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UT prepares for fantasy football

I have no idea what they’re thinking.

The University of Texas at Austin will kick off the football season Sept. 5, albeit with a stadium open at half its capacity, athletics officials told ticket holders Monday.

While both NCAA and Big 12 Conference officials have yet announce firm decisions on how college football will proceed as schools grapple with the pandemic, Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte sent an email Monday to season ticket holders announcing the season would move forward as planned.

“I want you to know that as we are working toward hosting football games this season, our number one priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and fans,” Del Conte wrote.

To align with capacity restrictions designated by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this summer, Del Conte said seating at the Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium will be reduced to 50% to facilitate social distancing, meaning around 50,000 Longhorns could potentially be seated in stands next fall.

The decision comes on the heels of an outbreak among student athletes shortly after they arrived on campus to begin voluntary summer workouts. The school also reported its first death, a staff member, earlier this month. There have been more than 500 COVID-19 cases at UT-Austin since March, according to the school’s dashboard.

But officials have pushed forward with kicking off the football season as planned. The annual game between the Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners occurs during the State Fair of Texas, which organizers canceled this year. Still, Del Conte said earlier this month that the game will be played.

I mean, I know that Greg Abbott says its OK, but there’s just no way on God’s field-turfed Earth that this makes any sense. I certainly hope that we will have this current outbreak under some control by September 5, but does anyone think that virus levels will be low enough to allow for this kind of mass gathering? Again, I remind you, professional sports is gingerly and haltingly trying to play games in front of empty stadia, in some cases with teams that have been and will continue to be completely isolated from the rest of the world. What makes the NCAA think they can do better than that?

(Can you imagine being the owner of a restaurant that’s classified as a bar, or a winery, or a craft brewery with a beer garden and reading this story? The risk assessment here is just off the charts wacko.)

(Apparently, the beer gardens can reopen now. If they are aware of this very quiet decision, anyway.)

OK, I get that Chris Del Conte needs to address his season ticket holders, and assure them that the Longhorns are on top of this situation, and that if by some miracle they can play football in front of fans this year, UT has a plan to accommodate as many of them as they can. But geez, this is amazingly tone deaf.

Meanwhile, in something closer to the real world.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference on Monday became the latest conference to move its fall athletic calendar to the spring of 2021 due to concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The safety of its student-athletes was at the forefront of the decision.

“We’re still going to play football. It’s just a matter of moving it to the spring,” Texas Southern football coach Clarence McKinney said. “I like the decision. It gives us a chance to slow down and come up with a true plan to protect our student-athletes.”

Texas Southern, along with Prairie View A&M, is part of the SWAC’s five-state footprint that includes schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Other fall sports impacted in the move are volleyball, cross country and soccer.

A part of the Football Championship Subdivision, the SWAC will go to a seven-game schedule in the spring of 2021, with the conference championship game hopefully to be played no later than April 30. Each football team will play six conference games (four divisional/two nondivisional) with an option to play one nonconference game.

I like their chances better than I like UT’s, I’ll say that much.

High school sports pushed back a bit

Just a guess, but I’d bet this winds up being redone at least once more before any actual sports get played.

The University Interscholastic League is delaying the start of high school football’s regular season to Sept. 24 for Class 6A and 5A schools with the state championships moved to January.

The change is part of the league’s altered fall sports schedule for the 2020-2021 school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For 6A and 5A schools, the first day of football practice and volleyball practice is now Sept. 7; volleyball’s regular season starts Sept. 14 with state championships Dec. 11-12; cross country meets and team tennis matches start Sept. 7; cross country’s state championship meet is Dec. 5 and team tennis’ state championships are Nov. 11-12.

Schools in Class 4A through Class 1A are remaining on the original schedule. For 1A-4A: football and volleyball practice begins Aug. 3; volleyball’s regular season starts Aug. 10; football regular season’s Aug. 27; volleyball’s state championships are Nov. 18-21; football’s state championships are Dec. 16-19.

The high school football playoffs for 6A and 5A schools are slated for an early December start with the district certification deadline of Dec. 5. For volleyball in these classifications, the deadline is Nov. 17.

[…]

In comparison with like-minded high school athletics governing bodies in Texas, The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools delayed the start of fall practice to Sept. 8 with competition beginning Sept. 21 and football season kicking off Sept. 28. The Southwest Preparatory Conference also delayed competition for its schools to Sept. 8 with conference games not occurring until the week of Sept. 21, at the earliest.

The California Interscholastic Federation is delaying its entire high school sports schedule with its football teams set to play its first games in late December or early January.

The Trib adds some more detail.

Marching bands across the state can begin their curriculums on Sept. 7.

The organization also issued guidance on face coverings, protocols for individuals exposed to COVID-19 and how to set up meeting areas like band halls and locker rooms.

Anyone 10 years or older must wear a face covering or face shield when in an area where UIL activities are underway, including when not actively participating in the sport or activity. People are exempt from the rule if they have a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, while eating or drinking or in a body of water.

Some schools won’t have to follow UIL’s face covering rule if they are in a county with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases that has been approved for exemption by the Texas Department of Emergency Management. In that situation masks can still be mandated if the local school system implements the requirements locally, according to the press release. UIL still “strongly” encourages face coverings in exempt schools.

As the Chron story notes, many school districts have already announced the will begin the year as online-only, per the new TEA guidelines. Students at those schools will still be eligible to participate in UIL extracurriculars, which also includes music. This is from the Texas UIL Twitter feed:

The “Class” stuff refers to school size, where 6A and 5A are the largest schools – this classification used to stop at 5A, but suburban schools kept getting larger. It’s not clear to me why smaller schools – and 4A schools are still pretty big – are exempt from the schedule delay. In the end I don’t think it matters, because unless we really turn things around in the next couple of weeks it’s still not going to be safe, and the UIL will have to revisit this again. Don’t be surprised if in the end, everything gets delayed till the spring. The DMN has more.

Will college football shift to the spring?

Maybe.

[Dell] Billings, who graduated from A&M in 1995, also realizes it’s looking more like the brakes are about to be mashed on any “full speed ahead” approach, perhaps within a few weeks.

“I can’t see how we would be in the stands at Kyle Field when you have situations like ‘The Basketball Tournament’ that’s happening on ESPN right now and there are no fans,” Billings said. “That’s just a small tournament. How are you going to put 100,000 people inside a stadium in September?”

That is the multimillion-dollar question, one A&M, the Southeastern Conference and the rest of college football likely must answer by the end of this month.

“We said from the onset of this pandemic that circumstances around the virus would guide our decision-making, and it’s clear recent developments related to COVID-19 have not been trending in the right direction,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said this week. “There are important decisions to be made in the coming weeks, and by late July there should be more clarity about the fall season.”

The Ivy League on Wednesday is expected to announce that it will shift its football schedule to the spring semester. One Power Five administrator told The Athletic that could lead to a domino effect in college football.

“My suspicion is the majority of presidents in the (Football Bowl Subdivision) are uncomfortable with the notion of playing football this fall, but for various reasons don’t want to be the first to step out and say that,” the administrator told the website, adding that the Ivy League’s bold salvo “provides the cover” for others to follow suit.

The Ivy League has in fact suspended its fall sports schedule, including football. Other conferences are now taking baby steps in that direction.

The ACC will delay the start of competition for all fall sports until at least Sept. 1, the league announced Thursday. The move, which follows a similar decision by the Patriot League, will affect several sports, including soccer and field hockey, but not football.

The league said that affected games might be rescheduled and that there’s an understanding that cancellation of nonconference games will not result in financial penalties.

The ACC’s decision to delay the start of the fall season is the first by a Power 5 conference. The Patriot League has pushed its start back until Sept. 4, and the Ivy League announced the cancellation of all fall sports earlier this week.

The ACC’s football schedule is set to begin on Sept. 2 when NC State visits Louisville.

The decision was unanimously approved by the ACC board of directors.

As that story notes, while the football schedule hasn’t been affected yet, multiple schools have had to suspend workouts due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The Big Ten has taken a different tack, cancelling all non-conference games. I don’t know what’s going to happen – pushing everything off till spring seems like a remote possibility at this time, at least for the big conferences – but having stadia packed with fans seems even crazier now. I’ll say this much – if the various pro sports leagues are successfully operating as of August, then maybe the NCAA can do so as well. But if the pros can’t do it, there’s no way in hell the collegians can do it.

Fauci and football

I hate to rain on your tailgate, but…

The NFL is planning to begin its season on time, but Dr. Anthony Fauci pulled the reins on that optimistic view Wednesday.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

The NBA and MLS are planning to resume their seasons in July with players in a bubble. So far, the NFL hasn’t publicly discussed that option. A bubble also seems particularly untenable for college football teams on school campuses.

