Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Super Bowl Halftime Options

Yesterday's news that the NFL wants this year's potential Super Bowl halftime performers to contribute to some sort of NFL charity definitely seemed a little weird.  I get what they were trying to say: "You're getting all this free publicity from doing the halftime show, why not pay it forward?"  But their execution was obviously way off, and it's making the NFL look incredibly bad as a result.

I'm sure what they were trying to do was see if any of the performers would be willing to do that.  Whoever said yes, if any, was likely going to be the NFL's choice.  But, and I'm not sure if this was their intention or not, it never should've been made public.  Bring this up in your negotiations with the artists and see if they'd be willing.  Then nobody would've ever known if the answer was "No."  By doing it this way, the NFL looks bad for asking and the artists look somewhat bad for saying no, although, in fairness, why would anybody expect them to agree?

Now, there's a common misconception about the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  The NFL doesn't pay the artists that perform at halftime.  They pick up the travel costs, but the artists themselves aren't financially compensated for performing.  And this isn't a problem for anybody, since most artists use the publicity from the Super Bowl to launch a new album or tour.  So, it's not as if the NFL is suddenly getting cheap and going from paying the artists to asking them to pay for the privilege.

And I'd bet whoever the NFL ultimately chooses might make a goodwill gesture and make a donation to charity anyway.  It could've been a great PR move.  The problem is that it backfired.  The NFL shouldn't have asked ahead of time.

What's being somewhat lost in this outrage, too, are the three artists that the NFL has reached out to.  Whether or not these are the only performers being considered, who knows, but I wouldn't be surprised if they really have narrowed down the list to just these three.  Especially since two would be excellent selections who've been considered in the past and have the type of wide-reaching appeal and following that would be appropriate for the millions of people who watch the game. 

Nothing against Coldplay, but they don't have the cache of either Katy Perry or Rihanna.  They're not the type of group that has the "Wow" factor we've grown to expect for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Both Katy Perry and Rihanna do.  Likewise, Katy Perry and Rihanna both have legions of fans, but are also relevant enough that they and their songs will be familiar to casual viewers.  And they're upbeat performers who lend to the type of show the NFL would want (I've heard that Katy Perry is awesome live).  I may be wrong, but I don't see Coldplay as that type of artist.  People aren't going to get anywhere near as excited for Coldplay as they would for Katy Perry or Rihanna.

Between the girls, though, I don't think they could go wrong either way.  They're both all over the radio, with tons of songs that everyone knows, whether they want to admit it or not.  They've got different types of songs too, which isn't as relevant for halftime as it would be for a full concert, but is important nonetheless (Taylor Swift or Adele wouldn't be appropriate because all of their songs are the same).  They've both got their fans who might not care at all about the game, but will tune in to see either one perform at halftime.  And, most importantly, they're big enough headliners that people won't turn the game off or go do something else at halftime.  The fact that they're both attractive women doesn't hurt, either.

Personally, as long as it is either Katy Perry or Rihanna, I really don't care which.  I'm kind of leaning towards Katy Perry because I've heard how good a performer she is and I'm not sure about Rihanna live, but I'm pretty sure she's amazing as well, so it really is a toss-up.  Ultimately, though, either one would be a great choice.  In fact, why not have both?  One this year, the other next year.  (I've got a feeling the NFL's got something special planned for Super Bowl 50, though.)

Super Bowl halftime has taken on a life of its own in recent years.  I'm sure we'll find out the ultimate choice soon (Bruno Mars was on the set of FOX's pregame show in Week 1 last season), but I'm excited about the possibilities (at least, two of the three).  And I'm sure the charitable donation thing will sort itself out, too.

That's being blown out of proportion, though.  The NFL didn't mean to come off as bad as it did.  It was just an unfortunate consequence of poor timing.  And it's a mistake that probably wouldn't be made again if the NFL had the chance to do it over.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Baseball's New Boss

Not surprisingly, Rob Manfred was named Major League Baseball's new commissioner on Thursday.  He'll take over once Bud Selig officially retires in January.  Manfred went into the vote as the favorite to take over and, even though some owners, most notably the White Sox' Jerry Reinsdorf, wanted to go another way, they ended up making the expected call. 

It took five ballots for Manfred to get the necessary two-thirds majority, but once he got there, he was elected unanimously on the sixth ballot.  That's important.  Reinsdorf, Arte Moreno of the Angels and Paul Beeston of the Blue Jays were the leaders of that group that wanted Red Sox President Tom Warner (and the last holdouts once Manfred finally got enough votes), but it's good that they didn't continue to fight their losing battle after Manfred had gathered the necessary support.  The final 30-0 vote I'm sure was symbolic, but it does show that the owners are united. 

With the 20th anniversary of The Strike this week and a new labor deal on the horizon for 2016, the owners presenting a united front in those negotiations is vital.  One of the reasons a strike was inevitable in 1994 is because the owners couldn't agree amongst themselves what they wanted from the players.  Well, there hasn't been a work stoppage since.  And Rob Manfred is a big reason why.

Manfred's been at the forefront during each of the past three CBA negotiations, so he's perhaps the man best-equipped to handle that role moving forward.  He's also been involved in everything that's important to the owners, most notably the establishment and enforcement of the joint-drug program.  More importantly, the players respect his role in this area.  Moving forward, Rob Manfred will have the trust and respect of both sides.

Ever since he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer last September, it was clear Manfred was Selig's choice to take over.  That has increasingly become the trend in the four major sports.  It started with Paul Tagliabue hand-picking Roger Goddell, and it continued with David Stern appointing Adam Silver as his successor.  And it's widely assumed that Bill Daly will become NHL commissioner once Gary Bettman finally hands over the reins (which is long overdue).  Although, none of those appointments were contested and Manfred's was.  We'll see if that has any lasting impact.

The bottom line is Manfred was far-and-away the most qualified of the three candidates, and he's probably the man best-equipped to maintain the current healthy state of the game.  After all, Selig's been grooming him to become commissioner for 15 years.  (And he's followed a trajectory pretty similar to Adam Silver's.)  As a result, the transition should be relatively seamless.

Whether you like Bud Selig or not, you have to admit that he's done a lot of good over the past 23 years.  Manfred has been involved in a lot of that, and now it'll be his job to keep that momentum going. 

He'll also have to deal with some significant obstacles right off the bat.  Before he even goes anywhere near the labor negotiations.  For starters, the Rays and A's have stadium situations that badly need to be resolved.  Then there's the length of games.  The average game takes more than three hours, which is more than a half-hour longer than the average game 30 years ago, and it only continues to skyrocket.  You're hard-pressed to find a game that finishes in under three hours, especially when certain teams play (you know Yankees-Red Sox is going to last closer to four).  Likewise, attendance is fine for the most part, but TV ratings continue to drop, especially for the World Series.

Ultimately, I think Rob Manfred will be able to handle all of these issues.  Will everything he does go perfectly?  Of course not.  But I'm confident he'll be a very good commissioner.  The owners made the right call.  Baseball is in good hands.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

1994: The Season That Could Have Been

Today marked the 20th anniversary of one of the most infamous days in baseball history.  The Strike.  That's all that needs to be said.  Suddenly, the 1994 season was over, a month and half early.  The 1994 World Series did not exist.  Baseball would never be the same.  (I'll never forget that day.  Because, in a freaky coincidence, August 12, 1994 was also the first time I visited the Hall of Fame.)

We all know what happened as a result of The Strike.  The fans eventually came back thanks to the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, which has since been tainted because that was the height of the Steroid Era, another direct effect of Baseball's fifth work stoppage in 20 years.  It's also because of The Strike that we have interleague play, which has been a resounding success.  And, of course, the most lasting impact was the slow death of the Montreal Expos franchise.  Who knows what would've happened if the Expos had been able to complete that magical season?

