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On Pending Football Lockout and Blessed Spring Training

Where has all the time gone?! We are now in the second half of January and time seems to be flying despite New York’s awful weather. It could be far worse I know and I was fortunate to miss the post-Christmas blizzard. But there has been sleet and icy rain to go with the ice and dirty snow still on the street making walking very perilous. (“Don’t eat the yellow snow,” Frank Zappa sagely warned decades ago.)

But baseball is nearing and the days are getting longer so that is always a tonic of hope to keep one’s spirits bright. My knee surgery was successful and the physical therapy is bringing some welcome strength to my weak lower limbs. As for the back, that is a work in progress and I’m hoping the next epidural will be more successful. Don’t want to think beyond that.

Starting my class at Columbia on Wednesday Jan 19th. It’s been over four years since I started teaching graduate students in the new sports management program and it has been a good experience. Most of the students are already in the business and seeking better positions. And I try to provide historical background for the raging issues of the day.

It looks like lockouts are happening in pro football in March and pro basketball in July but your fearless prognosticator predicts that there will be games next season for both. Talk of Armageddon is just that: Talk.

To be sure the immediate situation in pro football does look bleak because there have been no formal negotiations since before Thanksgiving and there is a lot of posturing going on by both sides. One rule of thumb: The more the players’ officials lobby Congress and threaten action in the courts and the billionaire owners like Dallas’s Jerry Jones are making public statements, the less progress is being made.

This is the first collective bargaining negotiation for both NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (son of the former US Senator Charles Goodell, R-NY) and Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith so both are trying to impress their constituencies. If there are small group meetings going on behind the scenes, I haven’t heard about them but count on there ultimately being a 2011-12 season even if it may be less, because of the expected lockout, than the 18 games the owners want. Still undiscussed in the public arena is whether there will be a salary cap and salary floor in the next agreement and how high they will be.

Back to the sport I love the most, spring training is less than a month away and obviously certain teams have improved themselves on paper in the off-season, the Red Sox high among them and maybe in a recent flurry of signings the Oakland A’s adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to a deep bullpen and earlier obtaining former Rutgers U standout David DeJesus in a trade with the Kansas City Royals.

The biggest loser has probably been the Tampa Bay Rays who to no one’s surprise have lost to free agency their closer Rafael Soriano (to the Yankees), their fleet and productive left fielder Carl Crawford (to the Red Sox), the set-up man Joaquin Benoit (who manager Joe Maddon called the Rays’ 2010 MVP) to the Tigers and in a trade for prospects 15-game winner Matt Garza to the Cubs.

Transactions on paper don’t mean anything until the games are played but the sadness of the Tampa situation is that with so many mainstays leaving, attendance will likely drop. “Prospects” are just prospects and unless there is some spectacular development among the younger players, fan interest will likely cool. Attendance admittedly has been disappointing at the indoor barn now known as Tropicana Field despite the Rays’ surge to the top in 2008. I hope I am wrong about the Rays’ slippage and certainly a deep farm system and Maddon’s managerial wizardry may give them a fighting chance.

Certainly a Rays rotation anchored by David Price with phenom Jeremy Hellickson slotted into Garza's spot is promising but with their new bullpen still a work in progress (yet another team has succumbed to the lure of Kyle Farnsworth's explosive arm and unnuanced head) and the offense a question-mark they have their work cut out for them.

I am hoping for improvement from my Orioles who after OVER A QUARTER CENTURY FINALLY have major and minor leaguers in the same city, and a nice one too, Sarasota, Fla. They have brought in two potentially powerful pieces at the infield corners, former Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds, a strikeout machine with home run power that has been sorely missing in Charm City for years, and former Cub first baseman Derrek Lee on a one-year contract trying to prove he is worthy of bigger paydays. How I love one-year contracts! The tendency to loaf with multi-year security should not be a factor.

Until the next post, stay upright and dry and take it easy but take it!
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