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Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

Here comes the FIFA World Cup

Three cheers for the three nations.

In a long-anticipated vote on Wednesday, the joint bid of the U.S., Mexico and Canada defeated Morocco, its only challenger, as 200 national soccer federations cast their ballots to cap FIFA’s annual Congress.

The three-nation bid captured 134 votes, with Morocco earning 65 from the panel and only Lebanon choosing neither option.

“This is an incredible, and incredibly important, moment for soccer in North America and beyond,” said Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer.

The 2026 tournament will feature an expanded field of 48 teams — as opposed to recent editions having 32 — and will mark the first time in FIFA’s history that a three-nation bid has been awarded the showpiece event.

The joint bid’s plans call for 60 of the 80 games to be played in the United States — including all matches from the quarterfinals onward — while Canada and Mexico host 10 apiece. The final is expected to be played at MetLife Stadium, just outside New York.

See here and here for the background. I had previously said that if Three Nations won the bid that Houston would get to be a host city, but that’s not quite true, as this story notes:

In an agreement announced when the bid launched last year, the United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on, while Mexico and Canada will get 10 apiece. Twenty-three cities, including Washington and Baltimore, are in the running to become the 16 match venues. In all likelihood, 11 of the 17 proposed U.S. sites will make the cut. A decision is not expected for another two years.

[…]

Mexican venues under consideration are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Canada narrowed its list to Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.

The U.S. metro areas in the running are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Denver (Sports Authority Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and the new NFL stadium), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Jose (Levi’s Stadium), Seattle (Century Link Field) and Washington (FedEx Field).

Given Houston’s track record with Super Bowls and Final Fours, not to mention international friendly soccer matches, I feel good about our chances, but there are no guarantees. In the meantime, US Soccer is involved in a bid for the 2027 Women’s World Cup as well, so who knows, maybe we’ll get a twofer. Slate and ThinkProgress have more.

They’re still trying to make XFL 2.0 happen

And who knows, maybe it will.

Oliver Luck, the former Oilers quarterback and Dynamo executive who has most recently worked at the NCAA, was named Tuesday as the commissioner of the relaunched XFL that World Wrestling Entertainment will launch in 2020.

Luck, the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, was announced as CEO and commissioner of the new eight-team league by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the league’s founder.

“Football has always been a constant in my life and I’m excited about the unique opportunity to present America’s favorite sport to fans in a new way,” Luck said in a statement from the league. “The XFL will create first-class organizations that local cities across the country will be proud of.”

McMahon he and Luck “share the same vision and passion for reimagining the game of football. His experience as both an athlete and executive will ensure the long-term success of the XFL.”

See here for the background. Among many other things, Luck has served as president of NFL Europe, so he has real experience with this sort of thing. I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to get an eight-team league off the ground and on solid financial footing by 2020, but so far at least this is not an obvious farce. And while I said before that I probably wouldn’t watch a new XFL (as I hadn’t watched the original XFL), I’ve changed my mind. There is a scenario under which I will become an XFL fan, and that’s if they treat their cheerleaders better then the NFL does (not a high bar to clear, as we know). Have the teams hire their cheerleaders as employees, pay them a fair salary, institute real anti-harassmemt policies, don’t put ridiculous rules on them and only them about fraternizing with players, and I’m in. What do you say, Oliver? The Press and Texas Monthly have more.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

Second group of cheerleaders sues the Texans

Different group, same basic complaints.

Hannah Turnbow spent the 2017 NFL season wearing a bright smile and a Texans cheerleaders uniform, dancing on the field, waving pompons on the sideline, meeting fans in NRG Stadium suites and concourses and attending team-related functions as a Texans brand ambassador.

Friday, however, Turnbow was reduced briefly to tears as she described how she and four other former cheerleaders were underpaid, browbeaten, threatened and, in her case, attacked by a fan and told by team officials to “suck it up” when she complained.

Turnbow, who spent one season as a Texans cheerleader, is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit in two weeks that accuses the team of violating federal labor laws and minimum-wage regulations.

The suit was filed in Houston federal court by Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock and by noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she plans to deliver a letter stating the cheerleaders’ case Monday to the office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

“We’re not arguing with the concept of whether there should be cheerleaders or not,” Allred said. “But we are asserting that if there are cheerleaders, they should not be exploited in their wages or in any of the terms of their working conditions.”

[…]

Dallas has long been the center of NFL cheerleader culture, since the Cowboys in the early 1970s adopted the dance team format that the Texans and other NFL teams use, and Androvett said the Cowboys would be a lesser product without the allure and marketing attraction that cheerleaders have provided for more than 40 years.

“Football fans have wives and daughters. Women are big consumers. They are a force to be reckoned with,” Androvett said. “Why wouldn’t you reach out to women and say if there’s a wrong, let’s right it. You can do that in a way that doesn’t incur legal liability.”

By not dealing with complaints by cheerleaders over pay and working conditions, the NFL also faces potential damage in the wake of the “#metoo” awareness movement of sexual assault and harassment.

“People will say it’s like being in Hollywood: there are things you buy into in exchange for all the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said. “But Hollywood is a great analogy. We all realize now that not everything goes.

“If I were the NFL, I would try to get in front of this and communicate that cheerleaders are part of the NFL experience and to treat them in a way that suggest you believe that.

Also, as franchises become more valuable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could lead to increased sports gambling, “it’s not a good optic for the NFL when you have a class of women who are trying to get paid based on $7.25 per hour,” Androvett added.

See here for more about the other lawsuit. It really is a matter of paying them a fair amount for their labor, and treating them with a sufficient level of respect. Frankly, the NFL could do a better job of that with their players, too, but at least they have the right to collectively bargain for those things. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs in both of these cases. Think Progress has more.

Former cheerleaders file lawsuit against Texans over pay

I’d been wondering if something like this was going to happen here.

Three former Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor Tuesday, accusing the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime and accusing the cheer squad director of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans.

The former cheerleaders, who were on the squad for the 2017 season, are seeking class action status, which would include all Texans cheerleaders for the last three years who also complain of similar treatment by the Texans and their cheerleader director, Altovise Gary.

The suit against the Texans and Gary, filed in Houston federal court, joins a growing list of legal actions in which former NFL cheerleaders complain about pay, safety issues and working conditions.

“I have been a season-ticket holder since 2002. My name is engraved on the glass outside NRG Stadium,” said former cheerleader Paige G., who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was always a goal of mine to get on the team, and I thought this is so great that now I get to cheer for the team that I love.

“It was really unfortunate that we were treated with such disrespect.”

Paige G. claims in the lawsuit that while she was paid $7.25 per hour for a set number of hours each week, she did not receive overtime for team-imposed email monitoring and social media requirements and for other “off-the-clock” job-related duties, including gym workouts, spray tans before games and events and required attendance at other team functions and autograph sessions.

“One of the most famous quotes from (Gary) is that this was a part-time job with full-time hours,” she said. “We signed up for a part-time job that didn’t require more than 30 hours a week. If you’re going to make it full-time hours, make it a full-time job. I would be happy to do that.”

The suit also accuses Gary, described in the document as “Coach Alto,” of harassing and intimidating behavior and of cutting Paige G. and other cheerleaders from the squad in April after they sought improved working conditions.

Others may join in as plaintiffs, and they will seek class certification, assuming Neil Gorsuch hasn’t made that illegal. We have seen a number of lawsuits like this filed by other teams’ cheerleaders in recent years, some with truly appalling fact sets. Several teams have paid out settlements, and I suspect that is what will eventually happen here. Seems to me the right thing for the teams to do is to pay their cheerleaders a fair wage for their labor and to generally treat them with a minimum level of respect. But this is the NFL, and that’s not the way they do business, so off to the courts they go. I know who I’m cheering for.

Add taekwando to the list of problematic sports

Also a sport with local ties.

Last week, four female USA Taekwondo (USAT) athletes filed a joint lawsuit against the USOC and USAT, alleging that the two organizations engaged in sex trafficking by forcing its athletes — including minor females — to travel and train with sexual predators.

