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Week 17 Of NFL Schedule Will
Feature All Divisional Games
The NFL last night unveiled the '10 regular-season schedule, and the "biggest change in this season's schedule was the NFL's attempt to make late-season games more meaningful," according to Michael Wursthorn of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The NFL in the final three weeks of the season "will have a total of 28 division matchups, up from just 15 in 2009, in order to boost interest in playoff ramifications" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/21). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "One of the objectives we wanted to get into was putting more divisional games in the last few weeks. In fact, Week 17, the last week of our regular season, all 16 of those games are going to be divisional games. ... We think that's a healthy improvement from a competitive standpoint to address the issue of teams playing all of the way through the season to put the best product on the field" (NFL Network, 4/20). ESPN.com's John Clayton wrote by "moving so many of those matchups to the final three weeks," Goodell is "gambling that divisional races will be close enough at the end of the season to keep fans excited and network ratings high" (ESPN.com, 4/20). However, when asked about Goodell "wanting teams to close with division games," Bengals RB Cedric Benson said, "Whatever, he doesn't play football. They're always trying to find ways to make it harder on yourself. Nobody wants a division team as the last game of the season" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 4/21).
COMING OFF THE BENCH: The October 31 Steelers-Saints "SNF" game could be played opposite Game Four of the World Series. The league in the past has not scheduled a Sunday night game against the World Series, but Goodell said, "The rationale was that 'Sunday Night Football' has become a staple and that people want to watch football for the entire season, and we didn't feel it was appropriate to take it off anymore. We had obligations to NBC from a programming standpoint and we felt it was best to continue on with that great franchise every night of the season and allow the consumer to be able to choose whether they want to watch 'Sunday Night Football' or the World Series" (NFL Network, 4/20).
Saints' Thanksgiving Matchup Against Cowboys
Part Of Holiday Schedule With More Glamour
GOBBLE, GOBBLE: SI.com's Don Banks wrote it "looks like Thanksgiving Day might actually be worth some couch time for the first time in what seems like quite a while." The NFL "obviously prioritized getting more of its glamour teams to play on the holiday," with Patriots-Lions, Saints-Cowboys and Bengals-Jets. The games will feature QBs Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez, which is "not a bad quarterbacking lineup for Turkey Day" (SI.com, 4/20). ESPN's Adam Schefter said Goodell and league officials "heeded the words of various people and owners around the league, they put their marquee teams on Thanksgiving this year. ... That's a different approach then there's been in other years." He added of the Saints-Cowboys matchup, "In previous years we've had matchups that had not been as appetizing as you'd like. But this year, (Cowboys Owner) Jerry Jones pushed for an attractive opponent." ESPN's Tedy Bruschi: "That turns into some tasty turkey" (ESPN2, 4/20).
A SIGN ABOUT THE GUNSLINGER'S FUTURE? The NFL is opening the season with Vikings-Saints, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game, on Thursday, September 9. In N.Y., Judy Battista writes, "Wondering if Brett Favre is going to play next season? Apparently, the NFL thinks he will" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/21). ESPN's Trey Wingo said of the game and Favre, "I think the NFL has given us a big clue as to what they think is going happen" (ESPN2, 4/20). Schefter: "Doesn't it always come back to Brett Favre?" ("SportsCenter Special," ESPN, 4/20).
OPENING PANDORA'S BOX: SPORTINGNEWS.com's Mike Florio wrote the NFL for weeks "kept a tight lid on the 256-game slate, releasing only scant details." But Goodell's "decision to go rogue during an NFL.com live chat on Tuesday afternoon opened the floodgates." He announced that the season "would begin on September 9 with the Saints hosting the Vikings," while later in the day the "entire schedules of the Steelers, Saints, Giants, and Lions were leaked." The NFL "can't be happy about the development." Though schedule leaks are "not uncommon, the league seemed to be intent on holding back as much as possible until the official announcement of the schedule" last night (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/20). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole offers his "best and worst games of the upcoming season" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/21).
