The "first two video challenges in major league history" were made during yesterday's Blue Jays-Twins Spring Training game, as it was the "first to be played" under MLB's new replay system, according to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. The system "came into play in the sixth inning," when Twins LF Chris Rahl "hit a sharp grounder" to Blue Jays SS Munenori Kawasaki. The throw to first "was high," and 1B Jared Goedert "lost contact with the base in order to catch the ball." Blue Jays manager John Gibbons "agreed with the call, but he immediately walked over and challenged" umpire Fieldin Culbreth’s decision, "just to test the new system." The video "wasn’t entirely conclusive, but with only two angles to work with from the Fox Sports North feed -- most stadiums will provide 10 or more during the regular season" -- replay umpire Brian O’Nora said that he "saw enough to uphold the call." The review "took 2 minutes, 34 seconds to confirm, longer than the 2 minutes that baseball officials hope it will take once everyone is more familiar with the system, but not so long that anyone minded." The crowd "got a little more impatient two innings later, when Gibbons requested a review" of Twins SS Doug Bernier’s infield single, a grounder to second that "turned into a close play at first." Gibbons "could not challenge the play because he had already used that option unsuccessfully, but from the seventh inning on, umpires can opt to order a review on their own." Several fans "briefly booed the delay, which lasted 2:03" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/4). Blue Jays P Kyle Drabek said, "It wasn't too long of a wait. I was about to tell [C A.J. Jimenez] to go behind the plate, so I could throw again, then the umps were ready." Culbreth said, "Once we have nine or 10 angles, and quality feeds, that time will really tighten up, everything will be so much quicker we can make that determination clearer" (TORONTO SUN, 3/4). Bernier said, "They got the calls right. That's what's important. I didn't think it slowed down the game" (AP, 3/3).
STILL UNDER REVIEW: In Phoenix, Nick Piecoro notes Angels manager Mike Scioscia "lost his challenge" in the second inning of yesterday's Angels-D-Backs game. The process "took about 2 1/2 minutes," and one factor "complicating things ... was that the technology in place at Salt River Fields is less advanced than what teams will have in major-league parks." Scioscia said, "I don't think it's going to take much time for the logistics to smooth out" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/4). Scioscia added, "I'm sure they're going to tighten that up at some point" (OCREGISTER.com, 3/3). SPORTSNET's Mike Wilner wrote, "It’s great to see Major League Baseball making strides into the 21st (some might say 20th) Century and using technology to try to get some more plays right." It will be "very interesting, once the games start to count, to see how managers use their challenges, what strategy they’ll involve" (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/3).
The NFL Competition Committee has "discussed experimenting this preseason with a longer ... extra-point try," according to Judy Battista of NFL.com. A committee member said that meetings over the weekend "included preliminary talks about placing the ball at the 25-yard line for the extra-point kick ... rather than the 2-yard line, where it is currently placed." The conversion rate of extra-point attempts last season was 99.6%, and a longer extra-point try "certainly would make things more interesting and require significantly more strategizing." The conversion rate of field goals from 40-49 yards last season was 83%. The committee member said of the proposal, "There is no consensus yet. We could experiment in preseason, but we are not there yet" (NFL.com, 3/3).
PLAYOFF EXPANSION A GOOD THING? In addition to the extra point, one of the main NFL talking points this offseason is the potential expansion of the postseason to 14 teams. Reports that support is growing for adding two teams to the playoffs has generated a lot of chatter on sports talk TV shows in recent days. ESPN's Dan Le Batard said adding teams to the playoffs is "diluting everything" accomplished in the regular season. Le Batard: "You’re making the 16 games right now -- each one of them that matters more than regular-season games matter in other sports -- matter a lot less." ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "Go look at who just missed the playoffs this last year and you tell me how many of those teams you really wanted to see play another down of football. There really aren’t that many of them. We’ve got enough" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 2/28). FoxSports.com's Bill Reiter said, "I hate it on every single level. ... This protects mediocrity. Some team that should have their GM and their head coach on the hot seat instead gets to pretend they had success because at 9-7 they made the playoffs" ("Rome," CBSSN, 2/28). ESPN's J.A. Adande said, "It’s one more game but it’s a diluted game. ... The playoffs should not be the province of mediocre." The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw said that the league is "eventually going to get to 16 teams in the playoffs," but thinks that is "too much" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/28).
