Another sign of my disappeared youth

It may be impossible for current Packer fans to believe this, but there was a day when the Packers were among the dregs of the National Football League.

What has been called the Gory Years stem basically my entire conscious life before marriage. (So thanks for the great wedding present, Ron, Mike and Brett.) Between 1968, the season after Super Bowl II, and 1991, the Packers had exactly two playoff seasons, 1972 (10-4, NFC Central champion) and 1982 (5-3-1, third place in the NFC according to the strike-season format), and three more winning seasons, 1969 (8-6), 1978 (8-7-1) and 1989 (10-6). That’s it.

As a result, most kids in my world developed alternative NFL allegiances, or at least teams they’d root for in addition to the Packers — the Miami Dolphins (right, Rick?), the Pittsburgh Steelers (right, Tim?), the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams, or even the rival Minnesota Vikings, all teams that won more than they lost, in contrast to the Packers, whose season ended before the playoffs started every year. (I remember no one from the neighborhood or my schools rooting for the Chicago Bears, because the Bears were as bad as the Packers were in that era.)

Yes, we were all a bunch of little frontrunners while our fathers watched, and sore at, the ineptitude of the Packers. I remember in third grade getting a greatest-sports-legends book from the school library. (The book, strangely enough, had neither Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but there was a boxer named Cassius Clay who looked just like Ali, and there was a basketball player named Lew Alcindor who looked just like Abdul-Jabbar and played for the Bucks. Weird.) The book included former Packer quarterback Bart Starr, and added the unbelievable fact that the Packers won five NFL titles and Super Bowls I and II. That seemed impossible given that even an eight-year-old could figure out that that team wearing green and gold on fall Sundays was bad.

My alternative team was the Oakland Raiders. Part of the reason was the fact that the Raiders often were the second game of the Sunday doubleheader, usually on NBC. Many Raiders games were announced by my favorite announcer, Dick Enberg. The Raiders played in California, whose weather was always better than Wisconsin’s by the end of the season. Their uniforms — black jerseys and silver helmets and pants — looked cool.

In those days, most NFL teams had a few renegade players. The entire Raiders team consisted of renegades, beginning with their owner, Al Davis. (Legend has it a visiting coach believed his team’s locker room had been bugged. After the visitor lost, the coach yelled at a light fixture in the locker room, “Damn you, Al Davis! Damn you!” A Raider official’s response was that it wasn’t in the light fixture.) Their coach, John Madden, was like watching a human thunderstorm. Their announcer, Bill King, also announced the San Francisco (later Golden State) Warriors in a radio/TV simulcast, but was never shown  on TV because he wore a beard, in the early 1960s.

The non-home-grown players were often high draft picks from other teams who were cut (by their first and later teams) for behavior issues. That included Oak Creek’s John Matuszak, a number one draft pick cut by four previous teams. That also included Ted Hendricks, a tall and skinny linebacker who was with the Packers for one season but moved on because the Packers couldn’t figure out where to play him; the Raiders said play wherever you want, Ted, and he became known as the Mad Stork. (That did not include George Blanda, who nonetheless was a backup quarterback at 40 and kicked until he was 48.)

The homegrown players were hardly shrinking violets either. Defensive tackle Otis Sistrunk was photographed one night with steam coming off his bald head, and ABC-TV’s Alex Karras announced he was from the University of Mars. One cornerback was known as “Dr. Death,” another was called “Lester the Molester,” a safety was called “the Assassin,” and another defensive back was called, by Steelers coach Chuck Noll, an example of the “criminal element” in the NFL. One of the apparently more mild-mannered players was Chilton native Dave Casper, who became a Hall of Fame tight end despite playing offensive tackle at Notre Dame.

Their quarterback was Ken Stabler, who had been called The Snake since his University of Alabama days …

… for something he wasn’t often known for in his NFL days, his running ability. The nickname stuck for his inability to make improbable plays to improbably win games despite his perceived immobility (he would stand in the pocket and look for an open receiver) and unimpressive-looking arm, which gave him the appearance of a left-handed relief pitcher who faces one batter per appearance.

Fans forget that the famed Immaculate Reception …

… would never have happened except for Stabler’s coming into the game and leading the Raiders to the go-ahead score, his own 30-yard run.

Stabler came from the days when the quarterback called the team’s own plays. (Stabler described his play-calling philosophy as: “Run for show, throw for dough,” which probably kept his excellent offensive lines happy.) Legend had it Stabler read the Raiders playbook by the light from a jukebox. Such implied hard living, plus his long hair and beard (both of which grew gray as he headed into his 30s, gave him style appropriate for a team with a pirate motif. (The Raiders’ logo apparently used actor Randolph Scott for a model, complete with eyepatch.)

Stabler’s autobiography and another autobio by the aforementioned Assassin told tales of a team that seemed to be the real-life example of the fictional North Dallas 40. (The novel was a thinly veiled tale of the 1960s Dallas Cowboys, but unlike the Cowboys, the Raiders never denied their wild life.) One of the more tame stories was of the annual team air hockey tournament, which had only one rule: Cheating was mandatory. Players would wear fur coats in 100-degree training camp heat to play games that would go scoreless for hours. Stabler’s book makes one wonder how he lived as long as he did.

Of course, style is nothing without performance. The first Raiders game I remember well was the 1974 AFC divisional playoff game against Miami. The Dolphins were trying for their fourth consecutive Super Bowl, having won the previous two.

The game started with a bang, with Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

And yet no one ever trailed by more than a touchdown. The Raiders took the lead on a tightrope touchdown catch by wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who couldn’t outrun anyone, but always caught the ball whenever it was in his area code.

And then came the fourth quarter, when the Raiders got the lead back on a bomb pass to wide receiver Cliff Branch, who caught the ball, fell down, got up because no Dolphin touched him, and ran it in the rest of the way.

That would have been the highlight were it not for the touchdown the Dolphins scored right after that. When Stabler got the ball back, just 2:08 remained. That turned out to be plenty of time.

Stabler spent much of his career winning other improbable games …

… the most crazy of which remains the Holy Roller …

… a play so bizarre that the NFL banned it.

The Raiders were among the NFL’s best teams throughout the ’70s, but only got to one Super Bowl with Stabler, beating Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. The highest praise, besides his two player-of-the-year awards, probably came from offensive guard Gene Upshaw, who said, “When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to the end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”

After two winning but non-playoff seasons, the Raiders traded Stabler to the Houston Oilers for their quarterback, Dan Pastorini, previously known as the guy who handed off to running back Earl Campbell. (Pastorini didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Raiderrs, because he broke his leg. In yet another case of something happening only to the Raiders, backup quarterback Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins, one in Oakland, one in Los Angeles.) Stabler then went to New Orleans to end his career.

Stabler should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. He is the only member of the NFL Team of the ’70s not in the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw (four), Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach or Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese (two each), but he has more than Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton (none). His statistics compare favorably with other Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played in his era, which featured much less passing than today. He had 96 regular-season wins as a starter, which is one more than all the other quarterbcks drafted with Stabler combined.

