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MLB yesterday launched a three-part plan to "address the talent pipeline that impacts the diversity of on-field personnel, with a special emphasis on African-Americans," according to Paul Hagen of MLB.com. The first of three "broad initiatives now underway includes expanding baseball's existing programs, such as the Jr. RBI Program (Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities), the Urban Youth Academies and various grassroots programs across the nation." Second is implementing programs which will have the "goal of improving the quality of coaching as a way to attract the best athletes, including new initiatives and mobile coaching tools that are currently in development." Finally, MLB will "direct marketing in urban communities through a variety of methods, including raising the profile of current and former big leaguers." Former MLB manager Jerry Manuel will "take on an expanded role in the task force," serving as the "day-to-day leader of the initiative" under the direction of Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. Manuel said, "You have to applaud Commissioner [Bud] Selig for taking on such a complex task. To put this task force together and identify different things and why and go forward from there, it's exciting" (MLB.com, 4/9). Dombrowski said that 15 to 20 other ideas "were still in development" for the initiative. In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes only 8.3% of players on '14 Opening Day rosters "identified themselves as African-American or black," and for "many young athletes from low-income families, choosing baseball over other sports makes little sense." Yankees P CC Sabathia said, "If I had a choice, I would have had to go to college to play football, because my mom couldn't afford to pay whatever the percent was of my baseball scholarship. So if I hadn't been a first-round pick, I would have gone to college to play football, because I had a full ride" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/10).
The initial reaction to MLB's new expanded replay system has been "overwhelmingly positive," as the first 10 days of the season have helped "provide a snapshot into the ramifications that will be driving the discourse this season and beyond," according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Braves GM Frank Wren said, "It's doing what we hoped it would do, and that's to reduce the number of missed calls in the game." But he added, "Before we render judgement on the good and bad parts, let's see how it plays out for a while." Through Tuesday, replay was "used a total of 51 times." Of that total, 17 calls "were confirmed, 18 were overturned, 15 were left standing because of the lack of 'clear and convincing' evidence to make a change, and one was used to clarify a record-keeping snafu." Divide the number of games through Tuesday (115) by the number of overturned calls (18), and it "tallies out to one blown call every 6.4 games," which is "right in line with previous figures." The reviews "averaged 2 minutes, 17 seconds," but that number "skews high because of a handful of laborious decisions." Also, the "occasional technical glitch has popped up in the early going." Even if the new system "adds a minute here and there, it will probably be quicker than the manager-umpire spat that it replaced" (ESPN.com, 4/8). But USA TODAY's Paul White writes under the header, "Upon Further Review, Replay A Mixed Bag." Braves President John Schuerholz, the "primary architect of the new system, has predicted as much as three years could be needed to sort through all the nuances." Still, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "I think it's gone well. I don't think it's changed the flow of the game" (USA TODAY, 4/10).
TAKE IT OFF THE FIELD: SI’s Joe Sheehan writes through the first week of MLB’s new replay system, “we know two things: Replay works, and it can work much better than this.” There still are “kinks, and the biggest one, aside from the challenge limit,” is that managers “aren’t the ones deciding when to challenge.” There is “no way they can decide without access to video in the dugout, and teams have constructed elaborate games of telephone to connect their ‘replay coordinator’ in a small room inside the stadium with a bench coach in the dugout.” Sheehan: “You can fix these problems with one change: Take the teams out of the process.” MLB has "spent heavily on a review center” in its N.Y. HQs, “tricking it out with dozens of high-definition screens and wiring it to all 30 ballparks.” That room can “just as easily be staffed to instigate reviews, which could be done more quickly than the on-site phone relays that now start the process.” The N.Y. replay center also could “review all the plays in the first six innings, not just one or two” (SI, 4/14 issue).
