Serena Williams‘ ambition to win three straight U.S. Open championships looked to be coming apart at the start of her quarterfinal match against Italy’s Flavia Pennetta on Wednesday.Williams lost the first three game of the match. But she did not lose her confidence. In fact, she somehow found some optimism in the shaky play.“I don’t feel like I was doing too much wrong,” the five-time champion at the U.S. Open said. “So I said, ‘If she keeps it up, she absolutely deserves the win.’ And I just tried to do a little better.”Well, she did much better. Williams won the next six games to take the set and go on to a relatively pedestrian 6-3, 6-2 conquest to advance to the semis to face 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova.Getting to this point was a treat for the best player in the world: She had not reached the semifinals in a major this year. She lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open, the second at the French Open, and the third at Wimbledon. The last time she didn’t reach at least one Grand Slam title match in a season was 2006, when she entered only two of the sport’s top tournaments.“Well, honestly, I’ve had a tough year in the majors and I’ve (lost to) some great players that weren’t in the top 10,” Williams said. “So you can never underestimate anyone.”Williams is bidding to become the first woman with three consecutive U.S. Open titles since Chris Evert won four in a row from 1975-78. The 32-year-old American also is trying to pull even with Evert and Martina Navratilova at 18 Grand Slam singles trophies.
The Golden State Warriors didn’t lose very often this year, but when they did, the Dubs tended to bounce back with a vengeance. Following the 15 losses for which we know the next game’s outcome1So, not counting the Warriors’ loss in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. (including the playoffs), Golden State went 14-1, which was not only the NBA’s best record coming off a defeat, but also 24 points of winning percentage better than a statistical power-rating such as our Elo method would predict. (That was also tops in the NBA.) As terrifying as the Warriors are in general, they’re ever so much scarier still after a loss. That’s the version of Golden State the Cavaliers will tangle with Thursday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. As usual, LeBron James will have his work cut out for him.The good news for Cleveland: The game will be played at Quicken Loans Arena. Putting aside everything else, that means the Cavs should probably be favored to force Game 7. The bad news: Golden State’s not-so-secret weapon, Draymond Green, is coming back from his suspension.And less obvious on Cleveland’s bad-news front — but perhaps equally important — is how much the Cavs relied on an uncharacteristically amazing Kyrie Irving performance in Game 5. According to Game Score (John Hollinger’s rough estimate of a player’s performance in a given outing), Irving’s 33.2 mark easily represented his best game of the 2015-16 season, and was more than double his usual per-game output.In his career, whenever Irving has notched a Game Score of at least 25 — the benchmark of a very good outing — his output dipped to a Game Score of 18.9 in the very next game on average. And Irving’s Game 5 performance wasn’t just very good — it was transcendent. In fact, it was so far outside his usual production that he isn’t likely to approach it again: VIDEO: LeBron’s Game 5 performance was historically greatOur sports podcast Hot Takedown talks about the Cavs’ comeback chances. Irving is, by nature, on the streaky side as far as NBA players go — the standard deviation of his Game Scores was 19th largest among 126 qualified players this season.2We’re defining those as players who played at least 50 games and averaged a Game Score of at least 8.0 per game. (Stephen Curry, believe it or not, is the most “streaky” player, in terms of standard deviation in his Game Score — though his variance runs from “extremely great” to “closer to league average.” On the other end, Jonas Valanciunas and DeAndre Jordan ranked as the most “consistent” players among those performing at league-average or better.) So although Irving is capable of putting up huge numbers, as in Game 5, it also takes something fluky, like a hot night of unsustainable shooting, to pull it off.Speaking of which, Irving’s Game 5 featured the second-best “shot-making” performance of the entire playoffs,3Minimum 20 field goal attempts. with Kyrie hitting for an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) 34.1 points higher than we’d expect based on the location and defensive pressure applied to his shots. During the regular season, Irving outshot expectations by only 1.9 points of eFG%, and shot-making tends to regress heavily to the mean from game to game.To stave off elimination, the Cavs might need Irving to buck those odds. That 33.2 Game Score represented the best performance by a LeBron teammate all season; Irving also owns five more of the top 10, and 12 more of the top 25. LeBron chronically seems in need of strong supporting performances from his teammates, and if Irving doesn’t supply that again, it’s not clear who will — particularly with Kevin Love limited (to say the least) after suffering a concussion earlier in the finals.In other words, a not-insignificant portion of the Cavs’ Game 6 hopes are resting on a repeat performance from a streaky player. When it comes to Cleveland sports, crazier things have happened. Perhaps this time, the Cavs will come out ahead in the exchange.