If Stabler ever gets in the NFL Hall of Fame, it will be posthumously. He died last night of colon cancer at 69.

The intersection of sports, business and politics

You’ve read the old saw that politics makes strange bedfellows, and you’re seeing that in the debate over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

But you don’t need to go to Washington to see strange bedfellows. In Madison, some Republicans are pushing a new Bucks arena, and some are opposed, joined, it seems, by all legislative Democrats.

The latter may seem strange since Democrats overwhelm Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, and therefore you’d think Democrats would favor something that would keep some of their constituents employed. Republicans also pushed a Miller Park deal 20 years ago instead of Democrats, one of whom, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, wanted a downtown baseball stadium instead. The same has been the case with Milwaukee voucher schools, generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, two exceptions being Norquist and late Rep. Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee).

The Republican divide over the Bucks is shown by Timothy P. Carney:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to send a quarter-billion dollars in taxpayer money to the billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, who are threatening to leave if they don’t get a subsidized new arena.

At the same time, however, presidential candidate Scott Walker wants to convince Republican primary voters nationwide that he is a conservative who can stand up to the special interests.

It’s a tough sell.

Walker, together with local Democratic politicians and the billionaire out-of-state owners of the Bucks, has negotiated a deal whereby the state and local governments pay for half the cost of a new $500 million arena for the NBA team. The state would borrow $55 million to build the arena, costing the state taxpayers $80 million over 20 years when interest is included. City and county governments would cover the rest.

Walker argues that the $250 million gift to the owners — billionaire hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who live in New York — will pay for itself. “The price of doing nothing is not zero. It’s $419 million,” Walker said. “It’s not just a good deal. It’s a really bad deal if we don’t do anything.”

In short, Walker is asserting that the team and the new arena will bring in more tax revenue than the ransom money will cost taxpayers. …

The subsidy undermines Walker’s ability — especially in the general election for president — to tout his record as governor. Walker explains his cuts to government employee benefits and University of Wisconsin spending in terms of necessity — state spending was in disarray, and he had to make tough choices.

But if he’s handing $250 million to the Bucks’ owners, the spending cuts look different. It’s an easy — and not entirely unfair — line of attack for a Democrat: Walker cut $300 million from college kids, so he could give most of it to some millionaire business owners.

No doubt Walker’s subsidy to the Bucks will hurt him politically outside of Milwaukee.

The next question is: Should it?

If you are a fair-minded, thoughtful voter — in the GOP primary or the election — what does Walker’s corporate-welfare deal tell you about the man, about how he would be as president?

First, it shows that Walker’s conservatism — his belief in free enterprise and limited government — is more a disposition, a leaning, than a deeply held principle. He’s against government getting involved unless someone can make a good argument that in this case, it’s good for business. We’ve already learned this lesson, though, from Walker’s support for ethanol when he traveled to Iowa earlier this year.

Second, there’s the toughness question. Walker was supposed to be tough and unbending in the face of special interests—that’s how he beat the powerful government unions and the recall election. But when a league run by billionaires demands ransom of Walker, he forks it over just like your average mayor or governor would.

Third, Walker’s defense of the subsidy shows that he’s not a student of economics. It’s nearly unanimous among economists that stadium subsidies do not pay for themselves, and the research suggests that losing a sports team doesn’t hurt a city’s economy.

All interesting points. I would be more interested in Carney’s point of view on this subject were he actually a Wisconsinite who might have to live with the consequences of the Bucks’ leaving. Carney doesn’t. (More on that shortly.)

Carney seems shocked — shocked! — to find out that Walker is a politician. Walker isn’t that much of a small-government conservative, which should be obvious since there have not been large-scale government-employee layoffs since he’s been governor. (Teacher layoffs happen for the same reason they have always happened — diminishing layoffs in particular classes.)

The other thing Carney misses is the importance to the Republican voter of Walker’s successes against the education and Govzilla establishment, particularly public employee unions, which are a much higher priority among GOP-leaning voters than attacks on business. Teachers and other government employees did not vote for Republicans even before Scott Walker started running for governor.

It is perfectly obvious what is happening here, because it happened with the Brewers and Miller Park in 1996. Democrats are staying away from the Bucks to make Republicans do the heavy legislative work, and if it fails and the Bucks leave, Democrats can blame Republicans for the Bucks’ leaving.

More locally pertinent perspectives come from Rick Esenberg

When I was a young lawyer, one of my elders at Foley & Lardner taught me the essence of a good settlement in litigation. To paraphrase, you want to reach a deal which is so good for you that the other side will cringe, but not so bad for them that they won’t shrug. Although negotiation professionals often bang on about “win-win” solutions, most one-off deals – unless overridden by the needs of an ongoing relationship – are ultimately governed by this dynamic. …

Lot of folks say that Edens and Lasry should pay more for the arena happen because “they can afford it.” The statement is true, but irrelevant. People – and billionaires are no different – generally do not spend even what they can afford, unless it is in their interest to do so. A person’s interest might include charity, but my guess is that Edens and Lasry’s desire to make a gift to a city from which they are not from and where they do not live is quite limited.

But these guys are in a bit of a trap. Right now, it looks like they have made a great deal. They wanted to own an NBA franchise (which can be a form of consumption for billionaires) and they do. In addition, the team is probably worth much more than they paid for it. As O’Donnell points out, with the NBA’s new TV contract in place, the LA Clippers sold a few months after the Bucks for two billion dollars. While the Bucks in Milwaukee are worth nowhere near a franchise in Los Angeles, it seems certain that they are worth more than the $550 million that Edens and Lasry paid for them.

So these guys are looking like winners. But, unless the arena is built, they lose that victory. They will no longer have their shiny NBA toy and, perhaps more importantly, someone else will enjoy the increased value of the Bucks. Edens and Lasry can keep the gain on the bargain basement price that they paid only if the team stays here. (While the Bucks in Milwaukee are certainly worth less than the Bucks in Seattle, it still appears – even in Milwaukee – that they are already worth much more than the sales price.)

So, quite apart from what they can afford, it is in their interest to contribute to the deal. You’ve got to give Herb Kohl credit for setting it up this way. While he made out like a bandit on his investment in the Bucks, he certainly left money on the table for his hometown.

But the reason that Edens and Lasry must throw in some money also limits the amount that they will throw in. Remember, to keep the team, they have to keep it here. And it is worth less here. Putting aside the thrill of owning a sports franchise, let’s assume that they believe the Bucks are worth $725 million and a little bit more if the team must stay in Milwaukee. They ought to be willing to put $150 million into the arena deal so they can hang on to that “little bit more” in value. (They should also factor in expected appreciation discounted to present value, but I’m trying to keep the example simple.)

So how much are the Milwaukee – as opposed to the Seattle – Bucks worth? How much will make the owners cringe and yet shrug ?

… and Dan O’Donnell:

The Bucks are a beloved sports team, yes, but they are also an important business to both its city and its state.  As conservatives, we pride ourselves as being pro-business, free market capitalists who understand that to achieve economic growth, government must work with (not against) the private sector.

