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Gonzaga looking at the Big XII

The first real conference move by a non-football school is being discussed.

Conference realignment chatter for months has centered mainly around college football.

That hasn’t stopped Gonzaga from being proactive behind the scenes in discussions with at least three power conferences.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Wednesday that Gonzaga Athletic Director Chris Standiford met with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark in the Dallas area last week about the possibility of joining the conference. The Zags were in town to face Tennessee in an exhibition game.

The Zags also have been in contact with the Big East and Pac-12.

The Big 12 is regarded by many as the best men’s basketball conference in the nation. The Big 12 has produced the past two national champions. Kansas won the title last season and Baylor captured the 2021 crown with an 86-70 win over Gonzaga.

There is interest in the Zags with the program’s rise to national prominence and its streak of 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances. Gonzaga has made the Sweet 16 in seven consecutive tournaments and lost in the 2017 and 2021 NCAA championship games.

Gonzaga, which joined the West Coast Conference in 1979, has won or shared the conference regular-season title for 10 straight seasons.

“I would say we’ve had contact through intermediaries or otherwise that are measuring interest,” Standiford said last week about Pac-12 and Big East, before the Big 12’s interest was known.

Standiford called those talks “exploratory.”

“We talk to a lot of people because it’s such a dynamic time,” Standiford said. “There’s so many different elements in college sports that everybody’s trying to figure out what the ecosystem is going to look like through these TV contract changes.

“So they’re not substantive conversations about anything other than measuring interest, what do you see the interest being, and a lot of them are value conversations when it comes to Gonzaga. We like to understand what are the things that other people value and make sure that aligns with us and the experience we want for our students. I think it’s a very dynamic time.”

Yormark, hired as Big 12 commissioner in late June, has stated the conference is exploring expansion options and has interest in the Pacific time zone. The conference, which is losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, is set to add BYU, Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati.

“I can’t speak for (other conferences),” Standiford said, “but I can tell you at this point and time we believe we have an amazing product, an amazing opportunity to really innovate and be different in the college landscape, and have it be more than just football.

See here for the latest on the state of the Big XII, and here for more on the PAC 12, which would make a lot more geographic sense for Gonzaga but which isn’t as strong in basketball. The reporting I’ve seen indicates that all of Gonzaga’s sports teams would move along with the men’s hoops team – the Zags’ women’s basketball team has been a regular in the NCAA tournament as well – but I’ve not seen any mention of whether they would revive their football team, which last played in 1941, or not. ESPN has more.

Drone racing

Pretty cool, actually.

Jessica Dunegan watched her high school students fly drones through a maze of hula-hoops, cardboard and chairs last year for an end-of-year assignment in robotics class.

The San Antonio-area teacher was amazed by the teamwork, engagement and drone-flying skills the teens developed during the project.

“I had other students that I had never seen look at the drones and be like, ‘Oh, this is so cool,’ ” she said. “So then that got my thoughts spinning … How can I open this up for even more people?”

She is now petitioning the University Interscholastic League to add drone racing as an academic competition for any Texas high school students who wish to participate. Sanctioning the activity would make it more uniform and help schools get funding, she said.

[…]

In October, the council will vote on proposals from the public, including Dunegan’s request, and then send them to the education secretary for final approval, according to the league.

If approved, a pilot drone competition would be added to the state’s academic programs beginning next August, according to Dunegan’s proposal. The first contest would be held in spring 2023 for high school students in any district that wishes to participate.

Drone racing involves participants navigating through obstacle courses with drones. Dunegan said it helps kids learn about mechanical engineering, software engineering, physics and algebra as well as teamwork, innovation and critical thinking.

Although it remains a fledgling sport, some people compete at a professional level. The Drone Racing League holds international competitions in which pilots control drones equipped with cameras to navigate a complex race course.

For now, Dunegan is working to drum up interest around Texas to back up her proposal to the UIL.

As the story notes, water polo was added in 2019. I’m looking at the UIL website to see what the process is for requesting a new sport, but I don’t see anything obvious. Probably just best to contact them and ask. You might do that as well if you like this idea and want to support it. I’m rooting for them.

That US Soccer report on abuse allegations in the NWSL

It’s a lot, and as the head of US Soccer says, it’s just the first step.

The independent investigation into player abuse in women’s professional soccer found a long list of failures by National Women’s Soccer League coaches and executives, as well as the United States Soccer Federation itself.

“Our investigation has revealed a league in which abuse and misconduct — verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct — had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches, and victims,” the report read. “Abuse in the NWSL is rooted in a deeper culture in women’s soccer, beginning in youth leagues, that normalizes verbally abusive coaching and blurs boundaries between coaches and players.”

The summary report, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, also details recommendations for the USSF to implement going forward. The investigation was conducted by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, on behalf of the USSF.

The report includes a previously undisclosed revelation as to the manner of Racing Louisville’s firing of Christy Holly as manager back in August 2021. The report details how Holly called a player, identified as Erin Simon, in for a film session, stating he would touch her “for every pass” she made a mistake on. (ESPN’s policy is to not publicly identify victims of abuse, but Simon, through a spokesperson, agreed to be identified.)

Holly then proceeded to put his hand “down her pants and up her shirt.” Simon would try to “tightly cross her legs and push him away, laughing to avoid angering him,” adds the report, stating that when her teammate picked her up to drive home, Simon broke down crying.

Holly was later fired for cause, though the reason for his firing wasn’t publicly disclosed.

“There are too many athletes who still suffer in silence because they are scared that no one will help them or hear them,” Simon said in a statement through a spokesperson. “I know because that is how I felt. Through many difficult days, my faith alone sustained me and kept me going. I want to do everything in my power to ensure that no other player must experience what I did. This report allows our voices to finally be heard and is the first step toward achieving the respectful workplace we all deserve. It is my sincere hope that the pain we have all experienced and the change we have all brought about will be for the good of our league and this game we all deeply love.”

In a statement, USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone said: “This investigation’s findings are heartbreaking and deeply troubling. The abuse described is inexcusable and has no place on any playing field, in any training facility or workplace. As the national governing body for our sport, U.S. Soccer is fully committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that all players — at all levels — have a safe and respectful place to learn, grow and compete. We are taking the immediate action that we can today, and will convene leaders in soccer at all levels across the country to collaborate on the recommendations so we can create meaningful, long-lasting change throughout the soccer ecosystem.”

[…]

The abuse by coaches wasn’t always sexual in nature, the report found, with former Chicago Red Stars manager Rory Dames among those found to have verbally and emotionally abused players.

“We heard report after report of relentless, degrading tirades; manipulation that was about power, not improving performance; and retaliation against those who attempted to come forward,” the report read.

Among the report’s findings was that throughout the league’s existence, teams, the NWSL and USSF failed to put in place basic measures for player safety. The report also detailed how abuse in the NWSL was systemic and that NWSL teams, the league and the federation failed to adequately address reports and evidence of misconduct.

“Teams, the League, and the Federation not only repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when confronted with player reports and evidence of abuse, they also failed to institute basic measures to prevent and address it, even as some leaders privately acknowledged the need for workplace protections,” the report read. “As a result, abusive coaches moved from team to team, laundered by press releases thanking them for their service, and positive references from teams that minimized or even concealed misconduct. Those at the NWSL and USSF in a position to correct the record stayed silent. And no one at the teams, the League, or the Federation demanded better of coaches.”

Because the teams, the NWSL and USSF failed to identify and inform others of coaches’ misconduct, the abuse was allowed to continue. This was due in part to a culture of abuse, silence and fear of retaliation due to a lack of job security.

See here and here for the background. The US Soccer statement is here and the full report is here. I searched it for the name James Clarkson, the now-suspended coach of the Houston Dash, to see what it said about him, since his name was not popping up in the news stories. There was just one mention, on page 54, in a section on “Recent Allegations”. I suppose whatever happened, or at least the allegations about whatever happened, was too late for this report. I would welcome some further investigation, because we need to get this all out into the open. I hope a comprehensive plan of prevention, detection, and enforcement will follow. More here from ESPN and NPR.

The SPURS bills

I admit that I tipped my cap to this one.

What if it took an act of Congress to keep the Spurs in San Antonio?

With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10 percent share of the team last year, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales worries it might, even as the Spurs’ owners have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s absolutely smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said.

“Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, both of which now call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine the Spurs would leave San Antonio, but what if they do?” Gonzales said. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take that seriously.”

So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible move up Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from ditching communities that have invested time, tears — and a whole lot of cash — in them.

His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakings for Retaining Sports Act — or SPURS Act for short — would set up strict requirements for teams to relocate. A franchise would have to lose money for five years in a row, plus prove that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team.

The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they want to relocate, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also force teams that do move to reimburse whatever financial assistance or incentives were provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena financing. Local governments could sue teams for damages, as well.

[…]

The legislation comes after Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt in May wrote an open letter to fans seeking to ease months of suspicion that the team might be eyeing a move. The Spurs are under a non-relocation agreement with Bexar County that runs through 2032, but county commissioners have agreed to a one-year pilot program allowing the team to play “home” games in Austin and Mexico City.

The team has said it’s all part of an effort to broaden the fan base as attendance has plummeted amid a franchise record three-year playoff drought.

“We will keep making memories, together, inside of Bexar County,” Holt wrote.

Gonzales said he believes Holt, but worries about future owners. Dell buying a share of the team could be the first step toward building an ownership more open to a move, he said.

Some background reading on this if it’s all new to you. I don’t know if this bill makes any sense legally or economically, but if you want to find a non-partisan issue to support that might draw you some crossover voters, it would be hard to top a pro-Spurs-in-San-Antonio bill for a guy who represents a lot of their fanbase. Whatever happens to this – I will bet you $1 right now that it doesn’t get a committee hearing in this Congress – it’s a brilliant piece of politics.

We should soon find out what’s been going on in the NWSL

Good.

U.S. Soccer says an investigation into alleged abuse and misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League is expected to be completed by early next month.

The investigation, led by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, was initiated last fall after North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual harassment and coercion by two former players.

Riley was fired and league Commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down in the wake of the players’ claims. U.S. Soccer and the NWSL and its players association announced separate investigations.

U.S. Soccer issued a brief statement on the status of its probe Monday: “Last October, U.S. Soccer retained Sally Q. Yates of King & Spalding LLP to lead an independent investigation into allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer. That investigation is nearing its conclusion. U.S. Soccer will publish the full report by early October, following the completion of the investigation.”

Riley was among five NWSL coaches who were either dismissed or stepped down last season amid claims of inappropriate behavior.

