Thinking out loud: Some college basketball thoughts

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Thinking out loud…while wondering what reconstruction project ‘The Boy Wonder’ tackles next…

·       The show must go on.

·       Not just ‘must.’  It has to go on.  It won’t in Providence, however.

·       The NCAA’s decision to centrally re-locate the men’s basketball tournament (aka March Madness) for March 2021 is a sound one – it’s way easier to control protocols and travel in one geographic area as opposed to 13…which is (or was) the total number of cities involved in hosting.

·       Discussions concerning the women’s tournament, Edward from East Providence, are continuing.  Inquiring minds need to know, I get it.

·       But the Dunkin Donuts Center, scheduled to host men’s 1st and 2nd round games, instead will be forced to wait until 2025 – the next time the NCAA Tournament is scheduled to play through Rhode Island.

·       Several have asked why not simply push back everyone a year, which would give the Dunk a chance to host in 2022 instead?

·       For the very reason that a move like that would involve EVERYONE.  Dozens of cities and hosts are determined several years in advance, and as such, begin preparations very early in the process.

·       Unfortunately, if you won a spot for this year, you lose.  Fewer cities (12, to be exact) are disrupted and lose this way.  Doesn’t make it right, or even fair.

·       It does make it simpler on the schedulers – the NCAA.  It’s their show.

·       Please spare me the utter nonsense that we should be ‘smarter’ than this and just cancel everything – especially considering the 30+ programs who have already had to shutter and quarantine due to Covid outbreaks.

·       Have we, as a society, for ONE moment thought about just shutting it all down during this pandemic?  Maybe you have.  And then, there’s the realization it’s totally nuts to do so.

·       Quitting for whatever reason goes against the very fiber of our existence.  We fight.  It’s who we are.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious.  It doesn’t mean we should be reckless or careless or selfish.

·       It does mean that life goes on, whether we’re here to experience it or not.

·       It does mean that at some point, we’ll come out on the other side of this, one way or another. Sorry if that sounds callous, but it’s the truth.  I’ve lost friends in this thing, too.

·       If we are truly working toward a future where there is some sense of normalcy in our lives again, including sports, pushing on is the right thing to do.  It’s the only thing to do, unless you want several dozen (maybe several hundred) schools’ athletic departments shutting down, which would lead to fewer opportunities for student athletes.

·       For regular students.  For teachers.  For fans.  And for media people and broadcasters, too, for that matter.

·       The first domino to fall – Brown’s All-Ivy forward Tamenang Choh told the ProJo’s Bill Koch he is entering the transfer portal to play a fifth season elsewhere…one he can’t play at Brown because the Ivies don’t allow fifth seasons.

·       DePaul has cancelled its first three games of the season due to Covid issues and quarantine.  Creighton is out of the Bad Boy Mowers event in South Dakota (which originally was the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas) after a positive test within their team.

·       Iona has been another of the teams hit with Covid issues. Rick Pitino says college basketball should postpone its start and we should have “May Madness.”

·       It’s precisely why we’re starting now, with students off campus for two months, to play games with minimal exposure.  Step aside on this one, Rick.  You’re out of your coaching box.

·       Testing for players has been once per week to this point, and now we’re getting ready for 3x (or more) per week, depending on the costs.  Regardless, you can expect more quarantines to come.

·       UMass is also out for two weeks.  Same with Vermont – and the Catamounts won’t begin any winter athletics until mid-December, which also affects hockey.  The Hockey Friars are scheduled to host UVM Jan. 1 and 2.

·       Bubbleville may be beginning to lose some of its air.  UMass has pulled out of its Mohegan Sun appearance.  Several other schools, including UMass Lowell and UConn (both have been in quarantine) may or may not participate.

·       All told, the schedule of 40 schools playing over an 11-day period in Uncasville, CT, beginning next week, has sprung a slow leak.  Albany is out, too.

·       New Mexico State really wants to play.  They’re moving their entire operation to Phoenix, AZ – a five-hour drive from Las Cruces, NM – to practice and begin their season.  New Mexico is moving operations to Lubbock, TX – where conditions are worse, but regulations aren’t as strict.

·       We’ve mentioned this previously, and it bears mentioning again – say what you will about the NCAA (and you’re probably right) – but it is a financial lifeline to hundreds of schools across the country.

·       In a ‘normal’ year, the NCAA pays out more than $700 million to member schools when the tourney takes place.  Last year, it was a mere $225 million.  For those programs that don’t possess lucrative TV contracts…the trickle-down effect is transforming.

·       And potentially disastrous.  Outside of the Ivy League, of course. They’re in their own insular world.

·       It’s why the show must go on – and surely will.  Pandemic or not.

·       Providence now has another four years to regroup, and plan…and stage something spectacular for 2025.  Maybe by then, we’ll have all the bars and restaurants open again?