Whereas liberal taxation and over-regulation stifle enterprise and inherently view business as a sort of enemy to be demonized when convenient and always made to “pay its fair share” (which, as it happens, is determined by liberals in government), conservatism understands that private enterprise is a partner whose success shouldn’t be punished, but encouraged.

Encouragement, of course, does not mean corporate welfare, and this is why so many conservatives are so divided about the current proposal to use $250 million in taxpayer money to pay for approximately half of the Bucks’ new arena.

This is why I am so conflicted, because while I love my team, I also love my fellow taxpayers and don’t want city and state government to place an undue burden on them so that fans like me can keep wearing our jerseys and buying our tickets.

Remember, though, the Bucks are a local business every bit as much as they are a local team, and are as such a significant contributor to the state and local tax base. Each year, the estimated tax revenue from NBA salaries alone is estimated to be approximately $6.52 million.  The NBA has just signed a new $24 billion network television rights agreement, and the resulting player salaries and revenue sharing cuts are expected to rise exponentially when that agreement kicks in next season.

Anticipating this rise, Governor Walker estimated that the annual revenue from taxes on NBA player salaries could rise 8% next year to a little more than $7 million and a full 25% to $8.15 million in 2017.

And that’s just in player salaries.  The Bucks themselves also employ more than 160 workers, from coaches to trainers to professional scouts to ticket sales representatives—all of whom pay state income taxes and many of whom pay local property taxes.

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee (which is a near-certainty if an arena deal isn’t agreed upon), all 160 of those jobs—and the tax revenue they generate—would disappear.

Moreover, the most recent Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce analysis of the BMO Harris Bradley Center’s overall economic impact found that it “supports 2,350 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $73 million, while its net impact supports 1,068 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $29 million.”

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee, many of those jobs—and the tax revenue they generate—would disappear as well, leaving taxpayers to fund the maintenance of the facility without the millions in revenue generated by 41 (or more) NBA games per year.

Without those games, sales tax revenue on tickets, concessions, and merchandise would be lost as well.  So would hotel tax revenue from not only out-of-town fans, but also visiting NBA teams, which typically have traveling parties of 30 or more.

Radio and television rights to broadcast Bucks games also generate tax revenue and help to support the salaries of hundreds of FOX Sports Wisconsin and Scripps Media employees, from on-air personalities to camera operators to producers to salespeople. …

In addition, a substantial amount of the Bucks’ annual taxable revenue comes from outside of Wisconsin in the form of the NBA’s revenue sharing agreement and luxury tax system under which the league’s more profitable teams in effect subsidize its less profitable teams.  Last year, the Bucks made a whopping $18 million in revenue sharing and an additional $3 million in luxury tax payouts.  That reportedly turned a $6.5 million loss for the 2013-2014 season into $14.8 million worth of profits that were then subject to taxation.

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee, all of that out-of-state revenue sharing and luxury tax money will leave Wisconsin’s tax base.

In other words, Wisconsin’s taxpayers would be out millions of dollars per year in corporate and individual income tax revenue and stuck with millions of dollars in BMO Harris Bradley Center maintenance fees that would likely not be covered by the Marquette basketball and Milwaukee Admirals hockey games and occasional concerts that the arena would still host.

Esenberg’s and O’Donnell’s perspectives are interesting beyond what they say for this reason: Esenberg writes for Right Wisconsin, a creation of the late Journal Communications, whose WTMJ radio has been the originating station for the Bucks for their entire existence. WTMJ and Right Wisconsin are now owned by Scripps Media (the broadcast half of the ill-advised Journal sale), which definitely has a financial stake in whether the Bucks stay or go. I haven’t kept track, but I think Right Wisconsin has run more pieces against the stadium deal than for it, despite the fact that Scripps stands to lose money if the Bucks leave. (WTMJ, in fact, dumped the Badgers in favor of the Bucks two years ago.)

O’Donnell, meanwhile, works for WISN, WTMJ’s competition, which could stand to gain by WTMJ’s losing the Bucks. (Perhaps, however, WISN has on its to-do list wrestling the Bucks’ rights away from WTMJ.)



Whether you’re a fan of the proposed Milwaukee Bucks arena deal announced Thursday, you have to give Gov. Scott Walker credit for coming up with a sort-of novel rationale — financial conservation:

Cheaper to Keep Them

Today, Governor Scott Walker joined state and local leaders, including Speaker Robin Vos, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in announcing a plan to protect state taxpayers from a loss of approximately $419 million, if the NBA relocates the Milwaukee Bucks.  The total state contribution will be capped at $80 million.

“We’ve considered the financial impacts on the state should the Bucks stay or go, and quite simply, we found it’s cheaper to keep them,” Governor Walker said. “Our plan is the result of a state and local, public and private alliance, and it is developed with the goal of ensuring a good return to our state taxpayers. Under this plan, for every dollar the state invests, state taxpayers will get a $3 return on that investment.”

In April 2014, new owners bought the Milwaukee Bucks from Herb Kohl in a deal approved by the NBA and contingent upon the construction of a new arena by 2017. If a new arena is not constructed by 2017, the NBA will buy the Bucks back from the current owners and move the team to another state.

If the team is relocated, there will be a loss to state taxpayers of at least $419 million over the next 20 years due to the loss of current revenue, future growth, and the ongoing costs to maintain the Bradley Center.

Current and former team ownership committed to fund $250 million toward funding the $500 million arena project. Under this plan, state and local governments will also fund $250 million, or half of the total project costs, toward building the new arena without tax increases or state bonding. Any cost overruns would be paid by other sources, but not the state.

Working together with local leaders, Governor Walker, Speaker Vos, and Majority Leader Fitzgerald developed a plan that will cap the total state investment in the project at $80 million over 20 years. Over a 20-year period, this plan protects $299 million in income tax revenue, including the base and projected growth.

Basically Walker is saying that the $250 million taxpayers — $80 million from the state, and $170 million from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee — will be spending on the new arena will “protect” $299 million in income tax revenue, but having the Bucks leave will be a bigger loss, $417 million.

Bucks Arena Funding Shares

Cap State Investment

Wisconsinites, whether they are Bucks fans or not, will be on the hook for less than $1 per year for 20 years. I suppose state government has spent money on worse things over the years, though if you find it strange that a Republican is using the word “investment,” usually a Democratic tactic to justify spending tax dollars, you’re not alone. The $80 million could be thought of as a couple of years’ worth of spending by the previous governor to purchase land with absolutely zero return for taxpayers. (That would be the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, which Republicans apparently lack the guts to kill.)

The fact that state taxpayers pay less than one-third of the public-sector costs — less than one-sixth of the total cost — makes some logical sense, though whether it makes political sense remains to be seen. At least with Republicans in charge it seems the chance of taxes being raised to support this spending seems less likely.