The list of coaches who were fired or stepped down includes the head coach and general manager of the Houston Dash, who was suspended in April after similar allegations were raised about him. The Dash still have an interim coach, so I suppose he could come back, but I’m including him in this group anyway. Paul Riley’s alleged behavior had stretched back a decade, including his time with another team. The league was aware of the issue but took no action; this resulted in the NWSL Commissioner resigning once it all came to light. I don’t know what this report will say, but you may recall Sally Yates as being one of the first people Donald Trump fired for not being slavishly loyal to him and his every wish, so I have faith in her integrity. Whatever this report does say, I hope the NWSL is a much better place for the players now and going forward.

The 24th plaintiff

As you know, 23 of the 24 women who had filed lawsuits against Deshaun Watson for sexual harassment and assault have settled those cases. The one who has not settled now tells us why.

>Deshaun Watson and the NFL agreed to an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine Thursday after 24 massage therapists filed civil suits accusing him of sexual assault in sessions with them while he was with the Houston Texans. Twenty-three of those 24 civil suits have been settled with undisclosed agreements, but there’s one case still pending, and the woman behind that suit spoke out Friday in the form of an essay for The Daily Beast.

“I have rejected all settlement offers, in part because they have not included any sincere acknowledgment of remorse and wrongdoings, nor have they included any promises of rehabilitative treatment,” Lauren Baxley wrote. “Watson still refuses to admit that he harassed and committed indecent assault against me. Any settlement offer he has made has been a dismissal of his evil actions, and I know that unless there is an authoritative intervention, he will continue his destructive behavior.”

The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment. Baxley has publicly identified herself.

Watson has denied the allegations against him and stuck to that talking point even after agreeing to the 11-game suspension.

“I’ve always been able to stand on my innocence and always said I never assaulted or disrespected anyone. But at the same point, I have to continue to push forward with my life and career,” Watson told reporters at Browns training camp Thursday.

[…]

“I will say again: All non-consensual sexual acts are a violence, particularly when the predator far outweighs his victims in physical stature and influential power,” Baxley wrote for The Daily Beast. “And inherent and unspoken threats are just as damaging to the psyche as explicit threats. I will never cease my attempts to educate on this point.”

Baxley’s essay in the Daily Beast is subscription-only, so this is the best I can do. All I can say here is that I wish her all the success in the world. She deserves her chance to get whatever accountability there is to be had.

Watson’s suspension increased to 11 games

This was the result of an agreement between the NFL and Deshaun Watson as represented by the NFLPA.

Deshaun Watson’s suspension has been increased from six to 11 games, the league announced Thursday.

Watson and NFL reached a settlement where the former Texans quarterback must also pay a $5 million fine. The first game he would be eligible to play for the Cleveland Browns would be against his former team on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium.

Watson, who was the subject of 24 civil lawsuits from women who alleged he sexually assaulted and harassed them, was initially given a six-game suspension by independent arbitrator Sue Robinson.

Robinson said in her 16-page report that Watson’s three violations met the NFL’s definition for sexual assault during massage therapy sessions with four women. Watson was ordered to only seek club-directed or club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career along with the suspension. She did not recommend a fine.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appealed the ruling, seeking a year-long suspension. The two sides settled on the 11 games and the fine.

In its appeal for harsher discipline, the NFL had pointed to Watson’s lack of remorse, a factor Robinson also cited in her ruling. Watson, who has steadfastly denied the accusations against him, settled this summer 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he harassed or assaulted them in massage appointments.

See here for some background. Note that this is a settlement agreement and not a ruling on the appeal by the NFL of Watson’s initial 6-game suspension. We’ll never know what that might have been, but given that Watson made his ridiculous non-apology the other day, it was clear that there was room for this kind of negotiation. In the end, both sides get certainty, the NFL avoids a lawsuit filed by the NFLPA over its handling of player discipline versus owner discipline (among many other things), and Watson will get to play this year. That’s a win-win in someone’s accounting; I think most of us aren’t winning anything, but I suppose it could have been worse. I’ll wait to see what the women who were harassed by Watson have to say. Sean Pendergast, The 19th, Slate, and a whole bunch of other outlets have more.

Deshaun Watson “apologizes”

As you may infer, I’m not impressed.

Deshaun Watson’s best play in his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns came long before he took the field in Jacksonville.

Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.

He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 victory against the Jaguars (0-2) in which Watson was roundly booed during three series of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson during his first drive.

[…]

“Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict him on criminal complaints. He settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

I hope I don’t have to explain why that “apology” is lame and meaningless. I suspect that Watson is beginning to fear that his suspension will be lengthened, and this is his feeble attempt to mitigate. I can’t imagine it would have any effect, and frankly if this is the best he can do then he better hope it doesn’t have a negative effect. But I suppose you never know. ESPN and Yahoo Sports have more.

Goodell thinks Watson should get a year’s suspension

Well, it’s in the hands of someone he picked to hear the appeal, so.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is seeking a tougher penalty for Deshaun Watson because the quarterback’s actions were “egregious” and “predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL formally appealed Watson’s six-game suspension, which was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer Sue. L Robinson earlier this month. At a league meeting called to formally approve the Denver Broncos’ new ownership group Tuesday, Goodell was asked why the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision and was seeking a suspension of at least a year for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

“We’ve seen the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the appeal of Watson’s suspension for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said Tuesday he did not know when Harvey would make a ruling.

See here, here, and here for some background. There have been some comments on previous posts about how Watson hasn’t been convicted of anything, he’s just been accused, and so why is he being punished at all. I just want to point out that none of this is happening in a court, it’s all a part of a disciplinary process that the NFL Players Association negotiated with the NFL. The statements of the accusers, as well as evidence they have provided in the form of texts and direct messages and so forth, were all taken into account as part of this process. Beyond that, we are all allowed to use our own judgment of the facts that we have seen. I personally find Watson’s explanations to be wholly unconvincing. Your mileage may vary, but there’s nothing unfair or unjust about how we got here. The main difference from before is that Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of what happens to a player in this situation.

Anyway. On a side note, Deshaun Watson will make his debut for the Browns in their preseason opener today. The suspension, whatever it winds up being, was only for the regular season, and presumably for the playoffs if it gets extended. Until then, he’s free to be on the field, and he’ll get paid nearly all of his salary for the year regardless. Don’t fret about Deshaun Watson. He’s doing just fine. Sean Pendergast has more.

UPDATE: From Thursday evening:

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson would accept an eight-game suspension and $5 million fine to avoid missing the entire season, a person familiar with his defense told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Watson, who is facing a potential year-long ban for sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans, would agree to a lesser penalty in a settlement, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The biggest question is whether the NFL would make this compromise.

A settlement has always been possible, but it’s not clear if the sides are in active discussions.

Someone’s feeling the heat.

Buzbee blames the NFL for Watson’s short suspension

Surely you expected that Tony Buzbee would have something to say about all this.

For the first woman to sue former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson —and nearly all those who followed suit — the legal process is over.

They settled their cases alleging sexual assault and harassment. An NFL-hired arbitrator gave the football player a six-week suspension. And two grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges.

Through it all, the NFL and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg failed those women, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said Thursday.

“We are here today with a message to the NFL,” the lawyer said during a news conference. “Every victim of sexual assault is watching (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone independent, we don’t buy it.”

“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”

[…]

Despite the disappointing decision with the District Attorney’s Office and the league, [Ashley] Solis said she finally feels like she has power.

She described the past two-and-a-half years as “emotionally and mentally tasking.” As the first person to file a lawsuit and the first to speak publicly, she received countless threats from Watson fans. That vitriol sent her into a depression, but letters she received from numerous victims rejuvenated her, she said.

Solis learned that victims have the ability to speak up. They can make changes happen, she said.

“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status, and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” she said. “That’s exactly what I am – the wrong one.”

Solis was one of 10 women to speak with NFL investigators, Buzbee said. He added that he would’ve made more of his clients available, but he said the NFL “wasn’t really interested in talking to them.”

“It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the devil is going on?'” Buzbee said.

Arbitrator Sue L. Robinson made note of the NFL’s failure to interview all 24 women in her 16-page report, distancing her decision by saying, “My credibility determinations are based largely on the credibility of the NFL investigators.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy disputed Buzbee’s claims. He provided a statement that said the league interviewed 49 total people and attempted to interview all of the 24 women who filed suit but the remaining 12 “were not made available by their attorney or did not feel comfortable being interviewed.”

The investigation’s outcome made some of the victims to feel invisible, or as if they had been slapped, Buzbee said.

See here for the previous update. Goodell has already delegated the appeal to someone else, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. I think that was the correct thing for him to do, but I can see how Buzbee sees it differently. As for the dispute over how many of the women were available to talk with the NFL as part of the process, I’ll wait and see if there’s evidence to support one side’s claims or the other’s.

In the meantime, now we wait on the appeal.

The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it replied to the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

“We have filed our reply brief to the NFL’s appeal regarding the Deshaun Watson matter,’’ the NFLPA said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The union, which had two business days to reply, had no further comment.

The matter is now in the hands of appeals officer Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who was appointed Thursday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no set timeframe for a decision, but it must be processed on an expedited basis. The two sides — the NFL and NFLPA — can also try to negotiate a settlement before the ruling.

But the NFLPA is still poised to sue in federal court, possibly pending the outcome of the appeal.

“If the new arbitrator increases Watson’s punishment – once again this sets up a legal battle between the union and league challenging the fairness of the penalties and (Roger) Goodell’s authority to penalize the players for their alleged roles,’’ said attorney Daniel Moskowitz, a sports law litigator in Dallas, who has represented several NFL players in NFL investigations involving the personal conduct policy, violation of league substance abuse and other code of conduct policies.

The NFLPA and Watson’s legal team can also file before the decision by Harvey, who helped develop and implement the league’s personal conduct policy.

So we wait. I don’t think this will take very long for the simple reason that it makes sense for there to be a resolution, at least as far as this process goes, before the season begins. After that, who knows. Sean Pendergast has more.

Further thoughts on the Deshaun Watson suspension

Just a few things I’ve read, to try to understand what happened here. Make of them what you will. Note that I drafted this before the news of the NFL’s appeal.

Pro Football Talk:

How does Watson, who faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, get suspended only six games when Cardinal receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for trace amounts of a PED he claims he didn’t know he ingested and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended a whole season for making $1,500 in parlay wagers?

On the surface, the answer is easy. These three players were suspended under three completely different policies: Personal Conduct, PED, and gambling.

There’s a more nuanced explanation. The PED policies and gambling policies go directly to the integrity of the game, whether by cheating in it or betting on it. The Personal Conduct Policy relates to off-duty behavior, conduct that has no connection to the league’s core business interests.

Not sure how much that nuance helps, but I suppose it’s worth keeping those distinctions in mind, if only to get the underlying facts straight.

