TIME Boxing

Mayweather-Pacquiao Is a $300 Million Bout Not Worth Much for Boxing

BOX-USA-MAYWEATHER-PACQUIAO
JOHN GURZINSKI—AFP/Getty Images Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) and Manny Pacquiao pose during a news conference at the KA Theatre at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on April 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

One bout, especially between fading fighters—including a convicted abuser of women—won't revive a sport's relevance

Boxing’s “Fight of the Century,” between undefeated Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, takes place in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and one thing is clear: there’s plenty to loathe about the whole event. First off, the bout should have happened six years ago, when Mayweather, now 38, and Pacquiao, 36, were in their primes. But greed, ego and obstinance got in the way. The promoters are selling payoff: this is the fight you’ve been waiting years for! Finally, the moment has arrived! Buckle up! But really, they’re pushing waste. This should be the third or fourth Fight of the Century; a series of Mayweather-Pacquiao clashes could have re-energized the sport.

Plus, Mayweather’s a pretty unctuous fellow. He’s a convicted abuser of women. He’s been found guilty or pleaded guilty to battery five times in the past 14 years. And when questioned about these incidents, Mayweather dodges, changing the subject to the bout. The message: stop nagging about domestic violence, it’s a distraction on the road to more riches.

It’s detestable. If you’d rather not fork over $100 to support Mayweather, that’s an eminently rational move. You may also not want to line the pockets of Pacquiao, and his brand of politics: as a congressman in his native Philippines, Pacquiao is against gay marriage and has called condoms “sinful.”

But millions of people will watch the fight anyway, because Americans have a history of suspending moral judgement in the name of entertainment: we may hate Mayweather, but we love uppercuts (Mike Tyson, don’t forget, still drew a crowd after being released from prison for rape). And Mayweather-Pacquiao could very well live up to the hype. They’re singular talents, the premier fighters of this generation. Come Sunday morning, we all might be breathless. It was worth the wait.

But then what? Where does boxing, a sport that makes a few fighters ludicrously rich while barely entering the cultural conversation for the rest of the year, go from here?

Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated reports that according to people close to Mayweather, the champ will fight one more time after facing Pacquiao. After that, he’ll call it quits. Pacquiao is also nearing the end. Boxing is firmly invested in the mega-fight model—drive demand to a handful of boxers, keep their bouts behind the pay-per-view wall, let these fighters and their cronies hoard the profits. Boxing is finally back on network television, as NBC and CBS are broadcasting fights from the Premier Boxing Champions promotion: NBC’s most recent telecast, the night of April 11 —a Saturday—drew 2.9 million viewers. By comparison, a Florida State-Notre Dame regular season college football game that aired on ABC on a Saturday night in October drew 13.25 million viewers.

Boxing’s jump back onto the network TV probably came too little, too late. Viewers forgot about the sweet science—and are satisfied with all of the other entertainment options that have emerged over the last two decades, including mixed martial arts. There’s no urgency to watch two unfamiliar fighters on a Saturday night.

Mayweather-Pacquiao will set all kinds of financial records; it’s projected to produce $72 million in ticket revenue, more than tripling the previous high for a prize fight. Mayweather, already the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes, will take some $180 million of the projected $300 million purse, with Pacquiao earning the rest. But these riches can’t buy any love—neither for Mayweather, nor his sport.

TIME Football

Why the NFL Suddenly Wants to Pay Taxes

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Rob Carr—Getty Images Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass by Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks intended for Ricardo Lockette #83 late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.

America's richest sports league relinquishes its non-profit status. How much will Uncle Sam benefit?

The NFL announced Tuesday that it’s voluntarily relinquishing its tax-exempt status. Here’s what you need to know about the move.

Why in the world would the NFL volunteer to pay taxes?

Basically, the economic value of the exemption wasn’t worth the political and PR headaches that it created. In a memo to the league’s teams and members of Congress, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the tax-exemption a “distraction,” and said it has “been mischaracterized repeatedly in recent years.”

Is there truth to this?

Yes. Political threats to revoke the tax-exemption of pro sports organizations hold populist appeal. After all, how can commercial outfits that sell expensive tickets and generate millions of dollars for owners and players be considered non-profit organizations – and thus exempt from paying taxes? The NFL is no charity.