“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches, and other essential personnel,” the NFL’s chief medical offers Dr. Allen Sills told ESPN on Thursday. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts, and other sports leagues.

“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”

The NFL has maintained that training camps will start in late July and its regular season will begin as scheduled with the Texans playing at Kansas City on Sept. 10.

Don’t anyone tell Greg Abbott or Ross Bjork about this. That story appeared a day before we got stories about MLB and NHL teams closing their training facilities following positive COVID-19 tests. We’ve already seen other stories about NFL and NCAA teams doing the same. It’s more than fair to ask if teams can even keep their own people safe, let alone their customers. I’m as ready as anyone to see my favorite sports leagues and teams again. I just want it to be done safely, and right now the evidence that can be done at this time is not abundant.

What kind of college football season will there be?

News item: Governor says to expect half-full stadiums for college football.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told athletic directors from the state’s largest schools to expect 50 percent capacity at football games this fall, USA Today reported, but Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork is remaining optimistic.

With more than 80 days to Texas A&M’s first scheduled game against Abilene Christian at Kyle Field, Bjork said this is no time for absolutes when determining college attendance in the late summer and fall, based on the global pandemic.

“As of today, we still have time on our side,” Bjork said Saturday. “And we will not make decisions based on incomplete information.”

USA Today reported that Abbott met with the dozen athletic directors from the state’s Football Bowl Subdivision programs via teleconference Friday, and “told them not to expect capacity at their stadiums to be above 50 percent this fall.”

“The governor was very gracious with his time and provided us with insights into the current situation,” Bjork responded Saturday. “It’s disappointing that information from the meeting leaked since the discussion was meant to be confidential, and I will not disclose the details of the conversation and violate Gov. Abbott’s trust.”

Bjork, hired by A&M a year ago from the same position at Mississippi, added: “As we’ve learned throughout this unprecedented situation, everything remains fluid, and there are a number of scenarios for attending upcoming pro and college sporting events.”

Bjork has expressed confidence this month that Kyle Field might be near its capacity of more than 100,000 as the fall schedule presses on. The Aggies are scheduled to host ACU on Sept. 5 in coach Jimbo Fisher’s third season.

Emphasis mine, and the Chron has a separate story expanding on Bjork’s rather optimistic hypothesis. Abbott had previously stated that he expected college football to be played, though he didn’t specify at what capacity the stadia might be. I will remind you that at this point, all of the professional sports leagues, from the ones that are now playing to those that are still planning their comebacks, are playing in empty arenas. It’s impossible for me to square that with the likes of Kyle Field at full capacity. They can’t both be right.

And on that note, we have this:

The University of Houston abruptly halted voluntary workouts Friday after six student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

In a release, UH said it was suspending workouts – which began June 1 with football and men’s and women’s basketball – “out of an abundance of caution.” The school said the six symptomatic student-athletes had been placed in isolation and contract tracing procedures have been initiated.

The announcement comes nearly two weeks since voluntary workouts began and as the Houston area has seen a recent surge in positive tests for COVID-19.

UH becomes the first school to suspend athletic activities since the NCAA cleared the return of student-athletes back to campus following a nearly three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UH only tested student-athletes that showed symptoms or came from areas that had a high number of positive cases, a person with knowledge of the protocol told the Houston Chronicle earlier this week. Athletic officials have declined comment.

In other words, there are others they didn’t test that might possibly be positive as well. The story lists fourteen other schools that have reported athletes with positive COVID-19 tests, including three in the SEC. It is very likely that all of these athletes will recover fully – I certainly hope they all do – and now that they have been tested they can be quarantined so as not to pass the virus on to anyone else. UH is the only school in this story that actually stopped its voluntary workouts as a result of this, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. My point here is that whatever the likes of Greg Abbott and Ross Bjork may say or do, they ultimately have very little control over this virus. And as I keep saying, they don’t seem to have much of a plan for it, either.

UPDATE: Welp.

Several Texans and Cowboys players have tested positive for COVID-19, including Dallas star running back Ezekiel Elliott, according to the NFL Network.

The players who tested positive reportedly weren’t in attendance at their team facilities, which have remained closed due to NFL restrictions limiting their use only to rehabilitating injured players during this global pandemic. Both teams have followed medical protocols.

[…]

NFL teams, including the Texans, have taken steps to ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff. The Texans created a new position, hiring a facility hygiene coordinator earlier this offseason. The Texans are believed to be the first professional sports team to add this type of specialized position.

The intention is to minimize the risk factor of getting or spreading COVID-19 and supervise the custodial staff, which is provided by Aramark.

I know, that’s NFL, not NCAA. My point is, it’s not just a question of whether or not it’s safe to have fans in the stands. There’s still the little matter of whether it’s actually safe to have the players practice and play together.

UT athletes take a stand

Good for them.

Several athletes at the University of Texas at Austin are refusing to participate in recruiting incoming players or show up at donor-related events if university and athletics officials fail to respond to a list of demands geared toward supporting black students, according to a statement posted Friday afternoon by dozens of the student athletes on Twitter.

Brennan Eagles, the school’s sophomore wide receiver, and Brandon Jones, a senior defensive back, were among the students who posted the statement, detailing a list of actions Longhorn athletes want the university’s athletics department to take. These include donating 0.5% of the department’s annual earnings to the Black Lives Matter movement and black organizations, establishing a permanent black athletic history exhibit in the Athletics Hall of Fame and renaming parts of the football stadium after Julius Whittier, the first black football letterman at UT-Austin.

In addition to demands specific to the athletics department, athletes also want UT officials to rename campus buildings named after Texans who were proponents of segregation or held other racist views, remove a statue of prominent segregationist James Hogg and discontinue the school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” which has ties to minstrel shows and was created during segregation. Other calls to action include requiring a module on the history of racism at UT and increasing outreach efforts to inner-city schools in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“We, as student athletes, and collectively as the University of Texas Longhorn football team, are aware that we are an athletic department made up of many black athletes, and believe that it is time we become active on our campus,” the statement reads.

Athletes will continue to practice and participate in workouts and team activities this summer but are asking for a “plan for implementation” before the fall semester begins.

[…]

After a widely circulated petition and statements from more than 100 student organizations, the larger UT student body sent a letter detailing student demands to interim President Jay Hartzell earlier this week. Their requests mirror those of the athletes — students want UT to “acknowledge its racist history” by renaming seven campus buildings and structures, removing the Hogg statue and discontinuing the school song.

Additionally, they are asking UT to cut ties with the Austin Police Department and campus police and adopt inclusive practices in recruiting and selecting UT faculty. UT leadership said it would respond to those demands in the coming weeks.

“We are aware of three petitions created by students and look forward to working with them and the UT community to create the best possible experience on our campus for Black students,” UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email.

Like I said, good for them. My guess is UT will concede on a few things but not everything. I have a really hard time imagining that “The Eyes of Texas” will stop being the school song, but you never know. I hope some other school’s athletes are looking at this and getting their own ideas. The Chron has more.

Here comes high school football

Surely you didn’t think that Texas’ favorite sport would stay on the sidelines for long?

More focus will be on instruction, caution and care than nailing the perfect squat rep when University Interscholastic League athletic programs return to in-person strength and conditioning training Monday.

Teams won’t be crawling, walking and then running through coronavirus-altered training this summer. North Shore football coach Jon Kay said “we’re really going to be sitting first, then crawling and then walking and then jogging.”

They have no choice, considering the thorough safety precautions.

The UIL’s outlined requirements for in-person weight training and sport-specific skill instruction include a maximum of 25 percent capacity at indoor workout facilities. It means approximately 36 people — including coaches and athletes — will be allowed in Dickinson’s weight room. Masks and face coverings aren’t required by the UIL but will be by Dickinson ISD inside buildings.

Social-distancing measures of at least 6 feet are required, and workout stations will be at least 10 feet apart. That has required some interior redecoration in places like Cleveland, where football coach Jason Fiacco said he and his staff have spaced out stations inside the current weight room and marked spots where players should stand during workouts.

“It’s going to be unlike any other lifting program anybody has really every devised,” Fiacco said.

The UIL is allowing one staff member per 20 athletes during workouts. Hand-sanitizing and washing stations are required, and every weight and bar will be disinfected before each use.

[…]

Coaches must be strict “because we’ve got to get this right,” Dickinson football coach John Snelson said. Coaches believe football in the fall hangs in the balance, as does, more importantly, the health of the athletes.

Kay mentions the University of Alabama, where reports say at least five football players tested positive for COVID-19 after a player-led workout session last week.

Teams must adapt on the fly because, as Snelson said, “there is no playbook.” What happens if an athlete gets sick or someone a coach has been around is sick? What happens if a coach misses a session? What happens if participation numbers are larger than expected? All UIL teams regardless of sport can open training Monday, but football is usually a behemoth of a production. Snelson expects approximately 250 football players in Monday morning sessions for ninth through 12th grade alone.

