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MLB and the MLBPA on Thursday announced a series of significant changes to their joint drug agreement, implementing random, in-season blood testing for HGH beginning this year as well as new protocols to test for heightened testosterone. Every player will now have a baseline testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio determined each year, allowing for easier and more precise detection of subsequent variances beyond allowable limits. The changes, strongly hinted last fall by MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner, furthers what is already the only HGH testing in major North American pro sports and what baseball calls the strongest drug program in all of sports. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking following the owners' meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz., said, “I can't emphasize enough when I think all that has gone on relative to steroids, when you think of where we were, this is a proud day, a great day for baseball. We'll continue to be a leader in this field and do what we have to do." MLB first introduced blood testing for HGH for minor league players in '10, and preseason testing at the major league level was implemented last year as part of the latest CBA signed in '11. After eight positive player tests last year for heightened testosterone, the highest such mark in baseball since '07 and including a high-profile situation with then-Giants LF Melky Cabrera, Weiner said in November the spike "caught the attention of both sides and we are trying to address it." MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred said, “The players, and (Weiner) in particular showed real leadership on this issue, and are to be commended. Having an individual baseline for each player, we think is going to be a lot more accurate and a lot more powerful in terms of the detection." Manfred added the policy changes, and the recent rise of synthetic testosterone as an issue in the sport, highlight the need to drug agreement a living, breathing document. The longitudinal profile program for player testosterone levels will be maintained by the Montreal Laboratory, a facility accredited by WADA. Postseason testing is not part of the new terms (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
FAITH IN THE PROCESS: Orioles P and union rep Jim Johnson said that the players' “main concern was ensuring the testing would be dependable.” Johnson: "When we were first discussing it, we wanted to make sure we were doing it right. ... We needed to be 100 percent behind the science behind it if you're going to go to this level. Every day it's getting better and better. It's a big step toward the betterment of the game." He added, “It wouldn't have happened unless the players wanted it. There was really no precedent set for it. I think it's just showing that baseball is trying to be proactive and trying to get ahead of it” (Baltimore SUN, 1/11). In L.A., Bill Shaikin notes the in-season tests “left some players waiting to hear how the tests would be administered.” Dodgers C A.J. Ellis and Angels C Chris Iannetta indicated that they “preferred a postgame blood test.” But a source said that a “pregame testing regimen appears more likely.” Ellis said, “I'm not sure of the logistics, but I feel most all players support and understand the importance of a clean game." Iannetta: “Anything you can do to eliminate the temptation and health risks players might take to get an edge, by having more stringent tests, that's good for baseball and good for the players” (L.A. TIMES, 1/11).
ABOVE THE REST: In N.Y., Michael Schmidt wrote the expansion of the testing program allows MLB to “again argue that it has moved ahead of the National Football League on the drug front and that it now has the toughest testing program of any of the professional sports leagues in North America.” The NFL has “yet to test for HGH and does not have a comparable testosterone test.” The NFL and the NFLPA in ‘11 indicated that they had “agreed to initiate blood testing for HGH, but since then the union has expressed reservations and no testing protocol has been established” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/11). USA TODAY’s Paul White notes the NFLPA “continues to express reservations about implementation, leading to pressure from Congress to end the delays.” After Thursday's announcement, MLB has “jumped ahead of the NFL in drug testing” (USA TODAY, 1/11). NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, “We hope the MLB players' union will inspire the NFLPA to stop its stalling tactics and fulfill its commitment to begin testing for HGH. If the NFLPA stands for player health and safety, it should follow the lead of the MLB players' union and end the delay.” NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah said that the union is “not backing out of anything but was looking to resolve scientific issues surrounding the tests” (AP, 1/10).
THIS BUD’S FOR YOU: In Phoenix, Dan Bickley writes under the header, “Major League Baseball Takes Lead In Battle Vs. Drugs.” This is a “big victory” for Selig, as it means he has "pinned his legacy on a drug war the way the NFL commissioner is battling a concussion epidemic.” The new policy “marks a dramatic change in the culture of baseball.” The players are “no longer hiding behind their litigators and union leaders” and instead are “accepting a partnership and accountability” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/11). SportsNet N.Y.'s Chris Carlin gave Selig and the union "some credit for finally bending on this one." Carlin: "This is not something I thought we were going to see for a couple more years because there’s so many complexities involved in a blood test” ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 1/10). In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes, “All of a sudden, baseball is an industry leader among professional sports.” MLB is “more serious than ever about catching cheaters, shaming the NFL’s unwillingness to address its health problems” (Bergen RECORD, 1/11). WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford said MLB’s HGH testing “is a step in the right direction, and you give baseball credit for that” ("NESN Daily," NESN, 1/10). CBSSPORTS.com’s Scott Miller wrote the announcement “will not change” that the “bigger crime … is to react slowly and allow the monster to grow.” However, it is “another long-overdue step that will continue to help clean up the game” (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/10).
