Money Talks

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Before I get into this, I want to acknowledge that the chances the Jaguars leave Jacksonville are slim — or none, according to some — lest I incur the wrath of their fans. One of the running gags in the NFL is the Jaguars’ inevitable relocation, and Twitter exploded with such jokes (myself included) when news broke that Wayne Weaver was selling the team to Shahid Khan, owner of auto parts maker Flex-N-Gate Corp.

The Jaguars are currently valued at $725 million by Forbes, the lowest in the NFL. Khan paid $760 million for the team in cash — the man is obviously part of the 1%. As part of the purchase agreement, Khan has given his assurances the Jaguars would not be relocated. Indeed, their lease in Jacksonville runs through 2030 and is “ironclad” by all accounts. This did little to quell jokes and speculation about their eventual relocation, though, as sports journalists and fans across the country continue to do so as I type. Do Khan’s assurances and the stadium lease eliminate the possibility the Jaguars will relocate?

Here is the rub: money talks, and Khan clearly knows how to listen. Consider this scenario:

The Jaguars, again, are the lowest-valued NFL team at $725 million, while most of the other teams are valued around or over $1 billion. It is a fair assumption that the team’s value would dramatically increase by merely relocating to the right market like, say, Los Angeles. If the estimated increase would take the team close to or over $1 billion, that would be about a $275 million increase — again, simply for relocating. If broken anytime soon, the Jaguars would supposedly owe the city over $60 million in rent on top of losses from parking, taxes, and other Jaguar-dependent sources of income. I can only guess at what that would all amount to, but I imagine it cannot be much more than $275 million if it even comes close to that number — before researching some of this information, I saw it would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to break that lease, no small amount of money.

From here it seems like simple math: if the franchise value increases by $275 million or so, and it costs that much or less to break their lease in Jacksonville, it seems like Khan would break even, at worst, by simply moving the team to the right market. He certainly has the money to pay to break that lease before he sees the franchise increase in value. Of course, Khan could then look forward to a sharp increase in revenue from the bigger market and fanbase — it is hard to argue the Jaguars can make more money in Jacksonville than Los Angeles. There is the small matter that the L.A. group purportedly wants a significant stake in the team, but this scenario does not have to play out in southern California. (Though, if I were Khan, I would offer 30% of the team to the LA group, immediately recouping any money paid out in Jacksonville exit fees while still retaining a controlling stake in the team.)

I am oversimplifying the situation, of course, but I never claimed to be an expert. I am playing Bill Simmons here — armchair money speculator. Khan seems to be genuinely interested in owning a football team for the right reasons — that is to say, the joy and thrill of owning a team, not just trying to make money. That would be great for the Jaguars and for football. All I am saying is that handshake agreements and ironclad leases are obstacles, but ones that can be overcome if enough money is involved. To me it is a bit naive to say the Jaguars have zero chance of relocating.

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University of Miami – The Academic Misconception

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Even the Rock got his degree from Miami.

I love Gregg Easterbrook’s weekly TMQ column on ESPN’s Page 2 during football season, even though I tend to disagree with some of what he says on a weekly basis. Recently, though, I have taken some umbrage with his disparaging remarks about the University of Miami and the scandal in which they are embroiled. Specifically, Mr. Easterbrook exhibits some lazy journalism regarding Miami’s academic prestige, something university president Donna Shalala has referenced in recent months. He seems to think Shalala is being deceptive when referencing academic prestige regarding Miami’s student-athlete, but that simply does not paint an accurate picture of the academic prestige in Coral Gables.

His first shots came on September 6th, when he writes that the Hurricanes only graduate 67% of football players (or 64%, depending on which number he thinks is right — he puts down both). He wrote that in response to president Shalala’s claim that Miami student-athlete academic achievement is mentioned in the same breath as Notre Dame and Stanford. While I do agree there might be some hyperbole involved in that statement, using one outdated graduation rate for one sport reeks of bias. I am fairly certain that, while the scandal involves the prominent football program, Shalala was talking about student-athletes as a whole.

At any rate, even if we are just talking about the football program, Mr. Easterbrook should probably use better data. Miami’s graduation rate among football players has improved over the years, and they are currently tied for third in the ACC with an 81% graduation rate. While perhaps not in the same league as Notre Dame (96%), Stanford graduates 86% of its football players, just a few percentage points better. By comparison, the other schools Mr. Easterbrook recently derides have average-to-terrible rates — Ohio State graduates 63% while Oklahoma graduates just 44%. Donna Shalala’s claims of academic prestige are not so misleading after all, it seems — ambitious, perhaps, but not deceitful. Incidentally, the ACC is the nation’s top academic conference when it comes to graduating football players. Going back to student-athletes as a whole, Miami graduates a healthy 86% overall, and they continue to strive for excellence.