According to the lawsuit, officials in both organizations knew about allegations of rape and sexual assault against brothers Jean and Steven Lopez, who are commonly referred to as the “First Family of Taekwondo,” as far back as 1996. And yet, the organizations allegedly failed to either investigate or punish the Lopez brothers, or protect the minor female athletes who were forced to train and go on international trips with these men if they wanted to follow their Olympic dreams.

“The USOC knowingly trafficked these girls to obtain medals and money, time and again,” Jon Little, one of the attorneys representing the women, said in a statement obtained by the Indy Star.

The USOC’s role in the systemic sexual abuse of athletes has been under the microscope lately, owing to the fallout from the sexual abuse of more than 250 girls and women at the hands former Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USOC doctor Larry Nassar. Many of Nassar’s victims have filed lawsuits against the USOC for enabling Nassar’s abuse, and failing to prioritize the protection of its athletes.

This suit will hardly help the USOC rebuild its tarnished reputation. It specifically alleges that current interim CEO of the USOC, Susanne Lyons, as well as four other current top USOC officials “had knowledge of the numerous complaints of rape and sexual assault made by female taekwondo athletes against both Lopez brothers” but all declined to take pro-active steps to ensure that the athletes would be free from harm.

[…]

Essentially, the allegations center around two brothers, Jean and Steven Lopez. Jean was Team USA’s taekwondo coach at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Summer Games, while Steven was a five-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist. Together, they have been the face of USA Taekwondo for the better part of the past two decades.

The lead plaintiff is Mandy Meloon, who the Lopez brothers allegedly began to abuse in 1994, when she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center at the age of 13.

There’s a lot more, so go read it. I know I’ve seen a bunch of laudatory stories about the Lopez family in the past, much as there had been many such stories about the Karolyis before the media started cluing into the problems that had existed. Taekwando has a lower profile than gymnastics, so maybe that’s helped keep the Lopezes’ alleged sins out of the public eye. But as with gymnastics and swimming and so many other things, the story is one of victims not being listened to and victimizers not being held accountable. I sure hope we’re learning a lesson from all this, because the price many women have paid for it is really steep. USA Today, CNN, and Deadspin have more.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Will the AG get involved in the Karolyi case?

The gymnasts who were victimized by Larry Nasser at the Karolyi Ranch would like to see a higher level of action.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office should take the steps of the Michigan attorney general in aggressively pursuing charges against the men and women who enabled Larry Nassar — the former doctor for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team — to sexually assault more than 200 young female athletes, a group of survivors and their lawyers said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Standing in the sunshine and wind outside the office of Texas’ top attorney, five women who say they suffered abuse at the hands of Nassar asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to take action against the couple they say allowed that abuse to continue — action Paxton’s office has said it does not have the power to take.

The women and their lawyers claim that Martha and Bela Karolyi, owners of the famed Texas Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, knew about the abuse at the longtime official training site of the team but took no steps to prevent it from continuing. They point to a May 2017 deposition in which Martha Karolyi answers “yes” after being asked whether she was aware of molestation accusations against Nassar.

The Karolyis have said through their lawyer that “Martha misunderstood the question and misspoke.”

[…]

The Texas Rangers, in consort with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. That investigation is ongoing, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Lawyers for the women called that investigation insufficient, saying there have been no search warrants or charges yet issued. And there’s no indication that that probe is “seriously looking into the Karolyis,” said California attorney John Manly, who’s representing more than 100 survivors in the Nassar case.

Michelle Tuegel, a Waco attorney representing many of the Texas survivors, said a case of this scope requires action from the state’s top attorney — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources his office brings with it.

But in a statement shortly after the press conference, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is “outside of our jurisdiction” but that the office would “gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution” if asked by local law enforcement.

See here and here for some background. The Texas Rangers have been working on this and I’d say it’s probably a little early to say that it’s taken too long for anything to happen. That said, Martha Karolyi’s “misstatement” deserves closer scrutiny, as does the entire history of the Karolyi Ranch, to be honest. It’s certainly fair to say that if either Karolyi didn’t know what was going on with Larry Nasser, they should have, and any professed ignorance on their part doesn’t excuse their culpability. Whether that translates into legal liability or not I don’t know, but the moral case is clear. The Chron has more.

Tina Thompson

Congratulations to original Houston Comet Tina Thompson for her selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tina Thompson

Tina Thompson was honored for her stellar college, professional and Olympic career when she was named to the 2018 Class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The associate head coach for the University of Texas women’s basketball team joins a list that includes NBA greats Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Grant Hill and former Ohio State and WNBA standout Katie Smith.

[…]

Throughout her 17-year professional playing career, Thompson was a four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), a member of the WNBA All-Decade team, an eight-time All-WNBA team selection, a nine-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA All-Star MVP in 2000.

Thompson ended her professional career with the Seattle Storm in 2013 as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 7,488 points in 496 games played (15.1 ppg). She still remains the league’s second-leading all-time scorer behind Diana Taurasi (7,867 points).

On the international level, Thompson has won two Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing).

Jenny Dial Creech gives Thompson some well-deserved love. For a bit of perspective here, the Comets had more championships in their twelve years of existence than the Astros, Rockets, and Oilers/Texans have combined in their histories. They were an amazing team, and Tina Thompson was a foundational piece of it. It’s a shame the franchise was disbanded, and it’s a shame that the memory of them fades as time passes, but as long as Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper are in the Hall of Fame, a piece of the Comets and their amazing legacy will live on. Congratulations, Tina Thompson!

Houston makes final cut for FIFA 2026 bid

Now it’s up to FIFA.

The Houston Dynamos might have to make some room: Space City has been included in the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

On Thursday, officials announced that Houston is one of 23 cities that are a part of the “United Bid,” a joint bid by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to host the World Cup.

If the bid is successful, Houston could see international teams battling it out at NRG Stadium.

“Canada, Mexico, and the United States have joined together to deliver a United Bid that offers FIFA and its member associations the power of unity, the promise of certainty, and the potential of extraordinary opportunity,” John Kristick, Executive Director of the United Bid said in a news release.

See here for the background. The original list had 49 venues in 44 cities, so it was about fifty-fifty for Houston to make the cut. At this point, if United Bid wins, we’re in. I’ll definitely buy some tickets if we do. US Soccer has more.

SaberCats Stadium

Houston’s new pro rugby team will soon have a home.

The city’s burgeoning rugby community is poised to have a new home after City Council inked a $3.2 million deal Wednesday that paves the way for the Houston SaberCats to build a 3,500-seat stadium.

The SaberCats, one of seven new Major League Rugby franchises, plans to finish the new facility and two practice fields at Houston Amateur Sports Park, along Texas 288 in south Houston, in time for the beginning of its 2019 season.

The city, meanwhile, will retain ownership of the site, lease the property to the SaberCats for 43 years and use $3.2 million from its 2012 bond package to reimburse the team for the cost of installing a 760-space parking lot and adding public utilities.

“This is a major step forward,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said of the deal. “We say we’re an international city, and this helps to create those venues that can appeal to the interests of a very diverse population.”

SaberCats President Brian Colona echoed Turner’s enthusiasm.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have the city council back this thing with great support from Mayor Turner and his staff,” Colona said. “This is the quintessential example of good public-private partnership in order to advance the needs of the community, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”

[…]

As part of the deal OK’d Wednesday, the SaberCats have committed to providing at least 200 hours of free children’s rugby training annually, hosting high school rugby matches and running free rugby camps for children ages 6 through 14, among other types of community engagement.

See here for some background on the SaberCats, who as you can see were formerly known as the Strikers, and here for an earlier article on this deal, which again notes that funds from the 2012 bond referendum that were earmarked for this facility are what’s being used. The main reaction from the SaberCats’ Facebook page is “why only 3,500 seats?”, since a recent exhibition game had 5,000 in attendance. There will be some 4,000 standing room spots as well, so they ought to be covered for now. I’ve never actually seen a rugby game before, I may have to check this out when they have their grand opening. Any fans of the sport out there?

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

The XFL will be back

And this time the gimmick is there will be no gimmicks.

WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is giving a professional football league another go.

It will be called the XFL, the same name of the league McMahon and NBC tried for one season in 2001, but it won’t rely on flashy cheerleaders and antics as its predecessor did, he said.

McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020. Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project.

“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”

McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.

One mark of the new league, McMahon said, will be faster games. The ideal running time, he said, would be two hours.

As for the timing of the announcement, two years before the league’s debut, many might point to McMahon’s relationship with President Donald Trump, who this fall criticized the NFL for allowing its players to kneel and sit during the national anthem. McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field. McMahon’s wife, Linda, heads the Small Business Administration in Trump’s Cabinet.

Hey, everything else from 20-30 years ago is being rebooted, so why not the XFL? I can’t say I’d care – I didn’t watch the original version – but it will provide a few jobs, so that’s something. And for what it’s worth, I’m rooting for El Paso to get a team. Deadspin has more.

The Karolyi Ranch

Good riddance.

Once viewed as a beacon of “dreams, desire and dedication” for a generation of young women, now symbolic of years of abuse and betrayal, the Karolyi Ranch north of Houston will no longer serve as the national training center for the USA Gymnastics women’s team.

The federation said Thursday it has canceled its lease to use the gym and housing complex, owned by famed coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi in the Sam Houston National Forest, as the site of monthly training camps for the nation’s elite gymnasts who have won the last two Olympic team gold medals and the last four Olympic all-around championships.

The announcement by Kerry Perry, USA Gymnastics’ new president and CEO, came as a judge in Michigan prepares Friday to sentence former team doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to seven state counts of criminal sexual conduct and is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December,” Perry said. “Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.”

The Karolyis were – allegedly, at least; they deny it – among the many enablers of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics is deeply complicit in Nassar’s crimes. Kerry Perry should tear it all down and start from scratch, with a genuine commitment to put the athletes first and to put a much better system of oversight in place. The whole thing is sickening – Nassar had more known victims than Jerry Sandusky, in case you’re wondering – and I strongly suspect there are more sins to uncover. Get it all out into the open and make sure all those who were part of the problem get their comeuppance.

Cricket in Houston

If cricket ever becomes a big deal in the US, the Houston region will play a key role in that.

Houston has had adult [cricket] leagues since the 1970s. Most players, then and now, are from Commonwealth countries – nations once ruled by the British Empire where cricket remains incredibly popular – including India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Caribbean nations. In that way, American cricket remains insular. The sport continues to grow in popularity as more immigrants from Asia, Africa and Oceania settle in Houston, but native-born Americans rarely encounter a cricket pitch.

Yet the same could be said for the relationship between Americans and soccer before the 1970s and ’80s. Since then, soccer has thrived at the high school and college levels, and the sport’s popularity supports men’s and women’s professional leagues. Millions of Americans watch European soccer leagues, whose games are now broadcast by U.S. networks. Cricketers see a similar path for growth.

Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, behind soccer. More than 1.5 billion fans watched the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Created in England in the 16th century, cricket is a parent, or at least an estranged uncle, of baseball. The sports are similar in that a batsman (batter) hits a ball to score runs while a bowler (pitcher) and fielders try to get him out. The similarities dwindle after that, but both could be summed up as being played at a sometimes leisurely pace punctuated by moments of excitement.

But to have any hopes of following in the footsteps of soccer, American cricketers have to surmount two glaring obstacles: how to convince local governments to build more pitches and how to nudge Americans without a Commonwealth heritage to give it a try.

The Houston Cricket League plays on 10 grounds in the Houston area, stretching from Wallis to Pearland to Humble. Several coaches were quick to praise Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for favoring public support for cricket, but conceded that lobbying politicians is often a challenge.

“The city officials, probably when we go talk to them, you first have to explain what cricket is. They have no clue,” Sushil Nadkarni said with a chuckle. “It could be as simple as some other game they’ve never heard of, or it could be like croquet, as far as they’re concerned.”

Nadkarni, a former captain of the U.S. national team who is regarded as one of the best Americans to ever play the game, lives in Katy and runs a cricket academy for youth players. An Indian immigrant, he moved to Texas to get his master’s degree in engineering.

He envisions a cricket farm system similar to baseball that develops young players and feeds the best to the national team. A tinge of envy in his voice, he described how Ireland and Afghanistan, despite their small size, recently were promoted to test status, the highest level of international cricket.

Surely, the U.S. should follow. With more kids joining leagues, talk of cricket becoming an Olympic sport and the ability to watch international cricket through streaming services, Nadkarni believes cricket is on the verge of exploding in popularity here. He brought many of his academy players to watch last Sunday’s match.

They play cricket in San Antonio, which also has a decent-sized South Asian population, as well. As the story notes, the first cricket stadium in America, a 2000-seat facility financed by a local businessman, was built in Pearland in 2013. International professional cricket players have settled here and are working to build the sport. I can see this happening, but crossing over from the population that already loves it to the much larger population that knows nothing about it will be the big challenge.

There is an obvious, if unstated, flaw in the let’s-do-what-soccer-did argument. Soccer is easy to understand for players and fans. Cricket, to a novice, is incomprehensible – a major barrier to attracting newcomers. Even for baseball fans who embrace their sport’s complexity, like those who delight in debating what is or is not a balk, keeping track of the silly point, fly slip, gully, square leg and deep forward mid-wicket positions on a cricket pitch may be a bridge too far.

The length of a cricket match is also an obstacle, though there is a version of the game that takes about two and a half hours, which is perfectly fan friendly. Picking up the basics of the game is another matter. I’ve encountered enough cricket to kind of get the idea, but I don’t understand it well enough to explain it to anyone else. Teaching people the hows and whys of cricket will be very necessary. I wish them all good luck.

Hockey for Houston (again)?

It could happen.

It’s early, the initial talks have only been exploratory and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have to worry about slipping on the hardwood any time soon. But I can tell you this: [Tilman] Fertitta and Co. are interested if the NHL can make its end of the bargain work. And if Houston finally gets its long delayed Big Four, it could happen much sooner than later.

“I’m very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” Fertitta said Thursday in a statement. “But it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the city, fans of the NHL throughout the region and the NHL Board of Governors. We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but look forward to a thorough process.”

That’s Fertitta. Straight shooter. No cookie-cutter filter.

Barely a month after he was officially introduced as the Rockets’ new owner – I’m still seeing stars from all the camera flashes – he’s met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and reiterated the obvious: Pro hockey could make serious sense in Houston.

Fertitta has discussed his potential interest in an NHL team since he officially became the Rockets owner, so this is no surprise. If you’re wondering whether this is an overly optimistic view, it’s one that is shared by actual hockey people.

Why doesn’t Seattle have an NHL franchise yet, and why is Houston probably going to get one?

Because one didn’t pass the Gary Bettman Test when it needed to, and the other very well might when it has to.

The Bettman Test has been applied to a dozen markets throughout his tenure as NHL commissioner. The first phase of the test is the most obvious one: Does the NHL plan to expand? Does the league have a need to relocate a struggling franchise to a more viable market?

Spoiler alert: Houston passes the Bettman Test with ease. That doesn’t mean we will get an NHL team, but if the opportunity arises, we will be at the front of the line. I went to some Aeros games in the 90s, and it was a lot of fun – hockey is a great sport to watch live, because the action is basically nonstop. But that was paying minor league prices in the old Compaq Center, not NHL prices at the Toyota Center. I’d have to see what kind of financial commitment it would require. How interested would you be to attend an Aeros 3.0 game?

Texans take a knee

Good for them.

On Sunday afternoon, before the Houston Texans faced off against the Seattle Seahawks in Washington, all but approximately 10 Texans took a knee during the national anthem.

This was a direct response to Texans owner Bob McNair after an ESPN report on Friday revealed that, during a meeting with other NFL owners, McNair said the league needed to put a stop to protests during the national anthem because, “We can’t have inmates running the prison.”

McNair’s comments were particularly jarring considering that the protests — which began at the start of the 2016 season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem — are a way to draw attention to police brutality and systemic racism, which the criminal justice system only exemplifies.

[…]

McNair issued two apologies, one on Friday and one on Saturday. He also reportedly spoke with the players directly on Saturday.

“As I said yesterday, I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week,” McNair said on Saturday in his second official apology regarding his comments. “I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.”

But an unnamed player on the Texans told Josina Anderson of ESPN that he did not accept McNair’s apology.

