Notre Dame, Alex Cora, the Philadelphia Union and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Notre Dame cemented its place in the College Football Playoff discussion and nothing more
Regardless of the circumstances, Notre Dame did something no one had done since Oct. 13, 2017: beat Clemson in the regular season. The Tigers didn’t play all that poorly either. D.J. Uiagalelei completed 66% of his passes and threw for 439 yards, 35 more than Trevor Lawrence’s career high. Notre Dame came away with six points from its three trips to the red zone prior to the fourth quarter. Brian Kelly’s team played well enough to discredit any suggestion Lawrence’s absence was the only reason the game was competitive.
Georgia’s loss to Florida ensures there will be a Playoff spot available assuming Alabama wins the SEC. Unless someone in the Pac-12 wildly overachieves, that spot is Notre Dame’s to lose, even if Clemson wins a rematch in the ACC Championship Game. However, the team Clemson put on the field in South Bend was nowhere near its best, and not just because the Heisman Trophy frontrunner was missing. The Fighting Irish have proven they are worthy of a Playoff spot if they take care of business the rest of the way. Whether they are on the same level as Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama at full strength is a completely separate question that can’t be answered yet.
2. Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City let excellent opportunities go to waste
While the outcome was still technically in question, the story of Der Klassiker was written in the five minutes on either side of halftime. Dortmund captain Marco Reus opened the scoring in the 45th minute only to have David Alaba equalize four minutes into first half stoppage time. Erling Håland’s poor pass at the start of the second half prevented Dortmund from restoring their advantage. Moments later, Robert Lewandowski headed home Lucas Hernández’s cross and Bayern led the rest of the way.
Dortmund’s failure to convert the chances they created means they are looking up at Bayern in the table instead of trying to hold onto a lead like the past three seasons. In the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne’s missed penalty and a lethargic final 45 minutes forced Manchester City to settle for a draw against Liverpool, keeping them five points behind the Reds and a surging Tottenham, and six points back of league-leading Leicester City. It is too early to remove Pep Guardiola’s men off yet, but it doesn’t look like anyone is flying up the standings with 10 or 15 straight wins this season.
3. The NBA chose the safest option for next season’s schedule
As powerful as he is, LeBron James’ desire for a longer offseason was not going to prevent the NBA from starting the 2020-21 season as soon as possible. With the reported 72-game campaign starting on Dec. 22, the league achieves two main objectives: fulfilling local TV contracts to maximize revenue and setting itself up for a normal 2021-22 season. Of the options available, this was the one with the least amount of risk.
Fans aren’t coming back for months still, so waiting until arenas can be filled was not realistic at this point. A late January start would’ve resulted in more back-to-backs and the possibility of having to compete with football if anything went wrong. By beginning before Christmas, the NBA has room to adjust the schedule if need be. There is also the reality that 73% of the league hasn’t played since Sept. 2. The owners and NBA Players Association did everything within reason to guarantee revenue and be set up for long-term success, which is never a bad idea in the middle of a global pandemic.
4. Alex Cora isn’t going to cheat again, but that’s not the point
Re-hired Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora wouldn’t dare to do anything illegal after serving a one-year suspension for helping orchestrate the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing system. His time in baseball is over if he gets caught a second time. Maybe he’s a changed man, maybe he isn’t. Everyone is going to have their opinion on whether his punishment was sufficient and whether he should ever be welcomed back. His former employer decided Cora had suffered enough.
The bigger takeaway here is that the Red Sox as an organization demonstrated very little concern about what Cora did. The team’s owners called him a “special person” and said it was a “sad day” when they parted ways in January. There was every indication they wanted to bring him back the entire time, which, of course, they have every right to do. That piece of information is an important part of the story that cannot be ignored. This is not the Detroit Tigers giving a second chance to the guy who failed to stop the cheating he knew was happening. This is a team separating itself from one of the primary conspirators until the backlash blew over. The Red Sox were in Cora’s corner the entire time, sending an unmistakable message about their stance on the Astros’ cheating.
5. The Philadelphia Union provided a blueprint for every small market Major League Soccer team
It’s only fitting that at the end of the strangest season in the history of Major League Soccer, the Philadelphia Union own the league’s best record and are rewarded with the first trophy (the Supporters’ Shield) in franchise history. FiveThirtyEight gave the Union a 6% chance of winning the Supporters’ Shield at the beginning of the season and that projection was probably generous. They don’t spend big money, have no big-name stars and employ just one designated player.
So how did Jim Curtin’s team do it? Graduates from the team’s academy combined for 83 appearances, 56 starts and 5,130 minutes in 23 regular season games. Players the Union selected in the MLS Superdraft accounted for another 53 appearances, 46 starts and 4,141 minutes. Those contributions plus some savvy signings from technical director Ernst Tanner formed MLS’ best team in 2020. High payrolls and stars are not the only way to win in this league. Good scouting and heavy investment in developing an elite academy can do it too. Every team in a similar financial situation to the Union should be looking at what they did and creating a strategy based on the same general philosophy.
College football isn’t even doing a good job pretending it cares about the health of its players anymore. The field storming at Notre Dame is the most recent in a long list of examples of reckless behavior by schools that have largely gone unpunished. There was already more than enough risk without these completely unnecessary and blatant violations of COVID safety guidelines.
Photo by Ennoti / Flickr