The College Football Playoff, Giannis’ extension, the Baltimore Ravens and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The selection committee protected the integrity of the College Football Playoff moving forward
In any other season, the Texas A&M Aggies would not have been playing on conference championship Saturday. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish wouldn’t have been either, but they would’ve been in the top four heading into the final rankings. Putting Texas A&M into the Playoff over Notre Dame when neither team has proven capable of playing with Alabama and Clemson at full strength would’ve set a dangerous precedent for future seasons by rewarding teams who don’t play in conference championship games.
There is no denying that had the Fighting Irish declined to participate in the ACC title game, they were going to have a spot in the Playoff. The Aggies picking up a convincing win over Tennessee while Notre Dame got obliterated by Clemson complicates matters, but the Fighting Irish still have the better victories that justify giving them the slight edge. If future committees are going to point to this season at all, they will do so in a way that encourages teams to prove their worth on the field rather than incentivize passing on a potential conference championship to ensure they make the Playoff, which is undoubtedly in the sport’s best interest.
2. Giannis’ extension is a success for the Bucks no matter what
What Giannis Antetokounmpo’s five-year supermax extension really does is all but ensure he will be a member of the Milwaukee Bucks for the next four seasons. If the Bucks haven’t reached the NBA Finals three years into the extension (the end of the 2023-24 season), for example, Antetokounmpo may not be interested in playing out the rest of the contract in Milwaukee. His feelings could change dramatically four or five years from now, but just getting him to sign the extension makes the Bucks winners.
For a small-market team that hasn’t won a title since 1971, the primary goal is to be competitive and keep the fanbase engaged. Think the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder as opposed to the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings. Antetokounmpo accomplishes both objectives by himself. The most important aspect of his decision is that it gives Bucks fans something to be excited about and will get people to show up to Fiserv Forum. Having the chance to build a championship-caliber team every season for the foreseeable future is an added bonus.
3. Cleveland’s baseball team is trying to do an impossible juggling act
Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team is following the Washington Football Team in beginning the process of rebranding with a new nickname after what appeared to be a sincere effort to understand why people have advocated changing the name for decades. Instead of going all-in on the rebrand immediately like Washington did, though, the franchise is keeping the “Indians” moniker until it is ready to make the change. Doing so is asking for trouble.
If Washington faced any extremely strong resistance, it was so minimal that it was a non-story. By remaining the Indians while the rebrand occurs, the organization is creating an unnecessary risk in allowing time for frustration to mount. What’s happened with Washington shows those opposed to the name change are much more upset before it occurs than after. It’s impossible to simultaneously appease the people who want to keep the name and the ones who don’t, but Cleveland’s baseball team is going to try anyway.
4. Don’t be fooled by the Ravens’ record
The Jacksonville Jaguars are just the third team with a losing record the Baltimore Ravens have faced in their last eight games. It should not come as a surprise then, that Baltimore went 4-4 in those games while dealing with all kinds of additional challenges due to COVID. The Ravens started the season 5-1 and are 3-0 since Lamar Jackson returned, headlined by their thrilling win on Monday Night Football over the Cleveland Browns. They have scored at least 34 points in all three of those games.
John Harbaugh’s team will be heavy favorites at home against the New York Giants and in Cincinnati the following week, meaning anything worse than an 11-5 record would be extremely disappointing. Though that may not be enough to get into the playoffs, the larger point remains: This Ravens team is much closer to the one that went 14-2 in 2019 than it appears. Should they find a way into the postseason, they will be the team nobody wants to face. In the strange world that is 2020, wins and losses have to be viewed differently, and the Ravens are a perfect example of why that’s the case.
5. Order has been restored in European soccer
At the beginning of this week, all five of Europe’s major leagues were led by a team currently participating in the Europa League — Tottenham in England, Real Sociedad in Spain, Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, AC Milan in Italy and Lille in France. Seven days later, traditional powers who are still alive in the Champions League were on top in three of the five countries. It appears the bizarre start to the season across Europe has finally come to an end.
Liverpool and Bayern Munich both scored dramatic head-to-head victories over first-place teams to take control of the Premier League and Bundesliga, respectively. The Reds then went out and put seven past Crystal Palace to build a four-point cushion. PSG also drew their top of the table clash with Lille to stay one point back with a superior goal difference. Just like that, Serie A is wide-open as expected, the defending champions are on top in England and Germany, PSG are in excellent position in France and Atlético Madrid are capitalizing on the struggles of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. There were more twists and turns than expected, but Europe’s top leagues look rather normal again.
With the amount of waivers the NCAA had already handed out and the lack of any kind of consistent rationale for determining who got one, allowing all transfers to be eligible this season was the right decision. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the game of chance that has been the waiver request process for transfers as a one-time transfer exception is expected to be passed next month.
Photo by Jose Garcia / Flickr