“I think as an owner and as a business man that is something you can’t really say,” the defensive player said. “My reaction is: that’s unacceptable and I don’t want to even hear an apology, or anything like that, because I feel like you knew what you said because you were in a room where you didn’t think it was going to leak out; so you said how you feel. So, that’s how I feel about it.”

You’ve probably seen coverage of this over the weekend, but you can refer to this ThinkProgress story, Deadspin, and the Chron for a refresher. If there’s one reason why I’ve never embraced the Texans, it’s Bob McNair. All I can say is I look forward to the day when he finally sells the team.

The Sports Authority at 20

A few stadia, a little mission creep. Where has the time gone?

As the Harris County Houston Sports Authority celebrated its 20th anniversary Monday night with a reception for current and former directors and board members, it moves into its third decade as a considerably different agency than the one that came into being in 1997.

While the city-county agency continues collecting and distributing the hotel-motel and rental car taxes that funded the billion-dollar construction cost of Minute Maid Park, NRG Stadium and Toyota Center, its more visible function these days is as a sports marketing arm that hopes to bring another NCAA Final Four, an MLB All-Star Game, the Pan American Games and other events to the city.

J. Kent Friedman, the board’s current chairman for more than a decade, jokes while that his predecessors – former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains and Houston developer Billy Burge – presided over an eventful construction boom from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, his role is considerably less glamorous.

“We’re like the folks with the broom walking behind the elephant,” Friedman said.

It’s a pithy quip for a time frame that involves less flying dirt but still confronts Friedman and executive director Janis Burke with significant decisions and negotiations as the authority hopes to squeeze more years out of three buildings that are, in terms of their initial lease agreements, middle-aged.

Basically, at this point the mission of this committee that was originally formed to get NRG Stadium (née Reliant Sstadium), Toyota Center, and Minute Maid (née Enron) Park built encompasses three things: Handling the bond finances for said stadia, negotiating lease extensions for the occupants of same, and trying to bring big sporting events to Houston. They’ve done a pretty good job with the latter, and I suppose if they didn’t exist some other organization would have to be formed to do that work. I hope they do at least as good a job with item #2, because I don’t want to think about what might happen in the event one of those venues is deemed uninhabitable by its tenant. So good luck with that.

(The story mentions in passing the litigation with HCHSA’s bond insurer, saying they are “three years removed” from it. The last story I saw was that an appeals court had reinstated the lawsuit, which had been previously dismissed. Doesn’t sound like a resolution to me, but I’m too lazy to google around and see if there are further updates.)

Tilman Fertitta buys the Rockets

Meet the new boss.

Houston billionaire Tillman Fertitta has reached an agreement to purchase the Houston Rockets from Leslie Alexander.

The $2.2 billion sale price to break the NBA record sale of $2 billion from when the Clippers were sold to Steve Ballmer, according to the person familiar with the terms of the deal.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said in a statement. “This is a life-long dream come true.

“Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion. Lastly, out of respect for the NBA’s approval process, I can say no more other than I am overwhelmed with emotion to have this opportunity in my beloved city of Houston.”

See here for the background. I have no deep opinion on Fertitta – Jeff Balke makes the case for optimism in the Press, if you’re interested – but at least he’s a local and so hopefully won’t have some back-of-the-brain urge to move the team somewhere else some day. Mostly, what I have to say is 1) Don’t screw it up Tilman, and 2) the last time the Rockets changed ownership, they won the next two NBA championships. I’m sure that pattern will repeat itself. Deadspin has more.

Houston part of bid for 2026 FIFA World Cup

Nice.

Houston and NRG Stadium are on an official list for cities and venues that may be considered to host a FIFA World Cup match if the event comes to North America in 2026.

The United Bid Committee of the United States, Mexico and Canada began its outreach for cities to declare interest to serve as a host city by sending Requests for Information to 44 cities throughout the continent.

The list is comprised of 49 stadiums in and around 44 cities that will be considered for inclusion in the official bid that will be sent to FIFA by March 16, 2018.

The list includes 37 stadiums in 34 U.S. cities. Other Texas stadiums are the Cotton Bowl, AT&T Stadium and the Alamodome.

[…]

After cities declare their interest, the UBC will review the submissions and will issue a short list of cities by late September. The UBC will then provide more detailed bid documentation to the cities and conduct meetings to discuss questions as candidate cities prepare their final bid, which is due in early January.

The UBC plans to include 20-25 venues in its final bid to FIFA.

See here for a list of potential host cities and stadia. Basically, for NRG to get one or more games, we would have to make the cut for the final bid, which looks like a strong bet at this time, and then the North America contingent would have to be awarded the event by FIFA; Morocco is the other bidder in competition. The 2026 Cup is the first one with the expanded 48-team field, so there will be more games to be played. FIFA will make its announcement around the time of the 2018 Cup.

The bathroom bill is a threat to Quidditch

How much more do you need to know?

It’s not quite time to get out the broomsticks in Round Rock. A national quidditch tournament headed to town next year has been put on hold while legislators consider the bathroom bill during their special session, said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan.

U.S. Quidditch recently told the city that it wasn’t going to sign a contract to come to Round Rock until it finds out what happens with the bathroom bill, Morgan said. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The city announced in early July that the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 would April 14-15, 2018, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.

[…]

If the city starts losing big tournaments because of the bathroom bill, Morgan said, it could have an effect on taxpayers who voted to allocate a half-cent of the sales tax for property tax relief.

“If events start leaving I think we will have to increase taxes or cut services if it becomes a big enough impact,” said Morgan.

Here’s the news story of the announcement that the 2018 Cup would be held in Round Rock, and here’s the US Quidditch webpage about it. Note that Wichita Falls will host the Southwest Regional Championship in partnership with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau on February 24-25, 2018, and also that Lubbock – specifically, the West Rec Grass and Turf Complex Fields at Texas Tech University – was the runnerup to Round Rock for the finals. (It was not mentioned in this story if the Wichita Falls event is also in peril, but one assumes so.) My daughters and I saw a Quidditch match at Rice a couple of years ago, with teams from colleges around the country. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as it is in the books and movies, but it’s got a following. And it’s in danger of being taken away by our ongoing potty wars. If you’re a Quidditch fan or a concerned Round Rock taxpayer, you should reach out to Rep. Larry Gonzales and Sen. Charles Schwertner and tell them not to kill off this event.

Hey lady, wanna referee a high school football game?

Texas could really use you.

The Houston chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials is somewhere between 50 and 200 officials short for the 2017 football season.

TASO Executive Director Michael Fitch has referred to the statewide shortfall of referees as ‘crisis-level,’ and the rapid expansion – particularly in Houston – of numerous districts and the opening of new schools has stretched an already-thin roster of officials even further.

The officiating organization, which staffs both UIL and TAPPS contests, needs bodies badly, and there is a very noticeable demographic that isn’t signing up to referee: women.

At a June 24 new-official training at the Campbell Center, only two of the 40 trainees (five percent) were women, which crew chief and trainer Eric Dumatrait said is about par for the course.

Comprising 51 percent of the general population, but just five percent of the TASO workforce, is a pretty startling discrepancy, if that number is accurate organizationally. There is no way to be sure, though, as TASO doesn’t track membership demographic information like gender or race, Fitch said by phone last week.

Fitch said that the primary concern – especially with the deadline to sign up as a new official looming – is getting more bodies in striped shirts, and equipping them to succeed once they’re in them. To that end, he would be delighted if more women signed up to officiate, and he said that, anecdotally, he actually has seen an uptick in interest among women since Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time referee in April of 2015.

“We just need more people,” Fitch said. “I’ve been officiating high school football since 1973, and even in the seventies, we had females who came in. There’s obviously more now, and the fact that we have a woman officiating in the NFL shines a light on that.”

Officiating for TASO is a fairly lucrative part-time job (Houston-area crew chief Don Martinez estimated that $2,500-$4,000 was a reasonable expectation for 10 weeks of diligent work), and, for someone who loves sports, offers the opportunity to be outside, to work with student-athletes, refine one’s knowledge of the game, etc.

While it’s certainly not for everyone – and Dumatrait, Fitch, Martinez and the rest acknowledge that explicitly – officiating is a relatively high-paying part-time gig with some unique perks.

Why aren’t more women signing up?

