose. But herd immunity isn’t happening in our divided land — no longer “one nation, under God, indivisible” — and as long as race and religion forge waves of anti-vaccine pockets, the coronavirus will linger as a national threat. You think Memorial Day weekend is the ultimate re-opening of life? Wait until the new case figures next week.

That’s why I was stunned by the lack of security Sunday at Kiawah Island. PGA Championship organizers were more interested in a classic TV moment — lubed-up loons in the thousands, swallowing Phil Mickelson in his 18th-fairway coronation — than protecting Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and the swarming mobs themselves from injuries and superspreads. Couldn’t officials have waited a year before continuing the tradition of collapsing galleries for monumental golfing moments? At 50, Mickelson became the oldest player to win a major, yet they could have killed him in the process, with a fan seen grabbing him above his shoulders.

“I’ve never had something like that,” said Mickelson, who admitted to being “unnerved” and actually pushed the fan away.

Said Koepka: “It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd, because no one gave a shit. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool.”

South Carolina stupidity aside, last weekend felt like the grand reopening of sports in America. Stands are filling again at NBA playoff games, including the 15,000 fans who gathered without masks in Madison Square Garden to support the revived Knicks and heckle Atlanta star Trae Young, who had the last laugh. We still haven’t reached the point of Anything Goes at a sporting event, but to see and hear actual crowd noise in arenas — after the dystopian loneliness of the Bubble — was pulsating and reassuring in a sense. In Philadelphia, where 11,000 watched the 76ers, coach Doc Rivers said, “It felt like 30,000.”

In another sense, the NBA’s mad rush to normalcy was disturbing. Paying customers are expected to be responsible, but LeBron James and Kristaps Porzingis ruined the mood by flouting league rules. As it is, James has been negligent in refusing to say if he is vaccinated, which hurts commissioner Adam Silver’s efforts to achieve herd immunity in his league and the nation’s efforts to convince the African-American community to get shots. If James hasn’t had his two arm jabs, why would he attend a promotional event in Los Angeles for a tequila brand he is sponsoring?

He has yet to explain, but the league did cite him for a violation. If he hasn’t been vaccinated, shouldn’t the violation have led to a 10-to-14 day quarantine for James — which would have sunk the Lakers in a Phoenix series they might lose anyway? The NBA added to the confusion by adding this in a statement: “Vaccinated players are permitted to engage in outside activities.” So is LeBron vaccinated? Say something, Mr. Social Crusader.

“I’ll be ready for Game 2,” he said, when asked.

LeBron James has refused to divulge whether or not he has received COVID-19 vaccine.
Courtesy: AP

There was no doubt about Porzingis, fined $50,000 for attending an L.A. strip club last weekend and ignoring an edict prohibiting players from entering “any bar, club, lounge or similar establishment, regardless of the player’s vaccination status.” Yet the league didn’t force him to quarantine, either, saying his club appearance didn’t rise to the level of a spread risk. Why do I gather no NBA player, except maybe the last man on a bench, will miss playoff time for any COVID-related reason? It’s all a smokescreen, like so much else.

I trust the sports industry even less, moving forward, than I did in 2020. I’m not even sure I trust Lester Holt. When he says, “Please take care of yourself … and each other,” do you know where he ripped off the line?

From Jerry Springer. He said it first.

BSM Writers

Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media

“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”

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Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.

Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.

The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.

During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.

Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”

Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.

But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.

Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.

If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.

“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”

To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?

Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.

That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.

But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.

Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.

Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.

But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.

There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)

At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.

Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.

Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.

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BSM Writers

The Media Is Finally Strong Enough To Take On The Rose Bowl

“The whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.”

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I am a sucker for packaging. Take me to a grocery store and show me a uniquely packaged sauce or condiment or waffle syrup and I’ll give it a try just based on bottle size or design. The one packaging ploy that has vexed me is the “biggie size” at the local drive through. I’m always interested in the largest drink possible but don’t necessarily want a grain silo full of fries passed through my window. The College Football Playoff is going “biggie sized” in 2024 and I’ll take all of that I can get.

The College Football Playoff Committee made official last week what had long been speculated, that the four-team playoff field would increase to 12 teams starting with the 2024 season. This was an inevitable move for money and access reasons. The power conferences and Notre Dame stand to gain significantly in TV revenue and the “non-power” conferences finally get the consistent access they have long craved.

