Sports Shorts

* If the Cubs don’t defend their World Series championship, there will be no dearth of second guessers. It comes with the territory. But the reality should be obvious: This team is just not as good as last year’s. Specifically, the pitching, especially relief pitchers not named Wade Davis.  If anything, the Cubs deserve extra credit for having advanced this far in the post season.

* OK, the USA didn’t qualify for the World Cup for the first time in a generation. Ouch, even if soccer isn’t America’s favorite sport–or even close. But look who did make it: Iceland. Population: 335,000, comparable to Tampa’s. Close enough. We have an adopted team to root for. Go, Cubes.

* The USF Bulls are undefeated, ascendant and now ranked 16th in the nation. USF has–at 11– the longest winning streak in the country, and the national media is well aware that it has scored at least 30 points in 23 straight games. That’s almost unheard of.

What the Bulls haven’t yet done, however, is look impressive for an entire game. The starts have been sputtering, key catalyst Quinton Flowers’ numbers are down and discipline–as manifested by penalties–has been a frustrating issue.

But imagine if they do clean up the sloppy starts, display an offense that looks more like last year’s and reduce dumb penalties. The Bulls could still be special by season’s end. Just don’t look past anybody, starting with Tulane on Saturday in New Orleans. Go, Bulls.

* That was another ugly loss for the University of Florida last week, but it wasn’t, by far, the ugliest part of the Texas A&M defeat. It was those faux-alligator-skin jerseys worn by the home team. Being the “Gators” isn’t reason enough. Not nearly.

UF is part of a pattern–perhaps it’s generational plus Nike marketing–but more and more teams are rolling out unis seemingly more appropriate for NASCAR, trapeze artists or Jackson Pollock fanatics. Mere Day-Glo never looked so tame.

Sports Shorts

* If you think the Washington Nationals’ scripted “W” looks a helluva lot like the “W” in Walgreens, you’re not alone. Walgreens thought so too. Yes, there is an agreement.

* The AP Top 25 now has three Florida teams listed. Not among them: FSU AND Florida. Among the three: USF (18) and UCF (22). Go, Bulls. Oh yeah, the other one is Miami.

Quoteworthy

* “This prize is really a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who have, ever since the dawn of the Atomic Age, loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our Earth.”–Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN recently won the Nobel Peace Prize.

* “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.”–Among the signs at the recent March for Choice protest against abortion bans in Ireland.

* “The Administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board.”–Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

* “Puerto Ricans deserve consistency and compassion in both action and tone from the Trump Administration. It’s about them, not about @POTUS.”–Jeb Bush.

 

* “We wanted to have a woman president. But when we didn’t, then I couldn’t walk away and say, O.K., just let all the men have the seats at the table that are making decision for our country.”–U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

* “When people are angry and looking for someone to blame, they don’t want to hear your 10-point plan to create jobs and raise wages. They want you to be angry too.”–Hillary Clinton, in “What Happened.”

* “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.'”–John Greenleaf Whittier.

* “The Republican Party has long preyed on the shame of dispossessed white voters.”–Diane McWhorter, author of “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.”

* “Attacks on the press by Donald Trump as enemies of the people (are) more treacherous than Nixon’s.”–Carl Bernstein.

* “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”–Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.

* “We wanted to play the tape on loop to remind the people who the president said he is–a proud sexual predator.”–Emma Boorboor, campaign director for UltraViolet, the women’s advocacy group that played the infamous and lewd “Access Hollywood” video on a large screen on the Washington Mall.

* “The president’s sabotage of affordable care for working Americans is cruel, misguided and costly.”–Florida Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

* “There is no other way to say this: the NRA funds domestic terrorism.”–Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash.

* “There are more gun clubs and gun shops in the United States than there are McDonalds.”–Hahrie  Han, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

* “Facebook, Twitter and Google are some of the world’s richest and most ambitious companies, but they still have not shown that they’re willing to bear the costs–or the political risks–of fixing the way misinformation spreads on their platforms. … Facebook and Google have spent billions of dollars developing virtual reality systems. They can spare a billion or two to protect actual reality.”–Kevin Roose, New York Times.

* “My mission as State Attorney is to keep our community safe while promoting fairness and justice for everyone in Hillsborough. Given the lack of evidence that the death penalty deters crime and legitimate questions about its fair and just application, capital punishment does not help accomplish that mission.”–Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren.

* “I have no  doubt whatsoever that I’m going to wake up into a better existence.”–Convicted Florida murderer Michael Lambrix before his execution.

* “We have seen ups and downs with our government’s relationship with Cuba. Eventually, I believe those doors will open permanently.”–Tampa City Council member Yoli Capin.

* “Post hurricane, abundant piles of debris from trees and plants becoming laden with mold and other environmental triggers will heighten allergic symptoms.”–Dr. Farzanna S. Haffizulla, assistant dean for community and global health at Nova Southeastern University.

