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Report: NHL Seattle expansion team names Ron Francis their General Manager

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USATI

Report: NHL Seattle expansion team names Ron Francis their General Manager

According to a report from the Seattle Times, the new NHL Seattle team has named their General Manager: Ron Francis.

Francis played in the NHL for an impressive 22 years and was most recently the GM for the Carolina Hurricanes. You can read more about his departure from Carolina, here.

This will be the first of many moves for the new expansion team as they begin to build out their new franchise.

You can get more about the Francis hire from the Seattle Times

On this day in history -- June 3, 2000: Portland Fire beat Seattle Storm, 65-58

On this day in history -- June 3, 2000: Portland Fire beat Seattle Storm, 65-58

After the Women’s National Basketball Association was founded on April 22, 1996, and play began the summer of 1997, the league expanded four years later.  

In 2000, the WNBA welcomed the Indiana Fever, the Miami Sol, the Seattle Storm and the Portland Fire.

The Fire joined the league as the counterpart to the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the Portland Fire’s second game of their inaugural season, the Fire defeated the Seattle Storm on the road.

It’s hard to believe that the Fire’s first season was 20 years ago and after falling to Houston at home, 93-89 on May 31, the game in Seattle was Portland’s very first WNBA victory.

In that year’s draft, Portland selected four players:

  • No. 7   pick Lynn Pride (G/F) out of Kansas
  • No. 23 pick Stacey Thomas (F) out of Michigan
  • No. 39 pick Maxann Reese (G) out of Michigan State
  • No. 55 pick Rhonda L Smith (C) out of Long Beach State

The Fire also picked up Alisa Burras (F), Sonja Henning (G), Tari Phillips (C), Coquese Washington (G), Molly Goodenbour, and Jamila Wideman (G).

In the June 3 victory over the Storm, it was starting forward Sylvia Crawley who led the way for Portland. Crawley finished with 18 points on an efficient 7-of-10 from the floor to go along with six rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks. Fire starting guard Sophia Witherspoon added 11 points, while guard Tara Williams notched 10 points off the bench.

Portland went 2-1 against the Storm that season, as the Fire finished the year, 10-22, just ahead of the last place finishers in the Western Conference -- the Seattle Storm who held a 6-26 record.

Now that twenty years has passed since the Portland Fire’s first victory in the Women’s National Basketball League and after playing a total of three seasons before the team folded, we are taking a look back at what happened to the Portland Fire.

That's right! We’re excited to announce that on Tuesday, June 23, we will be releasing part one of a three-part mini documentary series on the WNBA’s Portland Fire.

June 23 is also a significant date to the organization. On that day in 2000, Portland won its first game at home in front of the enthusiastic Rose Garden crowd, beating the Storm, 72-61.

Hear from Fire head coach Linda Hargrove, former WNBA President Val Ackerman, standout players Jackie Stiles and Tully Bevilaqua, along with many other women who worked for the team in NBC Sports Northwest’s special on the Portland Fire.

I never told people this because they would think I was crazy, but internally I wanted to be the best that ever played the game... That’s why probably my body broke down because I was like ‘other people take days off, I’m not gonna take a day off.’ -- Former Portland Fire guard and the 2001 WNBA’s Rookie of the Year recipient Jackie Stiles

Part 1 of “What happened to the Portland Fire?” drops June 23 on our website and will air on NBC Sports Northwest’s 'The Bridge' on June 24. 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces return to play plan

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces return to play plan

Hockey is ready to make its return!

The National Hockey League announced on Tuesday that the league will resume play.

The NHL Players Association approved the 24-team playoff plan in a vote last Thursday.

The NHL is returning to play with a 24-team playoff format after deciding to cancel the rest of the regular season and head straight to postseason play with 24 teams grouped in two hub cities.

Each conference is assigned to a hub city. Playoff determination is ranked by points percentage.

The top four teams in each conference will play in a round robin for seeding with regular season OT/shoot out rules that apply. 

The remaining eight teams in each conference will play in a best of five qualifying tournament. 

The first and second round will be a best of five or best of seven series. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be a best of seven series. 

