George Wrighster interviews Oregon Equipment Manager Kenny Farr about his 20 years in Eugene, his favorite uniform combinations, what new and exciting things the Ducks have planned for 2023, and how the profession has evolved.
The best ability is availability.
How many of you have heard this phrase in relation to the need for athletes to study the playbook and take care of their bodies?
I’m here to tell you that the benefits of availability don’t just apply to the players on the field or court, but it’s also the most important thing when it comes to the ability to consume what happens on the field or court.
Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia just sacrificed tens of millions of dollars every single year to make sure that his team’s games are available to local fans for free, and it could be the game changer that the entire sports world needs to keep fans from being collateral damage in the war between cable companies and streaming platforms.
To understand why he did this, and why there was a need for him to do this, let’s go back to the beginning.
As social media and streamers started to take attention away from the live TV experience, it became clear to TV executives and advertising agencies that the future of fixed consumer attention was going to be live sports.
This kicked off a nuclear war for broadcast rights, which meant that only a handful of billion dollar national corporations would be able to compete for the ability to show you games. It also meant that local TV corporations were squeezed out of the market, as were people that didn’t have the monthly income to be able to budget for ever-increasing cable bills.
The sales of these broadcast rights end up putting a giant pile of guaranteed money into a pool for the teams in each league to split. Owners loved it for the obvious reason that it rapidly increased their personal wealth, as well as their franchise value- but it also provided them with the stability of an expected income and operating budget.
For the involved and competitive owners, the guaranteed income from broadcast rights gave them ways to innovate and compete- which offset the inconvenience and added expense to the fans.
For the unengaged slumlord weirdos like Donald Sterling, it just meant he got richer while Clippers fans suffered. Which is why the fact Clippers fans exist will never make sense to me, but that’s another rant for another day.
The bottom line is this- as less and less of the operational budget came from local fans, owners were less and less motivated to appease the local fans. Tickets became less affordable. Players became less relatable.
We went from four NBA players making $7+ million per year in 1995, to the Houston Rockets paying John Wall $40 million a year just to stay home. Mike Conley is going to surpass $270 million in career earnings this season and has made one all star game.
And in order to watch John Wall not play, or see Mike Conley put up Jeff Hornacek stat lines for ten times the cost, fans were having to shell out more and more money every single year.
It’s unsustainable, but when you’re profiting from it, there’s no motivation to see things change.
I grew up watching the Lakers on KCal on channel 9. Those were formative experiences for me. Experiences that I know haven’t been available to more and more families who, even if they had the ability to afford cable, are having to make sacrifices to simply pay their increasing grocery bills.
So that’s where Mat Ishbia comes in- when Disney bought 21st Century Fox, they had to sell off the regional sports networks to avoid the government coming down on them for a monopoly.
They auctioned the RSN’s to Diamond Sports Group, a Sinclair Broadcasting company. The pandemic hits, and Sinclair starts to panic. They used billions in debt to buy these networks, and they’re bleeding money. The choices are- declare bankruptcy, or pass the cost to consumers via a streaming platform of their own.
In August of 2022, Diamond Sports Group announced Bally Sports+, which lost $1.2 billion dollars in its first three months of operation.
In February of this year, right before a $140 million dollar interest payment is due, and with $1.8 billion in rights fees owed for the following year, Diamond Sports Group declares bankruptcy, and starts to skip payments to the professional teams it owes money to.
Teams like the Phoenix Suns were faced with a tough choice to negotiate lesser payments in their revenue share agreements- and when you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, it really seemed like the only choice.
But not only did Mat Ishbia say no, he sold the rights to Gray television, a free basic cable broadcasting company in Arizona, and is giving away free television antennas to anyone in Arizona that requests one.
Get this- The switch to local over-the-air stations will triple the reach of Suns and Mercury games to more than 2.8 million households.
As a college football fan, this is both music to my ears, and the most infuriating thing on the planet. The Pac-12 spent the last decade throttling availability in order to preserve and protect its television rights, and the conference died alone in its home like a hoarder surrounded by old newspapers.
Meanwhile the SEC’s deal with CBS, the channel that most televisions just get left on all day in boomer households, resulted in a three billion dollar rights deal with Disney. Is it because it really just means more in the south?