In 2013, Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma introduced legislation that would prohibit the NFL and other pro sports organizations with over $10 million in revenue from filing as non-profits. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal last fall, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, proposed similar legislation – and argued that taxes on these leagues could fund domestic violence programs. Last month, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, House Oversight Committee Chairman, told Reuters that “the National Football League should have to pay taxes like everybody else.”

Politicians, however, largely fail to explain the scope of these tax-exemptions – which are much more limited than they may appear. The NFL’s teams, who see a bulk of the league’s $11 billion in revenue, are taxable entities. So the NFL does pay taxes. The league office is tax-exempt, but it generated just $9 million in income during the 2012 tax year.

So repealing the NFL’s tax exemption wouldn’t create the windfall politicians want you to expect. If it saved the NFL a ton of money, today’s voluntary relinquishing never would have happened. Recent political posturing exaggerated its value.

Why was the NFL office tax-exempt in the first place?

The NFL has historically filed as a 501 (c)(6) non-profit, which provides tax-exemptions for “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues.” Er, how did football get written into the tax code?

This legislative quirk dates back to the 1966 NFL-AFL merger. “Professional football leagues” were added to the code that year to ensure that the merger could go forward “without fear of an anti-trust challenge under either the Clayton Antitrust Act or the Federal Trade Commissions Act,” and to ensure that “a professional football league’s exemption would not be jeopardized because it administered a players’ pension fund,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. In return for this favorable treatment of the merger by two Democratic lawmakers — Louisiana Senator Russell Long, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Louisiana representative Hale Boggs, House majority whip — New Orleans was awarded the NFL’s next expansion franchise.

Who’s the big winner here?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Remember him calling the exemption a distraction? Well, the largest distraction has been the required public disclosure of his enormous compensation — $44 million in 2012, and $35 million in 2013. When Goodell mishandles an issue like Ray Rice, his paycheck is inevitably thrown in his face. How can a guy making that much money screw up so badly? The commissioner’s pay is also a sore point during collective bargaining negotiations.

Without the tax exemption, the NFL is under no legal obligation to release its commissioner’s salary. Major League Baseball made a similar move in 2007, when it relinquished its tax exemption – and no longer had to disclose the pay of commissioner Bud Selig, which had exceeded $18 million.

Fundamentally, does this news change anything about the NFL?

Not really. Go ahead and return to obsessing over the draft – which starts Thursday night.

TIME Football

Ex-Players Are Ripping Into the NFL Concussion Settlement Because It Excludes a Common Brain Disease

chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Charlotte Observer—MCT via Getty Images NFL Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure talks about his recent diagnosis of a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 22, 2014.

The agreement largely excludes a disease at the center of the NFL's concussion crisis

Joe DeLamielleure is living with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma in football. Junior Seau and Dave Duerson are among the former NFL players who have committed suicide, and were later diagnosed with CTE. Officially, CTE can only diagnosed posthumously. But researchers affiliated with UCLA have developed a PET scan that they say can find signs of CTE – particularly the buildup of tau protein in the brain – in living players. DeLamielleure – along with fellow NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, former All-Pro Leonard Marshall, and a dozen other retired players who had sustained at least one concussion – underwent the UCLA test. Signs was CTE were discovered in their brains.

Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression, and mood swings. “I’m functioning pretty good right now,” says DeLamielleure, 64, who played 13 seasons, form 1973 to 1985, as an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. “That doesn’t mean, three years from now, the wheels don’t fall off.”

CTE is at the epicenter of the NFL’s head trauma crisis. Boston University researchers have examined the brains of 62 deceased NFL players: 59 of them have been diagnosed with CTE. But last week, a federal judge approved the financial settlement in the so-called concussion lawsuit between the NFL and its ex-players, and future CTE diagnoses were excluded from the agreement. Players who suffer from neurocognitive impairments, such as a decline in memory and processing speed, are eligible for awards up to $3 million. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s victims can get $3.5 million, while ALS victims are eligible for a $5 million max award. Families of players who have died of CTE can get $4 million, but only if the player has passed away prior to the final approval date of the settlement.

