The The TikTok Video That Blew Up College Basketball Edition

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S1: The following podcast includes explicit language, including, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor, and this is Hang Up and listen for the week of March. Twenty second twenty twenty one on this week’s show, we’re going to talk about Loyola, Chicago’s big upset. Oral Roberts is bigger upsets, page backers, his big debut and the other large storylines from the opening weekend of March Madness will also discuss how Oregon’s Sedona Prince use social media to expose the inequalities between the men’s and women’s tournaments. And author Jessica Luther will join us for a conversation about assault lawsuits against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis. He is the author of the book Word Freak in a few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan.

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S3: Hello, Josh. What’s your hat? My head of the San Francisco SEALs. Really? Baseball team? Yeah, the Coast League. Pacific Coast League. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I’m a big fan of the.

S4: Yeah, I like the seal. It’s an orange seal on a navy hat. I love it.

S5: There should be more marine mammal mascots. I think we can all agree. I agree also with us, Slate staff writer, host of the upcoming Slow Burn Season six and the award winning slow burn season three. Award winning destroyed all comers, earned a twenty twenty one Writer’s Guild Award Slaid Centrale Anderson. Congrats, Joel. Also, congrats to Christopher Johnson, our beloved former colleague.

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S3: Yeah, you know, much like a an athlete interviewed after a winning touchdown or something. I just want to credit my offensive line. I mean, Josh is part of Josh is part of the offensive line. Christophers part of the offensive line. Gabe is it’s a team award, but it’s very cool. Yeah, I’m really excited. Got to talk about talk about your emotions. Well, you know, I mean, you just work really hard, you know, all season, you know, you work really hard and you know, this is what you’re building for at the end of the year, you know, the big the big game. And then to come through, I mean, it just verifies everything. Coach has been telling us all you you know, you keep your head down, work hard and good things will happen. So you’re really excited about that.

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S4: And to be clear, this was for one episode of Slow Burn or series.

S3: It was just unfortunately just one episode. But it was that important that we don’t know. We don’t know. Yeah, I just want to let listeners know. We listening to the award winning one night it was episode four of Season three, which is about C. Delores Tucker and Bill Bennett and their crusade against, you know, the filth of gangsta rap, the scourge of gangsta rap. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun. That was one of the ones I’d wanted to do when I went when that season came up. So it was awesome. And I’m really excited. But like I told you all last night, Bob Beamon put a gold medal around my neck when I was ten years old, man. So it’s kind of hard to come up from that after that happens.

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S5: On that note, let us transition to a whole bunch of other winners so the NCAA has a lot of problems. We’ll get to those in a minute. Let’s start with what works. The NCAA tournament, the games, the teams, the players, the TV show. When it works, it works. And it pretty much always works. In the first octet of second round games on Sunday, four games were decided by three points or less, three double digit seeds, Syracuse, Oregon State and number fifteen seed Oral Roberts advance to the Sweet Sixteen SC Loyola. Chicago also dominated one of the tourney favorites. One seed Illinois, bringing back memories of the Ramblers. None fueled Final Four run of a few years. Back in the opening round of the women’s tournament, San Antonio Yukon’s freshman sensation, Paige Backers, made her March Madness debut stat line of twenty four points, nine rebounds, six assists and one monster pack after his big win over High Point. Joel, I won’t force you to talk about.

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S3: I know you love packs, but yeah, I would love to talk about it if we can get into it.

S6: That was very good that you’ve done there.

S7: Josh, you have now legitimized back. You’ve put it in the mainstream man. It’s a major national publication there. It is in context without being glossed or defined. Maybe someday, Joel, it’ll get the the recognition it deserves.

S3: That’s what I’m hoping here. It’s all teamwork, like we talked about earlier.

S5: But we’re getting sidetracked. Joel, I know you want to talk about the valiant efforts by the plucky Texas long oil man and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, both losers this weekend, but both just gave a real strong effort and we should be proud of them for that.

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S3: Yeah, I mean, how about the University of Texas? The only team from Texas did not win a game in the men’s tournament. You know, you have to love that. I don’t know. Somebody should reach out and tell us if the players had to stand and sing the the alma mater of Texas after they lost Abilene Christian on that floor in Indianapolis. If somebody knows, I’d like I’d love to know it, but. And so, yes, Texas lost, but that was a terrible basketball game. Do you watch that? It was like aesthetically and otherwise it was. It reminded me of like one of those football games where lesser talented teams like, let’s just say race at Georgia Tech, Georgia Tech Arts, well, they just hold the ball and forced turnovers and basically run out the clock like ACSU shot to sixty seven shots. Texas took 40. And that’s because AQ turned over Texas a season high twenty three times, which is sort of like hitting every other car on the freeway, you know what I mean? Like if you turn over twenty three times like you just that’s a bumper cars offense. You’re running out there.

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S5: I like Georgia Tech just got strafed in there for absolutely no reason. There’s no reason to bring them into it. But Abilene Christian first team ever in the tournament to win despite shooting left thirty percent from the field and under 20 percent free.

S8: But really, just to be fair, just just under 30 percent, twenty nine point nine point nine percent.

S3: Yeah, that’s right. Sixty but there are seven from thirty.

S5: Yeah. I guess to broaden out a little bit, you know, there are just different kinds of March Madness upsets compared to Oral Roberts and we can talk about that institution in a bit. But just as a team, just entertaining and you know, a couple of stars, Max Asthmas and Kevin O’Bannon, and that team is just like a joy to watch and a deserving winner. Even if you’re talking about aesthetics, they deserve to win because they are just where we’re fun to watch and played a pleasing style. Abilene Christian, all credit. Well, maybe, maybe not all credit, but just like a total slog. And kind of I actually resented that, despite the fact that we generally like.

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S3: Wait, wait, just hold on. Do you don’t you want to you didn’t want to see Joe Pleasant that fifty eight percent free throw shooter on a free throw like miss like even if you even if you wanted Texas to win, you didn’t want that guy to miss those free throws in that spot. Right.

S5: Yeah. I mean I guess if you drill down that specifically then yes. I was not rooting for him to miss that free throws.

S3: But but he was likely to. I just was I felt victimized by that game.

S5: Yeah.

S9: Yeah. But I think if you’re looking for some absolution or explanation, I mean, this was just such a messed up season, I don’t think any of these outcomes or any of the performances should be especially surprising. I mean, Virginia losing to Ohio in the first round. Virginia didn’t practice for a week before the tournament because of covid after it had to withdraw from the ACC tournament. I mean, long stretches of other games were unwatchable, too. I mean, it wasn’t just Texas. In Abilene, Christian, Rutgers and Houston had some really lame stretches and an exciting finish that was exciting from start to finish.

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S5: Stephon, that’s college basketball.

S7: I mean, Alabama was also really bad defense college basketball.

S5: But it’s like it’s like it’s like you’re watching a college football game and a kicker misses and you’re like, oh, that’s because of the pandemic. I mean, come on. I mean, you kind of you’re exaggerating a little bit here.

S1: Maybe, but maybe I’m projecting a little bit, expecting I’m expecting this tournament to not be as good. I’m also expecting that the best teams are not as good as we might think they are. I mean, Loyola kicked Illinois’s ass up and down the court. That was not an upset at all. And I don’t know what the explanation for that is. Underrating Loyola, Illinois having an off day, nobody having a normal season. But I think the one thing that we should expect from this tournament is that there really aren’t a lot of upsets per say because this has been such a weird season.