Well, I decided to have a little fun and draw up how the rest of the 1994 season might've played out.  Thanks to Retrosheet, I was able to find the original schedule for all 28 teams (the Diamondbacks and Rays didn't exist yet), including all of the games that were cancelled on August 12 and beyond.

Some of the pennant race highlights that we were deprived of could've included the Rangers and A's fighting to both win the AL West and finish the season above .500.  The AL Central was a great three-way race between the White Sox, Indians and Royals, with the Orioles joining in the fight for the first-ever wild card.  And, of course, the Yankees were in first place, putting Don Mattingly on pace for the first playoff appearance of his career (which would come in 1995). 

The Braves had their run of division titles from 1991-2006, but had the 1994 season played out, that streak wouldn't have reached 15.  Because Montreal was going to win the NL East.  And the NL Central would've been an incredible race between Cincinnati and Houston, with a team that was on pace for 90 wins likely missing out on the playoffs.  (And I'm not even including any of the individual records that were in jeopardy, such as Tony Gwynn's pursuit of .400 and Matt Williams chasing the home run record, which was still 61.)

So, with all that as the backdrop, may I present the final standings for the 162-game 1994 season (actual 1994 final record in parentheses):

AL East: Yankees (70-43) 94-68; Orioles (63-49) 87-75; Blue Jays (55-60) 79-83; Red Sox (54-61) 76-86; Tigers (53-62) 76-86
AL Central: White Sox (67-46) 95-67; *Indians (66-47) 88-74; Royals (64-51) 86-76; Brewers (53-62) 75-87; Twins (53-60) 74-88
AL West: Rangers (52-62) 83-79; Athletics (51-63) 82-80; Mariners (49-63) 70-92; Angels (47-68) 69-93

NL East: Expos (74-40) 102-60; Braves (68-46) 92-70; Mets (55-58) 75-87; Phillies (54-61) 73-89; Marlins (51-64) 68-94
NL Central: Reds (66-48) 95-67; *Astros (66-49) 94-68; Cardinals (53-61) 80-82; Pirates (53-61) 74-88; Cubs (49-64) 69-93
NL West: Dodgers (58-56) 88-74; Giants (55-60) 81-81; Rockies (53-64) 75-87; Padres (47-70) 68-94

Our matchups for the inaugural Division Series would then be:
AL-White Sox vs. Rangers; Yankees vs. Indians
NL-Expos vs. Astros; Reds vs. Dodgers

With those AL pairings, I'd have White Sox in three and Yankees in four.  Over in the NL, Expos-Astros would be a great series, but Montreal ultimately would prevail in five.  In the other series, that very unheralded 1994 Cincinnati Reds team would knock off the Dodgers in four games to set up a great NLCS matchup against the Expos.

In the ALCS, that 1994 Yankees squad that seemed like it was a team of destiny would've needed six games, but Jim Abbott shuts down that vaunted White Sox lineup with a three-hit shutout in the Game 6 clincher at Comiskey.

Meanwhile, the NLCS would pit perhaps the two best teams in baseball against each other, as the Expos take on the Reds.  Olympic Stadium is rocking for a Game 7 showdown, but, alas, there won't be three straight World Series in Canada.  NLCS MVP Barry Larkin goes yard and Roberto Kelly drives in three, as Cincinnati advances to the World Series with a 5-2 victory.

This 1994 World Series is the Yankees' first in 13 seasons, while the Reds are looking for their second title in five years after their unexpected championship in 1990.  It's also the rubber match between these two.  The Yankees won in 1961, while the Reds swept the 1976 Fall Classic.

Game 1 (Cincinnati): Yankees 4, Reds 1
The Yankees draw first blood, as Jimmy Key is brilliant on the mound, giving up only a Reggie Sanders home run, and Cincinnati native Paul O'Neill, the AL batting champion and a former Red, breaks a 1-1 tie with an RBI double in the sixth.

Game 2 (Cincinnati): Reds 5, Yankees 3
Cincinnati pulls even thanks to Larkin and Hal Morris, who each have a pair of hits off Yankees starter Melido Perez.  The Reds trailed 3-1 after four, but Morris tied the game with a two-run single in the sixth.  Bret Boone (Aaron F*'s brother) then broke the tie with a solo home run in the seventh, and Cincinnati added one in the eight to go back to New York tied.