To ex-players like DeLamielleure, CTE’s exclusion is unacceptable. “This does nothing for me,” says DeLamielleure “I want out.” Some 200 ex-NFL players have opted out of the suit, leaving them eligible to bring future litigation against the NFL. Dorsett and the family of Seau are among those who have opted out; DeLamielleure had originally opted out of the suit, but opted back in around Christmas.

In her ruling that approved the settlement, federal judge Anita Brody wrote that she excluded future CTE cases because neurocognitive ailments associated with CTE are eligible for awards. So, in principle, victims of CTE could receive damages while they’re still living, as long as they are diagnosed with memory loss and other neurocognitive impairments. (Robert Stern, a leading CTE researcher from Boston University, has said that many of the CTE victims he has studied did not suffer such symptoms — and thus wouldn’t have been eligible for this award under the settlement).

Brody specifically excluded some of the behavioral symptoms of CTE, such as irritability, aggression, depression and suicidal tendencies, from the settlement. Going forward, Brody wrote that the families of players diagnosed with CTE after death are ineligible for an award because she did not want such a benefit to incentivize suicide, since researchers can only diagnose CTE posthumously. The settlement does account for the possibility that a nascent CTE-detection test, like the one at UCLA, will one day become an accepted method of diagnosing CTE in living players: Brody requires that the league and the players’ attorneys sit down in good faith every ten years to possibly modify the agreement to reflect advancements in CTE research.

That might be too late for DeLamielleure. His wife, Gerri, says he’s already starting to show some of the behavioral symptoms that are associated with CTE, but excluded from the settlement. “He’ll turn on a dime,” says Gerri DeLamiellure. “He’ll be fine, and the next minute, whatever happens, it just seems like he has flares of temper.” Some of DeLamiellure’s fellow ex-players are also disappointed with the agreement. “It’s a dodge,” says former Houston Oilers linebacker Gregg Bingham, 64. “Why did we have to turn to the judicial system for the NFL to do what common sense says the league should have done on its own?” says former quarterback Dan Pastorini, 65, who spent the bulk of his 12-year career with the Oilers. Both Bingham and Pastrioni opted out of the suit.

Former defensive back Bruce Laird didn’t. But he’s unhappy with the agreement. “One thing that really upsets me is that symptoms like mood changes and depression aren’t covered,” says Laird, 64. “I just hope none of my teammates get any money, because that means they’re in trouble. Even when you win, you lose.”

TIME remembrance

The Best Sports Writing of TIME’s Richard Corliss

TIME's late movie critic also wrote, beautifully, about the games

TIME movie critic Richard Corliss, who passed away on Thursday night, was also our best sportswriter. He only dabbled in sports professionally, but truly loved the games. Corliss was especially passionate about baseball, and his beloved A’s, whom he first started following as a boy in Philadelphia, when the team played at Connie Mack Stadium before moving west.

Corliss didn’t spend much time in our midtown offices; he was too busy attending screenings and writing, so prolifically, and so beautifully, at all hours. But on occasion, he’d pop by my desk and talk baseball. The sports talk show hosts on WFAN, the New York City radio station, really got him going. I’d always exit these conversations wondering how a man who was so productive, who had encyclopedic knowledge of so much, possibly found the time to focus on Joe Benigno.

Whenever Richard did write about sports, he brought the same lyricism and breadth that were staples of his film criticism. He’s a writing hero, word-for-word one of the best, if not the best, to ever work at TIME.

I wish I could write sentences like Richard. And I wish he was still here to talk baseball. We could have a nice chat these days about my Mets. But this year, I’ll be keeping special tabs, in my heart, on Richard’s A’s.

Here’s a sampling of his work in sports.

A Beautiful Season For Baseball: The Great Times and Bad Breaks of 2012
October 14, 2012

Corliss reflects on the first round of the 2012 baseball playoffs:

Upsets galore! Perennial losers vaulting to the top! All-stars benched and no-names turned into heroes! Games so close that anxious fans bite their nails down to the knuckle! One future Hall of Famer who breaks a 45-year-old record for batting supremacy, and another who breaks his ankle and must be carried off the field! Wild melodrama that obliges sportswriters to end every sentence fragment with an exclamation point!