The UIL requires participation to be optional. Snelson expects some parents will be eager for their son or daughter to be somewhere other than home. Some parents will be conservative, which is understandable.

I mean, we’re all just taking it on faith that this will be fine. If we had better testing and contact tracing, I’d feel more confidence. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a spike in COVID cases as a result. I just hope – that word I have to keep using since we don’t have a plan – it isn’t as bad as I fear it could be.

Reopening 3.0

Who wants to go to a water park?

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Tuesday announcing additional services and activities that can resume under his second wave of reopenings, allowing food courts in shopping malls to reopen immediately and giving the green light for water parks to begin operations with limited capacity starting Friday.

Recreational sports programs for adults can restart Sunday, though games and similar competitions may not recommence until June 15. Abbott also permitted driver education programs to resume operations immediately.

For food court dining areas that choose to reopen, Abbott is encouraging malls to designate one or more people who are responsible for enforcing social distancing and ensuring tables are cleaned and disinfected between uses.

[…]

While indoor and outdoor pools can operate at 25% occupancy, the governor’s previous directives have specifically said people should continue to avoid interactive amusement venues like water parks. Abbott was facing pressure, however, from a Houston-area water park that initially said last week that it would defy Abbott’s orders and reopen Saturday for Memorial Day weekend. Asked about that last week, Abbott told an Austin television station that his office was talking with operators to make sure they complied.

“They subject themselves to potential litigation as well as potential licensing-based issues if they fail to comply, and so it’s a potentially business-dangerous process for them to proceed forward knowing that they are subjecting themselves to litigation if they open up and anybody contracts COVID-19,” he said to KXAN.

The park ultimately decided not to open early, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

If you can maintain social distancing, swimming is fairly low risk. My experience at water parks is that you’d be fine on most of the rides, but the lines to get to the rides will be what puts you in jeopardy. I’m also not sure how financially viable a 25%-capacity water park is, but that’s their problem, and if Schlitterbahn thinks they can make it work, they’re in a better position than I am to judge. I don’t expect to be paying them a visit this year, that much I do know.

Also, too, outdoor sporting events are back on the menu.

In a new proclamation, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that fans will be allowed at outdoor professional sporting events in most Texas counties with limited occupancy, under a new expansion of his most recent wave of economic reopenings.

Starting Friday, all Texans counties — excluding Deaf Smith, El Paso, Moore, Potter and Randall counties — will be able to host in-person spectators for outdoor sports in venues as long as visitors are capped at 25% capacity. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Under the revised rule, fans are still banned from attending indoor sporting events in person. The rule does not address college or high school athletics.

[…]

The health agency’s protocols for adult recreational sports participants include a recommendation of wearing face masks during sporting events and practices, screening individuals for symptoms of COVID-19, and using and carrying hand sanitizers.

Spectators, meanwhile, are encouraged to avoid being in groups larger than 10, maintain a 6-foot distance from others when possible and wear cloth face coverings.

Regular COVID-19 testing is also recommended throughout the professional sports season.

I’d say the main effect of this is allowing recreational sports leagues to start up. High school and college sports are exempted, the NWSL will be playing only in Utah, and MLB is still a work in progress. I guess auto racing would be open to fans now as well. I will have a decision to make when the college football season starts, but I wasn’t expecting to see an Astros game any time soon except on TV. Do any of these new options appeal to you? Leave a comment and let us know.

Abbott expects there to be college football this fall

Pretty optimistic, if you ask me.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he believes college football will begin on schedule in Texas with some fans in the stands, he told KXAN during an interview Friday.

“My prediction is yes we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled, on schedule, with at least some level of fans in the stands,” the governor said.

Abbott said what is unclear at the moment is what the capacity level would be.

“Would it be strategic and limited to ensure that we have safe distancing practices, there are factors we simply do not know at this time,” Abbott explained about the potential health risks of reopening UT football in the fall.

Abbott stated that the University of Texas at Austin’s athletic director needs a decision by early August. He said the state thinks it should be able to make a decision by then.

This isn’t out of the blue. In April, the chancellors of Texas A&M and Texas Tech said they expect there will be football when they reopen in the fall, though that story didn’t address the question of fans. ESPN quoted Abbott referring to the reopening plans of MLB and the NBA, though those sports and others like MLS are all talking about fan-free games, possibly at a single location. It’s one thing to imagine the games happening, especially if the campuses are open anyway. It’s another to imagine sixty thousand people or more packed into a stadium screaming their lungs out, especially if the pro sports leagues are still playing before nothing but empty seats. Texas A&M at least is thinking about what this might mean.

“We have not gone down the path of examining every section,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said of exactly how many fans Kyle Field will hold with mandated social distancing in place. “There are a lot of scenarios being discussed.”

Like that proverbial glass, Bjork prefers to envision a stadium as half full, not half empty, should restrictions be in place this season.

“We want a full experience, and we’re staying positive — that’s the approach we’re taking right now,” Bjork said. “We know we can pivot quickly if we have to, but we have not mapped that out.”

[…]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has gradually reopened the state in the past month, but he has held off on potentially crowded events such as county fairs. With that in mind, what exactly would Kyle Field look like at, say, 25 percent capacity?

Roughly 25,000 fans would be spread throughout the stadium, and which fans would be allowed in would be determined in a potentially convoluted process.

“You’ve got 102,733 seats,” Bjork said. “Last year we sold about 85,000 season tickets, including right around 35,000 student tickets. That leaves you about 18,000 empty seats. The great thing about Kyle Field is we have a lot of space. So you would start with your infrastructure and analyze it from there, but we would not (ideally) want to decrease our season ticket base. …

“We have a huge footprint, and we just haven’t had to go down that (downsizing) path yet.”

Should social distancing be required at Kyle Field this fall, not only would fans be spaced at least 6 feet apart throughout the stadium, but multiple measures would be in place to try to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

That might mean everyone but the players and those on the sideline would be required to wear masks (further muffling touchdown celebrations and the Aggies’ tradition of kissing after a score); an abundance of hand sanitizers spread throughout the stadium; and scheduled times for different sections to enter the stadium so there is no squeeze at the gates, where body temperatures might also be checked.

Bjork added that it might be helpful for fans to bring their own beverage containers to limit the number of hands on a cup, making last year’s new policy of selling alcohol throughout the stadium a bit trickier. A&M and its concessions cohort made more than $1 million off alcohol sales at Kyle Field in 2019, according to the university.

“One of the things that we’ve had to do with the alcohol policy is have (employees) pour the bottle or can of beer into a cup (for fans); that’s an SEC policy,” Bjork said. “Does that need to change so you limit as many contacts as possible? Those approaches are being studied right now.”

So are the possibilities of limiting the university-sanctioned tailgating scene around Kyle Field, and the myriad activities in the Aggie Fan Zone on the plaza north of the stadium that create a festival-like atmosphere in the hours before kickoff.

“There’s nothing you can really put in writing right now or have a ‘backup’ plan yet, because there’s too much uncertainty, and it’s way too early,” Bjork said of the Aggies’ plans for Kyle Field starting with the Sept. 5 opener against Abilene Christian.

Which fans would get to attend would also present a knotty question for them. I do expect there to be a lot of pressure for playing college football, for various financial and social reasons. How that manifests remains an open question, and that’s before we take into account the possibility of a resurgence, in which case all of this will seem extremely stupid.

This is an issue that has more than the usual amount of resonance for me. As you know if you’ve been reading this site for awhile or know me in Real Life, I’ve been a member of the Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB) for many years. I don’t know at this point what Rice plans to go regarding its sports teams, nor do I know at this point what the MOB plans to do. (They’ve been busy with the usual end-of-semester activities, saying goodbye to graduating seniors and installing the new drum major and drum minor, that sort of thing.) I really don’t know what I plan to do just yet if everyone is going ahead like normal. On the one hand, we’ll be outside and there will be a reasonable amount of space for us all in the stands. On the other hand, there’s only so much social distancing a band can do and still sound like a band, the deep breathing that playing a wind instrument requires is an extra risk factor for COVID transmission, and everything else about the stadium experience will involve a lot of closer-than-I’m-comfortable-with contact with other people. Maybe if we’ve really got infection rates under control, or there’s true universal testing, I’d be willing to trot out there for another season like it was the Before Times. I’m not feeling that right now. Ask me again in August and we’ll see. The Chron has more.

Whither college football?

All NCAA spring sports were canceled due to coronavirus, beginning with March Madness and going through baseball and softball and soccer and everything else. Everyone has been looking forward to the fall when things were supposed to be back to “normal” again, but no one knows for sure what might happen.