* “What a wonderful government. So do as I say, not as I do. A refrigerator-sized (wireless facility) on a pole. I don’t understand what’s happening in this country.”–Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, in complaining that the Legislature passed a law that pre-empts the city’s authority to regulate many aspects of where new 5G wireless antennas will go.

* “The money in politics is obscene. Our current mayor’s race–that’s all the proof you need that money has become a problem in local elections.”–St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes, on the council’s (6-2) vote to limit contributions to political action committees. St. Petersburg became the first city in the country to do so.

Incestuous Sleaze

There was a time when the sports page was a sanctuary from the real world. It was about games. Who won, who lost. The drama of heroics. The agony of defeats. Life goes on. It was interesting, even intriguing and inspirational, however unimportant. Big city newspaper reporters, who trafficked in real news with real consequences, often referred to their sports counterparts as working in the “toy department.”

Fast forward to now. Page one headlines recently chronicled a greedy, criminal nest of NCAA coaches, agents, sporting goods execs and high school basketball prospects linked to federal bribe, fraud and other corruption charges.

In the same news cycle, the University of Louisville ousted its prominent, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino for his program’s involvement in directing Adidas money to recruits. This came a few months after the program was sanctioned for providing prostitutes to recruits. Prior to that, there had been another incident involving prostitutes, strippers, players and recruits. Before that there was the sleazy affair Pitino had with the wife of his equipment manager.

Meanwhile, the University of Florida confirmed that its nine suspended football players were involved in a credit-card scam.

This isn’t about “kids” and “bad choices.” That’s partying late the night before SATs.

This is about endemic, incestuous corruption borne of billion-dollar TV network and footwear money and universities who must recruit game-changing mercenaries in basketball and football. That’s how they stay bowl-and-tournament eligible, prime-time worthy and profitable enough to pay obscene coaching salaries that dwarf what a college president, let alone a professor, makes.

The term “student-athlete” is applicable for cross country, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, golf and the like. These are non-revenue sports, and recruits don’t have to masquerade as students. In the revenue sports, however, the most coveted athletes can major in eligibility. Online courses, tutors and majors in criminology–the “phys ed” of 2017–help enable the system.

The networks and athletic apparel companies aren’t going to change. This is what they do for access and profits. This is what they are. Any change would have to come from institutions who ultimately decide their raison d’être can’t include athletic prostitution. But don’t count on it.

Sports Shorts

* That was an appropriately classy welcome home for Joe Maddon at the Trop. The video salute was as funny as it was nostalgic. It was also a bonus to hear Maddon, unfettered by franchise allegiance, talking about the stadium situation.

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important in moving it forward,” he said. “Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that.

“You need a better facility. You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.” Bingo.

Personally, I will remember one long, Maddon interview at the Trop about his hometown Hazelton (Pa.) Integration Project and a drive-by, Joe Merlot hello at Ava Restaurant that turned into a 10-minute discussion of JFK’s assassination. One of a kind, and the Rays were lucky to have had him for nine years.

* USF routed Temple last Thursday, 43-7. The defense was notably stout against a team that beat the Bulls last year. The one-sided win helped USF advance to a No. 18 AP national ranking.

Also impressive for ESPN’s national audience: those commercial-cutaway shots of Ybor City, the Riverwalk and the coolly-lit Hillsborough River bridges. Too bad the cameras also caught  glimpses of empty seats. All but 16,797 were empty. C’mon Bulls’ fans, how about providing a real home-field advantage. Next opportunity: Oct. 14 when Cincinnati comes to Ray Jay.

And, BTW, if this Bulls’ season keeps going at an undefeated pace–and USF will be favored to make that happen–the regular-season finale could be special: UCF in Orlando. USF needs a win against a ranked opponent–and the in-state rival Knights could be it. That was a big (38-10) UCF win last Saturday against Maryland–on the road.

* The Rays most talented pitcher, Chris Archer, has a losing record. This year, last year–and career. At some point the designation of “ace” will have to be reassigned–or redefined. Even if we’re talking about the face–and voice–of the Rays.

Sports Shorts

* Shout outs are in order to USF and the Bucs for providing free Ray Jay admission last weekend to first responders and, in the case of the Bulls, also to high school teams and coaches. The Bucs also donated $1 million to the American Red Cross. That’s what community assets do in the time of need. They also help, frankly, with community spirit and hurricane diversion when they win. USF routed Illinois 47-23, and the Bucs beat up on the Chicago Bears 29-7.

* So, look at who’s off to a 3-0 start besides Charley Strong. Former Bulls coach Willie Taggart has his Oregon Ducks undefeated and ranked 24th in the country. USF is No. 21. The early Oregon success is being attributed to an improved defense. The defensive coordinator is Jim Leavitt. Yes, that Jim Leavitt.