No! It was availability!
Mat Ishbia might be sacrificing tens of millions per year in the short term, but when you invest in your fans, it comes back to you. Hopefully, for the future of sports, and the longterm benefit of everyone, more rich men in suits follow Ishbia’s lead on this.
Let that sink in.
We need to talk about the AP rankings.
What is it going to take for the people that are entrusted with these votes to not be enslaved to their own confirmation bias?
So what if you started the season by thinking Georgia was the best team in the country?
Carson Beck struggled to move the ball at home against South Carolina, and what you’re saying to the public is that it doesn’t matter how ugly a team comes up with a victory, you’ll ignore those warts because of the final number on the scoreboard.
And you know these rankings have me pissed because I’m about to pound the table for the school I hate the most.
Look at the domination of Washington. Domination.
But Penn State and Ohio State get to be ahead of them in the rankings? For what?
And the worst part about it is if Notre Dame exposes Ohio State this weekend, it’s not going to be an abject lesson to the people that rank these teams with an overly obvious bias against the teams out west.
It’s going to give them license to leapfrog Notre Dame over Washington, and probably USC too.
And if Penn State gets baited into a rock fight with Iowa, and gets a 13-10 win, while Washington puts up another 500+ yards of offense on Cal, do you think you’re going to see these voters drop Penn State below the Huskies?
No, you won’t.
And the reason why is simple- instead of judging these teams on their merits, AP voters are rooting for their preseason guesses to be correct.
This is the toxicity of preseason rankings- you have people that don’t see every team making guesses based on a mix of the previous season’s results, and a quick glance at recruiting rankings, and then doing everything they can to justify that initial guess as the season unfolds.
Anyone with half a brain knows that if the first AP poll came out after three weeks instead of before the season started, it would look extremely different than it does now.
You definitely wouldn’t have Tennessee ranked two spots above Florida just one day after Florida pounded them into dust.
So if we know that to be true, why do we keep this ridiculous system in place?
For content? We have plenty of content.
People complain about the fanboy nature of modern media, and these AP voters might be able to walk around thinking they’re a cut above because they don’t openly root for the teams they cover.
But they’re still fans. Fans of themselves. And that fanboy nature is making the AP Poll look as useless as the Coaches Poll that gets filled out by grad assistants and sports information directors.
Let that sink in.
We need to talk about the rumors that LeBron James is trying to assemble an Olympic super team to take one last ride in Paris next summer.
The USA’s men just took fourth place in the FIBA World Cup, dropping games to Lithuania, Germany, and Canada.
To quote Donald Trump in a vastly different context- “They’re not sending their best.”
The starting lineup of this summer’s iteration of the Men’s National Team was an average age of 26, and had three combined all-star appearances between them.
The bench of this roster had four players that weren’t even full time starters for their NBA teams last year.
But help is on the way, as Shams Charania is reporting that LeBron James seeks to build what some are calling the “Supreme Team,” and put together a squad that would rival in talent and accolades the Olympic teams of 1992 and 1996.
We’re talking Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, Draymond Green.
Basketball’s own version of The Expendables.
You even have Devin Booker out here on social media volunteering to join up to be a 3-and-D wing player just to be able to take part in this.
So this begs the question, why on earth is LeBron James planning to take part in the grueling Olympic slate at age 39, when there have only ever been 31 professional basketball players in the history of the game to even take the court at the highest level after age 40.
Is this going to be his swan song? Retire in Paris? Absolutely not. I fully expect to see LeBron playing two full seasons beyond the 2024 Olympics, and so do some of his corporate partners.
Think about it this way- has anyone ever been more aware of the entire concept of “legacy” while still in their playing days? This is an opportunity for LeBron to publicly give back to the game, while bridging the old and the new on the world’s largest stage.
This crop of FIBA kids? That was an audition. Expect to see maybe 3-4 players from this team, paired with some of the NBA’s current stars in their 20’s like Jayson Tatum, and a handful of twilight legends as well.
Look at what Tom Brady did in his final two years in the NFL to make himself more accessible and soften his persona on the way into the next phase of his career. Think of this a little like that.