NCAA Division I college sports in Texas is a billion-dollar business for the 23 participating schools, and athletic directors estimate 75 percent to 85 percent of that revenue is tied directly to football in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships, media rights fees and, for most schools, direct contributions from the students or the university.

All those revenue streams are in jeopardy with 20 weeks to go before the scheduled football season openers in late August, which is why college athletic directors are game-planning every potential scenario that comes to mind.

“The financial repercussions of not playing a football season are so significant there is going to be a way to do it and play it and do it responsibly,” University of Houston athletic director Chris Pezman said last week on KBME (790 AM), the school’s sports flagship station.

“If you don’t have that revenue stream that is associated with football, it gets dire very fast. … I am confident we are going to find a way through this and we’ll be able to play the season, whether it’s pushed back a little bit or the idea of playing in the spring.”

At Texas A&M, athletic director Ross Bjork is running through similar scenarios involving the mathematics of time and money.

Regular and postseason football requires four months with the addition of the College Football Playoff, and that must be preceded, Bjork said during a conference call last week, by a 60- to 75-day preparation period for players who have been outside the watchful, demanding eyes of strength coaches for several weeks.

John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor, said last week October would not be too late to begin a complete 2020 season, which would presume a return of players, based on Bjork’s time model, in mid-July.

However, what flies in Texas might not work in other states.

As an example, the executive officer of Santa Clara County in northern California, which includes Stanford University and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, said last week he did not expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”

A&M, Bjork noted, is scheduled to play Colorado at College Station on Sept. 19. There’s no guarantee, however, Colorado will be in the same stage of recovery as Texas by mid-September.

Accordingly, Bjork said he expects a “layered” approach to football’s return, based on the advice of conference and university leaders and local and state governments.

“There’s not one trigger point,” he said. “We’re all just guessing, really. We don’t know what the data will tell us. We can model, but until you know when you’re starting or when you can have togetherness, it’s kind of hard to predict.”

It’s hard to imagine how sports like Major League Baseball can contemplate their return if the start of the NCAA football season is in jeopardy. Of course, MLB has the “play their games in hermetically sealed stadia in a small number of locations with no fans” option, which college football does not. I don’t doubt the desire or the intent to bring the games back, even if starting the season in December and essentially playing a spring season is a possible way forward. But as with everything else, there’s only so long you can push back one season before you push up against the next one, and there’s no way to know what the effects will be on fans, who may not be ready to tailgate and pack into venues just yet. It’s good for the leagues to prepare for all possibilities. You never know, things might go better than expected. It’s just all so massively weird right now.

RIP, XFL

Tough break.

The XFL suspended operations Friday morning and laid off nearly all of its staff, multiple sources told ESPN. While a handful of executives remain employed, the league currently has no plans to return in 2021.

The league canceled its season last month after five games as part of a nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, pledging to return next year.

But XFL CEO Jeffrey Pollack changed course Friday, conducting a 10-minute conference call to inform employees of the news.

Commissioner Oliver Luck, hired in 2018 to guide the most ambitious spring football league in decades, did not speak on the call. It was not immediately clear if he is still with the league.

According to a prominent former XFL staffer who was on the call, Pollack stopped short of saying the league was going out of business. But the strong implication was clear. “It’s done,” the staffer said. “It’s not coming back.”

There was no immediate comment from the league.

I wasn’t a fan of the XFL. Nothing against it – it certainly wasn’t laughable the way the original XFL was – it just held no interest for me. From what I observed, they put out a reasonably entertaining product, and a few players like former Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker made enough of an impression to sign with NFL teams. They seemed to be on the road to at least having another season, but that was not to be. Perhaps this means another league will give it a try down the line, as the proof of concept seems to have been a success. Just not enough of one to survive this pandemic, the main difference between the XFL and established sports leagues being the latter have a lot more cash on hand to ride things out for awhile. I am somewhat worried about other leagues, from minor league baseball to lower-tier leagues like the ones for rugby and softball, maybe even to the NWSL and MLS. As with so many other things, who knows what the landscape may look like a month or a year from now.

The Houston Roughnecks

Meet your new XFL team.

When the XFL kicks off in February, the Houston team will be known as the Houston Roughnecks.

The XFL unveiled team names and logos for all eight teams in the league Wednesday.

The Houston Roughnecks logo is a bit reminiscent of the old Houston Oilers with an oil derrick featured prominently. The team opted to go away from the Oilers’ Columbia blue though, and went with a more Texans-like red and blue.

[…]

The Roughnecks will be coached by June Jones, who was an NFL head coach with the Falcons and Chargers as well as an assistant for the Houston Oilers and Houston Gamblers. The team will play at the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium. Season tickets are available here.

See here for the background. There are eight teams, including one in Dallas, and each city with the exception of Saint Louis has an existing NFl team. (A sore subject in St. Louis, that.) I dunno what the market for not-NFL football outside of the usual football season is – the last league to try it didn’t make it till the end of their first season – but we’ll see. I’m all about basketball and spring training by then, but your mileage may vary. Texas Monthly and the Press have more.

Rock me like a Herricane

I had no idea this existed.

Photo: Courtesy Basia Haszlakiewicz

Rose Kelley was jogging through Memorial Park one summer evening when she saw a group of women practicing football. One of the women spotted Kelley, with her sturdy frame and strong legs, and figured her for an athlete.

The Houston Herricanes had found their latest recruit.

The year was 1978, six years after Richard Nixon signed Title IX legislation and five years after tennis star Billie Jean King bested Bobby Riggs in three consecutive sets in the “Battle of the Sexes” at the Houston Astrodome. The sight of women simply tossing around the pigskin was not exactly common. Lining up in full pads in an I-formation for a full-contact game? Unheard of.

But playing football was a lifelong dream for Kelley. Growing up in Brookshire to a large family — six brothers and five sisters — she would often play with the boys, who would impart tips on how to rush the quarterback, never figuring their little sister would put that advice to use.

“Five of my brothers played for the Army or Navy,” said Kelley, now 62. “I always said, ‘I wish that was me.’ I used to tell my mother, ‘Mama, I could bop ‘em.’ ”

When Kelley lined up at defensive tackle wearing No. 72 in what would be the Herricanes’ third season in the nascent National Women’s Football League, she was a force to be reckoned with. A natural pass rusher, Kelley specialized in terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, forcing fumbles and interceptions.

Four decades later, Kelley sat at a table at Harold’s Tap Room & Restaurant in the Houston Heights wearing the same maroon and white No. 72 jersey she proudly wore on the field, surrounded by 20 or so former Herricanes teammates reuniting for the first time since the team folded in 1981.

[…]

Before the NWFL, women’s tackle football in the United States was largely conceived as a novelty act. Sid Friedman, a talent agent, formed the Women’s Professional Football League as a gimmick in the mid-1960s. It was viewed as a Harlem Globetrotters-style barnstorming show.

That league would fold by the early 1970s, but the seed was planted for the NWFL to blossom. What began as a seven-team league in 1974 quickly doubled in size by the time the Herricanes emerged in 1976. There were three divisions across the country, with teams as far east as the Philadelphia Queen Bees and as far west as the San Diego Lobos.

“Most of (the teams) didn’t know each other; they had no idea how the league was structured,” said Britni de la Cretaz, who is writing a book about the NWFL. “They had really very little contact with other teams. They were siloed in that way, and even still there were hundreds of women doing this at any point around the country.”

Marty Bryant remembers reading a magazine article about the Columbus Pacesetters in the fledgling NWFL. An avid softball player, Bryant jumped at any opportunity to play team sports and immediately wrote a letter to the Pacesetters asking how she could form a team in Houston.

“We loved to play sports,” Bryant said. “If you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete. But you need the chance.”

With the help of a news broadcast by famed local sportscaster Anita Martini publicizing the tryout, dozens of women showed up at a Houston park in 1976 to join the Herricanes.

Basia Haszlakiewicz remembers turning on the televsion to see that broadcast and thinking the stars had finally aligned. A former flag football player at the University of Kansas, Haszlakiewicz thought her playing days were long over.

“And there was Anita Martini on the news presenting tryouts for the Houston Herricanes,” Haszlakiewicz said. “I just never watched the news. It was odd. I was like, ‘Okay, well, this was meant to be, obviously.’ ”

The team and the league lasted four seasons, though sadly no records from the games exist. The teams mostly had little money, and of course there was no TV coverage, though to be fair back in 1978 it was hard to find an NBA game on TV. The women faced a ton of sexist abuse for thinking that, you know, girls could play football, too. Normally this is where I’d say that it would be cool if some entrepreneurs took a shot at starting up another league, but given all the health risks we now know about football, I’m not so sure that’s a great idea. But at least between the forthcoming book and documentary, the NWFL can live on.

RIP, AAF

Maybe it’s only mostly dead, but it looks pretty dead.

After eight weeks of games and less than one season into Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all operations, league co-founder Bill Polian confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement Tuesday. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”

[…]

Players are being forced to pay for their own travel back home, a source told ESPN, confirming an SI.com report.

Despite a litany of issues, ratings had remained fairly consistent for the league, with between 400,000 and 500,000 viewers often tuning in for games, according to ratings reports. And the league got a bump in attention after Johnny Manziel signed last month and was allocated to Memphis.

Manziel offered some advice to AAF players on Twitter with Tuesday’s news.

The league signed all players to three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $70,000 in the first year, $80,000 in the second year and $100,000 in the third year. The hope, Polian said, was that the league would send players to the NFL.

In his statement Tuesday, Polian said he’ll do “all I can” to help the league’s players achieve that.

“My thanks go out to all who made our football product so competitive and professional,” Polian said. “I am certain there are many among them destined for future success in the NFL and I look forward to doing all I can to help them in their quest.”

Ebersol told ESPN in January that they had structured the league around a “sober business plan” because he believed he had learned lessons from his father, Dick Ebersol, who helped run the first version of the XFL.

Problems, however, popped up surrounding the nascent league that was trying to be a complement to the NFL.

See here for the background. The AAF had its challenges, but I thought they’d at least finish the season. Who knows, maybe they could have gotten an infusion of cash afterwards, and been able to keep going. I feel bad for the players, who of course will get screwed out of their last paychecks and stuck with hotel, travel, and healthcare expenses, and at a much lower level for the fans in San Antonio, the eternal bridesmaids of pro football fandom. Anyone wanna lay odds on how long the rebooted XFL will last?

Will the AAF be one and done?

Could be.

The first-year Alliance of American Football’s inability to secure cooperation from the NFL Players’ Association to use young players from NFL rosters has put the AAF in danger of folding, Tom Dundon, the league’s majority owner, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.

“If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” said Dundon, who in February committed to invest $250 million into the league. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”

The NFLPA had no official response to the accusations that their lack of cooperation is prompting the AAF to fold.

However, a players’ union official did express serious concerns about the risks of lending active NFL players to the AAF. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The person said the players’ union is founded on the belief that using active NFL players and practice squad members for the AAF would violate the terms of the CBA and the restrictions that prevent teams from holding mandatory workouts and practices throughout the offseason. The limitations set in place are designed to ensure the safety and adequate rest and recovery time for football players. But there’s a concern that teams would abuse their power and pehaps force young players into AAF action as a condition for consideration for NFL roster spots in the fall.

The additional concern on the NFLPA’s part is that if an NFL player played in the AAF and suffered serious injury, that player would face the risk of missing an NFL season and lose a year of accrued experience, which carries financial ramifications for players.

Sorry, San Antonio. As For The Win notes, if the plan was to depend on NFL players to supplement the league, that plan was never going to work. The NFL might have an interest in having a feeder league available to it, but given the health risks of football, it’s not at all clear why any players that have a legitimate shot at playing in the NFL would go for that. What you’re left with is a bunch of lower-level players plus the occasional Johnny Manziell, and that adds up to a league that not many people have paid any attention to since their opening weekend. Even with better players available, you’ve got March Madness, the NBA and NHL gearing up for their post-seasons, and now MLB is back. That’s a lot of competition for a fledgling league. I figure as long as they have some TV money they can probably continue, but I don’t see much hope for their long term future.

“How Baylor Happened”

From Deadspin:

There’s not much to recommend spending four years in Waco. Driving into town up Interstate 35 from the south, the endless stretch of Texas nothing fills out slowly. It’s flat in the way you think Texas is flat. Empty fields give way to John Deere dealerships, then fast-food chains.

On your left, you’ll see the strip mall that housed the Twin Peaks biker gang shootout of 2015. Pass through the city’s squat downtown, and you can catch a glimpse of the grain silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV smash Fixer-Upper, converted into the retail base of their reality TV empire.

But then, rising from the banks of the Brazos River, appears Baylor’s towering McLane Stadium. The building serves to announce the home of the Baylor Bears, Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy, and a football legacy stretching back to, well, RG3 and the Heisman Trophy. But that’s the point. Baylor is here. Baylor matters, finally. The other campus buildings are tucked away in the short hills along the highway, but the stadium declares itself forcefully.

For most of its history, football barely registered at Baylor. Instead, the school cultivated its own culture, deeply rooted in the Baptist church. It banned dancing on campus until 1996. Until May 2015, its student conduct code listed “homosexual acts” and “fornication” as expressly forbidden behavior, alongside “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault,”and other activities. Sex outside of marriage is still forbidden. The university’s mission statement says it was “founded on the belief that God’s nature is made known through both revealed and discovered truth.” Even a teenager who’s been homeschooled her entire life can walk around Baylor, see the statues of Jesus and the sidewalks emblazoned with Bible passages, and feel safe that the university that speaks her language and shares her values.

Jane’s* parents celebrated when she was offered a soccer scholarship to Baylor. She’d be among other Christians, less than two hours away from their Dallas home. Alicia* was drawn to Baylor because she wanted something to bring her back to her faith. She wanted to attend chapel with her classmates, to feel the closeness of a religious institution. “I want to feel God on campus and in class,” she knew. “I want to come here to be with God in every sense of the matter.”

Melissa* had attended a small private Baptist high school in California. She was scared to attend a party school and was looking for a more conservative university. She liked how nice everyone at Baylor was, and that dorm visiting hours ended at midnight, even on weekends. Suzanne* was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up mostly overseas and spent a lot of time in Christian boarding schools in Papua New Guinea. College wasn’t something her parents expected of her—everyone in her family did church work—but she wanted to be a missionary doctor.

They all chose Baylor because it felt safe.

What they didn’t know when they enrolled was that the combination of Baylor’s culture and a set of newly-established ambitions had created a university that was unusually safe—but not for them. It was a safe place for football coaches who could do no wrong, for players whose transfers from other teams after being accused of violence were billed as the first half of a redemption story, for young men whose potential was prioritized over that of their female classmates, and for university leaders who prized their reputation over the safety of the women who studied there.

As Jane was beginning her senior year of high school, already committed to play soccer at Baylor in 2013, the university was breaking ground on McLane Stadium. Baylor had a vision for itself—to become the Baptist answer to Notre Dame—but accomplishing that would require money, a lot more money, and fast football success was also a fast way to excite major donors. Greed is not a Christian value, but as the world would soon find out, the school’s commitment to the religion of football would serve to undermine everything else that the university was supposed to stand for.

What follows is a long and detailed look into how Baylor, a small Baptist university where football was played, became Baylor, a blossoming national football powerhouse where female students were repeatedly assaulted by football players and no one cared until it finally became a scandal. I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s close enough for these purposes. Authors Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon have been the go-to reporters for documenting how and why it all happened, and you should read what they have to say.

Houston to get XFL 2.0 team

For those of you that need more football.

TDECU Stadium at the University of Houston will be the home field for Houston’s team in the XFL, the spring football league owned by WWE chairman Vince McMahon that will begin play in 2020, the league announced Wednesday.

Joining Houston among the eight XFL charter cities are teams in Dallas-Fort Worth, playing at Arlington’s Globe Life Stadium, plus Los Angeles (StubHub Center), New York-New Jersey (MetLife Stadium), St. Louis (The Dome at America’s Center), Seattle (CenturyLink Field), Tampa (Raymond James Stadium) and Washington, D.C. (Audi Field).

Houston’s team has yet to be named, but the announcement signals a return to the city’s football heyday of the 1980s, when the upstart USFL’s Houston Gamblers shared the pro football landscape with the established Oilers, much as the XFL now will do with the Texans.

Coincidentally, the announcement of Houston’s XFL selection came from the league’s president, Oliver Luck, who was a quarterback for the Oilers during the Gamblers’ 1984-85 run at the Astrodome.

“We believe the Houston-Harris County area is a fantastic place for one of our franchises, given the deep love and passion that people here have for football at all levels,” Luck said in an interview prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

“It was a pretty easy decision to place a franchise in Houston.”

[…]

Houston will be in the XFL’s Western Division with Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Seattle. New York, Tampa, St. Louis and Washington will comprise the Eastern Division. Teams will play a 10-game regular season, followed by two semifinals and a championship game.

Teams will have 45-man rosters with seven-member practice squads. A centralized “Team Nine” of players under contract to the league will be available to replenish rosters as needed.

While Luck did not offer details, he said the XFL continues with what he described as a “reimagining” of football as it awaits its 2020 debut.

“We’re looking at some of the administrative rules of the game – time outs and other things – and at what technology can do to improve and enhance the game,” he said.

“Our goal is to have a fast-paced, high-octane game with less down time – less stall and more ball. It will be a rock-’em, sock-’em, 11-on-11 game.”