Current hub cities under consideration by the NHL include: 

  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus, OH
  • Dallas, TX
  • Edmonton, AB
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Toronto, ON
  • Vancouver, BC

Here are a few more details regarding the resumption of play:

Phase 2-- Early June: Clubs can return to home facilities for voluntary and small groups workouts both on and off the ice

Phase 3-- Formal training camp, no earlier than July 1, likely mid-month

Phase 4: Clubs will report to hub cities. A date is not set. 

Each team will be limited to 50 personnel in Hub City, small numbers of support staff permitted in event areas. There will be comprehensive testing conducted to ensure safety. 

The 2019-20 season was suspended on March 12, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Games were postponed at that time, but no games were ever canceled. The league has been working diligently to come up with a solution to get back on the ice and now they have found one.

When the 2019-20 NHL season was put on hold, the 31 teams had played a range from 68-71 games of the 82 regular season games.

When we decide it's time to play, we've got to get everybody back and be comfortable that not only are we not only infecting the population of players, but that we're not bringing the coronavirus from other places into jurisdictions where the players and other personnel are going. -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told FOX Business Network on April 15th

Even back in April, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had been exploring the possibility of neutral sites for games.  

In that same interview, Bettman mentioned that he realizes players will need 2-3 weeks to get back into game shape.

With the NHL’s announcement Tuesday, this could be a major domino effect on the rest of the professional sports leagues.

It’s really hard to imagine that once one professional sports league returns to action, the other leagues won’t follow. Plus, from the sounds of it, the NBA has been getting closer and closer to a resolution.

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, there were reports that surfaced stating the NBA is in talks with Disney about playing out the remainder of the season at its ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing. Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place. -- NBA spokesman Mike Bass on negotiations with Disney

As for Major League Baseball, the league has been working on a plan for the past few months to begin play in a safe manner, but pay has become a big factor as well.

Last Thursday, the Players Association responded to MLB’s Health and Safety Proposal.

The New York Post's Joel Sherman shared some of those details:

The MLBPA's response comes as the union is in a stalemate with MLB owners over how to determine players' compensation.

The league and players agreed back in March to prorate salaries based on the number of games that could be played. Thus, if only half the season is played, the players would get half their salary. Yet in mid-May, USA Today reported owners approved a plan that replaced prorated salaries with a 50-50 revenue split.

The talks are ongoing.

Is getting back on the field still an ongoing plan?

For now, we just know the puck will drop for the NHL.

COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 could force MLB expansion, is Portland Diamond Project ready?

COVID-19 has cut a wide path through professional sports and pro leagues are still not sure what they are going to do in order to get started again.

Foremost of these is Major League Baseball, the true “Boys of Summer” sport. Owners and players are still negotiating terms for kickstarting an aborted season and whatever happens, there is no question that both sides are losing a lot of money.

Which is very bad for them but could prove to be very beneficial for the Portland Diamond Project.

Expansion in baseball over the years has often not been about the simple need for adding worthy cities or creating more jobs for players. It’s frequently been used as the quickest and best cash grab for owners facing big debt.

Which is exactly the situation those owners are going to be facing soon -- whether they play a shortened season (likely without fans in their ballparks) or not.

Time for a quick look back:

The players’ strike in 1994, which cost millions, sparked an expansion wave in 1998, with the new franchises having to begin paying their franchise fees in 1995. A previous expansion followed a collusion settlement with the players’ association that meant owners needed to come up with a lot of quick cash.

There hasn’t been expansion in 22 years because baseball owners have been running a money machine, with rich revenue from television (regional sports networks, especially), merchandise and their successful digital presence. They didn’t want to share their pot of gold and didn’t need the quick cash infusion.

Now, though, those expansion fees are going to look very tempting to owners who are likely going to be decimated by the pandemic.

It is estimated an expansion fee these days would be priced somewhere between $1 and $1.5 billion. Adding two teams at $1.5 billion would net the 30 existing franchises $50 million apiece -- which would do a lot to take the sting out of the expected losses this summer.

