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Will coming playoff finally take down the SEC?

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Will coming playoff finally take down the SEC?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Roy Kramer remembers all the fretting when the Southeastern Conference launched its own championship game two decades ago.

``Especially from the coaches,'' the former SEC commissioner said Friday, chuckling a bit at those long-ago discussions. ``They were convinced that would be the end of everything and we would never win another national championship.''

It sure didn't work out that way, of course.

The SEC has ruled like no other conference.

Just around the corner is another momentous change to shake up the college football landscape, spurred in part by the dominance down South. Undoubtedly, there are plenty of folks in the rest of the country hoping the four-team national playoff, which starts in 2014, will make it tougher for the SEC to pile up trophies.

Kramer, for one, doesn't expect much of an impact, just as splitting into East and West brackets and tacking on an extra game between the division champs back in 1992 has done little to damage the SEC's national title prospects.

``The SEC could very well end up with three of the four playoff teams in any given year,'' Kramer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his retirement home near Chattanooga, Tenn. ``I don't know that a playoff will significantly reduce the possibility of winning a national title. Some may believe that, but I'm not convinced it reduces the chances at all.''

This much is clear: The current system is owned by the SEC.

The conference is riding an unprecedented streak of six straight national titles, and No. 2 Alabama is favored to make it seven in a row Monday night when the Crimson Tide takes on top-ranked Notre Dame in the next-to-last BCS championship game.

For better or worse, just about every major conference has followed the SEC's lead from way back in 1992 - adding news teams, starting their own title games - but the juggernaut that began it all appears more firmly entrenched than ever.

Over the last 20 seasons, the league has won nine national titles; no other conference has claimed more than four during that span. And the SEC has pitched a shutout since the 2006 season, divvying up six titles among four schools (Florida, Alabama, LSU and Auburn) while the rest of the country looked on enviously, wondering just what it had to do to break the stranglehold.

Last season, when the BCS produced an all-SEC matchup in the title game, the rest of the country screamed uncle.

Or, more accurately, playoff.

Suddenly, everyone jumped on board for what amounts to a true postseason system, albeit with not as many teams as the biggest supporters of the P-word would like.

Kramer has no doubt that Alabama's 21-0 victory over LSU in the 2012 title game accelerated the demands for a playoff among the other conferences - even though current SEC commissioner Mike Slive had proposed what is largely the same four-team format several years ago, only to be quickly shot down.

``I don't think there's any question that the added interest in trying to expand the field to some degree, to go from two to four teams, was influenced by what happened a year ago when two teams from the same conference played in the championship game,'' Kramer said. ``That brought a significant amount of attention to it and perhaps brought on a willingness by more people to take a look at this process.''

If the four-team playoff had been in place this season - and using the BCS standings as a selection guide - the SEC would have claimed half the field anyway. Florida finished third in the rankings, while No. 4 Oregon presumably would have been the other team, surely creating plenty of howls from teams such as Kansas State and Stanford (sound familiar?).

But the playoff is still a couple of years away. Heck, the powers-that-be are still trying to hammer out all the details. In the meantime, Notre Dame has set its sights on ending the SEC's dominance this season without the assistance of an extra round, having built a team around defense and a good running game - kind of like a northern version of Alabama.

Despite a perfect record (12-0) and No. 1 ranking, the Fighting Irish know what they're up against. So do the oddsmakers, who started Alabama as a 7 1/2-point favorite and pushed it up to 9 1/2 when the bets flowed in on the Crimson Tide.

``Obviously, the SEC has been very dominant in the national title game,'' Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley said.

But the conference doesn't appear quite as strong as past years, with some truly wretched teams at the bottom of the standings (Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky) and a perception that even Alabama - despite positioning itself for a third national title in four years - isn't quite as strong after losing a bunch of top players to the NFL.

The SEC split its first six bowl games, the most notable result being Florida's ugly 33-23 loss to Big East champion Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

``If you've watched the bowl games to this point, the SEC has lost to some other teams,'' said Farley, sounding a bit more confident about the Irish's chances. ``You just have to be better than the other team on that given day, not all the time.''

Alabama is mindful of the SEC's championship streak, but keeping it alive is not a major motivational factor. Rest assured, the Tide won't be passing around the trophy to all its fellow schools should it win another.

``Certainly we take a lot of pride in our conference. We feel like we play in the best conference in America,'' said Barrett Jones, Alabama's All-American center. ``But we don't think about it that much. The coaches don't get up at the podium and say, `OK, let's go win one for the SEC.' We're trying to win this for us.''

Jones, a senior, will be long gone by the time a playoff finally comes on line. But, like Kramer, he figures the SEC will do just fine no matter what system is put in place. The region just has too many built-in advantages: passionate (if sometimes overzealous) fans; less competition from professional sports than other regions; some of the nation's top coaches; a seemingly limitless supply of high school talent right in its own backyard.

``If you look back at the past few years, two (SEC) teams probably would've gotten in a lot of years,'' Jones said. ``That gives you a good chance to still win a national championship. I think the playoff system will be a good thing for the SEC.''