·       My buddy Cam had the line o’ the week: “Can’t we just drop all this President stuff and crown Dolly Parton queen?”

·       You wanna know why masks don’t seem to be working fast enough, and why we’re struggling to contain this mess?  ‘Cuz there are zero repercussions for not wearing them in public.

·       Fines?  Ha!  A 90-year-old man with his teeth in a glass has more bite than those fines do.

·       It hasn’t gone unnoticed that some NFL stadiums are reconsidering – gasp! – rolling back their allowed attendance and reducing or shutting down ticket sales.

·       Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore have cited new local regulations in reversing the trend toward opening up.  16 NFL teams currently have authority to host crowds.  The Patriots and Gillette, while prepared to host fans, won’t be part of that mix this year.

·       Don’t expect that number of teams to increase until after the vaccine has come…and gone.

·       Not for nuthin’, but the NFL is considering a ‘bubble’ format for the playoffs, should that be the only way to conduct a postseason without interruptions.

·       Based on the increased protocol measures announced this week, because those interruptions in the regular season continue to come around, that is no surprise.

·       But I do love me some football in the rain.

·       Love me some football in the rain even more when teams take care of the ball.  The Patriots are 71-9 since 2008 when they don’t turn the ball over, 4-0 this season when winning the turnover battle.

·       You want impressive play? The offensive line Sunday night ruled the roost over the Ravens.

·       Equally impressive was Damien Harris’s performance in a career high night running with the ball.  He hits the line with such force.  Safe to say Harris > Sony Michel?

·       ICYMI, the New England secondary has not yet allowed 300 passing yards in a single game.

·       JC Jackson has set the franchise record with picks in five straight games.  He has six overall, which leads the NFL.  And he pretty much stunk it up against the J-E-T-S.

·       Defensively, overall tackling was vastly improved against Baltimore, especially with a poor field environment.  Makes me think it has been a point of emphasis in practice.

·       When push comes to shove playing against Baltimore, bet on this: Belichick > Harbaugh.

·       Speaking of betting…while sportsbooks and online wagering companies continue to see their revenues rise, Bally’s is stepping up.  Big time.  Bally’s (headquartered in Rhode Island) is entering into an agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting (owner of Providence’s Channel 10, by the way) to purchase the naming rights for ALL 21 of the regional Fox-branded sports channels, which are also owned by Sinclair.

·       Which will also become a huge opportunity for Bally’s to introduce sports wagering and gambling to those audiences.  Bally’s owns Twin River Casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton, RI, and nine other casino and racetrack properties in six states.  The market for sports betting and iGaming (like slots on your phone) is expected to climb to $12 billion annually by 2025.

·       But the Commonwealth this week blew the chance to get into the game, as the state senate rejected a proposal to legalize sports betting.  Estimates had suggested an additional $20 to $35 million per year in Massachusetts coffers from legalized sports betting if the measure had passed.

·       Through the first nine months of 2020, U.S. sports betting has generated $667.8 million in revenue, up 27% year-over-year.  That revenue has been crucial to some states as they battle with Covid-related budget shortfalls.

·       Boston may be the bigger city, but Gillette Stadium is closer to Providence than Boston.  You’d never know that by watching Sunday Night Football.  All the TV glamour shots were from Boston.

·       You’d think NBC might throw a few of those shots southward…especially since broadcast talent and crews stay in Rhode Island.

·       Wake up, Chamber of Commerce.  You’re getting hosed, here.

·       The Texans are a mess – but be wary.  Ex-Patriots assistant Romeo Crennel is running the show after Bill O’Brien’s firing earlier this season, with a 2-3 record…and two of their three losses have been by just one possession.

·       They also just fired their VP/Communications Amy Palcic, the only female who held the position (or similar) in the league.

·       She has retained an attorney in the matter.  Hmmm.  Isn’t former Patriots “character coach” Jack Easterby running their football ops department?

·       ICYMI Part II, but the Miami Marlins hired the first female GM in major league baseball, Kim Ng, last week.  Houston, do we have a problem?

·       And didn’t the Texans let De’Andre “Hail Mary” Hopkins run off to Arizona?  Buffalo sure ain’t happy he got away in time to give us the “Hail of all Mary’s” last week.

·       Part of the reason ESPN laid off 300+ employees a couple of weeks ago?  Disney is facing its first annual loss in 40 years - $710 million down in the 4th quarter alone.

·       On the other hand, ESPN+ streaming has had revenue grow nearly 42% year-over-year.  So, there’s that to hang your hat on, Mickey.

·       MLS needs its’ fans.  The total projection this year is a $1 billion pandemic hit.  And they’ve just laid off 20% of their league office workforce.

·       So does minor league hockey.  The ECHL North Division, including the Worcester Railers and Maine Mariners, has decided to suspend play for the upcoming season and rejoin the league for 2021-22.