The weeks coming out of the All-Star break typically tell us a lot about the teams we still have lingering questions about. This season, some of those — like the Cleveland Cavaliers — saw so much change so recently that we won’t be able to answer those questions anytime soon. But for everyone else, we’ve seen enough games to know what to look out for over the remaining quarter (or so) of the regular season. Here’s a quick survey of the contenders as they come out of the All-Star break.Toronto RaptorsIt’s time to start talking ourselves into the Raptors, and this season that means talking ourselves into DeMar DeRozan. The standard palette of advanced statistics doesn’t do much to show how this year’s vintage of DeRozan differs from previous ones. His true shooting is about the same as it has been for a few seasons; his usage rate is the same as it’s ever been; his assists are up, but not dramatically so; and even his celebrated improvement from downtown has him shooting the 3-pointer about a percentage point worse than he did two seasons ago, albeit on twice as many attempts. Drill a little deeper, and his points created on drives and the pick-and-roll are steady compared to last season as well, according to Second Spectrum.But if you watch a few Raptors games, the difference slaps you in the head. Yes, he’s working with a bit more space now that he’s shooting more threes and hitting them at a baseline respectable rate. But it’s how DeRozan is handling the added defensive pressure, recognizing the double-team quickly and passing to shooters, that sets this season apart from his others. He is creating 100 points per 100 chances when he drives and kicks to a shooter, according to Second Spectrum. Last season that was 87 points per 100 chances. How different you imagine the Raptors’ chances are this season compared to the past more or less depends on how much you believe DeRozan’s game has grown. It’s a case where improvements picked up by the eye test are borne out by some of the more granular stats, but not in the aggregate. Sometimes that’s a signal to keep an eye out for big overall changes despite relatively few changes to the components; other times, it’s just noise.Minnesota TimberwolvesJimmy Butler played zero minutes in Sunday’s All-Star game, and he didn’t practice on Saturday. NBC Sports Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill reported that a person close to Butler said, “He’s OK, just tired.” This was meant to be encouraging, signaling that Butler isn’t injured. But for one of Tom Thibodeau’s players, it may be something more worrying.Butler is logging 37.3 minutes per game this season, and has averaged 39 minutes since missing four games to injury at the end of January. He covers the league’s third-most miles per game, and does so while creating the sixth-highest “load” — Second Spectrum’s adjusted metric for describing the physical stress of accelerating and decelerating. Butler’s usage and efficiency have held steady since December, when he began to take a larger role and play more to his previous All-NBA form. But if fatigue is enough of a concern to make the Wolves’ star sit out an exhibition game, then, as the season winds down, Butler’s fatigue should be as big a concern to the Timberwolves as the team’s leaden defense. A lot of things go into a solid NBA defense, but effort and energy are high up on the list. And if the Wolves’ best wing defender is low on either, it doesn’t bode well for the team fixing what isn’t working, or maintaining what is.Boston CelticsAfter a great start to the season, the Celtics are reeling. The team has lost nine of its last 15 games and is second in the East, two games back of Toronto. It’s the defense that’s sinking them. With Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin out the past few weeks, Boston’s D has looked downright average. The team’s defensive rating is 107.7 over those last 15 games and 108.7 in the 11 without Smart. Before that 15-game stretch, it had been 102.7. The Celtics still lead the league in defensive efficiency for the season, but the defense without Smart would tie it with the Lakers for 14th. An average defense won’t be enough for Boston, which is also average on the offensive end and has not improved since Smart went down.Houston RocketsEarly on in the season, as the Rockets were adapting to playing with Chris Paul and James Harden — two All-NBA-level guards — in the backcourt, it was popular to observe that the team was better when one was on the court and the other sat. The team was good with both, but exceptional with just one. It would eventually pay off to have one such configuration on the court at all times, the thinking went, even if the main lineup wasn’t as potent. But that’s no longer really the case.When Harden and Paul share the floor, the Rockets score 123.6 points per 100 possessions and give up 110.7, according to NBA WOWY. That difference of 12.9 points per 100 possessions splits the difference between the Harden-only lineups (+8.7 points per 100 possessions) and the Paul-only ones (+16.5). Just as important as how the lineups fall in relationship to each other is how they compare with the rest of the