Read the entire article here

A Film Critic On the World Cup – You Call That Football?
July 10, 2010

In the great soccer debate, I’m on both sides. As a fan of “American” sports, I confess that I don’t get soccer. The spectacle of alpha males running around, falling down, pretending to be hurt and, all in all, achieving very little — um, when I was in school, that was called recess.

Read the entire article here

Cat ‘N’ The Pat
February 2, 2004

Corliss previews the Super Bowl XXXVIII coaching matchup between Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and John Fox of the Carolina Panthers:

In pro football, the real game is on the sidelines. There the head coach paces, barking orders into his headset, congratulating or chastising a player, wearing a sociopath’s stern face as he silently prays he’ll be baptized by a tub of Gatorade in the final minute of a winning game. The coach is a chess demon, planning dozens of gambits that depend on whether his quarterback throws for a big gain or gets sacked. He is a video-game whiz kid, and the playing field is his Grand Theft Auto Vice City. He is a field marshal and, sometimes, a counselor—General Patton and Dr. Phil. The quarterback may be the glamour boy, but the coach is the star. The TV camera knows this: during a game it follows Bill Parcells, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, as avidly as if he were J. Lo with her back turned.

Read the entire article here

My Team: The Oakland A’s
October 10, 2003

Every true sports fan is a manic depressive. When our team wins, we’re in heaven; when they lose, we reach for a kitchen knife and stare meditatively at our radial artery. And there is usually more agony than ecstasy. Susan Sontag defined science fiction as “the imagination of disaster”; she might have been describing the mind of a sports fan. We try to live by the old Ukrainian proverb — “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed” — but for that ray of hope with which we lash ourselves each spring, then see glimmer turn to tumor as the season plods downward for six months.

Read the entire article here

The Summer Olympics: Gold Medal Grudges
September 11, 2000

A short history of the grudge match: The Hebrews invented it. Cain was the first winner, but God disqualified him on the grounds of poor sportsmanship. Abel was awarded the gold posthumously.

A longer history of the grudge match: The ancient Greeks invented games as a way of allowing men to fight one another without all that messy killing. Sport was literally a lifesaving idea: I hit you, you hit me, and an impartial observer determines who wins. (This became known as boxing.) I insult you, you trip me and the rest of the clan decides who played dirty better. (This became known as politics.)

Read the entire article here

Baseball: Dream Of Fields
August 22, 1994

Corliss imagines that the 1994 baseball strike ends quickly:

Fans packed the stadiums on the first day of the “second season.” Atlantans heralded the return of Greg Maddux by ringing the pitcher’s mound with roses; the Montreal faithful threw small packets of money (Canadian money, but still . . .) toward their low-paid, first-place stars; and a few of Philadelphia’s famously cranky spectators actually applauded their own team. In Kansas City, Vince Coleman was greeted with affectionate firecrackers; Cleveland stalwarts shied welcome-back corked bats at Albert Belle.

Read the entire article here

Going, Going, Not Quite Gone
June 13, 1994

Corliss explains baseball’s offensive explosion

This spring, baseball has been bustin’ out all over. Home runs have increased 26% over last year; runs batted in are up 11%. And a cluster of young stars threatens to smash offensive records set when George Burns was still in Little League. Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. is on a pace to hit 65-plus homers. So is Frank Thomas, the Chicago White Sox’s baby-faced behemoth. Thomas scored 59 runs by June 1, a record, and Toronto’s Joe Carter set an April standard for rbi’s. Even pencil-necked pipsqueaks are crushing the ball.

Read entire article here

Not Again!
November 22, 1993

Corliss writes on Notre Dame’s 31-24 win over Florida State.

If Rodney Dangerfield had 109 heads and weighed 11 tons, he would be the Florida State University football team. F.S.U. has won 10 games or more six years in a row; it is undefeated in its past 11 bowl games; it gobbles up most opponents like Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Yet for years the Seminole team had the reputation of a pigskin bridesmaid because it somehow managed to find a way to lose to those cross-state behemoths at the University of Miami. Even the F.S.U. press book repeats the phrase “can’t win the Big One,” like a mantra. It’s meant ironically but still reveals an open psychic wound.