There is an additional potential cost to the Bucks’ leaving, and I’m surprised no Bucks supporter has brought this up yet. Similar to the NFL with Los Angeles (which is reportedly being pined over by the Rams, Raiders and Chargers, all of which used to play in the same L.A. stadium), two cities are named when the subject of the potential move of NBA franchises comes up — Seattle and Kansas City, both of which used to have NBA teams. Kansas City has the Sprint Center, a new arena without a major pro sports tenant, and Seattle has the Key Arena, the former home of the former Sonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you were the NBA, wouldn’t you rather have a team in Seattle than in Milwaukee?

The additional potential cost is not just the tax revenue lost by losing the Bucks; it’s the money spent to replace the Bucks with another NBA team when political pressure ramps up to get a replacement pro sports franchise. (The Bucks are not going to be replaced by a National Hockey League team; when your current pro hockey team, the Admirals, draws only a few thousand people every night in an arena four times that size, that doesn’t say “growth market” to anyone.) In addition to Kansas City (which also lost the NHL’s Scouts to Colorado and then New Jersey) and Seattle, Buffalo had the Braves, which became the San Diego and then Los Angeles Clippers, and Cincinnati had the Royals, which became the Kansas City and then Sacramento Kings. Cincinnati is in the same boat as Kansas City, with neither an NBA nor an NHL franchise on which to get people to spend money.

It would be interesting to know how much Baltimore spent to get the Cleveland Browns to move there after the Colts left for Indianapolis, and how much Cleveland spent to get the second edition of the Browns as an NFL expansion team, not to mention how much Nashville spent to get the Houston Oilers, and how much Houston spent to get the expansion Texans. In each case, the minimum answer is: A new stadium, cost nine digits.

This is not the good old days (if that’s what you want to call them) where, for instance, when the Milwaukee Hawks left for St. Louis and the Braves left for Atlanta, the Milwaukee Arena and Milwaukee County Stadium were there waiting for new tenants. If the Bucks leave, the number one demand of a potential new team owner will be a new state-of-the-then-art stadium. As it is, without the Bucks whether the Bradley Center needs to be there is an open question. The Admirals’ apparent fan base certainly fits into the Arena, and I doubt that Marquette basketball would be a money-maker for the Bradley Center by itself, given that college teams have fewer than half the home dates of an NBA team.

The same applies to baseball. Washington lost the Senators to Minnesota in 1961, got another Senators team and lost that to Texas in 1972, and then got the Nationals from Montreal, which won’t be getting a replacement team to occupy the hideous money-sucking Olympic Stadium. Beyond the late Braves, Royals, (Kansas City) Kings and (San Diego) Clippers, the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah, eventually replaced by the Charlotte Hornets; Charlotte had to build a new arena for the expansion Bobcats. (More confusing, the former Hornets are now the Pelicans, and the Bobcats are now the Hornets again.)

There was a TV commercial years ago in which a mechanic touted the value of preventive maintenance by saying, “Pay me now or pay me later.” A similar metaphor probably applies to pro sports franchises as well, in that keeping a used car, including maintenance costs, is cheaper than buying a new car, including payments. Whether Walker’s numbers are correct, logic says that if the Bucks leave, replacing them will be considerably more expensive.

The bigger issue is whether or not people care about the Bucks and their leaving without a new arena. There probably were Wisconsinites in the mid-1960s who said they didn’t care about the Braves’ leaving for Atlanta. One year after the last Milwaukee Braves game, Gov. John Reynolds and the state Supreme Court chief justice, who ruled in favor of the Braves’ being able to leave (though he delayed their departure for one year), were bounced from office.


The WIAA vs. the GOP

One of my favorite UW–Madison classes was the Olympic history class taught by Prof. Alfred Senn, who said at the beginning and throughout the course that to believe that sports and politics were ever separate or could ever be separated was futile.

Senn’s valuable cynicism comes to mind because of what the Wisconsin Sports Network reported:

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has started a petition against a recent Wisconsin legislative proposal that would allow students from private schools, virtual schools, and home-schooled students to participate on sports teams of public schools in their district. reports the language in the 2015–17 state budget thusly:

29.  Participation in Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities.  Require a school board to permit a pupil who resides in the school district to participate in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities on the same basis and to the same extent as pupils enrolled in the district, if the pupil is enrolled in one of the following:  (a) a home-based private educational program; (b) a private school located in the district; (c) an independent “2r” charter school located in the district; or (d) a virtual school.  Provide that a pupil who is enrolled in a home-based private educational program and is determined by the public school or school board to be ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletics because of inadequate academic performance would be considered ineligible to participate.  Specify that a pupil attending a private school or an independent “2r” charter school could only participate in a sport that the private school or charter school does not offer.

Provide that a school district could not be a member of an athletic association unless the association required member school districts to permit home-based, private, charter, and virtual charter pupils to participate in athletic activities in the district.

Provide that a school board may charge participation fees to a non-public pupil who participates in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities, including fees for uniforms, equipment, and musical instruments, on the same basis and to the same extent as these fees are charged to pupils enrolled in the district.

For the state education establishment, which certainly includes the WIAA, to expect any sympathy from the state GOP seems as likely to happen as the Brewers’ winning the World Series this year. On the other hand, if the majority party in the Legislature doesn’t like the WIAA, the Legislature has the ability to wipe the WIAA out of existence by legislating that the state Department of Public Instruction be responsible, to borrow from the WIAA Constitution, “To organize, develop, direct, and control an interscholastic athletic program” for state schools. (That would certainly make superintendent of public instruction elections much more interesting, and maybe it would compel Wisconsin conservatives to get behind candidates with a better view of what our schools should be than the current superintendent of public instruction and his predecessors going back as far as memory. If indeed school sports are an extension of the classroom, shouldn’t DPI regulate school sports?)

There are numerous reasons why parents might not want their children to attend the local public school. Some schools, frankly, aren’t very good. (Read the School Report Cards.) There are some good school districts with bad teachers (largely due to the evil teacher union), and there are some school districts with poor administrators. If it’s correct that everyone learns differently, then it stands to reason that some children don’t learn in the local public school environment as well as they are capable of learning. Public school choice is great, unless your family lacks the means to get a child from home to school. Some students are bullied, and some schools clearly do little about bullying.

There are obvious reasons as well why non-students like high school sports. Games at the local YMCA don’t attract thousands of fans. Nor do the events of any non-school-based athletic club. For hundreds of small Wisconsin towns, the local high school is the source of that community’s prominence, and a big part of that is high school sports.

Independent of whether the proposal should become law (and apparently the state of Washington allows this), or be included in the 2015–17 state budget, the WIAA’s statement is full of not-entirely-truths. Let’s peruse and parse:

Please, keep in mind that the “WIAA” is a voluntary membership of public and non-public schools that have joined together to create and provide programming opportunities for the students in their school. To have the state government limit or prohibit membership in the WIAA — unless legislative mandates are followed­ — is an alarming precedent and an unacceptable over-reach in an attempt to control a voluntary, private and non-profit organization. To be clear, as a private entity, the WIAA receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.

