Archive | Sports and Games

The Return of the Mavericks

In 2008, self-proclaimed “mavericks” had a terrible year in both sports and politics. This year, however, the underdog Dallas Mavericks just won the NBA title. Does that mean it will be a good year for political mavericks too? If so, who will benefit? Perhaps it will be vintage 2008 maverick Sarah Palin. But I’m skeptical that she would be as effective at running for president as Dirk Nowitzki is at basketball. We may soon find out. [...]

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Allentown, PA Plans to Use Eminent Domain to Take Property for a Hockey Arena

The city of Allentown, Pennsylvania plans to use eminent domain, or at least the threat of it, to forcibly acquire downtown property for the construction of a minor league hockey arena [HT: my father-in-law Bruce Schmauch, a longtime Allentown resident]:

It was drop-the-gloves time in Allentown City Council chambers Wednesday night.

A parade of downtown merchants, their attorneys and supporters laid into city officials, saying their heavy-handed efforts to pressure them into selling their properties under threat of eminent domain to make way for a hockey arena would kill their livelihoods.

That didn’t stop council from voting 6-1 to authorize city officials to use eminent domain to acquire the holdouts….

One after another, merchants said they need more than just a few months to make a life-altering decision on whether to sell their properties and more information about the arena plan itself. They said they were given little information and inadequate offers of relocation assistance.

“Are you going to relocate my business, are you going to take care of my family, are you going to take care of my livelihood?” said Chong Lee, who operates New York Fashions on Hamilton Street.

In March, Pawlowski’s administration began approaching landowners with property in the one-block footprint of the arena between Hamilton, Linden, Seventh and Eighth streets with offers to buy their buildings. About half have cut deals with the city.

Pawlowski hopes to build a sports and entertainment complex centered on an $80 million to $100 million hockey arena that would be home to the minor league Phantoms, the farm team for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers.

As is often the case, city officials are defending the use of eminent domain on the grounds that it will produce economic benefits for the community. However, as Kelo v. City of New [...]

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A Team Without Class

No team likes to get swept out of the playoffs. Just ask the top two seeds in the NHL playoffs, both of which were swept in the second round this week. Rarely, however, does a team respond as the Los Angeles Lakers have in the past few minutes. It was a pathetic display for a once proud franchise.

UPDATE: Here’s one report, and here’s an early account from the LA Times:

The game then started to turn chippy as [the Lakers’ Lamar] Odom shoved [Dallas Maverick] Nowitzki for a flagrant foul 2 and Odom was tossed from the game. Nowitzki made the technicals. The referees were concerned about losing control and called a quick foul on [Laker] Ron Artest to let the players know to dial things down.

But it didn’t work. [Dallas’] Jose Barea drove the lane and [Laker] Andrew Bynum elbowed him in the ribs while he was in the air. Barea landed hard on the court and Bynum was also thrown out of the game when a flagrant foul 2 was called with the Mavericks up by 32.

SECOND UPDATE: Here’s the video. [...]

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You Knew I’d Say Something About This:

A somewhat dispirited series of highly-anticipated matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid was elevated to high art through the remarkable play of the remarkable Lionel Messi. If you didn’t see his goals in Wednesday’s game — the second one in particular is a thing of sublime beauty — check them out

here (the UEFA official website, with a pretty niggardly 45 second clip)

or here (from a broadcast clip of the 2d goal)

The matches have been dispiriting because Jose Mourinho (Madrid’s coach) made the tactical decision to play the most conservative brand of static football imaginable, in the hopes of suffocating Barcelona’s attack. He’s got no faith, as my son Sam put it, that his players can compete with Barcelona if both teams are attacking. Aside from the fact that the strategy is failing, it has deprived us of what could have been some magnificent games – Madrid showed last weekend, in demolishing a very good Valencia side (on the road, no less) 6 -3, that they have the potential to be a terrific attacking side, and a game in which the two teams were at their attacking best could been truly wonderful side to watch.

But at least — thank goodness — there’s Messi. I know I’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating – we’re lucky to be around to watch him. Those Madrid defenders he’s running by are not clumsy oafs, or statues – they are world-class soccer players, made to look like clumsy oafs and statues. And they’re not the ones with a ball bouncing around unpredictably at their feet!! Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth – sometimes someone not only is better than everyone else in the world at what they do, but better by a prodigious margin, and it’s really something to see.