Kramer doesn't support a playoff - he's one of those who believes college football is heading down a dangerous path that will severely damage the significance of the regular season - but he doesn't see the SEC giving up its dominant position anytime soon.

Just remember what happened when the SEC went to its own version of the playoff.

``It's really worked to our advantage,'' Kramer said.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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One player from each AL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

One player from each AL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

Major League Baseball's decision to implement a 60-game season will come with some interesting obstacles. Players will have very little time to prepare for the end of July start date, and some who use the 162-game marathon to slowly reach their best form could enter an early-season rut and never recover.

However, the shortened season will not be negative to all. Veterans with a lot of wear and tear can avoid another grueling season, while streaky players won't have to see their early success fall off in the second half of the season.

Looking at the American League, here is a player from every squad that could benefit from fewer games.

AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles: John Means

Means, who was an All-Star in 2019, was spectacular in his first 12 starts in the rotation. He had a 2.69 ERA throughout what would essentially be a full season in 2020. However, the lefty then showed signs that he was still adjusting to the full-time starting role, as he featured a 4.69 ERA in the next 12 starts.

While he looks to be part of the future starting pitching plan in Baltimore, adjusting to a 30-start slate can take time. The Orioles aren’t looking to win big in 2020, even if the season gives them a better chance, and so fewer starts will allow Means to still get in work while also keeping his arm ready for future seasons. 

Boston Red Sox - Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi was an essential part of the Red Sox World Series run in 2018. He was relied upon heavily both as a starter and out of the bullpen. In 2019, he found himself struggling to stay healthy as he consistently dealt with arm problems.

A shorter season in 2020 could be just what he needs to regain form. Less wear and tear on the arm in what could only be 12 starts during the regular season lessens the risk of him once again heading to the DL and increases the chances of success in the rotation.

New York Yankees - Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is one of the most dangerous bats in the game when he’s on the field and at full health. The problem is he’s struggled to do just that throughout his career. In the last two seasons, he’s only played in 195 games. Additionally, the long seasons behind the plate have also gotten to him, as his hustle and energy have noticeably decreased at times.

With only 60 games in 2020, that all changes. Sanchez has an easier chance of remaining healthy while also having to spend less time catching, which could give him an increase in energy and fresher legs that typically wouldn’t be there as the season winds down. That combination should help the power hitter continue to crush the ball.

Tampa Bay Rays - Bullpen

Despite having the likes of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow in the rotation, the Rays used their relievers heavily in 2019. It worked, as the bullpen was dominant and made it possible to reach the postseason.

That formula for success probably wasn’t going to disappear in 2020. Now, the extended usage won’t be as grueling. In a season where bullpens could dictate success if starting pitchers struggle to get back into game shape and build stamina, the Rays seem in good hands.

Toronto Blue Jays - Ken Giles

Giles had a solid 2019 with the Blue Jays, finishing with a 1.87 ERA and 23 saves. The only problem was a nagging elbow issue that followed him throughout the season.

The shortened season and late start should both benefit his arm, as he’ll have fewer appearances to make. Heading into the final year of his deal, the ability to still perform at an elite level while not adding mileage or more pain to his throwing arm is the ideal situation for Giles.

RELATED: NL PLAYERS THAT COULD BENEFIT FROM SHORTENED SEASON

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox - Michael Kopech

It’s not a given that the highly-touted prospect will be a part of the White Sox plans in 2020, but as NBC Sports Chicago’s Vinnie Duber points out, this 60-game scenario could benefit Kopech.

Essentially, Kopech and his electric arm were being watched very cautiously in spring training due to injuries he’s dealt with in the past. With a 162-game season assumed, there was speculation that Kopech would first spend time in the minors before potentially joining the pro club later in the season, as a way to monitor his usage.

But now with a shortened season, Chicago could opt to let him start in the majors and get some work in, whether it be starting or in the bullpen. With fewer innings to get through overall, Kopech could get more action than was expected.

Cleveland Indians - Adam Cimber

Cimber had his name called upon 68 times in 2019, and the first 37 of those appearances went rather well (3.06 ERA). However, the final 31 did not (6.29 ERA).

Part of that struggle could most likely be attributed to fatigue. 2020 realistically only gives Cimber enough time to put together the body of work he had in his first 37 appearances, if that. A sample size of that nature bodes well for him and the Indians. 

Detroit Tigers - Miguel Cabrera

The veteran showed in Spring Training that he still has plenty of pop in his bat, even taking Gerrit Cole deep twice in one game. However, even in the DH role, a 162-game grind isn’t ideal.

With extended rest and a shortened season on the horizon, the right-hander could ride a hot start right into another solid year of production.

Kansas City Royals - Jorge Soler

Soler can swing with the best of them, especially when he gets rolling. That became evident during a 60-game stretch from July 24 to the end of the season when he hit .292 and had 21 home runs, as stated by MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan. 

Yes, that was in the middle-end of the season after seeing a lot of pitches throughout the season, but should Soler come anywhere near that during the 2020 season, he’ll have an incredible season.