See here and here for some background. All this sounds good, but in an earlier version of this story, there was this:

The new XFL, league officials have said, aims to offer an alternative to fans disenchanted with the increased length of NFL games and the social activism of some of its players. Games will last under three hours, and the league has said that anthem protests will not be allowed.

Yeah, I’m not going to support that. If you want a different option, there’s yet another league in the pipeline, and San Antonio is a charter member. There will be more than one way to get your extra football fix.

RIP, Bob McNair

The Houston Texans owner has passed away.

The death of Texans owner and founder Bob McNair rocked the NFL, the city of Houston and his players and coaches Friday, sparking rich remembrances of his life and legacy.

McNair was 81 years old and had battled skin cancer for years. He had been in poor health for several months.

McNair leaves behind a first-place AFC South franchise that had been entrusted by him to stable leadership provided by his son, chief operating officer Cal McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Brian Gaine and longtime team president Jamey Rootes.

From his instrumental role in returning the NFL to Houston after the departure of the Oilers to Tennessee to his philanthropic contributions and warm, approachable personality, McNair was recalled fondly upon his death.

McNair is a seminal figure in Houston sports for bringing the NFL back to Houston. It’s not often mentioned these days, but at the time everyone assumed Los Angeles was going to get the expansion franchise that eventually became the Texans. He’ll be long remembered in Houston for that, and for his longtime civic and charitable participation. He also had a long history in Republican and conservative politics, none of which was mentioned in this story. That’s a topic for another time. For now, my condolences to the McNair family.

Babygate, 25 years later

Boy, I remember this.

Remember Babygate?

Scot Cooper Williams came into this world Oct. 16, 1993 and was the center of a firestorm 24 hours later. His father David, an offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, had missed the team’s game in New England to be with his wife when he was born.

The coaches were livid. Some of his teammates were upset and angry. A combination of timing of Scot’s birth, fog in New England and David not being able to catch the last flight out of Houston that Saturday night forced David to make a decision that cost him a $111,000 fine.

The story went viral – 1990s style. National headlines. Network television. Talk shows around the country. Everybody had an opinion, especially when the macho culture of pro football collided with changing times around the country (the Family and Medical Leave Act had passed in February 1993).

“It took me a while,” David said of the media frenzy, “to get over it.”

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Babygate and the men in the center of that moment can chuckle a little about it now.

[…]

A quarter of a century ago, then-27-year-old David, who wasn’t one to miss a game for any reason, just wanted to be with his wife when she delivered. Debi had suffered a miscarriage the year before after a tubal pregnancy and he wasn’t leaving her side. They had planned to have a C-section the Monday after the game, but Scot had a mind of his own and Debi went into labor at 4 a.m. Saturday, and David missed the team charter.

David figured Scot would be born, mom and baby would get checked out and he’d have time to catch the last flight to Boston on Saturday night.

But that didn’t happen.

While Debi was in labor, David was on the delivery room phone with coaches and team officials. Time was running out to catch that last flight and the conversation wasn’t pretty.

“It was hard on her at the time … She could hear them screaming over the phone at me,” David said. “Finally the doctor just yanked the phone plug, took the phone off the wall and said ‘We’re not taking any more calls.’ ”

Scot didn’t arrive until almost 6:25 p.m. and, by then, it was too late for Williams to catch the 6:54 p.m. flight from either airport.

“Even if I had left the second after he was born, I still never would have made that plane,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking for me. I’d never been through anything like that. It was tough.”

He said teammates Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews tried to arrange a private plane through a third party, but when David left the hospital around 11:30 p.m., he hadn’t heard back.

“I had been up with Deb since 4 o’clock that morning and going through that emotional roller coaster of getting screamed at and yelled at by coaches and general manager as I’m in the delivery room,” he said. “My wife’s giving birth and I’m getting screamed at. Man, it isn’t supposed to feel like this.”

David went home, showered and was sound asleep when the person called back. The voice on the other end of the phone said there were no guarantees he would get to the stadium in time. The pilot might be able to get him into one of the New York airports, but then he would have to drive to Foxborough, Mass.

“They were diverting planes everywhere,” David said. “At that point, I said, if he can’t fly me to Boston, just tell him to forget it. I made that decision on my own. I was absolutely exhausted.”

He paused.

“I was just (thinking), ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be fired.’ I knew it. I just knew I was going to be without a job the next day. It was crazy, but that was the decision I made.”

Read the whole thing, and marvel at it whether it’s the first you’ve ever heard of this or it takes you down memory lane, as it did with me. Sure seems hard to believe, here in 2018, that a father-to-be missing work to be at the birth of a child would even raise an eyebrow, but it did a lot more than that in 1993. However far we still have to go, we really have come a long way. All the best to the Williams family, for their unwitting role as trailblazers.

Texans’ cheer coach quits

Of interest.

Altovise Gary, the longtime director of the Houston Texans cheerleaders squad who was named as a defendant in one of two recent federal court lawsuits filed against the team, has resigned, a team spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Gary resigned on her own accord, citing what team spokeswoman Amy Palcic described as personal reasons. The team had no additional comment on her departure.

[…]

Gary was named as a defendant in a case filed in May by a former cheerleader who accused her of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans. She was not named as a defendant in a second suit filed days later by five former cheerleaders against the team.

Both suits were dismissed and the former cheerleaders’ complaints submitted to arbitration, as required by their contracts with the team.

Houston attorney Bruse Loyd, who filed the first lawsuit that included Gary as a defendant, said he would have no comment on Gary’s resignation.

Houston attorney Kimberley Spurlock, who along with noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred filed the second lawsuit, said in a statement: “We believe that our lawsuit and the voices of our brave clients have made an important impact on the Houston Texans. As a result of their courage, there appears to be an important change taking place in the staff.

“However, until there is justice for the cheerleaders by paying them fairly and compensating them by paying them the wages that they are due, we will continue our fight to win them the respect and dignity to which they are entitled and which is long overdue.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to this, I will just reiterate my positions that 1) harassment and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and 2) it’s a travesty that the multi-billion dollar business that is the NFL refuses to pay its cheerleaders a wage the reflects their worth. Not sure what else there is to say.

Texans cheerleader lawsuit update

Couple points of interest here.

A former Texans cheerleader who says cheer director Alto Gary derided her as “skinny fat” and applied duct tape to her stomach before a 2017 game added her name Friday to one of two lawsuits filed against the team over payment and workplace issues.

Angelina Rosa, a two-year member of the cheerleading squad who said she also was a dancer for the Chicago Bulls and a member of the Astros’ Shooting Stars group, is the 10th cheerleader to join one of two suits filed against the team in Houston federal court.

Rosa is the sixth former cheerleader to sign on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock. Four have joined a suit filed by Houston attorney Bruse Loyd seeking class action status.

While descriptions of the duct-taping incident were included in both lawsuits, Friday was the first time that Rosa was identified as the affected cheerleader.

[…]

Both lawsuits accuse the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime for hours spent on the job, and both allege other workplace violations.

The Texans have denied the allegations and have filed motions seeking their dismissal. If the cases are not dismissed, the Texans want them delayed while allegations are submitted to arbitration before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Since the lawsuits were filed, several former cheerleaders have told local news outlets, including the Chronicle, that they were not subjected to the abuses described by their fellow former cheerleaders.

I had noted before that the Texans had filed for dismissal of one of the lawsuits, and I had wondered about the other one. Now I know. As far as the denial by some other cheerleaders about the allegations made in these lawsuits, that’s of interest and would surely be a key pillar of the defense if this ever makes it to a courtroom, but the presence of some cheerleaders – even many cheerleaders – who say they were not abused or harassed does not have any bearing on the testimony of those who say they were. One can be both credibly accused of bad behavior, and also credibly defended by others who say “that never happened to me”. The defense against harassment by some other members of the Texans’ cheerleading squad also doesn’t address the claims of wage theft. We are still a very long way from a resolution here.

San Antonio to get pro football team

Not the NFL or the XFL but the AAF.

“After talking to [league co-founder and CEO] Charlie Ebersol, I knew the Alliance of American Football was right for San Antonio, and that San Antonio was right for the Alliance,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who participated in talks with the league prior to the announcement.

The AAF was unveiled in March as a complement to the NFL with its season kicking off in early February next year six days after the Super Bowl and finishing in April with a championship around the time of the NFL draft. It aims to put a quality product on the field made up of former college players and pros trying to make it back to the NFL and coached by names fans will recognize.

League officials, including Ebersol, a television and film producer, will be in town Thursday to announce the local general manager and head coach. San Antonio was the eighth and final city to be unveiled as a charter member of the new league joining Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix; Salt Lake Cit; and San Diego.