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the topic of raising the league's age limit has "been on the burner" for a while. Silver appeared on "The Dan Patrick Show," and Patrick noted in Silver's short tenure, it "feels like there is a progressive attitude towards your approach here." Silver said of possibly raising the NBA age minimum, "There's nothing new that I'm talking about that (former NBA Commissioner David Stern) and I hadn't been talking about for years. For example, raising the minimum age from 19 to 20 was on the table in the last collective bargaining negotiation which was roughly two-and-a-half years ago and what happened when we got the deal done ... we made a decision with the then head of the union, Billy Hunter, that we would take a group of issues and in essence park them and say, 'Let's start playing and we'll return them to the negotiating table.'" Silver suggested the "only difference in my approach from David's is I've been talking more about the college game and while we think raising the age from 19 to 20 would be helpful to the NBA we think it would, of course, do a lot for college basketball as well." Silver: "One of the reasons we wanted to raise the age from 18 to 19 is we wanted to put our teams in a position where they were drafting less based on potential but more on having seen those top players play against top competition." Silver said the league "didn't get an outright 'no'" from the NBPA in the last negotiation over raising the limit. Silver: "They just said this is something that needs to be discussed further. I can't do it unilaterally as the NBA" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 4/9). ESPN's Tim Legler said he understands what Silver "is trying to do" regarding an increased age limit, but he said it is "just not going to happen." Legler: "The players union would never go for it" ("NBA Tonight,” ESPN2, 4/9).
COLLEGE CREDITS: Silver yesterday said that the NBA "might consider subsidizing athletes to make them feel better" about playing another year of college basketball if the age limit were raised. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell wrote the league is considering this step because Silver is "intent on keeping basketball players in college for another year." Silver said that he "was willing to work with the NCAA to give athletes a more fair deal." He added that he "could envision the league potentially contributing to make up the actual cost of attendance gap above what the players get for their scholarships and getting involved in a more complete insurance plan, which could include total disability insurance should an athlete return to school and injure himself so badly he could never play again." Rovell noted the NCAA currently "provides only a preferred loan rate to elite athletes whom it deems to be potential high draft picks" (ESPN.com, 4/9).
JERSEY GUY: Silver said, "When it comes to advertising on jerseys, I do think it's inevitable." He added, "To me, it's that much more of an opportunity for our sponsors to get closer to our game and to be closer to our athletes." Silver said the league has discussed "some sort of relatively small patch that would have an advertiser's logo, most likely not even their name." Silver: "We're looking at a bunch of different opportunities and some people said the reason we were looking at sleeves is that we'd have more real estate on the jerseys. That was never the case." He said of ads on the normal tank top NBA jersey, "Just in terms of the real estate and the aesthetic and the look, I think we'd be much more likely to be looking at a patch or something like that." Silver also addressed some of the players' complaints about the sleeved jerseys, saying, "I get that one, whether it's superstition or players just don't like it or they're sensitive to feeling sleeves when they're shooting. That's something we have to tread very carefully on, especially long-term, if there's any suggestion that it impacts the competition or the field of players" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 4/9).
The CFLPA and the league "have set aside two days of meetings in Calgary" today and tomorrow to "begin negotiations" toward a new CBA, according to Curtis Rush of the TORONTO STAR. The league's current CBA is set to expire on May 30, and new CFLPA President Scott Flory said that the players "won't start the season until there is a new agreement in place." The "key issues in the current negotiations are salaries, pensions and career transitioning." The players "want to share in the revenue growth of the CFL," as a "lucrative television deal with TSN kicks off this season." The deal is "reportedly worth" C$43M annually, marking "a jump from the previous deal" of C$15M per year. The league also has "a new contract extension with apparel maker Reebok and corporate sponsorships remain strong." Flory said, "The players want a fair share and deserve a fair share of what’s gone on in this league because it’s been on the backs of the players that the CFL has enjoyed the success and continued growth." Rush noted Flory also "wants to see improvement in pensions and in resources to help players transition to life after football, since CFL careers are generally so short." CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon has said that the negotiations "will be kept private." Rush noted there has been "only one strike" since the union formed in '65, which was in '74 and "disrupted training camp and wiped out the exhibition season." However, a deal was reached "to save all the regular-season games" (TORONTO STAR, 4/9).