CBS Sports:

There’s a chance that the length of the suspension could still change and that’s because the NFL is allowed to appeal the decision (Watson’s camp could also appeal the decision, but the NFLPA previously announced on Sunday that no appeal would be coming from that end).

If the NFL decides to appeal, it will create a new layer of drama and that’s because the appeal would be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates. As of Monday afternoon though, the league had yet to make a decision about a possible appeal.

“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” the NFL said in a statement. “Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”

[…]

Although the new collective bargaining agreement took away Goodell’s power to hand out a punishment, he didn’t really lose very much power since he’s the one who oversees the appeal process.

Here’s the pertinent language in the CBA:

“The Disciplinary Officer’s disciplinary determination will be final and binding subject only to the right of either party to appeal to the Commissioner. The appeal shall be in writing within three business days of the Disciplinary Officer’s decision, and any response to the appeal shall be filed in writing within two business days thereafter. The appeal shall be limited to arguments why, based on the evidentiary record below, the amount of discipline, if any, should be modified. The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”

Based on the language in the CBA, the NFL now has three days to file an appeal in writing. Once the appeal is filed, Goodell (or his designee) will have two days to respond to it.

If the NFL doesn’t appeal, then the case is over and Watson will serve a six-game suspension. It’s possible the league will go this route because it doesn’t want to undermine Robinson’s decision.

In my initial reaction, I said that I’d change “possible” to “highly likely”, and that I could not see the NFL stirring this up when they have a chance to let it go and get on with their business. Clearly, I was wrong about that.

Slate:

Why did Watson skate? It isn’t because Goodell doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Even if only for image maintenance, the NFL wanted a bigger chunk of games. But that does not let the NFL off the hook. It also does not mean all of the fault with the short suspension lies with the arbitrator, whom both management and labor asked to resolve the length of the suspension. At core, Watson will soon be under center for the Browns because the NFL spent years laying two sets of tracks that led straight to this decision and will soon lead the league beyond it. One was a disciplinary system that did not come down hard on violence against women for many years, and which complicated the NFL’s efforts to win a workplace dispute with Watson when it became clear that one of the best, most famous players in the NFL deserved a long, long break away from the game. The other was cultural. The NFL and its giant media industry cultivated an environment where any player as good as Watson can be two things at once—a hero whom fans adore and a commodity that teams crave—and where any inconveniences the real world might impose on those roles are just those: inconveniences. Watson did not get a light punishment because the NFL doesn’t care. He got one because the NFL is a universe where “caring” is not the point.

The contradictory thing about Robinson’s report is that she seems to generally agree with the NFL that Watson behaved horrendously toward his accusers. “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL,” she writes at one point. She writes that “it is difficult to give weight” to Watson’s wholesale denial not just of any criminal conduct, but of ever having so much as gotten an erection during one of the massages in question. She finds that by the NFL’s definition of sexual assault in its code of conduct, which is “unwanted sexual contact with another person,” Watson committed sexual assault. But Robinson calls Watson’s acts “non-violent sexual assault.” It is a mind-bending phrase. Can any sort of sexual assault be “non-violent”? Is there a way to breach consent and not be violent? Of course not. It is an inherently violent act, whether it involves blood and bruises or not. But to read Robinson’s decision, the NFL’s past laxness toward overt violence made it difficult for her to square the league’s desired punishment of Watson as a matter of workplace policy. “By ignoring past decisions because none involve ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL is not just equating violent conduct with non-violent conduct, but has elevated the importance of the latter without any substantial evidence to support its position,” Robinson says. The NFL decided that it cared about this player violating women, but because it hadn’t acted accordingly in the past, it couldn’t impose the punishment it wanted.

My mind is still trying to unbend from that one.

ESPN:

Basically, Robinson is saying something akin to, You want to argue that this behavior deserves a more severe penalty, fine. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not in your policy, and you can’t just make policy to support one specific case as it’s going on. If the league wants to do what it did post-Rice and adjust its policy to account for the type of behavior Watson is herein found guilty of, it should do that — then everyone would know.

Interesting argument, for sure, but it answers a lot of the questions about the length of the suspension vis-à-vis some others in the past. She goes on to write, “It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”

Remember, Robinson first decided she was not starting from a six-game baseline but from one of three games or fewer, based on precedent set by other nonviolent sexual assault cases. As “aggravating factors” (that is, reasons to increase the suspension), she cites Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse and his tardy notice to the NFL of the first-filed lawsuit.” As “mitigating factors” (that is, reasons to go easier on him), she cites “he is a first-time offender and had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events. He cooperated and has paid restitution.”

Very interestingly, she also notes the league could have placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list last year and chose not to, which she appears to think means the league didn’t consider his behavior worthy of such punishment until it saw the public reaction to it. She makes that clear in her conclusion when she writes, “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one. Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after a public outcry, so it seems the NFL is responding to yet another public outcry about Mr. Watson’s conduct.”

Robinson writes that she settled on six games because it is the largest suspension ever imposed for nonviolent sexual conduct but that Watson’s behavior is more egregious than the behavior that led to previous suspensions for nonviolent sexual conduct.

If the NFL had taken domestic violence seriously from the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

The Ringer:

The ruling fails to grapple with the serial nature of Watson’s actions, which is essential to the nature of what he did. Some of the women who said Watson harassed or abused them refused to work with him again. Some considered changing careers entirely. And after each woman made clear that Watson’s advances were unwanted and wrong, Watson sought out more women.

Twenty-seven women, six games. Robinson was looking at only four of the cases—was each of those four women worth 1.5 games? If Robinson had ruled on all 27 women who came forward with their accounts of Watson’s misconduct, would he be suspended for 40.5 games? Or perhaps it’s an unsolvable equation, because the NFL’s personal conduct policy left no room for the gray areas of sexual violence or the possibility of multiple accusers.

Robinson’s ruling is based on two guiding principles, both of which are immensely flawed. On the one hand, the ruling emphasizes that the six-game suspension is a matter of precedent based on the league’s previous penalties related to sexual misconduct. This is a mistake. No previous player has been named in so many accounts by so many women. I don’t know the correct punishment for 27 cases, or whether it’s different from the amount that would be correct for 10 or 50 or 75. But how can anybody appeal to precedent when the misconduct itself is so clearly unprecedented? There’s no number that would have felt right, but it’s certainly wrong for the number to be determined by a technicality that doesn’t have anything to do with Watson’s case or the women affected.

[…]

In the end, there’s one easy way to tell that this punishment was too light: by looking at Watson, who spent decision day practicing with the Browns and signing autographs for a mob of fans at training camp. Watson has avoided criminal charges and settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. He has not even remotely expressed public contrition for his actions. At this point, it would be possible for him to say some form of “I’m sorry,” or to speak out against sexual violence without admitting personal guilt. He has chosen not to, and he probably never will. (Robinson specifically mentioned Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse” as a factor in her decision, though clearly it didn’t weigh that heavily.)

I don’t have anything insightful to add to that.

Defector:

You do not need to have a PhD in workplace procedures to gather that a policy crafted in response to a public relations crisis will not work. In this case, the NFL created its anti-violence policy in the late 1990s after future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon was arrested for intimate-partner violence, for which he was found not guilty, followed by exposé after exposé from sports reporters about violence by players toward women, all amid the 1990s wave of tough-on-crime legislation. Like many of the pro-police, pro-prison policies of that era, the NFL’s plan to threaten its players into compliance with vague threats of “suspension” failed, has continued to fail, and probably will always fail because bad policy begets bad policy, no matter how many times you rework it, reframe it, or even renegotiate it. The personal conduct policy has been a failure from the moment it was created, (though this has not stopped other major North American sports leagues from copying it for the sake of public relations). Left to its own devices, the NFL will never get this right.

All the NFL can do is try to find a different person to blame, a new figure onto which it can foist this odious burden of reminding us all that a good enough player will always find a way back onto the field, with just their bank account a little lighter. On Monday, that person was retired judge Sue L. Robinson, who issued her decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games after two dozen women sued Watson in civil court, all describing various levels of sexual misconduct by him during massage therapy appointments that included finding ways to touch them with his penis and ejaculating on them. Depending on who delivers your sports news, this was seen as either a humiliation for the NFL or great news for Watson’s new team, the Cleveland Browns. But what those quick takes never quite address is why the NFL and pro sports, time and time again, seem utterly clueless about what to do when a player is accused of violence.

[…]

Robinson ended her decision with the equivalent of a legal tongue-lashing for the NFL, essentially telling them that significant changes to how it handles player discipline must be collectively bargained. (“It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”) You could say the NFL has a precedent problem. It’s a problem with a solution—negotiate better rules with players during the next round of collective bargaining. The players would, in return, request significant concessions from the league, and that would be fair because that’s how unions protect the rights of workers. The NFL could completely revamp its conduct policy to include community service, therapy, more preventative measures like education, or one of the many tools shown to actually work. It could even ask for harsher punishments, though it’s always worth remembering that that zero-tolerance policies don’t work and harsh punishment does not deter crime. In return, the league could give players truly guaranteed contracts, better healthcare, or agree to stop extending the regular season. All of this would be fair and likely would withstand the scrutiny of a retired judge, like Robinson, if the league chose to go this route.

The NFL will never do it.

Diana Moskovitz has been on the sports-and-crime-and-society beat for a long time, and she’s always a must read on these stories.

And here’s one more from The Ringer, post-appeal by the NFL.

The danger of a short suspension for Watson, then, is twofold: First, the media scrutiny if he were to return in mid-October would be intense. The NFL could weather that. But the second and biggest problem with a short suspension is that the Watson saga is still ongoing. It hasn’t even been two months since Vrentas’s most recent bombshell report: that Watson met with at least 66 women for massages within a 17-month period, and that the Houston Texans helped facilitate appointments and even provided Watson with nondisclosure agreements. One lawsuit is still active. Optically—and a lot of this is optics—it’s bad for the league to have Watson play in October. But even worse, the depth and scope of the story means that there may be more reporting to come, more shoes to drop. The outside investigations are not going away. The women involved in these cases are not going away simply because Watson might return to the field.

The NFL had to appeal for any number of reasons: First, Robinson’s report savages Watson’s behavior but makes clear that the six-game suspension was based on her belief that the NFL can’t make wholesale changes to its suspension lengths without prior notice to the players. The ruling came from an extremely narrow interpretation of the CBA, while the NFL, on the other hand, has a long history of changing rules quickly and without much notice. Also, there’s the matter of Watson not showing any remorse for his actions or admitting any wrongdoing—both factors that were cited to his detriment in Robinson’s report. In fact, reporters on Wednesday said that Watson’s camp still believed six games was too much.