league. The Paul/Harden lineup would be the best in the league and is about in line with the Warriors’ lineups that feature Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant (+12.2). The Rockets may improve further down the stretch, but they’ve already established their star lineup as as asset all on its own, not simply a means to individually successful lineups for Harden and Paul.San Antonio SpursThe Spurs’ season has been held hostage to Kawhi Leonard’s mysterious, lingering quad ailment. On Wednesday, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said he would be surprised if Leonard returns this season. Leonard has played in a total of nine games this season, the last in mid-January. Still, the Spurs sit in third place in the West and stand a good chance of winning 50 games for the 19th consecutive season. But for that to happen, the team will need to settle in under 21-year-old point guard Dejounte Murray.Murray took over for Tony Parker as starter in late January, and the Spurs have lost seven of 12 games since the change. This is a problem because seven teams are within five games of the Spurs, including the 10th-seed Utah Jazz, who have been on fire since the return of Rudy Gobert. But while the Spurs have dropped some games, Murray has improved rapidly. Before breaking into the starting lineup, Murray was creating just 78 points per 100 chances as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, according to data from Second Spectrum. That’s one of the worst figures in the league for a player tasked with doing it with any frequency. Since taking over, Murray has created 102 points per 100 chances. It’s not as though Murray is suddenly attacking his man like Russell Westbrook does, but he’s moving the ball through the Spurs’ system well and manipulating defenders into positions to help teammates. If that form continues, the Spurs should be able to right the ship — or make it as right as it can be without Leonard.Golden State WarriorsOut to lunch. Back in June. Check out our latest NBA predictions.
Holzhauer rewrote swaths of the show’s record books. But his biggest contribution may be to “Jeopardy!” strategy. Holzhauer exploited the game’s Daily Doubles to their fullest, hunting them down and betting big on them. Over his 32 wins (and one loss), Holzhauer — a professional sports bettor from Vegas — not only got significantly richer but likely changed how the venerable game show will be played. Holzhauer was such an effective and alien force that opponents began to mimic his style out of desperation, like growling at a hungry lion in hopes of scaring it away. They hopped wildly around the game’s board whenever they could, picking big-dollar clues early, searching madly for the Daily Doubles and betting big when they found them — just the sort of unalloyed aggression that had quickly become Holzhauer’s trademark and the fuel for his success.“Many of my opponents played like I do, but I’m not sure they would have done so without provocation,” Holzhauer said. “You don’t want to inadvertently make your opponents play a better strategy. In a sense, I may have helped bring about my own downfall.” Note: This article discusses the results of the June 3, 2019, episode of “Jeopardy!”James Holzhauer claims not to remember many particulars of how he lost on “Jeopardy!” for the first time, other than that he blanked on a clue about the city of Albany and his opponent quickly took control of the board, landing a game-changing Daily Double. Before long, it was all over. Monday’s episode marked the end of Holzhauer’s two-month reign as one of the winningest, and certainly the most radical, champions in the decades-long history of the trivia game show “Jeopardy!”Holzhauer finished Monday’s game in second place with $24,799 behind Emma Boettcher’s $46,801. But during his 32-win run, he averaged about $77,000 per game — an average nearly identical to the record for the single richest game ever played before he took the podium in early April. In the process, he laid claim to the entirety of the top 10 highest-scoring games of all time, including one single half-hour haul of $131,127. It was a historic run driven by immaculate trivia knowledge, disciplined strategy and calculated aggression.But other records will forever remain just out of reach. Holzhauer’s streak ended with total winnings of $2,462,216 — less than $60,000 shy of Ken Jennings’s record $2,520,700 which was amassed over a nearly incomprehensible 74 straight wins in 2004. Holzhauer will sit second on the all-time money list until the arrival of some other great champion. (Or he might sit there forever, which seems more likely.)1These records are for the show’s “regular season” play, ignoring its occasional special tournaments.