Game 3 (New York): Yankees 2, Reds 0
In the pivotal Game 3, it's a pitcher's duel between Jose Rijo and Jim Abbott.  The game is scoreless into the seventh, when Wade Boggs draws a leadoff walk and Danny Tartabull, no doubt with help from George Costanza, crushes a two-run homer to account for the only runs in the Yankees' 2-0 victory.

Game 4 (New York): Reds 9, Yankees 3
Yankees starter Scott Kamienicki is roughed up to the tune of six runs in 2.1 innings.  A pair of former Yankees (Roberto Kelly and Deion Sanders) go long in the rout, while Larkin drives in three.  Mattingly homers in the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees.

Game 5 (New York): Yankees 5, Reds 2
Jimmy Key got the better of John Smiley in Game 1, and that was the case again in Game 5.  The Yankees get to Smiley early, as the first inning goes Luis Polonia single, Wade Boggs walk, Bernie Williams RBI single, Don Mattingly walk, Danny Tartabull sac fly, Paul O'Neill two-run double.  Staked to a 4-0 lead after one inning, Key cruises, earning his second win of the series and pushing the Yankees to the brink of a championship.

Game 6 (Cincinnati): Yankees 8, Reds 6
The clincher is a back-and-forth affair.  The Yankees take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but Cincinnati responds with a three-spot in the bottom of the second.  After the Yankees tie it in the top of the third, the Reds strike right back on a Barry Larkin home run.  It's 6-4 Yankees after Danny Tartabull's pinch-hit three run homer in the top of the seventh.  Cincinnati ties it again before the Yankees' series-winning rally in the eighth.  Fittingly, it's Mattingly who scores the winning run (coming around on a Mike Stanley single), and Stanley later adds an insurance tally on a base hit by Mike Gallego.  Mattingly gets to make the last putout, as closer Steve Howe ends it by getting Hal Morris on a grounder to second.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Tony Stewart Tragedy

What happened on Saturday night involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr., was simply tragic.  To classify it any other way would be disingenuous.  What makes it even more tragic is that it was a racing accident that easily could've been avoided.  And that's why, in my opinion, some of the vile comments that people have made about Tony Stewart, even going so far as to label him a "murderer," are simply unfair.

Like thousands of others, I've seen the video of the crash.  And, contrary to what Twitterverse may think (has Twitter sent him to jail yet?), that video supports the Ontario County sheriff's contention that there's no evidence to support criminal charges against Stewart.  I'd be incredibly surprised if that changes.  And if it does, it's likely only because they're bowing to public opinion.  Or, at least the opinion of those who think Stewart "deserves to be punished" for his role in the incident.

If you look at the video objectively, you can see why the sheriff doesn't feel he has the grounds to pursue a case.  There was contact between the two, then Ward got out of his car for some reason and walked down the track into oncoming traffic moving over 100 mph, for the sole purpose of getting in Stewart's face.  The car in front of Stewart saw Ward and swerved to get out of the way.  Stewart hit him, and the result was fatal.  Whether or not Stewart saw Ward and/or tried to get out of the way are the hot topics of debate, but you'd have to be a pretty sick person to think he had any intent to hit and kill Ward.

I'm not saying Tony Stewart is blameless for the accident.  Anything but, actually.  It was because of his actions that Ward's dead, after all. 

But, as trite as this might sound, Ward's actions were just as much a cause of his tragic fate.  Why are you getting out of your car, especially when the safety crew hasn't arrived and everyone else is still whizzing around the track?  I understand the emotion that goes into racing, but you have to be smart.  Ward stays in the car like he's supposed to, this whole thing never happens.