Minnesota Twins - Rich Hill

Many pitchers will benefit from a shortened season, and Rich Hill is most definitely one of them. Hill entering his age-40 season, meaning his arm has been through quite a lot in 15 years of MLB action.

Additionally, the new Twin is coming off surgery that was expected to delay his debut until June. With baseball not starting until the end of July, he won’t just be ready, but he’ll be well-rested in a season in which fewer innings will be asked of him.

The Twins were looking to get value out of Hill by signing the veteran, and the shortened season may make that decision all the more plausible.

AL WEST

Houston Astros - Justin Verlander

Since joining Houston in 2017, Verlander has been an absolute workhorse and innings-eater. Not only that, but he’s been dominant throughout. In 2019, he led all of baseball in innings pitched, and that didn’t include his postseason work. 

There’s no reason to expect a steep drop-off in 2020, but a 60-game season may make it even easier for him to continue his reign as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Houston will not only expect him to go deep in games in the regular season but to do the same if they make the playoffs. Last season, Verlander shows signs of being human and dealing with fatigue in the World Series, where he had a 5.73 ERA in two games. 

Limiting his starts through 60 games should keep the arm fresh and the velocity sharp for as long as he is needed, limiting the chances of any decline when the games mean the most.

Los Angeles Angels - Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani can throw a top-end fastball and hit balls 400 feet. However, injuries have prevented him from doing both at the same time consistently in the major leagues. New manager Joe Maddon wants to see it be done, and there may be no better time to try it out then during a short season. 

If 162 games were to be played, it may be a lot to ask Ohtani to start a game and then hit the four others. It still may be a lot, but it’s much more realistic for him to contribute on the mound and at the plate in 2020.

Oakland Athletics - Sean Manaea

Manaea has been a talented starter for the Athletics over the past few years when he’s on the field. A no-hitter in 2018 showed just how dominant he could be. However, he has dealt with arm problems in the past and is coming off a season where he didn’t take the field until September.

Though he performed well upon his return (4-0, 1.21 ERA), a 60-game season will make it easier for him to remain healthy and effective.

Texas Rangers - Corey Kluber

A familiar face in a new place you may have forgotten about, Kluber was acquired by Texas in hopes that he will be its ace for the next few seasons. His past body of work shows he’s up for the challenge, but 2019 was a year filled with injuries.

Now, the 2017 Cy Young winner is back to full health, but after appearing in just seven games last year, there could have been some concerns about how his arm would fare over 162 games. That’s no longer a concern, and the Rangers should be able to rely on Kluber in a year where every team has a better chance at the postseason.

Seattle Mariners - Daniel Vogelbach

Vogelbach was an All-Star in 2019, and that was largely due to his performance in the first half of the season. During his first 70 games, Vogelbach hit an average .249 but had 20 homer runs and 48 RBI. Following that, he batted just .162 in the second half and the power numbers decreased as well (nine home runs).

For a player with a ton of power who has the ability to get off to a hot start before pitchers tend to figure him out, a 60-game season is a dream come true. Though he may never hit for an insane average (he did hit .310 through the first month of 2019), he has the ability to produce runs at a fast rate in a short timeframe.

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Officials say RFK site not an option for Redskins unless team changes name

Officials say RFK site not an option for Redskins unless team changes name

As the Redskins search for a new football home in the future, the RFK Stadium site is one that is at the top of the list. However, unless the team is willing to change its name, the area becoming their new field is a non-starter, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday

Speaking with several government officials, a similar message was shared throughout. The federally owned land will not be given to the franchise if the name remains what it is today.

“I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality, since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital,” D.C.'s nonvoting delegate to the House of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said. “He has got a problem he can’t get around -- and he particularly can’t get around it today, after the George Floyd killing.”

“There is no viable path, locally or federally, for the Washington football team to return to Washington, D.C., without first changing the team name," D.C. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said.

Washington's name has been a topic of debate for years but has recently received major pushback over the past month as the nation yearns for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.

It was also reported on Wednesday that investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion have asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its name.

The Redskins have expressed interest in playing on the grounds of RFK after a bill was introduced in 2019 calling for the federal government to sell the area to the city. However, the bill won't pass through Congress unless the land is used for the team under a different name. U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, referred to the current name as a "racist nickname."

RELATED ARTICLE: RON RIVERA MAKES FIRST PUBLIC COMMENTS REGARDING REDSKINS' NAME

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has stated in the past that he is not open to a name change, as he considers it to be an act of honor toward Native Americans. 

Washington currently plays its games at FedEx Fied in Landover, Md. Both sides would like to see the team return to the District, but for as long as they are called the Redskins, it won't happen.

“The time has ended,” Grijalva said. “There is no way to justify it. You either step into this century or you don’t. It’s up to the owner of the team to do that.”

“The city obviously would like the team back,” Norton said. “But it’s important that [Falcicchio] used the word ‘federally’ -- meaning that they now recognize that there is no hope unless this name is changed.”

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