Thinking out loud: NCAA Tournament coming back to Providence

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Thinking out loud…while hoping to find my old Ted Williams’ autographed baseball somewhere in my junk pile…

·       We still don’t know for certain if the 2021 NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds will be played in Providence’s Dunkin Donuts Center.  But we do know that the Big Dance will make another run through Rhode Island again in 2025.

·       Cities can play host to a March Madness event every four years.  And the NCAA sez Providence is back on the dance card as soon as they’re eligible, in March of 2025, making the announcement this week.

·       Forty-three states plus the District of Columbia were selected to host at least one NCAA championship event from 2022-23 through 2025-26, with California getting the most, 34. Texas was second with 30, while North Carolina totaled 28, Pennsylvania 27 and Ohio 25.

·       Rhode Island gets four, including the one that most fans around here care about.  Brown will play host to the 2024 Ice Hockey regionals (at the Dunk) and the 2025 lacrosse regionals, and Johnson & Wales will host DIII wrestling in 2025.

·       In 2025 and 2026, Gillette Stadium will again host the Division I, II and III Men’s Lacrosse Championships, in addition to the Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship on the same weekend.  Three years ago, Gillette Stadium was the site for all four championships, when the DI Women’s Championship set its all-time attendance record.

·       UMass will also hold a 2024 Hockey regional, co-hosting with AIC, at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

·       As college basketball teams across the country began practicing this week with a ton of uncertainty – and still no official playing schedules released – Friar head coach Ed Cooley met with local media and tried to put the controversy over not facing URI to rest.

·       It’s not working – at least not on the Rhody side.

·       And I get why.  The Rams need the game far worse than the Friars do this season, with a shortened schedule compared to a ‘normal’ year.

·       And no, PC is not ducking anyone.  Hardly.  Providence has won eight of ten in the series.

·       The facts are – 1) the game means more to alumni and fans; 2) Providence’s schedule is already loaded, thanks to the Big East and Maui Invitational; 3) the game does NOT mean as much to players as you might believe it does; 4) PC loses a valuable home game at the Dunk this year, which also means losing valuable revenue.

·       Why shouldn’t Providence keep that?  If the schedule had Rhode Island as the home team this year, URI undoubtedly would make the same claim.  The Friars always jam the Ryan Center.

·       Can’t wait until next year, already.  Just sayin’.

·       The last time these two schools didn’t face each other during the season was during World War II, in 1944.  Figures that it would take an event of global proportions to keep them apart again.

·       Friar fans can have their images at home games this season, even if they can’t be there in person.  Wonder if Joe and I could have cardboard cutouts sitting courtside?

·       Indiana is PC’s first-round opponent at the Maui-held-in-NC.  The Hoosiers this past week began a fundraising drive to help pay for athletic scholarships to their students, as they look at a $60+ million athletic budget shortfall.

·       It will be voted upon in January but expect the one-time immediate transfer rule to pass and go into effect next August.  All NCAA athletes will be allowed to transfer once, to a new school, without having to sit out a year.  The current rule, which excludes football, men’s and women’s basketball and ice hockey athletes from transferring for immediate eligibility without a waiver, was adopted in the 1960’s.

·       And the long-awaited, much debated N-I-L rule, governing the name, image and likeness of college athletes in the marketplace, will also be put up for a vote by NCAA membership in January…unless government legislation beats them to the punch.

·       Athletes won’t be able to promote gambling, banned substances, or represent a product that conflicts with a school’s values.  Use of school marks, or logos, will be restricted.  But they will be able to sign agents to help them find marketing deals.

·       Even with these changes on the way, the Knight Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics released a survey this week from 362 university presidents, athletic directors and conference commissioners – and the majority of the respondents are in favor of a major restructuring within the NCAA.

·       Specifically – FBS schools, especially those within the “Power Five” – perhaps forming their own organization and governing body.  However, more than 80% of those answering did say current Division I schools should stay in the current NCAA Basketball Tournament set up.

·       Oh, and any and ALL winter sports athletes – including those in basketball and hockey – received an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA this week.  This years’ seniors may return to their teams, provided the school approves and has room, without counting against scholarship limits.

·       Freshmen for 2021 suddenly have competition for their promised roster spots.  Transfers would count against a new school’s scholarship numbers but staying put would not.  The question remains – do scholarship numbers increase?