Ochoa Will Discuss Her Retirement
At A News Conference On Friday
Golfer Lorena Ochoa yesterday announced that she plans to "step away from the game at age 28," dealing a "setback to the LPGA," according to Larry Dorman of the N.Y. TIMES. Ochoa will "discuss the details of the early retirement at a news conference on Friday in Mexico City." Her run as the "No. 1 player and top draw in women's golf lasted three years," and following Annika Sorenstam's retirement in '08, the LPGA "loses another marquee player at a time when it is fighting a difficult economy and a diminished playing schedule." Ochoa, an "unfailingly polite and upbeat player," is among the "most popular Mexican athletes of all time, male or female, and was often followed by large contingents of flag-waving Mexican fans at tournaments" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/21). In L.A., Kevin Baxter writes Ochoa's retirement is "latest in a series of recent blows that has left women's golf reeling." An LPGA spokesperson said that tour officials "would not comment on Ochoa's retirement or its impact on women's golf" until after Friday's news conference, but the news "certainly wasn't welcome." Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer: "Obviously when you lose your No. 1 player it certainly is not good news. It's a tough pill to swallow. You provide a stage for your larger-than-life stars and that's what pushes the needle in golf. There's some negatives to that. When you put all your eggs in one basket, sometimes the basket gets a little fragile and the eggs roll out." World Golf HOFer Amy Alcott: "This is kind of a rebuilding time for the LPGA. To lose one of its great stars and great entertainers, that's difficult." Baxter notes Ochoa's retirement, coupled with a "steep decline in sponsorship, plunging TV ratings and a surviving tour roster with few well-known personalities," leaves LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan "battling to keep the LPGA relevant six months after taking the job" (L.A. TIMES, 4/21).
HUGE LOSS FOR LPGA: USA TODAY's Jerry Potter notes the LPGA "had depended on Ochoa to help rebuild a schedule that has 25 tournaments this year." World Golf HOFer Nancy Lopez said of Ochoa and Sorenstam, "These players are so important to the LPGA. For them to not be there at a time when we need them is so sad" (USA TODAY, 4/21). The GLOBE & MAIL's Lorne Rubenstein notes Ochoa has won 27 LPGA tournaments, including two majors, and the LPGA "now has to absorb the loss of Ochoa on top of Sorenstam." Golfer Lorie Kane said, "Annika and Lorena bring people to tournaments and TV. Now we don't have them." Kane added of Ochoa, "I didn't think she'd pull the plug right now. It's definitely another blow to the tour." LPGA Canadian Women's Open Tournament Dir Sean Van Kesteren said Ochoa "endeared herself to everybody," and her retirement "certainly has to hurt the LPGA" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/21). In Charlotte, Ron Green Jr. wrote the loss of Ochoa is a "serious blow to the LPGA tour, which is struggling to regain its footing in the wake of a change in leadership, sponsorship issues and a schedule that's no longer anchored in the United States" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 4/20). Golf analyst Judy Rankin: "It hurts a lot. I think there is other star power and I think certainly there are other wonderful players out there who are still maybe on the climb for what they might achieve. But I don't see how you can say this doesn't hurt." Golfer Christina Kim: "There is no question that her not being at tournaments will be pretty significant. … Without a shadow of a doubt, Lorena is so huge for the game" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 4/20).
What Does Future Hold For LPGA After
Retirements Of Last Two No. 1 Players?
DOUBLE BOGEY: SI's Damon Hack wrote, "This can't be good news for the LPGA, especially coming two years after Annika's retirement. Ochoa was hugely popular -- with the fans, media, her peers." SI's Jim Herre wrote, "Never helps to lose a top player, but in Lorena's case I think any negative impact will be felt primarily in Mexico and possibly South America. The LPGA has been making inroads in Latin America and Lorena was largely responsible" (GOLF.com, 4/20). In Toronto, Dave Perkins writes under the header, "Great And Gracious Ochoa Will Be Missed." Ochoa will be "missed by golf fans as both a terrific player and a gracious, positive presence" (TORONTO STAR, 4/21). In Jacksonville, Garry Smits wrote Ochoa "has been one of the most humble superstars in golf history." She "didn't have the charisma of Nancy Lopez but she had the same heart of gold" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 4/20). SI's Alan Shipnuck wrote Ochoa's "spectacular talent and starpower will be sorely missed by the LPGA." Meanwhile, Shipnuck noted there is "already some speculation that Ochoa will enjoy a farewell appearance" at the next week's LPGA Tres Marias Championship in Marelias, Mexico, which is "about 40 miles from Guadalajara, where she grew up" (GOLF.com, 4/20).
