With negotiations seemingly at an impasse,NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday indicated that the league will "go no further in making concessions to try and enact" an HGH testing program with the NFLPA, according to Alex Marvez of FOXSPORTS.com. Goodell said, "We've compromised as much as we can compromise, I think, within reason to still have a program that has credibility. We think it's time." Marvez writes it seemed a deal "was on the horizon in early August when the NFL and NFLPA agreed to the parameters of a testing program." But a "sticking point remains on how the appeals process will be handled for players who fall outside the realm of a positive test." The NFL "wants Goodell to retain authority over those appeals; the NFLPA wants a neutral arbitrator." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in a statement said, "What does neutral arbitration add but more credibility? The majority of the policy that they already agreed to allows the Commissioner to impose discipline but an appeal is subject to neutral arbitration if the player so chooses. The players don't want an exception to the rule." The NFL "acknowledged the impasse" in its '13 Health & Safety Report that will be released next week. The report states testing has not been implemented yet "due to disagreement on key points" (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/19). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio writes the fact that HGH and PED violations do not occur often in the NFL should "prompt the league and the union to find a middle ground." Failure by either side to "recognize that reality could be attributed to the stubbornness often demonstrated by one or both sides in collective bargaining." But it also "could be attributed to one -- or both -- sides wanting to delay the implementation of HGH testing for as long as possible" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/19).
THE SAFETY DANCE: Goodell said of the NFL's new player-safety rules, "The overwhelming reaction is that players are adjusting to the new rules, the new techniques. I do believe that this is a very positive shift in the culture. You're always going to have things that don't necessarily fit into that culture in a period of time, but people are recognizing when these hits don't fit into the context of the game" (AP, 9/18).
The NFL's fanbase in the U.K. has "grown rapidly since the international series began" in '07, but NFL Senior VP/Int'l Chris Parsons "isn't ready to say the NFL is close to putting a team in London full-time," according to Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY. Parsons said, "I certainly would want us to be even bigger in the U.K. before we made a move like that, which clearly wouldn't be something that would happen in the near term." Pelissero noted the NFL Int'l Series for the first time "will put two games in London," including Vikings-Steelers on Sept. 29. Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley said that data shows the NFL's fanbase in the U.K. has "doubled since 2007" to 11.3 million. Parsons offered a "more conservative estimate," but he "confirmed the number of U.K. fans is in the 'multiple millions' even when excluding those who, for instance, only watch the Super Bowl." Parsons said there are "well over 2 million of those," and the league has "a significant proportion of those in our NFL database and we communicate with them frequently." He added, "We know a significant portion of those will also watch the games week-in, week-out, and buy all of our products." Pelissero wrote the "biggest unknown" about an NFL team in London is whether fans "from far beyond the city limits would be willing to make the trip for 10 home games a year." Parsons said, "Will people come to every game if they're coming down from Scotland? I don't know. But I think we want to really focus in and build that fan base in the surrounding area of London as much as we possibly can" (USATODAY.com, 9/18).
Following NASCAR's decision to expand the Chase for the Sprint Cup to 13 teams, several drivers have "agreed they’d like to see more consistency from the sanctioning body with the way it enforces its current rules," according to Don Coble of the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. Erratic enforcement of "restart rules and out-of-bounds violations and team collusion has long been a part of stock car racing’s controversial past." It also has "helped foster a belief that races sometimes are contrived to benefit the bigger stars." NASCAR hoped to "clean up some of those loopholes -- and regain some integrity -- last week by telling teams they are expected to race" at 100%. What race teams "want more than anything else, however, are rules that are black and white, not blurred by indecision." While driver Jeff Gordon "probably deserved to be in the Chase, many are concerned that expanding it to 13 drivers creates the appearance NASCAR creates rules as it goes." Driver Jimmie Johnson said, "We all are just looking for consistency. I think there is probably more argument in that than in 13 cars being in the Chase. As a competitor and one of the 12 that was in the Chase you just changed the odds tremendously by adding a 13th car" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/19).
OPENING PANDORA'S BOX: The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Pappone wrote how the 100% rule will be enforced "is anyone's guess, but NASCAR also noted in its explanation that judging whether or not a driver goes all out is solely at its discretion." If that "doesn't open a proverbial can of worms, it's only because even invertebrates are smart enough not to go anywhere near this one." Even NASCAR itself "highlighted how completely inane its new rule is when it explained a change in its restart procedure a day later: That move was brought about -- read carefully here -- because the series thought it was better to remove subjectivity from the equation." NASCAR in essence "is adopting a 'subjectivity if necessary, but not necessarily subjectivity' attitude when it comes to its rules" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 9/16).
LINE IN THE SAND: ESPN's Brad Daugherty said of NASCAR's penalties against Michael Waltrip Racing for manipulating the Sept. 7 race at Richmond Int'l Raceway, "NASCAR did what they had to do. Brian France stepped in and absolutely drew a line in the sand protecting as much of the integrity of the sport as possible. I think there was somewhat of a gray area there that a lot of the drivers and teams and owners are obviously going to push and try to take advantage of any circumstances to help their teammates. And I think what NASCAR did was come in and really, really make it clear that this is unacceptable at any level. ... The decisions that they made, though, are some decisions that are questionable and I may not agree with, but I think they were put into a position where the only way they could react is with the chairman stepping up" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 9/18).