It would also mean MLB could go with a sensible eight-team, four-division setup that could mean less travel for each team, appeasing players and saving money.

Of course, realignment like that would require progressive thinking baseball may not be capable of conjuring. More likely they’d try eight, four-team divisions -- so more teams could win “pennants.”

Whatever.

Could the Portland Diamond Project handle that sort of heavy expansion fee, then build its own ballpark, too?

It is believed the answer is yes. They seem confident -- they were likely going to have to pay in the neighborhood of a billion dollars (or more) for an existing team. The Miami Marlins sold for $1.2 billion in 2017.

The PDP has been quiet of late but very active behind the scenes, staying in touch with its contacts inside MLB and continuing to do its due diligence on local ballpark sites.

But competition for those expansion teams is expected to be heated, with new cities popping up all the time. Lately, Charlotte, Vancouver, B.C., Nashville and even New Orleans have been mentioned along with standbys Portland, Montreal and Las Vegas.

But in a time when the Oakland A’s can’t even make their stadium rent payments and a lot of teams are going to be going from riches to rags, expansion seems to be the easiest and quickest way to solve MLB’s looming financial problems.

It’s up to the PDP to be ready when the moment comes. And I believe it is.

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Can you play baseball without spitting? That may prove to be a tough task

Major League Baseball has a plan to begin play this summer and it includes all sorts of safety measures to protect players from acquiring COVID-19.

They have thought of just about everything, including:

  • No fist bumps, high fives or hugs.

  • No exchanging of lineup cards prior to the game.

  • No showering at the ballpark.

  • No eating in restaurants on the road.

  • No touching the face when giving signs.

  • No mascots.

  • No bat boys or girls.

  • No licking your fingers.

  • Players not in the game must sit in the stands, apart from each other.

  • No spitting.

OK, that’s not all the rules, but I had to stop there, because that last one is going to be the most difficult to enforce. It means no chewing tobacco, no sunflower seeds and just NO SPITTING anything!

I don’t know how you can play baseball without spitting! It’s ingrained and been a part of the game since Ty Cobb.

In the old days, I couldn't COVER a game without chewing seeds or tobacco. It was sunflower seeds as a kid, graduating to chewing tobacco later, even as a baseball writer. Can you stand around a batting cage without a chew? Pretty hard.

And do you know how difficult it is to quit chew? Very, I can say as someone who used to go through a tin of Skoal a day. Don’t hate me, I know attorneys and businessmen who do the same thing.

If you don't chew tobacco now -- good for you. And don't ever start! I'm warning you, it's nasty stuff that can kill you. Stay away!

But even if you don’t have something in your mouth, spitting just seems to be what you do on a baseball field. I don’t mean to be gross, but you know what I mean. Little Leaguers do it.

The only thing that will save the situation is the product developed by Portlander Rob Nelson -- Big League Chew. It's bubblegum that comes in a pouch and is shredded. And the best part, it's good bubblegum in a variety of flavors.

Chew the gum and don’t spit it out. That’s my recommendation.

OK, so seed- and tobacco-free, we've got that solved -- so now go play the games!

Mount St. Helens: 40 years ago to the day and not much has changed

Mount St. Helens: 40 years ago to the day and not much has changed

It was shaping up to be an eventful Sunday in Portland on May 18, 1980. I just had no idea, early that morning, how eventful it would be.

I was covering the Portland Beavers for the Oregon Journal in those days and had an afternoon game to write about, in what was then Civic Stadium.

But that wasn’t what I was looking forward to on that Sunday afternoon. My son, Will, turned six on May 18 and his birthday party was scheduled to take place in the left-field bleachers at the ballpark. I was excited about seeing all those six-year-olds scrambling around the roomy bleachers having a good time.

But you know by now, that day turned dark. Literally. And of course, that game was postponed because Mount St. Helens -- which had been ominously angry since late March -- finally exploded. And I mean REALLY exploded.

It sent a plume of ash 15 miles high. The top 1,300 feet of the mountain was blown away -- gone. A lethal flow of searing hot ash and gas flowed down what was left of the mountain.