It was probably Ward's inexperience that ultimately got him killed.  He was only 20.  He hadn't been doing this very long.  Maybe if he had, he would've known how to better handle being in a wreck.  Furthermore, he went after Tony Stewart.  Was Tony Stewart going to be intimidated by him?  Stewart's the multi-millionaire racing superstar who's doing this as a hobby.  Stewart, of course, started on those dirt tracks, and Ward might've ultimately been headed for an equally lucrative NASCAR career.  But he hadn't yet.  And it's also just as likely that he was going to end up one of those guys who never moves beyond the dirt tracks, spending years racing the same guys on the same track every Saturday night.

There was already the legion of Tony Stewart haters out there, and that legion has only grown larger as a result of the Ward accident.  Stewart has a long reputation as a hot head, which is why so many people dislike him.  But it's also what's endeared him to so many.  And Tony Stewart is human.  That's one of the reasons why he's so passionate on the race track.  His role in what happened is going to weigh on him heavily for a long, long time, if not the rest of his life.

Not racing on Sunday was the right decision, and the only one he could've made.  Who knows when he'll return to NASCAR?  The emotional weight of this situation is a burden that only Tony Stewart can bear.  And the throngs of fans who'll be heckling him and calling him despicable things won't help the situation, either.

This accident wasn't completely Tony Stewart's fault.  Sure, the sexy headline was "Stewart Kills Another Driver," but the truth is much more than that.  Racing is a dangerous sport.  Especially on those small, local dirt tracks, where the death rate is disproportionally high when compared to the superspeedways tens of thousands of fans watch Stewart race on regularly.  Which begs the question: Why does Tony Stewart feel the need to participate in these races?  After all, it was on one of these tracks that he broke his leg last year, costing him the last two months of the Sprint Cup season.

Perhaps the better question is: Why does NASCAR let Tony Stewart race in these races?  Because, as tragic as this accident was, imagine if it had been the other way around.  If Tony Stewart had been killed in a $3,000 race in front of a couple hundred people on a small-town dirt track.  The risk-reward is much too high.  Other than the thrill, there's no benefit to Stewart.  And there's certainly no benefit for NASCAR.

So, maybe that's the solution.  Sprint Cup racers aren't allowed to enter races that aren't NASCAR-sanctioned, or at least NASCAR-approved (like Kurt Busch's Indy-Charlotte 1,100-mile double attempt).  I'm not a fan of Sprint Cup drivers in Nationwide or truck races, either, but one thing at a time.

That wouldn't prevent tragedies like this from happening, but it would be a start.  Because, and this isn't meant as a knock on the drivers in these races, those drivers aren't as skilled as the NASCAR professionals.  As a result, those races are inherently more dangerous.  Inexperienced and/or unskilled drivers on poorly-lit tracks are a combination that can lead to disaster, especially if you throw one of NASCAR's best into the mix.  Unfortunately, Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr., learned that the hard way.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Paul O'Neill Day

Today was one of those special days at Yankee Stadium.  Sure, the Yankees lost 3-0 to the Indians, but the game was the secondary thing on everybody's minds.  That's because a beloved Yankee finally got something that was well-deserved.  Paul O'Neill--the heart and soul of the 90s dynasty, the most entertaining of YES's cavalcade of analysts--got his plaque in Monument Park.  His No. 21 wasn't retired, but it unofficially has been since he last played, and I think that day is coming.

Anyway, when I found out they were going to have "Paul O'Neill Day," then when I found out when it was, I wasn't going to miss it.  And it didn't even dawn on me until I was entering the Stadium today that I paid $21 for my sit in right field.

I also got to see the one actual Yankee highlight of the day...Derek Jeter passing Honus Wagner for sixth place on the all-time hit list (although, that was an error yesterday, so he actually tied Wagner today).  But today was about "The Warrior."  And it was great to see Mariano and Tino and David Cone and especially Joe Torre back in the Bronx for the event.  (The Hall of Famer Torre will get his own day later this month, when he'll get both a plaque and No. 6 put on the wall.)

For those of you that missed it, here are some of the day's highlights...

As he came out, we of course started the "Paul Oh-Neel" chant.
Jeter brought out a framed version of it for him.

He also got a pretty sweet personalized ring.

