Thursday, May 26th, 2011...9:58 am

Unlike the NFL, we’re back!

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Obviously a lot has happened since we last joined you, although as our title indicates, a resolution to the NFL’s labor trouble is not one of those things.  We thought we would take this opportunity to quickly run through a few items. In no particular order …

  • Businessman Jim Crane has agreed to purchase the Houston Astros for a cool $680 million, which would be the second highest total sale for an MLB organization. A sale of a team requires the unanimous approval of the other 29 MLB owners, a process that usually takes a month of two. While most of the time this goes smoothly, as long as your name isn’t Mark Cuban, Crane is no shoe-in. The NY Times has recently reported that Crane’s freight business was charged with workplace discrimination by the EEOC. The dispute was settled for a reported $2.5 million, but the incident casts doubt on Crane as a future owner. Refer here for more information.
  • Speaking of ownership trouble, I would be doing my Mets fan friends a disservice if I did not mention the debacle that is Fred Wilpon. In a New Yorker piece purportedly aimed at cultivating his public image in anticipation of the upcoming $1 billion dollar lawsuit regarding the Madoff ponzi scam, Wilpon made several derogatory remarks about his own players. (The victim’s trust is alleging that the Wilpons either knew or should have known of what Madoff was doing and were thus complicit in the scheme. I would think proof of that allegation would be difficult but it also seems dangerous for the Wilpons to take their chances at trial, so we may see a settlement)
  • In the fallout from that article, Wilpon has also revealed that the Mets are “bleeding cash” and are likely to lose around $70 million this year. This means that they are likely to try and slash operating expenses the rest of this year and next year, making his comments about his three most tradeable assets even more curious because one would think the Mets would want to be maximizing those player’s value. The takeaway from all this is that the Mets are in significant financial trouble. In addition to the aforementioned issues, the Mets built a pricey new stadium just three years ago that they are struggling to consistently fill. So to summarize: $1 billion lawsuit, bleeding cash and a mountain of debt of a new stadium. I’m a Phillies fan and even I feel bad for Mets fans.
  • Compare this Mets situation to the problems facing the Los Angeles Dodgers which we discussed here. Commissioner Bud Selig took over day-to-day operations of the Dodgers because it was reported they could not make payroll, but it seems like the Mets are in a similar financial situation. The difference, according to most reports, seems to be that Selig is good buddies with the Wilpons, who are generally well-liked in the industry. No one in baseball has ever really liked Frank McCourt, or at least so it seems. I’d like to give Selig the benefit of the doubt and look for a difference between the two situations, but there does not seem to be one. In fact, the biggest difference between the two may be that McCourt is in a better position because he has negotiated a large TV deal with Fox to broadcast Dodger games for the foreseeable future. The deal, though, is subject to approval by Selig. He has yet to act on that deal, but McCourt is contending that once that deal is approved, he will be able to operate the franchise with no problems. It will be interesting to see how these two ownership situations are resolved as the summer goes on.
  • In College Football news, debate over the BCS’s existence is heating up once again. At the request of Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT), the Department of Justice is looking into whether the BCS is in violation of federal antitrust laws. Several weeks ago, the head of the DOJ Antitrust Division wrote a letter to NCAA President Craig Emmert, basically asking him why the BCS exists and continues to be tolerated. For those unfamiliar, the NCAA does not crown a champion in Division I (FCS) College Football, though it does in every other sanctioned sport. The BCS, approved and instituted by college presidents, crowns its champion, while the NCAA is remarkably uninvolved. In response, BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock says he is sure the BCS complies with the law, and also remarks that with all the problems facing this country right now, perhaps the federal government should leave college football alone for a while.
  • My thoughts on this are pretty similar to Hancock’s. One, neither Congress nor the DOJ can force a college football playoff, and to even attempt is a waste of all our time and resources. Two, the college presidents of all the institutions, not just those in “BCS Conferences” agree to the BCS System. Yes, it’s arbitrary and I understand why a lot of fans don’t like it, but that doesn’t make it illegal. Three, college sports have bigger problems than whether the right two teams play for the national title or whether Utah gets to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Let’s root out the agent problems and figure out a coherent standard for implementing NCAA rules and regulations before we worry about an on-field product that is generating a ton of interest and revenue.
  • Finally, the NFL labor dispute hits court again on June 3, when the 8th Circuit will consider a permanent stay to the injunction issued by Federal District Court last April. A ruling for the NFL, which looks likely based on the temporary stay earlier granted by the 8th Circuit, would keep the lockout in place and give the NFL significant leverage. We will continue to follow these developments as they happen.

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