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Volume 24 No. 178

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR is planning a "vast restructuring of the points system" in the Sprint Cup Series that would "greatly emphasize winning races and feature eliminations" in the Chase for the Cup, according to sources cited by Jim Utter of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. In addition to "expanding the Chase field from 12 to 16 drivers, a win in the season’s first 26 races would virtually ensure a driver entry into the championship Chase." If there were "more than 16 winners, the 16 with the most wins and highest in points would gain entry." Once the Chase field was set, a "round of eliminations -- similar to the NCAA tournament -- would take place after the third, sixth and ninth race of the Chase, culminating with the championship determined by a winner-takes-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway." Should 16 drivers not win races, the remaining slots "would be filled by the drivers highest in points." NASCAR VP & Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes in a statement said, "NASCAR has begun the process of briefing key industry stakeholders on potential concepts to evolve its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format. This dialogue is the final phase of a multi-year process that has included the review of extensive fan research, partner and industry feedback and other data-driven insights" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/18).

CHANGE WOULD DO YOU GOOD: Driver Denny Hamlin on his Twitter feed wrote, "This points system change is going to be a really good thing. Trust in it and watch how exciting each Chase race is going to be." In response to the tweet, '12 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski said that he "agreed with Hamlin." But the OBSERVER's Utter noted fans' reactions to the proposed changes "took opposite tacks -- social media posts tended to be negative, while callers on Sirius' NASCAR radio shows Friday night and Saturday overwhelmingly supported the changes" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/19).

NO SIR, I DON'T LIKE IT: SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass wrote NASCAR's "spin will try to convince everyone that a sport that stands still, that doesn't change, is a sport that falls behind." But a sport that "changes its fabric so often ... is a desperate sport, an insecure sport trying to manufacture a recipe for excitement instead of organically relying on its natural flavor." The proposed points system would "move NASCAR from professional sport to professional gimmickry." It would "cheapen the sport’s championship," and would "render totally worthless any comparison to previous championship races and formats." The new system would "just celebrate mediocrity even more while trying to manufacture an exciting finale." But NASCAR’s problem "isn't the Chase," but rather an "economic model that requires teams to hire not the best talent, but the best sponsored talent, with limited vendors for equipment that stunts competition, coupled with the inability to create an exciting game thanks to a mechanical exercise in the hands of engineers instead of drivers" (, 1/18). SPORTS ON EARTH's Matt Crossman wrote after "spending much of the early 2000s bragging about how hot it was," NASCAR has since "cooled off." So now after "years of declines in attendance, TV ratings and the ever-sought, ever-elusive buzz, NASCAR is trying desperately to get back to where it was." The "problem is, it was never there in the first place." NASCAR officials "spend too much time concentrating on what will make NASCAR more popular and not enough time on what will make it better." Instead of "asking themselves, 'is changing the points system a good idea?' NASCAR officials ask themselves, 'will people pay more attention to us if we do this?'" (, 1/18).

A study scheduled to be published today by British medical journal Injury Prevention estimates that NHL teams and their insurers paid about $653M in salary to "players sidelined by concussions and other injuries over three recent seasons," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. The study's co-author, neurosurgeon Michael Cusimano of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said that the high cost of paying injured NHL players "should push the league to stiffen what he described as inadequate measures to prevent brain trauma, including rules that still allow fighting." Researchers from St. Michael's and the Univ. of Toronto conducted the study, which estimated that during the '09-10, '10-11 and '11-12 seasons, teams and their insurers paid injured players "an average" of $218M. The study states that of the 1,307 players who appeared in at least one game, 63% "missed time to injury." They found that concussions "were among the most financially costly injuries," amounting to $42.8M in "annual wages paid to sidelined players." Klein notes on-ice behavior in the NHL "has changed noticeably, with players often declining to make heavy checks on opponents in vulnerable positions." Teams also have "followed concussion protocols far more strictly." But Cusimano called the measures "giving lip service" to player safety (N.Y. TIMES, 1/20). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor notes while leg and foot injuries "were most costly" during the sample period, head and neck injuries "were close behind." Cusimano believes that head and neck injuries represent "the one area where the most improvement can be made" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/20). Cusimano said, "There's been a lot of resistance in the past from the NHL and hockey leagues to change rules because it's sort of a given that if we take the violence out of the game, it's going to mean less revenue. ... So we wanted to understand, with the present state of affairs, what is the cost of these injuries?" (CP, 1/20).

FINES PUT TO GOOD USE: In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted when the NHL Department of Player Safety suspends a player, "his forfeited salary goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund." The fund "has been in existence for approximately 70 years," and its mission is to "help former players and their families who are in financial distress." Approximately 75 to 100 "receive assistance from the fund at any time." The NHL this season "has identified 33 acts worthy of fines or suspensions," with the fines totaling near $1.6M. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of the fund, "The feedback is very positive from its recipients. It's sometimes widows or family members of former players who are now in dire need of assistance. This is viewed as a helpful assist." He added of the factors cited on applications to the fund, "Financial distress is probably the primary one. Lack of insurance, poor health, a one-time medical procedure" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19).