If Watson’s suspension had stayed at six games, it would have kept a broken system broken. Not just because it would mean that virtually no personal conduct policy violation could extend beyond six games, but because it would reward a franchise that went all in on one of the most reckless moves in modern NFL history. It’s important to note here that a handful of teams would have loved to have Watson on their team, which is why the cost to trade for him this spring was so high in picks, and eventually money. The Browns were the ones who guaranteed him a fifth year. The Browns were the team that, just after a grand jury declined to indict Watson, gave him more leverage and the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Watson’s no-trade clause meant he could pick his destination, and Cleveland did everything it could to ensure it would be his choice.

I don’t know how much any of this helped me make sense of it all, but I feel like I needed to read all this. Hope it helped you a little.

NFL to appeal Watson suspension

Wow. I did not expect that.

The NFL on Wednesday appealed the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, seeking a tougher penalty for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling Monday.

In a statement, the league said it notified the NFL Players Association that it would appeal and then filed its brief Wednesday afternoon.

The league said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal. Under the CBA, Goodell has the option to consider the appeal himself or can appoint a designee to do so.

A source told ESPN that the league is appealing for an indefinite suspension that would be a minimum of one year (as it had previously sought), a monetary fine (which Watson was not levied initially by Robinson) and treatment that the star QB must undergo.

The union also had the right to appeal Robinson’s ruling, although it issued a statement Sunday night saying it would “stand by her decision” and not appeal, regardless of the result, and called on the league to agree to the same.

The NFLPA has until Friday to file a written response to the NFL’s appeal. Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Wednesday that the NFLPA was preparing to sue the NFL in federal court if it appealed Robinson’s decision.

Once the NFLPA files its response, Goodell will decide to hear the appeal himself or appoint a designee — a source told Darlington on Wednesday that he’s yet to formalize a decision on who will do it — and that will be followed by a hearing date.

Any appeal must be limited to arguments from the evidentiary record from the three-day hearing before Robinson in late June and “without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered.” It will be processed on an “expedited basis,” per the NFL’s personal conduct policy, although NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said there’s no timeline for Goodell or his designee to make a ruling.

Whenever the ruling is made, it will be final and binding to all parties.

[…]

In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the NFL and Watson’s side engaged in further settlement talks, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt they were close to an agreement.

The most Watson’s side indicated it was willing to offer was a suspension in the range of six to eight games, according to sources. The best the league indicated it was willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a significant fine — in the range of $8 million, sources said. Since no additional fine was levied, Watson is slated to miss six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022 for a total of $345,000 lost off his $1.035 million base salary.

See here for the background. I had assumed that the NFL would let this go, despite how poorly the ruling was received by the public, on the grounds that it was the least messy path and would get them on the road to putting it all behind them, which is usually what they want in any uncomfortable situation. I’m genuinely surprised by this. I figure it gets chaotic from here, between the promised lawsuit from the NFLPA and the decision Commissioner Goodell will have to make about who actually makes the appeal decision; it would probably be best if he picked a delegate for it. We are in uncharted waters, that much is for sure. CBS Sports has more.

Deshaun Watson suspended for six games

Feels light to me. And not just to me.

Months after trading six draft picks and committing a fully guaranteed $230 million to land Deshaun Watson from the Texans, the Browns have lost their star quarterback for the first six games of the 2022 season, CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson reports. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson determined Monday that Watson should be suspended for six weeks after hearing testimony regarding the former Pro Bowler’s alleged off-field conduct. The QB this offseason faced civil lawsuits from 24 different women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.

Under this suspension, Watson will miss the following games to begin Cleveland’s season: at Panthers, vs. Jets, vs. Steelers, at Falcons, vs. Chargers, vs. Patriots. His first game back will be on Oct. 23 when the Browns visit the Ravens in Week 7.

Watson’s suspension arrives after multiple reports indicated the NFL would seek at least a full-season ban for the QB, who recently reached confidential settlements for 20 of the 24 lawsuits. It marks the league’s harshest discipline imposed on a QB since Michael Vick was banned indefinitely in 2009, before serving a nearly two-year prison sentence.

[…]

Watson has the power to appeal his suspension, but the NFLPA announced in a statement on the eve of this ruling that they would not. They also implored the NFL to also not appeal. Any appeal would ultimately be decided by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, seemingly making it unlikely he could significantly reduce his punishment. (Goodell previously reduced suspensions for Roethlisberger and Vick after in-person meetings, but Watson’s case carries a different magnitude.) The NFLPA could also sue the NFL over unfair discipline in light of certain team owners (i.e. the Commanders’ Daniel Snyder) allegedly receiving more lenient penalties over sexual assault accusations, but in the past, lawsuits over suspensions have only proven to delay, not significantly reduce or overturn, NFL discipline.

See here for the previous update. Here’s the Chron story with some more details (that CBS story was the first one I saw, literally minutes after the news broke).

The NFL, which had pushed for a suspension of at least one year and a fine of $5 million, has three days to appeal. If either side appealed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The union then could try to challenge that ruling in federal court.

Watson’s six-game suspension aligns with past punishments levied against former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who both were accused of sexual assault and were not criminally charged.

There were expectations Watson’s suspension could have been longer. The Watson suspension comes months after the MLB announced a two-year suspension for Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, who faced sexual assault and domestic violence allegations that did not lead to criminal charges.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Robinson’s decision says Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious,” but the behavior was “nonviolent sexual conduct.”

The league had pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and a $5 million fine for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June. The NFL Players’ Association argued Watson shouldn’t be punished at all because he was not convicted of any crime.

Robinson’s decision focused on information regarding five of the women who sued Watson, according to the Wall Street Journal. Watson, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, settled all but four of the lawsuits in June that had been levied against him. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said then those settlements would have no impact on the league’s disciplinary process.

I dunno, I feel like Watson’s alleged transgressions were worse, for their cumulative nature if nothing else. I thought that one year was the right amount of suspension, partly because I thought the Trevor Bauer comparison was more accurate, but I could have accepted something like ten or twelve games. I just don’t think six is enough, and I don’t think Deshaun Watson will come away from this thinking anything other than he was exonerated. A look at some other possible points of comparison bolster my opinion on that.

The suspension being limited to six games raises some eyebrows when compared the one-year suspension the league dealt Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley after he was found to have placed $1,500 worth of online parlay wagers when he was away from the team last season.

Six games also is the same punishment given to Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Watson’s former teammate in Houston, for having a trace amount of performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

The comparisons can go on and on, including former Saints coach Sean Payton being suspended for a year when his team allegedly had bounties on opponents’ heads and Payton sent an email to his coaches telling them to make sure you “get you ducks in a row” when talking to NFL investigators.

Comparisons of disciplinary actions can often be facile, as there can be multiple dimensions to each decision, but in this case I don’t think you’ll find many examples of people getting less time off for more egregious activity. It’s possible I could change my view over time, but right now I don’t feel like justice was served. More from the Chron and Sean Pendergast.

UPDATE: Per ESPN, Watson has now also settled all but one of the lawsuits pending against him; there had been four remaining, and three are now resolved. That includes the lawsuit filed by Ashley Solis. All in all, Monday was a pretty good day for Deshaun Watson.

UIL still nixes NIL

Sorry, Texas high school athletes. You’re still not getting paid.

Even if state lawmakers change legislation to allow high school athletes in Texas to profit off their name, image and likeness, the University Interscholastic League may not be ready to give the green light.

“Given what we’ve seen across the country at the NCAA level, given what we’ve seen in some of those states that have allowed it at the high school level, I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an appetite for it,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said Sunday at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention.

Texas is among 26 states that prohibit high school athletes from benefiting from NIL, according to endorsement platform Opendorse. There are 13 states that allow high school athletes to profit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota and Utah.

Any decision from the UIL’s legislative committee would have to wait until the Texas Legislature makes a change to current laws. Passed last summer, Senate Bill 1385 prohibits any individual or corporate entity to enter into any NIL arrangement with a student athlete “prior to their enrollment in an institution of higher education.”

“Until there is some movement there, there will be no change from the UIL,” Harrison said. “And even if there was movement there, we would have to see in what way it moves, what kind of guardrail they put around it.”

Guess the Quinn Ewers story didn’t move anyone. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s plenty of money being made by other people, all adults, as a result of these athletes’ labor, and it seems logical that the athletes themselves should get a piece of that, as they now can in college. On the other hand, these high school athletes are for the most part still minors, and the potential for financial exploitation is higher. I would like to think there’s a regulatory scheme, with real enforcement powers, that could be put into place to allow at least some NIL payments to these athletes while still protecting their interests and not turning the whole enterprise into a free-for-all, I just have no idea what it might be. We could maybe check out what California is doing with NIL, if the thought of Texas emulating California in any way didn’t make some people’s heads explode. I dunno. I just don’t think that a blanket “No” is a sustainable answer, and the sooner we try to find something that is, the better.

UT and OU swear they’re still in the Big XII until 2025

Maybe they even believe that, though I remain doubtful.

Almost a year later, UT’s and OU’s bombshell decision to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference is still being felt in the latest round of conference realignment.

After an hourlong panel discussion at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention, [UT Athletic Director Chris] Del Conte and [OU Athletic Director Joe] Castiglione offered no hints on a timeline to exit the Big 12, except to say both schools are committed to remaining in the league until 2025.

“We realize we’ve made a decision and we’re focused on being a great member through the time we said we would,” Castiglione said. “There’s a lot of changing around us. If that facilitates a conversation that needs to take place about an earlier departure, then it does.

“But I said very consistently that, and I know my counterpart Chris Del Conte has said the same thing, as has our presidents, that we informed the Big 12 that we would leave after ’25, but we plan on fulfilling our obligations … And if they want to talk to us about something different then we’ll certainly listen.”

Del Conte offered a similar sentiment.

“We’re going to honor our commitments,” he said. “So, where we’re at, I think those things are all premature. I mean, we’re 45 days out from the start of the season. We’re really focused on the football season this year.”

Incoming Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said at the league’s kickoff event in Arlington last week that “anything is on the table” and that conversations with UT and OU would be forthcoming when he officially begins the job Aug. 1.

Both schools are projected to owe at least $80 million in exit fees if they leave before the expiration of the current media rights deal.

“Any situation like this, I always look for a win-win scenario,” Yormark said. “That being said, it’s important that whatever happens is in the best interest of this conference. But I look forward, at the right time, to have those conversations.”

So the temporarily supersized Big XII is still in play. That’s assuming that the non-UT and OU members aren’t plotting to scoop up some PAC 12 refugees, which may make it easier to wave goodbye to the leavers. I’m totally speculating here. I thought that UT and OU would find their way to the SEC before 2025 before that bombshell dropped – surely, they will very much want to jump the fence as soon as it’s feasible to do so – and I still think that. The mechanics of how they get there may change, but I believe the incentives remain.