Coaches such as Steve Spurrier in Orlando, Mike Singletary in Memphis, Rick Neuheisel in Phoenix, and Mike Martz in San Diego give the league credibility. Add to that a television contract with CBS and the league already appears to be on more stable footing than other professional football league startups of the past.

“Spring football forever has been thought of as a money grab,” Ebersol said during a Facebook Live event after announcing the league in March. “It has been thought of as somebody just going in and building a business very quickly and making money right out of the gate because people love football.

“But what we tried to build here was something bigger. We tried to put together a team, an alliance of people that were committed to what we could do if we actually started from scratch with a professional sports league.”

The AAF is funded by private investors but there are no individual owners for each team. It is what the league’s name suggests – an alliance aimed at building a strong product in each city.

[…]

The AAF founders have been working for more than a year to identify the cities in which they wanted to place the first eight teams. They also have been laying the groundwork for the league in talking with potential coaches, general managers, and considering ways in which they might want to make their brand of football different from the NFL.

Some of those differences will include no kickoffs, no extra points, no television timeouts, and a 30-second play clock instead of the 40-second clock in the NFL. The differences are rooted in player safety and shortening the length of games.

The San Antonio franchise will play its games at the Alamodome. The AAF was mentioned in that recent XFL story I blogged about, which was the first I had heard of it. Sounds like they have some interesting ideas, with this league maybe kind of serving the same function as the NBA G League does for that sport. The recent record of non-NFL pro football leagues is not great, but this one has a pretty good pedigree, so we’ll see. (Then again, so did the WLAF.) And since you’re wondering, yes, Charlie Ebersole is Dick Ebersole’s son.

Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

They’re still trying to make XFL 2.0 happen

And who knows, maybe it will.

Oliver Luck, the former Oilers quarterback and Dynamo executive who has most recently worked at the NCAA, was named Tuesday as the commissioner of the relaunched XFL that World Wrestling Entertainment will launch in 2020.

Luck, the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, was announced as CEO and commissioner of the new eight-team league by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the league’s founder.

“Football has always been a constant in my life and I’m excited about the unique opportunity to present America’s favorite sport to fans in a new way,” Luck said in a statement from the league. “The XFL will create first-class organizations that local cities across the country will be proud of.”

McMahon he and Luck “share the same vision and passion for reimagining the game of football. His experience as both an athlete and executive will ensure the long-term success of the XFL.”

See here for the background. Among many other things, Luck has served as president of NFL Europe, so he has real experience with this sort of thing. I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to get an eight-team league off the ground and on solid financial footing by 2020, but so far at least this is not an obvious farce. And while I said before that I probably wouldn’t watch a new XFL (as I hadn’t watched the original XFL), I’ve changed my mind. There is a scenario under which I will become an XFL fan, and that’s if they treat their cheerleaders better then the NFL does (not a high bar to clear, as we know). Have the teams hire their cheerleaders as employees, pay them a fair salary, institute real anti-harassmemt policies, don’t put ridiculous rules on them and only them about fraternizing with players, and I’m in. What do you say, Oliver? The Press and Texas Monthly have more.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

Second group of cheerleaders sues the Texans

Different group, same basic complaints.

Hannah Turnbow spent the 2017 NFL season wearing a bright smile and a Texans cheerleaders uniform, dancing on the field, waving pompons on the sideline, meeting fans in NRG Stadium suites and concourses and attending team-related functions as a Texans brand ambassador.

Friday, however, Turnbow was reduced briefly to tears as she described how she and four other former cheerleaders were underpaid, browbeaten, threatened and, in her case, attacked by a fan and told by team officials to “suck it up” when she complained.

Turnbow, who spent one season as a Texans cheerleader, is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit in two weeks that accuses the team of violating federal labor laws and minimum-wage regulations.

The suit was filed in Houston federal court by Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock and by noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she plans to deliver a letter stating the cheerleaders’ case Monday to the office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

“We’re not arguing with the concept of whether there should be cheerleaders or not,” Allred said. “But we are asserting that if there are cheerleaders, they should not be exploited in their wages or in any of the terms of their working conditions.”

[…]

Dallas has long been the center of NFL cheerleader culture, since the Cowboys in the early 1970s adopted the dance team format that the Texans and other NFL teams use, and Androvett said the Cowboys would be a lesser product without the allure and marketing attraction that cheerleaders have provided for more than 40 years.

“Football fans have wives and daughters. Women are big consumers. They are a force to be reckoned with,” Androvett said. “Why wouldn’t you reach out to women and say if there’s a wrong, let’s right it. You can do that in a way that doesn’t incur legal liability.”

By not dealing with complaints by cheerleaders over pay and working conditions, the NFL also faces potential damage in the wake of the “#metoo” awareness movement of sexual assault and harassment.

“People will say it’s like being in Hollywood: there are things you buy into in exchange for all the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said. “But Hollywood is a great analogy. We all realize now that not everything goes.

“If I were the NFL, I would try to get in front of this and communicate that cheerleaders are part of the NFL experience and to treat them in a way that suggest you believe that.

Also, as franchises become more valuable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could lead to increased sports gambling, “it’s not a good optic for the NFL when you have a class of women who are trying to get paid based on $7.25 per hour,” Androvett added.

See here for more about the other lawsuit. It really is a matter of paying them a fair amount for their labor, and treating them with a sufficient level of respect. Frankly, the NFL could do a better job of that with their players, too, but at least they have the right to collectively bargain for those things. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs in both of these cases. Think Progress has more.

Former cheerleaders file lawsuit against Texans over pay

I’d been wondering if something like this was going to happen here.

Three former Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor Tuesday, accusing the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime and accusing the cheer squad director of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans.

The former cheerleaders, who were on the squad for the 2017 season, are seeking class action status, which would include all Texans cheerleaders for the last three years who also complain of similar treatment by the Texans and their cheerleader director, Altovise Gary.

The suit against the Texans and Gary, filed in Houston federal court, joins a growing list of legal actions in which former NFL cheerleaders complain about pay, safety issues and working conditions.

“I have been a season-ticket holder since 2002. My name is engraved on the glass outside NRG Stadium,” said former cheerleader Paige G., who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was always a goal of mine to get on the team, and I thought this is so great that now I get to cheer for the team that I love.

“It was really unfortunate that we were treated with such disrespect.”

Paige G. claims in the lawsuit that while she was paid $7.25 per hour for a set number of hours each week, she did not receive overtime for team-imposed email monitoring and social media requirements and for other “off-the-clock” job-related duties, including gym workouts, spray tans before games and events and required attendance at other team functions and autograph sessions.

“One of the most famous quotes from (Gary) is that this was a part-time job with full-time hours,” she said. “We signed up for a part-time job that didn’t require more than 30 hours a week. If you’re going to make it full-time hours, make it a full-time job. I would be happy to do that.”

The suit also accuses Gary, described in the document as “Coach Alto,” of harassing and intimidating behavior and of cutting Paige G. and other cheerleaders from the squad in April after they sought improved working conditions.

Others may join in as plaintiffs, and they will seek class certification, assuming Neil Gorsuch hasn’t made that illegal. We have seen a number of lawsuits like this filed by other teams’ cheerleaders in recent years, some with truly appalling fact sets. Several teams have paid out settlements, and I suspect that is what will eventually happen here. Seems to me the right thing for the teams to do is to pay their cheerleaders a fair wage for their labor and to generally treat them with a minimum level of respect. But this is the NFL, and that’s not the way they do business, so off to the courts they go. I know who I’m cheering for.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The XFL will be back

And this time the gimmick is there will be no gimmicks.

WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is giving a professional football league another go.

It will be called the XFL, the same name of the league McMahon and NBC tried for one season in 2001, but it won’t rely on flashy cheerleaders and antics as its predecessor did, he said.

McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020. Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project.

“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”

McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.

One mark of the new league, McMahon said, will be faster games. The ideal running time, he said, would be two hours.

As for the timing of the announcement, two years before the league’s debut, many might point to McMahon’s relationship with President Donald Trump, who this fall criticized the NFL for allowing its players to kneel and sit during the national anthem. McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field. McMahon’s wife, Linda, heads the Small Business Administration in Trump’s Cabinet.

Hey, everything else from 20-30 years ago is being rebooted, so why not the XFL? I can’t say I’d care – I didn’t watch the original version – but it will provide a few jobs, so that’s something. And for what it’s worth, I’m rooting for El Paso to get a team. Deadspin has more.

Texans take a knee

Good for them.

On Sunday afternoon, before the Houston Texans faced off against the Seattle Seahawks in Washington, all but approximately 10 Texans took a knee during the national anthem.

This was a direct response to Texans owner Bob McNair after an ESPN report on Friday revealed that, during a meeting with other NFL owners, McNair said the league needed to put a stop to protests during the national anthem because, “We can’t have inmates running the prison.”

