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MLB and the NCAA are talking about an "unprecedented partnership" in which MLB would “fund scholarships and exert greater influence over Division I college baseball,” according to Eric Olson of the AP. If a deal is reached, it “would be the first of its kind and could lead other professional organizations [to] enter partnerships with the NCAA.” Univ. of Hartford President Walter Harrison, who is representing the NCAA in the talks, said that there are five issues being discussed with MLB: “scholarships, ways to increase diversity, the calendar for the entry draft and College World Series, MLB’s involvement in summer leagues, and wooden bats.” Harrison said that it "could take a year or longer for an agreement to be reached because new or amended legislation might be required.” Harrison: “I want to be cautious about whether this will happen or not. These are concepts at the moment.” MLB Senior VP/PR Pat Courtney said that it was “too early to comment" on the talks. MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner called the talks "exploratory." Harrison said that the “most dramatic proposal would have MLB fund one full scholarship for each Division I program that meets certain criteria.” The league would have “no say in who receives the scholarship.” Harrison noted that Title IX “would have to be addressed if MLB were to provide extra scholarships to baseball” (AP, 5/8).
OMAHA STILL BOOKED FOR JUNE: In Omaha, Steven Pivovar notes a "possible shift in when the College World Series is played is one of the discussion points" in the NCAA-MLB talks. NCAA VP/Baseball & Football Dennis Poppe said yesterday that he “doubts the NCAA would ever agree to any drastic changes that would see the event played earlier in the year." Poppe: “There are a lot of moving parts in this discussion, and we’re looking at all the options in regard to what’s best for the parties involved. But changing the dates of the College World Series is something I just don’t see happening.” Poppe said that the NCAA “first began talking with representatives of MLB and the players union in 2008.” He noted that former MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and late NCAA President Myles Brand were “catalysts of the talks” (Omaha WORLD-HERALD, 5/9).
As soon as Rickie Fowler defeated Rory McIlroy Sunday in a playoff for the PGA Tour's Wells Fargo Championship, "rivalry talk erupted," something that is a "welcomed conversation for the Tour," according to Steve DiMeglio of USA TODAY. The prospect of a "decade's full of duels similar to the Sunday showdown at Quail Hollow is intriguing and tantalizing." Both Fowler and McIlroy are "young, hip, rich and quick with a smile." They both are "on the cover of the EA Sports 'Tiger Woods' video game after winning online popularity contests," and they "appeal to the younger demographic the Tour has eagerly pursued to expand its fan base beyond those who only follow" Woods. But rivalries in golf are "tough to come by, no matter how much the fans yearn for one and the media tries to hype one." Even McIlroy and Fowler "think regular Sunday faceoffs are not in the offing." McIlroy said, "Hopefully it's not the only time we go head-to-head. ... But there are so many different guys winning out here now." Fowler: "There are a lot of really good young players right now, and to count any of them out of a rivalry would be somewhat unfair to them." DiMeglio notes PGA Tour TV rights holders CBS, NBC and Golf Channel currently hope that Woods and Phil Mickelson "keep drawing viewers." But with network contracts "running through the 2021 season, they need new stars in development." A rivalry between Fowler and McIlroy "would seem telegenic" (USA TODAY, 5/9).
SOMETHING TELLS ME I'M INTO SOMETHING GOOD: GOLFWEEK’s Ryan Lavner writes it is not "unreasonable to wonder if we just witnessed the dawning of golf’s next great rivalry -- Rory vs. Rickie! -- a battle that could be waged, conceivably, for the next 20 years." Lavner: "True rivalries, of course, aren’t marketing creations; for all of his flashy outfits, viral YouTube clips and video-game covers, Fowler understood only a Tour title could strengthen his credibility.” Golfer Ben Crane said, “This means a lot for the Tour. He’s such a talented player, and he’s got everything going for him with the good looks and the fashion, and he’s brought a lot of young people to the game” (GOLFWEEK, 5/11 issue). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "If you get Rory McIlroy, who's young and charismatic, and you get Rickie Fowler, who's young and charismatic, and they're in (a) playoff, that's a great day for golf" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/7). GOLF CHANNEL's Jason Sobel wrote McIlroy and Fowler "may provide the latest, greatest opportunity for a rivalry within the game, but they hardly offer a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it lock for the future." The game is "cultivating so many young stars (a positive result) that it’s nearly impossible to cultivate specific rivalries (a negative result)." Sobel: "Even so, there’s more than a steady groundswell of support for McIlroy and Fowler to break away from the crowd and produce a two-man competitive balance that harkens back to those of previous generations" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 5/8).
ADDED CREDIBILTY: In Winston-Salem, Lenox Rawlings wrote under the header, "Fowler Adds Substance To His Style." Rawlings notes the publicity "will range from loud, flat-brimmed caps ($30 on his various websites) to screaming Rickie vs. Rory headlines." Fowler said, "Rory is the top-ranked young player right now. I'm probably the one that sticks out with the most color. Now I'm a PGA Tour winner, so I've got some credibility" (WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 5/7). GOLF WORLD's Jim Moriarty writes fans never doubted Fowler's "flash, it was the substance his detractors found in short supply" (GOLF WORLD, 5/14 issue).