For their part, the SEC continues to be coy.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey believes his league got the better deal with the coming additions of Texas and Oklahoma than the Big Ten with its coming additions of UCLA and Southern Cal, based on geography and history.

Sankey, in his opening remarks of the SEC Media Days on Monday, pointed out the UT and OU additions are in “contiguous states.” In other words, league travel only requires crossing a state line, not flying over mountains and deserts.

The Longhorns and Sooners are scheduled to join the SEC by July 2025 but perhaps even a year or two earlier.

“That’s not up to me, that’s about the relationships between Oklahoma and Texas and the Big 12,” Sankey said of when exactly UT and OU are expected to exit the Big 12 and join the SEC. “(Our) focus is on the additions being effective July 1, 2025.”

Again, maybe he believes that. Maybe it’s true, or at least true-ish. You know where I’ve placed my chips.

Now we wait for the judge in the Deshaun Watson disciplinary case

Gonna be a few weeks, most likely.

Another phase in the NFL’s disciplinary process against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is complete, and another wait begins.

Watson’s hearing before former U.S. District judge Sue L. Robinson concluded on Thursday after three days.

Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, will determine whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline. She asked for post-hearing briefs from both Watson’s representatives and the NFL, and a final decision could take weeks.

Watson has been accused in civil lawsuits by 24 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. He has reached a settlement in 20 of the cases.

The NFL has been pushing for an indefinite suspension of at least a year, and Watson’s team has argued there is no basis for punishment, two people with knowledge of the proceedings said to the Associated Press. ESPN reported that both sides engaged in attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was still happening, but remain unable to agree.

[…]

A person familiar with the case told the Associated Press the league believes it presented evidence to warrant keeping Watson off the field this season. The person said the league’s investigation determined Watson committed multiple violations of the personal conduct policy and he would be required to undergo counseling before returning.

A person familiar with Watson’s defense told the Associated Press they expect a suspension. Asked what would be acceptable, the person said: “our goal is to get him back on the field this year.”

See here and here for some background. In previous stories, I’ve seen mention of the league wanting to have this process finished by the time players start reporting to training camps, which I believe would be July 27 for the Cleveland Browns. That sounds like a reasonable estimate for when we will know the decision.

USC and UCLA to join Big Ten

Wow.

USC and UCLA have been accepted as the newest members of the Big Ten conference with league officials approving their membership Thursday night. The programs have announced their respective departures from the Pac-12 beginning in 2024 with the pair marking a significant acquisition for the Big Ten that will significantly change the college sports landscape.

“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said. “We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”

“After careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation, UCLA has decided to leave the Pac-12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference at the start of the 2024–25 season,” said UCLA chancellor Gene D. Block and AD Martin Jarmond in a combined statement. “… Each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time. For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come. As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents.”

Big Ten presidents and athletic directors first met Wednesday night to discuss adding USC and UCLA to the league, sources told CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. A subsequent vote was held Thursday night to officially welcome the programs into the league beginning Aug. 2, 2024.

“As the national leader in academics and athletics for over 126 years, the Big Ten Conference has historically evaluated its membership with the collective goal to forward the academic and athletic mission for student-athletes under the umbrella of higher education,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block.”

I did not see that one coming. The ACC and the Big XII had lost members to other conferences before, including the University of Colorado to the PAC12, but this is earth-shaking, at least on the scale of UT and Oklahoma jumping to the SEC. The PAC12 will now have to negotiate a new TV contract without its two flagship schools, who were motivated to seek greener pastures in the first place because the PAC12’s TV contract wasn’t all that lucrative.

History and tradition have long been dead as reasons for conferences to exist and stay together, but I would have thought geography might have been a limiting factor. Not so much now, as the Big Ten literally spans coast to coast, with members in such heartland states as California, Maryland, and New Jersey. At this point, I wonder when we’ll get to a place where the “conference” idea is wholly discarded in favor of divisions, like in the NFL. I also wonder what effect this will eventually have on non-football schools that have become national powers in basketball, like Gonzaga.

A bit of local perspective from the LA Times:

“This is the most volatile and uncertain era in the history of American collegiate athletics,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement. “USC must ensure it is best positioned and prepared for whatever happens next, and it is our responsibility to always evaluate potential opportunities and be willing to make changes when needed. Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told The Times, “College athletics is changing, and UCLA has always led in times of change. For the sake of our student-athletes, and for preserving the legacy of Bruin excellence, we cannot afford to stand still.”

This new, changing world Bohn and Jarmond referred to is one in which college athletes for the first time can earn money from the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) — a right the NCAA and its member schools long denied to players in the name of the ideals of amateurism.

With so much unknown about where athlete compensation is headed beyond NIL, USC and UCLA leaders felt they had to address the long-term financial viability of their programs.

“As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents,” UCLA chancellor Gene Block and Jarmond said in a joint letter. “Specifically, this move will enhance name, image and likeness opportunities through greater exposure.”

[…]

In moving to the Big Ten, USC and UCLA also solve another issue that’s long plagued the Pac-12: Kickoff times. Both schools were often relegated to the late window on Saturday nights, neither often finishing before half the country was asleep.

“For our fans, Big Ten membership equates to better television time slots for our road games, but the same number of home games either at the Rose Bowl, in Pauley Pavilion or other UCLA venues,” Block and Jarmond wrote.

As members of the Big Ten, late kickoffs are almost assuredly a relic of the past. The most glaring problem for the Pac-12, however, has long been what happened after kickoff.

We spend a week or two each year on the west coast visiting family. That makes for some great sports-watching opportunities, because the games start as early as 9 AM and then go all day. If USC and UCLA fans don’t mind some early morning kickoffs and never having an evening home game going forward, then I guess this will work out fine for them. ESPN, Slate, and The Ringer have more.

NFL pushing for “indefinite” suspension of Deshaun Watson

That sounds like it counts as “at least one year”.

The NFL and Deshaun Watson’s legal team presented their arguments before a disciplinary officer for a second day Wednesday, with both sides holding firm as the hearing is scheduled to continue in Delaware on Thursday.

The league is insisting on an indefinite suspension and Watson’s side is arguing there’s no basis for a punishment that significant, two people in attendance told The Associated Press. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing isn’t public.

Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, is tasked with determining whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.

If either the union or league appeals Robinson’s decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.

See here for the previous entry. I guess I had expected the hearing to be just one day and that we’d have something definitive by now, but in retrospect that was unrealistic. I support a long suspension for Watson but am not sure yet how I feel about it being “indefinite”. It would depend on what the terms are for it ending, I suppose. We’ll see what the landscape looks like after the hearing is over and we can get reactions from the parties involved. What do you think?

NFL to seek at least a one year suspension for Deshaun Watson

That would count as significant.

The NFL is poised to argue for an indefinite suspension of at least one year for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson at a hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday in front of the sport’s new disciplinary officer, according to a person familiar with the case.

The league will contend that Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct in two dozen civil lawsuits filed by women, violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and should be suspended without pay for at least the entirety of the 2022 season, that person said. Watson would have to apply for reinstatement under the league’s proposed penalty.

The NFL Players Association is expected to argue to former U.S. district judge Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, for far less severe discipline against Watson, perhaps seeking no suspension at all.

Robinson will make the initial disciplinary ruling, under the revised personal conduct policy put in place with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union completed in 2020.

If Robinson rules that Watson violated the conduct policy and imposes disciplinary measures, the league or the union could appeal the penalty to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him. If Robinson rules that Watson did not violate the policy, the case would be closed, with no possibility of an appeal.

Under the previous version of the conduct policy, Goodell was empowered to both make the initial disciplinary ruling and resolve any appeal. This is the first case under the new system.

It’s not clear how long the hearing will last or when Robinson will make an initial ruling. The NFL aims to have the entire case, including the resolution of any appeal, resolved before the opening of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter previously said. The Browns, who completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson this offseason, have their first full practice involving veteran players scheduled for July 27.

See here for some background, which covers the reasons for why the NFL is asking for such a long suspension, and why the NFLPA disagrees so completely. I’m as pro-labor as you’ll find in these matters, but I’m fine with Watson being made to sit for a year or more – let’s not forget, he’ll mostly be paid for all that time thanks to the terms of the contract he signed with Cleveland – if only because of the magnitude of the offenses. If there’s some mitigating factor that we the public don’t currently know, then fine. Maybe the terms of the 20 settled lawsuits are available to Judge Robinson. Maybe the NFLPA’s argument that the NFL has let owners like Daniel Snyder totally skate on egregious sexual misconduct charges, as Defector’s Ray Ratto notes, will carry some weight. Whatever the case, we’ll know exactly what the NFL is asking for tomorrow, and we’ll have the judge’s answer in a couple of weeks. ESPN and Sean Pendergast, who notes that Watson appears to have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the NFL over his forthcoming sentence, have more.

“Significant” suspension expected for Deshaun Watson

I should think so.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

[…]

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after retiring from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

[…]

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

I think one year is the minimum. The charges against Watson are considerably greater than those against Bauer, and as such I wouldn’t mind seeing him get two years as his punishment. Maybe Robinson or Friel found Watson’s accusers to be not fully credible, or maybe the NFLPA’s argument about the lack of punishment for these miscreant owners will hold some sway, I don’t know. I just don’t have any sympathy for either Watson or the Browns. Whatever the case, the expectation is that there will be an answer by the start of NFL training camp, which is to say by late July.

Rice to join AAC in 2023

As expected given prior developments.

Nearly eight months after accepting an invitation to join the American Athletic Conference, Rice on Wednesday announced it has finalized an agreement to officially enter the league in 2023.

Rice — along with UTSA, North Texas, UAB, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte — will jump from Conference USA to the AAC on July 1, 2023.

Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said the announcement “brings Rice athletics a step closer to its very bright future.”

Left out of the Big 12 following the breakup of the Southwest Conference in the mid-1990s, Rice spent eight years in the Western Athletic Conference and eventually joined C-USA in 2005.

The AAC’s agreements with the six new schools — which were spread out over the last five days — ends the latest round of conference realignment that began last summer with Texas and Oklahoma accepting invitations to join the Southeastern Conference. That set off a wave of moves, with the Big 12 adding the University of Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida from the AAC and independent BYU, and the AAC quickly adding six C-USA schools to form a 14-team football league.

On Friday, the AAC said it reached agreements on $18 million exit fees with its three departing schools — who will join the Big 12 on the same date — to pave the way for Rice to finally set a concrete date to join its new league.

As part of the departure, Rice will forfeit two years of revenue distribution, an amount estimated at $3 million, according to an industry source familiar with the payouts.