More importantly, what can we say about the academics of the University of Miami as a whole? I remember President Shalala specifically aiming to improve the university’s academic prestige when she took over for Tad Foote during my undergraduate career. Did she succeed? Well, Miami has steadily risen in academic rankings over the past decade — they are currently the no. 38 ranking in the nation according to U.S. News, a ranking which has gone up dramatically during Shalala’s tenure at the university. Not only are student-athletes graduating at a great rate, but they are receiving one of the best educations in the country. “Sun Tan U” is long gone.

While I have come to understand and even accept the national negativity aimed at the University of Miami, gross misconceptions like these are worth addressing and hopefully correcting. Miami has risen to become one of the best universities in the country all around while boasting top-flight medical and law schools for decades, among other great programs. One football scandal will do nothing to change that. While Nevin Shapiro’s poison runs its course through Miami’s system — make no mistake, once it runs its course the Hurricanes will be back — critics would be well served to find something else to aim at when trying to take cheap shots.

Jordan vs. Kobe: The Pointless Debate

May 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Every season, it seems, the debate over who is the greatest — Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant — gets renewed in earnest. Why is this even a debate? One is the unquestionable, undeniable choice. This should not even be a debate.

Jordan Kobe
30.1 PPG 25.3
5.3 APG 4.7
6.2 RPG 5.1
2.3 SPG 1.2
0.8 BPG 0.5
5 NBA MVP 1
6 Finals MVP 2
0 30+ playoff losses 5
6 Championships 5
1072 Games 1108

Seems pretty cut and dry to me. Jordan was simply a better all-around player than Kobe. Jordan did all this while having played four years of college ball, struggling with terrible teammates for the first few years of his career and taking almost two years off during his prime. Kobe entered the league out of high school, has been surrounded by great teammates almost the entire time, and has played with the benefits of softer modern-day rules. In other words, in the world of “what-if”, Jordan would have nine or ten titles and a career 35+ PPG. Put it this way: if they switched places, would the Bulls have won 6 championships with Kobe? I know Jordan would have demolished the 2011 Mavericks at 32, and he certainly wouldn’t have let his team implode.

Of course, statistics aren’t everything, and Kobe has a few years left in the tank to catch up to Jordan on a few of these. The fact of the matter is that if you watched Jordan you would know that Jordan is on a level all by himself. I am not arguing against Kobe’s greatness — as much as I dislike him, he is basketball’s greatest player of his generation — but for Jordan’s transcending greatness. He put the NBA on his shoulders and took it to new heights. He played when the rules allowed far more physicality than they do today. He dethroned the Pistons and Lakers and swatted away Drexler’s Blazers, Barkley’s Suns, Hakeem’s Rockets, and Stockton and Malone’s Jazz. He was the ultimate competitor. Kobe has an impressive resume too, it just pales in comparison to MJ’s.

I am by no means old at 28, but it seems that the debate is kept alive by one of these camps: 1) Lakers fans, 2) NBA fans born in the ’90s or later, or 3) Both. When I tweeted about this recently, someone shot back that the fact that I am even comparing the two lending credence to the debate. Well, unfortunately, the debate lives on with or without my input. That person said anyone who thinks Kobe is better should spend some quality time with ESPN Classic. I agree. Just do it.

A Mock Exercise

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I went a bit mock crazy in the past several weeks, drafting as the virtual Dolphins GM in four seven-round mock NFL drafts, three of which allowed trades. While this has been a fun, enlightening, and exhausting experience, I have come up with some interesting results. Take a gander at the hauls I made in each draft:

MockOne

MockTwo (no trades)

Pick Player Pick Player
1.24 Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas 1.15 Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
2.15 Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois 3.15 Clint Boling, OT/OG, Georgia
3.08 Clint Boling, OT/OG, Georgia 4.14 DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma
3.15 D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas 5.15 Jordan Cameron, TE, USC
5.15 Cortez Allen, CB, Citadel 6.15 Cecil Shorts, WR, Mount Union
5.32 Julius Thomas, TE, Portland State 7.14 Graig Cooper, RB, Miami
7.15 Damien Berry, RB, Miami 7.15 Nathan Enderle, QB, Idaho
7.32 Eugene Clifford, S, Tennessee State 7.32 Scott Lutrus, ILB, Uconn

