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After two years of experimenting with midweek starts to the season, MLB next year will revert to its customary practice of a Sunday night/Monday afternoon start to the ’13 season. The tentative master schedule, publicly released this afternoon, features an as-yet-undetermined primetime matchup on ESPN on Sunday, March 31, and then a dozen Opening Day games on Monday, April 1. Overall, the schedule is highlighted by the move of the Astros to the AL and the implementation of interleague play throughout the season, representing some of the most significant changes since the introduction of interleague play in '97 and the last league expansion in '98. Under the new format, teams will play their four division opponents 19 times each, up from 18. Non-division league opponents will be played six or seven times each, down from varied schedules that reached as high as 10 games. Each team will play 20 interleague games, up from 18. MLB additionally has slated a "Prime Rivals" week in late May in which each club will play its natural interleague rival for two games on May 27-28, and then two more games the following two days in the other team's home park. Interleague play overall has been scheduled in a more systemic fashion in which teams beyond their natural rivals will each play all five teams from another division. The NL West has been paired with the AL East for those games, the AL West with the NL Central and the NL East with the AL Central. The Astros will begin the season on April 2 at home against the Rangers.
CHANGE TO DRAFT DATE: The '13 schedule also features a shift in the annual First-Year Player Draft from its typical Monday start. Next year's draft will begin on Thursday, June 6. The regular season will end Sunday, Sept. 29, allowing additional time for the expanded postseason that begins this year under a more compressed calendar.
With time running out before the NHL's current CBA expires at 11:59pm ET Saturday, more NHLers are speaking out about the ongoing negotiations between the league and the NHLPA. Senators C Jason Spezza said, "I know from our side they're trying to be creative and figure out different ways to approach this to bridge the gap. I don't feel the league has given us a fair offer yet that's even worth considering, so there's nothing we can even look at" (OTTAWA SUN, 9/12). Lightning RW and player rep Adam Hall said, "The last deal, we gave a lot of concessions and it was meant to fix and address problems the owners claimed were broken in the system. So, this was, in effect, their deal, and seven years later after all these revenues they're claiming the system is broken again because their plan that they claimed to work, didn't work" (TAMPABAY.com, 9/11). Wild C Matt Cullen said, "Everybody right now is posturing. As we get closer to some real deadlines, hopefully things will start to get done." He added, "I think we're really close to being in the same ballpark. I feel like it'll happen fast" (TWINCITIES.com, 9/11). Meanwhile, Bruins Alternate Gov. Harry Sinden said, "There's some way we have to find to resolve this. There is a resolution I'm sure." He added, "Coming on the heels of the shutdown in '04, there isn't anybody -- players, owners, anybody, and particularly the people who support the game in all the arenas in all the cities -- who thinks we should go through another one." But in Boston, Stephen Harris notes one unnamed NHL GM "predicts there will be a shutdown that lasts at least a month into the scheduled regular season" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/12). Bruins G Tuukka Rask: "I hear November, December and New Year's. But no one really knows" (AP, 9/11).
ADDRESSING THE PLAYERS: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen reports NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and the union's negotiating team "will be explaining the situation" in N.Y. over the next two days to players "coming in from all parts of the globe." Jets D Ron Hainsey said that "as many as 300 NHL players could attend" the meetings. Owners also will be in N.Y. tomorrow for a BOG meeting "to hear Commissioner Gary Bettman's update." Negotiators from the two sides "are expected to meet this morning" ahead of the players' meeting. The large number of players in attendance "certainly speaks to gravity of the situation but also might be an indication of how the NHLPA has re-emerged as unified after the turmoil that resulted from first Ted Saskin and then Paul Kelly being removed as executive directors" (USA TODAY, 9/12). In N.Y., Mark Everson notes the "return to the table is another indication the players are the active side in this labor dispute." Though there was "grumbling on the ownership side that the union was rudely non-punctual toward busy captains of industry, there seems to be no excuse for ownership's failure to go through the motions" (N.Y. POST, 9/12).