·       Nate Watson and Noah Horchler have an extra year at PC if they want one.  So does Fatts Russell at URI.  Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

·       Fans, student-athletes and their schools should be ready while standing in the batters’ box, waiting for the next pitch.  It’s inevitable, the change-up is coming.

·       Are the Sox going public?  Can I – or can you – buy a piece of the team?

·       The Wall Street Journal this week laid out John Henry’s plan to potentially make this happen, and the company (called a SPAC, Special Purpose Acquisition Company) created for this venture would also look to purchase additional sports properties.

·       You could, conceivably, be your own sports ‘baron.’  But would you get a say in how the teams are run?

·       Not.  A.  Chance.

·       But while it might be cool to say you’re a stockholder in the Red Sox, the major plus could come from the Red Sox’ ability to tap into increased funds for spending on talent – which as we know, was a point of contention this past year.

·       The other bit of news on this story comes from a potential Henry partner in Billy Beane, of Moneyball and Oakland A’s fame, and a one-time possible Sox GM.  If he joins forces in this new company, he’d allegedly break away from all baseball ties to concentrate on procuring soccer for the company portfolio.

·       The majority of the Red Sox coaching staff is returning, so that begs the question – is Alex Cora returning, too?

·       While the White Sox also have an opening for a manager and a roster that may be better suited to win right away, Cora’s return to Boston has been talked about from the day he was let go.

·       Yes, he was involved in the Houston cheating scandal.  Yes, he would give a currently moribund Sox team and roster a jolt of energy, anyway.

·       It’s Chaim Bloom’s decision.  But if he’s truly interested in getting the Sox back into contending status as quickly as he can…from a comfort level (with holdover players) this is the move to make.

·       Even if it feels wrong.

·       As a kid growing up on the playgrounds and ball fields of Fort Worth, TX we played pickup ball – a lot.  I had a bat and a ball, and my buddies had gloves.  So we’d go down to our schoolyard and play…and the guy I tried to be like was Joe Morgan.

·       Played 2nd base.  Or at least tried to.  Perfected his arm flap.  Slapped that sucker into right, usually, since I didn’t know how to pull a pitch.  But I was convinced the arm flap was what did it.

·       My friends thought I was goofy – until it kept working.  A few of them started flapping, too.

·       Morgan played for the Astros (and the Colt 45’s before that) back then, before he achieved much of his later fame with Cincinnati – including in the ’75 World Series against the Red Sox.  Truth be known…I pulled for the Reds that year, because of my fondness for Morgan.

·       He was my first pick in my Strat-O-Matic League.  I guess you could say I was a fan.  He was always solid on TV, too, and I usually made a point to tune in and catch at least some of his work on NBC with Bob Costas, Bob Uecker and Bob Carpenter, and on his Sunday Night Baseball games with Jon Miller.

·       Morgan passed away this week at age 77, after a struggle with leukemia.  Thanks, Joe, for providing so many cool moments for me during my childhood…and the fun moments I had listening to you as a younger adult, remembering your influence on those earlier days.

·       Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the baseball greats who have recently left us.  Joe Morgan, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Al Kaline.

·       I don’t mean to be flip, but God sure is calling in reinforcements for his Fantasy team, amiright?

·       Ho hum, LeBron and AD won a title for the Lakers.  As was expected, before Covid became the headline-stealer.  Kudos, however, to the NBA (and to the NHL) for pulling off the bubbleverse no one really thought could happen without major issues along the way.

·       We can learn a thing or two about bubble life.  It’s why, until those of us who are acting like knuckleheads can stop being knuckleheads, we’ll see more bubblicious activity in the forethought of our daily sports and events.

·       Forget the bubbleverse – Laker ‘fans’ may be the biggest front-runners in the universe.  E-commerce haberdasher Fanatics sez in the first 12 hours after winning the title, the Lakers sold more merchandise than the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers sold in 30 days after winning their title.

·       No, no, no, no, no.  LeBron James is not the GOAT in professional basketball.  But with four rings to his credit – with three different teams – is he a Top 5 player?

·       That’s the argument.  It’s easy to say, “of course he is.”  But if TWO of your personal list of Top 5 players are one-time Celtics, can you actually see where the debate might lie?

·       For the record: Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, Robertson…that’s four head-and-shoulders above all others.  Does LBJ deserve to be the fifth?  Cousy?  Bird?  Magic?  Koby?  Jabbar?  Malone? Gervin?  Duncan?  West?  Not Delonte, you dope.