Ash turned day into night all over the Pacific Northwest and managed to hit 11 states. The direct death toll took days to figure, but the final number was set at 57.

And the aftermath was pandemic like. The ashfall was everywhere -- and dangerous. Some of the ash contained glass shards and pumice, making masks mandatory for those outside in the midst of it.

It was all over roads and cars and I recall how careful you had to be about getting it off your car because of the scratches it would cause.

Portland wasn’t the hardest hit area, though. We were lucky. Winds carried most of the ash in a northeasterly direction, with Yakima and Spokane hard hit.

And there was a psychological toll, too. Nobody was quite sure what would happen next. Would Mt. Hood blow? Or of more concern to Portlanders, what about Mt. Tabor? Would there be some sort of chain reaction there, causing it to erupt?

Or did you not know that Portland is one of only six cities in the country with an extinct volcano within its city limits?

For a while, the Pacific Northwest lived with tragedy of lives and property destroyed and even longer with the worry of another eruption, either at Mount St. Helens or somewhere else.

It eventually went away, though, just as the ash did.

The Beavers took a few days off before resuming their schedule. The birthday party eventually happened, too, at home a few days later.

The 6-year-old has turned into a 46-year-old, to be celebrating tonight with Mexican food, a brownie sundae and his family, socially distancing far away, in Kentucky.

Again, though, with no baseball game to watch. And I think we both are a bit sad about that, just as we were 40 years ago.

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

MLB players: This one time, it's not about you, it's about the fans

In a time when people are getting laid off, furloughed or taking pay cuts, major-league baseball players are on the verge of making a mistake that would surely push their sport further toward irrelevance.

Baseball owners have a plan for starting a season in July, with regional locations for games, universal designated hitter, an expanded playoff system, an 82-game schedule and plenty of safety measures for participants.

Owners, though, want to go back on a deal with the players signed in March that includes $170 million in advance payments and prorated pay for however many games are played.

The owners, now facing games without fans in the stadiums, are asking for the players to instead accept a one-time 50-50 split of revenue, which the players say they won’t accept, because it’s a form of salary cap.

Which they’ve never accepted.

And if they can't reach some sort of compromise, a much-needed season will be lost.

While I would always side with the players under normal circumstances, I can’t do it this time. It’s just not the time for the players to be fussing and fuming over millions of dollars during not only a global pandemic but an economic depression.

And it’s the perfect time for baseball to resume -- when it could take center stage, at least for a while, in the sports landscape.

This is an opportunity to breath new life into the game. Put microphones on players and let them talk to the TV and radio announcers during the games. Let them show some personality. It was a smash hit in spring training this year.

Show the nation, and the world, that the sport can adapt and evolve. I think it’s a rare chance to capture new fans and re-energize the old ones.

Fans want bat flips? Give ‘em bat flips. Give them what they want -- if you can find out what they want.

If baseball is going to continue with an idea that I think is a bad one -- to play in existing regional ballparks, rather than one or two hubs, with no fans in the seats -- let one fan from each team into the stadium and give that fan a spot up in the cheap sets.

And put a mic on them, too. Obviously, you need to pick the right fan, but teams know who they are.

All I’m saying is, let it all hang out. Have some fun at the ballpark. Give viewers a reason to watch.

And players, you’re building a future for your sport and investing in yourselves. Show people how much fun you have playing! You’re only going to play 82 games so have some fun with it and don’t be afraid to show it!

I know players and I know that most of them love their game. They have to stop hiding that love. They need to share that joy, put it out where we can see it.

People need to view that happiness, now more than ever. They need reasons to smile. And they need your game.

This is not the time for you to let a pile of money keep it from happening. And it's not about you this time. It's about the fans.

Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs

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USATI

Report: Mariners to cut staff salaries to avoid layoffs

COVID-19 has been tough on a lot of businesses around the world, and the business of sports has not been exempt.

Many leagues have canceled or suspended play in an attempt to keep those involved with the sports safe from the virus.

As MLB continues to weigh its options for the 2020 season, teams around the league have to deal with the loss of income that becomes greater with every missed game. 

