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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributors Bill Morphy, Bill Myles, Ted Tait and Dave Kittle. This week, when will the games begin anew and what will be the fallout, plus scraps from a sports world gone silent. 

Who Knows What – We are certainly in uncharted territory when it comes to the future of professional sports. There is all kinds of speculation around when play will resume.  At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Here’s the latest in a report published this week.

Force Majeure – How can we possibly gauge the economic downturn that is coming for professional sports? There’s a reckoning on the horizon that will be felt for years to come.

Pro sports and network television are closely intertwined so the impact of the coronavirus crisis is having a devastating effect. Remember the words “force majeure” because it’s a provision in virtually every sports broadcasting contract and you are going to be hearing more about it in the days and weeks ahead. In short, it’s a provision that allows the networks to recoup money if unforeseen circumstances cause games to be cancelled. Yes, like a highly contagious virus!

So far, the networks have not indicated they will invoke force majeure but if seasons are shortened or cancelled, you can be sure networks will come calling. This certainly accounts for the pressure being felt to get players back competing again. If games are to resume in empty stadiums, then TV revenues become essential. In baseball, you also have massive regional TV contracts. You can be certain the networks carrying Dodger and Yankee games will be demanding compensation. Perhaps the easiest way to fix the problem will be to simply extend the current TV contracts and tack on an additional year. Regardless, professional leagues are going to take a massive financial hit.

The NFL is banking on starting its season on time which may be optimistic. But if you can’t let 20 thousand people in to see a hockey or basketball game, do you really see a scenario where 75 thousand are gathering for an NFL game?

It’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic is going to bludgeon the Canadian and U.S. economies over the next several months. Unemployment numbers are off the charts. Trillions of dollars are disappearing from pocket books. Billionaire owners are watching their portfolios dwindle. The drop in the value of the Canadian dollar is going to further impact professional teams in Canada.

Even if pro sports returns, and that’s a big if, will people have money to buy tickets and merchandise and all the rest?  Will companies have money to advertise, sponsor or purchase corporate boxes? Will teams need to drastically reduce ticket prices? Every major revenue stream is going to be impacted. At the outset, everyone assumed fans would stampede back to games but is that really the case?

It’s not hard to see a much different playing field where revenues are dramatically lower and player salaries follow suit. Fewer people in the stands could become commonplace. The days of astronomical player contracts may be over. It may be hard to accurately predict the ultimate fallout but we can reasonably say a sea change in the pro sports landscape is looming.

NHL Notebook – The NHL and NBA need to face reality. The chances of salvaging their respective seasons are slim and none and slim left town. The NHL is so desperate they are talking about playing playoff games in North Dakota.  Who the hell floated that idea?

Needless to say, money is at the rout of the issue. Neither league wants to officially announce the cancellation of the season because they would have to immediately start refunding ticket money. Sure, money could be put toward next year’s season tickets but some fans would want money back right away especially if they had purchased a single game ticket for a game that won’t be played. As mentioned, there is also television and other ancillary revenues involved. The NHL seems to be clinging to some alternate reality. At some point, the league needs to face the fact we might not be seeing hockey again until at least October.

The virus-imposed break has allowed numerous NHL players more time to heal. If the league were to somehow restart during the summer, several key players would be able to return to the lineup. A number of teams stand to benefit including the Columbus Blue Jackets who had a lengthy injury list that included stud D-man Seth Jones. Carolina would also get back defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Sami Vatanen, who was yet to play after being acquired at the trade deadline. The Canucks would certainly stand to benefit. Goalie Jacob Markstrom would be ready to return from a knee injury.  The team would also welcome back Chris Tanev and perhaps even Josh Leivo and Michael Ferland. The rest would give Brock Boeser more time to heal from the rib injury as well.

If the NHL season has to be cancelled altogether, you have to wonder if that means a number of players have already played their last NHL game. The list would be fairly lengthy – Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Corey Perry, Jason Spezza, Mikko Koivu, Justin Williams and goalies Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Henrik Lundqvist come to mind.

Is it just me or is the NHL pipeline of young talent far more robust than the NBA? It seems to me that the NHL is graduating more impact players than in basketball. Just look at mock drafts for this year’s NHL and NBA drafts. This is shaping up to be one of the deepest NHL drafts in a decade while the NBA draft may not include a single high impact player. Certainly not a player of the generational caliber of Alexis Lafreniere.

Players often enter the NBA with just one year of college basketball under their belt. NHL draftees have played three and sometimes even four years in junior hockey or college.  Same with players coming from Europe. Many drafted players audition for two years or more in the AHL before becoming NHL regulars.  European and Russian free agents come over to the NHL at 24-25 and are ready to play immediately. In the NBA, for every Luca Doncic or Trae Young, there are ten draft lottery flops.

The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard from their championship roster yet they had the third-best record in the NBA when the season was suspended.  Why?  Because they are well-coached and play an intelligent, mature game. You need well-schooled, experienced players to do that and there aren’t enough of them in the NBA. All you see are players throwing up 3-balls because they are ill-equipped to run plays properly and certainly can’t play championship caliber defense. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri figured this out before everyone else and it’s a big reason he focused so much on building a strong Toronto 905 minor league program. Players coming into the NBA are not ready and need time to develop. Far too many walk right into the league after one year in college and never find their way.

Can you imagine what shape the NBA would be in if they were not importing players from Canada and Europe? The poor developmental system certainly accounts for the overall quality of play in the NBA which, in my opinion, is at its lowest level in years. There are more bad teams in the NBA than ever before. Parity is working in the NHL because the pipeline of players is allowing it to happen.