What may have finally pushed the new playoff over the finish line was the end of an ultimate game of chicken between college football powers and the Rose Bowl.

There is a scene from the movie The Hunt for Red October when the rogue Russian nuclear submarine is trying to avoid a torpedo from another Russian submarine. The American captain, aptly played by Scott Glenn, tells Jack Ryan; “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”

The Rose Bowl finally flinched.

The only thing that delayed an earlier move to this new world was the insistence of the Rose Bowl Game to cling to the bygone era of the antiquated bowl system. Only in college football could an organization that runs a parade hold such outsized influence but, until recently, the Big Ten and PAC 12 gladly enabled their addiction to a specific television time slot.

Dan Wetzel is a Yahoo! Sports National Columnist, he also wrote the book Death to the BCS which laid out a very early argument for dumping the bowl system for a Playoff.

“The single hardest thing to explain to people is that the Rose Bowl and its obsession of having the sunset in the third quarter of its game was a serious impediment to a billion dollar playoff,” Wetzel wrote. 

Wetzel makes the point that simply moving the game up one hour would’ve helped the playoff TV schedule immensely, “They were adamant that they get to have an exclusive window on New Year’s Day, the best time of all, not only would they not give that up but they wouldn’t even move it an hour earlier (to help Playoff television scheduling) because then the sun would set at halftime.  It was so absurd but for a lot of years they got so much protection.”

We may never know what it was that finally forced the Rose Bowl to play ball with the rest of the college football world. There are many possibilities, not the least of which was the presence of SoFi Stadium just down the road. The College Football Playoff committee could have always taken the bold step of scheduling games at SoFi, in the Los Angeles market, opposite the Rose Bowl TV window to try to squeeze them out.

It is also possible the Rose Bowl scanned the landscape and realized that, if a 12-team playoff already existed, their 2023 game would’ve been Washington (10-2) versus Purdue (8-5). That shock of reality came with the understanding Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Utah and USC would enthusiastically choose a 12 team playoff bid over a Rose Bowl invite. That was the future the Rose Bowl faced with the departure of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten and the 12 team playoff gobbling up the top remaining PAC 12 teams.

I have proposed that theory to many people in the college football world and have received some version of this response from many of them: “They really wouldn’t care who is playing as long as they can still have their parade.”

That is one of the issues at play here; in many ways, the whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.

One other possibility is that the television executives of the major networks, primarily FOX, may have put the pressure on the Big Ten and Pac 12 to have a little less interest in keeping college football stuck in the late 1970’s. It makes sense, FOX has nothing to gain by the Rose Bowl keeping influence. Fox may have everything to gain by getting a media rights cut of the future playoff. Many believe FOX was a driving force behind USC and UCLA bolting to the Big Ten. If that much is true, pressing for less Rose Bowl influence is child’s play.

No matter what was the catalyst to the expanded playoff, it worked and the fans benefited. College football is moving into a brave new world all because the college football powers finally stood up to the old man yelling at the clouds.

Turns out, it was all a game of chicken. And the Rose Bowl flinched.

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BSM Writers

Andrew Perloff Learned From The Master of Sports Radio on Television

“I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy.”

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It’s a fact of life that not everybody loves their job. To have a job that you love and have fun at is pretty special. For Andrew Perloff, life is good.

“I’m just watching so much sports during the week,” said Perloff. “I don’t come up for air watching sports and I love that.  And the fact that we get paid to sit on the couch for 72 hours…oh my God…it really is the best job in the world.”

That job is being the co-host of Maggie & Perloff weekdays from 3pm to 6pm eastern time on CBS Sports Radio and simulcast on CBS Sports Network. Perloff was an on-air personality on The Dan Patrick Show beginning in 2009 before making the switch to CBS Sports Radio for the new show with Maggie Gray that launched this past January.

And so far, the move has worked out.

“I’m really happy,” said Perloff. “I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy. I miss the DP Show but I love my new co-workers. (Vice President of Programming) Spike Eskin and (New York Market President) Chris Oliviero have been great. We get a lot of support and a lot of help from those guys and they’ve made the transition so much easier.”

When a new radio program begins, chemistry between the hosts is vital to the success of the growth and success of the show. In the case of Maggie & Perloff, they had an existing friendship from their time working together at Sports Illustrated. 

And that relationship is certainly evident to the listeners.