McNair’s comments were particularly jarring considering that the protests — which began at the start of the 2016 season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem — are a way to draw attention to police brutality and systemic racism, which the criminal justice system only exemplifies.

[…]

McNair issued two apologies, one on Friday and one on Saturday. He also reportedly spoke with the players directly on Saturday.

“As I said yesterday, I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week,” McNair said on Saturday in his second official apology regarding his comments. “I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.”

But an unnamed player on the Texans told Josina Anderson of ESPN that he did not accept McNair’s apology.

“I think as an owner and as a business man that is something you can’t really say,” the defensive player said. “My reaction is: that’s unacceptable and I don’t want to even hear an apology, or anything like that, because I feel like you knew what you said because you were in a room where you didn’t think it was going to leak out; so you said how you feel. So, that’s how I feel about it.”

You’ve probably seen coverage of this over the weekend, but you can refer to this ThinkProgress story, Deadspin, and the Chron for a refresher. If there’s one reason why I’ve never embraced the Texans, it’s Bob McNair. All I can say is I look forward to the day when he finally sells the team.

How much will the county get repaid for Super Bowl activities?

Quite possibly not very much, as it turns out.

After the New England Patriots stunned the Atlanta Falcons with a storybook comeback in Super Bowl LI, after the crowds drained away and the national spotlight left Houston, Harris County officials turned to organizers and asked to be repaid for security and around-the-clock support, part of $1.3 million the county spent on America’s biggest sporting event.

The answer, so far: Don’t count on it.

Super Bowl Host Committee officials say they would like to reimburse taxpayers but are not obligated to because the county did not, in its offers of support for the weeklong event, negotiate that it be compensated or repaid by organizers. The city of Houston did and has been repaid $5.5 million by the host committee.

Now, five months after the game, the back-and-forth has some local leaders questioning the costs borne by the county for the game, which was in the county-owned NRG Stadium at no cost to the National Football League, and whether the county will provide similar support in the future.

“It is very shortsighted,” said Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. “There will be future events, future Super Bowls.”

County officials could not say why they did not negotiate a repayment agreement when they decided to support Houston’s bid for the Super Bowl in 2013 – instead offering a resolution of support for the game guaranteeing some assistance at no cost to the NFL. It is unclear if the county asked the host committee for a guarantee of compensation or reimbursement then.

A spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, as far as Emmett was concerned, a resolution like the county passed in 2013 would “never be used again.”

“The judge has now made clear that, before any future Super Bowls or major events like these transpire at a county-owned facility like NRG stadium, that there is going to have to be some type of an agreement where the county receives a share of the revenue from that,” said Joe Stinebaker, Emmett’s spokesman.

The debate over public spending for professional sports has gained steam in recent years as governments find themselves stretched to cover essential services and taxpayers are more aware of their support of multi-million dollar businesses, said Mark Conrad, director of the Sports Business Program at the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University.

Conrad said the NFL “does not have to be nice” and will continue to push for any public support it can get.

“If I would predict, I would think the county is going to be eating the million dollars-plus,” Conrad said.

Keep this in mind the next time someone tries to tell you that the county is better-organized than the city. One can certainly argue that neither the city nor the county should have to enter into such detailed, technicalities-laden negotiations with a multi-billion-dollar private enterprise for payment of these relatively paltry sums. The NFL could just pay for everything up front, or the city and county could just handle it themselves on the grounds that the investment is worth it. But this is the way it is, and the county is at the end of the reimbursement line because they didn’t dot all their I’s. Let that be a lesson going forward.

Bathroom bill or NFL draft?

Back to some familiar questions as the special session looms.

The Cowboys have made their pitch to host the NFL draft.

Whether that occurs depends, in large part, on what happens in Austin this summer.

NFL officials have no interest in drawing a line in the ideological sand heading into next month’s special session of the Texas Legislature. It’s better to work behind the scenes than publicly antagonize at this stage. But the conclusion lawmakers reach on what bathrooms people are allowed to use impacts the Cowboys’ opportunity to land the draft, multiple sources said.

Other factors and cities are in play for the event. But when the NFL does announce the location of the 2018 draft, the special session will be complete and where the state stands on transgender rights will be known.

“We expect to have a decision on the location of next year’s draft later this summer/early fall,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications.

The timing of the NFL’s decision isn’t tied to the Texas legislative schedule, which begins its special session July 18. The league has awarded the draft in August, September and October the last three years. But the timetable works to the league’s advantage by letting the issue play out without inserting itself into what has become a contentious public debate.

Again.

[…]

The NFL issued a release about inclusiveness and how its policies prohibit discrimination in the days leading up to the [Super Bowl in Houston]. A few days after the game in early February, when asked specifically about the so-called bathroom bill, McCarthy issued this statement on behalf of the league:

“If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events.”

The question was asked in relation to the state hosting another Super Bowl, and that is how McCarthy’s response was applied. The headline became how Texas was in danger of losing out on future Super Bowls if the bathroom bill became law.

But the statement read “future events.” It didn’t limit the league’s response to the Super Bowl.

The draft, like the Super Bowl, is an event to be awarded.

We all know the drill here. I will note two points of interest. One, as the story indicates, the NFL is doing its work behind the scenes here so as not to provoke another hissy fit from Greg Abbott. And two, it would be awfully ironic if the NFL winds up showing more spine on this issue than the NBA did. Of course, for them to show that spine would mean that a bathroom bill did pass, so let’s hope they don’t get the opportunity. You can do your part to help with that by calling your legislators and letting them know in no uncertain terms that even the watered-down bathroom bill is bad for Texas. If even the NFL gets that, the Lege has no excuse.

Tom Brady’s jersey recovered

Our long national nightmare is finally over.

On Monday morning, the NFL and Houston’s police chief reported [Tom Brady’s Super Bowl] jersey was located and will be returned to the Patriots.

Investigators with the Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders Division traced the jersey to Mexico, Chief Art Acevedo tweeted Monday morning, adding that it was recovered with help from the FBI as well as Mexican authorities.

HPD says the Major Offenders Division is “responsible for the investigation of highly specialized and often unique types of criminal activity that fall outside the scope or expertise of other investigative divisions.”

The division has investigators who focus on specific crimes like fugitives, illegal dumping and animal cruelty. It also participated in the FBI’s interagency task forces, including one aimed at major thefts.

The 2017 jersey was found along with Brady’s jersey from the team’s 2015 Super Bowl victory “in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.

At a morning press conference at HPD headquarters, Acevedo said the suspect in the jersey theft “came to the wrong state. You don’t come to Texas when the eyes of the world are upon the state.”

Acevedo said the suspect had legitimate access to the event and was not a ticket holder.

Acevedo said the NFL’s private security was in control of the locker room from which the jersey went missing. He suggested they “check their protocols,” since the 2017 jersey was recovered along with a 2015 game jersey of Brady’s that was apparently also stolen.

He said while the Texas Rangers participated, it was Houston investigators who found an informant who pointed the investigation to Mexico.

Video footage helped investigators and likely will serve as evidence for criminal charges expected from the U.S. attorney’s office, the chief said.

Acevedo said the department devoted a “handful” of investigators from the Major Offenders Division to the case but told them not to “burn the midnight oil.”

“This was not the highest priority of the Houston Police Department,” Acevedo said several times, pointing to a fatal shooting here over the weekend as a more pressing issue.

However, he suggested this resolved the “only blemish” on Houston’s moment in the international spotlight as a Super Bowl host.

See here for the background. Clearly, HPD is so good they were even able to solve a crime no one had known about. Texas Monthly adds some more details.

Implicated in the heist is Mauricio Ortega, a former executive with Honduras newspaper Diario La Prensa, according to Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network. Ortega had press credentials that granted him access to the Patriots locker room, and—stunningly—the search for the jersey (conducted as a joint operation by the FBI, the Patriots’ security team, the Houston Police Department, and the NFL) turned up not just Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey, but also his Super Bowl 49 jersey, and a Denver Broncos helmet that may have belonged to a player in that team’s victorious appearance in Super Bowl 50.

Curiously, the existence of a stolen Super Bowl 49 jersey wasn’t much in the news despite claims that Brady brought it up in interviews following the theft (if he did, we haven’t seen them). It also raises questions about other jerseys worn by other players in the big game. It’s possible that Ortega, or whoever is ultimately found responsible for the theft, is just a massive Tom Brady fan who targets the quarterback exclusively. But it’s also possible that other players have lost their jerseys, helmets, or other memorabilia and simply not spoken up about it.

Who knew? Thanks to HPD for the good work, and please send the bill for any overtime used to NFL Security, which needs to step up its game. Deadspin, Pro Football Talk, Yahoo News, the Trib, and the Press have more.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?