INTEGRITY EXAMINED: ESPN.com conducted a roundtable with its motorsports reporters discussing NASCAR's integrity following the Richmond scandal. Terry Blount weighed in, "In the long term, NASCAR officials may have saved the sport. They opted on the side of integrity, which is what some casual observers outside the sport all too often claim NASCAR lacks. It could be a transformative moment." Ed Hinton: "While NASCAR will never satisfy its always-suspicious fans with any action it takes on anything at any time, chairman Brian France and president Mike Helton handled this thing as well as they could have. And, in the long run, they might just have improved NASCAR's image with their firm but not radical rulings." Ryan McGee: "I don't subscribe to the 'Any publicity is good publicity' mantra and this is the perfect example why. I think that sometimes the garage is such an insulated place that people who work in it fail to see the bigger picture outside that garage. This has made the whole sport look like a joke, from the spin all the way through changing rules the morning of the following race and I'm not sure everyone really realizes that. I tell you who does understand the potential impact of all this embarrassment -- Mike Helton." David Newton: "It'll last throughout the Chase, particularly if one of those impacted by the controversy happens to be in contention for the title. But it eventually will go away just as every other controversy has" (ESPN.com, 9/17).
The format of the Web.com Tour Finals has caused "nearly universal befuddlement over why it was instituted when the status quo" that was the PGA Tour Q-School "seemed satisfactory," according to Dave Shedloski of GOLF WORLD. The format sees the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour face off in four events against those who finished Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour's FedExCup points list, with 25 PGA Tour cards for next season on the line. The "drawback, as many players see it, is basic math." The "top-heavy distribution" of money in each $1M purse "weakens the concept of the Finals as a series of events as opposed to four isolated tournaments." Golfer Tag Ridings said, "There are a lot of us who wonder why they did this. In theory, I suppose it's not a bad idea. In practice, it's not great right now." Golfer Will MacKenzie: "I don't know if this is what they envisioned. If I'm looking at it from the outside, I'd be asking, 'Where's the drama?' There's not a lot of build-up, you know?" Shedloski writes Tour officials "couldn't have been happy" that Seung-Yul Noh, winner of last week's Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship, "didn't care whether he finished first or second." There "might be as few as seven cards available" at next week's Web.com Tour Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Valley Course. That is a "far cry from the advertised 50." But Web.com Tour President Bill Calfee is "willing to consider new ideas." He said, "We are not set in stone on this. But from our perspective, this is going very well. It's compelling. It's drawing more interest" (GOLF WORLD, 9/23 issue).
PLEASE PUT THE PHONE DOWN: PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem earlier in the week said the Tour is examining the process of TV viewers calling in rules violations during play. Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said the Tour should "eliminate" the practice and "decide the actual event on the field of play." Paige: "You don't let people decide NFL rulings at home sitting on their La-Z-Boy recliner. Let the golfers and the officials determine who won the tournament." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said Tiger Woods and a "handful of others have practically every shot on TV." Cowlishaw: "Some guys are almost never on TV. They could be kicking the ball out of the woods and wouldn't know about it" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/18). Author John Feinstein said, "What the Tour needs to do is put one of the rules officials, everyday, into the truck, full-time so they can watch everything that every viewer can see on TV with a professional eye. If they see something that they think is the least bit off, they can look at it on replay, they can slow it down in HD, then make a decision" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 9/19). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said implementing a time limit to when a violation can be reported "is easy," like an "hour after the last guy finishes and that's it, and not the next day." ESPN's Michael Wilbon: "You put a rules official out there on every hole" ("PTI," ESPN, 9/18).
WNBA Mercury C Brittney Griner in her rookie season has achieved what the league "desperately needed her to do: she has attracted more fans," according to Nate Taylor of the N.Y. TIMES. The league's "shift in branding and promotion, with a focus on Griner and other top rookies, has been a success," as attendance rose slightly from record lows in '12. Games on ESPN2 also saw a 28% viewership jump and traffic on the league’s website "has increased." However, this past season was the "sixth time in seven years that the average was below 8,000," and more than half of the league’s 12 teams "did not report a profit." WNBA President Laurel Richie to renew interest "made drastic changes before the WNBA’s 17th season," as the league "received a rebranding, with a new logo, Web site and color scheme." ESPN extended its contract with the league through '22 and "televised its draft in prime time." The league’s "biggest promotional efforts, and optimism, focused on its top three draft picks" -- Griner, Sky F Elena Delle Donne and Shock G Skylar Diggins. Clemson Univ. economics professor Raymond Sauer said that it was "wise for the league to put faith in Griner," and added that her "ability to dunk, along with her engaging personality and her stance to stop bullying, made her fascinating." Mercury G Diana Taurasi, the No. 1 overall pick in '04, said that she "did not face the same demands when she was the new face of the league." Richie said of this year's rookie class, "I think 20 years from now we’re going to look back and say that was a defining moment in the history of the WNBA." Richie now is "focusing on how the league can work with ESPN to build on its momentum" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19).