A Closer Look …


with Anthony Newcombe

Let’s take a closer look …


We can finally pat ourselves on the back after taking more than a few big ones in the teeth throughout much of 2020.  However, I promise not to mention the “C” word (“Covid”) again today.  It will be the only time that word will have escaped mention in my A Closer Look… entries since last spring some time.  Let’s get to one of the few “survivors in sports” from last year – the entire NFL. Most owners, coaches, players and others emerged with delays and confusion, but no actual cancellations and a full season’s completed regular schedule.  Wow! That’s a mouthful!

TopicNFL Playoffs  

Category: Sports 

Issue:  Where is the upper brass of the league taking this thing? 

As you can imagine, this is hardly the first time I’ve had a conversation about playoff eligibility, league alignment, and whether (or not) teams should even be allowed to appear in the playoffs with a losing record.  I would like to get this on the record prior to this weekend’s bonanza of games meant to keep us all on our couches for its entirety.  Q: During a lockdown, where the heck else are we going to go?  Uh, is that Doordash?! 

Anyway, I’d like to begin by arguing I believe the addition of a seventh spot in each conference is an okay thing.  However, what I disagree with is when it is combined with the “divisional championship” system from the good old days. That’s when it becomes somewhat of a mess.  We are literally going to bid adieu to some teams with 10-6 records – while enabling the NFC East winner to host a game while not even sniffing a winning record.  No offense, but what did they do to deserve that?! To use the “S” word, it kind of “SUCKS!”  And speaking of the NFC East (no offense Texas) but, the Dallas Cowboys should have been moved outta there a long time ago.  We can’t have partial nostalgia and the rest disruption. Right?!

You know, I’m old enough to remember when the Seattle Seahawks played in the AFC West.  So, for NFL “purists” who choose to argue that Dallas, Philly, the football Giants, and yes, the newly titled Washington Football Team should remain in close divisional proximity, I say, POPPYCOCK!  If the league is going to make radical changes to its playoff schedule – and, I hear game #17 is coming soon to your football platter, we should also become comfortable with other logical changes likewise. 

Since I know you’re holding your breath for my suggestions (kidding), I recommend something like: BLOW UP the divisions completely and instead have each conference award 8 (yes, 8! Or, 9!) playoff spots to the best records in each conference. That gives half the teams in the league the opportunity to play in the postseason.  And it sets the table for plenty of revenue raising options for the upper brass in NYC and elsewhere.  Let’s face it, I would be embarrassed to hang a divisional championship banner in my mancave on the heels of a 5-11 season (or 7-9). Wouldn’t YOU?! C’MON MAN!   

Oh, and one other thing: let’s give the top two teams BYES again!  I think it’s shameful to overlook a 14-2 or 13-3 team just because the #1 team is 15-1.  Again, it’s great to incentivize the lower half of playoff contention, but let’s not cheat the consistent, rightful earners of the best records in the game while we do it, okay?! 

It’s not much, but it’s a start.  Let’s keep the ball rolling with some debate… 

Tell me what YOU think? 


Supporting links  

A Closer Look … Baseball, meet Covid


with Anthony Newcombe

Let’s take a closer look

Topic: PLAY BALL!! (just don’t spit or argue…and get Covid tested often!!)

Issue: Can baseball players really refrain from spitting?! Or, arguing? Or …

I guess it’s a valiant effort to think we can “field” a troupe of MLB players and count on them to refrain from spitting before, during, and after a game. However, do you think it’s perhaps a bit far-fetched we can achieve such a lofty goal? 

I mean, these guys (I do know a little bit about them) have been “takin’ a dip,” “puttin’ in a chaw,” and otherwise hockin’ loogies since practically tee ball. In fact, I could tell you some stories about guys who filled up 2-liter soda bottles with the “after-sauce” of Apple JackSkoalCopenhagen, or … well, take your pick, big boy.  

The point is that a good argument can be made that spitting is just as (if not more) linked to baseball than both apple pie and hot dogs are to the American culture. Baseball players spit … period.  Even the ones who don’t chew tobacco.  It’s part of the game folks. 

To add insult to injury, players will also be commanded to “not argue” with the field umpires and be available for plenty of Covid testing. Baseball and testing?! C’mon, man! Did you see what happened during the (steroid era) 90s and early 2000s? Again, testing and baseball haven’t mixed too well in the past. Let’s just leave that argument for a different day. 

Okay, so even if we can clear the above hurdles, we must also understand that, in lieu of screaming and adoring fans, the stands will be filled with … cardboard cutouts of fans. Yes, I said it, cardboard! If ever there was a reason to spit on something, this may be it.  

In this technological age, couldn’t we have come up with something more life like? How about holograms that are programmed to behave like regular fans? Or how about cartoons of fans who drink gallons of beer, scream obscenities at the top of their lungs, and hurl batteries (and other unmentionables) onto the field – without provocation?  Sounds kind of fun, huh? 

Or, how about this? How about making the holograms, well, (fake) spit! That way, the players will feel more at home for the opener … wait a second, did the rules committee just tell baseballers that they can’t adjust their, uh, “pant legs” either?  What is this world coming to?!! 

What do YOU think? 


Seriously though, stay safe my readers! 

A Closer Look …


with Anthony Newcombe

Let’s take a look under the hood…

Arena: Sports & Cheating

Topic: Why do we seem to care more today about cheating in sports?  