The move to the AAC outweighs any short-term loss of revenue, with Rice expected to benefit from an increase in visibility (the AAC has a multimedia rights deal with ESPN) and boost financially. Football-playing schools in the AAC received anywhere from $5.33 million to $9.44 million in revenue distribution, according to tax documents for the 2020-21 fiscal year. C-USA schools receive $500,000.

The AAC’s press release is here. By “prior developments” I mean UH and other officially joining the Big XII in 2023. It just made sense for the AAC to fill out its roster with its new players at the same time. The question still remains about when UT and OU will leave the Big XII for the SEC, but they’re on their own timetable. It’s not a big deal for the most part if those two overlap with the new Big XII members for a season. I hope this conference is more durable and sustainable than previous ones were (I will admit for a fondness for the old and too-short-lived WAC 16, which honestly would have been an awesome conference if certain members hadn’t broken off to form the Mountain West) and that Rice does its part to improve its teams and facilities. It’s been a rough few years for Owl fans. I hope this is the start of something better.

Houston wins its bid to be a 2026 World Cup host

Excellent.

The World Cup is coming to Houston.

FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, chose Houston as one of 16 sites for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, the first edition of the tournament to be co-hosted by three nations: the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Sixty games will be played in the U.S., including all from the quarterfinals on. Canada and Mexico are to host 10 games each.

Houston did not stage matches the last time the U.S. held the World Cup in 1994 — Dallas was the closest venue — but the Bayou City is now getting its shot.

[…]

World Cup games in Houston — likely five or six — will be played in 72,000-capacity NRG Stadium. Chris Canetti, the local bid committee CEO, said he is hopeful Houston hosts some knockout round matches as well as group stage matches. NRG Stadium is not a candidate for the semifinals or finals because FIFA requires a minimum of 80,000 seats for those games. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and AT&T Stadium in Arlington are believed to be the top contenders to stage the final.

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., which hosted the 1994 World Cup final, was left out, as was a combined bid representing Baltimore and Washington, D.C., meaning the United States capital will not play a role in its biggest sporting event in 2026.

FIFA will also select two training sites out of five proposed venues: PNC Stadium, Houston Sports Park, AVEVA Stadium, Rice University and University of Houston.

This will be the first 48-nation World Cup, up from the 32-team format used since 1998. In a tournament likely to run from June 11 to July 12, but possibly start and end a week later, there will be 16 groups of three nations. Each team will play two first-round games instead of three, meaning one nation in each group opens against an opponent who will have already played. The top two in each group advance to a 32-nation knockout bracket.

Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, said some of the last decisions on host cities were not made until Thursday. The decisions, he said, were made “to ensure fans did not have to travel too far, to ensure everyone has a fantastic experience.”

To reduce travel, FIFA plans to group participating teams by region. Houston is in the Central along with Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, Monterrey, Mexico, and Mexico City.

The East region is Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and New York/New Jersey. The West: Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium) and Guadalajara, Mexico.

“This is the biggest, most popular, most prestigious, the most important sporting event in the world,” Canetti said. “Bigger than the Super Bowl, bigger than the Final Four, bigger than the Olympics and for our city to be able to land this event is spectacular. It’s going to be something unlike anything we’ve ever seen here before and it’s going to bring great value and great benefits to our city.”

As noted before, this has been a years-long process, and it’s great to be among the chosen locations at the end of it. You can see a map of the host cities in the story. Congrats to everyone involved. Just let me know when tickets will be on sale. CultureMap has more.

We will learn Houston’s fate as a World Cup site this week

It’s been a long road.

On June 16, FIFA will announce its host cities for the 2026 Men’s World Cup set to be held within the U.S., Canada and Mexico. If Houston is one of the 16 locations chosen for the 48-team tournament, the city’s robust international soccer culture will serve as a prominent backdrop.

The Houston metro area is more racially and ethnically diverse than the United States as a whole, and is notably home to the nation’s fourth-largest Hispanic and Latinx population. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, Harris County’s Hispanic population grew by 363,000 from 2010 to 2020, the largest increase of any county in the United States.

Houston’s global culture is reflected in its two professional soccer teams. The Dynamo’s roster includes players from 13 different countries, including eight in Latin America. Seven countries are represented on the Dash, including Mexico and Argentina.

[…]

As part of the pitch from the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee, in which Dynamo FC majority owner Ted Segal has taken an active role, the Dynamo offered up PNC Stadium and its Houston Sports Park practice ground as locations for training or other events around the World Cup.

That would give the Dynamo some operational responsibility for the tournament. But more importantly, [Dynamo President of Business Operations John] Walker said, “I think it’s about the buzz that it’s going to create in the city for the next four years around soccer.”

“The programming that will go on that leads up to it will be so soccer-focused and we think that’s a benefit to us,” he continued. “Because the more discussion about soccer that is going on in the city, the more relevant it becomes as a sport and hopefully our teams become relevant as well.”

NRG Stadium would serve as the primary venue for World Cup games in Houston. The arena, with a capacity of 72,000, has hosted soccer friendlies featuring powerhouse European clubs FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Manchester United.

The city made its initial pitch in 2017, and survived the first round of cuts the following year. All that was happening while the joint US/Mexico/Canada bid was still competing to be the host countries for the 2026 FIFA World Cup; they were officially named as hosts later in 2018. We got annual updates with not much in the way of actual news after that, and the most recent dispatch was last October. I sure hope we make it after all that. I plan to buy some tickets if we do.

UH will officially join the Big XII in 2023

No use waiting around.

The University of Houston will start play in the Big 12 in 2023 after the school came to an agreement on exit fees with the American Athletic Conference.

The Cougars will pay the AAC $18 million spread over 14 years to leave early and join the Power 5. The school will pay the first $10 million by 2024 with the rest to come in the following 12 years.

The Cougars, Cincinnati and Central Florida, are leaving the AAC and joining the Big 12 along with BYU, which as an indepentend already had announced plans to join in 2023.

The conference shift came after Texas and Oklahoma announced last summer they would leave the Big 12 and move to the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma still say they won’t move until 2025, so the Big 12 could have 14 teams for two seasons unless the schools negotiate an early departure.

The exit of the three schools from the AAC will also impact when Rice will leave Conference-USA to join the AAC along with UTSA, North Texas, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and UAB.

UTSA announced its intent to join the AAC in 2023, while Rice said it hoped to release more information soon.

See here for some background. We noted this possibility in April. As for the exit fees, UH will be able to afford it.

While the Big XII may temporarily swell to 14 members in 2023 – which will make its name no less accurate than it is now, with ten members – I think there’s a strong chance that UT and OU will make their way to the SEC at the same time. UT is already scheduling games with Texas A&M, so really it’s all just paperwork and contract details at this point. By the same token, I’d expect Rice and its fellow C-USA refugees to be fully in the AAC in 2023. It was always the most likely scenario – every other conference reshuffling happened ahead of the originally announced timelines, because once that cat is out of the bag the incentives are very much in favor of moving things along. I’d expect the rest of those dominoes to fall in the coming weeks. CultureMap has more.

The NYT takes a closer look at the Deshaun Watson situation

It’s even worse than it looks.

It is time, Watson and his representatives say, for everyone to move on.

Yet a New York Times examination of records, including depositions and evidence for civil lawsuits as well as interviews of some of the women, showed that Watson engaged in more questionable behavior than previously known.

The Times’ review also showed that Watson’s conduct was enabled — knowingly or not — by the team he played for at the time, the Houston Texans, which provided the venue Watson used for some of the appointments. A team representative also furnished him with a nondisclosure agreement after a woman who is now suing him threatened online to expose his behavior.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, said his client “continues to vehemently deny” the allegations in the lawsuits. He declined to respond in detail to the Times’ questions, but said in a statement, “We can say when the real facts are known this issue will appear in a different light.”

The Texans did not respond to specific questions about Watson’s use of team resources. They said in a statement that they first learned of the allegations against him in March 2021, have cooperated with investigators and “will continue to do so.”

Watson has said publicly that he hired about 40 different therapists across his five seasons in Houston, but the Times’ reporting found that he booked appointments with at least 66 different women in just the 17 months from fall 2019 through spring 2021. A few of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undercut Watson’s insistence that he was only seeking professional massage therapy.

One woman, who did not sue Watson or complain to police, told the Times that he was persistent in his requests for sexual acts during their massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,’” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy. “And that’s when I went into asking him, ‘What is it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up everything.’”

[…]

Since the first wave of suits were filed against Watson last year, the main allegations against him have become familiar. Women complained that Watson turned massages sexual without their consent, including purposely touching them with his penis and coercing sexual acts.

It’s not clear when he began looking for so many different women to give him massages. Hardin has said his client needed to book appointments “ad hoc” when the coronavirus pandemic began, though Watson began working with numerous women before then.

Not all of the women who gave Watson massages between October 2019 and March 2021 have detailed their interactions with him. Some who have shared their experiences say they had no problems with him. Others describe troubling — and similar — behaviors.

The 66 women are:

— The 24 who have sued him, including two who filed suits within the last week. In the most recent suit, the woman said Watson masturbated during the massage.

— A woman who sued but then withdrew the complaint because of “privacy and security concerns.”

— Two women who filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.

— At least 15 therapists who issued statements of support for Watson at the request of his lawyers and gave him massages during that period.

— At least four therapists from Genuine Touch, the massage therapy group contracted with the Texans.

— Five women identified by the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the investigation for their civil suits.

— At least 15 other women whose appointments with Watson were confirmed through interviews and records reviewed by the Times.

A deeper look at the lawsuits, including a review of private messages entered as evidence, shows the lengthy efforts by Watson to book massages and the methods he used to assure women that he could be trusted.

It’s a long story and worth your time to read. Here’s a brief Twitter thread from the story’s author, if you need more of a preview. Remember that the NFL still has not said what its investigation has revealed or what its discipline for Watson will be, and please note as Sean Pendergast pointed out, there could still be more criminal charges against Watson, as the most recent accusers were not part of the original grand jury hearings. Every day this story gets worse, and we’re not finished with it yet. Defector has more.

Get ready to start raking in the cash, UH

Money, money, money.

As the athletic director at Texas, Chris Del Conte is the CEO of one of the richest college athletic departments in the nation. He also knows what it’s like to have to make every penny count.

At TCU, Del Conte oversaw the school’s transition from the Mountain West to the Big 12 in 2012. As a member of the Mountain West, part of the so-called Group of Five, TCU never received more than $2 million in annual payout. So, when the Horned Frogs joined the Power Five, a change of address to the high-rent district of college athletes, you can imagine the shock of a few extra zeroes in the bank statement.

And that was before TCU became a fully vested member in its fourth year in the Big 12.

“Not right away, but there was for sure,” Del Conte said of the impact of an increased revenue flow for the Fort Worth private school. “The economics changed completely. There’s a big jump.”