The NBA clearly "is interested in expansion beyond North America," but the challenges of doing so "increase exponentially if one or more teams are based in Europe," according to Tim Bontemps of the N.Y. POST. NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver ahead of last week's Nets-Hawks game in London said that any potential NBA expansion plan "likely would be to include an entire European division, not just one or two teams." But Bontemps noted the "biggest hurdle" would be scheduling. Everyone involved in last week's game "admitted it took them at least a couple of days to get adjusted to the time zone, and that was with two Eastern Conference teams making the trip." Nets G Shaun Livingston said, "You think about the Western Conference opponents? ... That has to be a week to two-week trip, every time. I’m sure they’re thinking about it, but realistically, my opinion? No (it can’t work)." Bontemps wrote there also "would have to be NBA-ready arenas" in Europe if the league wanted to set up a division overseas, "and that simply isn't the case at the moment." Outside of O2 Arena and Berlin's O2 World, there "isn't another arena the league would consider moving into immediately." Another "thorny issue is what time the games are played," as the time difference from the U.S. "limits the NBA’s potential popularity in Europe." Silver acknowledged that the league is mulling the idea of "having an in-season tournament of some kind to potentially be held overseas, and also said the idea of holding the All-Star Game in London or somewhere else overseas is an intriguing possibility." Silver: "I don’t think there’s any question in terms of the popularity of the game we could pull it off" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). NBA TV’s Mike Fratello noted a large part of NBA Commissioner David Stern's legacy is his vision "to take this game global." Fratello: "It has become a global game right now” ("NBA Gametime," NBA TV, 1/17).

THEY JUST DON'T GET IT: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Owen Slot wrote by the time Stern retires on Feb. 1, he will have "had pretty much the entire continent of Europe kneeling at the altar of the NBA." Spain, Greece, Italy -- everyone with a "busted economy, they are all head-over-heels for the NBA." The U.K. has been the only "significant pocket of resistance." Pro basketball "just never caught on" there, "despite the efforts of Stern and his NBA marketing army." The U.K. is the "last unconquerable territory, too obsessed with kicking the ball rather than bouncing it" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/18).

LEAVING A LEGACY: Stern's retirement is the focus of a 30-page special section in this week's SportsBusiness Journal. NBA writer John Lombardo and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Stern's impact on the NBA and what his future might hold, in conjunction with SBJ's tribute to Stern's 30 years as commissioner of the league.

MLB's decision to expand instant replay for the '14 season continues to generate discussion around the country. In Denver, Troy Renck wrote MLB made a "terrific move." While it is "not a perfect system," it is "a start." Renck: "As is showing the close plays on the stadium video board. It was foolish to pretend controversial plays never happened" (DENVER POST, 1/19). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote the decision is the "correct one for our time." It is "fair to examine what we are sacrificing on the altar of getting it right." The new system "should go a long way toward accomplishing that goal." But it would be "wise to remember it is the human element that fills the space between each pitch," and MLB "diminishes that at its own peril" (, 1/18). ESPN's Israel Gutierrez said, "Umpires being overruled by fellow umpires in a command center in New York could get a little awkward. But better that than live with a horrible call the rest of your life, right Jim Joyce?" (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN2, 1/19). In Newark, Barry Federovitch asked of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, "What took him so long? Other sports have embraced the replay for years, and baseball has been ridiculously slow to react in part because of the overwhelming strength of its umpiring union. ... Why should balls and strikes be so variable?" The "whim of the strike zone is false propaganda." Until MLB "adds these elements to the replay, it will always be jeopardizing its own integrity, a trait it has fought so hard to establish" (, 1/19). In Jacksonville, Joe Daraskevich writes replay expansion "marks the beginning of a great new era in the game." Daraskevich: "But I can't help feeling bad for the umpires now that the future has arrived." Selig "needs to make a move before the season to alleviate some of the uncertainty about the future of umpires" (, 1/20).

UNION UNREST? In N.Y., William Rhoden asked, "When will baseball, which only belatedly acknowledged its role in creating the steroid era, take its medicine?" Suspended Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez could "continue pushing back against baseball’s assault on players’ rights and, at the same time, galvanize a once powerful, but lately listless, players union." MLB's "pursuit of Rodriguez was aimed as much at exploiting a vacuum of leadership in the union as at targeting a cheat" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18).'s Tim Keown wrote under the header, "Taking Credit Where It Isn't Due." It is "nearly laughable for MLB, which conducted itself like a rogue agency, to expect backslaps for its work on the Biogenesis front," and it is "even more laughable for it to initiate the slapping." If Selig can "convince enough people that nailing A-Rod's skin to the wall makes him the conquering hero of PEDs, good on him" (, 1/17).

PLAYERS' BEST INTEREST: In Boston, Nick Cafardo wrote MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark is "asserting himself as a formidable replacement for the late Michael Weiner." Clark has "taken a strong stand on A-Rod concerning his suit against the union, and is also holding off approving instant replay because MLB has sprung a few extras into the proposal for which he needs player approval" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19).