I know a little bit about professional sports. In fact, without getting too far into the weeds, let’s just say I practically grew up in professional locker rooms, dugouts, and on and off fields, diamonds, and courts. However, since this op-ed is about something else and not about me, let’s just dive right in and get to the bottom of the matter.  

Recently, we have been inundated (much more so than usual) with television/ radio shows, and online debates focusing on the issue of “cheating in professional sports.”  In them, pundits rave and rage about how horrible it is that the Houston Astros (allegedly) stole signs in order to win a World Series Championship in 2017. They go on to argue that these same Astros (allegedly) continued to cheat in subsequent years – and perhaps, even as recently as just last year.  

Some of the so-called “experts” have gone on to encourage the Astros’ owner and company to forfeit their trophy.  Some have even encouraged the same trophy to be stripped away and awarded to the team(s) the Astros defeated on their way to the ultimate prize in our national pastime. I’m not so sure that would ever happen nor solve anything. 

Like you, I’ve noticed that many of the Astros players have been showered in spring training with “boos” (and probably some “booze” too) and have been beaned by opposing pitchers of other teams in the major leagues.  I suppose the surrounding world is not amused. 

Rather than lending my opinion as to the guilt and/ or innocence of this team and its players, I’ll look instead at the bigger picture of cheating in sports itself to ask the following: “What took so long for the general public to rebel against professional cheaters in sports?” 

Did we forget the MLB steroid scandal? How about “spy-gate” in the NFL? Or, “deflate-gate“? How about Pete Rose‘s lifetime exile for betting on baseball games? Cycling’s Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal that circled throughout the French Alps? Each of the above scandals must have played at least some part in obtaining more than a few world championships, right? Or, a few home run titles? Or, at the very least, yielded someone a few endorsement bucks and press in the end? After all, if there were nothing to gain by doing it, they wouldn’t have done it in the first place, right?  

I recall as a kid hanging out one day in one of the aforementioned ballparks and overhearing a few old timers whining over a deck of playing cards about the old N.Y. Giants (allegedly) using spies in the center field scoreboard of the Polo Grounds to steal signs and forward them to the Giants team in the home team’s dugout. These guys claimed this is what ultimately led to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” to send the Giants to the World Series in 1951. Who really knows, right? I tell ya’ though, it was one heck of a story for which to be a fly on the wall!  I know. 

Question: Did we really care that any of the above even happened when it happened? The answer is: YES, of course we did! The only difference is that we are now in a totally different sports (and pundit) environment than we were in the past. I suppose the rise of the internet and the constant 24/7/365 sports news cycle has made quite a difference. Also, perhaps many of the shows mentioned above likewise encourages us to speak up and share all of our collective opinions. We already know nothing will change. Still, we insist on knowing more and more about every little detail! 

Nevertheless, the fact remains it is nothing new. Cheating (and alleged cheating, of course) go together like apple pie and Chevrolet. I can hardly count the times when a favorite team of mine lost a big championship and the first thought that entered my mind was, “If it wasn’t for that bad call by the ref in the 2nd quarter, we would’ve won, damn it!” Again, it’s as American as the 4th of July and fireworks. It’s a part of the game, folks! Losing always sucks and always will continue to suck … whether there is cheating or otherwise. 

Regrettably, though, something has really changed now. We have lost our ability to lose a game (or a series of games) and simply tip our cap to the other team and the opposing crowd and retire to our locker room to brood or reflect. We all feel like our opinion needs to be heard. Worse yet, we feel that everything should be stopped, rolled back and the results should be reversed – in our favor, of course! It’s as if the game never ends. There’s always a chance to change the outcome. But, is there? 

Maybe it also has something to do with the seemingly endless video replays and second-guessing that goes on in nearly every major sport now. There is so much tape “under review” that it no longer is a chore to find time to take a leak during a game!  We’ve definitely lost the spontaneity of professional major sports. Even the words I’m writing at this moment is probably in some way a reflection of the same sentiment. I guess what I’m saying is, yes, we still retain the ability to vent and to be heard by an army of unlimited others. Yes, we also have the ability to get attention (or clicks) from others. But, that is all we have. We have no added power or influence to change anything. And, by screaming louder across the table at each other or texting in ALL CAPS isn’t going to change anything … ever! 

In fact, to think that we have any chance to “stop the presses, go back and reverse the results….” is the classic inclination of the short-sighted fanatic – believing that he or she has the ability to compete in the professional sports world.  This has proven by the numbers through the years to be extremely unlikely to ever happen.  That said, if there are ever changes made (and I doubt there will), we’ll all be left to argue and fight it out among ourselves – gaining neither resolution nor contentment in the process. 

What do you think? 

– A.N. 

About our contributor: 

“A Closer Look with Anthony Newcombe” is a 2020 post series that examines “hot button issues” ranging from politics to sports to, well, nearly anything and everything both inticing and current.  Anthony is a 4-time entrepreneur, a published author, narrator, web developer and designer.   

His current book, Sorry, 50 Is NOT The New 30, which is published in English, Spanish, French (with additional languages available later this spring).  All multi-lingual editions are available for purchase via Amazon.comBarnesAndNoble.com, and directly through his proprietary website, Sorry, 50 Is NOT The New 30

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