See here for the background. I’m going to take a wild guess at that question and suppose that it’s the same reason why more women don’t run for office: Because they need to be asked. I’m sure TASO is a supportive organization, and that the women who go through their training and get certified to work high school football games do just fine and generally consider it a positive experience. I’m just saying that if they want more women to join up, they need to actively recruit them rather than point out how excellent they are and hope for the best. Given that this is the second story we’ve seen in a bit more than a month about the critical shortage of people to officiate the games, you’d think they’d have more of a sense of urgency. Get on it, TASO.

Rockets for sale

The end of an era.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, among the longest-tenured owners in North American professional sports, has put the franchise up for sale, team president Tad Brown announced Monday in a stunning, hastily-called news conference after Alexander reached his decision.

Brown said Alexander, 73, has no health issues that led to the decision to sell the team nearly 24 years to the day after he purchased it for $85 million from Charlie Thomas. Brown said Alexander reached the decision that shocked the NBA, the organization and even those closest to him Monday morning.

“It’s something he’s been thinking about a little bit,” Brown said. “It can wear on you after so many decades. There are passions in his life now that are becoming more and more clear, his family and his philanthropic efforts.

“He made the decision. Once he makes up his mind, his mind is made up.”

Brown said there is no specific timetable for the sale of the team, but the NBA does have a list of prospective buyers that have shown interest in purchasing a team. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bid for the team in 1993, said he would be interested again. The price tag could run as high as the record $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers sold for three years ago.

Brown will oversee the effort to sell the team in consultation with the league. He said Alexander is committed to finding a buyer that will keep the team in Houston. It would be unlikely that any ownership group would seek to move the team to a considerably smaller market. The Rockets’ lease with Toyota Center runs through 2033.

Forbes in February placed a valuation on the franchise at $1.65 billion, though Brown said those valuations have typically been “very low” when teams have been sold. The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $850 million in 2015, the most recent sale of an NBA team.

Like most people, I am sorry to see Alexander go. Beyond the cachet he gets from being the owner for two championship teams – and though they are now long gone, he gets credit for four Houston Comets championships, too – he was just exactly the kind of owner a fan could want. He put the team first, he didn’t shy away from letting his GM make a big move, and he was a very good public citizen. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Rockets fan, and that’s something I can’t say about any other team I root for. Godspeed, Les Alexander. I can only hope your successor follows in your footsteps. NBA.com, ESPN, Yahoo, and the Press have more.

Texas needs more refs

Maybe you have what it takes to be one.

The Texas Association of Sports Officials has been around since the late 1970s. The organization has seen a decrease in its numbers in recent years. At the same time, more and more junior high and high schools have been built, creating more teams, more games and more problems.

“There just aren’t enough of us,” said Mike Atkinson, president of the TASO Houston chapter.

TASO is a nonprofit organization that trains and schedules officials in volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.

The group needs its numbers to increase. Across the state, there are 155 chapters and approximately 14,000 members in the organization.

The problem? The organization isn’t adding members and many of the members aren’t getting any younger. The group has more members over 60 years old than it does under 30.

The retention rate in the Houston area is about 30 percent, Atkinson said.

So for every 100 new officials who sign up, only about 30 will stay on.

And for every high school built, the group needs just under 30 new officials to be able to cover the increase in sporting events.

Right now, the numbers aren’t adding up. There are plenty of reasons for it.

[…]

The Houston area chapter is known as one of the state’s best. The group proved it by being asked to officiate more than 150 playoff games last season – more than the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin/San Antonio chapters.

Houston’s chapter would like to keep that going.

But it needs new officials.

The target this summer is 200, Atkinson said. The group could use more but could live with that. It would help with the increasing number of schools and the number of retiring officials.

The biggest benefit is obvious. Being an official lets you be a part of football in the state with the best football. Sorry, California and Florida.

Other benefits include exercise and extra money. The starting pay isn’t great. An official at a seventh-grade football game might make $50 plus a fee for mileage. But the top ones under the Friday night lights get a base of $65 plus a percentage of the gate.

And several move on to officiate college games after getting their start at the youth level.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, go here and fill out an application. You never know where it may lead you. I don’t know what TASO and its local affiliates have been doing to find more new officials, but I’d hope they see this as an opportunity to recruit and welcome more women into their ranks. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and TASO has an interest in broadening its base. It just makes sense.

Super Bowl economic impact was about what we expected

Not too bad.

The receipts are in, and February’s Super Bowl LI appears to have been a substantial boon for Houston — albeit with slightly less spending than expected.

Gross spending during the nine days of Super Bowl programming, minus the amount of usual tourism displaced by the event, came to $338 million, according to a consultant retained by the Host Committee. That’s a bit off the $372 million originally projected by the same firm, Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics.

The discrepancy occurred because the costs of goods and services were lower than expected, even though the number of out-of-town visitors was higher than anticipated, at 150,000, according to Rockport Analytics. In particular, visitors spent about half of what was expected on rental cars because of the availability of car-sharing service Uber and special Metro routes.

Host Committee Chairman Ric Campo, the CEO of apartment developer Camden Properties, said that should still be counted as a win for Houston, since it allowed more people to come to the party.

“One of the things that the Host Committee really worked hard on was affordability,” Campo said. “We didn’t want you to have to go to Discovery Green and spend $100 to feed your family.”

The total impact includes $228 million spent on wages and $39 million spent on state and local taxes. Although that number was about $6 million lower than projected, it was more than enough to pay back the state for the $25.4 million the state advanced the Host Committee, with $15 million in proceeds.

[…]

In addition to the financial impact, officials played up the the game’s halo effect for the city’s image, and the benefit of catching the interest of potential customers. Houston First President Mike Waterman said several of the 16 convention organizers he brought down to see the event have committed to bringing conventions to the city.

“We weekly get customers coming to Houston and saying they saw us shine during the Super Bowl, and now they’re interested in booking a meeting here,” Waterman said.

Let’s hope Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t ruin that by forcing a bathroom bill down our throats. The one economic impact estimate I saw before the Super Bowl pegged the haul at $350 million, so it was pretty darned close. I’m glad all these people came to visit, I’m glad they had a good time (and spent some money), and given that we’re preparing a bid for the 2024 Super Bowl, I hope they’ll want to come back. Assuming our leadership doesn’t take the good impression they went away with and turn it into trash.

Major League Rugby in Houston

Meet the Houston Strikers.

A group of rugby supporters are kicking around plans to build a rugby stadium in the area.

The ownership group behind the new Major League Rugby franchise the Houston Strikers is finalizing plans to develop a plot of land adjacent to the Houston Sports Park along TX-288 and south of Mowery Road. Now they’re sharing renderings of the $10 million rugby complex they’re looking to construct.

The Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash both practice at the complex which is ten miles south of downtown and just northwest of Pearland.

The Strikers would begin play in the city in 2018. The team would likely play in alternate parks as needed before their stadium is completed.

[…]

The group has started the lengthy permitting process necessary before construction can begin. The City of Houston is also on board and excited about a community outreach possibility with the neighboring areas starved for programs for kids. The two parties have signed a memorandum of understanding.

The new stadium would initially have room enough in bleachers for up to 5,000 fans, with plans for expansion to accommodate much more than that.

The Strikers are one of ten organizations around the country signed on to the Major League Rugby group. There are teams in Dallas and in Austin as well. Two more cities in other states are about to sign on, according to Turner.

Here are the Major League Rugby website and the Houston Strikers Facebook page. I confess, I’ve never seen a rugby game, and I’m pretty fuzzy on the rules. I might give it a try once the Strikers are in their new home. Any rugby fans out there? Swamplot has pictures, and This Is American Rugby has more.

Tom Brady’s jersey recovered

Our long national nightmare is finally over.

On Monday morning, the NFL and Houston’s police chief reported [Tom Brady’s Super Bowl] jersey was located and will be returned to the Patriots.

Investigators with the Houston Police Department’s Major Offenders Division traced the jersey to Mexico, Chief Art Acevedo tweeted Monday morning, adding that it was recovered with help from the FBI as well as Mexican authorities.

HPD says the Major Offenders Division is “responsible for the investigation of highly specialized and often unique types of criminal activity that fall outside the scope or expertise of other investigative divisions.”