According to a report from Corey Brock of The Athletic, the Seattle Mariners will cut staff salaries in an attempt to avoid layoffs and furloughs. 

Starting June 1st, the organization will implement a 20 percent cut for baseball operations and field staff who make $60,000 or more. The cuts will last through October.

General manager Jerry Dipoto told The Athletic that the Mariners "wanted to make sure we did the right thing and kept people afloat during a difficult time." Added Dipoto, "Our people understand the need to make adjustments and the responses have been genuinely positive.”

According to Brock's report, "The Mariners’ baseball operations staff met online and were assured no cuts or layoffs would be made before the end of May, if at all. This week, Dipoto and other members of his staff had calls with members of their staff to explain the cuts. He said the news was largely met with a sense of relief, especially with the possibility of layoffs and furloughs off the table for now."

While pay cuts are not ideal, they are the best-case scenario until the game itself returns. It may be less money, but it ensures that those on staff will continue to see paychecks during these trying times. 

According to multiple reports around the league, MLB could be eyeing a July start. 

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

Sports on TV without the fans sounds like a better viewing experience

A lot of people are talking now about the pros and cons of having sporting events without fans in the arenas or stadiums. And with good reason, because it seems that’s the only way live events can resume anytime soon.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they will have trouble watching the games on television without the crowds being a part of the broadcast.

Not me.

I sympathize with the people who are deprived of a chance to actually be there, witnessing the games live. That stinks. But the telecasts are a different story. They will be just fine -- maybe even better in some cases -- without the crowds.

The pleasure of watching a football game on TV without the constant camera shots of face-painted adults, proudly adorned in player jerseys that don’t fit, will be unsurpassed. Nor will I miss camera shots of fans waving at a camera during basketball games while someone is stealing a pass or making a shot. The game action is often too quick for the camera view of yet another kid at a college game waving a “Hi mom, send money” sign.

I noticed many years ago that when I go to games, I seldom pay much attention to other spectators while the game is underway. Why would I want my TV screen to do that?

A little artificial fan noise in the background for atmosphere? Sure, I can deal with that. As long as it doesn’t overpower the announcers.

And without crowd noise, I’m hoping microphones can be placed close enough to the action to pick up coaches and players communicating during the game. I will take that over random crowd chants, prompted by overly loud public address systems.

Baseball, in fact, would profit a lot from putting mics on players during games. It would set the game apart from any other sport if players actually communicated with announcers during the action -- as they did during some spring training games this year.

For sports, this is a big opportunity. For TV, too. It’s a chance to re-imagine their product and present it in new ways. All the window dressing will be removed. The extraneous “atmosphere” of these games will not be there.

It’s going to be just the games. Pure games. And for TV, a blank canvas around the edges.

And will those events have the same appeal without all the noise -- literal and figurative -- that has surrounded them?

We are going to find out.

NBA 2K League to start season remotely on May 5th

NBA 2K League to start season remotely on May 5th

They're back!

On Tuesday the NBA 2K League announced they its season would officially start back up with remote play on May 5th.

The season was originally slated to begin on March 24th, but like the real sport it emulates, it was postponed due to the coronavirus. 

Now, rather than all meeting in New York, the 23 teams will play each other remotely from the comfort of their home studios. 

In the official press release, the league announced that:

- Games will begin at 7 p.m. ET every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with four distinct matchups each night. 

- Each team is scheduled to play at least eight matches that will count toward its regular-season record

- Games simulcast live on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube channels.

- The 2020 season will once again include three in-season tournaments - THE TIPOFF, THE TURN and THE TICKET

- The NBA 2K League will implement an innovative production model that allows for a remote broadcast in all 23 team markets and NBA 2K League broadcasters to announce games in their homes from a virtual NBA 2K League Studio while switching between games occurring at the same time.

We are very excited to get the 2020 NBA 2K League season started. Blazer5 has something to prove this season on the court, and we hope the competition provides entertainment and allows for a feeling of community and connection during these unprecedented times. - Cameron McAlees, Blazer5 Operations Manager. 

The first week will take place from May 5 through May 8, while the Blazer5 game schedule will be released at a later date.