ALREADY A MARKETER'S DREAM: GOLF WORLD’s Jaime Diaz writes Fowler Sunday “downplayed the idea that the win would lessen the pressure of expectation created by his game and aggressively marketed image.” Diaz: “Fowler might be something special. Golf certainly wants him to be. With the hair, outfits and big caps, he had the kids at hello.” But Fowler also "conveys a relaxed, natural manner that makes youngsters feel like he’s one of them.” Somehow he has “reconciled his flamboyant image with his basically introverted personality so that it’s not some kind of Faustian bargain.” Fowler said, “This is who I am. I don’t want to be anyone who I’m not, and I don’t want to be marketed anyway that doesn’t represent me” (GOLF WORLD, 5/14 issue). In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen wrote Fowler is the "kind of athlete publicists are paid to create." He is "charismatic and original and looks a little like actor Johnny Depp." Fowler's fans "include lots of kids who dress remarkably like he does." He will be "fun to watch and impossible to ignore" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/7). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said of Fowler, "This kid has changed the merchandising game in golf because Puma, which he's wearing, when you go into big stores, like the PGA Superstore, front and center Rickie Fowler and his colors. He is already a big star" ("PTI," ESPN, 5/7).
NBA Commissioner David Stern appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” and talked about the shortened 66-game schedule, how that may have played a role in players sustaining more injuries and the league’s current minimum age limit. He said it is “going to be a very tough issue” to play a shortened season on an annual basis. Stern: “We have these important buildings built, and many times with municipal assistance. We have leases that commit to a 41-game home schedule. We have local TV deals that are in place that provide for a 41-game home schedule. We have network agreements in place, even radio, with ESPN that are based on an 82-game schedule. And we have these things called contracts with the players that are based on the revenues from an 82-game schedule. So I'm scratching my head and saying, ‘How do you do this without reopening the collective bargaining agreement?’”
INJURY TIME-OUT: Stern admitted he did not know if the compressed schedule this season contributed to more injuries. He noted some players “came into a shortened training camp in better shape than others, and I think some of our issues have to do with the shorter training period rather than the compressed schedule.” Stern: “I don’t think it was the compressed schedule, but maybe there’s something else going on. We’re going to take all the data and put it through some medical and trainer screen and see what we can learn about it.” He added, “We were mindful of the fact that when we played a 50-game schedule (following the ’98 lockout), there was some sense and a fair amount of criticism and feeling that we had to have an asterisk because it was too short to determine a fair champion. But at 66 (games), we think we're only losing 20% of the season. We did something that was good for the players, the owners, but particularly for the fans.”
20/20 VISION: Stern discussed the issue of raising the league’s current age limit to 20 years old, and he said, “One of the things we agreed to with the union (during CBA talks) was that this is a hot-button issue all around and why don't we appoint a committee and have the committee agree to meet -- owners, players, even involve the NCAA or other appropriate parties -- and let's talk about this.” Stern: “I know there are lots of discussions, people writing articles, making statements and the like about something better than a 19-year-old rule. Unfortunately, the union has been a little bit busy, so we haven't gotten together. But I'm sure we will and I think this needs a full airing.” He added, “I don't like players coming in right out of high school. I think that as a business matter, our teams do better if they get to see a more mature player. …I think 20 would be better and I understand opposition to it, and I'm not sure I'm crazy about the one-and-done terminology. But honestly, I think that’s something that is happening because that’s what the colleges do” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 5/9).
OLYMPIC FATIGUE? The commissioner also appeared on CBS Sports Network’s “Rome” last night and said he was “getting closer” to Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban’s position of not having NBA players participate in the Olympics. Stern said, “I don’t agree with him fully. I think ‘out of the competition’ really means that we’d be depriving our athletes of the opportunity to represent their country and showing the rest of the world of basketball that we want to be their partner. I do think that the idea that FIFA … uses might be a model for us where they only have players 23 and under for the most part in the Olympic competition.” Stern: “As our players get older, it would be good to relieve them of the duty each year to go back to their countries or represent their countries no matter how many times they’ve done it before by having a more limited participation” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 5/8).
USA TODAY’s Gary Mihoces reports the CBA for NFL game officials "expires at the end of this month,” but it does not appear a lockout is a concern. NFL Referees Association Exec Dir Tim Millis said his organization is “not worried or concerned, but very much aware” of the date. Millis added that “matters such as travel per diem, how officials were graded and how playoff assignments were made, were all part of the talks," but that “those aren’t the big issues.” Millis: “The big items are pay, of course, and the second is pension.” Mihoces notes NFL officials are “paid per game, with increases based on years of service in the NFL” (USA TODAY, 5/9).
CLIP & SAVE: CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said the NHL is “in huge danger of missing time" when their CBA expires in September, as the league and NHLPA "haven’t even sat down to negotiate” a new agreement. Ratto: “This is not going to be an easy one because it’s going to start with owner-on-owner arguments about how to lower the salary cap, how to make it more airtight, how to basically take away the advantages the teams have when they front load long contracts. That’s going to have to get settled before they get down to the hard business of dealing with (NHLPA Exec Dir) Don Fehr. I would expect that there will be games missed” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 5/7).
THE RACE IS ON: In Dallas, Gerry Fraley reported the possibility of a drivers’ boycott of the IndyCar Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9 “is dying a quiet death.” Twelve drivers on Monday “gathered at TMS for a day-long testing of the new Dallara DW12 chassis, designed to increase driver safety.” It was the “largest gathering of drivers” at the high-banked oval since last November, when driver Dan Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The similarities between Las Vegas and TMS “triggered rumblings of a driver boycott,” but cooler heads “appeared to have prevailed.” IndyCar officials are “working with drivers to come up with specifications that answer the safety concerns” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/8).