TIME Baseball

World Series Game 7 Will be a Bullpen Battle

Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 15, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 15, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. Ed Zurga—Getty Images

Forget about the starting pitchers: The deciding game of the World Series may rest on the arms of Kansas City's bullpen trio and San Francisco's ace in relief

The Kansas City Royals are one game away from winning the World Series.

You know that baseball has had a spectacular postseason if you can write that sentence with a straight face. A franchise that for so many years wasn’t worth thinking about, that represented the big-market/small-market chasm that ruptured the game after the 1994 baseball strike, is really that close to a championship. You might not like Bud Selig, who is retiring as baseball’s commissioner early next year. And his baby, revenue redistribution from the richer teams to poorer ones like Kansas City, might not be a tonic for the Royals and their small-market brethren, as he’d like fans to believe. But those extra dollars haven’t hurt Kansas City. And if Selig hands out his last World Series trophy to the Royals, you’ve got to admit, that’s one hell of a way for him to go out.

Since 1979, nine World Series have gone the distance to a seventh game. In that time, no home team has lost a Game 7. So besides any residual good vibes from Tuesday night’s 10-0 Game 6 blowout of the Giants, the Royals have a bit of history on their side. The starting pitchers Wednesday are Jeremy Guthrie for Kansas City, and Tim Hudson for San Francisco. But if fans get lucky, the starters won’t have much of an impact on the game. No, for this game to be a classic, it needs to come down to a bullpen duel between Kansas City’s excellent—and rested—trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, and Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco’s dominant (but not quite as rested) starting pitcher who will be available in the pen tonight. Bumgarner totally shut down the Royals in Game 1 and Game 5. Can he make like Randy Johnson in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and provide spot relief duty in the series-clinching game?

It’s only fitting for a small-ball series to come down to late-inning pitching.

Game 7s are all too rare in baseball. This is just the second World Series to go the distance since 2002. The Royals aren’t likely to win again easily. The Giants are going for their third title in five seasons: They have a dynasty at stake. The teams are too evenly-matched. From the beginning, pundits said this series had seven games written all over it, and for once, the pundits were correct.

Kansas City, and its bullpen fireballers, just need to close it out.

TIME Baseball

3 Reasons Why the Royals Can Still Win the World Series

World Series - Kansas City Royals v San Francisco Giants - Game Five
Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals leaves the game in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Five of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park on October 26, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Ezra Shaw—Getty Images

Just trust the puppet chicken

Sure, the San Francisco Giants are an excellent baseball team and possible dynasty and all that. But come on, how can you not root for the Kansas City Royals? The team that had the longest postseason drought in all of major North American pro sports—this was their first playoff appearance since 1985—is trailing 3-2 in the World Series, with Game 6 back in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday evening. The kind folks from western Missouri and Kansas and other plains states deserve a Royals triumph—remember, this team lost 100 games in four different seasons from 2002-2006.

Here’s why KC can still win two straight games and pull out the Series:

Bumgarner in the bullpen… naybe

Giants ace Madison Bumgarner has a 2-0 record this World Series, with a 0.56 ERA. How good a World Series pitcher is Bumgarner? The best of all-time, by one measure: Among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings in World Series play, Bumgarner has the lowest ERA at 0.29. (Jack Billingham of the Cincinnati Reds has the second lowest, 0.36, from 1972-1976). The good news for Kansas City: Bumgarner, who threw nine innings of shutout ball Sunday night, is not scheduled to start in Tuesday’s Game 6 or Wednesday’s Game 7, if it’s necessary. Bumgarner has said he’s available to pitch in relief. So the Royals better smack around the starters: Jake Peavy Tuesday, and Tim Hudson Wednesday if it gets to that. Or if they see Bumgarner, they need to pray that he’s tired.

Ghosts of ’85

Since Kansas City won its last title in 1985, on nine different occasions a team returned home for a World Series Game 6 trailing 3-2, and needing to win two straight to close things out. Seven out of those nine teams accomplished that tough task. The Roylas can rely on their history for inspiration. In 1985, the team was three outs away from being eliminated in Game 6. But with the help of umpire Don Denkinger, the Royals rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat St. Louis 2-1. Riding that momentum, the Royals smacked St. Louis 11-0 in the deciding Game 7. If Kansas City can win tonight, history is on its side for Game 7: Since 1985, no home team has won a Game 6 in a World Series to force a deciding Game 7, and then lost Game 7.

Listen to the chicken

So all the Royals have to do is get to Game 7, right? Well, Kansas City fans, take comfort: In lampooning the trend of animals predicting sporting events, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien has introduced Chikpea, the World Series Predicting Chicken. The low-budget chicken puppet uses sabermetrics to make her selections, and last week Chikpea correctly picked Kansas City to win Games 2 and 3. On Monday night, Chikpea returned to Conan, and said that the Roylas would win Game 6, too.

So the Royals are sitting pretty.

TIME Basketball

Exclusive First Look: LeBron James’ Debut Car Ad

Can the NBA superstar sell $66,000 cars?

Two weeks ago, LeBron James and Kia announced that they had reached a multi-year endorsement agreement for the Kia K900, the auto company’s first official foray into the luxury market. The MSRP for the K900: $59,900. The fully-loaded VIP version costs $65,500. Here’s a first look at the debut commercial spot, which will air Tuesday night during TNT’s coverage of the NBA’s opening night games.

Tim Chaney, vice president of marketing communications for Kia Motors America, says the car is an attempt to “change America’s perception about what a Kia product is all about.” Kia’s most popular model, the Optima, is a midsize car. Chaney says Kia wasn’t in the market for new endorsers until James’ representatives called Kia after the K900 was first released earlier in the year. James was familiar with the Kia brand: the Seoul-based manufacturer has been the official auto partner of the NBA since 2008, and is expected to announce the renewal of its NBA deal on Tuesday.

James has received a Kia for winning each of his four MVP awards (he has donated the cars to charity). James liked the look of the K900, so his reps asked if Kia could send him one to drive around. “When LeBron James says he’s interested in your luxury sedan, you’re happy to leave a car with him,” says Chaney.

Chaney says his research found that James ranked in the top 1% of celebrity influencers, even for older, more affluent customers who typically buy luxury cars. “He pretty much transcends the NBA, and connects with everyone,” says Chaney. “It’s a natural fit for us.”

Is it a fit for James? This is his first car deal: he likely could have hooked up with more established luxury brands. “You don’t think that LeBron James and Kia go hand-in-hand,” says Ben Sturner, President and CEO of Leverage Agency, a sports marketing firm. “Mercedes, Lexus would seem to make more sense. But if you look a little deeper, there are clear benefits for him.” Kia advertises heavily during the NBA season, so the deal broadens his exposure even more. More importantly, if James can help Kia establish itself in the competitive luxury car market, it speaks to his power as an endorser. This can become the “LeBron car.”

LeBron may have a much harder time moving $66,000 Kias than winning games with his new team in Cleveland. Kia sold just 1,106 K900s in the U.S between March and September; BMW sold 32,081 of its 5-Series sedans during that period, while Mercedes moved 43,071 E-Class luxury cars. But it’s still very early in the game: the K900 just hit the market in March. And even if LeBron doesn’t sell the top-shelf stuff, Kia can benefit from a trickle-down effect.

“If LeBron James can drive a $66,000 Kia,” Sturner says, “it’s OK for someone else to drive the $18,000 one.”

TIME College Sports

North Carolina Has a Real College Sports Scandal on its Hands

A report finds that Tarheel athletes took sham classes to stay eligible. Can any school be trusted?

Georgia running back Todd Gurley allegedly signs autographs for money, and is suspended indefinitely. Reggie Bush receives “improper” benefits from an agent while at USC: his 2005 Heisman trophy is vacated, and the NCAA bans USC from postseason play for two years. Ohio State players sell memorabilia, and they get suspended–while the Buckeyes are hit with a one-year bowl ban.

The media and others have all labeled these events “scandals.” But really, it’s not all that scandalous to receive money from a third party who wants to give it to you. Only in college sports, where schools have placed restrictions on an athlete’s ability to profit from his or her skills, are such actions scandals.

Now, however, we have a real one.

For years, the NCAA has propagated the idea of the “student-athlete” who represents his school on the field, while receiving a top-notch education in the classroom. If schools are still going to require that athletes remain students in good-standing — and there’s no inkling that this rule will change — academic fraud makes this standard a sham. Some administrators at the University of North Carolina, a proud school with a proud alumni and fan base, have sponsored one the most egregious cases of academic fraud in college sports history.

According to a report by attorney Kenneth Wainstein, a former 19-year justice department official and Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush, between 1993 and 2011 over 3,100 North Carolina students enrolled in “paper” classes in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies. These courses required no classroom time, little work, and produced inflated grades. Between 1999 and 2011, athletes took approximately 1,871 paper classes, almost half the total; football and men’s basketball players took nearly a quarter of these sham classes.

The report says a student services manager in the department, Debby Crowder, managed many of these “independent studies” classes; Crowder registered the students for classes, assigned them paper topics and then graded their work, even though she was not a faculty member. These papers almost always got A’s or B’s, even if they were shoddy or largely put together by a tutor. The chair of the department, Dr. Julius Nyang’oro, aided Crowder in developing this “shadow curriculum.”

Certain academic counselors in UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes knew about the sham classes, and steered athletes into them so they could remain eligible to play. The report names counselors for the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams who knew of this shadow curriculum. “What was most disappointing to me was that a group of academic counselors for student-athletes took advantage of deficient classes largely just to boost a player’s GPA, without regard to whether those kids were getting a real education,” says Wainstein, now chair of the white collar defense and investigations group at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

The University appointed Wainstein’s law firm to investigate the fraud case earlier this year. “That something like this took place within one of the finest universities in the nation, it’s hard to fathom how it happened,” says Wainstein.

One popular offering was Swahili classes; students could satisfy their foreign language requirement by writing a paper about Swahili culture in English. Twelve of the 18 students enrolled in these classes were athletes. Crowder’s retirement in 2009 sparked a sort of panic among the football counselors. One wrote an email to the football operations coordinator, imploring that players get their work in so Crowder could grade it before she left: “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July … if the guys papers are not in … I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that … ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS.”

In November 2009, two counselors led a meeting with the football coaching staff, including then-head coach Butch Davis. They showed the coaches a slide, warning them that these paper classes NO LONGER EXIST. “What was part of the solution in the past?” read the slide. “We put them in classes that met degree requirement in which they didn’t go to class, they didn’t take notes, have to stay awake, they didn’t have to meet with professors, they didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material.” The counselors then showed two more slides comparing the GPA of eight football players in the paper classes with their GPA in other classes. The average paper-class GPA was 3.61, their GPA in other classes was 1.917.

This case speaks to the challenge of “reforming” college sports. Unless college athletes become paid employees who don’t have to go to school — some academics have proposed this solution, arguing it’s a more honest system — change must come from within the schools themselves. The NCAA can’t have a cop on every campus, poring over athlete transcripts, hopping in and out of classes to make sure they’re legit.

Institutions should be honest with themselves. Are these “student-athletes” we parade in front of packed stadiums and arenas academically eligible in name only? Are they getting a real education? We have to trust the adults in the room, running what are supposed to be enviable institutions, places of “higher learning.” If we can’t trust the “teachers,” we can’t fix college sports.

 

 

 

 

TIME Baseball

The Kansas City Royals Are the Future of Baseball

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014. Dave Kaup—EPA

In baseball, power is out. Speed and defense are in. And the Royals play small-ball best

Updated on Oct. 15, 7:18 p.m.

Sure, the Kansas City Royals are an intriguing tale for the typical rags-to-riches reasons. A team that hasn’t made a post-season appearance in 29 years becomes the first team in baseball history to win its first eight games in the playoffs. On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, completing a sweep and sending the team to the World Series.

But the Royals are more than just an enchanting small-market success story. They represent the changing game of baseball.

In the post-steroid era, the game is going through a remarkable transition. Power is out. Pitching, speed and defense are in. Home runs per game are at their lowest levels since 1992. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game during the 2014 regular season, according to stats site Baseball-Reference.com–the lowest total in 33 years. Runs-per-game are down 15% since 2007, and off 21% from their steroid-era high of 5.14 in 2000. Players are striking out 7.7 times per game, an all-time record, breaking the prior high of 7.55 set last season. In fact, in each of the past seven seasons, baseball set a new all-time high for strikeouts per game.

Enter the Royals. The Royals had the fewest home runs in the majors this past season, with 95. But no team had more stolen bases, and the Royals have kept running this post-season. The team has stolen 13 bases so far: seven of them came in Kansas City’s wild 9-8 comeback win over the Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card game.

The last big-league club to reach the World Series while finishing last in home runs, but first in swipes, was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals. Those Cardinals teams of the 1980s played an exciting brand of “small-ball” throughout the decade: the ’82 Cards finished second in steals, and last in home runs, and won it all (the ’82 Oakland A’s finished first in steals, thanks to Rickey Henderson’s 130 swipes, a modern-era, single-season record that still stands).

For the Royals, that speed pays off in the field too. According to FanGraphs.com, Kansas City players collectively finished with the highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – an advanced metric that measures defensive value – in the majors. Kansas City’s outfield, with three-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center, and defensive replacement Jarrod Dyson shoring up center field in the late innings (Cain then usually moves to right), have baseball analysts raving. “Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” wrote Sam Miller of Baseball Propectus. “We’re not just talking about a good outfield, or a great outfield. We’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the greatest defensive outfield of all time.”

The Royals have found a winning formula. These days, if you swing for the fences, you’re more likely than ever to strike out. So just put the ball in play – Royals hitters have both the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, and the lowest walk rate – and take your chances with your legs. Steal bases to eke out those diminishing runs.

Since today’s pitchers are better keeping balls in the park, if your opponent does make contact, make sure you have players who turn these balls into outs. (Like third baseman Mike Moustakas diving into the stands). Let the big-market New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels overpay for aging sluggers who will inevitably depreciate at the back-end of their ludicrous contracts (Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols). Small-ball is cheap, and effective. This is where the game is heading. The Royals just do it best.

Read next: The 7 Greatest Trick Plays in Sports Movie History

TIME Baseball

The Ump Who Blew the ’85 World Series Wants a Rematch

Don Denkinger
St. Louis pitcher Todd Worrell (facing) argues with first base umpire Don Denkinger in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City, Missouri. Kerwin Plevka—Bettmann/Corbis

The umpire who made a famous blown call in the last World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals speaks out

If anyone should be rooting against a rematch of the “Show Me” World Series — featuring an all-Missouri St. Louis Cardinals-Kansas City Royals battle — it’s former major league umpire Don Denkinger. Back in 1985, Denkinger’s infamous blown call at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 helped the Royals rally to a 2-1 victory, forcing a seventh game against the Cards. The Royals won that one in an 11-0 laugher. So if the Royals can hold their 2-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, and the Cardinals can knock off the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS – that series is tied at 1-1, and both Game 3s are on Tuesday – Denkinger is sure to get a million calls from media members asking him to relive the worst moment of his professional life.

Denkinger, however, wants to see a replay. “I . . . wish they had the replay rule that night, so we could have gotten it right,” Denkinger says from his Phoenix-area home. Denkinger, an Iowa native who still spends part of the year in Waterloo, Iowa, is rooting for Cardinals-Royals out of Midwestern pride. “We don’t get a lot of participation from two teams at the same time from the Midwest,” says Denkinger, 78. “Let’s shake it up a little bit.” The last all-Midwest series was in 2006, when St. Louis beat Detroit in five games. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1987 to find two Midwestern teams in the Series: Minnesota-St. Louis, which the Twins won in seven.

Even if the Royals alone make it to the Series, he knows the onslaught will be coming. “I don’t think I’m sick of talking about it,” says Denkinger. “Though I’m not soliciting calls, that’s for sure.”

Denkinger seems at peace with his undistinguished place in baseball history. “The call will never go away,” Denkinger says. “It’s going to be there forever.” On October 26, 1985, the Cardinals, who were up 3-1 at one point in that series, were three outs away from winning their second title in four seasons. They were leading Kansas City 1-0 in Game 6, when the Royals came up in the bottom of the ninth for one last chance. Pinch hitter Jorge Orta squibbed a grounder towards first; Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark charged in and tossed the ball to reliever Todd Worrell, who ran to cover the bag. Orta was clearly out, by a half-step. Denkinger called him safe.

“I looked up and saw [Worrell] catch it,” Denkinger says. “When I looked down, I saw [Orta’s] foot on the bag and called him safe. Now, had I been farther away from the play, and I could have gotten them both in my peripheral vision, I would have liked to think I’d make a different call. Just that matter of time to look down created him to be safe.”

“I looked up and saw [Worrell] catch it,” Denkinger says. “When I looked down, I saw [Orta’s] foot on the bag and called him safe. Now, had I been farther away from the play, and I could have gotten them both in my peripheral vision, I would have liked to think I’d make a different call. Just that matter of time to look down created him to be safe.”

Fans tend to forget that the call itself didn’t decide the game. (I, for example, always thought it came with two outs. In fact, Orta was the leadoff man). Big Steve Balboni, the next Royals hitter, hit a foul pop-up near the steps of the Royals dugout: Clark misjudged a ball he should have caught, and it dropped behind him. Balboni, in turn, singled, putting runners at first and second. Jim Sundberg tried a sacrifice bunt: the ball bounced hard off the artificial turf to Worrell, who threw out Orta at third. With one out, a passed ball allowed two runners to move into scoring position; the winning run was now at second base. Worrell walked Hal McRae to load the bases. Then, pinch hitter Dane Iorg looped a single to right field; the tying run came in from third, and Sundberg, a catcher, rounded third and chugged towards home. Andy Van Slyke unleashed a rocket from right; Sundberg, sliding head first, barely beat the tag. Royals win.

“There were a lot of opportunities for the Cardinals to bail me out,” says Denkinger. “But they didn’t.”

So Denkinger, who spent the rest of that inning convinced he made the correct call, had a rough night – and years – ahead of him. He retreated to the umpire’s dressing room, where commissioner Peter Ueberroth was standing outside the door. “I just said to him, ‘did I get it right?’” Denkinger says. “And he just shook his head no. That’s when I knew that I missed it. I couldn’t have felt more sick.”

Denkinger was behind the plate for the deciding game. After the Royals jumped out to a big lead, Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar — on in relief — charged towards Denkinger to challenge his strike zone. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog argued with Denkinger too. He told Denkinger that if he hadn’t blown the call the previous night, they wouldn’t be playing a Game 7. “I said, ‘if your team were hitting better than .120 we wouldn’t be here,’” Denkinger says. (The Cardinals finished the Series with a .185 average). “He said, ‘you’re nothing but a so and so.’” Denkinger tossed Herzog out of the game.

The ump remembers one death threat. A few years later, Denkinger says, someone wrote him a letter threatening to “point their .357 Magnum at me and blow me away.” Denkinger, who continued to umpire until retiring in 1998, reported the letter to MLB security. “The postcard itself was never stamped, so we didn’t know where it came from,” says Denkinger. The FBI came to Denkinger’s house to look through a stack of other mail: the feds noticed that the perp misspelled the word restaurant — Denkinger owned one in Waterloo at the time — in the exact same way as a man who had previously written Denkinger. That prior letter had a St. Louis address on it. The authorities told the guy he’d be prosecuted if he ever corresponded with Denkinger again.

Denkinger’s career spanned nearly 30 years, and it had many memorable — and less humiliating — moments. He disliked arguing with managers, with one exception, which involved the irascible Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager from 1968-1982, and again in 1985 and 1986. “I guess the night Earl Weaver decided to eject all four of us was probably kind of humorous,” Denkinger says. “He started at the mound, got the home plate umpire and said ‘I’m going to show how stupid you guys are.’” So then he ran down to first, he threw the first base umpire out. He ran down to second, threw him out. I was at third, he threw me out. I said, ‘Earl, you done? Because you’re the only one who’s going to leave.’ He just looked at me.”

He was behind the plate for the famous Bucky Dent game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 1978. He umped the 1974 World Series, between the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, and the 1980 World Series, between the Royals and Philadelphia Phillies. “That was the hemorrhoids Series, right?” Denkinger says. “Didn’t George Brett have hemorrhoids?” (Indeed, Brett removed himself from Game 2 of that series, which the Royals lost, because of hemorrhoids).

After the ’85 debacle, Denkinger even got another World Series nod. He was the home plate umpire for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a 1-0 classic won by the Minnesota Twins on a walk-off hit. “Life went on,” says Denkinger, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary two years ago.

Still, much like, say, Bill Buckner, one mistake will always overshadow Denkinger’s successful run. If Denkinger gets his wish, a Royals-Cardinals redux, he’d have to be rooting for the Cardinals, right? So Cards fans can maybe finally shut up about ’85? “That would never shut them up,” Denkinger says. “And that’s just fine.”

TIME College Sports

Yet Another Heisman Hopeful Runs Afoul of the NCAA’s Unfair System

Vanderbilt v Georgia
Georgia running back Todd Gurley (right) stiff-arms Torren McGaster of Vanderbilt on October 4, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. Mike Zarrilli—Getty Images

The University of Georgia's Todd Gurley has been suspended after reportedly being accused of accepting money for autographs. What exactly did he do wrong here?

Another year, another Heisman contender’s season interrupted by stupidity.

In 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel–then the defending Heisman trophy winner–became embroiled in a cash-for-autographs controversy. The National Collegiate Athletics Association and Texas A&M said “there was no evidence” that Manziel “received money in exchange for autographs,” but Manziel was still suspended, for the first half of A&M’s opener, for an “inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.”

The Johnny Football contretemps was a flash point in the longstanding debate about whether college athletes deserve a fairer share of the expanding revenues flowing into college sports. Love him or hate him, why shouldn’t a player who was bringing in millions for Texas A&M be able to receive autograph money if someone wanted to give it to him? What Manziel was allegedly doing was hardly illegal, except in the weird world of college sports.

Turns out, Manziel didn’t get railroaded. After sitting out that first half, he had every opportunity to compete again for the Heisman (though he lost out to Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even after an excellent 2013 season). Looks like University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley won’t be as lucky. Georgia has suspended Gurley indefinitely; SI.com reported that “a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands.”

(MORE: TIME Cover – It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

Gurley is a Heisman hopeful. Through Georgia’s first five games, the junior had rushed for 773 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Georgia is ranked 13th in the AP college football poll: the Bulldogs play at Missouri, ranked 23rd, tomorrow. Not only is Gurley a Heisman candidate, but the Bulldogs still have national championships hopes. So Gurley’s success, and the possible once-in-a-lifetime success of his teammates, are now in jeopardy because he may have received $400. Georgia’s football team generates $77.6 million in revenues, and $51.3 million in profit, according to federal data.

The whole system angers Chris Burnette, who finished his career as a Georgia offensive lineman last season and is now working as a financial planner in Atlanta while finishing his MBA. He vented his frustration on Twitter last night:

Burnette, a vocal supporter of compensation for athletes during his Georgia playing days, sounded exasperated when reached by phone. He says he’s not angry at Georgia, and has no firsthand knowledge of any violations Gurley may or may not have committed. “It’s just so frustrating,” says Burnette. “If a student creates an app, no one is telling him he can’t do something because he’s paid for his talents. For these rules to just apply to athletes, it’s almost un-American, really.” Burnette calls Gurley a “stand-up” guy who would “never do anything malicious.”

“I mean, something has to change,” Burnette said.

Luckily, momentum is shifting towards a fairer system. And cases like those of Gurley and Manziel—stars under fire for breaking rules that defy common fairness—can only help speed things up. Everyone involved deserves better.

(MORE: The Long And Winding Road To Paying College Players)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME

Why You Can’t Find the Baseball Playoff Game on TV

Baseball Matt Carpenter
St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter hits an RBI single during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee on Sept. 7, 2014. Morry Gash—AP

Big events, like the final games of the Major League season, are moving to harder-to-find cable networks. And cost of your cable bill is only getting biggger

At a Bay Area retirement community this past Monday, a group of elderly baseball fans gathered in a room to watch their San Francisco Giants take on the Washington Nationals in the National League playoffs. One problem: the game was nowhere to be found on the TV. The MLB Network, a league-owned cable outlet that requires a special subscription in many areas, was airing the game. The old folks were out of luck, until a worker called the cable company for a quick fix. “An associate and I were able to negotiate a deal (probably not such a good one) to get the game and the channel instantly,” a worker at the retirement community told the San Francisco Chronicle, “for an additional $18/month.”

These retirees weren’t alone: the Chronicle reported that its sports desk fielded over 150 calls from fans trying to find a playoff game on TV. The migration of sports programming away from free TV is nothing new. But now even the crown jewels are on cable. For the first time ever, the bulk of baseball’s two league championship series will air on cable channels. TBS will carry the American League Championship Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, which starts Friday; Fox Sports 1, the network Rupert Murdoch launched in August 2013 to compete with ESPN, will handle Games 2-5, and Game 7, of the National Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, which starts on Saturday. The Fox network will broadcast Game 1 and Game 6.

The baseball playoffs have moved way down the dial. I, for one, never thought I’d be watching a league championship series on Channel 99, home of Fox Sports 1 in my New York City neighborhood.

TBS broadcast the Final Four national semifinal games last season, will do so again this coming season, and will add the title game in 2016. The Super Bowl still rotates between CBS, NBC, and Fox: the Super Bowl of college football, the championship game of the new College Football Playoff, will be on ESPN. The sports cable boom isn’t going anywhere: on Monday, the NBA announced that it extended its rights deal with ESPN and TNT through the 2024-2025 season. These networks will pay the NBA a combined $2.66 billion a year, almost triple what they pay in the current contract.

Such lucrative agreements fatten the wallets of players and owners. But they do consumers no favors; they’re driving up the cost of cable. An FCC study shows that the average monthly cable bill for expanded basic service grew 30%, to $64.41 between 2008 and 2013. According to SNL Kagan, a media research firm, sports networks account for 40% of the fees that operators pay cable network to carry their programming.

Operators pass those costs along to consumers, while building in some margin for themselves. So if ESPN and TNT are tripling their investment in the NBA until 2025, they’re going to charge operators more to finance this investment, further spiking your bill. According to SNL Kagan data, ESPN and TNT are already the two most expensive national basic cable networks: operators pay an average of $6.04 per month per subscriber to carry ESPN, and $1.44 per month for TNT. That’s right: ESPN can command a price that’s three-times as high as the second most-expensive national basic cable channel. Four of the top-10 most expensive basic cable networks are sports channels (ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1). Two others — TNT and TBS — feature high-profile sports content like the NBA regular season and playoffs, the baseball playoffs, and March Madness. (Disney Channel, Fox News, USA, and Nickelodeon round out the Top 10, according to SNL Kagan).

In some areas, the regional sports networks are among the most expensive for operators to carry. For example Fox Sports North, which serves Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states, costs $4.67 per subscriber per month. Comcast SportsNet Washington (DC) costs $4.60 per month. NESN, in New England, costs $4.22. The rates dwarf the top-tier, non-ESPN basic cable nets like TNT ($1.44), CNN ($0.61), MTV ($0.47) and AMC ($0.39). The network that shows Minnesota Twins games is nearly 12 times more expensive than the one that airs “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

Over the past five years, ESPN’s carriage fees have jumped 48%. NFL Network fees are up 100%. CNN’s have spiked 22%; fees for Lifetime Television are up 18%. Two forces have driven — and will continue to drive — the accelerated growth in sports cable prices.

First, sports remain DVR-proof. You can record a great TV show, and catch up to it later while fast-forwarding the commercials. (Just stay away from spoilers.) A great sporting event is perishable: going back three days later to watch a Super Bowl just doesn’t make much sense. “Sports is an anomaly,” says Derek Baine, research director at SNL Kagan. “People watch it live.” So ESPN and other sports networks can still attract advertisers, and this ad revenue allows these networks to keep upping the ante for sports rights.

Second, blame Murdoch. If the Fox chairman is going to mount a serious run at ESPN, Fox Sports 1 needs big events. This year’s NLCS, in many respects, is a dress rehearsal. Murdoch’s presence alone made ESPN and TNT pay a premium for the NBA; the networks knew that if they didn’t ante up, Fox would likely swoop in. Fox Sports 1 and other new outlets like NBCSN (NBC Sports Network) increase competition for rights, which create bidding wars that drive up cable bills.

The more expensive monthly bills may not be a bad deal for avid sports fans. For less than $10.00 per month, ESPN comes out to pennies on the hour. But if you don’t want sports, you’re getting rooked. Since cable companies bundle channel packages, you have to pay premiums for ESPN and other sports networks in order to get the stuff you want. Sen. John McCain has pushed for “a la carte” cable — just pay for the channels you know you’ll watch. He won’t get his way any time soon though. The cable industry is fine with their bundled revenues, thank you. The sports boom is just too good. No matter how it costs you.

 

 

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