LeBron isn’t trying to win anyone over that hates him for the stances he’s taken off the court. Some Americans have already shown their willingness to root on the downfall of the competitors representing them based on their personal views- case in point, the US Women’s National Soccer Team.
No, this is more like the frilly frosting on the decorative cake that has been one of the greatest and most scrutinized athletic careers in the history of sport.
And it won’t be without pressure or adversity, them boys around the world can play. The fact that there’s a risk of losing involved is what makes this such an intriguing possibility.
The embarrassment of a loss on the national stage with a dozen future Hall of Famers on the roster is immense. But the reward, both for LeBron James’ legacy, and the future of basketball, can’t be ignored.
Let that sink in.
We need to talk about this Mel Tucker/Brenda Tracy situation.
But maybe not in the way you’d expect.
For those who don’t know, Brenda Tracy, founder of Set The Expectation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual and interpersonal violence through prevention work, accused Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker of repeatedly refusing to acknowledge their eight month professional relationship should not progress into a romantic one, as well as sexually harassing her on a phone call in April 2022.
She also accuses him of canceling a July 2022 speaking engagement in retaliation for Brenda rebuffing his advances.
For Mel Tucker’s part, he says the relationship had mutually progressed beyond professional, that his actions on the April 2022 phone call were consensual, and that his personal feelings about her had nothing to do with his decision to postpone, not cancel, her summer 2022 training in East Lansing.
He essentially accuses Brenda Tracy of wanting to extort him for financial gain in order to drop the Title IX complaint she made to Michigan State in December 2022.
I’m not going to get into who should be believed here. Accusations deserve investigation. Trust enough to make an earnest attempt to verify.
But what happens when the people you have to trust in order to sort out the details of a serious matter have their own ulterior motives and no regard for your welfare?
Because that’s what seems to be the case in Michigan State’s internal investigation of this matter.
Brenda Tracy and Mel Tucker are on opposing sides of a very serious issue, but the one place they might have common ground is their grievance with the investigative process.
This investigation is now tainted and playing out in the court of public opinion because someone leaked Brenda Tracy’s name to USA Today ahead of the October hearings.
The person Branda Tracy had shared investigative documentation with, USA Today reporter Kenny Jacoby, confirmed that he had access to the documentation of the case since June 2023, and has known Brenda Tracy for six years.
But the condition of USA Today having exclusive access to the documentation of the case was that none of it was to be used until the completion of the investigation.
And the longer the hearing was delayed, the bigger the risk that Tracy’s name came out in the media. The hearings were initially set for late August, but Tucker and his attorney delayed the proceedings until October 5th.
Over the last two months, the whispers of the story coming out grew louder, and an MSU Title IX coordinator even emailed Brenda Tracy’s attorney back in late August to warn them that media outlets were investigating the matter and might be ready to publish a story.
When USA Today contacted Brenda Tracy last week to tell her that her name had been brought up, she greenlit the story. And you might be saying to yourself, “Well then this whole thing getting out before October is Brenda Tracy trying to gain an advantage.”
But what you’re not considering is that this story getting out before there’s an investigative conclusion means that Brenda Tracy’s organization is essentially toast. College coaches are not going to bring Set The Expectation onto their campus if there’s even a one percent chance that they feel Tracy isn’t a consummate professional.
The contextless details about long phone calls and the formation of a deeply personal relationship with a married coach, regardless of the claim Mel Tucker pushed the relationship into sexual territory after being asked not to, give enough reasonable doubt to any athletic administration to seek guidance and training on sexual violence and consent from literally anyone but Brenda Tracy.
This information being out there does not help Brenda Tracy at all.
And it damn sure doesn’t help Mel Tucker. I’m not sure he can be helped, but if the only people aware that this investigation had concluded, and was awaiting a hearing, were out here spilling secrets- how on earth is it even possible for Mel Tucker to have a fair adjudication of his counterclaims?
The answer? It isn’t. And maybe that’s the point.
The leaker definitely has no regard for Brenda Tracy’s well-being, and the entire thing seems to be an attempt to hurt Tucker’s chances of surviving this scandal and being able to earn the massive contract that Spartan boosters gave him.
This case is complicated and messy enough without the ulterior motives of a third party being driven by a desire for success on the football field.