“I played every day exactly according to my game plan, so I have no regrets,” Holzhauer told FiveThirtyEight a few days before the fateful episode aired. The insoles seem to have worked. Holzhauer has earned a spot in the pantheon of the “Jeopardy!” greats, and he gives himself prominent placement there. “I think there is a nebulous top three of Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and me,” he said. “Ken’s 74-game streak remains the most impressive achievement in the show’s history.”Rutter is no slouch, either — he has won more money than any other “Jeopardy!” contestant, and he’s a man who has never lost to a human. Rutter’s initial winning streak was ended by the show’s rules at the time, which limited a defending champion to five appearances. But between those appearances and the show’s Tournament of Champions, Ultimate Tournament of Champions and Million Dollar Masters, Rutter won $4,688,436. (Here’s a free idea for the “Jeopardy!” producers: Holzhauer vs. Jennings vs. Rutter in the Ultimate Tournament of Ultimate Champions.)A couple of days after we first emailed, however, Holzhauer followed up to amend his initial assessment. “Amidst all the people comparing me to Ken and Brad, I totally forgot about the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time: Cindy Stowell, who won six games while dying of cancer, and Eddie Timanus, who’s … blind and was an undefeated five-time champ in his initial run. It’s impossible for me to compare myself to them, so perhaps they should be in their own category.”Holzhauer’s plan for now is a return to normalcy. “The 19-year-old version of James would be thrilled by the opportunities” that the winning streak has brought his way, “but married parent James is hoping to keep his home life settled.”The game that made him famous, however, has been left unsettled. Lots of esteemed competitive pursuits have been “broken” lately. Baseball. Basketball. Even the spelling bee just last week. An innovative strategy or an outlier talent can deeply alter the games we’ve played for decades. In the process, the cadence or tenor of the game might be rendered unrecognizable for someone who hadn’t seen it in a few years. These innovative strategies are often driven by mathematical analysis, data and statistical rigor — things that a sports bettor from Vegas must embrace in order to eat. I asked Holzhauer if “Jeopardy!” now belonged in this category of sabermetrically altered pursuits.“I can see the parallels, for sure,” he said. “At its heart, all these shifts are just attempts to increase your chances of winning. Why would anyone not want to maximize their chances?”Plenty of outlets have written that, thanks to Holzhauer, “Jeopardy!” is now broken. But there’s art in that. While the game may look a bit different than it did before, it may also be closer to perfection — to an ideal expression of trivia game-show strategy. Broken is beautiful. From ABC News: Life as a longtime “Jeopardy!” champion is a strange one, chronologically speaking. Holzhauer has been watching the world wonder when his streak will end, all the while knowing exactly when it would happen. On its taping dates, the show records five episodes back-to-back, with just a change of clothes in between. The episodes don’t air until much later. If he could alter time, maybe buy a time machine with that $2,462,216, would he have approached the game any differently?“The only things I would do differently from the start of my run: never wear a sport coat, which interfered a little with my buzzer form, and use gel insoles in my dress shoes,” Holzhauer said.“Both were fixed by the second taping day.”
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL for a few years, but now that many starting quarterbacks are unable to play this season, some fans are wondering whether teams should look at Kaepernick as a possible replacement.Is Kaepernick still good enough to play in the NFL? In the video above, Neil Paine takes a look at how Kaepernick might perform if he came back to the league today.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
With its home opener on Feb. 13 approaching, the Ohio State women’s lacrosse team is looking to enter the 2016 season with the strong leadership and influence from nine seniors guiding the way.Alexis Venechanos, the sixth-year coach of the Buckeyes, said she looks to use this leadership for optimal success in the upcoming season.“This senior class was my first full recruiting class, and they are bringing their leadership out in so many different ways,” Venechanos said. “We’ve been giving our seniors control of the practices, where they’re in charge of working on our energy and giving feedback to our players, giving them a voice on the field.”Senior attackman Olivia DiCarlantonio said the senior class is a special one because each player is proud to be a Buckeye.“As a grade, we try to live up to the girls older than us, so we make a lot of decisions based on what we were taught as underclassmen,” DiCarlantonio said. “Our grade wants to build a legacy of Buckeyes to come, so we felt that if we prepared the younger girls and helped them realize what an honor it is to being playing for Ohio State, then we will be a successful team.”Senior defender Katie Keefe said the senior class has skills that, when brought together, help the team as a whole.