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S3: Well, I think I think Josh and Stephanie, you both are right. And that that is just college basketball. And this was a particularly bad basketball. But the reason it’s so shocking is because this is their, you know, their centerpiece. This is what we’re building towards all year long. And the quality of the ball is bad. These are theoretically most of the best teams in the country. The quality of the ball is bad and nobody is hardly watching college basketball during the regular season anymore. There’s just not the build up to regular season game. So by the time you finally get around to watching college basketball, you’re like, oh, they’re a bunch of six foot eight sinners who can’t finish at the rim. Like, you know, that you just realize, oh, like this is what college basketball is now in twenty, twenty one. So, yeah. Like I mean I think that you’re right Stefan, in that there’s a lot more variance in the outcomes because these teams aren’t great. You know, there’s very few like maybe there’s two great teams we can identify, Gonzaga and Baylor. But like most of these teams are limited in terms of they’re talented. They’re not nearly as many like NBA caliber players on these two on either side of the floor in any game. And so, yeah, like you’re going to have a game where, you know, Abilene Christian has a five foot six foot, one hundred and forty pound point guard. Whose career has nine points and he leads them to victory. I mean, it’s is that kind of random stuff because there’s no there’s not the Kevin Durant, you know, or even the Derrick Coleman is impervious to lessons of the past, you know. Well.

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S5: So is basketball is winning with random out of nowhere references everything. And Johnny got are wrong to be the opposite of generous and in spirit. Stefan’s going to retroactively say that UNC beat Virginia because of the pandemic. I mean, like you can I think it’s in the name like what is the one thing we know about the NCAA tournament is just like weird stuff happens and saying that like, oh, they’re unexpected results in March Madness. What a what a shocker. I’ve never seen that before. It’s just kind of a weird take to me. But well, Chicago, they have the number one defense in the country. According to Ken Pom, they’re like a top ten team. And the thing that I found watching them and remembering their final four years ago, this team is was better like that team from from back then. They didn’t have to beat a number one seed. They had like a fairly easy path to the final four. And they’re winning all these games on Buzzer Beater. This team is like very solid. They’ve played together for a while. They’ve got Cameron Crowe Big, who is a freshman on that Final Four team who looks like he’s going to have like a fine career in the insurance field or something. And that’s kind of what you were saying, Joel, about like the six foot point guard for Abilene Christian.

S10: Like, the thing that I actually love about college basketball, about the tournament, is that it’s like a celebration of different kinds of body types.

S11: Like you have these big mobile centers, whether it’s like Luka Garza or COFI Coburn for Illinois, who like wouldn’t be able to be on the floor in the NBA and are actually like huge forces in college basketball. And I feel like the NBA has never been better in terms of a collection of talent and skill. But like every player is like a six, eight bouncy wing guy, like it’s all converging on everyone being the same. And that is the fun and the magic of college basketball is that you can see.

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S10: This bizarre kind of agglomeration of skills and talents that don’t really make that much sense if you just watch the NBA.

S6: It’s like from, you know, decades ago, the likely number one pick in the NBA draft is not in the tournament anymore. Kate Cunningham and Oklahoma State.

S3: The only watchable player, really. So, I mean, to be honest, in terms of like if you like the NBA, Kate Cunningham not being in the tournament is a bad thing because, like, that’s a guy that’s actually enjoyable to watch, even though he didn’t quite seem like it last night. But, you know. Yeah, I mean, that’s that can’t be a good thing. It’s not like when Zion went out before the final four, but it’s like one of those things that like, oh, the NCAA could really have used Kate Cunningham in another round or two. Right.

S5: He didn’t look that great in that game. I mean, he made a bunch of threes, but it’s not like March Madness is like this.

S3: I use this example all the damn time and just bear with me. Do you guys remember John Ruiz, the old heavyweight boxing champ from, like the early 20s? Like he beat like I can’t remember if he beat, like, Riddick Bowe or like he definitely beat Evander Holyfield at the end of his career. John Ruiz was not a good boxer, but he made everybody look ugly, like he could just make every fight look ugly and like bring you down just by virtue of the competition. That is what it’s like for Kate Cunningham to play in college basketball like it’s a bunch of John Ruiz is slowing him down, stifling his talent, not allowing anybody else to, like, shine because it’s just a morass of bad basketball.

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S5: And I’m not like I know that if I was more surprised listening to the show to hear them themselves, reference Chandru is our purpose.

S10: I that I would say I think in the case of generations of sports, I was I wasn’t expecting all this negativity. Like I watched a bunch of tournament basketball and I found it to be totally delightful.

S3: Mm hmm. I mean I mean, yeah, it was, if you like, competitive basketball and you like close games, then yeah, the NCAA tournament is great. But if you like, who does it. Basketball like if you like good basketball, then it’s not good for that. But if you just like Landry and Storyline’s and close games then yeah, March Madness is great.

S6: So let’s let’s break down the Houston Rutgers game a little bit more. Do that. Coggs Rutgers is ahead by ten with what, about four minutes to go. Five minutes to go in the game, maybe a little bit more. Houston left the game on a fourteen to two run. I’d like to give Houston a lot of credit for their brilliant play down the stretch, but this was a complete gag job. And yes, Josh, it was incredibly entertaining to watch, but there was a part of me because it was close and it was exciting and you didn’t know who was going to win. But there was a part of me that was just like sinking that pit in your stomach, feeling terrible for the team that is just blowing this game. Yes, my entertainment. But, man, that was painful to watch. And for Ron Harper’s kid missing, the last shot to tie the game was also said, maybe I’m just too maybe I’m just too empathetic these days.

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S3: I didn’t feel that at all because. Oh, yeah, I didn’t feel bad for Rutgers. I thought, you know, obviously I didn’t feel bad for Rutgers.

S12: I mean, institutionally, it’s hard to feel bad for Rutgers. I mean, if you look at their basketball, you know, their recent basketball coaching training is the right thing. Not not the most uplifting. Yeah, they have to guy. And now was a Kevin Bannon, who was fired for making players and managers run naked sprints after a free throw contest back in, or is that nineteen ninety seven. And there was a guy there was the guy that yelled at everybody that was going on in nineteen ninety seven. Yeah. Oh yeah. Why did you have to do that in sports.

S3: No I mean we did things that, I mean it was definitely the olden days. It was. I’ve been in sports long enough that you couldn’t drink water during practice because that was a sign of weakness.

S12: But I forgot about this guy at Rutgers in twenty ten profanity laced tirade directed at Pittsburgh coaches at a baseball game.

S3: Yeah, that’s why you get Kelvin Sampson to come in and clean it up. Know that’s that’s the guy you want representing the NCAA and, you know, basketball. You know, you get that guy in there and you get that University of Houston program back on the map. And that’s exactly the sort of story that the NCAA should want.

S12: You know, I will I will say this, Joel. You know, this felt to me that game was very NC State nineteen eighty three when NC State came back in the last minutes to be Pepperdine in the first round and then won in double overtime. And then they beat unwealthy in the second round by one point. And Virginia in the elite eight by one point.

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S6: So good on.

S3: And I think for your cougars nothing will ever make up for Lorenzo. Charles rocked on my childhood.

S12: Well, that’s why I mentioned nineteen eighty three. I also thought this would be the redemption.

S3: Yeah this is nice. This is nice. This is the fifth time in school history they’ve made it to the Sweet Sixteen and like we’re going to talk about it later in this. But Houston sports fans could use a good story right now, don’t you think this is a good time for Houston to have something good happen among one of its sports institutions? So even if even if it all falls, it falls apart the next round, at least we had this moment, a couple of players who caught my attention over the weekend.

S5: Stefan, you mentioned Ohio beating UVA. And there’s a guy, Jason Preston, who’s that point guard for Ohio, averaged two points. That’s a high school senior, went to University of Central Florida and was going to play intramural and then by like some very kind of, like, convoluted circumstance, ended up going to prep school, ended up getting recruited, ended up going at Ohio, and is now like one of the leaders in assists in the nation and plays like a very aesthetically pleasing style of ball. Even people who are like incredibly strangely like sour about the NCAA tournament and think nobody is good. Jason, you’ll be very entertained. He’s a very good player.