With the NHL season in limbo, we haven’t had a chance to pick on the mighty Maple Leafs.  You will remember that they were going to win the Stanley Cup this season, right? The media sycophants in Toronto keep on singing the Leafs praises. Here’s Luke Fox of LeafNet expounding the praises of five “intriguing’ Leafs prospects. It’s just one more example of the over-the-top ‘homerism’ in Toronto.

Meanwhile, James Mirtle of The Athletic has laid out next year’s Leaf lineup with the salary cap expected to stay flat. If any Leaf fan thinks they will win anything with a lineup this young and this soft, they had better give their collective head a shake. The group on the back end is a joke.

The biggest mistake the Leafs may have made is believing that the salary cap would continue to rise and within a few years, would reach about $90 million. That’s not going to happen and it will severely limit the Leafs ability to fill out their roster.

OK, now that we have skewered the Leafs, I feel better. Mark my words, in two years Ottawa and Montreal will have bypassed the Leafs in the standings.

Roger That – Is there a more tone deaf commissioner in all of pro sports than Roger Goodell? He is insisting on holding the NFL Draft as scheduled April 23-25 despite what’s happening around the world. NFL general managers have pushed back but Goodell is sticking to his guns.

The problem is simple. Offseason activities have already been cancelled and team facilities are closed. NFL teams have not been able to conduct player physicals or psychological testing and finalize information about draft-eligible players. The NFL is now planning to hold a virtual draft where all GM’s are holed up at home and make the selections from their home office or living room.

Adam Schefter of ESPN and NFL Network may have put forth the best suggestion. He suggested the NFL hold the 7-round draft over a full week period and have one round each night. It would certainly bring eyeballs to the draft.

Here in Canada, you have to wonder when the CFL season will begin, if at all. If the season were to be cancelled, would anyone really care? David Braley perhaps!

Meat Draw – So with the NFL Draft going ahead later this month, we can start getting up to speed on the top prospects.  The Ringer recently posted their Top 100 eligible draftees.

There have been number of mock NFL drafts posted to date. The latest mock draft from Sports Illustrated has the Seahawks drafting Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones at number 27.

Here’s a couple more mock drafts – from Bleacher Report and from CBS Sports.

As we get closer to the NFL draft, we will highlight several players that would be outstanding selections when the Seahawks are on the board. Some of these mock drafts can be pie-in-the-sky.  Here’s one prognostication that has been circulated in the Seattle news media that simply doesn’t wash. I don’t see any scenario where Clemson WR Tee Higgins or Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore are around when the Seahawks select in the second round.

One thing is for sure, the Seahawks need to take advantage of the depth at two positions in particular in the draft – wide receiver and defensive tackle.  There’s an abundance of outstanding prospects at both spots and it fits well with the Seahawks needs.

Revamped Golf Sked – Like every major sport, professional golf is trying to figure out a way to save the season.  Regardless of what happens, the schedule is going to look awfully different.

The first shoe to fall was the announcement this week that the Open Championship scheduled for July 12-19 at Royal St. George’s GC in England has been cancelled. Meantime, the Masters has announced that they are now targeting November 9-15 for the 2020 tournament. (Yes, I am still mourning the fact that this would have been Masters Week)

As of now, here’s when the other Majors and the Ryder Cup are scheduled:

— Aug. 6-9: PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco

— Sept. 17-20: U.S. Open at Winged Foot in New York

— Sept. 25-27: Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin

Reports say the United States Golf Association is looking at alternate venues for the U.S. Open if it needs to move later in the year with Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines as possible locations. Both those facilities have multiple courses which would be required due to the limited daylight at that time.

Pitch and Putt – If and when they play the Masters this year, the debate over the integrity of the 13th hole will no doubt resurface. The hole has become something of a joke with long hitters reaching the par-5 with driver and short iron. It was originally intended to be a risk or reward hole with players using a long iron from 200+ yards out.  Not now.

The powers-that-be at Augusta have already moved the tees back and may be preparing to do so again. Clearly, something needs to happen to put the teeth back in the 13th hole.

Music Video of the Week – We lost a giant in the music industry this week with the passing of Bill Withers in Los Angeles at the age of 81 from heart complications.

Known for his smooth baritone vocals and sumptuous soul arrangements, he wrote some of the 70s best-remembered songs, including “Lean On Me”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Lovely Day” and “Use Me”. Although he stopped recording in 1985, his songs remain a major influence on R&B and hip-hop. “Lean on Me” has recently become associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, with many people posting their own versions to support health care workers.

Withers was born in the small West Virginia coal-mining town of Slab Fork. He stuttered as a child and it made it very difficult for him to fit in. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 and became interested in singing and songwriting. Withers left the Navy in 1965 and two years later moved to L.A. to begin his music career.

In the early 70’s, Withers auditioned for Sussex Records and was signed to a record contract.  His first album was produced by Booker T. Jones of Stax Records fame. It included “Ain’t No Sunshine” and featured Stephen Stills on lead guitar. The album was a success and Withers would go on to win three Grammy Awards.

Here’s John Legend and Stevie Wonder performing “Lean on Me” at the 2015 induction of Bill Withers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bill is on the stage and singing background vocals.

We have selected four iconic Bill Withers tunes for you recorded in the early 70’s when he was at the peak of his career. Have a listen!

“Lean on Me”

“Use Me”

“Ain’t No Sunshine”

“Just the Two of Us”

I’m on a mailing list for the Steve Miller Band. I was sent an email this week regarding the cancellation of all his shows now through June. Miller also posted a link to an old TV show.  It’s an early pre-release live version of “Fly like an Eagle” from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, recorded in 1973. What makes the performance unique is it would be three more years before Miller recorded and released the song.

As an added bonus, we found this vintage Temptations video from 1972 of “Papa was a Rolling Stone.” It’s had more than 35 million views. If the truth is revealed, now you know where I got all my dance moves!!!!