My favorite part of this one is Posada recording the whole thing
on his phone.
Cheating a little bit as he throws out the first pitch.
I took this one because I noticed from where I was sitting that
you can see all four championship pennants. (Look under
the Turkey Hill sign.)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Even Bigger Five

In news that wasn't a surprise to anyone, the NCAA voted overwhelmingly today to allow the five BCS conferences (I know the BCS isn't a thing anymore, but it's just easier to call them that) greater autonomy.  Basically, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC will be essentially allowed to make their own rules on issues that relate only to them, while maintaining the current Division I structure.

We all knew this was coming.  If they weren't given this power, the major conferences were threatening to create their own division (Division IV, if you will) or, worse, break away from the NCAA altogether.  Nobody wanted that, including the school presidents and the five conference commissioners.  By doing things this way, these 65 schools get that certain level of independence they were looking for, which will allow them to do things that make sense for them.

Critics of this system will undoubtedly view it as the rich getting richer.  While that's probably true, the old system didn't entirely make sense, either.  Not all schools are created equal, yet the BCS programs, the other big-time football schools, schools with FCS football teams and those that don't have football teams at all were basically considered to be pretty much the same under the previous structure.  That always seemed odd.  Everyone was understandably going to look out for their own interests (which is the main reason why the Big East is now two different conferences).

It's because of these different priorities that the full cost-of-attendance stipends that the NCAA approved three years ago ultimately got shot down by the full membership.  I get why this didn't get that final approval.  That's a tremendous financial burden that some of the smaller-level schools wouldn't have been able to handle.  And that's not something that really could've been optional, because those that couldn't afford and/or chose not to give stipends would've been put at an incredible competitive disadvantage, which wouldn't be fair.

Now, the BCS schools will be able to enact these policies without having them shot down by the lower-level Division I members.  They'll be able to cover a student-athlete's entire cost of attendance.  They'll be able to offer four-year scholarships.  They'll be able to establish their own staff sizes.  And recruitment procedures.  And practice policies.  The big boys are no longer limited by what the little guys are able to do.  And, quite frankly it never really made sense for Texas and Florida to have the same rules as North Texas and North Florida in the first place.

College sports were already a haves and have-nots situation.  Nobody's kidding themselves about that.  Sure there are some schools that are now lumped in with the "little guys" who don't necessarily consider themselves to be in that group (UConn, Cincinnati and BYU come to mind), and I'm curious to see if those schools would be able to implement some of the Big Five's policies if it's within their means (which it would be for some programs in the American, Mountain West and Big East).

Of course, the "have-nots" still have a chance to override the autonomy legislation, but that seems incredibly unlikely.  Especially because nobody wants the alternative.  March Madness is one of the best things the NCAA has going.  No one wants that to change.  Not even the power conferences.  But if they aren't given what they want here, you can say goodbye to March Madness as we know it.  Because Division I as we know it would be no more.

Along with this vote taking place today, I saw another article where some of the Big Five schools are actually in favor of only playing each other in football (I'm counting Notre Dame as part of the ACC, even though, as everyone knows, they're independent in football).  The opinions seemed to be mixed.  And I can see both sides of it.  Although, I'm more inclined to agree with the dissenters.

And the debate about football schedules actually illustrates the greater point here.  Some of the lower-level schools need that million dollars they get for having their football team go lose to Ohio State.  A lot of them rely on that money to fund their entire Athletic Department, not just their football programs.  If that were to go away, it would be even more crippling than letting Oregon give an extra couple thousand dollars a year to its student-athletes (that's an important thing to note, too, it's not just football and basketball, if you're paying them, you've got to pay everybody).

This doesn't mark the end of Division I.  In fact, it might signal a new beginning.  Because this legislative autonomy for the Power 5 conferences is the start of even more changes to the NCAA's governance structure.  And ultimately, I think it's going to be a good thing.  For both the big-time football and everybody else.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

USA Basketball's Future

With the two-years-to-go mark of the Rio 2016 Olympics arriving today, I've decided to take a look at one of the biggest hot-button issues that came about over the weekend.  In fact, it's something that has a direct bearing on what's going to happen in Brazil two years from now.  I'm, of course, talking about Paul George's gruesome injury in the USA Basketball scrimmage the other day.