Let that sink in.
We need to talk about Travis Hunter’s injury on the cheapshot by Henry Blackburn in the Colorado/Colorado State game.
If you didn’t see it, Blackburn came over from his safety position and put his shoulder into Hunter’s ribs well after a sideline pass had already sailed over Hunter’s head.
Blackburn was trying to knock Hunter out of the game, and it worked. After being pulled from the game and sent to the hospital for evaluation, we now know that Travis Hunter is knocked out of several games.
And until he gets back, Henry Blackburn should be suspended too. But he won’t be. Because you can intentionally try to injure anyone you want in college football, so long as you don’t lower your head when you do it.
Lower your head and whiff on a tackle like Weber State’s Naseme Colvin did against Utah last weekend? Kicked out of the game.
Lower your shoulder into the ribs of the best player on the field at full speed well after the play has ended? Stay in the game, but the ball gets moved 45 feet ahead.
Now, Henry Blackburn isn’t going to go unpunished. This is a young man FROM Boulder Colorado. Walking around in his hometown is gonna be a little less comfortable now that people like LeBron James are tweeting about his dirty hit. However, he will be able to play the first half next week against Middle Tennessee State, while his teammate Mohamed Kamara will have to sit out because he got flagged for targeting on his hit of Sheduer Sanders.
But this is less about Henry Blackburn, and more about how it exposes the NCAA’s ridiculous refusal to address the fact that a massive portion of targeting calls involve accidental contact and end up being judgment calls from referees watching who are watching slow motion replays.
There needs to be a differentiation between incidental, non-malicious contact on the field that the NCAA still wants to discourage, and the intentional type of plays that can ruin careers, and endanger someone’s physical wellbeing.
Nobody understands the need to keep players as safe as possible in an intensely physical game more than I do. I had to take these hits. But I’m a former offensive player out here telling you that trying to take the football out of football by not differentiating between things that happen when a defender is trying to make a play, like when Mississippi State’s Shawn Preston Jr. got tossed for tackling a non-sliding Jayden Daniels in their game against LSU.
At most that should have been a penalty for leading with the helmet. I could live with that, but for the rules as they’re written to create the reality that it’s less egregious for a safety to use his shoulder as a weapon on a defenseless receiver after the play ends?
That’s a joke.
We can try and rid the game of lowered crowns and launching- that’s a noble pursuit. Stuff like what the Denver Broncos Kareem Jackson did to Washington Commanders TE Logan Thomas on Sunday needs to involve punishments that span the length of the injuries they might cause. I feel the same way about Henry Blackburn.
But if the illegal contact seems unintentional, throw the flag and make it a teachable moment instead of an overly punitive action that shifts the balance of competition in the game.
Let that sink in.
We need to talk about Josh Allen.
To survive in the NFL, or just to survive in this world in general, you have to adapt.
And not just once. You have to keep adapting.
I didn’t think Josh Allen would be successful in the NFL when he came out of Wyoming. Not as a quarterback anyway- I thought he might have been a generational Tight End.
Tim Tebow might not have been able to make that transition, but Matt Jones, Logan Thomas and Feleipe Franks figured it out. And I thought Josh Allen could have been the best of that group.
But he proved me wrong. He proved a lot of people wrong. And the way he did that? He put the pedal to the floor at all times. Ran hard. Threw hard. Didn’t care about being neat. Didn’t care about turnovers. Definitely didn’t care about his own physical welfare.
He just had the mindset to be the last man standing at the bar brawl.
It was entertaining. And it gained him a lot of fans. After all, this is an entertainment business.
But in the course of that entertainment, the Bills started to win. And as they won, everything increased. The stakes. The expectations. The pay. The hype.
And when Josh Allen figured out NFL defenses with the help of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, he found himself as the 2020 NFL MVP runner up. That’s when the pendulum began to shift, as it always does. After the 2020 season, Josh Allen signed a massive extension- which every team with a franchise QB knows makes it harder to retain stars at other positions. The success led to later draft picks, which are harder to hit on. And it also led to Brian Daboll getting a job as the Head Coach of the New York Giants.
I’ve often said the thing that gets you to the party isn’t always the thing that keeps you at the party.