“The feelings of just coming and getting the job done are out the window,” Keefe said. “They’re replaced with the idea that there is no next year for us, so we give it our all and go out with a bang.”The Buckeyes enjoyed a degree of success in 2015, going 13-8, including a trip to the Big Ten tournament championship. Their trip to the NCAA tournament was not a long one, however, as a 13-11 loss to Notre Dame sent the Scarlet and Gray home looking forward to the next year.The next year is now upon them, and, despite graduating several playmakers, DiCarlantonio said the team has an improved amount of talent and depth, giving it high aspirations to make a longer run than its brief taste of tournament play a season ago.“As a team, the goal is to always go all the way,” she said. “(Venechanos) has us focusing on positive energy and really being locked into the moment and that’s allowing everyone to improve individually and as a team.”OSU women’s lacrosse members celebrate a win over Maryland on May 1. Credit: Courtesy of Ben SolomanKeefe said now that a good amount of the team’s starters have graduated, it has given other players the challenge of filling those spots.“It’s our job to show the rest of the lacrosse community that the Buckeyes can still be a powerful team and end with another successful season,” Keefe said. “This idea reminds us that we all have a common goal we will work for as a team, and the only way to get there is to keep our energy high and our attitudes tough.”Venechanos said the team is looking forward to finishing up the preseason and getting on the field against an opponent.“We think we’re in the best lacrosse conference in the country,” Venechanos said. “We have Northwestern and Maryland, the two dynasties of women’s lacrosse, in our backyard, so if we do well in the Big Ten Conference, we will continue to make a name for ourselves nationally.”OSU is set to kick off its 2016 season on Feb. 13 with its home opener against Detroit. Faceoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. OSU then-junior attacker Rainey Hodgson (6) during a game against Maryland on May 1. Credit: Courtesy of Ben Soloman Correction 1/27: An earlier version of this story said the women’s lacrosse team’s home opener is set to be played at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, when in fact it is to be played at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The women’s volleyball team is ready for its biggest match this season. After finishing fourth in the Big Ten, the women’s volleyball team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes will face Cincinnati, No. 2 in the Big East, in the first round. The Buckeyes have made immense improvements since last season, when they finished 10th in the conference with an overall record of 12-20.The success of the Buckeyes, who were not expected to make it to the NCAA Tournament this season, has surprised many.“We put a lot of work in the offseason and we were ready to prove people wrong,” middle blocker Kristen Dozier said. Dozier and the rest of the team understand there is never a guarantee of going to the NCAA Tournament. She was a contributor on the 2006 team that reached the field of 64 tournament. “As a freshman I think I took it for granted and I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do this year,” Dozier said. “Now I really just want to make a statement in the tournament.” Although the Buckeyes fell short of the AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 this week, they received 39 votes, their most this season.Coach Geoff Carlston acknowledged that the tournament has higher stakes than the regular season, but the team is treating it like every other match. “The goal is the same as we have had all year, to stay in the moment and have no regrets,” Carlston said. The Buckeyes are thriving off of 3-0 sweeps against Michigan and Michigan State and hope to carry the momentum into the tournament.“[Competing in] the Big Ten prepares you for everything, every match this year was a complete battle,” Carlston said. Cincinnati is expected to play aggressively with big serves and swings. “We will not be taking them lightly in any way, shape or form,” Carlston said. “There just aren’t any weak teams at this stage in the season.” Carlston said the Buckeyes want to make the most out of the NCAA Tournament opportunity for their three seniors, Kristen Dozier, Ashley Hughes and Chelsea Noble.“We stress upon them to enjoy the experience, to play to the best of their ability, to not waste the gift,” Carlston said. “Emotions are always high but our goal is for them to not take the opportunity for granted.”Along with the team receiving the at-large bid, several Buckeyes earned individual accolades this week.Dozier received an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. She has a team-high 83 assist blocks and is second in points and kills. Junior Katie Dull was a unanimous choice for the All-Big Ten team. She leads the team in both points and kills and ranks third in the conference in both categories.The Buckeyes hold an all-time record of 23-15 in 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Ohio State will host the first and second round matches at St. John Arena on Friday and Saturday.The Buckeyes will play Cincinnati Friday at 8 p.m., following the California-Lipscomb match.First round winners will play Saturday at 7 p.m. for the regional semifinals, held Dec. 11 in Gainesville.
Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee voiced his support for the Big Ten conference’s investigation into the benefits of adding a 12th team in a meeting with Lantern editors earlier this month.“I’ve made very clear that I am supportive of asking the question [of how the Big Ten would benefit from adding a team],” he said.The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors, of which Gee is a member, decided at a meeting in early December that “the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion,” according to a statement issued by the Big Ten.The process is expected to take 12 to 18 months, and no action on expansion is expected in the near future, according to the statement. The conference has considered expansion several times since the addition of formerly independent Penn State in 1990, but Gee said he senses that the talks are more serious this time. “As athletic directors, we discuss it every single year. This year … we felt like the timing was right to begin to look at all the issues to see what the real pros and cons are,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said in a December press conference.Scheduling questionsIf the Big Ten decides to add a 12th team, it raises a bevy of new questions, regardless of which school joins. At this point in the process, nobody has the answers. The Big Ten nimbly solved the problem of naming the conference when it expanded to 11 teams by subtly hiding the numeral “11” inside the conference’s logo, but the math becomes more difficult when it comes to scheduling opponents.“The dominant issue will be the fact that there is an inelegance in having 11 teams,” Gee said. “We can’t quite play each other quite like we want to.”A 12-team structure would lend itself to a format with two divisions of six teams each, similar to the structure of the Southeastern Conference and Big 12. Both of those conferences hold a championship game between the division winners as the last game of the regular season. True OSU football fans can already imagine the problem that this would create: What would happen to the OSU-Michigan game, traditionally the last game of the regular season for both teams?Along with Penn State, Michigan is assigned to a game with OSU every year, while the other eight schools follow a rotation to fill the six remaining conference games on the schedule. Each Big Ten school follows this format, with its own pair of designated opponents.“I don’t know why that would change,” said Shelly Poe, OSU’s director of athletic communications for football. Poe said that discussions about scheduling rivalry games would likely occur later in the expansion process.Big Ten spokesman Scott Chipman said that there were no updates to announce since the December meeting of the Council of Presidents/Chancellors.Notre Dame unlikely to joinBased in part on geography and academic quality, Missouri, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse have been the subject of media speculation as candidates for inclusion in the Big Ten. The biggest name, though, is Notre Dame, which is currently a member of the Big East conference for basketball, but is independent in football.Notre Dame is a “very fine institution,” Gee said, but is not among the 62 members of the Association of American Universities, to which all 11 current Big Ten schools, as well as the other rumored candidates for inclusion, belong. “We want to play in an academic consortium in which we have like kinds of institutions,” Gee said. “That will be very important to us.”Lack of membership in the AAU would not necessarily preclude an invitation to the Big Ten, Gee said. “I would not say that it’s absolute, but we certainly want to have like-minded institutions,” he said. “For example, there could be some institutions that are really elegant undergraduate institutions that don’t meet the criteria of the AAU, [which is] made up of these massive research institutions.”Notre Dame placed 20th in the most recent edition of U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, higher than all Big Ten schools except Northwestern.For its part, Notre Dame has stated that it does not plan on joining the Big Ten. The school’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, told the Chicago Tribune in December that “our strong preference is to remain the way we are.” “It’s not on the radar,” said John Heisler, a Notre Dame spokesman, in an interview with The Lantern. “When the subject was discussed, our athletic director … made it clear that the independence of our football program has been a long-standing tradition and continues to be important to us.”TV contracts figure prominentlyCollege football is tradition-heavy, but it’s also big business. Notre Dame and NBC have a contract to televise Notre Dame football through 2015. The New York Times placed the contract’s value at $15 million per year, while The Chicago Tribune reported a value of $9 million per year.By comparison, the Big Ten has contracts with multiple broadcasting companies to help fund a variety of televised varsity sports. The Big Ten Network and an agreement with Fox that runs through 2027 (with an option for five more years) could pay each school an average of $10.18 million per year if it reaches its financial projections, according to the Sports Business Journal. The network “is obviously on a very successful trajectory,” Smith said in the press conference. The conference also pulls in an average of $100 million per year from its 10-year deal with ESPN (which runs through 2016) and another $2 million per year from its 10-year deal with CBS. Combined, these deals will pay each Big Ten school about $927,000 per year over the life of the contract, according to the Sports Business Journal.Last year, OSU also signed a media rights deal with IMG College and RadiOhio worth almost $128 million over 10 years. Given the numbers involved, television contracts will undoubtedly be a major factor in determining the possibility of any Big Ten expansion.“As you look at the college landscape across the country, and look at television contracts that are coming up within the next five to eight years, this is probably the right time for us to see if there’s any value to try and add a team or teams,” Smith said.Even if a 12th team added to the conference’s television value, the conference currently shares its television revenue among its member schools. Adding another team would also mean a thinner slice of the proverbial pie for each school.“That is an issue for us; do we divide it 12 ways or 14 ways?” Gee said. “What do we do?”As for Notre Dame, the school’s decision to remain independent “has a lot more to do with our priorities than it does with business issues,” Swarbrick told The Chicago Tribune.Representatives for Missouri and Pittsburgh, the other schools subject to the most frequent speculation, did not return calls seeking comment.