FAMILY FIRST: In Milwaukee, Gary D'Amato notes it "became increasingly apparent that Ochoa was having a hard time balancing the demands of tournament golf vs. family life." Ochoa's career was "one of style and substance," and the LPGA "will miss her" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/21). GOLF WORLD's Ron Sirak noted Ochoa is "newly married and with three stepchildren," and it "has been clear for a while now that her mind was not completely engaged with golf when she was on the course." Sirak: "Perhaps what we are seeing here is an attempt by Ochoa to regroup, settle into her new family and find her footing before finishing up her golf mission. The LPGA can only hope so." Ochoa was "exactly the kind of dynamic, international player" the LPGA "could sell to potential sponsors." An immediate question is "what impact a lengthy Ochoa absence would have on the three LPGA tournaments in Mexico -- including one run by Ochoa" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 4/20). GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Baldry wrote while the "timing of Ochoa's impending retirement came as a shock, the fact that she's walking away so early in her career was expected." Ochoa "long has made it clear that she would not mix family and golf." Ochoa's "eight years on the LPGA provided a platform she undoubtedly will use for good as long as she lives" (GOLFWEEK.com, 4/20). GolfChannel.com's Jay Coffin: "Golf wasn't that important to her the last half of last year, so it really is no surprise that it hasn't been that important to her these first couple months out of the gate in 2010" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 4/20).
MLB yesterday began its formal push toward the '10 All-Star Game in Anaheim, beginning fan balloting for the game and announcing several key elements for the event. The league as expected will continue the extensive community service and charitable theming for the All-Star Game started last year in St. Louis under its "Going Beyond" tagline. MLB and this year's host, the Angels, will again donate nearly $5M to various local and national charities from funds generated by the Monday, July 12, workout day events. The league is working with People magazine for a second iteration of its "All-Stars Among Us" campaign to recognize individuals making extraordinary contributions to their communities. The 5K charity run will also return, again benefitting several charities supporting cancer research and education. And a group of legacy projects will include the reconstruction of youth fields at Anaheim's Pioneer Park, with new league sponsor Scotts helping care for those fields. On the ticketing side, prices will range from $50-200 for All-Star Sunday, $145-330 for the workout day/Home Run Derby and $185-360 for the All-Star Game. The prices on the low end of those ranges are generally twice the cheapest tickets last year in St. Louis, but are largely unchanged at the high end compared to a year ago. MLB All-Star FanFest ticket prices are unchanged at $30 for adults and $25 for kids. Anaheim city officials are projecting a local economic impact of $85M from the All-Star Game events, well below the record $148M set two years ago in N.Y., but far above any other All-Star Game host city. Angels Chair Dennis Kuhl: "We really believe this is going to be one of the most memorable and exciting All-Star events ever, largely because of the dedication of MLB working with the city of Anaheim and our staff here" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
SPONSORS ACTIVATING AROUND BALLOTING: In-stadium balloting will be sponsored this year by Firestone, replacing the 3-D Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer film "G-Force" from a year ago. Sprint will again sponsor the online portion of the All-Star fan balloting. Scotts will sponsor a retail component for the balloting, beginning May 10 in about 1,700 Lowe's home improvement stores. The All-Star balloting is the largest effort of its kind in pro sports, with more than 23 million votes tallied last year (Fisher). In N.Y., Stuart Elliott reported the in-stadium balloting began last night at MLB parks and "will expand to 100 minor league ones next week." MLB Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Marketing John Brody said that Firestone and Scotts "have signed multiyear agreements for their sponsorships." Firestone, Scotts and Lowe's are "all running commercials with baseball or All-Star themes" (NYTIMES.com, 4/20).
MLB Changes Course And Will Now Allow
Maddon To Wear His Hoodie During Games
Rays manager Joe Maddon yesterday said MLB officials have "re-interpreted" their decision to ban him from wearing a hoodie during games, according to Marc Topkin of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Maddon: "Hoodie-gate is over. There was a misinterpretation originally and now it has been re-interpreted." The discussion among MLB officials "got as far as" Commissioner Bud Selig, and once the decision was reversed, Maddon received calls from MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan and VP/Baseball Operations Jimmie Lee Solomon. Maddon "was pleased MLB officials came to their senses." He said, "It's so nice that I can wear it without any kind of concerns that it may result in some form of punishment" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 4/21). FANHOUSE.com's Pat Lackey noted "no reason was given for the abrupt change." Maddon only noted he received a call saying "cooler heads had prevailed." Rays players last night against the White Sox "showed support for their manager and for the decision by filling the dugout with the now MLB-approved sweatshirts" (FANHOUSE.com, 4/20). Maddon planned to wear the hoodie during last night's game to "show his pleasure with the revised ruling" (TAMPABAY.com, 4/20). But ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote, "If you let Joe Maddon and Terry Francona wear whatever they like, you have to let everyone wear whatever they like. A rule that's unenforced is unenforceable" (ESPN.com, 4/20).