There are two enormously disingenuous statements in this paragraph. The first is that WIAA membership is voluntary. It is voluntary unless your school district wants to (1) host high school sports and (2) have any WIAA-member high school as an opponent. WIAA membership is as voluntary as the voluntary contributions to the UW Athletic Department to keep your football season tickets.

The even more disingenuous statement is that the WIAA “receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.” Where do you suppose WIAA-membership dues came from — trees? (I used the past tense because the WIAA Board of Control voted April 21 to suspend member dues for two years to “further disconnect the organization from the indirect use of public tax dollars.” Interesting timing, isn’t it?)

Most high school sports are played in high schools whose construction was paid for, and whose maintenance is paid for, by taxpayers. While sports and school booster clubs contribute some funding, high school (and where they exist, WIAA middle school) coaches’ salaries and sports equipment are paid for by the school district, which means those salaries are paid for by taxpayers too. So are officials’ payments for games. And, of course, public schools are supported by taxpayers whose children may not go to public schools. (That is something liberals could not care less about.)

An overlooked aspect of this bill that should not be discarded is the divisiveness that is derived from the displacement of students who are actually full-time students and their school. The proposal marginalizes the commitment and opportunities for students enrolled in their school to represent their school.

Small schools traditionally have been concerned that opening the door to non-students for participation in its sports programs would accelerate the loss of enrollment and consequently, state aid.

The dropping percentage of student involvement in high school sports belies that statement. (For a variety of reasons, including student laziness and preference to do something other than compete in sports, such as compete on the XBox.) That statement also parrots the education establishment’s perspective that parents have no right to send their children to a non-public school.

High schools across the state are dropping not necessarily sports, but teams (going from, say, a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team to just varsity and JV) not due to the evil Republicans, but due to dropping enrollment. (Unless decreasing family sizes are somehow the GOP’s fault.) That is the same reason for the increase in the number of cooperative programs, sports with two or more schools’ students on the same team. (Including co-ops that include public and private high schools, such as Wautoma and Faith Christian in football.) Somehow that’s not divisive, but the GOP proposal is divisive. The only roster size rules that exist are for varsity games.

The membership recently addressed competitive equity concerns among public and private schools, and it determined — as it has done consistently — to treat all segments of the membership uniformly.

Well, that’s one way to put it. This refers to the WIAA’s votes on proposals to address competitive equity complaints from small public schools that similar-size private schools that can draw from much larger population areas were competing in the same state-tournament division. That would include, for instance, Whitefish Bay Dominican, which won four consecutive state boys basketball championships competing against non-metro-area schools Colfax, Cuba City, Auburndale, Brillion, Blair–Taylor and Mineral Point. (Plus one similar Catholic school, Eau Claire Regis.) WIAA membership rejected (1) increasing private-school enrollment for postseason purposes, as Illinois does; (2) reducing public-school enrollment by 40 percent of the percentage of students getting free- and reduced-price lunches, as Minnesota does; or (3) pushing teams, public or private, that get to state a lot upward an enrollment class. That could be a sign of the difficulty in finding a good solution for the small schools’ complaints; it could also be a sign that WIAA members don’t care about small public schools.

It is certainly true that policy added to the state budget late in the budgeting process (the fiscal year and budget cycle ends June 30) is an invitation for demonstrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is also true that the WIAA’s institutional arrogance and Democratic-leaning interest groups’ knee-jerk opposition to non-public schools (and refusal to admit that some of Wisconsin’s public schools are not serving their children well) has led Wisconsin to this point. The author of this proposal is reportedly state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R–Fond du Lac), who should get a call from WIAA leadership soon.



The indictment of several leaders of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the worldwide soccer governing body, is certainly unprecedented. It’s hard to imagine duplicating this elsewhere in sports beyond the Olympic movement.

USA Today reports:

The Justice Department’s corruption inquiry into organized soccer has deep roots in the USA. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that suspects in the $150 million bribery scheme met in this country often to plan their illicit activities and used U.S. banking institutions and domestic wire transfers to distribute giant bribe payments.

Describing the alleged wrongdoing as “rampant, systemic,” Lynch said the actions spanned two generations of soccer officials abroad and in the USA who “abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”

“They planned to profit from their scheme, in large part, through promotional efforts directed at the growing U.S. market for soccer,” Lynch said.

The attorney general, a month into her term as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, specifically highlighted the operation of the U.S.-based Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, a powerful subsidiary of soccer’s international governing body FIFA, whose member countries include the USA. The group’s top leaders, according to court documents, played major roles in soliciting and accepting bribes related to the selection of host nations for the 1998 and 2010 World Cup tournaments.

What might as well be called Soccergate, or Soccerghazi, proves that the difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense. Sam Vecenie chronicles several of the indicted, with one major exception …

1. Chuck Blazer

Title: Formerly — General Secretary of CONCACAF, member of FIFA executive committee. Currently — FBI informant, lover of cats.

Story: Blazer might be one of the most strangely interesting human beings on Earth. First and foremost, the big, bearded gentle giant has been at the center of the explosion in the popularity of soccer in the United States. He was instrumental in bringing the World Cup to America in 1994 and has been very important in the television deals that have brought the sport into a wider focus across the country.

But then there’s the seedier side to his deeds, such as the fact that he has plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy and income-tax evasion, among other things. These charges led to his employ as an FBI informant. Also, did I mention that he had a $6,000-a-month apartment just for his many cats? Well, that’s also a thing (according to the New York Daily News).

It’s an unexpected end for Blazer, who operated with high-flying impunity for decades, inhabiting a world of private jets, famous friends, secret island getaways, offshore bank accounts and two Trump Tower apartments with sweeping views of Central Park and the crenellations of The Plaza hotel.

CONCACAF’s offices took up the entire 17th floor, but Blazer often worked from two apartments where he lived on the 49th floor in $18,000-per-month digs for himself and an adjoining $6,000 retreat largely for his unruly cats, according to a source.

According to that article, Blazer also had a “fleet” of mobility scooters, had a Hummer to use in Manhattan (WHY?!), and didn’t pay his taxes for about a decade. Basically, he might be the most strange yet essential sporting official in all of the world.

2. Nicolas Leoz

Title: Formerly — President of the Paraguayan football association, President of [the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol], member of FIFA executive committee

Story: Leoz is one of the double-digit executive committee members to have been implicated in corruption since voting on the location of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He resigned his position on the ExCo days before a ruling was to come down on World Cup kickbacks, citing health reasons at 84-years-old. Between this and the ISL investigation where he was thought to have taken over $700,000 in bribes, it’s pretty clear that he was never exactly on the up-and-up as far as his time.

However, those bribes pale in comparison to the hilarious requests he had of the English football association back in 2010. Despite being Paraguayan, he apparently asked to be knighted by the queen in exchange for his World Cup vote. Also, one of his aides asked for the FA Cup, an event that has been played since 1871, to be named after him.

“Regarding the offer to name a cup after him, Alberto’s comments were ‘Dr Léoz is an old man and to go to London just to meet the Prince and go to the FA Cup final is not reason enough. If this is combined, say, with the naming of the CUP [sic] after Dr Léoz then that could be reason enough’ his words literally.”