The end of spring football is supposed to be a time of clarity and optimism for a football powerhouse like Ohio State. However, following off-the-field transgressions by five players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeye football program is in a state of disarray. The five players and coach Jim Tressel are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. But five games could be good news for the Buckeyes. The NCAA released a notice of allegations to OSU on April 21 and will decide the university’s fate after an Aug. 12 hearing. Tressel’s failure to report his players’ violations could leave The Vest unemployed and the OSU football program scrambling to find a new coach. In a press conference March 8, OSU President E. Gordon Gee said he never considered firing Tressel, adding that he hoped Tressel “doesn’t dismiss me,” a joking comment he told The Lantern he later regretted. In the March 8 press conference, Tressel admitted he will take in stride whatever happens. “The most pathetic thing is a leader looking for self-pity,” Tressel said, quoting former President George W. Bush. “So, at no point in this time … am I looking for anything other than doing what needs to be done.” The Lantern took a look at possible replacements if one of the program’s most successful coaches is forced to resign, retires or is fired. Luke Fickell, OSU interim head coach, co-defensive coordinator Fickell is in the best position to take over the job from Tressel if NCAA sanctions force The Senator out of OSU. Fickell was named interim coach for the first five games of the 2011 season, and has been in Tressel’s system for nine years, serving as special teams coordinator, defensive line coach, linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. Fickell played for the Buckeyes from 1992–96 as a nose guard, finishing with 212 career tackles and six career sacks. He was also on the 1996 team that won the Rose Bowl against Arizona State. Fickell is a Columbus man. He went to DeSales High School, and won a state championship in wrestling. His familiarity with Tressel’s system would give the Buckeyes an advantage when it comes to a coaching change. In a March 30 press conference to announce the Buckeyes’ interim coach, Fickell said it was still Tressel’s team but that he was honored to be named to the position in his boss’s absence. “We coach by committee. It never has been, never will be about one person in particular,” he said. “This is still coach Tressel’s team.” Urban Meyer, former Florida coach When rumors surfaced that Meyer and his family bought a house in Upper Arlington at the end of March, the pundits proclaimed him the next OSU coach. His spread offense would be a far cry from “Tressel-ball,” but his success is undeniable. Meyer had two three-loss seasons in his first head-coaching position at Bowling Green from 2001–02, an undefeated season in 2004 as coach of Utah and two national championships at Florida in his six seasons at the helm. Meyer has said he would come back to coaching for just three teams: Michigan, Notre Dame and OSU. With the hiring of new coaches at Michigan and Notre Dame, OSU seems like the most accessible position. Meyer’s desire to coach at OSU stems from his Ohio roots. He was born in Toledo, Ohio, played defensive back at Cincinnati from 1983–86 and was at OSU in 1986 and 1987 as a tight ends and wide receivers coach. Meyer also earned his master’s degree in sports administration at OSU. Health conditions forced Meyer out of his position at Florida, and he now works at ESPN as a commentator and analyst. However, Meyer’s daughter, Nicole, has said her father will not be the next Buckeyes coach. “Stop txting me abt my dad. HE IS NOT repeat NOT, GOING TO OHIO STATE. thanks.” she tweeted April 26 from her Twitter account, @Nicki_07. Bo Pelini, Nebraska coach Pelini, like Meyer, is an Ohio man. He was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and attended OSU, playing free safety under coached Earle Bruce and John Cooper. Pelini was co-captain of the Buckeyes his senior season and graduated from the university with a degree in business marketing. Pelini spent eight years as an assistant coach on three NFL teams, and has since become the coach at Nebraska, the Big Ten’s newest member. Nebraska has seen an upturn since Pelini’s hiring in 2008, with two appearances in the Big 12 Championship and two bowl wins in his three seasons. Pelini’s name was linked to the Miami (Fla.) opening in December before the Hurricanes hired former Temple coach Al Golden. However, Pelini recently signed a five-year contract with Nebraska, making him the third-highest-paid coach in the Big Ten, behind Tressel and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. The contract appears to have locked in Pelini to the Nebraska job, but he could be a candidate to return to his alma mater. The connection between Pelini and OSU gives the Buckeyes and option to pursue him if the job becomes available, but Nebraska would not comment on the possibility. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State coach Dantonio left the Buckeyes in 2004 to pursue a head-coaching position at Cincinnati. He was defensive coordinator at OSU from 2001–03, which included the the 2002 national championship against a heavily favored Miami Hurricanes squad. Dantonio and his defensive staff were able to shut down the Hurricanes offense, which included current NFL players Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow and Willis McGahee, and notable college quarterback Ken Dorsey. Dantonio was defensive coordinator at Youngstown State for four years before reuniting with his former boss at OSU. Like Fickell, Dantonio has a good read on what makes Tressel’s teams so successful, and the transition would be easy for the players. Dantonio led Michigan State to an 11-2 record last season, despite a heart attack following the Spartans’ game against Notre Dame. The Spartans shared the Big Ten Championship, but finished the season with a 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Nick Saban, Alabama coach In Saban’s career as a football coach, his longest tenure in one position is four years, which will be eclipsed next season at Alabama. Saban also has ties to the Buckeyes. Ten years after he played defensive back at Kent State, Saban was the defensive backs coach at OSU for one season. A head-coaching position at OSU would be Saban’s second in the Big Ten, as he coached Michigan State from 1995–99, which included an upset win against the No. 1 Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium during the 1998 season. However, Saban has been involved in potential NCAA sanctions, as he and his coaching staff were accused of oversigning players at Alabama. The controversy is something the Buckeyes would want to avoid following their most recent sanctions. Athletic department spokesmen from Nebraska, Michigan State and Alabama declined to comment. Ohio State spokeswoman Shelly Poe and ESPN media did not immediately return attempts for comments.
The OSU football team returned to the practice field on March 10 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, less than 2 months after the Buckeyes beat Oregon in the 1st-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Credit: Tim Moody / Sports editorAfter putting the pedal to the metal to complete “The Chase,” the Ohio State football team moved straight into “The Grind.”But as the Buckeyes completed practice Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center — just their third since winning the National Championship — coach Urban Meyer said it might be time to pump the breaks. Meyer said OSU is monitoring the reps of certain players, leading to less cohesiveness on the practice field.“That’s why sometimes it looks really bad, and today it was not a pleasant one,” Meyer said Tuesday. “We’re not gonna blame players or coaches yet. That’s coming, though, if you don’t get better.”The Buckeyes played 15 games — winning all but one — in 2014-15, marking the first time a collegiate team had played more than 14 times in a season. But game reps aside, OSU is monitoring “competitive reps” players get in practice, Meyer said.The fourth-year OSU coach said senior offensive lineman Taylor Decker has had more than 2,000 live reps in his career, and named off redshirt-junior offensive lineman Pat Elflein, redshirt-senior tight end Nick Vannett, senior linebacker Joshua Perry, redshirt-junior safety Tyvis Powell and junior defensive lineman Joey Bosa as other high-rep players.While Meyer didn’t name any of those players among the injured Buckeyes, OSU has learned that at least four players would no longer be able to play football because of past injuries since the beginning of 2015. With linebackers Devan Bogard and Trey Johnson, safety Ron Tanner and cornerback Armani Reeves done for good, the Buckeyes are being careful with other injured players in practice.Redshirt-senior quarterback Braxton Miller has been pulled back in practice, Meyer said, but only for precautionary reasons.Meyer added that the trainers are being very cautious with junior running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has a bone graft in his wrist. Along with Miller and Elliott, Meyer said senior offensive lineman Jacoby Boren and junior H-back Dontre Wilson are both still working back from injuries.“Jacoby’s had several things, but I don’t see any Band-Aids on him any more, so he’s getting close,” Meyer said. “Dontre has a broken foot, pin’s out; I saw him running in the water the other day.”But among the players being held back, Meyer said he’s been surprised to see the progress of yet another injured quarterback — redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett.“J.T. is doing good, he’s doing more,” Meyer said. “I thought he would be much more limited but he’s getting every mini field and 7-on-7 rep.”As more experienced players are given a bit of a break and younger players earn more reps, Meyer said he wasn’t pleased with Tuesday’s showing. With that in mind, the Buckeyes have some time to prepare before taking the field against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 in Blacksburg, Va.“It wasn’t a great day,” Meyer said. “But it’s spring practice.”