Daniel Synder, Manchester United, UConn’s return to the Big East and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Daniel Snyder missed his final chance
Every indication is that Washington D.C.’s NFL team will have a new nickname in short order, though not because of anything owner Daniel Synder has done. It took a request from FedEx — the sponsor of the team’s stadium and a commercial partner of the NFL — and Nike removing team merchandise, among other things, to get the organization to announce a formal review of the name. Economics and outside forces made this happen, not some effort by Snyder.
Obviously, any one of the franchise’s owners could have elected to give the team a different nickname. However, it is Snyder who has owned the team for the last 20 years when the movement to change the name has been at its strongest. He could have proactively started this process a month ago with the rapidly growing push for social reform in the United States, demonstrating a willingness to listen and change his stance. Instead, the team stopped at removing racist owner George Preston Marshall from its ring of honor and website, and that only happened last week. Snyder will now always be remembered as the guy who stuck by the name until he was left with no choice.
2. College basketball is going to be just fine
The events of the last two weeks are further proof college basketball will survive in a world where the G League can offer players hundreds of thousands of dollars and the days of the one-and-done era appear to be numbered. First, Cade Cunningham opts to stick with Oklahoma State knowing he can’t play in the NCAA Tournament. Then, Emoni Bates — perhaps the best high school prospect since LeBron James — commits to Michigan State. He may very well never set foot on campus, but it’s only worth committing to a school if there’s a chance you actually play there.
Bates’ announcement was followed by five-star Makur Maker choosing Howard over the likes of Kentucky and UCLA. Now that Maker has actually opened the door, more high-level recruits are sure to follow his lead and attend HBCUs. Cunningham, Bates and Maker all sent the same message: College basketball still matters, and it matters a great deal. Everyone’s priorities are different and there will be five-star players every year who choose not to go to college. There will also be plenty of people who want to capitalize on the national television exposure college basketball provides once players can profit from their image and likeness. Others will want the experience of being a college student and the opportunity to prepare themselves for the realities of being a professional athlete. Don’t worry. The magic of March Madness isn’t going anywhere.
3. This is a different Manchester United
When Junior Stanislas nutmegged Harry Maguire to give hapless Bournemouth a lead over Manchester United on July 4, it appeared as though the Red Devils’ recent run of terrific form may have been just another twist in the tale that is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time as United’s boss. What happened next left no doubt as to the legitimately of the club’s push for a top four spot in the Premier League. United responded with three goals in less than 20 minutes en route to a comprehensive 5-2 victory.
That win, combined with Wolves’ loss to Arsenal, leaves United three points ahead of sixth and three points out of third with five games remaining. Solskjaer’s men have not lost since Bruno Fernandes joined in January and are winners of four straight across all competitions. Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have more total goals than Liverpool’s front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Simply put, United hasn’t looked this good for this long since finishing second in the league under Jose Mourinho in 2017-18, and that team had nowhere near the potential the current one does. United’s return to the Premier League’s elite is in full swing.
4. UConn is officially back home
No school has been more out of place since the breakup of the old Big East than the UConn Huskies. The other institutions with UConn’s basketball history and FBS football programs (Louisville and Syracuse) jumped to the ACC. Meanwhile, the Huskies’ football team hasn’t finished over .500 since 2010 and is 30-79 over the past nine seasons in the old Big East and AAC. What UConn needed is a major basketball conference without feeling pressure to invest an immense amount of resources into turning its football program around. In other words, the Huskies needed the new Big East.
Adding an 11th member allows the Big East to go to 20 conference games like the Big Ten and ACC, which only helps the league’s status come Selection Sunday. The other unique situation facing UConn was its women’s basketball program, which outscored AAC opponents by 41 points a contest and never lost a regular season conference game in seven seasons. While the Big East isn’t a premier conference on the women’s side, DePaul and Marquette have spent dozens of weeks in the top 25 over the past two seasons. As of July 1, 2020, Uconn is back where it belongs and everyone is better because of it.
5. Championships in 2020 may be more than unusual
Assuming 2020 seasons are played from start to finish in all major U.S. sports leagues — which is far from certain at this point — the championships could very well come with more than one asterisk. Not only will they be won in the strangest set of circumstances ever, but they might be won against lesser competition. Major League Baseball (Mike Trout) and Major League Soccer (Carlos Vela) have their best players publicly talking about sitting out the leagues’ restart efforts. Two-time NBA All-Star Victor Oladipo already announced he won’t be playing in Orlando. And that’s not to mention the plethora of big names not playing in the NWSL Challenge Cup and WNBA.
Should more all-star caliber players opt out as leagues get closer to returning, the legacy of this year’s champions starts taking a significant hit. NBA players can talk about this being the toughest title ever, but even Oladipo’s absence alters the outlook of the Eastern Conference, especially when it comes to seeding. Imagine if a handful of other players of his caliber decide not to play as well. If this trend continues, 2020 seasons will be remembered as much for who wasn’t there as the odd environment they were played in.
The NWSL is learning just how tricky it is to handle the national anthem in light of everything that’s happened recently. Choosing not to play it takes away an opportunity for players to use their voice, though there is absolutely a case to be made it should never have been played in the first place. If it is played, players face the risk of appearing in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement if they don’t kneel. There is no easy answer, which can lead to important conversations and is something every league will have to decide how to approach when games resume.
Photo by Public.Resource.Org / Flickr