BLAME GAME: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote under the header, "Don't Blame Gary Bettman For Lockout." Burnside: "Let's be clear about one thing: Bettman may be driving the bus, but he's getting directions on where the bus is headed from the 30 owners who sit behind him on that bus." That is why this lockout "is all on the owners' shoulders even as many choose to heap the blame squarely at Bettman's feet." If the owners "didn't want their doors to be darkened for the second time in eight years, if they wanted to avoid looking hilariously hypocritical -- let's sign dozens of long-term deals this summer and then a few weeks later ask for players to give much of that back in escrow -- it wouldn't happen." The owners, "of course, speak publicly with one voice when it comes to labor issues and that voice belongs to Bettman" (ESPN.com, 9/11).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has “agreed to meet with all four players suspended for their alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal,” according to Ed Werder of ESPN.com. The dates of the meeting with the players -- Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove -- have “not been determined, but they likely will not occur before next week.” Goodell has said that he will “determine any punishment in the case after hearing from the reinstated players.” Vilma's attorney Peter Ginsberg, said that he has “not been provided any assurances the league would allow the players and their legal representatives the opportunity to review evidence or cross-examine witnesses.” Werder noted those issues “prompted Vilma to walk out” of his previous appeals hearing with Goodell (ESPN.com, 9/11). ESPN's John Clayton said Goodell and the players, specifically Vilma, can “sit down and officially talk and see, ‘Okay, where’s the evidence,’ and maybe they can work something out." Clayton: "This is a great breakthrough and it’s a smart thing for Vilma to do. ... The only way you can at least get some settlement is to start talking” (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 9/11). Newsday’s Bob Glauber said a meeting has to “happen pretty soon because Roger Goodell wants to get an expedited decision on what he’s going to do now that these suspensions have temporarily been vacated” (“NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 9/11).
REPLACEMENT OFFICIALS: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers said the NFL replacement officials are “under a lot of scrutiny,” and those working the 49ers-Packers game on Sunday “deserve the scrutiny.” Rodgers: “You have to understand the rules." He added, “It’s just frustrating when you think you are positive there is either a missed call or the rule is not interpreted the way it’s supposed to be interpreted. There were multiple instances of that. When you watch the film, it’s frustrating. Some just bizarre calls on both sides. Anybody who saw the TV copy -- I saw it from the sideline -- we scored a touchdown on a legit block in the back. I don’t know what happened on that. It just hopefully will get better" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/12). Meanwhile in N.Y., Chase Stuart wrote although there were “the usual complaints and borderline calls,” the replacement refs “did not steal much attention from the players on the field” during games this past weekend. It is “difficult to test whether the replacement referees were any different than the regular crews” (NYTIMES.com, 9/11). In Nashville, David Climer writes, “In many of the games I’ve seen both in person and on TV, many officials appear star-struck or intimidated -- or both. They simply aren’t prepared to be in the positions the NFL front office has put them” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/12).
Top ATP World Tour players, led by Roger Federer, remain “intent on applying pressure on the Grand Slam tournaments over prize money next year, beginning with the Australian Open,” according to Christopher Clarey of the N.Y. TIMES. Australian Open Tournament Dir Craig Tiley said, “I think as a group, they’ve been led by Roger, who is very intelligent and measured in this. Anytime you can have a player council represented by arguably one of the great players of all time, you’re going to have some strength.” Clarey notes ATP players are “seeking much more than another routine pay raise,” as they want to “capitalize on the narrow window provided by their golden age and current solidarity to correct what they perceive as a long-running inequity.” The players are “believed to be asking" for between 12-13% of total revenue. With the Grand Slams “committed to equal prize money, that means -- with the women along for the ride -- the men are effectively demanding about 25 percent of total revenue for prize money.” A 25% share would be “more in line with men’s tour events." Based on estimates, prize money “currently ranges" from about 11% of revenue at the U.S. Open to about 17% at the Australian Open. At the U.S. Open, a 25% share “would mean a hike in prize money" from about $25M to more than $60M. Tennis officials said that players are “offering little change of their own in return." If the players "fail to reach their prize-money goal next year, they are considering a range of potential actions.” Those include “staging alternative events concurrent with the Grand Slam tournaments, stripping ranking points from the Grand Slam tournaments and skipping the Grand Slam tournaments altogether.” A formal boycott “appears not to be an option because of antitrust laws.” A “huge player pay raise could force staff and program cuts and jeopardize the viability" of the USTA’s plans for a $500M upgrade of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (N.Y. TIMES, 9/12).