“I’m having a great time with Maggie,” said Perloff who was an editor and contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and SI.com. “We knew each other pretty well at Sports Illustrated. We’ve been friends for a while now. I have gotten to know her a lot better through the show. It took a couple of months to really find our rhythm and get the show to where we wanted to get it.”

There has been a fun and evolving dynamic to the on and off-air chemistry between the hosts.  Perloff is from Philadelphia and a die-hard Eagles fan while Gray is a fan of the Buffalo Bills.  The Eagles have the best record in the NFC at 11-1 while the Bills are among the best teams in the AFC at 9-3.

Perloff has come to understand just how much Gray loves the Bills and there is a chance that their two teams could meet come February 12th in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII.

“She’s a very passionate Buffalo Bills fan,” said Perloff.  “I always knew that, but to actually sit there on a daily basis and see her sweat out every detail about the Buffalo Bills has been a lot of fun.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re on a collision course for the Super Bowl and we’re already trying to figure out a Super Bowl bet.”

The easy wager to set up would involve food.

If the Bills win, Perloff would have to give Gray some Philly cheesesteaks.

If the Eagles win, Gray would have to furnish Perloff with some Buffalo Wings.

But it appears as if management wants there to be more at stake for the potential bet.

“Our boss wants us to do something more severe,” said Perloff. “The truth is I’m an Eagles fan so I’ve already won my Super Bowl. Maggie, on the other hand, has no idea what that feels like. I almost feel sorry for her because it’s tough being a Bills fan.

“We have a pretty big rivalry with our team because she’s a Mets fan and I’m a Phillies fan. We get along great expect for those areas.”

The Maggie & Perloff chemistry extends throughout the show and that includes producer Michael Samtur who has his own rooting interests.

Samtur is a fan of the New York Jets who are having a better-than-expected season.

“When the Jets win, I don’t want to see Mike on Monday mornings because he’s smiling so much,” said Perloff. “He’s an unbelievably cynical Jets fan…it’s hysterically funny.

“Mike is doing a great job. It’s really an all-hands-on deck show. I think we all sort of kind of wear each other’s hats at certain times.”

An added element to the show is that it is also simulcast on CBS Sports Network. If there’s one thing that Perloff learned from working with Dan Patrick — who also has a simulcast on television — is that the program is a radio show that just happens to have cameras in the studio. At the end of the day, it’s a radio show on television and not a television show on the radio.

“That’s also my philosophy,” said Perloff. “From a logistical standpoint, to do a good radio show you can’t really focus on the TV side of it. For us, the foundation of the base is to really focus on the radio show and the TV and video comes naturally after that.”

Perloff’s resume also includes writing and co-writing an assortment of magazine stories, books, and television shows while also hosting his own weekend show on NBC Sports Radio from 2016 to 2019. But it was working on The Dan Patrick Show where he learned an important aspect of being a talk show host that he continues to live by at CBS Sports Radio.

What he learned was that you just have to be yourself.

“Dan always wanted us to be authentic in the sense that don’t try to be someone you’re not,” said Perloff. “Don’t try to come up with hot takes just for the sake of hot takes. When you listen to Dan Patrick on the radio, you’re really hearing Dan. He’s not a radically different person off air.”

This is a huge time of the year for sports radio. 

The NFL’s regular season is winding down and college football is heading towards bowl season and the College Football Playoff. Throw in the NBA, college basketball, NHL, and the World Cup and there’s so much going on in the sports world to talk about. 

Perloff can’t get enough of it.

“I love it so much,” said Perloff. “College football is just huge right now. When we bring up a college football story, the phone lines just light up which I think is a reflection of the growing interest in that sport. This is the best time of the year. It’s incredible.”

As Maggie & Perloff head towards their first anniversary on the air, there are goals and expectations heading into 2023. The show has grown tremendously over the course of the first year and while that may have occurred faster than expected, the hope is that the trend continues.

“I’ve been a little surprised by how fast the audience has grown and our connection with the audience,” said Perloff. “One of the great things about The Dan Patrick Show was the community feel with the show and all of the listeners. That’s definitely growing with us and I’d like to see that really take off next year. It makes it so much more fun when you’re doing the show and everybody is along for the ride.”

It’s been a great ride so far and it should be interesting to see what happens if that ride includes an Andrew Perloff vs Maggie Gray Super Bowl matchup in February. It’s not even because the breakdown of Eagles vs Bills would be fascinating but the audience wants more.

That Super Bowl bet would certainly be intriguing.   

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