MockThree

RapidMock

Pick Player Pick Player
1.08 Cam Newton, QB, Auburn 1.15 Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
1.25 Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama 3.07 Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
2.29 Marcus Cannon, OT/OG, TCU 4.30 D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas
3.22 Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian 5.10 Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware
 5.16  Virgil Green, TE, Nevada 5.27 Denarius Moore, WR, Tennessee
 6.01  Johnny White, RB, North Carolina 7.8 Johnny White, RB, North Carolina
 7.07 Andrew Jackson, OG, Fresno State 7.14 Rob Housler, TE, Florida Atlantic
 7.32 Mario Harvey, LB, Marshall 7.15 Jah Reid, OT, Central Florida
7.32 Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers

Read more…

Miami Dolphins Draft – Mock One

April 4, 2011 11 comments

Thanks to the efforts of Brandon Nall, a bunch of us recently participated in a 7-round mock draft via Twitter, named Mock One. We allowed trades in this draft, which I personally think is more realistic than a mock draft with zero trades. For realism, we were only allowed to trade draft picks, which is the current situation with the lockout. The GMs may or may not have been way off base as to what teams might actually do, but all in all I think we did a pretty good job. Last year there were 42 trades involving draft picks, whereas we made only 30 (albeit a lot in the first two rounds).

I participated as the GM for the Miami Dolphins, and here are my results:

1.24 – Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

I was able to trade down twice to this pick, which turned out to be a huge boon for several reasons. I not only gained a second and third round pick, but I was able to draft a player at the top of my list despite moving to the bottom of the first round. Here is what I posted about Mallett after I drafted him:

With the 24th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins take Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas. The fourth quarterback off the board, we feel he had top 5 potential before off-field rumors and questions about his athleticism dramatically reduced his draft stock. We do not put much stock in rumors, and his on-the-field positives far outweigh the negatives. While Mark Ingram was also available, we felt the potential franchise quarterback was much more important than the talented running back.

After trading down twice to the 24th pick, the Dolphins feel great about the picks we gained in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Feeling we can now effectively fill other needs in the early rounds of the draft, taking Ryan Mallett became the increasingly clear choice as our pick approached, especially with teams needing a quarterback picking soon after us. We are excited to welcome the next great Dolphins quarterback to Miami! Read more…

2011 MLB Picks

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

The smell of pine tar is in the air, covering up the stink of labor turmoil as we get set for another baseball season. Here are my mostly uninformed picks going into the season:

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies (98-64)

There are folks who think the Phillies could be in for some offensive trouble without Jayson Werth, but when you own three golden arms and a silver one as your fourth, you are in good shape. Even with Chase Utley’s balky wrist and arguably the vilest fans in baseball, they will take the NL East easily.

2. Atlanta Braves (90-72)

Bobby Cox’s swan song was a surprising playoff run that ended with a series loss to the eventual world champion Giants. Will Marlins’ castoff Fredi Gonzalez be able to build on the momentum from last season? If the ageless Chipper Jones can stay healthy and productive, and Jason Heyward can avoid a sophomore decline, then I say yes.

3. Florida Marlins (83-79)

Another year of mediocrity. While I am sure the Royals and Pirates could be envious of the Marlins being perennially “young and competitive”, Florida needs to dip into the savings account once in a while if they are going to field anything better than what they have over the past few years. Note to Jeffrey Loria: antagonizing and running good managers off doesn’t help. Read more…

Let’s Make a Deal

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

One side plays a game – albeit a violent one – for millions of dollars and fan adoration. The other side is a good old boys club coveting riches beyond what they have already achieved. We, the fans, are casualties of the fracas, helplessly watching the parties squabble over how to slice a $9 billion pie. If only the lip service we are being paid by both sides counted for anything.

A memo to both parties: the NFL is not magical. There is no guarantee that it will continue to be ridiculously popular, especially if this ugly, public fight is dragged out for months and threatens the season. This is 2011, not 1987 or even 2006; the 24/7 news cycle and Twitter give the fans far more access to the details than ever before, and we are completely sick of it already. Trying to placate your consumers – you know, the ones without whom lucrative television contracts would dry up and stadiums would sit empty – with meaningless pledges and fake apologies does little to help.

As such, the league wants to continue negotiating, while the players feel like the owners are yanking their chains – no pun intended, Adrian Peterson. All the accusations and the he-said-he-said being played out in the public courtroom is pointless. DeMaurice Smith and Jeff Pash, among many others, need to stop firing public salvos and just get back to the bargaining table. I am nowhere near the first person to say they just need to get a deal done! So here is one I can suggest:

1) Split projected revenue 55/45

This seems like a rather obvious compromise – the owners want a 60/40 split of revenue, and the players want to split it 50/50. The players justifiably want to see justification for anything worse than an even split, and the owners have offered to show profitability data from the past five seasons. Before the lockout, the owners increased their offer to 44% of projected revenue, yet the NFLPA* never budged from their 50% demand. But compromise is a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions” after all, and both sides need to be willing to concede to get a deal done.