Josh Allen has to feel like this team’s success is more and more on his shoulders. So in 2022, he started to revert back to his Wyoming Cowboy barfight ways. He finished 3rd in MVP voting, and the Bills won 13 games, and a playoff game.
But, his sack percentage jumped from 4 to 5.5, he turned the ball over 19 times in the regular season, and another four times in the 2022 playoffs. Plus he had another 10 fumbles last year that the Bills were lucky enough to fall on before they added to that turnover total.
To stay at this party, Josh Allen needs to chill. He needs to trust the defense that was first in points allowed in 2021, and second in 2022- and that was suffocating the Jets last night until Allen’s four turnovers gave them new life.
After the game last night, Josh Allen had a blank stare. He knew he lost the Bills that game. “I was trying to force the ball,” Allen said. “Same shit, same place, different day. I hurt our team tonight. I cost our team tonight. This feels eerily similar to last year and I hate that it’s the same. I do.”
And all of the sudden, the thing that made Josh Allen fun- playing like he had everything in the world to prove, doesn’t seem so fun anymore.
Josh Allen has already proven himself. To me, to his front office, to his fans, to everyone in the league whose opinion matters.
He might have crashed this party, but he belongs here now. And the second he starts acting like it, and trusting the game plan, and his teammates, he’ll start having fun again.
Let that sink in.
The Los Angeles Chargers are 19-16 under Brandon Staley.
12 of those 16 losses are by one score or less.
In five of their last six losses, the Chargers had a second half lead.
This man is blowing it, literally and figuratively.
He even had Darren Sproles calling for his job before the season started. When have you ever heard Darren Sproles say anything negative about anyone?
Brandon Staley has to do something to get people to stop thinking about how his team blew it by getting outscored 31-3 in the final 31 minutes of last year’s Wild Card round.
Or how about when Brandon Staley called a timeout to give the Raiders time to kick a game-winning overtime field goal to knock the chargers out of the playoff race at the end of the 2021 season?
Staley was hired after one season as the Rams defensive coordinator. Before that, he’d never been responsible for calling a defense at a major college or professional level.
Sure, Brandon Staley had the number one defense, and the Rams won the 2020 Super Bowl, but anyone that had even accidentally brushed up against Sean McVay was getting interviews, and Staley certainly benefited from that.
You’d figure at the very least, the defensive ingenuity that got him the job would translate, but it hasn’t.
In 2021, the Chargers were 23rd in yards given up, and 29th in points allowed. Last year the Chargers’ secondary leveled up to be seventh in the league against the pass, but it didn’t matter because they were 28th against the run.
On Sunday, the Chargers gave up 466 passing yards to Tua Tagovailoa, and 121 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone.
And despite having a defense with Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, and Derwin James going against a Miami offensive line that almost got Tua killed last year, the Chargers didn’t have a single sack.
Brandon Staley has one of the best arms in the NFL in Justin Herbert, two $20-million receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, plus not one, but two insanely productive running backs in Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley, and this supposed defensive mastermind is out here wasting all of his offensive resources with a defense that surrenders more than the French army.
One of the worst parts about Brandon Staley is that he came into the Chargers gig with the mindset of being the most aggressive coach in history when it comes to fourth downs, only to start second guessing himself in the middle of last season.
In 2021 the Chargers went for it on fourth down one third of the time, and converted nearly two-thirds of those. Then last November, out of nowhere, Staley decides to punt on 4th and inches with a third quarter lead against the Chiefs, putting the ball into Patrick Mahomes’ hands.
You can guess what happened next.
People are starting to talk about whether Staley can make it through the season, but I’m not worried about the season, I’m worried about the next five games- Titans, Vikings, Raiders, Cowboys, and Chiefs- if they aren’t at least .500 after that slate, Chargers OC Kellen Moore might be getting a pay bump and some expanded responsibilities.
Let that sink in.
Gambling in Sports
We need to talk about college and pro athletes betting on sports.
Right now, Denver Broncos defensive tackle Eyioma Uwazurike is suspended for allegedly betting on games he participated in at the NFL level, and is under criminal investigation for attempting to manipulate data to make it look like he wasn’t betting on games he played in while at Iowa State.