A similar increase in revenue awaits the University of Houston, which along with BYU, Cincinnati and Central Florida, could join the Big 12 as early as 2023.

Upon entry, UH won’t see anywhere close to the $42.6 million the Big 12 announced Friday on the final day of its spring meetings, but the not-yet-announced revenue distribution for the incoming schools will be a considerably more than the current setup in the American Athletic Conference.

UH received $8.52 million as part of its annual revenue payout from the AAC, according to tax documents for the 2020-21 fiscal year. That was the second-highest total among AAC schools behind Cincinnati ($9.44 million), according to the Orlando Sentinel. UH’s revenue payout was nearly double the $4.43 million in 2021 and $4.354 million in 2020.

Once UH joins the Big 12, it can expect a similar framework for revenue payouts as TCU and West Virginia, the last two teams to join the league in 2012. The two schools received staggered shares for three years, receiving 50 percent in Year 1, 67 percent in Year 2 and 84 percent in Year 3 before becoming fully vested in the fourth year.

[…]

What could the revenue payout look like for UH? Based on this year’s Big 12 payout of $42.6 million — much of that coming from TV revenue — and again the following two years, which would represent UH’s first in the league. That would translate into at least $20 million in Year 1 and at least $26 million in Year 2. After that is unknown as the Big 12’s TV deal with ESPN and Fox is set to expire in 2025, which coincides with Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the Southeastern Conference.

Last summer, Bowlsby told Texas lawmakers that the remaining eight schools could lose 50 percent, or about $14 million per year, in TV revenue upon Texas and Oklahoma’s departure.

So that’s more than double the revenue early on, with the possibility of a significant drop that would put them close to where they are now. That’s a lot hinging on that next TV contract. I suspect the Big XII will be fine – we’re unlikely to run low on demand for college football and basketball on the tube – but it does suggest a bit of caution before going all in on whatever expensive new toys are out there. Good luck figuring it out, y’all.

What is going on with the Houston Dash?

Nothing good.

The Dash have suspended coach and general manager James Clarkson, who is being investigated by the NWSL and its players association.

The suspension came “in light of initial findings received this week,” the Dash said.

The team opens its regular season Sunday and will name an interim coach during the investigation.

“As an organization, our highest priority is creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment for our players and staff, which we believe is critical to our success on the pitch,” the team said in its statement. “The Club has made counseling services available to all members of the organization interested.”

The investigation is part of a recent initiative by the women’s soccer league to review current and historic complaints of discrimination, harassment and abuse.

Last year, several NWSL managers were fired for verbal abuse, including former OL Reign manager Farid Benstiti and former Washington Spirit manager Richie Burke. Former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley was fired for allegedly engaging in the sexual coercion of players during his time as manager of the Portland Thorns.

When it was revealed that the various NWSL stakeholders were aware of the circumstances under which Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

The league and the union agreed that league personnel would voluntarily take part in the union’s investigation of sexual misconduct, and that there be total transparency by the league in terms of other ongoing investigations.

Clarkson has been head coach since 2018, and with the team since it was founded, along with the NWSL, in 2014. The new NWSL Commissioner says this is a good sign that the new process is working.

New National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman said Wednesday that while it’s disappointing another league coach has been accused of misconduct, programs that were implemented in the wake of last season’s league scandals have helped make sure players’ concerns are addressed.

[…]

“This is the manifestation of the process that the league and the players’ association put in place which provided a pathway for individuals to bring forward issues and for those issues to be investigated and managed appropriately,” Berman said. “And so while we never like to have situations like this happen, the fact that the process worked the way it was intended to, and that all of the appropriate parties worked together on the interim solution and the next steps was really important and constructive overall for the progress that the league is making on this issue.”

Berman, who began her job April 20, said she could not address the specifics of the investigation because it is ongoing.

Clarkson is the longest-tenured coach in the NWSL. He was the only head coach still with his team who was coach at the start of last NWSL season. All the others have either voluntarily left the league for new opportunities, gone to other teams within the league, resigned or were dismissed because of alleged misconduct.

I guess you could call it a good sign, but it sure is a bad look overall. Though to be fair, it’s not just the NWSL.

The University of Florida announced it fired women’s soccer coach Tony Amato after just one season with the program. The move comes after players complained about how Amato treated them and a large number chose to transfer from the program.

“We have worked diligently with Tony since last fall when I first became aware of challenges with relationship building and communication,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “As the issues continued to be brought to my attention, it became apparent that sufficient progress was not being made and Tony was not a fit for the University of Florida.”

Florida hired Amato away from Arizona last year, after the coach spent eight years with the Wildcats. In total, Amato has been a head coach in each of the last 19 seasons for four different schools.

The Gators went 4-12-4 in their first year under Amato. However, according to Payton Titus of WUFT, players had complained that Amato “pressured them about eating habits and their bodies” last year. Amato was reportedly strict over what the players ate, to the point that some players said they had developed eating disorders as a result.

There’s a range of behaviors here, and we don’t know what James Clarkson is alleged to have done. There may not be anything in common between his actions and those of Tony Amato, but I think we can agree that Amato’s behavior falls into the bucket of things that can be called abusive, and that’s the larger issue with the NWSL. As I said, it’s a bad look, wherever it’s happening. I hope that league really has taken a substantive step towards fixing it.

No collegiate gymnastics in Texas

I did not know this.

Ragan Smith did not lack options when it came to choosing a college, as tends to happen when you’re an elite gymnast with a national title on your resume.

One option was unavailable to Smith. It doesn’t exist.

Texas, the site of this week’s NCAA women’s gymnastics championships, the state that’s produced Olympic champions Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin and Simone Biles, the state that has over 20 colleges and universities currently classified as Division I, the state that features some of the most prominent gymnastics programs in the country if not the world, has exactly six women’s gymnastics scholarships available, all of them at Division II Texas Woman’s University.

That meant that Smith, who moved from Georgia to the Dallas suburbs as a 13-year-old to train at the gym owned by former world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Kim Zmeskal, had to leave Texas to compete at the Division I level.

“All these great clubs are in Texas, and you would think (the big schools) would have a program,” Smith said. “But they really don’t.”

Things worked out just fine for Smith, now a junior at Oklahoma. She and the Sooners will aim for their fourth national title in eight years on Saturday when they take on Florida, Auburn and Utah at Dickie’s Arena, the opulent facility located less than three miles from the TCU campus.

The Horned Frogs offer 13 varsity women’s sports, including equestrian, rifle and triathlon. Just not gymnastics.

It’s the same at Texas (which offers rowing, among others), Baylor (which has acrobatics and tumbling, a cousin of artistic gymnastics), Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston and Rice and all the rest. Contacted this week by The Associated Press, representatives at Texas and Texas A&M both indicated there are no plans to offer women’s gymnastics as a varsity sport.

[…]

There are 12 full scholarships available at Division I women’s gymnastics programs, with a move being made to potentially expand the number to 14. Throw in training, travel, coaching salaries and everything else, and it’s not cheap to launch a competitive team. Add in the ripple effects of Title IX — which requires “ athletic interests and abilities of male and female students must be equally and effectively accommodated ” — and the math can be tricky.

Still, there is hope in some places that women’s gymnastics can be “revenue neutral.” It’s a model LSU coach Jay Clark hopes his program can reach by the end of the decade, though the Tigers may be the exception. LSU is typically among the national leaders in average attendance and drew an average of 11,691 fans to their five home meets this season, tops in the country.

While adding scholarships could be a hurdle for potential programs to navigate, Clark sees it as a supply and demand issue.

“We haven’t had an increase since 1995 and the pool of talent has grown four-fold,” he said.

He’s not joking. Within the last decade the number of active Level 10 gymnasts — which comprises the vast majority of college athletes — has nearly doubled from 1,600 to nearly 3,100.

As you can see, OU’s gymnastics team went on to win that national championship, so indeed all worked out well for Ragan Smith. I confess, I had just assumed that schools like UT and A&M would have had women’s gymnastics programs, because why wouldn’t they? Sure, a gymnastics program might cost a few bucks, but have you seen what schools like these pay their football and (mostly men’s but increasingly now women’s) basketball coaches? If there’s one thing I expect these big schools at the Power Five conferences to be able to do, it’s extract enough money from TV networks, advertisers, and fat-cat boosters to cover whatever expenses they have and then some. Obviously, there hasn’t been the demand for that largesse to include these programs as yet. Given how popular gymnastics is overall, and how many alumni must have had daughters that competed in gymnastics as kids, I’m a little amazed by that.

Big XII may get temporarily bigger

The dominoes fall when they fall.

Next week, the Big 12 plans to discuss the future of the conference regarding its expansion, per Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger.

Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are expected to join the Big 12 in the 2023–24 academic year, potentially joining the conference before Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC by the ’25 academic year.

Per The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, the American Athletic Conference still has to sign off on the three schools exit. The process so far has been amicable.

“No agreement has been reached to permit the three (UCF, Houston, Cincinnati) to leave early,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told Auerbach. “Our negotiations are continuing.”

Though their joining was already expected, the negotiations are expected to be finalized in the next week, according to Dellenger. BYU will also be joining the Big 12 in all sports, not just football.

There is a possibility that there will be 14 teams in the Big 12 during the 2023 and ’24 seasons. Conference officials will be meeting next week to discuss how a larger team pool could work, examining all possibilities including divisions and whether there should be eight or nine league games.

See here and here for some background. An early exit from the AAC by UH, UCF, and Cincinnati might hasten the arrival of its new members as well. Thing might be slightly less complicated if UT and OU are able to officially join the SEC in time for the 2023 season – which I have always thought would happen – but that’s a different domino. I feel like now that this one is in motion, the rest may follow, but we’ll see.

Houston Comets 2.0?

I’d be happy to see the WNBA come back to Houston.

From 1997 to 2000, legendary players Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, and Sheryl Swoops led the Houston Comets to the first four national WNBA titles. The team was a dynasty: To this day, it’s the only franchise to win four consecutive championships.

But when the league tips off on May 6 this year, it will mark more than a decade since Houstonians have rooted for a hometown team.

The Comets dissolved in 2008 due to financial problems. Since then, many fans have wondered when conditions might be right for the WNBA to expand again, and what it would take to bring a team back to the Bayou City.

As the league reaches an all-time high in popularity, fans and experts say now is the time.

“If you love women’s basketball, and you love the history of women’s basketball, like I do, like so many others do,” said Howard Megdal, founder and editor at The Next: A Women’s Basketball Newsroom, “it almost feels like a crime that there isn’t a WNBA team in Houston.”

The Comets folded during a decade of WNBA contraction – the league went from 16 teams in 2000 down to the current 12.