·       See?  It ain’t so easy, or definite…is it?

·       And if you need to Google any of those names you don’t know, then you don’t know.  You are disqualified from having an opinion.

·       With age, comes wisdom.  Sometimes.

·       My buddy “Big E” sez his grandson was asked this math question in school – “If your parents were both born in 1984, how old are they today?”  “It depends,” he answered.

·       His teacher asked, “It depends on what?”  “It depends on whether you ask my mom or my dad,” was his response.

·       Ok, Edward in East Providence.  Please ‘splain.  A straight sets win for Rafael Nadal to win the French Open over Novak Djokovic, but The Joker is still the world #1?  Sounds a lot like too many Associate Press voters who don’t watch the sport are involved.

·       Not for nuthin’, but Nadal also won his 20th career grand slam, tying Roger Federer’s career mark.

·       Golf’s unquestioned Number One, Dustin Johnson, tested positive this week for the coronavirus.  He’s the 12th player to test positive since the PGA teed off with its restart in June.  The Masters’ this year begins on November 12th.

·       And so did Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar footballer who plays for Juventus in Serie A but tested positive while with his national team in Portugal.  He has returned to Italy for his recovery.

·       A brief, if not subtle reminder, that this virus doesn’t care if you’re a superstar or not.

·       It’s easy, NFL.  You can get through this scheduling nightmare and make almost everyone happy.  Make a Week 18.  Signed, everybody.

·       Supercam is back.  Bump ‘N Run is expected back.  Denver is now back on the clock, after the sneaky bye week last week.  All good news, even as other teams’ misfortunes swirl around us.  The last 12-13 weeks of this season will be the absolute definition of ‘bumpy.’

·       Thought Buffalo was pretty good this year, to be honest. That was before they ran into Tennessee on Tuesday, in just the second Tuesday Night Football game ever played in the NFL.

·       They’re still pretty good, but the Titans – if healthy – may be Chiefs’ good.  And when did Ryan Tannehill morph into a good QB?  Do the Dolphins know about this?

·       Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury Sunday against NY was Joe Theisman-esque.  If you saw what happened that night against Lawrence Taylor and the Giants 35 years ago, you know what I’m talking about.

·       Anyone feeling sorry for the Falcons, continuing their free fall from a 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI?

·       An 0-5 to start this year resulted in coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff departing.  Covid crept into the equation, and locker room, this week.  Couldn’t they have waited until they were 3-28?  Then, the universe could have been made whole again.

·       Anyone else getting a semi-evil sense of satisfaction watching the Tampa Bay Rays mow through the American League?  Like – something is right with the world, after all?

·       Beating the Evil Empire, check.  Dumping the cheating Astros, check. Now all that’s left to do is administer a painful beating to the LA Dodgers…if the Dodgers get to the Series, that is.

·       More signs that Covid ain’t goin’ anywhere…especially within college athletics.  Vanderbilt postponed its game with Missouri, the first SEC program to do so.  Florida followed suit this week, postponing its game with defending national champ LSU.  Ole Miss has virus troubles, too.

·       Baylor has had an extraordinary number of positive cases – 42 – sideline its’ team for this weekend against Oklahoma State.  28 players and 14 staff members have tested positive.  A Baptist school partying too much – who knew?

·       Did you know: There are more than 800,000 hours of sports podcast content streamed – every day – on Spotify?  That’s triple the amount over the last 18 months, and there has been a 30% increase in listening since the pandemic began.

·       I have a Ted Williams autographed baseball.  Somewhere.  He signed it while managing the Texas Rangers, when I was 13, and I remembered it while rummaging through some old baseball cards I had from years ago.

·       My brother was once in the trading card and memorabilia industry.  His partner, back in the trading card glory days of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s – was Bobby Valentine.  Yes, THAT Bobby Valentine.

·       The trading card industry is booming in the pandemic, with people (at least some of them) choosing to stay home and pass the time by going through old collections.  Cards, collectables and memorabilia of many kinds are once again on the up-and-up within the marketplace.

·       FYI – the card company Topps turns 70 in 2021.  Perhaps you’ve still got some of yours from yesteryear?  It seems many have rediscovered the lure of a hobby.

·       Now, if we could just rediscover life it’s ownself before Covid, we’d be all set.

·       Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.