·       Great piece by the Globe’s Michael Silverman this week on how the Fenway Sports Group is looking to grow, not retreat, during the current pandemic.  Another soccer team may very well be on the horizon – not for us, per se, but within their organization.

·       And maybe another team on this side of the pond, too.

·       Before you ridicule, private equity has been known to thrive in down economic times. If FSG goes public, as has been suggested, more $$$ might put the organization in position to hold onto increasingly expensive future assets.

·       Like Mookie.  If that ever happens again.

·       Forbes’ most recent valuation has pegged FSG’s worth at $6.6 billion – that’s 3rd in the world among sports businesses, and ahead of the Yankees’ group ($6.1 billion).

·       Rookestradamus sez…both Bloody Sock Schill and The Rocket reach Cooperstown this year.  I approve of this message.

·       Was it just me, or did it seem like the NBA Draft this year was chock full of guys no one has ever heard of?

·       I mean, what do teams really draft for anyway?  Doesn’t everyone just wait for LeBron (or Kyrie, or James Harden, or KD) to come aboard and build a super-team nowadays?

·       The Celtics have had six (SIX!) first round selections in the draft over the past two years.  Not sure there’s even one keeper in there.  That’s a fireable offense in football, no?

·       Did you notice the Masters’ TV coverage included NFL skycams?  Made Augusta, if it’s possible, seem even more venerable.

·       Did you notice, Part II?  The 2007 Northeast Amateur champ won the Masters with a new scoring record.  Dustin Johnson.

·       Since turning pro after the NE Am, Johnson has now earned more than $70 million, already 5th on the all-time career earnings list.  He also earns $11 million per year in endorsements as the world’s #1 golfer.

·       That’s a long way from whacking it at Wannamoisett Country Club, brotha’.  Which he did.

·       URI’s Fatts Russell is on the preseason Naismith Trophy Watch List for National Player of the Year.  So are Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Texas’ Greg Brown, Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Collin Gillespie, Creighton’s Marcus Zegarowski, Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukaleshvili and UConn’s James Bouknight – all future Friar opponents.

·       Except for Russell this year, as we know.  But still very cool.

·       The same contact tracing technology (Kinexon) used in the NFL is being utilized by the SEC and Missouri Valley Conferences – expect this trend to continue through several leagues and teams as we jump into the college hoop season.

·       Butler is, so far, the only Big East school that will allow at least some fans to attend home games this season, going up to 25% capacity at Hinkle Fieldhouse.  Compared to empty arenas and gyms elsewhere, that’s a definite home court advantage.

·       The Friars play at Butler on December 23rd, so they’ll test that premise early.

·       Georgetown confirmed this past week they will not host fans at McDonough Gym on their campus for home games.

·       Ed Cooley this week said on his radio show he really loves this PC team.  Ed Croswell is killing it.  Defense will be the strong suit.  Finding a rhythm on offense, especially early, will be a key to success.

·       And Big East Executive Associate Commissioner Stu Jackson told us there are several different possibilities for playing the rest of the conference schedule after the first of the year.

·       Expect a decision by sometime after the first week of December, but there is also the possibility of adding more conference games by mid-month, to be played by the end of the month, especially if more teams lose non-league games to Covid quarantines.

·       Bubbling up, somehow and somewhere, is on the table.  Especially with the NCAA Tournament decision to get cozy in one locale for March, likely in Indiana.

·       ICYMI, Part III: Bryant hoops was picked for 3rd in the NEC, even with nine new scholarship players on Jared Grasso’s roster.  And the Bulldogs’ Nov. 27th game at Syracuse is very much in jeopardy with the Orange and Jim Boeheim going through quarantine protocol – and the NEC decision this week to tip off their season a bit later, on Dec. 8th at St. Francis Brooklyn.

·       Bryant presently has an 18-game, NEC-only schedule that will have men’s and women’s teams playing primarily on back-to-back days against the same opponent at the same site – usually on a Thursday and Friday.

·       The Rebound’s Rob Dauster gets credit for this line – on the gold-encrusted parachute Gregg Marshall received from walking away at Wichita State under a huge cloud of alleged abuse and controversy: “That $7.75 million that Marshall got is hush money.”

·       True dat.

·       Got a moribund team that needs fixing?  Or a moribund, forgotten, once-popular sport?  Theo Epstein’s nine-year itch has returned, so he’s now a free agent.  Just sayin’.

·       And I’ve got the perfect spot for him.  He performed miracles in Boston and Chicago, so how about “Theo for Baseball’s Grand Poobah?”  Sort of regal sounding, isn’t it?  Goodness knows, baseball could use his miracle touch.

·       One problem – it might take baseball longer than nine years to fix what ails them.

·       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 ...

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