NHL players Thursday night began voting on the 10-year CBA, and once that process is "completed Saturday morning ... teams then will open training camps on Sunday," according to Chip Alexander of the Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER (1/11). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes the NHL is expected to "announce the full schedule Saturday" (Bergen RECORD, 1/11). ESPN.com's Craig Custance noted two of the league's "biggest unsolved issues -- realignment and Olympic participation -- will draw more attention once the CBA is ratified by the players at the end of this week." An NHL governor said that realignment "wasn't addressed at all during the Wednesday ratification meeting." The expectation remains that it "will get done in time for the 2013-14 season" (ESPN.com, 1/10).
PENSION A PLUS: The GLOBE & MAIL's McFarland & Ebner note the players' new pension plan "should improve the league’s status as the 'poor cousin' of professional sports leagues in terms of pension offerings, and will provide a better cushion for ordinary players." The NHL said that it "plans to create a new defined benefit (DB) pension plan, which is a traditional pension plan that pays a guaranteed level of income in retirement." It is "rare for employers to create new DB pension plans and many are closing their plans and transferring employees to lower-risk DC arrangements that don’t lead to expensive shortfalls that must be funded by the employer." NHL players were eligible to "earn a maximum of $50,000 (all currency U.S.) a year in 2012 after playing at least 160 games, while players in Major League Baseball need 43 days of service to begin to qualify for a pension benefit of $34,000 a year, and analysts say baseball can earn pensions of $200,000 annually with 10 years of service" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11).
IN FEHR THEY TRUST: Capitals RW Troy Brouwer said of NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr, "His big thing was making sure everybody knew exactly what's going on. Hiring him to represent the players association was the best move that we've made as a PA for a long time. He did exactly what he said he was going to do when we were looking to hire him." Sharks RW Adam Burish added, "He's about as sharp of a person as I've ever been around." Blackhawks LW Viktor Stalberg: "It's hard to get a good negotiation if you're not sticking together. It proved to be a great acquisition to get him to represent us" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/11).
HOLLOW APOLOGY: Columnist Kevin Blackistone said he was “selling” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s recent apology to fans, as he has “overseen the loss of an entire season” and parts of two other seasons. Blackistone: “You’re supposed to be a custodian of the game. That’s not doing a good job.” ESPN’s J.A. Adande said an “apology isn’t going to cut it, not when you already lost an entire season” in ’04-05. Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw noted people are "misguided in always using him as the whipping boy for everything." Cowlishaw: "It’s the greed of the owners that causes these lockouts.” The Miami Herald's Israel Gutierrez said the apology was necessary, as under Bettman's watch, the league has "lost over 2,000-some-odd games, and say what you will about him working for the owners, he’s also working for the betterment of the game." Gutierrez: "This doesn’t help the game” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/10). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the NHL “needs good public relations,” and it is “altogether possible that this is an authentic apology by Gary Bettman and he’s reaching out for good public relations.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “I just wonder if for awhile it’s just best for ... all those involved in this work stoppage to lay low and let the public see some guys on skates." He added, "People are angry and they’re going to be angry until they get the product back” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/10). SI.com's Stu Hackel wrote while Bettman expressed "sorrow for the lockout he engineered," what he "stopped short of expressing was a pledge that he would commit to working with the NHLPA to find a way of preventing anything like what we just went through happening again." The best thing he could have done was "make some sort of statement that this third lockout was wrong for the sport, that it was too damaging and the league was committed to finding a better way of fixing problems in its labor relations" (SI.com, 1/10).
SOCIAL MEDIA MATTERS: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes it is "accepted wisdom that no one won in the NHL lockout." However, there was "one player in the drama who came out ahead" -- social media, the "new voice in the field of NHL opinion, emerged as a powerful voice by defying both the league and traditional media who have long brushed them off." The emergence of social media’s "power and influence was a transformation the NHL either ignored or ridiculed, to its peril." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly "criticized the 'uninformed ramblings' of Twitter, while the league made few if any attempts to get its message to its connected fan base beyond the 'disappointed, very disappointed, very-very disappointed' meme." As a result, the NHL and Bettman were "pounded in the Twitter community." Dowbiggin: "Hence Bettman’s abject apology" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/11).