Read the entire article here

The Last Shall Be First
October 28, 1991

In the American League championship, the Twins shrugged off Toronto in a five-game series that for most TV viewers was overshadowed by a sorrier sporting spectacle on Capitol Hill: the Senators vs. the dodger. Truth to tell, the AL snoozathon didn’t need the Clarence Thomas hearings to upstage it; a church social could have done the job. Here, after all, were two teams from above the timber line playing in domed stadiums of spaceship sterility on synthetic carpets that made the games look like Brobdingnagian billiards. Only one contest was close all the way. Only one rooting interest tickled fans’ fancies: seeing the Twins earn their spot in baseball’s unlikeliest finale.

Read the entire article here

Just Like In The Movies
February 26, 1990

Corliss on Buster Douglas’ upset of Mike Tyson

Two rounds later, Douglas returned the punishment, and then some, to Tyson: an uppercut followed by a sturdy combination that felled the champ. Another slow count could not save Tyson. He rose to all fours, grabbed for his mouthpiece and pathetically placed its end between his teeth, like a dazed dog with an old toy.

Read the entire article here

TIME NFL

Tim Tebow to Philly? Now Chip Kelly’s Just Messing With Minds

All State Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Ohio State
Sean Gardner—Getty Images Tim Tebow walks onto the field during the All State Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

By signing the ex-Florida star, Philadelphia's coach adds to his off-season intrigue

No one man has messed with the mind of American football fandom quite like Chip Kelly this off-season. Since the Super Bowl, everyone has been wondering what the heck this guy is doing. Kelly, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, won a power struggle to control the team’s personnel decisions; he’s treated the job like a crazed chemistry experiment. And now Tim Tebow is in the mix.

Is Kelly trying to blow up the lab? Tebow, who hasn’t played in a regular season NFL game since 2012, is a strange infatuation. For a player with little obvious NFL talent, he draws outsized attention. Tebowing was a thing way back in 2011, when the ex-Heisman Trophy winner led the Denver Broncos to a surprise playoff berth. Denver boss John Elway seemed to act like that run happened in spite of, rather than because of, Tebow’s ability: Elway grabbed Peyton Manning on the free agent market the first chance he got. Tebow had a maddening season with the New York Jets — he barely got on the field — and after a training camp with the New England Patriots in 2013, he was out of the NFL. He spent this past season as a college football analyst for the SEC Network. He flourished in that role.

Normally, if a team signs a TV announcer as the fourth-string quarterback, that news doesn’t overshadow events like, say, the NBA Playoffs, where the some world’s most talented athletes are actually engaged in high-stakes competition. But just look and the characters involved, and consider the state of our sporting obsessions. The NFL’s power has stretched across the calendar; the draft, on April 30, has nearly become a Super Bowl onto itself. So has off-season free agency. Watching the organized violence isn’t enough. We need to stress about what uniforms the participants will wear.

So here comes Kelly, who’s traded two away one of the team’s quarterbacks (Nick Foles) and its star running back (LeSean McCoy), both of whom have reached Pro Bowls. He also watched wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, another Pro Bowler, sign with Kansas City. He signed Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher this season, and traded for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, a former Heisman winner who’s been inconsistent. And now he’s bringing on Tebow, whose open broadcasting of his Christian beliefs permanently placed him on the front lines of the culture wars. That, and his throwing motion, which gave him a permanent seat at dive bar debates: can anyone win with such an ugly release?

Prepare for stories on how Tebow’s mechanics have been overhauled, how Kelly’s system can utilize Tebow’s dual-threat skills. But remember: this April signing does not mean that Tebow will make the team come September. Still, you’ve got to hand it to Chip Kelly. To make America even more neurotic about football: that’s no easy feat.

TIME Basketball

What’s Next for Duke and Coach K?