Oh how I wish Aaron Ramsey would have scored the game winner in the Leoz Cup last year.

3. Jack Warner

Title: Formerly — Vice President of FIFA, President of CONCACAF, member of FIFA executive committee

Story: Warner is pretty much your prototype for corruption in a FIFA executive. His past misdeeds could fill an entire book. A brief outline of them would include allegations of understating World Cup earnings to withhold bonuses to his players, selling black market tickets to the 2002 World Cup to make a profit, and possibly accepting payment for a vote for Qatar in the 2022 World Cup vote.

Basically, he is the closest thing you’ll find to a Bond villain in the world of international football. Don’t believe me? He’s daring the American government to arrest him (which the Trinidad and Tobago government apparently just did).

He’s certainly not the type to go quietly into that good night, and he’s the kind of guy who will take others down with the ship if he knows he’s going down. Heck, just four years he threatened and kind of came through on a “football tsunami” following a provisional suspension due to his connections with Mohammed Bin Hammam, a former ExCo member that has been banned from football. He’ll be fun to watch.

4. Jose Maria Marin

Title: Formerly — President of [the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol], President of 2014 FIFA World Cup Committee

Story: Marin followed up Ricardo Teixeira as president of the CBF after Teixeira resigned for “health reasons” months before it was revealed he and his father-in-law former president of FIFA Joao Havelange accepted millions in bribes. Marin’s time as president wasn’t the most eventful two years, as he was replaced by Marco Polo del Nero last month in an election.

The implication in this indictment is arguably not even the worst thing he’s done in the last three years though. That likely came when he pocketed a little kid’s medal after the Sao Paolo Youth Football Cup in 2012.

Come on, man.

… because he hasn’t been indicted yet: FIFA dictator Sepp Blatter, who will probably get reelected president of FIFA today.

The indictments are over bribes allegedly paid to secure Russia and Qatar as the World Cup host countries in 2018 and 2022, respectively. If bribes were made, you’d think FIFA would rebid those World Cups, particularly given the fact that a few countries, including this one, probably could assemble the entire World Cup schedule in existing stadiums in a year of two. FIFA is not rebidding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Charles C.W. Cooke approves of the arrests, I guess:

Well, well, well. Seemingly out of nowhere, the U.S. government has entered the fray and done what nobody else would. After a lengthy investigation, the New York Times records today, the Justice Department, the F.B.I., and the I.R.S. have “pledged to rid the international soccer organization,” FIFA, of the “systemic corruption” that has been its hallmark for decades. Describing “soccer’s governing body in terms normally reserved for Mafia families and drug cartels,” the Times adds, the DOJ is focusing on a host of crimes, including but not limited to “racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.” These arrests, the paper confirms, came as “a startling blow.”

How peculiar it is that FIFA should finally be cleaned up by a nation that doesn’t care about soccer.

Rooting out the vast array of criminals that have been operating within FIFA’s grubby little syndicate is necessary and virtuous work — and it is a relief that somebody has finally decided to do it. But, amid all the excitement of the charges, it is worth remembering that even when Sepp Blatter and Co. are ostensibly on the level, they are never too far away from disaster. Once upon a time, FIFA cared primarily about putting on first-class sporting events: If a country had the infrastructure and the will, it could expect a fair shake at hosting a tournament. Now the outfit’s processes have become mired in political correctness, in the quixotic search for “legacy” projects, and in the dirty and hopeless mess that is modern internationalist politics. Because FIFA’s rules are so strict — and because it is more concerned with kickbacks and with infrastructure spending than with soccer — for a given nation to “win” the right to play host is, in truth, for that nation to lose. “Clueless” doesn’t even begin to describe the buggers.

Consider South Africa, which accommodated the 2010 World Cup. Per Canada’s Globe and Mail, the majority of the venues that were constructed for the 2010 World Cup are deteriorating rapidly, at great cost to the country’s government. As of today, “the $600-million Cape Town Stadium” — the flagship of the collection — has been “largely abandoned” and is “losing an estimated $6-million to $10-million (U.S.) annually.” So dire is its future supposed to be, the paper concludes, that “some residents have even suggested that it should be demolished to save money.” This, apparently, is typical. “Almost all of the stadiums are losing money annually,” the Globe and Mail adds. And why? Well, in part because FIFA “refused to allow some South African cities — including Cape Town and Durban — to use their existing stadiums” during the competition. And so, “eager to win the rights to the prestigious tournament, the host countries [agreed] to FIFA’s terms” and were thereby “burdened with massive costs and perennial operating expenses for the stadiums.”

A similar story has obtained in Brazil, which played host to the World Cup last year. Because the deadlines were so narrow, the Washington Post has observed, much of the infrastructure for 2014 was never finished. Now, it sits incomplete and useless — an ugly testament to a makework project that should never have been started. Meanwhile, much of what was finished has been unceremoniously abandoned. “Several of the stadiums built for Brazil’s World Cup have been underused,” Reuters records, “and at least one has been closed because of structural problems.” …

Lamentable as these legacies are, even they represent nothing at all when compared with the slow-motion disaster that is at present unfolding in Qatar. Whatever one believes went down in the bidding process — per the New York Times, “a whistle-blower who worked for the Qatar bid team claimed that several African officials were paid $1.5 million each to support” Qatar’s bid for 2022; per a group of senior British parliamentarians, a $2 million bribe was paid to a FIFA vice-president and his family — that the decision has been allowed to stand is a nothing less than a moral disgrace.

As we are now learning, Qatar’s bid was built atop a pyramid of carefully contrived lies. Acknowledging that the desert heat could prove to be a problem, representatives from the country promised repeatedly that they would design their stadiums to be fully air-conditioned. This, it turns out, is physically impossible. (The failure has forced FIFA to move the event to the winter — slap bang in the middle of international soccer’s busiest season.) Hoping to attract the more socially conscious among the body’s voters, Qatar vowed that it would build twelve full-scale stadiums for the tournament itself and then ship the parts to poorer countries in the aftermath. This, we have subsequently learned, is almost certainly not going to happen. (Qatar now intends to build eight stadiums and has gone worryingly quiet on their reuse.) Most worrying of all, those who were concerned that to award the competition to a Middle Eastern country would inevitably be to sanction a human-rights disaster have been well and truly vindicated.

In December, the Guardian reported that the “Nepalese migrants” who have flooded into the country to build the necessary infrastructure “have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014.” When one adds in the “Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi” workers who have complemented them, the Guardian adds, that number reaches almost one per day. In the West, even a small portion of these deaths would have been sufficient to shut down the project. In Qatar, nobody seems much to care. According to the International Trade Union Confederation and the Nepalese and Indian governments, a startling 1,200 workers have died since construction began — most of them from heart attacks triggered by the extreme heat. If current trends continue, the ITUC anticipates this number will rise to 4,000. We haven’t seen that much death ordered in the name of a sporting event since the more enterprising among the Roman leisured class felt a touch bored one day and decided that it might be fun to see how human beings would fare against their lions.