The LPGA tour will return to Dallas-Ft. Worth “for the first time in more than two decades with the creation of the North Texas LPGA Shootout, to be held April 25-28 at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving,” according to Jimmy Burch of the FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. Tour officials Thursday announced the new event will feature a full field of 144 players and a purse of $1.3M. It will be the first 72-hole LPGA tourney in the area "since the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open was played at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth" and the first at "any venue in Texas since the 2009 LPGA Tour Championship in Houston” (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/11). The tournament does not have a title sponsor, but tour officials said that financing “came together through a collection of local and regional sponsors.” GOLFCHANNEL.com's Randall Mell reported though the LPGA “isn’t expected to release its full schedule until next week, Thursday’s news marks the third new event to be announced for this year.” That makes seven new events that LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan has “put together over the last two years” (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 1/10). GOLF WORLD’s Ron Sirak notes the tour last week announced the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, a “new full-field, 72-hole event to be held May 23-26 with a $1.3 million purse and TV coverage by Golf Channel.” The LPGA also announced that the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic “would become the Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning, with Marathon Petroleum taking over as title sponsor.” Farr exits after “28 years as tournament host.” Whan now “appears to have an outside shot at his goal of 30, the number at which he says the LPGA business model works” (GOLF WORLD, 1/14 issue).
SAYING GOODBYE TO KLINGER: In Toledo, Dave Hackenberg wrote the “gut reaction is to wonder why Jamie Farr’s name has come off our local LPGA golf tournament, regardless of sponsorship changes.” It has been the Jamie Farr Classic “since Day One, since founder/tournament director Judd Silverman and others struggled to get this thing off the ground in the early 1980s, since it needed an identity.” People who think it is “a shame that Farr’s name is being taken off the tournament … might point a finger at the new title sponsor since the announcements were made concurrently.” However, it reportedly is “more a confluence of coincidence.” Marathon not only “rode to the rescue but came in as top dog, title sponsor, with a big-dollar outlook that would up the purse over time and put all four rounds of the tournament on worldwide TV.” The tournament over the past nearly three decades has been “sponsored at various times and in various ways by Owens Corning, Kroger, O-I, and probably some others.” But the event regardless of sponsorship “has always been the Farr Classic” (TOLEDO BLADE, 1/10).
NBA teams are "embracing the 12-year-old D-League more than ever as a resource to develop talent," according to Ian Thomsen of SI.com. Eleven franchises are "managed exclusively by NBA parent teams," and expectations are for the league to eventually "expand to 30 teams." That day will come "sooner than later when every NBA franchise will have an exclusive relationship with its own minor-league affiliate." The Trail Blazers manage the Idaho Stampede "as if it were their version of a Triple-A farm team." Blazers GM Neil Olshey said, "It's invaluable. One thing you can't promise young players on an NBA team is minutes, because you can't put the team in position to suffer in terms of wins and losses.'' D-League franchises that "cost $400,000 to buy a decade ago are now being valued at close to $4 million." More than half "claim to be profitable." The league also has "been broadcasting all of its games live on YouTube in an innovative attempt to grow an audience for the long term." Mavericks President of Basketball Operations & GM Donnie Nelson owns the Texas Legends and "runs it as a profitable business, hiring older, recognizable" players with NBA experience while "providing a carnival atmosphere in the arena to draw in young fans and families." A "hybrid'' affiliation also exists, as introduced by the Rockets in '09 when they "bought the basketball operations of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (while local ownership continued to control the franchise's business end)." Full-time D-League players "earn between $15,000 and $25,000 per season." If the business "grows and salaries rise with the next collective bargaining agreement, the D-League may eventually become an option for the best high school players who don't want to spend a year in college" (SI.com, 1/10).NBA D-LEAGUE TEAMS
TEAM OWNERSHIP MODEL AFFILIATION(S) Austin Toros Team owned Spurs Bakersfield Jam Independent Hawks, Clippers, Suns, Raptors Canton Charge Team owned Cavaliers Erie Bayhawks Single affiliate Knicks Ft. Wayne Mad Ants Independent Bobcats, Pistons, Pacers, Bucks Idaho Stampede Single affiliate Trail Blazers Iowa Energy Independent Bulls, Hornets, Nuggets, Wizards L.A. D-Fenders Team owned Lakers Maine Red Claws Single affiliate Celtics Reno Bighorns Independent Grizzlies, Kings, Jazz Rio Grande Valley Vipers Single affiliate Rockets Santa Cruz Warriors Team owned Warriors Sioux Falls Skyforce Independent Heat, T'Wolves, Magic, 76ers Springfield Armor Single affiliate Nets Texas Legends Single affiliate Mavericks Tulsa 66ers Team owned Thunder