Wisconsin v Duke
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils defeat the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6, 2015

Mike Krzyzewski can't coach forever

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth NCAA championship Monday night; only UCLA’s John Wooden, with 10, has won more titles in the men’s college game. Coach K guided the U.S. men’s team to the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two world championships and will go for another Olympic gold in 2016 in Rio. This season, he reached his 12th Final Four, tying Wooden for the most appearances ever, and also became the first men’s coach in Division 1 history to win 1,000 games. He’s 68 years old.

Over the past few weeks — and especially as Duke cut down the nets Monday night after beating Wisconsin, 68-63, in the national title game — I’ve been thinking too much about one question: Who’s going to replace Coach K?

I know, nice timing: we just finished a pretty great championship game, and I’m pondering Krzyzewski‘s exit, which seems at least a few years away. Duke looked done, as Wisconsin had a nine-point lead in the second half. The team’s future NBA draft picks, freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, were on the bench with foul trouble. But freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen took over, and once Okafor got back into the game, he woke up and took over down the stretch. Duke’s defense improved, the Blue Devils got a little assistance from the refs — shocking — and, suddenly, Duke broke Wisconsin’s heart.

Fresh off this drama, why in the world am I wondering what Duke will look like three, five, maybe seven years down the road? Krzyzewski’s been winning plenty lately. He seems sharp and energized. But Duke’s post-K future is so intriguing because it doesn’t just concern the intramural college coaching carousel. No, it’s one of the higher-stakes succession stories in American business.

Like it or not, Duke is a sports dynasty that generates millions of dollars, and stirs the passions of millions of loyalists — and haters. Coach K has built a consequential enterprise. Maybe he gets too much credit for “the program.” But it’s developed in his image. Can anyone live up to him?

Following Coach K will be a rough gig. Wooden’s successors, for example, struggled in his shadow. But that doesn’t mean a crew of Krzyzewski’s former players and assistants aren’t positioning themselves for that prize. A current K assistant, Jeff Capel, already had some success coaching Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. He’s likely on his way to Arizona State: if he can win there, he’s a prime candidate. Former Duke assistant Mike Brey, whose Notre Dame team almost made this year’s Final Four, would be in the running. So would former Duke player and assistant coach Tommy Amaker, who has made four straight NCAA tournament appearances as head coach at Harvard. Amaker’s former teammate Johnny Dawkins has had mixed success at Stanford: the Cardinal just won the NIT, which is nice. But that means Stanford didn’t make the Big Dance.

Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, another pair of former Duke players and assistants, are just getting their head-coaching careers started at Northwestern and Marquette, respectively. And what about Bobby Hurley, the all-time assists leader in Division 1 men’s hoops, and maybe Coach K’s favorite player ever. He’s a hot coaching commodity after leading Buffalo to this year’s tournament. Will he be ready for Duke in a few years?

Will Duke ever be able to cut down those nets on a Monday night, without Mike Krzyzewski on the ladder?

TIME Baseball

Baseball to Players: Hurry the Heck Up

Baseball Chart
Lon Tweeten for TIME

New rules should quicken games and capture today's short attention spans

Opening day has arrived, and baseball’s 2015 story lines are set. The Washington Nationals are the favorite to win the World Series, according to the Vegas oddsmakers, mostly because of a starting pitching rotation that was already stellar, and then added free agent Max Scherzer to the mix this off-season (for a cool $210 million). You may have heard the Chicago Cubs went on a little spending spree, too, as they nabbed respected manager Joe Maddon and ace starter Jon Lester, whom Chicago signed to a six-year, $155 million contract. (Lester lost to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night.) Sticking with the big contracts: the Miami Marlins signed power hitter Giancarlo Stanton to the richest deal in sports history, 13 years, $325 million. And the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July but will still make $22 million, returns from his PED sabbatical.

These (ridiculously rich) players and teams are worth watching. But for fans, a more pressing issue will unfold in 2015: baseball’s efforts to finally hurry up its act. The average time of a nine-inning Major League Baseball game in 2014 was three hours and two minutes, up from 1999 (two hours and 54 minutes) and way above 1981 (two hours and 33 minutes). The increase is the result of additional pitching changes–due to the rise of specialist relievers–and hitters spending more time square dancing in and out of the batter’s box.