George's injury has revived the debate on whether or not NBA players should participate in international events.  Mark Cuban, who always has to get his point across, has been adamant that they should not.  Former Commissioner David Stern suggested during the 2012 Olympics that the Olympic tournament should revert back to the pre-Dream Team days and be an under-23 event.  They're both wrong.

The George injury was certainly cringe-worthy, but it's not a reason for the NBA to abandon international basketball.  And to suggest so would simply be overreacting to a freak accident.  That's all the George play was.  An accident.  He landed in the wrong place.  It was a basketball injury that easily could've happened in December.  It also easily could've happened if he was playing pick-up in some high school gym somewhere getting ready for the season.  My point is this--injuries happen.  It's unfortunate, but you can't blame USA Basketball.  Just like you can't blame Paul George.

In February, the NHL shut down in midseason for the fifth straight time so that its players could go to the Olympics.  And the issues between the NHL and the IOC that put the participation in doubt had nothing to do with injury concerns.  Sure the owners were worried about injuries, but the opportunity to grow the game outweighed the risks and they understood that.  As it turns out, the Islanders lost John Tavares for the season because of an injury he suffered during the Olympics.  But there was no one calling for the NHL to suddenly stop sending its players to the Olympics after it happened.

As for baseball, one of the reasons it's not in the Olympics anymore is because the Major Leagues refuse to shut down the season to participate (logistically this would be impossible, so I agree with MLB's stance).  That's also why the World Baseball Classic was invented.  Major Leaguers representing their countries during Spring Training.  Are there injury concerns?  Absolutely!  But the WBC isn't going anywhere, and you're not going to find a single owner who'll keep his stars from playing in the next one in 2017.

Representing your country is the greatest honor any athlete can have.  Who can blame them for wanting that opportunity?  If a player takes it upon himself to decline an invitation to play for Team USA, that's his prerogative.  And that's the way it should be.  It should be HIS decision, not his team's.

That's really what USA Basketball is worried about.  We've already seen it with the last two World Cups.  The superstars--your LeBrons, your Carmelos, your Kobes, your Dwight Howards--all want to play in the Olympics.  But it's like pulling teeth to get them to play in the World Cup (even though it's an Olympic qualifying tournament and they won't be asked to play again next summer if they win).  For the last one in Turkey, Kevin Durant was the only NBA A-lister who played, and he was the biggest reason why the U.S. won the gold medal.

It's the same thing this year.  Durant's by far the biggest name, but all of the other top players have declined invitations for various reasons.  George is on that next level, a star, but not a superstar, yet he was one of the best players in camp and was considered a lock to make the team.  Those are the players who USA Basketball has increasingly come to rely on in these international tournaments.  But in light of the George injury, they might be understandably a little more hesitant to play.  That might be the only real lasting effect of the George injury.  And that's where USA Basketball needs to worry.  The World is too good for the U.S. to send a B- or C-team to the World Cup and still expect to win.

Most importantly, it would be a mistake for the NBA to pull out of USA Basketball because that's not going to happen in any other nation.  Basketball is becoming more and more international, and you know that the Gasol brothers are still going to play for Spain, Joakim Noah's going to play for France, Andrew Wiggins is going to play for Canada, etc.  (The only reason Manu Ginobili's not playing for Argentina is because he's injured.)  That's a good thing.  Basketball's a better game because of it.  It's no longer just assumed that the U.S. is going to win international tournaments.

Adam Silver has said that one of his main goals is to make basketball the most popular sport on Earth.  Right now it's No. 2 behind soccer.  The only way to continue that growth, though, is to not overreact to Paul George getting hurt while playing for Team USA.  In order for the game to grow, the best players in the world (and I mean all of the best players in the world) have to play in the world's biggest events.  Otherwise, what's the point?