And [...]

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If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Probably . . .

. . . is.** [see note below] But on a day when our sports pages are filled up with loads of nonsense — about whether Barry Bonds knew what every 12 year-old in America knew (that Bonds was taking steroids), and about whether Kobe Bryant’s utterance of an “anti-gay epithet” that is apparently so nasty that the NY Times can’t even bring itself to tell us what it is deserves a whopping $100,000 fine — real money, even to Kobe Bryant! — it’s nice to bring the discussion around to a sporting event where what is about to happen between the lines, on the field of play, could really turn out to be something most extraordinary.

If you have friends who have a passion for the world’s game (or are Spaniards), you might want to cut them a little slack over the next few weeks. Soccer fans around the world are now in a state of high heat about an unprecedented series of encounters about to take place between two of the real giants of international soccer, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two teams, who ordinarily meet twice per year, are going to play 4 times over the next 3 weeks — their regular meeting (this Saturday afternoon 4 PM EDT) in the Spanish League (in Madrid), the Final of the Spanish Cup tournament (the Copa del Rey) in midweek, and then twice (home and home) in the semifinals of the big all-Europe soccer competition, the Champions League (April 27 and May 3).

It’s enough to make a soccer fan go mad – Spain will almost certainly grind to a complete halt (not great news for its bondholders, given its current economic woes), and much of the rest of world will at least slow down noticeably. It does indeed [...]

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Canadian Party Leaders’ Debate May be Postponed to Avoid Conflict with an NHL Playoff Game

Canada is in the midst of an important election campaign. Many important issues are at stake, including the state of the Canadian economy, crucial foreign policy decisions, and others. Nonetheless, the leaders of most of the contending parties have asked for the postponement of an upcoming debate between them to avoid a schedule conflict with a Montreal Canadiens’ first-round playoff game:

A move is afoot to reschedule a federal election debate slated for Thursday so it doesn’t conflict with the opening game of the Montreal Canadiens’ first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe got the ball rolling Sunday by saying there’s little doubt hockey-mad Montreal fans will choose the game over the debate.

NDP Leader Jack Layton later echoed those sentiments, the Liberals followed suit, and the Conservatives said they could live with whatever the debate broadcasters decide.

Bloc leader Duceppe wants other party leaders to join him in urging the consortium of broadcasters who organize the debate to move it back a day….

“We all know that hockey is very popular in Canada and in Quebec, which is why it would be a better idea to push the French debate back to allow hockey fans to watch the debate as well as the game on Thursday night.”

As a longtime Boston Bruins fan, I’m well aware of how popular hockey is in Quebec. At the same time, I’m sure that most Canadian voters recognize that the election is ultimately more important than the outcome of a hockey game, especially one that is merely a first-round playoff matchup. Why, then, would most of them tune in to the game instead of the debate?

The obvious answer is that the game is likely to be far more entertaining. But that still doesn’t fully explain the situation. [...]

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The Case for Paying College Athletes

Tonight is the NCAA basketball championship game. At the risk of being a party-pooper, I would like to focus on a serious injustice associated with college sports: the existence of a cartel that prevents college athletes from being paid. Economist Gary Becker summarizes the arguments against the cartel here:

Every year prior to this final tournament, and sometimes even during the tournament, different violations become public of NCAA rules on behavior of players and coaches. Violations of these rules by colleges are to be expected because the rules are basically an attempt by the NCAA to suppress competition among schools for college basketball and football players, the two most lucrative and most watched college sports, and thereby increase the profits to schools from these sports.

The toughest competition for basketball and football players occurs at the Division I level. These sports have both large attendances at games-sometimes, more than 100,000 persons attend college football games- and widespread television coverage…. Absent the rules enforced by the NCAA, the competition for players would stiffen, especially for the big stars…

To avoid that outcome, the NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players….

It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are

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The NFL Lockout – Who’s to Blame?

Forget Wisconsin, unless you’re worrying whether the Green Bay Packers will get a chance to repeat.  Now that negotiations between the National Football League’s team owners and players’ union have stalled, the real labor fight is just beginning.  After the sides failed to reach an agreement, the players’ union decertified and several players filed an antitrust suit against the league.  It’s what one writer calls “football armageddon,” though the Sports Law Professor thinks a lockout makes sense.

Which side is to blame for the impasse?  On the one hand, there’s ample evidence the owners have been planning for a lockout for several years, even going so far as to negotiate a deal with the television networks to pay to televise games even if they aren’t played due to a work stoppage.  On the other hand, it appears the owners offered the players a substantial number of last-minute concessions that the NFLPA refused.  Now the dispute may be resolved in court.

One thing’s for certain, it’s only March, but the 2011-12 season is at risk.  Does this mean I’ll have to watch soccer? [...]

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When Is a Hockey Hit a Crime?

Police in Montreal are reportedly looking into a brutal hit by the Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara on the Montreal Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty.  The hit produced a major penalty and game misconduct, but did not result in a suspension, even though Pacioretty suffered a concussion and broken vertebrae.  I suspect the NHL’s failure to discipline Chara is one reason Montreal authorities are contemplating action.  According to ESPN, Pacioretty said he thinks the NHL let Chara off light, but thinks criminal prosecution would be unwarranted: “I have no desire for him to be prosecuted legally. I feel that the incident, as ugly as it was, was part of a hockey game.” [...]

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I’m here in Torino, Italy, getting ready for my talk tomorrow at the Nexa Center of the Torino Politecnico on “Thomas Jefferson, The Internet, and Egypt” — the talk will be livestreamed Friday at 0830 EST here, if you’re interested. I’ve been thinking a lot about the events in the Middle East, and what they mean for the Internet and Internet law, but I need some time to get my thoughts together on all that; I hope to be posting a series of essays when I return.

But whatever happens at my talk tomorrow, the highlight of my European trip this week has already occurred. My son Sam and I were privileged to be at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s stadium, along with 95,000 of our closest friends, on Tuesday night for the extraordinary match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC to decide a spot in the final 8 of the UEFA European Champions League. Suffice it to say that it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, in or out of a sports arena. Our seats were way down low, and lemme tell you, hearing 95,000 people, from the bottom of the bowl, in FULL VOICE, singing the FC Barcelona anthem, or whistling at the ref, is simply indescribable. The electricity in the place was palpable and almost terrifying. Barcelona’s attack was relentless, wave after wave after wave … And when the great Lionel Messi scored the first goal at the end of the first half — a goal that the newspapers here in Italy are already calling one of the greatest ever scored* (if you haven’t seen it, check it out here (before UEFA, in its wisdom, orders it taken down from Youtube) — Sam and I (and everyone else in the place) went totally berserk. [...]

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Gary Kasparov on Bobby Fischer

Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov has a fascinating review of the new biography of Bobby Fischer written by Frank Brady [HT: Tyler Cowen]. Kasparov reflects on the fascinating contrast between Fischer’s incredible insight and rationality at the chessboard and the paranoid delusions that eventually destroyed his life away from the board. I briefly wrote about Fischer here when he passed away three years ago.

It is tempting to conclude from Fischer’s story that child chess prodigies are likely to descend into madness. But that doesn’t seem to be true as a general rule. Kasparov himself was almost as much a prodigy as Fischer, yet he has been very successful in his life away from chess. The Polgar sisters seem similarly sucessful and happy. Back in 1987, I met Boris Spassky, the man whom Fischer defeated for the world championship, and a major child chess prodigy in his own right. Spassky was friendly and personable, and very articulate in both Russian and English. By all accounts, he seems well-adjusted and relatively normal. Ironically, Brady recounts that Spassky was one of the very few people who managed to get along with Fischer even after the latter’s descent into madness and paranoia. [...]

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New York Yankees Co-Owner Hank Steinbrenner Denounces “Socialism”

New York Yankees co-owner Hank Steinbrenner recently denounced Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing system, calling it “socialism”:

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner [the other co-owner/co-chairman is Hank’s brother Hal] says baseball’s revenue sharing and luxury tax programs need changes…..

“We’ve got to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way,” Steinbrenner said. “Obviously, we’re very much allies with the Red Sox and the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, whoever in that area.”

“At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor,” Steinbrenner said. “Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer.”

I don’t have a strong view about the revenue-sharing system. As a tool for maintaining competitive balance, it’s much less effective than the salary caps adopted by the NFL, NBA, and NHL. Moreover, the revenue-sharing system suffers from the flaw that the low-payroll teams that receive the money paid in by wealthier franchises can simply put the money into their owners’ pockets, as opposed to investing it in improving their teams.

That said, comparing MLB revenue-sharing to socialism is absurd. Socialism is government control of the economy, not a private arrangement to divide up profits from a joint enterprise. You might as well say that a law firm is “socialistic” if individual partners don’t keep all the profit generated by the clients they bring in, and instead have to transfer some of it to the other partners.

If the Steinbrenners really believe that socialism is “never the answer,” however, they should return the record $1.2 billion in government subsidies that they recently got for the building of the new Yankee Stadium. Even the USSR [...]

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A Tasty Treat for VC’s Soccerphiles:

Inasmuch as I feel it has become my duty to inform VC readers of extraordinary happenings in the world of international soccer, I’m writing to announce what those of you who follow these matters already know: today, at 245 PM (EST) (televised on Fox Soccer Channel) Barcelona travel to the Emirates Stadium in London to take on Arsenal in the first of two matches in the Round of 16 of Europe’s Champions League competition. [And yes, the rumors are true – I am indeed heading to Barcelona for the second match between the two on March 8] It promises to be a delightful affair — Barcelona this year, to many soccer fans, is not only probably the best team on the planet at the moment, but quite possibly the best team ever – and surely the most beautiful to watch. And Arsenal, though (imho) not quite up to Barcelona’s level in terms of overall talent and teamwork, nonetheless plays the same kind of game – free-flowing, short-passing, delicate and intricate — as their Spanish visitors. And neither team goes in for the kind of defense-minded bunker mentality stuff that often afflicts teams at the highest level 9and that can make soccer a bit of a snooze sometimes to watch). It should be, as they say, a cracker. Not to be missed. [...]

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Moneyball the Movie

Sports columnist Rob Neyer has an interesting post about the making of the movie based on Moneyball. Michael Lewis’ famous book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful efforts to build a great team with a small payroll by relying on statistical analysis to identify undervalued players. The movie will be directed by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing fame. Billy Beane will be played by Brad Pitt.

I previously wrote about Moneyball here, here, and here. My own employer, George Mason Law School has successfully used Moneyball-like strategies to identify and hire undervalued scholars. If Sorkin’s movie turns out to be a big success, perhaps there will be a sequel focusing on Moneyball strategies in legal academia. That film will surely be a box office megahit. I can’t wait! [...]

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On Caring About Sports

Co-bloggers Sasha Volokh and Ken Anderson express puzzlement as to why anyone would care about the outcome of professional sports competitions. By the same logic, why would anyone care about any kind of entertainment? Why, for example, do people care about and identify with fictional characters in the Harry Potter novels or in Jane Austen’s works?

Harry Potter is not a real person. Why should anyone care whether or not he manages to defeat Lord Voldemort? Elizabeth Bennet is not a real person either. Why should anyone care whether she gets married, and to whom? The answer, of course, is that vicarious identification with fictional characters is fun. Occasionally, it even has some educational value. The same, of course, goes for vicarious identification with sports teams. It’s fun to root for your team and hate its rivals, even if your initial reasons for identifying with Team A rather than Team B are essentially arbitrary (usually that you grew up in City A rather than City B). Though I hasten to add that there are excellent nonarbitrary reasons to hate the New York Yankees, even if you’re not a Red Sox fan like me!

Some literati will argue that they only read novels for their aesthetic value and don’t get invested in the fates of the characters. I suspect that such people are very much in the minority among avid readers of literature. How many people read and enjoy Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace without caring at all what happens to the characters? Similarly, there are some sports fans who claim that they don’t care which team wins, but just want to see impressive athletic feats. They too are a small minority.

Not everyone enjoys vicarious identification, of course. And among those who do, some prefer to satisfy [...]

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