But it’s a much different story today: The league, affectionately known as the W among fans, saw decade-high viewership last season, and reported record social media engagement and merchandise sales. Ahead of the 26th season in May, the W raised the most capital in its history at $75 million dollars.

“The idea that there would be a significant expansion in the WNBA within two to four years,” said Megdal, “that seems like a perfectly reasonable time frame, as far as I can tell.”

The league has not publicly committed to expansion, but Megdal said its sounded more open to the idea since the capital raise. He’s watching to see what cities emerge as viable markets at a time when investment in women’s sports is going up exponentially.

But if the city does hope to see a WNBA team, Megdal said it needs stable ownership willing to make an investment – including a place to play.

That latter point is critical. Last season during the playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury were not able to play on the team’s home court due to a scheduling conflict with its shared arena, a move widely criticized among fans. The only W team currently in Texas shares its stadium: the Dallas Wings play on the University of Texas at Arlington campus.

In Houston, fans say they want a place to house the legacy of the Comets, plus a hometown team to root for.

We were season ticket holders for the Comets for eight years, starting in the venue formerly known as The Summit, then to Toyota Center, and then the last year at the godawful Reliant Arena, which was easily the worst place I’ve ever had to watch sporting events in. By that time, the Rockets had sold their interest in the Comets to a local furniture store owner (no, not Mattress Mack), and it was clear the team had little cash flow. I doubt that would be an issue now, and I’d expect a new WNBA franchise would be able to play at Toyota Center. The Comets always had a passionate fan base at its core, though the total audience shrank over time as the team got farther away from its glory days. I think a new team would start out with no trouble drawing fans, and from there it would be up to them. I’d be happy to see the league come back to Houston. I don’t know when it might happen, or even if, but I do hope it’s out there.

Texans added to Brian Flores’ discrimination suit against the NFL

Of note.

Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores amended his class action racial discrimination lawsuit Thursday to include allegations that the Texans retaliated against him by removing him from consideration for their head coach vacancy because he sued the NFL and spoke publicly about systemic discrimination in the league.

The lawsuit claims Houston’s “blatant” retaliation “is clear” because the franchise backed away from potentially hiring former quarterback Josh McCown, a white candidate with no NFL coaching experience, after Flores initially sued the league Feb. 1 and instead hired a Black candidate by promoting defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.

The swift pivot by decision-makers, the lawsuit said, made clear the Texans were concerned that hiring McCown would support the allegations of racial discrimination, “particularly given” the franchise had just fired David Culley, who is Black, after one season as head coach. The lawsuit also suggests the Texans made “this retaliatory decision” on its own or that the NFL “pressured” them not to hire Flores after he filed the lawsuit. The league declined to comment on that claim through spokesman Brian McCarthy.

[…]

The Texans hired Smith on Feb. 7, and he later said he didn’t know when he officially became a finalist. Caserio did not specify when Smith became a possibility, saying there was “no direct line” in his head coaching search and noting that Smith was under contract and visited with the McNair family after the season was over.

Flores’ attorneys said in statement that day that while Flores was “happy to hear” the Texans hired a Black candidate in Smith, “it is obvious that the only reason Mr. Flores was not selected was his decision to stand up against racial inequality across the NFL.”

The amended lawsuit repeated that Smith’s hiring “is a positive thing,” but added “it is equally problematic that the reason that the Texans did not hire Mr. Flores in the first place was because he filed this lawsuit and opposed systemic racism in the NFL.”

Caserio said during Smith’s introductory news conference that Flores’ lawsuit “didn’t affect us at all” and dismissed the notion the Texans were planning to hire McCown by saying “there were never plans to hire anybody until we kind of arrived at an endpoint.”

I didn’t blog about this as it was happening, and I skipped over a lot of the timeline details in the story, so read the whole thing if this is not familiar to you. As someone who followed this story, it was always bizarre that the Texans were fixated on Josh McCown, who had not done any coaching at any level. Flores had seemed like a good fit for the team, and then he filed his lawsuit and the next thing you knew the Texans’s short list was Lovie Smith. I will generally attribute incompetence and organizational chaos to the Texans ahead of malice in most things, but this is just so weird that it makes sense for Flores to add the Texans to his complaint. If nothing else, the possibility that the NFL might have intervened, to “persuade” the Texans not to hire a totally inexperienced white guy after firing one of the two Black head coaches in the league so as not to make the NFL look even worse at a critical time, is too great to overlook. We’ll see what comes of it.

“Due diligence”

I’m just gonna leave this right here.

The Browns said they did due diligence before agreeing to give Deshaun Watson a $230 million contract and complete a trade with the Texans.

Watson is facing 22 civil suits for sexual harassment or assault but a Harris County grand jury recently declined to indict the quarterback on nine cases. The NFL said its investigation is ongoing.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson,“ Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a team news release on Sunday. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.

“We also understand there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing and we will respect due process.”

Last week, the Haslams flew to Houston with general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski and met with Watson.

“He was humble, sincere and candid,” the Haslams said. “In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field. … We are confident in Deshaun and excited about moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”

The civil litigation involving Watson remains ongoing. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, said Tuesday “there’s no discussion” about settling any of the cases. Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed lawsuits, has been deposing Watson in four-to-six hour blocks and said it could be well beyond April before the cases are potentially brought before a jury in civil court.

The Browns have not reached out to Buzbee or his clients, the attorney said Friday.

Emphasis mine. Yeah, I don’t think that’s how “due diligence” works. But thanks for taking full responsibility for whatever happens next. The Hang Up and Listen podcast (segment three, fast forward to about the 48 minute mark if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing), which notes that no other team did any more “due diligence” than Cleveland did, has more.

Deshaun Watson traded to Cleveland

He’s someone else’s problem now.

The Texans have traded Deshaun Watson to the Browns. The quarterback waived his no-trade clause for Cleveland after initially eliminating the franchise, a person with knowledge of the negotiation said, but Watson reversed his decision Friday after the Browns offered a five-year contract worth $230 million.

The new contract, which is fully guaranteed, preceded the terms of the trade. The Texans will receive Cleveland’s first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024, the Browns’ 2023 third-round pick and 2024 fourth-round pick.

Once finalized, the trade will end one of the longest and messiest divorces in Houston sports history. The 14 month-long saga began with the former franchise quarterback’s trade demand and ended after a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson following a criminal investigation that was triggered by 22 women who filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during various massage therapy sessions.

The blockbuster trade did not yield the second-round picks that were part of the returns second-year general manager Nick Caserio solidly requested for almost a year, but it remains enough capital to reinforce the new regime’s efforts to sculpt the franchise in their own image.

The rebuilding franchise also cleared Watson’s previous four-year, $156 million contract extension off the books, which immediately boosts Houston’s roster budget as the free agency period begins. Caserio has made frugal signings so far by re-signing 15 players and acquiring nine other veteran players, but the executive now has the financial freedom to become more aggressive.

Meanwhile, the civil litigation involving Watson remains ongoing. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, said Tuesday “there’s no discussion” about settling any of the cases. Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed lawsuits, has been deposing Watson in four-to-six hour blocks and said it could be well beyond April before the cases are potentially brought before a jury in civil court.

The NFL has yet to render a decision from its own investigation into Watson. The league could potentially suspend for an unknown number of future games, although it’s possible a punishment won’t be handed down until the civil litigation ends.

Not really much to say here. Once there were no charges filed against Watson, everything fell into place for him to be traded, as teams were willing to live with whatever civil action (and likely league suspension) would happen, just not criminal penalties. Watson himself basically dictated the terms thanks to his no trade clause. And now he’s gone, and whatever one might have once felt about him and his abilities on the field, that’s gone as well. I’ll keep an eye on those civil cases because they do matter even if they no longer truly affect his football career, but I’m happy to not think about Deshaun Watson otherwise. Good riddance. Rivers McCown and Sean Pendergast have more.

The COVID College Football Playoffs

Wow.

If a team is unavailable to play in College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve because of COVID-19 issues, the game will be forfeited and the available team will advance to the championship.

With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country due to the omicron variant, the CFP announced Wednesday contingency plans for the semifinals and national championship game, which is scheduled for Jan. 10 in Indianapolis but could be delayed as much as four days.

No. 1 Alabama is scheduled to face No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl in one Dec. 31 semifinal and No. 2 Michigan is set to play No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl in the nightcap of the CFP doubleheader.

[…]

As college basketball faced a wave of cancellations and postponements due to the omicron surge over the last week, it seemed only a matter of time before it impacted bowl season.

“As we prepare for the Playoff, it’s wise and necessary to put into place additional precautions to protect those who will play and coach the games,” College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said in a statement. “These policies will better protect our students and staffs while providing clarity in the event worst-case scenarios result.”

The contingency plans were agreed to by the CFP management committee, comprised of the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director.

The CFP said each school will be responsible for determining whether it has a sufficient number of available players.

While there will be no rescheduling of either semifinal, the championship game could be delayed until as late as Jan. 14.

If a team cannot play in the title game, the available team will be declared national champion. If neither team has enough available players by Jan. 14, the championship will be considered vacated.

For the semifinals, if both teams scheduled to play each other are unavailable, that game shall be declared a no contest and the winner of the the other semifinal will be declared national champion.

If three semifinal teams are unavailable to play on Dec. 31, the team that is able to play will be declared national champion.

On the one hand, that’s the sober and safe and responsible thing to do. Much better to cancel the game than to put the athletes at risk, which includes a greater risk of injury if their team is especially short-handed. On the other hand, it’s completely bonkers, and I have a hard time imagining that the people with zillions of dollars at stake – the TV networks, the NCAA itself, the schools and conferences involved – will just let any of these games be canceled, whatever the consequences for playing them may be. As the story notes, the teams are working to get their players boosted, and are trying to keep them sufficiently isolated from outside contact, but all it takes is one guy getting sick to put it all at risk. ESPN and CBS Sports have more.

And just a reminder that this is a thing that could happen.

Texas A&M became the first college football team to be sidelined by COVID-19 and the recent omicron surge.

The Aggies will not play in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve because of an outbreak that left the team without enough players, the school announced on Wednesday.

Texas A&M’s decision to withdraw from the game against Wake Forest comes amid a coronavirus surge across the nation and is the first impact on the college bowl season.

“It is unfortunate, but we just don’t have enough scholarship players available to field a team,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.

I applaud Texas A&M for making the right choice, which I’m sure was not easy for them to make. But let’s not kid ourselves, the stakes are lower here than they would be in the CFP. Remember the “oh, shit” moment we all had when the NBA paused its season following Rudy Gobert’s positive test, and the NCAA tournament was canceled, and MLB spring training got postponed? That’s what we’re on the edge of here. Hope for the best, for everyone involved.