S6: You left out there, right where you left out. Two of my favorite details about Jason Preston. One is that he had to cut his own highlight reel and sort of get it together with a couple of buddies because he really didn’t have much tape. And the second was that he was he had you know, he was thinking he wasn’t going to play in college. So he was he was thinking about going into journalism and was blogging for fans, sided about the Detroit Pistons, which is a better career.

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S5: The other player that caught my attention is Buddy Boeheim, who is apparently like the greatest shooter of all time. If you would have told me that Jim Boeheim, son who is a former walk on. Named Buddy is going to be the best player on the Syracuse team, I would not have predicted that he would like lead them to glory and that sweet 16 by just raining threes on DIDs, would you have predicted that 76 year old Jim Boeheim would still have a son in college?

S3: Like that was just like I thought that time was over. I did not know that he was having children.

S5: I did know that he had a young wife so that that didn’t shock me.

S3: But like Skippy Ceausescu, there is a Brad Calipari at one point. I do remember that. Well, remember, there was also didn’t Tubby Smith then its own shape was Salsman smart songsmith. Yeah, he was on that Kentucky squad. Yeah. Just the delights of March Madness.

S13: I got something to show ya. So for the NCAA, March Madness, the biggest tournament in college basketball for women, this is our weight room. Let me show you all the men’s weight room now with pictures of our weight room got released versus the men’s. NCAA came out with a statement saying that it wasn’t money, it was a space that was a problem. Let me show you something else. Here’s our practice court. Right. And then here’s that weight room. And then here’s all this extra space. If you aren’t upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it.

S4: That, of course, was Sedona, prince of the University of Oregon, pointing out the discrepancies in the weight training facilities between the men’s and women’s tournaments. The men are playing in Indiana, the women are playing in Texas. And what was really incredible about that is, I mean, that was a rack of weights that you would have in your basement. Apparently, the heaviest dumbbell was a 30 pounder. And the assumptions that are baked into whoever made the decision to order that one piece of equipment for the women that are practicing there to take turns using was remarkable. The great news is that what happened here is reflective of the power of social media and the power of women’s voices and the power of NCAA athletes taking charge of their situations that ticktock. That video had sixteen point eight million views on ticktock and a follow up video after the NCAA capitulated and equipped that room. That space with actual weights has almost five million views. Chuck Schumer, the senator, tweeted, This is outrageous, NCAA, it needs to be fixed now and so don’t a prince. Josh is a great spokesperson for this. She has seven hundred thousand followers on Tock and she has a very prominent platform because of her role in suing the NCAA over name, image and likeness rights.

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S5: Yes, she got hurt. She had a leg injury. She transferred from University of Texas. Just another kind of devastating blow to that school. Friends left there and was forced to sit out because the transfer rules fans at her new school, Oregon, wanted to sell T-shirts that said free Sedona and asked if she wanted to sell them. And she wasn’t allowed because of the current NCAA rules that banned athletes from profiting off of their own names, images and likenesses. And so there’s just a bunch of things going on here. There’s the stuff that she pointed out about the unfairness and inequality in the way that women athletes and men athletes are treated during these parallel tournaments that are happening the exact same time. And then there’s the popularity of this video, which has revealed that athletes like Sedona Prince, if they were able to, quote unquote, exploit their names, images and likenesses, could really profit and benefit. And especially women athletes, maybe when I mentioned Page Bakker’s briefly earlier in the show, but she has way more Instagram followers. Six hundred thousand than any of the top male college basketball players. She could be making a mint right now. And so these restrictions, Joel, that the NCAA imposes athletes, I think maybe the popular view is like, oh, they’re like guys like Zion or whoever. But it really has a kind of negative effect on the earning potential of women in the sport because women’s college basketball is very popular, right?

S3: Yeah. I mean, we think about the gender disparity in terms of, like, just the easy stuff to point out. Right, that clearly the men have a better weight room facilities and the women do. But yet the rules as presently constructed, that the inability of college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, it really does affect women in a way. And David Hale at ESPN wrote about the Cavanaugh twins at Fresno State, the two best players on the Fresno State women’s basketball team. They have two point seven million followers on Tic-Tac. And David Storey, the CEO of a marketing firm, says the Cavanaugh twins collectively have almost as big of an influence in terms of value as Trevor Lawrence. These are just two random basketball players on a fairly middling college basketball team, but they’re being denied an opportunity to seize upon this very limited moment because once it’s over, it doesn’t come back again. They have a platform right now in college where they can really sort of sell themselves in. The NCAA is denying them that. And just yet to think about how that would also affect other women’s athletes like gymnast volleyball players, tennis players, all these other ways that they can make money through camps, social media, marketing, all these other things in the NCAA is like standing in the way of that.

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S5: And it’s just it’s I mean, for most women, college sports are a bigger and better market.

S1: Opportunity than any kind of professional career, right, because because as Alex Kershner pointed out in the piece for Slate, the women are likely to have fewer professional sports opportunities than men are. He found some data in that piece that the sports marketing publisher called Open Doors estimated that six of the 12 highest college athlete earners in twenty twenty would have been women if the NCAA permitted such deals. And I think the corollary to this as well is that you look like someone like you look at someone like Paige Beckers, she’s stuck in the NCAA because unlike in men’s college basketball, women can’t go pro until they’re at least 22 years old or have used up all of their college eligibility. And you can look at some of the records. She could go to Russia, right? That’s that’s the option. But to stay in the states and play in the WNBA. That said, she is stuck.

S3: Stefan, think about the money Sabrina Ionescu could have made over the last, you know, the last four years. Like she left out all that money on the table. The former star player in Oregon, who is the number one pick in the NBA draft to start this year, but go ahead and might have won and might have won the NCAA tournament last year, boosting her profile even more.

S1: And right. As you mentioned, she goes and starts a WNBA career and she gets hurt very quickly. She missed out on two or three years of the ability to market herself before her professional career in Sedona.

S14: Prince saw that very close up as a team writer, somebody that was on the squad when Enescu was there. But the weight thing is incredibly powerful because of its symbolic value. It reminded me of the US women’s soccer equal pay lawsuit and how you can just kind of slice and dice the numbers so many different ways and arguments can be made that are legitimate about the amount of revenue that comes in for whether it’s men’s soccer versus women’s soccer, men’s basketball versus women’s basketball. But it’s the stuff like the way it’s and in the women’s soccer case, it’s the stuff like the different treatment on in air travel where it’s just like the money and the revenue stuff cannot explain the disparity. And you can’t, like, slice the numbers or pass it in such a way to to make an argument that it’s anything other than sexism. And so I think it was a very effective communication by Prince. And it was obviously very successful in getting the message across that, you know, yes, the men’s tournament generates like a billion dollars, the TV contract and the women’s tournament generates a lot less. But the NCAA tries to take advantage of the fact that it has women’s sports. It uses women in marketing efforts. It’s a non-profit. It’s supposed to promote athletes and sports kind of across the board. Equally, those images show that that all is just, you know, marketing lie and a myth and you can’t argue with it.