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS: The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said expanding the NFL playoffs is "not the worst thing that ever happened and it’s certainly something that is predictable." He added, "It’s about making money. It’s about the opportunity to open up the gates one more time for everybody involved." Columnist Kevin Blackistone said expansion of the playoffs is "all about cheddar" and the league "is even talking about putting that playoff game right on Monday night where they know they can even sell more ads" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/28). WEEI-FM's Michael Holley said the NFL right now is "the one sport ... where there is a true sense of genuine accomplishment about making the playoffs." He added, "This is such an obvious money grab. There is not a demand for this" ("Numbers Never Lie," ESPN2, 2/28). CBS Sports Network's Jim Rome said playoff expansion is "about two things: Getting two extra playoff games on TV during the first weekend and getting the Cowboys into the playoffs, which means it’s really about one thing, money." CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman said, "This is how the NFL got to be the king, because the NFL has the most business sense" ("Rome," CBS Sports Network, 2/28). NFL Network's Heath Evans said the NFL's current playoff system is the "best of the best, and America proves it every year by the ratings we get." But the reason teams will likely be added is because the "ratings we get are so good" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 2/28).
Kurt Busch and Andretti Autosport announced today that he "will try to become the first driver in 10 years to run the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. If Busch qualifies for the Indy 500, he "will then fly to Charlotte Motor Speedway to fulfill his full-time job with Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR's longest event of the year." Fryer notes only drivers John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon "have attempted the grueling, 1,100-mile 'double,' and no driver has tried since Gordon" in '04. Stewart "is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles." Andretti "will unveil the car and primary sponsor for Busch at a later date." Busch "will bring at least two personal sponsors." Cessna has "signed on to help with his transportation" between Indianapolis and Charlotte. Busch estimated that it will "require at least 20 hours of flight time shuttling him back and forth between both series." He also has "teamed with Basis, a wrist-based health tracker ... to help with his training leading up to the double" (AP, 3/4). Busch said, "I've done road course stuff. I've done dirt tracks. I've done drag racing, sports cars, stock cars, trucks, Nationwide all the good stuff in motorsports. I think this is the last item on a complete list." RACER.com's Lee Spencer notes with team Owner Michael Andretti's "pedigree in IndyCar, Busch has a solid opportunity to make his open-wheel debut with a championship organization." IndyCar President of Competition & Operations Derrick Walker at IndyCar Media Day in February said that he "believed Busch's participation could trigger a trend" (RACER.com, 3/4).
Andre Agassi "will snub" the inaugural Int'l Premier Tennis League (IPTL) if it "clashes with Thanksgiving," according to Martyn Herman of REUTERS. Agassi was named in yesterday's "player draft for the new Asia-based event but said he had since learned the first match would clash with the November holiday." Agassi said, "My agreement to do it was based on a few very specific conditions. Certainly economics played a little part in it but also time away played another part. I can't be away for more than four or five days so I set some limitations and had some dates in December. Now I read in an email that the dates are over Thanksgiving. That would be a non-starter for me. Six or seven days away is too much of a price to pay." Herman noted the draft for the IPTL, organized by former doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi, "saw the four teams -- Singapore, Dubai, Bangkok and Mumbai -- bid for players." Organizers said that a total of $24M "was spent" (REUTERS, 3/3). Matches are scheduled for a "17-day period in November and December, although much of the tournament's finance is still to be put in place" (BBC.com, 3/2). In London, Barry Flatman wrote skepticism is the "overwhelming viewpoint in major tennis circles concerning this new venture." Asia is a "booming tennis market" but key players have already decided that "committing to the IPTL is not worth the risk." The continent's two "most foremost players," China's Li Na and Japan's Kei Nishikori, have "turned down potential multimillion-pound deals," as have Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova. Andy Murray said, "The one thing I would say about the league, if I go to play in it, is what I agreed to is playing three nights in one place, so I’m not travelling around across the whole of Asia in the space of a week" (LONDON TIMES, 3/2). Also in London, Simon Briggs noted several top players "offered positive reactions" about the tournament. Novak Djokovic said, "It's a fantastic project. The concept of a team is something we haven't seen before" (London TELEGRAPH, 2/27).