That languorous pace hasn’t helped America’s pastime attract younger fans–one reason that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made faster play a priority. As 2015 season begins, hitters will be generally required to keep one foot in the batter’s box. And a stadium clock will count down the time between innings: a two-minute, 25-second break for locally televised games, and a two-minute, 45-second break for national ones.

Playing fast has its perks: just look at those World Series favorites, the Washington Nationals, in the graphic above. In 2014, Washington fell in the “quick and painless quadrant”—the Nats played relatively quick games, and won a lot. The Los Angeles teams, on the other hand, took their time. Sure, both the Dodgers and Angeles won their divisions in 2014. But do they have to play like traffic on the 405?

At least one star player has griped about the new rules. “I call that bullsh-t,” Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said during spring training about the batter’s-box policy. No, Big Papi, that’s progress. Baseball can’t afford to bleed any more fans. Hurry up, already.

TIME College Basketball

A Wisconsin-Duke Final Is Just Fine

Quinn Cook #2, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils acknowledge fans while walking off the court following their 81-61 win against the Michigan State Spartans during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lance King—Getty Images Quinn Cook #2, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils acknowledge fans while walking off the court following their 81-61 win against the Michigan State Spartans during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Without undefeated Kentucky, this year's title game won't be historic. But it's still loaded with intrigue

At the start of the 2014-15 college basketball season, 351 Division I teams had a chance to win the national championship. Going into this weekend, four teams remained: undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin on one side of the bracket, Duke and Michigan State on the other. Let’s face it: Duke-Kentucky would have been a dandy final. Both programs have a national imprint. Dynastic Duke is the New York Yankees, or Dallas Cowboys, of college hoops. Kentucky is not only a blue blood program, but more recently it’s a factory of future NBA talent led by a divisive coach, master salesman John Calipari. The NCAA had already nullified two Final Four appearances of his prior teams, UMass and Memphis.

Imagine Calipari’s Cats just needing to get by the venerable Coach K, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, to complete the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1976. The good vs. evil narrative, trite as it is, would write itself. The cunning Calipari, the man whose system of shuttling players to the NBA after a year of college is a supposed affront to higher education, on one side, against Coach K, molder of student-athletes at prestigious Duke. That match-up guaranteed a monster TV rating.

Well, it’s not happening. Duke held up its end, as the Blue Devils trounced Michigan State, 81-61. However, Wisconsin gutted out a thrilling 71-64 victory over Kentucky to squash the Wildcats’ dreams of perfection. Plus, the Calipari/Krzyzewski clash is hogwash. If anything, Krzyzewski has copycatted Calipari’s strategy of recruiting NBA-ready players who are only in college because NBA rules require that they spend a year in school before they’re drafted. Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker left Duke after just one year in 2011, 2012 and 2014, respectively; this year, Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are locks to be high first-round picks. Freshman guard Tyrus Jones could also go pro. So who’s one-and-done U here?

MORE: Here’s Your Final Four Drinking Game

According to the ol’ eye test, the Blue Devils were just too good for Michigan State on Saturday night. They should swarm Wisconsin too. In the first half against Kentucky, the Badgers needed a few crazy shots to go in to stay ahead. In the end, the skills of Wisconsin stars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker—combined with some sloppy execution by Kentucky, which relied too much on guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison to create scoring chances, rather than give the ball to the big men—made the difference.

On Sunday, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he got numerous texts from people reminding him that when the Team USA hockey team beat the Soviet Union to complete the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. still had to defeat Finland in the gold medal game. It’s cute to compare Wisconsin’s win over Kentucky to the Miracle on Ice, or even to Duke’s upset of the undefeated UNLV team in the 1991 national semis, but both comparisons are off. That Soviet team was unbeatable, and on paper a bunch of American amateurs had no conceivable shot to win. That UNLV team was not only undefeated, but it crushed everyone all year and had the same nucleus as the team that won the national title in 1990. Kentucky had a few close calls this season, including one just last week against Notre Dame in the regional final. The Wildcats had a perfect season going, but they weren’t a perfect team. It’s not entirely stunning that they lost.