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S8: Right. And the parallel, I think, is it’s even better, Josh, with the women’s soccer players is how they were forced to play on shitty surfaces. They were forced to play on turf, artificial turf when the men’s team was was written into their deals that they would not play on it. And, you know, I’ll never forget the women sort of lifting up the seams of the turf at a field that they were going to play on, that they boycotted that. They said they wouldn’t do it anymore. And it’s the sort of undervaluing of the athletic ability and what our expectations are for what women deserve as athletes. That was really striking here. And then the rest of it is also pretty dramatic, right? I mean, the swag bags of the men were were stuffed with stuff in the women’s wear, pretty spare. There were no accommodations made for women coaches in the tournament to bring their children. Children were counted against the total traveling party for each school. So if you were a nursing mother or a parent of a toddler or a young child, you couldn’t bring them with you to the tournament, one that I noticed watching the games. All of the men’s courts have been resurfaced with the NCAA logo, second round March Madness, removing all of the local images on the courts, the women’s courts or whatever was their North Texas Bobcats, Sunbelt, you know, so it’s this it’s the little things that irked everybody in addition to the big things, like different covid tests for the men versus the women, the jigsaw puzzles in the swag bags for man had five hundred pieces. The women’s jigsaw puzzles had one hundred and fifty pieces, as if they’re not making it a jigsaw puzzle either.

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S5: Yeah, I didn’t hear about that. Yeah.

S3: So yes, I guess kind of getting back to. The point about name, image and likeness, the argument against it and paying college athletes is that there would be a competitive disadvantage among institutions and it would make it more difficult for them to adhere to Title nine that they want to preserve equity and equality among men’s and women’s sports. OK, fine. That’s not a good argument, but I understand why they make it. But come to find out, they’re not even trying like, you know, they’re not paying the athletes right now and they’re not mandating equal treatment between men’s and women’s sports teams. If you’re going to deny them the right to profit off of their name, image and likeness, which is I mean, just a very fundamental thing like you should if anybody owns your name, image and likeness, it should be you. But if they if you’re going to deny these athletes the opportunity to profit or at least do what you say you’re going to do in mandate fairness, mandate equality between men’s and women’s sports, but they haven’t even done that. But the problem is that the NCAA, like we say that and it’s a dodge, the NCAA is a collection of institutions that have created a governing body so they don’t have to bear the brunt of these unpopular decisions. So we say the NCAA, NCAA, but it’s all the same schools. They’re the ones to prop up this these decisions and the foundation of this loathsome enterprise. Right. Like the NCAA doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s backed by all these schools who want it exactly this way.

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S5: And it’s pretty simple. I mean, I think you can say, oh, it’s capitalism. More people watch the men’s tournament and it generates more money. OK, well, in that case, just let everybody make money. If if if capitalism is that is your explanation and your excuse, then you let those twins or let Paige backers sell ads on their Instagram fine capitalism.

S15: If the argument is, oh, it should be everything should be equal to make everything equal. It’s like pretty easy. It’s not it’s not like a real complicated moral or practical problem here. And the thing that I think is so different is you could say social media. And I think that’s a big part of it. But it’s like Don Staley, the South Carolina coach, saying the NCAA season long message about togetherness and equality was about convenience and a sound bite for the moment created after the murder of George Floyd. You have Tara Vanderveer, the Stanford coach, saying, I feel betrayed by the NCAA.

S12: You have Sudan, a prince saying what Muffet McGraw, the former Notre Dame coach. What bothers me is that no one on the NCAA leadership team even noticed.

S15: And what you have on the men’s side as Rutgers Guard Joe Baker saying I’m not NCAA property saying not on social media and spreading that movement. Isaiah Livres, the Michigan player wearing a I’m not NCAA property shirt to a game. Players and coaches feel emboldened both by the kind of moment that we’re in as a country, but also by the increasing public sentiment that they’re in the right. And so these lawsuits are moving forward and there’s not going to be any kind of decline in the level of of of outrage and the level of kind of activism and outspokenness as these tournaments go on. We’re going to keep hearing about it. And there’s nothing that the NCAA or these schools can do to stop it.

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S9: Right. They can’t do anything to stop it. But we’ve seen this with the lawsuits and the appeals and the and the steps leading up to a hearing at the Supreme Court in a couple of weeks is that the NCAA hires people to make the same tired arguments of amateurism that they’ve always made, but they also capitulate when they start to get scared. And what I think that these these these these episodes during the tournaments have revealed is that, look, this is going to be one more brick in the wall that is crumbling. You know, the NCAA is going to be pressured. And when again, you’re right, Joel, the NCAA is university presidents, athletic directors and other executives, boosters, everybody that is part of the network that forms college sports, they are going to start to get scared and they will start to make concessions. And they’ve up to now, they’ve been minimal. But, you know, this is starting to to feel again, sort of as it did last year. These are fitful steps, but they are real ones.

S12: Maybe one final point to make is about this is that, you know, when you when you play in the men’s tournament, your conference gets a share of the cash that is generated by the TV deals. When you play in the women’s tournament, you get nothing. The conferences and the schools get nothing. That is part of the NCAA’s contract with ESPN, not just for women’s basketball. It’s bundled with all these other championships. But if Connecticut or Stanford or Baylor or whoever wins that tournament, they aren’t getting a dime for the the women’s accomplishment. And that’s not to say that, you know, that the schools and the conferences should be the ones get.

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S15: The money, because the athletes should, but it is another revealing factor, a revealing example of how the NCAA treats the women vis a vis the men, the women are getting antigen tests as opposed to PCR tests for covid, although Mark Emmert, like I’m not a scientist, but they’re probably about the same.

S5: I think those PCR tests revealed positives for VCU, which knocked them out of the men’s tournament. I guess the NCAA is probably happy that that wasn’t the lead item. In our segment this week, we were just focused on how the basketball wasn’t wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing. But if you told them before the tournament and we’ve got a ways to go there, like one game won’t be contested, the rest will go on. There have been like we’ll take that. That seems that seems like a good bargain for us.

S3: They’re very fortunate that it was Virginia Commonwealth and not like Virginia, like some high profile programs case then. Yeah, like some dominant powerhouse, because in that case and we’d have a real issue, but nobody saw Virginia Commonwealth. But people that go to Virginia Commonwealth and presumably like they’re the only people that are really disappointed by the Final Four school.

S6: Don’t come on. And we’ve got several rounds of tournament play to go know Shaka Smart, much better at Virginia Commonwealth and in Texas.

S3: How about it? And yeah, coming after this break, we’re going to be bringing in Jessica Luthe, friend of the show, longtime friend of the show, journalist, co-host of the Burn It All Down podcast. And we’re going to be talking about Deshaun Watson and the many civil lawsuits he’s facing right now. In the Sunday edition of the Houston Chronicle, venerable NFL writer John McClain wrote a column headlined All Signs Point to what some trade. McLaine was referring, of course, to Houston Texans quarterback to Sean Watson. Watson has reportedly been adamant that he no longer wants to play for the increasingly dysfunctional Texans franchise. And before last week, perhaps the biggest question about Watson’s future was whether he’d be staying in Houston or going somewhere like Philly or San Francisco. But now his future and those questions are a lot more complicated following civil lawsuits from 10 women. So far, we’ve had three more just this morning since we’ve been recording it, alleging sexual assault and inappropriate conduct by Watson. The women all have similar stories. Watson allegedly reached out to them over social media, made arrangements for a private massage and then attempted to pressure them into sexual acts. The attorney who represents the women has promised to file more lawsuits. Meanwhile, Watson’s attorney has called the lawsuits meritless. Today, we have Jessica Luther, a journalist, co-host of the Burn It All Down podcast and author of two books. The most recent titled How to Love Sports When They Don’t Love You Back, which is co-written with Kavitha Davidson. Thanks for being here. Jessica, longtime friend of the show, you’ve written extensively on the intersection of sports and violence off of the field. And I’m imagining that you see very familiar dynamics in this particular story. How should we be talking about this case?