The division has investigators who focus on specific crimes like fugitives, illegal dumping and animal cruelty. It also participated in the FBI’s interagency task forces, including one aimed at major thefts.

The 2017 jersey was found along with Brady’s jersey from the team’s 2015 Super Bowl victory “in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.

At a morning press conference at HPD headquarters, Acevedo said the suspect in the jersey theft “came to the wrong state. You don’t come to Texas when the eyes of the world are upon the state.”

Acevedo said the suspect had legitimate access to the event and was not a ticket holder.

Acevedo said the NFL’s private security was in control of the locker room from which the jersey went missing. He suggested they “check their protocols,” since the 2017 jersey was recovered along with a 2015 game jersey of Brady’s that was apparently also stolen.

He said while the Texas Rangers participated, it was Houston investigators who found an informant who pointed the investigation to Mexico.

Video footage helped investigators and likely will serve as evidence for criminal charges expected from the U.S. attorney’s office, the chief said.

Acevedo said the department devoted a “handful” of investigators from the Major Offenders Division to the case but told them not to “burn the midnight oil.”

“This was not the highest priority of the Houston Police Department,” Acevedo said several times, pointing to a fatal shooting here over the weekend as a more pressing issue.

However, he suggested this resolved the “only blemish” on Houston’s moment in the international spotlight as a Super Bowl host.

See here for the background. Clearly, HPD is so good they were even able to solve a crime no one had known about. Texas Monthly adds some more details.

Implicated in the heist is Mauricio Ortega, a former executive with Honduras newspaper Diario La Prensa, according to Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network. Ortega had press credentials that granted him access to the Patriots locker room, and—stunningly—the search for the jersey (conducted as a joint operation by the FBI, the Patriots’ security team, the Houston Police Department, and the NFL) turned up not just Brady’s Super Bowl 51 jersey, but also his Super Bowl 49 jersey, and a Denver Broncos helmet that may have belonged to a player in that team’s victorious appearance in Super Bowl 50.

Curiously, the existence of a stolen Super Bowl 49 jersey wasn’t much in the news despite claims that Brady brought it up in interviews following the theft (if he did, we haven’t seen them). It also raises questions about other jerseys worn by other players in the big game. It’s possible that Ortega, or whoever is ultimately found responsible for the theft, is just a massive Tom Brady fan who targets the quarterback exclusively. But it’s also possible that other players have lost their jerseys, helmets, or other memorabilia and simply not spoken up about it.

Who knew? Thanks to HPD for the good work, and please send the bill for any overtime used to NFL Security, which needs to step up its game. Deadspin, Pro Football Talk, Yahoo News, the Trib, and the Press have more.

More on Mack Beggs

I like this kid.

In the wake of winning a controversial Texas state girls’ wrestling title over the weekend, Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender wrestler, spoke to the need to “stay strong” while also calling on state policymakers to “change the laws and then watch me wrestle the boys.”

Beggs, who identifies as male, was dogged throughout the tournament by questions about whether his testosterone treatments made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls. In an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Wednesday, Beggs said he was unfazed by the boos that rained down on him en route to the 110-pound championship, which capped an undefeated season for the Euless Trinity junior.

“I just heard the boos, but I heard more cheering,” Beggs told OTL. “Honestly, I was like, ‘You know what? Boo all you want, because you’re just hating. You hating ain’t going to get me and you nowhere, and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve got to do.’

“That’s why I’ve always had that mentality. If you’re going to be negative, you know, whatever, that’s not going to faze me.”

Beggs, who says he has been taunted with slurs such as “f—-t” and “it,” cited the testosterone as a reason for the boos, as well as ignorance and a lack of understanding on the part of his critics.

“I mean, I’ve been winning before when I didn’t have testosterone, but now that, you know, I’m actually winning winning, people want to go crazy,” Beggs said. He added that some people “just automatically want to call me a cheater.”

“Like that kind of makes me feel like they don’t care about my training or the work that I put in,” he continued. “Because I’ve been to [state] twice. And it’s not like I’m just doing this because I want to like call myself a boy and just dominate all these girls. What do I get out of that? I don’t get anything out of that.”

Given the choice, Beggs said he would “definitely” want to wrestle boys, “because I’m a guy. It just makes more sense.”

See here for the background. Maybe someone should ask Dan Patrick why he wants to make Mack Beggs use the girls’ bathroom, as would be required under SB6. Of course, we know what a coward Patrick is, so there’s no chance he’d ever consent to speaking with Mack Beggs. But make no mistake, this is what Dan Patrick wants.

ThinkProgress adds an interesting wrinkle.

In Beggs’ home state of Texas, a bill that would ban transgender Texans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is being heard this week. Nationally, President Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance about trans rights, allowing states more flexibility in how much—or how little—they accommodate transgender students.

On Sunday, Beggs addressed Trump’s actions in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“You know, people thought he was going to be an LGBT activist,” Beggs told ESPN. “That backfired on them. It just [sets] trans rights 10 times backwards. We’re just going to come back 20 times harder.”

Trump’s actions are particularly personal for Beggs, not only because of his own identity as a transgender boy, but also because his mother, Angela McNew, voted for Trump.

McNew has been supportive of her son’s transition, and in the past couple of weeks, has reportedly begun to wonder if voting for Trump was the right thing to do.

“I think on this journey [Trump] probably should step outside the box and think about all of these children and all of these people, that if you really look at them and the journey they’re taking, would you really put them in their birth certificate?” McNew told OTL reporter Tisha Thompson. “And honestly, who is going to be going by the bathrooms and checking I.D.?”

Beggs grew up attending an evangelical Christian church, and has been struggling to reconcile his upbringing with his current reality. His mother has defended her son to people in the church, some of whom have said she should go to jail for child abuse because God doesn’t make mistakes.

McNew is insistent that God didn’t make a mistake with Beggs — in fact, she believes that Beggs is fulfilling his purpose right now, as he fights for transgender rights on a national stage.

Yes, Dear Leader Trump is definitely a foe for transgender people. I hope Ms. McNew comes to recognize that, and that Dan Patrick is bad news for her and her son as well.

Mack Beggs

I guarantee, we have never paid as much attention to the Texas high school wrestling championships as we did this past weekend.

If the fervor over Euless Trinity transgender wrestler Mack Beggs during the last week could be swelled into one match, it was the junior’s final one at the state wrestling championships on Saturday.

Beggs, who is transitioning from female to male but competing as a girl because of a University Interscholastic League rule, won gold in the Class 6A 110-pound bracket after a 12-2 major decision win over Morton Ranch’s Chelsea Sanchez on Saturday at the Berry Center.

It caps a perfect season for Beggs (56-0), who easily won his four matches this weekend. Beggs defeated Clear Springs’ Taylor Latham in the first round by major decision, 18-7, and Tascosa’s Mya Engert by major decision, 12-4, in the quarterfinals Friday.

His semifinal win came against Grand Prairie’s Kailyn Clay via pin earlier Saturday.

The controversy surrounding Beggs deals with the testosterone treatments part of his transition, with some believing it is an unfair advantage although it is allowed by the UIL because it is administered by a physician and for medical reasons. Beggs also has been denied the request to compete in the boys division because of a new UIL rule that states athletes must compete under the gender on their birth certificate.

Beggs competed in the previous two state tournaments but he become a national story after two opponents forfeited their match against him at regionals last week.

After Saturday’s events, Beggs gave a statement to the media, deferring attention to his teammates.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my teammates,” Beggs said. “That’s honestly what the spotlight should’ve been on is my teammates. The hard work that I put in the practice room with them beside me, we trained hard every single day. That’s where the spotlight should’ve been on. Not me. All these guys. Because I would not be here without them.”

ESPN, Reuters, and the Washington Post (mirrored at the Texas Tribune) were among those covering the event. Here’s an earlier story in the Chron with some more details.

Beggs, 17, a junior at Euless’ Trinity High School, is transitioning from female to male, and because his birth certificate designates him as female, he was required under Texas high school regulations to compete against girls at the state meet here Friday and Saturday.

It’s a rule that represents a sharp departure from anything on the national or international level, and it’s not likely to go away. And so, as a senior in 2018, Beggs – and any other transgender athlete – is likely to face questions again about why a boy is competing against girls.