And Duke, I suspect, poses a bigger challenge than the Fins—relatively speaking. If the Badgers are to beat Duke on Monday night, they’ll have to pull off the same feat they did against the Wildcats: make tough shots against a bunch of future pros. That’s difficult to do for two straight games.

One observer’s prognosis: one-and-done U will win the title. Just not the one most people expected.

TIME College Basketball

Here’s Your 2015 Final Four Drinking Game

Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.
Gregory Shamus—Getty Images Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.

How to liven up a hoops party -- responsibly

TIME introduced its inaugural Final Four drinking game last year, and our second installment is back by popular demand—just in time for Saturday’s match-ups from Indianapolis. Duke plays Michigan State at 6:09 p.m. E.T., while Wisconsin and Kentucky tip off at 8:49 p.m. TBS will broadcast both games.

As always, please play responsibly. Follow local laws, don’t overindulge and please take a cab home if need be.

With that, here are this year’s rules:

Drink When Raf Calls “Man-to-Man”

Announcer Bill Raftery, the avuncular, white-haired former coach who has popularized phrases like “with a kiss” for a player who makes a bank shot, will finally call a Final Four on television. This honor is long overdue, and the arrest of former top analyst Greg Anthony in January for allegedly soliciting a prostitute created a spot for Raftery. Listen for the sweetest sound in March: at the beginning of each game, soon after the tip, Raftery will chirp that the defense is in “man-to-man!” He’s pumped, so you’re pumped. Who wouldn’t drink to that?

Raise Your Glass When TBS Airs Gordon Hayward’s Missed Half Court Shot

This is the first Final Four in Indianapolis since 2010, when the Blue Devils cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating Butler in the championship game, 61-59. Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, barely missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have given the hometown Bulldogs the win. TBS producers surely have that clip cued up for Saturday.

When You See a Slap, Hit the Tap

To rev themselves up, Duke players love to slap the floor.

Take a Sip When Announcers Play Up Michigan State’s Hometown Friends

Michigan State players Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes grew up together in Lansing, Michigan, a jump shot away from Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing. They’d down Capri Suns from Valentine’s fridge and were high school teammates. The announcers will start yapping about the Lansing connection, and you’ll know what to do.

Drink When Frank the Tank Makes an Improbable Shot

Wisconsin’s Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky, arguably the country’s best college player, is effective because he can score in all sorts of different ways. Drink up every time Tank makes a goofy, off-balance shot that has no business going in.

Finish Your Beer When Dekker Hits a Three

Sharpshooter Sam Dekker torched Arizona in the West region final, scoring 27 points in Wisconsin’s 85-78 win. In the second half, Dekker didn’t miss a shot, going 6-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line. His three off the dribble in the waning seconds sealed the win, and made Aaron Rodgers real happy. “Sam Dekker pretty much crushed our dreams,” Arizona’s T.J. McConnell said after the game. But he may even liven up your party, if you sip when Dekker hits a three.

Down a Drink When the Announcers Name Drop the Harrison Twins

In last year’s Kentucky-Wisconsin national semifinal, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning three pointer with less than 6 seconds left. He hit another big one down the stretch in Kentucky’s thrilling 68-66 victory over Notre Dame in the regional last Saturday, and in that game, his twin brother Andrew made the deciding free throws. In last year’s title game, however, UConn’s guards outplayed Kentucky’s brotherly backcourt, a key factor in UConn’s win.

Toast to Ashley Judd Hitting the Jumbotron

When the camera pans to Kentucky super fan Ashley Judd, which seems to happen a few dozen times every game, keep the celebration going.

Bottoms Up When Announcers Predict First-Draft Picks

If you prefer pro hoops to the college version, you should still tune into this year’s Final Four, for no other reason than you’ll see plenty of future NBA talent. One writer predicts that as many as eight top prospects may be selected by NBA teams that participate in the annual draft lottery, where the luck of the ping-pong ball determines a bad team’s draft position.

Cheers to a Potentially Perfect Season

The biggest storyline going into this year’s Final Four: Kentucky’s quest for perfection. The Wildcats are 38-0, and two more wins would give them the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1975-1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers of Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner and Scott May ran the table. So raise a glass every time you hear “1976 Indiana Hoosiers.” We’ll drink to history.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com