Ray Ratto

New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic


New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic

New Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval spent a good two hours Thursday being as broadly informative and detail-vague as possible about the new stadium he has been tasked with building, which is probably the best way for him to proceed, given the following facts:

1. His boss, John Fisher, is in a hurry to get something done on a stadium as part of a broader culture shift for a team that has best been known for Moneyball and Revenue Checks.

2. He replaces both Lew Wolff and Mike Crowley as the second most powerful person in the organization because of his experience getting Avaya Stadium built for the Earthquakes.

3. His hurry to put shovel into dirt is being pressed at one side by Fisher and Major League Baseball, which is considering modifications or even eradication of the revenue sharing structure that the A’s have lived on for years now, and delayed on the other by the Oakland Raiders and the National Football League, which has its own multi-million-dollar trout to flambé.

But opportunity knocks when it knocks, and Kaval didn’t hesitate when Fisher asked him to find a way out of the elaborate trap that is the A’s. He got a small chunk of equity, a raise in salary and a challenge that has left dozens of others on the roadside in ruins.

And while he offered neither a location, a timeline, a deadline, a budget or really anything much beyond repeated talking points about “involving the community” and “studying multiple sites,” he left much to digest, starting with how he became the new Wolff.

Specifically, he built Avaya, the soccer stadium attached to North America’s largest outdoor bar, thus melding two of the planet’s most popular pastimes -- soccer and throwing up outdoors.

The move by Fisher reinforces the notion most recently advanced by his visit to the Howard Terminal site that he is losing patience with the A’s wait-for-an-opening strategy put forth by Wolff. If MLB wants resolution and is willing to cut off access to the revenue sharing cow, the reason why waiting makes sense is gone, and the need to act is nigh.

It also is an acknowledgement that the Raiders’ situation has festered too long for his taste. He thought the Raiders would be in Los Angeles by now with the San Diego Chargers. He thought Mark Davis’ flirtations with San Antonio might result in something. Now he is stuck waiting for a resolution in Davis’ attempt to move to Las Vegas, and either sees an opportunity to cozy in a meaningful and legally binding way with the twin political thickets of Oakland and Alameda County to get what he wants now.

In addition, Fisher knows that roughly half of the A’s day-to-day support has eroded since bought the team from Steve Schott nearly 12 years ago, and needs an infusion of excitement to replace the build-for-the-future mantra that has produced more build-for-the-future mantras.

Being a real estate man, he believes real estate can do that for him, and at least in the short term, there is little evidence to suggest that he is wrong. Whether cities should bear the brunt of those dreams is another debate, but Fisher has clearly decided he can no longer idle about waiting for the perfect confluence of outside events to dictate to him.

Thus, Dave Kaval, 40 years younger than Wolff, most publicly confortable than Crowley (and definitely more so than the hologrammatic suggestion that is Fisher), is now the man charted with extricating the Athletics from their self-imposed stasis. Whether or not he can manage this trick of the light remains to be seen, but time is a’wastin,’ both on his task and the time he can spend not explaining them.

One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament


One useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend in NCAA Tournament

College basketball peaked last week, as it typically does. There were 52 games, many of them hilariously delightful, only a few of them viewing slogs, and the sturdiest pillars of the narrative temple as it relates to the remaining 16 teams are:

* A 98-year-old nun who also functions as an unpaid assistant coach.

* A head coach who curses on air, gets soaking wet after wins and confesses that he worries about peeing himself on the sideline.

* A new version of the old debate about whether your view of Syracuse’s zone defense defines you as a basketball fan.

* Your dead bracket.

The nun, the glorious Sister Jean of Loyola Chicago, is new, and so is Eric Musselman (except in northern California, where he’s had pretty much every available pro job). But Jim Boeheim’s murderous zone defense, which he has employed since the Hoover administration, remains the litmus test about how you like your college basketball served.

Think of it as your AARP ID, if you must. It’s old-fashioned, it isn’t easy to watch, but it works.

And all the fun of a bracket that has more teams below the 4-seed than at or above it . . . well, Week Two is when most of that traditionally self-corrects. Even this year, there is the very real possibility that the gutty little underdog in San Antonio could be . . .

. . . wait for it . . .


And no, this is not the proof that the selection committee got it wrong. Not that they got it right – they’re pretty much not qualified based on work experience to do the job anyway, and their ability to ignore logical criteria at will to get a desired team or result is a long-standing tradition of this three-week bacchanal.

But if there is a useful takeaway from this seeming madhouse of a weekend, it is that it is not yet a sign that the revolution is underway or that the meek are inheriting the earth. If you ignore the seed math and look at the names next to the seeds, you still see the same basketball powers. In other words, the bracket will normalize as it always does, the power in the sport is never far away from the seat of that power, and those of you who root for the meek – well, your hope that charm can beat muscle rests on Eric Musselman and Sister Jean.

And the NCAA Tournament is not the vehicle to bet that prop.


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference

If you’re a progressive thinker, the only thing that can save the Pacific 12 Conference from the grossest form of humiliation is for one of the six schools it sent to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament – Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State – to make a deep run. In Stanford’s case, to become the first four-seed to win a title.

If you’re a more desperate type, it is to hope that Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington wins the NIT. Nobody will know it, but we did say “desperate.” And if you need to get to Utah in the Women’s NIT . . .

Well, you get the point. The Pac 12 is the first conference to bow out of the NCAA Tournament before the first weekend since the Big 12 was first formed in 1996-7. And because nobody remembers this sort of stuff year to year, it wipes out last year, when the conference went 9-4 and sent Oregon to the Final Four.

And when we say “sent,” we mean no such thing. In the NCAA Tournament, and in college sports in general, teams achieve. Conferences just get their cut.

Still, as the college sports industry is still covered based on the rules of tribalism, where the keeping of scores breaks down by laundry first and then by affiliation, the Pac-12 has been historically God-awful, which for things referencing the deity is a considerable stretch. Not only did they send only three teams to the NCAA Tournament and saw them evaporate before Friday dawned, they were 1-8 in bowl games, the worst record of any major conference since forever.

Plus, there’s the FBI, plus there’s the ongoing sense that the Pac-12 is the last of the Power 5 and getting worse, plus there’s the fact that it isn’t in the Southeast or Midwest, where this stuff really matters.

But we noticed it on Thursday because people kept bringing it up, especially after Arizona was owned by Buffalo despite having the putative top draft pick in DeAndre Ayton and specifically because a Sean Miller-coached team was so poor defensively.

And now comes the fun of watching the 12 conference university presidents panic as the other presidents make fun of them in the mahogany playground in which they all play. And don’t think that doesn’t happen. College sports is a big business played by kids for the financial benefit of older kids who keep score on things like this.

So the women start Saturday, and in a just and fair society that would get sufficient attention and play enough games to make the conference members feel better about themselves. We don’t have that society yet, so for the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference, and won’t get a chance to prove otherwise until December.

But hey, at least their task force on the structural future of college basketball was received . . . well, with a tepidness unknown to mankind. So yeah, they're on a hell of a roll.