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S16: Yeah, I think it’s complicated because these are all civil lawsuits. Right? So we’re getting all of our information through the lawsuits and we don’t know a ton about these women. It appears that they’re all massage therapists, work in sports, that kind of thing. Some of them are single mothers. So I do want to point out that they’re probably in a very different wealth bracket than Deshaun Watson. And so it’s hard at this point. Their stories are incredibly similar. We have to take that into account. That’s really important. It appears to be a pattern, but we have to be careful in how we talk about this to Shawn Watson is, I think, famously known as a nice guy. And that’s a really difficult narrative to counter when we have allegations like this.

S12: And the other thing that struck me right off the bat is the characters involved here on the legal side. These are both prominent Texas lawyers with big egos who have been involved in very public cases. I don’t know how we should factor that in here, but we are talking about attorneys at the sort of highest end of the celebrity legal spectrum and the desire that there’s going to be very public, I think is is the is the point here, not just because Deshaun Watson is a quarterback with a nine figure contract, but because the lawyers in these cases are going to ensure that it is true.

S16: Now, they’re very Texan, right? Tony Buzbee and Rusty Hardin, and they’re big deals in Houston. Buzby ran for mayor, I believe, not that long ago. And yeah, he’s a total character and he’s a lawyer for all of these women. And it’s hard because, yeah, they are personalities. And what does that mean and how do we factor that in? And I think I would just keep pointing people to the fact that there’s the same story over and over again. We’re talking about a possibility of twenty two women. You know, I don’t know how he found them or they found him and how they found each other. I feel like that’s a part of the story that we’re all, you know, maybe we’ll never know. But it would be interesting to find out. It’s maybe they just knew his name. And so they called this guy up because he was in the news. Right. And there’s all these conspiracies that the McNair family that own the Texans are friends with Tony Buzbee. And he’s doing this to devalue Deshaun Watson because as Joel talked about, there is talk of trading him and he wants to leave and all that sort of stuff. But, you know, I think most likely they probably just had heard of him before and called him up and he was willing he was a blowhard and was willing to take this on.

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S9: Well, that’s the thing that we have to do here is and Jessica, we have to divorce Deshaun Watson, quarterback who’s had a bad relationship with his team for the last six months versus allegations that could prove very serious.

S16: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing that we have to think a lot about here is that there are people who are more willing to believe in some kind of gigantic conspiracy theory that, like all of these women are lying, that this lawyer is corrupt, that he has some kind of relationship with these NFL owners, and that all of this is just to devalue this one player versus the idea that someone that we think of as a good guy could have possibly harmed some women, which we know from all the stats that that the latter is much more likely.

S11: We know from stats and from high profile cases of people who are, quote unquote, good guys who’ve been found to actually not be a good guys. And I think the important thing here as journalists or as consumers of the news is just be very honest with ourselves and with each other about the limits of our knowledge at this point and.

S10: All we can say, I think about Deshaun Watson, is that a very, very powerful image of goodness has been created over a period of years and we just don’t people with bad reputations or people with good reputations, we don’t know these people like we don’t know what they’re like outside of games and commercials and interviews. But like what you were saying, Jessica, that especially in a situation where these are civil suits, especially in a situation where this is going to kind of play out in the media, that is the thing that’s kind of towering over all of this. And the thing that those of us who are sports fans, that’s the only thing we know going in is like what we think we know about who Deshaun Watson is.

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S16: And I’ll say like I felt. Me and I was bombed like when the news broke and I thought, oh, man, you know, he’s supposed to be a good guy, but at the same time. Good guys use the fact that they’re seen as good guys for all kinds of cover, right. And this is one way that that happens, but we have to keep that in our heads. And I and I want to just acknowledge that you’re doing work. You’re working against that narrative all the time. So it will feel weird and uncomfortable and there’ll be a tension for you the entire time. There’s one for me and I’m quote unquote an expert on this. And I see this all the time and I know how this works. So that’s just part of this is living in the gray. And we really, really hate that space, especially around this kind of violence.

S3: Yeah. And I mean, what does good guy actually mean in the context of any of this? Right. Because, again, like you said, we don’t know anything about these guys, but you could theoretically be a good guy. But I think one thing that we all know we should know about this age is that, like, we don’t know what any one man is capable of. We’re there in a room alone with a vulnerable woman. Right. Like I mean, it doesn’t, you know what I mean? Like, that that doesn’t mean that that he’s not a good guy and he does not good at charity. He’s not a good leader in the community or whatever. But like on the whole, good guy really doesn’t mean anything when it comes to cases like this. Right.

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S16: Right. Well, we put so much emphasis on, like the choices that women in these cases make, and we are focused so intensely on that. And so this feeds into all of this. Like if if he we should be able to tell that he’s a bad guy. Right. And women should then avoid those bad guys. And so we put a lot of stock in, like, who is good. Right. And so the idea that he’s nice, we don’t have all these stories of what he’s like, like he’s not mean to his teammates. He doesn’t get in fights on the field. Like we have these ideas that those are the people we would expect to harm. And in fact, that’s just not true. Lots and lots of people harm people that they know and we know nothing about it. And this is especially true with men and women. Right. So you’re totally right. What does it mean that he’s even good or nice? That’s a manufactured image as much as anything else.

S7: What can we what do we know at this point, Jessica, about why these cases are being filed in civil court and whether the police have taken any role in trying to investigate them? We do know that the NFL is investigating, but all I’ve read is that that the lawyer, Buzby, said that he’s turned stuff over to the police and had a conversation with someone in the Houston Police Department, but the police department has denied that.

S16: Well, I think my understanding is that Buzby basically said a friend in the department called him up. Right. That it wasn’t a formal kind of filing of a police report. And, yeah, the Houston P.D. said that there’s no open criminal investigation against Watson for any of this stuff. And I don’t even know what the jurisdiction is for all these cases, because some of them, of course, are in Houston. But it sounds like I did. They all happen in Houston. I guess I don’t really even understand the jurisdiction of it, but it’s not necessarily there’s nothing strange about them filing in civil versus going with criminal. There’s know endless stories of women reporting gendered violence to law enforcement and going and going sideways immediately. So it’s not uncommon to just circumvent that altogether. And so, you know, one of the things that I mean, John Watson’s attorney hasn’t said too much, but one thing that I think there was a statement that was in Watson’s name and he said that Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for the women, had brought, you know, a six figure settlement number to him before going public with any of this. And people find that, you know, sketchy like that. This is they’re just in it for the money, which is so funny because all the discussion before about Watson was all about money. And that seems normal and fine to us. But, yeah, even that the idea that, like, they would bring it before they would go public with a settlement is not an uncommon thing that civil lawyers do in these kinds of cases. And so everything is very normal in that sense. And we’ll see if there’s a criminal case here. Maybe it doesn’t qualify. Maybe the women didn’t feel like that made sense to them. Maybe they have interacted with the police before and found it wanting and didn’t want to get into it again. There’s all kinds of reasons that people don’t go in that direction. And so that to me is not like a certain kind of red flag or anything.

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S11: So we’re going to end up with at least the possibility of three kind of parallel, some overlapping, some not overlapping sort of justice, justice like situations here with civil, potentially criminal, and then the NFL’s own bizarro justice system and how all of those play out will affect perception, but also Deshaun Watson’s future as a football player.

S5: And I’m curious what your thoughts are about the NFL aspect of this and Lisa Friel being kind of charged with doing these sorts of investigations for the league post, Ray Rice and the Senate.

S11: We’ll take on that as like they brought in somebody after that high profile case to make it seem like they’re doing something, and I guess the less cynical version would be that the NFL understands, I don’t know, like cares about sure cares about workplace conduct and workplace misconduct issues. And so it makes sense for them to have somebody who’s like a three decade long prominent sex crimes prosecutor in there to be looking looking at that stuff. So kind of how do you look at it and look at her role?