“Given the overwhelming support for that (birth certificate) rule, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon,” said Jamey Harrison, the deputy executive director for the University Interscholastic League, which governs high school competitions in Texas.

“Those decisions are made by our elective body who makes our rules. Again, they spoke. … These were superintendents who are members of the UIL. Ninety-five percent of them voted for the rule as is.”

Texas is one of seven states that require high school students to provide a birth certificate, proof of gender-reassignment surgery or documentation of hormone therapy, according to TransAthlete.com.

League officials said the UIL “strives to provide fair and equitable competitions for all students.” Harrison said the UIL is “following both what our legislative council wants to follow and certainly what the overwhelming majority of our school membership wants to follow.”

Harrison, while not mentioning Beggs by name, said Saturday night that the UIL stands by its birth certificate rule. However, he said the agency hopes to obtain legislative support that would allow it more leeway to police student-athletes who are using performance-enhancing drugs under a doctor’s care.

“The real issue here is the use of performance enhancing drugs,” Harrison said. “The UIL does not have the authority to tell a student they are ineligible if they are using a performance-enhancing drug under the supervision of a doctor, as written in state law. We look forward to working with lawmakers to fix that law.”

Harrison said he hopes the Legislature will help the UIL reach a better description of what constitutes a “valid medical reason” to use banned substances.

“Something that would be a little more proscriptive in what that means is something that I think that lawmakers will review, and we will be happy to work with lawmakers,” he said. “This is not about our birth certificate rule. This is about performance enhancing drug use.”

Others outside the UIL disagree, however. North Texas attorney and wrestling parent Jim Baudhuin earlier this month filed suit against the UIL, saying that the rule is nonsensical and that Beggs should be allowed to compete against boys.

“The NCAA has shown what should be done,” Baudhuin said. “The NCAA’s policy is that if you are transitioning from woman to man, once you take those injections, you close the door on competing against women and can compete against men. I think that is eminently fair.”

Similarly to the NCAA rule, which was enacted in 2011, the International Olympic Committee last year said that transgender athletes who are transitioning from female to male could compete in men’s events without restrictions.

The UIL is wrong about this. Mack Beggs and the girls he has to compete against are not being well served by the birth certificate requirement. Mack Beggs is a boy. He was not born one, but he is one now. Not recognizing that and not accommodating that serves no one well. It’s way past time the UIL understood that.

The Super Bowl economic impact calculators have figured out it’s all a game

They’ve adjusted their methods in anticipation of your criticisms.

With less than a month to go before the big day, let no one say that Super Bowl LI — as an economic event, not a football game — has been inadequately forecast.

We’ve already seen two studies on the financial boost that the two-week extravaganza is expected to provide to the Houston area: One from a consulting firm hired to figure out how much hospitality tax revenue the state should provide in advance, and another from a local bank. They ranged pretty widely in their predictions and definitions, making it difficult to know what benefits to expect.

Now comes another study from the Host Committee, this one designed to capture the new money that will flow to Houston as a result of the game and all the programming around it. The headline: The city will net $350 million from the whole affair, which appears to be in the middle of the range of windfalls from Super Bowls past.

Aware of the skepticism surrounding previous in-house analyses, the consulting firm that performed it — Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics — emphasizes that it doesn’t count anything that shouldn’t be counted. “One of the reasons why we tend to be hired by events like this is that we produce conservative estimates,” says managing director Kenneth McGill.

As such, the firm took the overall expected amount of Super Bowl spending — based on a budget provided by the Host Committee and data from past Super Bowls — and subtracted out both the typical amount of tourism the city sees during this time of year and the spending that’s likely to leak out to other states and cities. It included the amount the city would be spending on the event, about $5.5 million, as a net gain; city officials have said the Host Committee will reimburse all of those costs.

That got them down from from $450 million to the ultimate $350 million, which is slightly more than the $338 million that Rockport is forecasting for next year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis — a number that has already come under fire from independent sports finance experts — and the $277.9 million it determined that Indianapolis reaped from hosting the event in 2012.

I don’t really have a point to make, I’m just always entertained by these economic impact estimates. It would be nice if we were systematic about comparing the post-event data to the pre-event projections, so that we could make better projections in the future, but we don’t, and I’m not even sure we could. So take these as I do as mostly for entertainment value, and it’s all good.

Time once again to talk about the Super Bowl and its economic impact

We’re less than 100 days out from Super Bowl LI here in Houston. I don’t know how much people who are not directly involved in the planning and execution of it are thinking about that.

The economic benefits of hosting a Super Bowl and other major events have long been a matter of debate, however. Houston’s host committee has yet to release its impact analysis, but these reports typically estimate that Super Bowls generate economic activity in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Academics who study such events generally find the added activity, with all the costs taken into account, is much smaller.

“I can’t tell you whether there will be a zero net impact or a modest positive one,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College who has long studied the sports industry, “but it’s not going to be large.”

Houston, though, may be better prepared to benefit from the Super Bowl than other cities, for several reasons. First, there isn’t much winter tourism in Houston to displace, as in other Super Bowl cities such as New Orleans and Miami, so the net gain here is much greater. Second, Houston’s hospitality industry needs the business, with new hotels built during the shale boom struggling with lower-than-expected occupancy rates as business travel declined.

Third – and perhaps most important – the city really could use a period of prolonged exposure to show business leaders and the millions watching at home that it’s not just a stodgy oil town like it was in the early 2000s.

[…]

The accounting firm PwC has estimated the economic impact of the Super Bowl since 2003, pegging the game’s value to Houston in 2004 at about $130 million in direct spending. It estimated that the last Super Bowl, number 50, was worth $220 million to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cities have gotten better at making the most of Super Bowl week, said Adam Jones, a PwC analyst. By planning events within a relatively small radius so visitors spend more time on experiences than getting to them, cities can capture greater returns.

Houston has done that, with NFL Live at Discovery Green — a 10-day music and food-filled festival open to the public — only a few minutes from NRG Stadium via light rail or taxi. Additional bus and shuttle lines will be available should guests want to venture to the Galleria as well.

“What we’ve seen within the past five years is communities going out, learning what has worked, what hasn’t worked in cities that preceded them,” Jones said. “We continue to see year over year improvement in the model.”

University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer looked at additional tax revenues generated during the 2004 Super Bowl, about $5 million, and estimated the 2017 edition would bring in an extra $6.6 million in sales taxes for the city plus another $2.2 million in hotel occupancy taxes and $6.8 million for Metro.

Longer-term benefits are harder to measure. The city’s tourism promotion arm, HoustonFirst, said it was able to go after bigger conventions when the Hilton Americas was completed in 2004. That added 1,200 rooms directly connected to the convention center, and the Marriott Marquis will have a similar effect. The city booked a record number of room nights for future conventions in 2015 and expects to break the record again this year, according to HoustonFirst.

We’ve discussed this a few times before. I’m sure that the economic benefit of hosting a Super Bowl is generally overstated, but I do think there is a benefit, and I do think it’s possible that cities have learned from past experiences and academic study to maximize the benefit that is available to them. As the story notes, Houston doesn’t have much tourism trade to displace, but we do have an extensive food-and-drink sector of our economy that will surely enjoy having all these out-of-towners around. The spending that has been done on infrastructure is spending that needed to be done, and which will be a public good long after the Super Bowl people have gone home. In the end, someone will put out a number, and we can make of that what we will. Whatever that number is, I expect the city of Houston will look back on this experience and decide that it was worth it.

Big XII declines to expand

Sorry, UH.

The University of Houston’s campaign to join the Big 12 Conference was crushed Monday by the league’s presidents, who ruled out expansion without discussing the merits of any individual applicants, including the confident, fast-rising Cougars.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, president of the league’s board of directors, said league CEOs decided unanimously against expansion and agreed to remove the topic as an active agenda item.

They said individual candidates, including UH and Rice University among 11 finalists, were never discussed during meetings Sunday night and a six-hour session Monday.

“We all came to a unanimous decision that this was not the right time (for expansion),” Boren said. “All the information generated was not wasted effort. They (candidate schools) presented themselves in a very fine light, and we appreciate them.”

Those compliments, however, came as cold comfort to schools such as UH that have invested tens of millions of dollars in facility upgrades and coaching salaries in the hopes of joining one of the “Power Five” conferences that hold the financial upper hand in the billion-dollar college sports industry.

So while UH stands among the nation’s elite on the field, ranked No. 11 in the most recent Associated Press football poll and the defending football champion in the American Athletic Conference, it remains on the outside looking in when it comes to the millions in financial spoils that fall to established leagues like the Big 12.

Here’s the official press release about the non-announcement. The Big XII last invited new members in 2011 when TCU and West Virginia joined. UH had been angling for an invitation back then – they’ve been at this for longer than that – but wound up going to the conference formerly known as the Big East instead. I’m not a UH partisan so I don’t have an emotional investment in this; I find the whole neverending game of musical conferences to be amusing and enervating at the same time. It may be that this is a wise decision for the Big XII and it may be that they’re putting short-term and self-interested considerations ahead of their long-term viability. Who knows? The one thing I’m sure of is that this settles nothing. We’ll be back on this rollercoaster before you know it. SB Nation, the Press, and the DMN’s SportsDay have more.

“The only game in college sports history whose the final outcome was decided after the game”

If you follow sports, you have probably heard about this:

In one of the more improbable finishes to a football game, Central Michigan wide receiver Corey Willis grabbed a lateral from fellow receiver Jesse Kroll at the 12-yard line after a Hail Mary and raced into the end zone with no time remaining to stun No. 22 Oklahoma State 30-27 on Saturday.

It never should have happened.

Mid-American Conference referee Tim O’Dey — as well as the MAC and the Big-12 conferences — acknowledged after the game that Central Michigan was wrongly awarded an untimed down, which resulted in the miraculous Hail-and-lateral finish.

“I’m going to leave that alone. We had a play, we executed, end of story,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego told ESPN. “I’ll leave it for everybody else to discuss.”

With four seconds remaining, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw an incomplete pass to the left sideline to run the final seconds off the clock for what seemed to be a 27-24 victory for the Cowboys (1-1). However, no receivers ran a route, thus resulting in an intentional grounding penalty on fourth down.

[…]

Since intentional grounding is a foul that includes loss of down, that meant Oklahoma State turned the ball over on downs.

“There’s a rule that says that the game cannot end on an accepted live ball foul. That’s the rule. There’s an exception to the rule that says if enforcement of the foul involves a loss of down, then that brings the game to an end,” O’Dey told a pool reporter.

“So in that situation, we’ve had the opportunity to run it back through our hierarchy, which includes the national rules editor, and he confirmed that should have been a loss of down and the end of the game at that point, so that extension should not have happened.”

The rule in question is Rule 3, Section 2, Article 3.1 in the NCAA football rule book: “A period shall be extended for an untimed down if … a penalty is accepted for a live-ball foul(s). (Exception: Rule 10-2-5-a). The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down.”

The Mid-American Conference issued a statement that the officiating crew was in the wrong, but the result of the game would stand.

“The Mid-American Conference officiating crew … made an error on the final play of regulation,” Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officials for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium, said in a statement. “The crew made a misapplication of the rule and should not have extended the contest with one final play. Despite the error, this will not change the outcome of the contest.”

MAC officials weren’t the only ones in the wrong. According to the Big 12, Coordinator of Football Officials Walt Anderson said “the Big 12 replay crew missed an opportunity to stop the game to inform the MAC officiating crew of the misapplication of the intentional grounding penalty as time expired.”

According to the Big 12, NCAA rules permit instant replay to “correct egregious errors, including those involving the game clock.”

None of those explanations mattered to Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder, who issued a statement saying it’s “incomprehensible” that the outcome can’t be reversed.

“We were told there is nothing that could be done,” Hoder said. “… The final score shows that Oklahoma State lost the game but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it.”

All of the officials involved have been suspended as a result of the screwup, which seems reasonable. I question that assertion that there is nothing that can be done about the outcome of the game. College football historians will note that there is a precedent for this, from way back in 1940. Here’s a WBUR story from last year, the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Fifth Down Game”, between Dartmouth and unbeaten and #2-ranked Cornell:

According to the informal historian of Dartmouth sports, Jack DeGange, Dartmouth’s opponent on Nov. 16, 1940, had a lot to lose.

“Cornell was on an 18-game unbeaten streak,” he said. “They were nationally ranked. They were clearly the dominant team in the Ivy League. And at that point, Dartmouth, by contrast, was 3-4 coming into the game. But there was a lot on the line, especially for Cornell.”

It was a low scoring affair, and Dartmouth took a 3-0 lead into the closing seconds of the game. The tension must have been terrific, and maybe it was that tension that effected one of the officials, Red Friesell.

Anyway, Cornell had the ball deep in Dartmouth’s territory. After a couple of unsuccessful running plays inside the Dartmouth 10 yard line, it looked as if Cornell might need all four tries to score.

And then they did score a touchdown on a pass play. But it was only after Red Friesell had inadvertently given them…a fifth down.

“And he says, ‘I think I may have made a terrible mistake,'” DeGange recalled.

“This is the official, who admits this in the car on his way to the train!” I said.

“Well, yeah,” DeGange said, “but they hadn’t looked at the film on both teams, which, over the next 24 hours is what happened. They looked at the film and concluded that, in fact, Cornell got the fifth down.”

Once everyone agreed this is what had happened, Cornell made the unprecedented and since-unrepeated offer to concede the game to Dartmouth, which was accepted. The game went into the books as a 3-0 win for Dartmouth. I read about this as a kid in the book Strange But True Football Stories, which is a bargain at many times the price listed at that Amazon link. What I didn’t know and only learned as I googled around for this post, is that Cornell didn’t actually expect Dartmouth to accept their offer:

It would go down as perhaps the greatest act of sportsmanship in college football history, but Lou Conti and his Cornell teammates wanted no part of it.

Cornell President Edmund Ezra Day, declaring the outcome to be “tarnished,” sent a telegram to Dartmouth, offering to forfeit the victory to the Indians.

“I remember he was a Dartmouth man,” Conti says of Day, a Dartmouth graduate, “and his classic remark was, ‘You can offer them the game, but they won’t accept it.’

“We didn’t believe that. I didn’t believe that. Nobody believed that they would not accept the game.”

And they were right.

Dartmouth accepted.

“Our coach and athletic director told us, ‘As the years go by, this will resonate as a fine example of sportsmanship’ — and they were 100% right,” Conti, 91, says during an interview at his home outside Chicago. “But if I had been a grown person with some authority, I never would have offered to give the game away.”

In that case, of course, it would have been long forgotten.

“Winning evaporates in time,” Conti’s 92-year-old former teammate, Bud Finneran, says from his home in Bensenville, Ill. “But something like this goes on forever.”

Indeed, Cornell’s selfless act was celebrated far and wide, its implications reverberating through the decades.

Sportsmanship, wrote the New York Herald Tribune in the immediate aftermath, “remains in its true form so seldom these days that when it can be truly applied, as it can to Cornell University … there seems again to be hope in the world.”

Wrote the New York Times, in a similar editorial praising the Big Red’s offer: “If we were Cornell, we wouldn’t trade that telegram for all the team’s victories in the past two years.”

Years later, commentator and longtime college football observer Beano Cook would rank Cornell’s magnanimous gesture as the No. 2 moment in the sport’s long and storied history — behind only Knute Rockne’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech.

“I’ll be darned,” Conti says.

That was from 2010 and the 70th anniversary of the game. I’m delighted there were still a couple of players from the game around to talk about it. Some of you may recall that there was another Fifth Down game in the much more recent year of 1990, in which Colorado was the beneficiary and Missouri the victim. Colorado and its coach, Bill McCartney, who went on to be a founder of the Christian conservative group Promise Keepers, declined to consider the possibility of mimicking Cornell. I never cared for Bill McCartney, who did eventually regret his decision, and this did nothing to change that.

Anyway. It sucks to be Oklahoma State right now, and this loss is going to sting even if the playoff committee takes the circumstances of the loss into account. But don’t say there’s nothing that can be done. There is, and there’s precedent for it, even if it only ever happened once.