His college teammate, Iowa State starting QB Hunter Dekkers, is also under criminal investigation for betting on games using his mom’s account before turning 21.
This is on the heels of several NFL players being suspended for using legal gambling apps like FanDuel to bet while at the team facility. Players that placed bets full well knowing that star wide receiver Calvin Ridley was sitting out the entire 2022 season for betting on games while injured.
There are more players suspended from last year’s Detroit Lions team alone than the NFL suspended for gambling in its first 98 years of existence.
College and NFL players didn’t start gambling on sports when legal mobile sports betting came on the scene. But there was no digital footprint when my teammates and I had a friendly wager on a big boxing match. Now, apps like DraftKings and Fan Duel are pumping enormous sponsorship dollars into teams and leagues directly, and as part of those agreements, they’re required to report data on betting from players, their family members, and the geofenced locations that those bets take place at.
On one hand, the players know the rules. On the other, the league had to know that relentlessly promoting mobile gaming apps and wagering promotions was going to appeal to its members.
Gambling, the responsible kind anyway, is done for the most part by men with disposable income.
The one thing professional sports is full of is men with disposable income.
I’m not saying the penalties are unfair when suspensions are issued, but leagues have to admit there’s an element of cause and effect here, and acknowledge the fact that prior to 2019, there were only three total gambling suspensions.
I’m curious to know what you all think about this. I know my audience wagers. I keep an eye on the lines every week. Has the legalization of mobile gaming lessened the idea that athletes betting on their own sport is ‘evil?’ My generation, and the one before it, came up in the shadow of Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, being permanently banned by Cooperstown for wagers he placed as a manager.
That was considered sports’ most unforgivable sin. Prior to Pete Rose, the worst scandal in sports history was the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspiring with professional gamblers to rig the world series. You still know them today as the “Black Sox.”
The appeal of sports is that there isn’t a script in place. It’s what makes gambling gambling. No predetermined outcomes. But the nature of sports are also what make sports fans the most logical group to market gambling apps to.
Think about it. Everything about being a sports fan is a gamble. When you buy tickets to a game, you’re gambling on the idea that the money you spent is going to be made worthwhile by a win. When you buy an athlete’s jersey at the Team Shop, you’re gambling that your team won’t trade that player two weeks later. Almost every dollar invested in sports is based in the hope of positive outcomes, full well knowing that in order for those outcomes to take place, you’re gonna need a few lucky bounces.
So I want to know, is the idea of athletes betting on sports all that bad? Even their own sport, in the event that it’s not a game they have the ability to directly influence? Or should players be allowed to bet their own overs, or on their own team so long as it is to win?
Where do you draw the line on what you are and are not comfortable with?
We need to talk about the Crimson Tide.
Because for the first time since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, it feels like that’s not just Alabama’s mascot, but a description of the fact there’s blood in the water.
And those SEC sharks can smell it.
The 34-24 Texas win marked the first time Alabama had lost a regular season non-conference game in 16 years.
And Alabama, which hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2010, is 6-3 in their last 9 games.
Nick Saban says Alabama might have failed the test against Texas, but that it was a Midterm, and not the Final.
To be fair to Saban this was his first big game with both a new offensive coordinator, and a new QB in Jalen Milroe.
And I might be fair, but life in college football is about as fair as a November SEC matchup against Ding Dong Tech.
You already have people out here whispering that Saban is going to retire, and that if Deion Sanders is bigtime enough to stand next to Saban in an AFLAC commercial, why not just take his place on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa?
Insanity is a byproduct of success. Nick Saban has raised the standard at Alabama to such impossible heights that perfection is the only option.
And like hyenas waiting on the king of the jungle to leave the carcass after he’s had his fill, the college football world is waiting to pounce.
But I’d be careful.
There are ten former five star recruits on this Alabama defense. 59% of Alabama’s roster are former top-100 players in the nation coming out of high school.
There’s poking the bear, and there’s poking Bear-zilla.
You have to figure this loss is going to give Alabama all the motivation they need to get focused up for SEC play without anyone out here adding billboard material to the mix.
I’m talking to you, Mr. Twitter Fingers Lane Kiffin. You might want to stay off social media for the next two weeks and let your players try and do the talking on September 23rd.
Let that sink in.