2) Split excess revenue 60/40

The NFLPA* took umbrage with the league’s final pre-decertification offer, but for no bigger reason than the dubious exclusion of a “true-up” clause, essentially giving the owners all of the revenue if it exceeded projections. Considering the proposals also dubiously projected much lower growth than in recent years, I understand why the players wanted to pore over the books. I could almost hear the nervous laughter from Packers CEO Mark Murphy when he stated that a “true-up” clause was essentially implied in any final agreement, but I can see where this could have seemed insulting to the players.

The league is protecting its players in the unlikely event that revenue declines, so it is only fair that the owners get a bigger cut of the excess revenue. Putting this in any offer will lessen the need for the players to look at the NFL’s books in great detail, because they would be guaranteed a good revenue split even if revenue goes beyond projections.

3) Offer health insurance for life and injury guarantees

Professional football players have notoriously short life spans, and debilitating injuries that can last a lifetime. Still, this would be an unprecedented deal, one that the owners have already included in their offer. Apparently, the NFLPA* has advised players that this offer comes with a caveat – Anthony Gonzalez prepared a response to Roger Goodell’s letter that included a rebuttal of the health insurance offer saying that the insurance would be cancelled if a player were to receive new employment. Whether or not this is true, the ability to purchase health insurance through the NFL for life is huge for the players, at great cost to the owners in the long run.

If I were the owners – and frankly, the players – this part of the deal would come with a mandate for players to utilize better safety equipment. Aaron Rodgers credits his new, high-tech helmet in shielding him from another concussion late in the season and playoffs. If the NFL is going to pony up all this money for lifetime health insurance, the least the players could do is try to protect themselves better, no matter how silly they think they look.

Another unprecedented offer was the one owners made to guarantee salaries for a year after a player gets injured. Keep that in there, owners.

4) Implement a structured rookie compensation system

Goodell’s crusade to get a wage scale should come to fruition. The NFLPA* had been willing to accept this as part of an offer before they de-certified, and even though part of the antitrust lawsuit against the NFL includes the rookie wage scale, there is no reason why the players should not ultimately agree to this. The lawsuit alleges rookie contracts will severely limit earnings, and being that the average NFL career is less than four seasons, the argument sounds reasonable.Being that the NFL offered a rookie scale that actually improved rookie salaries for anyone drafted beyond the first round, the career average of players drafted in the first round is the relevant number, one which I could not find. Either way, first round contracts need to be reined in; they have been out of control for years. If this happens to have the unintended consequence of keeping a few kids in school to graduate every year, even better.

At any rate, the NFL has already conceded any savings from a wage scale should go to veterans. The wage scale would limit the length of a rookie contract so the ones who perform well can capitalize on their success sooner than later – it lets the deserving guys make the money when they have proven worthy. This makes a ton of sense.

5) Dramatically reduce draft pick compensation for restricted free agents

The Frustrate Tag, as I like to call it, is too powerful. So is restricted free agency. When was the last time a player who was franchised or tendered with high draft picks signed with a different team? The current system creates a lazy way for teams to keep their players, and it sows malcontent – just ask Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, etc.

This part of the deal does two things: eliminates the franchise tag altogether, and makes the maximum restricted free agent tender a second-round draft pick. If the Franchise Tag were eliminated and restricted free agency neutered, players would be able to sign better deals more easily, and clubs would have to actually work to keep their players instead of slapping them with franchise tags and high-round tenders. This would certainly be a win for players, but one that also amounts to a win for the fans, whose free agency hopes are shot down with every franchise tag announcement.

6) Reduce off-season activities

Owners have already proposed a compromise on this issue, offering to reduce mandatory off-season workouts from 14 weeks to 10, and reducing contact during training camp. The NFLPA* originally demanded steeper reductions, but this is a negotiation after all. I would even go as far as reducing the preseason games by one if I were the owners to three games overall, something even more palatable to the players. The players already won the 18-game battle – one that the NFL really intended to lose, but a win is a win.

7) Increase retiree benefits for players

Another proposal the owners have already offered, and I do not see any reason to quibble over this. Those players need a dramatic increase in pension, and they should get one.

These are the major points in CBA discussions as far as I know. Obviously I do not have all of the information, and I do not care to get into the nitty gritty of a potential deal. My point is this: compromise is achievable. Why is this not happening? I have a sneaking suspicion that the lawyers are the real problem here – after all, once a deal is done they will not have these deep pockets to pick. The general points I have outlined does not seem a bad deal for either side. Even if I am way off base, there is no reason why both sides should not continue to try to hammer out a deal on an ongoing basis.