S16: Yeah, well, this is an interesting case because it’s tied directly to him as a player. It seems like that I think in one lawsuit that there might have been a Texan’s trainer who introduced Watson to one of these women. I assume, like I I haven’t read all of the lawsuits, so I don’t know exactly what the messages were that he sent. But I assume it had something to do with him being a player. Right. And that he needed this work because he’s an NFL player. And so that’s part of what’s going on here. You know, I’m cynical about the league, so I’m not you know, I think a lot of it is PR. And as of Friday, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that I wrote it down, that there were six teams still really interested in trading for Watson and that the you know, the Texans don’t want to let him go so that seven teams that are still really interested. And there is a cynical part of me that thinks that it will play out the way that is most useful to the league.

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S15: Peter King said in his column, one former NFL GM told me Sunday he thinks a smart GM would check in regularly to tell a Houston GM nicasio of his interest, regardless of how dire it looks now.

S16: Yeah, and I just kind of wonder how seriously everyone will take this. I think we’re having a conversation right now about massage workers and sort of all of the things that we think about them that are unfair and are gendered and are going to work against these women. And I don’t know how seriously we as a society will take all of these cases. I mean, we’re talking potentially 20 to women like the number that we already have, which is 10 is an issue that is such a big number. I can’t like you can’t stress that enough. Like you don’t get those kind of numbers in these cases. But I don’t know if there’s a part of me that feels like he’s too good of a football player and the NFL will do what it needs to to manage PR. And they might use Friel in her investigation to do that. And I don’t know if I have a good read on, like, how legit her investigations are. There’s all kinds of trouble. Diana Moskovitz has been covering this super well over the last few years. So I don’t I don’t know what we should take away from the league side of this. I think being skeptical of anything the league does is the right way to handle it.

S17: Going to take all your points, Jessica, and I think you’re right to be cynical. And as far as how seriously it’ll be taken, I just it’s hard for me to get off the no draw. Like, if it’s already a turn, it doesn’t need to be more than that for it to be a pattern. But if it just keeps going up, I don’t know how the NFL or anybody can ignore that number and just be like, yeah, that doesn’t seem like that big a deal or isn’t like maybe you all can help me with this, like innocent until proven guilty or the presumption of innocence is a useful legal concept.

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S3: But that doesn’t mean that you have to abdicate thinking on your own right. And like noticing patterns. Right. So, I mean, obviously, nobody wants to be reckless. Nobody wants to make any claims that would be false or damaging in any sort of way to Deshaun Watson. But I think all of us can sort of look at the evidence that’s sort of piling up here and be like. This looks pretty bad, you know, like like it doesn’t seem like there’s a good it doesn’t seem like there’s a good explanation for why there so many women that are doing this. Right. Just get I mean, also I mean, this is it’s and I’ve had I’m in Houston right now and like I’m having all these conversations with people and like the idea that women, like, make bank on civil lawsuits and that it’s like some sort of, you know, gold bond for four women that wanted to take advantage of me. And it’s just totally overblown here.

S16: Yeah, it’s absolutely overblown. And the scrutiny that these women are going to get as of now, they’re all anonymous. But we know how all of these things work. And that’s a huge risk like we talked about right at the beginning. Like these are not, I assume, incredibly wealthy people that can, you know, risk their job and their reputation on a case like this. And so, you know, it makes sense to me that we don’t know why, I guess it came out right now. But it makes sense because he’s in the news and this is someone who triggers you seeing them a lot. This would kind of be the motivation for coming forward. You hear that someone else has come forward, this sort of wave of accusations as such a normal pattern here. And, yeah, they’re not like they might they might make some money off of this. But I don’t know. It sounds like it’s impacting their life in lots of different ways. So it would make sense that they need financial support after this has happened to them based on what they say occurred. So I don’t yeah, it’s it’s complicated to your point about innocent until proven guilty. That’s absolutely a criminal standard. And it makes sense there because we’re talking about removing someone’s civil rights and imprisoning them. So we should focus like that. But all the time in our regular lives, we’re not operating that way. And the way that, you know, the relationships that we have with other people and how we’re interacting with them, we’re not like, well, until they’re guilty in court, I can’t I have to maintain the exact same relationship that I’ve always had with this person like that wouldn’t make any sense. And so, yeah, it doesn’t really apply here in this case when we’re trying to figure out how we want to think about what’s gone on with Deshaun Watson.

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S3: All right. I think that well, we’ll put a button on it here and I’m sure we’ll revisit it. And when we do, we may or may not have Jessica, but but we’re glad we had her here today. Jessica Journalists, co-host of the Burn It All Down podcast, author, thank you so much for spending time with us here today. Yeah, thanks for having me.

S9: Now it is time for after bawls we alluded to in our NCAA conversation to Oral Roberts University and mentioned their big upsets. We did not get into Oral Roberts, the university, and what it stands for, sexual misconduct policy. We pledge not to engage in our attempt to engage in any illicit or unscriptural, unscriptural sexual acts, which includes any homosexual activity and sexual intercourse with one who is not a spouse, et cetera, et cetera.

S7: Oral Roberts was himself was a crazy televangelist. One time in the 1980s, he told viewers that he would die unless he raised four and a half million dollars more for medical missionary scholarships. The school has a prayer tower, which you should Google and look at, and those giant hands on campus big sculpture. But here’s our Sports Connection has to do with Oral Roberts in the recruitment of Moses Malone, the basketball player in nineteen seventy four when Malone was in high school. Noticed this on Twitter over the weekend, how Bomani Jones mentioned Oral Roberts and another reader mentioned the story about Moses Malone. And this is a piece from The New York Times. I’ll just read the paragraph about Malone’s recruitment. After all, what does a teenager to think when Oral Roberts, the evangelical faith healer and president of the Tulsa College, bearing his name, went to see Moses, his mother, and when Roberts found out she was suffering from an ulcer, he told her he would heal her ulcer if young Malone played basketball for Oral Roberts.

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S3: You this is like Donald Trump saying that he would soar, you know, he would solve ISIS for us. But if he didn’t get elected president, he wouldn’t do it. But, you know, if he did, he would do it. But you see how that worked out.

S7: Moses Malone did not go to Oral Roberts University. He turned pro. No word on whether Oral Roberts, the televangelist, was still willing to heal her ulcer even though he didn’t commit to them. Josh, what’s your Moses Malone?

S5: So we’ve all got our favorite things about March Madness, the habits, the traditions, the idioms. Let me set the scene for you guys for one of mine, Syracuse and Buddy Boeheim. Seventy four, West Virginia. Sixty eight. Bob Huggins to not contribute a son to the game. Twenty one seconds to go. West Virginia’s inbounding the ball. Jim Nance and crucially, Bill Raftery are on the call.

S18: It’s about little two possession game and go to the rim, too. For that reason, you don’t need a three to three. The game’s over. There you go, Sherman. I give it to him. They give him the open lane at the thirteen point nine mark.

S10: Oh, yes. You don’t need a three. And really, why would you need a three? It’s not like you’re losing by a lot of points and there’s very little time left. And it’s not like three is worth more than two. They’re worth the same amount. Three and two in the end. West Virginia lost by. Three, they did very literally need a three. Oh, well, who could have guessed? ESPN’s Jeff Borislow tweeted the following on Sunday, crediting the idea to his colleague John Galloway. Working assumption. If the announcer says you don’t need a three here, you need a three, it’s actually a very accurate contraindication. I also found a blog post from the SB Nation site, Banners on the Parkway, which is devoted to Xavier University basketball. The peg for that story was an NCAA tournament game win. Once again, our man Bill Raftery told the trailing team this time, Georgia, that they definitely did not need a three pointer. Georgia was trailing by six with thirty five seconds to go. They did what Raftery told them. They made a couple of two pointers and they ended up losing by seven. Why would you not want to shoot a three? But it’s always a good idea to think of the best arguments for your opponent in an intellectual debate. So when are you going to be. The teams are defending the three point line, making it hard to score from there, whereas they’re allowing you to score from inside, making it easy. Why not take the easy two rather than the difficult three? Well, the reason they’re defending the three point line is because you need to score three points. Two sports cliches are in direct competition here. Take what the defense gives you and you’re open for a reason. In the final seconds of the game. The defense is giving you a present you do not want to open.

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S11: You need a three here. Let’s talk about the the Raftery of it specifically. I enjoy Bill Raftery. Joel, you like Bill Raftery?

S3: Yeah. I have a problem with Bill Raftery. You don’t have a problem with vote after Stefan. Do you have a problem? What’s your problem with the problem with the law after?

S5: All right. I respect my elders.

S10: And so I will tell you with great reverence, the after his seventy seven years old, he was born in nineteen forty three. The college three point line is introduced in nineteen eighty six. And so we have nine years to go. I guess that’ll be the twenty and thirty tournament when Bill Raftery will have lived as much of his time on earth with a three point line as without a three point line.

S5: But we’re not there yet. It’s also Bill Raftery came into broadcasting from the coaching ranks. He coached from nineteen sixty three to nineteen eighty one at Fairleigh Dickinson and Seton Hall. And I just learned that’s actually I’m looking at his coaching record today.

S10: His team’s never made the NCAA tournament. So when you are taking the advice of Bill Raftery, you are hitting a man who has lived most of his life without a three point line and has never coached in the NCAA tournament. So just keep that in mind.

S5: And if I ever get the opportunity to call any basketball game at any level.

S10: You will hear the following for me, you need a three to three here, you need a three now shoot the damn three.

S3: It all comes back to football for me. But is this like when an announcer says you don’t need to go for to here. Don’t go don’t don’t go for two too early. You got to wait until a later point in the game when theoretically you might be in position to score a touchdown again and go for two. So it’s kind of totally the same thing.

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S5: I mean, one thing I didn’t get into, which I think you heard in the clip, is the logical fallacy of if you don’t make the three, then the game is over. It’s the same concept with going for two. Oh, if you go for it and don’t get it, then the game is over. And the the way that that was kind of expressed, which really stuck with me, is that you don’t want to win if you’re going to potentially look bad or look foolish in the process.

S10: You want to prolong the amount of you want to make the game longer and like prolong the amount of time you could potentially when even if it ultimately decreases your chance of winning.

S3: Yeah, it does make I feel like whatever they’re extending a game in college basketball, it it all serves to make the college basketball coach look smarter. If they go back over to the sideline there on the board, they get they’re doing something. Yeah, right. Like they get to have their hands all over the game. If you stretch it out a little bit instead of letting it go, fire up a three.

S10: Yeah. I mean, I would wager I would wager that if you go if you shoot the three, you might actually lose more of wow. I don’t know if I actually believe that you’ll probably when you do lose, you’ll lose by more than if you go for the two.

S17: But I think you’ll probably win a higher percentage of the time, although it’s still you probably.

S6: I’m not sure that’s even true, though, because if you miss the if you if you make the two, you’re going to foul immediately.

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S12: That’s going to put the other team on the line. They’re going to score more points. If you’re sure to miss the three, maybe get a rebound, shoot another three. And Miss, you’re going to be stuck on the same score line. So who knows in Rafter is OK. So you have to do you do have to weigh his bad advice with the fact that he says onions.

S5: Right. He’s great. I love Bill Raftery. I hope that I hope that much is clear.

S3: Can we get real quick? Because while you guys were talking about this, I thought about Dick Vattel and his coaching record. You know, Dick Fertile only coached in the NCAA tournament once, too. Just once he was in nineteen seventy six, nineteen seventy seven. University of Detroit, he went twenty six and three, parlayed that into a job with the Detroit Pistons, where that lasted a year, a season in twelve games. And then he moved into broadcasting and became the face and voice of college basketball for so long, right alongside Bill Raftery.

S5: We salute them for their long and and storied careers of giving people that advice and their decisions to change careers, which seemed like they worked.

S12: It worked out pretty well for both of them.

S2: Yeah. That is our show for today. Our producer this week is Margaret Kelly. Listen to Pasteur’s and subscribe or just reach out, go to sleep, dot com slash, hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate dot com and please subscribe to the show and read on reviews on Apple podcasts for Joel Anderson, Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levine. Wait, wait. Josh, before you go stepping back, shall we just say happy birthday to Josh? We missed it last week. It was irresponsible of us. It should we should say something before we close out here. All right. Wow. That was like I was one second away from, like, a buzzer beater. Buzzer Beater. Happy birthday to our leader, Josh. All right. Are we going to sing it or not? Now we’re not going to sleep off. I really hate that. Remembers I’m mobility and thanks for letting.

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S5: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members and congratulations to the NFL. One hundred thirteen billion dollar deal over 11 years for TV rights. I was a little worried for a second that they might might only be one hundred twelve billion, maybe one hundred eleven and a half. But they got that one hundred thirteen. And I should say, this is all NPR says a person familiar with the agreements. So it could be one hundred thirteen point one hundred twelve point nine, but we think it’s about one hundred thirteen billion over 11 years. It’s an 80 percent increase on the previous deal. Here’s why I want to start this. We’re going to get to all the streaming stuff in a minute, which I think is interesting. But for all of the stories about ratings going down, what we were told was the reason that it’s important and that we should care about how many people watch these games is because if the numbers go down, that means that the right deals are going to go down and the leagues are going to be getting less money. And that that’s going to have like a cascade effect on the sports and on salaries and on salary caps and everything. Total, total B.S. There’s no indication that that is the case. And I think with these with the streaming right. Stefan, what we’ve seen is that like since we’re in the streaming wars now in every state, whether it’s a network or whether it’s an entity like Amazon, which now has exclusive streaming rights for Thursday night games starting in twenty twenty three, is that the number of bidders? There are more bidders and that the prices are going to be driven up. I’m not going to say that like with anything that the price is just going to go up forever because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. But there’s no indication as we sit here right now in twenty, twenty one that there’s some sort of crisis in rates deals that we’re dealing with now.

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S9: Now. And the takeaway here is that both the broadcasters or the distributors of sports content, live games and the leagues themselves know that there will be a market for this stuff. This is just media change, right? This is just the distribution outlet changing so far with all of the fear that the cable model is dying and ESPN wouldn’t have enough money because subscribers are going down. Well, it didn’t take long for streaming services to have the financial wherewithal to offer billions of dollars for NFL games. And again, for the second part of this is for all of the narrative about how the NFL was going to be heading into uncharted territory and the sport itself is going to decline because of brain injuries and danger. And fewer kids are going to play and are playing the sport now. Yes. What we still as a culture are perfectly comfortable with consenting adults playing this sport and generating and making a lot of money from it. Remember, all you make, we make fun of the nine hundred billion dollars, hundred and thirteen dollars billion, half of that’s going to go to athletes. That is a good thing in the arc of how sports business has evolved and in what we should be giving the people that play these games.

S3: Yeah, I mean, I guess like we’ve got competing phenomena here, right, for all those stories about the NFL and professional football and how it was, you know, inevitably going to reach a period of decline. Maybe that is going to happen. Maybe this is just a short term bubble. Right. And 15, 20 years from now, this will look totally different. But right now, it just seems like, you know, the growth is continuing apace. But I just I guess that’s the thing. I just don’t believe that these deals are going to increase, are going to continue to pay off in the way that they have in previous years.