* It’s been 25 years! Indeed, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have a 25th anniversary celebration next month at Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. And the locale couldn’t be more appropriate: This is literally where the franchise began playing–before moving to the “Thunder Dome,” now Tropicana Field.

* Speaking of the NHL, the league is talking expansion again–just a year after admitting the Las Vegas Golden Knights as the 31st team. The two favorites are Quebec, which had an NHL franchise until 1995, and Seattle, which would be a good fit in a Western Conference that only has 15 teams.

* One of the down sides to watching the NFL is that too often we are reminded that showboating is an integral part of the presentation. At times, it can seem as much show business as football. This was, in effect, confirmed by the NFL’s new ad campaign that promotes the entertainment value of the game. “Let the Show Begin” portrays football as the longest-running “entertainment show” on television. It’s also a way of diverting brand-bashing attention from head injuries and domestic abuse cases.

Sports Shorts

* USF’s Charlie Strong has been blunt about the Bulls unimpressive wins over San Jose State and Stony Brook to start what has been hyped as a special–as in nationally prominent–season. “We’ve played two games, and we have yet to play four quarters,” said Strong. Yes, the Bulls, who play Connecticut on Saturday, are undefeated, but it feels like 2-and-uh oh.

A couple of teams, however, would surely settle for the Bulls’ record. UNLV lost at home to 45-point underdog Howard University and Baylor was beaten in Waco by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty U.

* The Alabama defeat and the loss of starting quarterback Deondre Francois was the most noteworthy football news out of Tallahassee last weekend, but not the only grid-related news. A New York Times story alleged academic favoritism toward Florida State players from the 2013 national title team. FSU is refuting it. However it shakes out, FSU had to know there was a red flag attached to online hospitality courses–on coffee, tea and wine–favored by Seminole football players.

Sports Shorts

* As an alum and former employee of USF–as well as a Bulls’ season-ticket holder–it was brutal to watch the early stages of the televised USF-San Jose State game last Saturday. Call it the first quarter from hell, as in sloppy–as in unexpectedly, Charley Strong-debut sloppy–against a three-touchdown underdog. For a while, it was an eerie reminder of another debut: Willie Taggart’s Bulls vs. 1-AA McNeese State in 2013 at RayJay. A stunningly embarrassing 53-21 beating. One that USF paid McNeese $400,000 to administer.

But this time USF regrouped, asserted themselves and pounded out a 42-22 win over SJS. In so doing, the Bulls kept alive what could still be a special season, even if it didn’t help the long-shot Heisman hopes of quarterback Quinton Flowers.

BTW, the Bulls scored at least 30 points for the 18th game in a row–the nation’s longest streak–with Stony Brook coming in Saturday for what should be No. 19.

* Timing is everything. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred makes it a point to visit with every franchise. Last week, a Wednesday night game against Toronto, it was the Rays turn. It was the smallest Rays crowd (8,264) in more than a decade. It graphically underscored the Rays dire need for a new stadium at a new site. “I think it’s fair to say we’d like the process to take on a little better pace moving forward,” understated Manfred, trying to be more diplomat than alarmist.

* The bowl game at the Trop in St. Pete has, yet, another sponsor-induced name: the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. One consolation: At least it’s not the 1-800-Ask-Gary Bowl. At least not yet.

* OK, the long-anticipated fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor had the anticipated result. The undefeated boxer beat the mixed martial arts guy in his first boxing match. The biggest sigh of relief was from bookies, who would have been TKO’d had McGregor, a prohibitive underdog, prevailed.

Sports Shorts

* The Rays, as we know, have been using the Atlanta Braves as a model of sorts for a new baseball stadium. That was underscored in the spring when Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and county CFO Bonnie Wise visited with Braves’ executives in suburban Atlanta. We also know that what Hillsborough County is modeling is financing–not site.

The Braves are Exhibit A for public-private partnership. Cobb County borrowed about two thirds, or nearly $400 million, while the Braves anted up around $230 million. As for site, the Rays and Hillsborough County want an urban-core location, the Braves notably departed Atlanta for Cobb County.

One interesting, even ironic, variable about a potential Channelside-Ybor City area site for the Rays is the lack of public input from Jeff Vinik. He’s the master developer of the Amalie Arena area that has ripple effects all over. It’s all, in effect, part of the same logistical synergy. Perhaps a stadium is more conflict than complement for Water Street Tampa.

* The main issue with HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which can be entertaining as it goes behind the scenes and personalizes professional football, is that it is yet another reminder that the NFL is as much show business as it is football.

* So, Kevin Durant of the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors, says he won’t join teammates in a White House visit. Here’s a way around any awkwardness that can inevitably result from such visitations. The White House should set a precedent right now that it only invites athletes representing their country–such as Olympians–and not over-exposed pro athletes representing their franchises and, in many cases, their marketable brands.

* The Americans retained the Solheim Cup, the biennial competition that pits U.S. women golfers against their European counterparts. Once again, a key American contributor was Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome.