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Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: The Sports Shutdown – and some have silver linings

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We’re living through an unprecedented time in American history. But you already knew that.

You’ve already been impacted in every aspect of your life. Sports isn’t close to being at the top of your priority list. But you probably give sports a passing thought now and again, right? You miss it. For example, you might wonder: Is there anything even slightly good in sports coming out of all this Coronavirus news?

While keeping everything relative and in proper perspective…the answer is…yes, there could be a silver lining or three.

A few entities in the world of sports have actually reaped a slight benefit…silver linings to sports being shut down. The Colorado Avalanche have a chance to get healthy, for instance. The Denver Nuggets get a chance to regroup. Comcast and Dish Network don’t have to hear incessant pleas to bring back those games on cable TV. And sports talk radio shows can spend all their airtime gushing about the Denver Broncos offseason while not actually ignoring the sports that are in season. So there’s that.

Here are three that epitomize what ‘silver lining’ really means in a cloudy time like this.

Strike One: The Houston Astros. Major League Baseball’s designated Bad Boys – caught red handed stealing oppositions signs with the use of cameras rather than the old-fashioned way – were having a rough beginning to spring training when everything came to a screeching halt.

Even though it was determined that the Astros sign-stealing scandal – which apparently lasted from 2016 – ‘19 – was entirely “player-driven,” it was only coaches and management that were  punished by MLB. So the Houston players were getting punished in a different sort of way – constant verbal abuse from fans, bashing from some in the media, plus a few well-timed fastballs to the ribs from opposing pitchers who felt like they were the victims of the Astros now in-question success.

This wasn’t going to get any better when the regular season started. In fact, it was likely to get a lot worse. There would be more HBP’s. Perhaps a lot more. Think about Houston’s road trips to Yankee Stadium, for instance. How much fun is that going to be? Their season was destined to be a complete circus.

But now, everything has changed, perspective-wise, for everyone.

What the Astros did and what didn’t happen to them punishment-wise hasn’t and won’t change. But people’s perspective of what really matters has changed. A lot. Suddenly using MLB-supplied technology to get an edge during a baseball game doesn’t seem all that heinous.

That will change back at some point, of course. But when MLB does come back sometime this summer, it will be a huge celebration, regardless of who’s playing. As a nation we’re going to revel in any opportunity to get out to a ballpark and watch a professional baseball game, or even see one on TV. There will be no “bad guys” at that point…at least at the outset.

Assuming we ever get back to a point of normalcy, and we start to think about sports the way we did before, then some fans and players may get back to hating the Astros and seeking some form of retribution. But it’s hard to imagine it will ever have the same fervor or intensity it was having this spring.

This too shall pass.

There will be those who will never move past what the Astros players did. But that number will dwindle over time. In this case, time is on the side of the Bad Boys.

Strike Two: Jeff Bridich, and to a lesser extent, Nolan Arenado.

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Bridich didn’t cheat the game, but fans of the Colorado Rockies felt cheated by the way he handled the off season. Specifically, it was the General Manager’s well-publicized spat with Arenado, his best player, that had fans wanting him fired.

In case you’ve forgotten (and you’d be excused if this wasn’t foremost in your thoughts these days) Bridich signed Arenado to a monster contract extension in late February of 2019. There were hugs and tears. Everything was peachy. Then 71-91 happened.

After being a play-off team in 2017 and 2018, Colorado had a miserable 2019 season, and Arenado was pissed. He wanted to see the team make some impactful changes. They didn’t. They did nothing.

Bridich’s lack of bedside manner – his “smartest guy in the room” persona – rubs a lot of people wrong, and a flippant response (or two) to Arenado’s mild public complaints put the two men at odds to the point Nolan was reportedly seeking a trade. Rockies ownership never had any intention of trading the team’s future Hall of Fame third baseman. But that didn’t stop national and some local media from running with the “Rockies are going to trade Arenado” Fake News story all off season. It was grating on everyone.

The noise had abated somewhat during the early stages of spring training, but the notion was still out there, floating around, that if things didn’t go well for the Rockies prior to the MLB trading deadline at the end of July, that Nolan could still be on the move. (Trading Arenado would be a disastrous move for the franchise in any and all cases.)

Now that the 2020 season has been violently disrupted, the focus is just on getting games played. Personal moves are deep on the back burner. There may not be a trading deadline at all this year. The heat is off Bridich for now…and for the foreseeable future.

The chances that Nolan Arenado gets traded in 2020 have gone from slim to none and none just left town.

How’s that for a silver lining?

Strike Three: The NCAA. How stunning was it when the NCAA just up and cancelled its biggest event (aka money-maker) of the calendar year? This is an organization that’s not known for making quick, decisive…and correct…decisions. More often than not, the NCAA operates like the bureaucracy that it is.

Cancelling March Madness had to be the most difficult decision Mark Emmert and his staff have ever had to make. But it was the right move for everyone involved. Kudos.

But the good moves didn’t end there. After quickly and decisively deciding that the spring sports season had to be terminated as well, they made another excellent decision to grant an extra year of college eligibility to all spring sports athletes – the ones who had more than 65% of their seasons wiped away.

For once, the NCAA made a decision that had the best interest of the student-athletes at its core. The decision had nothing to do with finances. And making a decision that could potentially add to costs without any revenue benefit is uncharted territory for this outfit.

So if you’re keeping score at home (with nothing else to do) that’s one decision – cancelling March Madness – that cost them millions in revenue for 2020, and another – granting an extra year of eligibility to spring sports athletes – that will cost them a pretty good chunk in extra expenses for 2021.

And on top of that, all of this will create headaches for administrators, who will now have to do things like figure out the best way to adjust roster sizes (making room for incoming recruits while retaining the extra hold overs) and reconfigure temporary scholarship limits. Lots of math to do.

But the fact that they will get this done – while working toward a normal start to the college football season this fall – gives you an idea that maybe the NCAA isn’t actually the enemy. They say that hard times like the one we are immersed in reveals true character. Perhaps this NCAA group isn’t such a bad outfit after all.

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