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S8: Like I just don’t know why we don’t know what we don’t even know what the platforms are going to be. We don’t know what the media are going to be in 10 years or 50 years.

S10: Will may not be here in 15 or 20 years. Who cares? That’s that’s a twenty years. The NFL is looking good for the next ten years, right?

S3: Yeah. I mean, yeah, they’ve got to pay this money out and it’ll be there. But like, we just don’t we just have no way of knowing. I just never believe in permanent growth. Like, I just don’t think it’s possible for this to continue to go up and maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

S8: I covered this stuff twenty years ago for The Wall Street Journal and could not believe the numbers that were thrown around and the numbers that the networks were agreeing to pay. And those numbers are less than what players get paid.

S3: Now, the thing is, too, is that like we know that one thing that the NFL has going in his favor, it’s the most popular sport in our country. There’s not we don’t know that these broadcast deals are available for every other sport. Right. But we know that, like the NFL is the most popular sport. Whenever you whenever there’s an NFL season at the end of the year, they tally like the most watched live events on TV, like twenty four. Twenty five are almost always like NFL regular season games. Right. So, yeah, they’re really benefiting right now. But I just I just cannot imagine looking back on the. Some 20 years and everybody still being in the same game. I mean, just it just seems like our viewing habits are going to change. Cultural habits are going to change. But, you know, I also thought we would have flying cars by now.

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S17: And I didn’t that I think that you’re totally right, that this is an NFL specific deal and specific story that we can and should separate out from other things happening in sports. But, you know, also in the past. A week or so, there is a positive business story for the NHL, which is operating in a totally different universe than the NFL has in terms of popularity and in terms of negotiating strength. But for the first time in a decade and a half, NHL games are going to be back on ESPN, which is huge for that league. And the reason that they’re back on ESPN is predominantly due to streaming and streaming rights. And ESPN sees the NHL. As a way to bring subscribers kespin, plus you mentioned Jol, the decline or maybe it Stephanie mentioned that’s the decline in cable subscriptions as being potentially imperiling ESPN’s business model. But what they’ve done and are trying to do is to replace that revenue with. Digital subscription and the NHL deal is very similar to the deal they struck with UFC, where if you have a sport that doesn’t have as many fans or followers as the NFL or the NBA, but as a very kind of hard core dedicated following that, you can get locked into your service to not only be watching NHL games or mixed martial arts fights, but to be in that entire ecosystem of programming that ESPN offers, I think. ESPN sees a tremendous amount of value to that, and they’re giving the NHL four hundred million dollars a year, which I think if we were sitting here two years ago or four or five years ago, we would have thought that would have been just a pie in the sky.

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S8: Opportunity for for the NHL is double over the NHL previous deal with NBC, and that is Josh, you’re right. The most interesting thing and I think the most significant thing about both of these deals is how they begin to leverage and continue this trend of putting more and more games on subscription platforms online. I mean, we’ve seen this with soccer. You mentioned a dedicated hardcore fan base. I mean, I watched a game on ESPN plus this weekend, and I watched the game on Peacock Network online soccer games. So, you know, this is this is the direction we could not have anticipated 10 years ago when the previous iteration of some of these deals were negotiated. And that’s why I maintain that, you know, in 10 more years, Joel, we don’t know the name of the of the platform that’s going to be bidding hundreds of millions of dollars annually or billions of dollars annually for four leagues. But it’s going to be out there yet.

S3: We’re just not going to you know, we just don’t know what viewing habits are going to be like going forward. Right. To and like, again, it didn’t used to be that we could watch all of these college basketball games, like during March Madness, like CBS would have a game and then they would go into a game that wasn’t in your region and regionally, that regional regional broadcasting in like now we can all see it and we’re like, oh, man, shit. College basketball’s terrible, don’t you? Teams or not? Since the again, like, I just I just like so again, like I mean, yes, ESPN is going to have all these offerings on streaming. You can watch more lacrosse games, you can watch more women’s college basketball games. But like now you have to pay for it. You’ve got to pay for it. And we’re going to find out if people are really interested. I just remember with the Longhorn Network was going to revolutionize college sports. Great. I think it was going to totally turn things around and look what happened. All it did was bust up that bust up their league. And it hasn’t been the moneymaker that anybody thought it was going to be. So I just I just always keep that in mind. Whenever people have, like, these rosy predictions for the future and like with streaming and TV and new networks might do because it changes every few years. And the one thing is, is that we get a lot more content now. But like that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re getting a lot more quality with it.

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S5: All right. One point kind of in favor of Joel’s position and one against. I think the point against Ujjal is like if you just generalize this in the most Broadway possible, what these broadcasters are betting on is that people want to watch sports, that that’s it.

S11: And I don’t think we’ve seen any indication throughout the history, modern history of the world that’s going to stop or attenuate. And what ESPN is doing is putting together a package of all sorts of different sports, and they’re trying to lock people in to their ecosystem and get them to subscribe and get their credit cards and get them to be renewing every month. And OK, maybe you sign in for the NHL, but maybe you stay because of, you know, women’s college basketball or some combination of all the stuff that they have. But I think the argument in favor of what you’re saying, Joel, is that we are in a moment where there are too many streaming services like this. Much is clear, like not all of these things are going to survive, like Netflix is paying just ungodly amount of billions of dollars to generate original content every year. And then you have things like, well, peacocke exist in two years, will paramount plus exist, will to be exist, will know Amazon pivot away from the prime video service like that stuff all seems to be in question. And then when you have like now when people when all these services are trying to win and trying to get people locked in, that’s when you’re going to see these kind of escalating rights fees. But once there are winners and losers, then I think we could see a shift in how these deals are made and what the marketplace looks like.

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S1: Amazon has agreed to pay a billion dollars a year for Thursday night football. And what’s interesting here, and I think a potential reflection of where the telecasters are, streamers are broadcasters are going to be coming from is that this isn’t like the game, the few games that they’ve done already which were just piggybacking off of what the networks were producing. Amazon now has to produce NFL games. They have to hire camera operators and commentators and people to do the Kiran’s. This is their show. They can afford it. They can afford it. Right. So someone can afford it and will it. You know, Amazon is making is probably not even a bet. It’s it’s probably a very smart, calculated business choice to get into this business, either anticipating that the traditional broadcast networks, streaming services will flop and they will be more opportune. For them or that, you know, everyone’s going to keep wanting to watch the NFL and this is our entree at the highest point, a billion dollars for the worst NFL game in any week, Thursday Night Football.

S3: Right.

S5: We’ll see better than the movie selection on Amazon Prime.

S3: You know, I don’t think I’ve even watched movies on Amazon Prime now that you mention it. But we’re coming in a year when, like, there’s been an erosion of TV viewer numbers and the streaming numbers have gone up. A TV viewer numbers have gone down in a really dramatic way. And I just you know, we’re coming out of a pandemic, man. People I just don’t know that we know what’s going to happen. But, you know, Amazon placing a billion dollars on seeing Browns versus Bengals on a Thursday night. I mean, maybe that’s a good bet, but I don’t think you’ll be counting on me tuning in on Thursday night. So unless we have to do it for the podcast, in which case I guess so. I’ll watch begrudgingly Baker Mayfield for his job.

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S11: That seems like a good amount of actually. All right. Slate plus members, now that you’ve heard Tull’s commitment to excellence in research and preparation, I feel like we can we can go.

S3: I’ve destroyed all the sports today, by the way, like I haven’t said, any sport is there. Any game is good. Football sucks. And so I’m going to come back with the bad attitude next Monday, up the next week for Joel, waking up on the on the right side of the bed.

S19: And we’ll all be here. And we look forward to giving you more bonus content next week, later.