Put in context, these numbers are even more extraordinary than they appear. Not a single person died during the construction phase of the 2012 London Olympic Games, while just six were killed preparing China for its 2008 turn as host. In total, eight workers were killed prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; the 2010 tournament in South Africa took two. Even if nobody else dies in Qatar between now and 2022, the death toll will be 150 times what it was during the last competition. To find a construction disaster that is remotely comparable, one has to go back more than a century — and even then this level of attrition is abnormal. The Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Mount Rushmore were all completed without fatalities. Just five people died building the Empire State Building; eleven were killed putting up the Golden Gate Bridge; and between 20 and 59 perished erecting the Brooklyn Bridge. The only recent civilian engineering project that killed people at the rate we are seeing at present in Qatar? The Panama Canal.

It’s unlikely anyone died during the construction of the stadiums for the 1994 World Cup, hosted in the U.S., either. That’s because all nine stadiums — Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; Foxboro Stadium between Boston and Providence; RFK Stadium in Washington; the Citrus Bowl in Orlando; the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit; Soldier Field in Chicago; the Cotton Bowl in Dallas; Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.; and the final site, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. — were existing stadiums that needed little revision (usually replacing artificial turf with grass) for World Cup soccer. Every stadium on that list either still exists today or has been replaced by an equally World Cup-capable stadium. And there are numerous stadiums elsewhere in the U.S. that could also host matches with little needed work.

That apparently flies in the face of how FIFA likes to do things. Not that this matters to most Americans, because every predicted wave of soccer interest has failed to materialize. As I’ve written here before, it seems that just because kids like to play soccer doesn’t mean they watch soccer as adults. And as, I guess, a soccer dad now, my observation is that the better quality soccer is, the less interesting it is to watch.

Instead of ESPN …

Something called The Cauldron says:

NBC, CBS and FOX have all tried — and failed — to loosen ESPN’s chokehold on cable sports because they have all been unable to grasp one very simple rule:

You can’t out-ESPN ESPN.

The fact that CBS Sports Network isn’t even recorded by Nielsen speaks for itself, but meanwhile, ESPN averaged over 7 times the viewers as its nearest competitor during both day time and prime time broadcasts.

How is this possible, you ask? The answer is actually quite simple: None of the new sports networks have learned from the mistakes of its predecessors.

CBS Sports Network has toiled in obscurity for a decade since CBS acquired College Sports TV for $325 million in 2005 — where I was working at the time. First, it failed to compete with ESPN’s college sports’ coverage as CBS College Sports Network. And then it failed again after pivoting in 2011 to become a general sports network rebranded as CBS Sports Network.

A microcosm of the channel’s failure, CBS Sports Net’s one major splash to improve ratings, hiring Jim Rome in 2012, went down in flames with his daily show lasting less than two years.

NBC was next up to bat by morphing Versus into the NBC Sports Network in 2012, and hiring Michelle Beadle away from ESPN to be the face of the network with their version of “SportsNation” called “The Crossover.”

Beadle later described her former co-host Dave Briggs as a “talentless hack” and the entire NBC Sports Network experience as “a hot mess,” which gives you a pretty good idea of how that experiment went.

Then came along FOX Sports 1, which was launched two summers ago, billed as a real challenger to ESPN’s throne with Rupert Murdoch’s money and power behind the project.

The network made big-time hires in Gus Johnson and Erin Andrews, launched its own versions of “SportsNation” (“Crowd Goes Wild”) and “SportsCenter” (“FOX Sports Live”), was part of a $3 billion rights deal with the Pac-12 that it shares with ESPN, and gobbled up the rights to Big East basketball.

Yet almost every move FS1 has made has failed miserably.

Andrews was moved from college football to the NFL after one year of FOX’s disastrous college football pre-game show. Crowd Goes Wild was quickly cancelled, FOX Sports Live is dwarfed by SportsCenter, and FOX’s college sports coverage gets crushed by ESPN. …

CBS Sports Network is currently on a ventilator somewhere, while NBC Sports Network seems content having the rights to the NHL and English Premier League soccer. FS1 continues to double down on its investment, as evidenced by the recent hiring of former “First Take” producer and “Embrace Debate” artist Jamie Horowitz.

But moves like that suggest FS1 remains blind to repeating its mistakes all over again, trying to replicate ESPN’s success by bringing in former Bristol employees, and copying The Worldwide Leader’s shows.

That’s a fool’s errand.

If FOX were to hire Skip Bayless (his contract is up soon, by the way), ESPN would just replace him with another stooge to stir shit up while FOX’s knockoff goes and draws a fraction of the Mothership’s audience.

The lesson, at this point, should be clear: Instead of trying to out-ESPN ESPN, sports networks need to be the anti-ESPN.

The irony of FOX Sports 1 not understanding this rule is that it’s the same credo Murdoch used to make FOX News so successful.

Nobody thought there was space for another news channel when FOX News launched in 1996 with CNN already firmly established and MSNBC having recently launched. But FOX News’ Roger Ailes had the ingenious idea of cornering an untapped market: Conservatives who hate the “liberal media.” While FOX News is universally panned by industry insiders, it’s the 800-pound cable news gorilla that routinely trounces its primary competition.

Likewise, there are A LOT of sports fans out there that really hate ESPN and would love an antidote to the “Embrace Debate” culture that has spread to SEVEN daily debate shows on the network. Those fans just haven’t found an alternative yet.

If I were in charge of FOX Sports 1, my motto would be: FS1 is going to be the sports blog of cable sports networks — funny as hell and totally unfiltered. I’d start by canceling “FOX Sports Live” and replacing it with a sports version of “The Man Show” that mixed in sports with on-air drinking, comedic skits and girls jumping on trampolines.

Would it be shameless? Yes. But so is all of FOX News, and it’d also be ten times better than watching a poor man’s “SportsCenter.” Just imagine a sports version of “The Man Show” that, say, paired original co-host Adam Carolla with Bill Simmons and a daily segment narrated by Simmons called, “Why ESPN Sucks.”

The second thing I’d do is get former “Crowd Goes Wild” host Katie Nolan on the air as much as possible instead of just YouTube clips and a weekly show that airs on Sunday nights (the name, “Garbage Time,” is certainly fitting if nothing else). She’s the only creative and original thing FS1 thing has done to date.

Nolan isn’t alone when it comes to potentially available talent, either. For example, Spencer Hall of SB Nation and Drew Magary of Deadspin are Internet stars with huge, loyal followings that would tune in to watch them whenever they are on TV. They’re also widely respected within the blogosphere, making them polar opposites of Skip Bayless.

I’d also build out FS1’s daytime programming with stark alternatives to ESPN’s debate shows. How about a parody of First Take called Last Take? Instead of debating mindless things like, “Could a 52-year old Michael Jordan beat LeBron James?”, Hall and Magary could mockingly argue over the question, “Could the cadaver of Babe Ruth hit a home run off Clayton Kershaw?” with Nolan as the moderator.

