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Alexander: How rapidly the sports seasons change these days

The world according to Jim:

• It wasn’t that long ago that we measured the gap between the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and pitchers and catchers’ reporting dates in weeks. Now it’s days – and if you want to be precise, hours.

The Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up their second Super Bowl championship in four seasons Sunday. On Monday morning, players scheduled to participate in this year’s World Baseball Classic were in their camps in Arizona and Florida, with the rest of the pitchers and catchers in camp by Wednesday as well as other early arrivals.

Unfortunately, as we learned Friday, that WBC contingent will not include Clayton Kershaw.

• But this is yet another example of sports’ version of information overload, the choice fans must make to either multi-task and devour everything about everything or devote themselves to one team and one sport and ignore the rest. If you fall into either of these categories, feel free to let me know via email or social media. …

• Oh, and the latest incarnation of the XFL returns this weekend, with the second season of USFL II (or is it USFL III) following shortly. And again we must note: If there really was such a craving for out-of-season football, wouldn’t one of these springtime leagues actually have stayed around for a while? …

• With word that the parent company of the Bally Sports channels missed required payments this week and appears headed toward bankruptcy, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suggested earlier this week that MLB itself could step in to produce and distribute game broadcasts of the 14 teams, including the Angels and Padres, who have contracts with the regional sports networks that were formerly under the Fox Sports brand.

Manfred even suggested that a dissolution of the Bally networks could ultimately lead to a revision of the MLB.TV blackout policies preventing fans from being able to stream the games of teams within their market, since without those RSNs around there’s no longer a reason to protect them.  And so we ask why it took something this drastic – or should we spell it dra$tic – to make a change that should have been made for the benefit of the fans years ago? …

• The Dodgers, who had carriage issues for so long with their own in-house network, are comfortably unaffected by the Bally problems. So are the Lakers, with their network. But how these events affect the Kings, Ducks and Clippers – three of the 32 NBA, NHL and WNBA clubs also tied to Bally – remains to be seen, although the Clippers have their own streaming service.

• The Clippers’ remaining 21 regular-season games also include five ESPN telecasts, two on TNT, two on KTLA/Channel 5 and one on NBA TV. Friday night’s Ducks-Kings game from Anaheim was scheduled for ESPN, and after that the Kings have one ESPN game and one Channel 13 game among their final 26, while the Ducks have three TNT games and two ESPN+ games among their final 26. …

• So, with the task of finding your favorite team’s games on TV or via video stream potentially becoming even harder, maybe it makes even more sense to specialize as a fan, focusing on one sport or one team. …

• Then again, it could be worse. You could be an MLS fan, have an existing subscription to Apple TV+ – and still have to purchase that platform’s MLS Season Pass to watch all of your team’s games. …

• I will repeat what I’ve written over the years: Leagues and teams should be concerned with making their product accessible and growing their fan bases. Instead, blinded by the lure of rights fees, they’ve become gatekeepers for TV networks and streaming services.

So when the dollars dry up, where are they, exactly? …

• At least we know the men’s version of March Madness will be shown on CBS, Turner Broadcasting and TruTV (though I still can’t find the latter without searching). And while there are still two regular-season weekends and the conference tournament week after this one, I can’t help but think UCLA is in a better position to hang a banner than at any time in the last 28 seasons.

The Bruins have talent and tournament experience, and assuming they continue at this pace they should have at least a convenient path to Houston and the Final Four, through Sacramento and Las Vegas. Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology on ESPN.com as of Friday afternoon listed the Bruins as a No. 2 seed in the West, and they’re No. 4 in the NCAA’s NET metric. …

•The Bruins’ major obstacle from a seeding standpoint is a 4-4 mark against Quad 1 opponents, with the losses in pairs: two to Illinois and Baylor in Las Vegas in December, and back-to-back road losses to Arizona and USC in January. The problem is that they have fewer chances to improve that mark in a Pac-12 with five teams, including themselves, in the NET Top 75 compared to (cough) the Big Ten with its 12 in the Top 75, or the Big 12 with 10. …

• Only UCLA and Arizona are in Lunardi’s projected brackets as of Friday, and that brought an expected reaction from an expected source, ESPN colleague Bill Walton, who responded: “Joe Lunardi is a troll who has no respect or consideration for the Conference of Champions.”

Bill Walton::

“Joe Lunardi is a troll who has no respect or consideration for the Conference of Champions.”

— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) February 17, 2023

Walton made the comment while working the Utah-Arizona game on the Pac-12 Network. This could be considered news … except it seems to be a long-running bit. Walton has even used the “troll” description before, in 2020 and on ESPN’s air no less. Consider it some WWE-style kayfabe to liven things up as the regular season winds down.

Hey, it’s the dog days – or, at least, it used to be.

jalexander@scng.com 

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