These suggestions may fly in the face of conventional television programming wisdom, but pretty much every single executive instinct of the suits at CBS, NBC, and FOX has been wrong.

So perhaps Jerry Seinfeld had it right. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

You can agree with his point about trying to out-ESPN ESPN without agreeing to his approach on how to do that, or whether his solution even matches his definition of the problem. What would be the purpose of an ESPN parody show? Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are self-parodies as it is. (Bayless and Smith have their own talk show on every TV in Hell, broadcast 24/7.)

I am probably no one’s target demographic anymore, but I am interested in watching sports to watch sports. And only watch sports. You know, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat; the human drama of athletic competition? That is what’s worth watching. Not the pregame show, not the postgame show, and certainly not hours of uninformed “takes” for the sole purpose of participant self-promotion.

Former Cubs manager Lee Elia’s spectacular rant about Cubs fans (back in the days of only day baseball at Wrigley Field) comes to mind when you wonder who watches ESPN’s aforementioned seven sports yak shows. I would rather watch golf (which I don’t watch) than Bayless or Smith. The first word in ESPN’s name is, yes, “Entertainment,” but ESPN’s sports talk qualifies only in the same way car crash scenes qualify as entertainment.

It’s probably not a surprise that I was more of a fan and viewer of ESPN in its early days when it had more air time to fill than programming and would therefore fill air time with repeats of games (which would actually be convenient for those who don’t work the usual 8-to-5 schedule) or weird sports like Australian Rules Football. I also enjoyed watching ESPN Classic, even though (or perhaps because) what it showed was usually before the era of 16:9 HD and stereo broadcasts with constant score-and-time on the screen.

But as I said, I’m probably in no one’s target demographic anymore. Certainly not ESPN’s.

Baseball’s strikeout

Three-day weekends like this one traditionally include a lot of baseball-watching among baseball fans.

One wonders who future baseball fans will watch, based on this Wall Street Journal story:

As nationwide participation numbers continue to decline, some local youth leagues are reaching a breaking point.

Unable to field enough teams to form a self-contained league, they face a choice between playing teams from surrounding areas, merging with nearby leagues or disbanding altogether. Either way, the game becomes less easily accessible to the casual player, a dying breed in an era of specialization in youth sports.

This shift threatens to cost Major League Baseball millions of potential fans, raising concerns about the league’s future at a time when revenues are soaring and attendance is strong.

“The biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. An MLB spokesman cited fan polling conducted by the league last year as proof. When asked to assess the factors that drove their interest in sports, fans between the ages of 12 and 17 cited participation as a major factor more often than watching or attending the sport. That was particularly true among male fans in that age group, 70% of which cited “playing the sport” as a big factor in building their interest.

Since replacing Bud Selig in January, Manfred has been especially focused on increasing youth interest in baseball. The league recently began working with ESPN to prominently feature local Little League teams during Sunday Night Baseball telecasts. MLB brings the teams to the games, and ESPN shows them during the broadcast. An MLB spokesman said the league also plans to announce a major youth initiative in the coming weeks.

But MLB faces headwinds that have been years in the making and forces that are outside its direct control. In 2002, nine million people between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball in the U.S., according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. By 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, that figure had dropped by more than 41%, to 5.3 million. Likewise, youth softball participation declined from 5.4 million to 3.2 million over the same span.

Other popular sports, including soccer and basketball, have suffered as youth sports participation in general has declined and become more specialized. A pervasive emphasis on performance over mere fun and exercise has driven many children to focus exclusively on one sport from an early age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants. But the decline of baseball as a community sport has been especially precipitous. …

In more affluent areas, the best alternatives are merely inconvenient. Nearby towns pool teams together for an interleague schedule or merge their leagues outright. At its entry level, the sport requires players to leave their communities for games more often than before. …

While neighborhood games become increasingly scarce, year-round travel teams have never been more prevalent. The U.S. Specialty Sports Association, the dominant organizing body for travel baseball, said it has around 1.3 million players spread across 80,000 teams, more than double what it had 10 years ago. The company’s website includes national rankings for teams in age groups that begin at “4 and under.”

Ismael Gonzalez, who manages the Miami-based 9-and-under team MVP Juniors Elite, said his team travels throughout the Southeast, playing more than 100 games a year and practicing two or three days a week. “These kids work like machines,” he said. “This is not just for fun. This is their lifestyle.”

But the cost of that lifestyle—thousands of dollars a year in many cases—puts it out of reach for many parents. It skews heavily white: A 15-year study of travel teams by Nebraska researcher David Ogden found that only 3% of players are black. And its popularity has made baseball more of a niche sport, precisely what MLB wants to avoid at the spectator level.

“The kids who have been playing baseball since they were 18 months old, they’re going to be baseball fans,” said Mark Hyman, a George Washington University sports management professor and author of three books on youth sports. “But MLB can’t rely on them exclusively. There needs to be opportunities for kids who are not going to be Willie Mays and don’t even want to be Willie Mays.”

There are other reasons mentioned in the comments, including some parents emphasizing individual sports such as running, baseball being more fun to play than to watch, baseball being boring to play if you’re not a pitcher or catcher, Major League Baseball being boring to watch, the usual assortment of other physical (other sports) and nonphysical (involving some sort of computer) activities, and this indictment of today’s culture: “… parents keep their kids in a bubble of activities coupled with the irrational fear, in most cases, of prohibiting their kids to bike over to a local park alone to play.”

The counterpoint is to look at baseball’s overall attendance, the highest of any professional sport in the world. Of course, if your favorite major professional sport played 2,430 regular-season games every year, it too would lead the world in attendance, since no other sport gets remotely close to that number of games played each year. Average attendance, however, drops baseball to second, at, according to Statistica, 30,437 per game in 2014–15. behind the National Football League and ahead of Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association.

The more interesting number (which doesn’t seem to be available) is percentage of seats sold. The NFL percentage is well over 90 percent, and the NHL and NBA numbers are more than 90 percent. The MLB number is around 70 percent. Part of the reason is that MLB teams have difficulty selling seats for an entire 81-game home schedule when the team falls out of contention for the postseason. (In the case of the Brewers, that was approximately April 15.) The owners of baseball are loath to turn away money (though one wonders how much profit a team makes when, say, 20,000 people show up for a game as opposed to 40,000), but one thing MLB might consider is shortening its season by, say, a month, not only in order to play postseason games in decent weather, but to tighten up the schedule and make each game mean more.

But part of the reason also must have to do with baseball’s very nature as the hardest sport to play, as anyone who has swung and missed at a pitch can demonstrate. (Golf is hard enough, and the ball doesn’t move off the tee.) Hitting a baseball is so difficult that .300 — seven out of 10 failures — is the mark of a good player. And anyone who has tried to get a baseball across home plate in the knees-to-armpits strike zone knows that successful pitching isn’t any easier. (I speak from experience in both cases.) A lot of kids who don’t succeed at something right away don’t stick with it.