The Week That Was In Pittsburgh Sports...Week of 5/25

Did we make strides to a return of sports...or not?

Matt Koll
May 29, 2020 - 11:41 am
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Here are five things that happened this week that made an impact on the Pittsburgh sports landscape, with my take added as well. 

5. Mike Tomlin's "Coffee With Cal" 

STORY: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin showed up on an episode of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari's Facebook Live show this week. Tomlin spoke about placing incentives for minority hiring in the Rooney Rule, Benny Snell potentially "taking off" this year and what it will be like to potentially play in empty stadiums. 

SPIN: Tomlin said that while the solutions have been focused on penalties for not interviewing and hiring minority candidates, he's all for created positives for teams that develop and hire minority coaches. It made me wonder if he was part of the decision-making process to suggest attaching draft picks to the Rooney Rule? 

Otherwise, Tomlin said what you would expect, really. Playing without fans wouldn't be ideal because of the energy they bring and you'd have to adjust to everyone being able to hear you on the field. He threw some encouraging words Snell's way to appease the UK crowd watching, I'm sure. But I do think Tomlin does have genuine confidence in both him and James Conner to carry the load well this year. That was evidenced by not drafting a running back higher and not adding a free agent to the mix. 

4. Governor Wolf Opens Up Pro Sports For Yellow, Green Counties 

STORY: Professional sports will be allowed to resume in areas in the yellow and green zones in Pennsylvania without fans on-site. In a release Wednesday PA Governor Tom Wolf’s administration released details on the move.“Professional sports, defined as any sporting event at which the participants are paid by a league or team, or at which individuals or teams receive prizes or purse, are allowed to practice or play in the yellow and green phases of reopening without on-site or venue spectators if the team (or league on behalf of the team) has developed a COVID-19 safety plan.”​

SPIN: This can't be viewed as anything but good news, really. When you consider the fact that this can only help Pittsburgh's chances of being selected as a Stanley Cup playoff "hub city" it's even better news. While the Penguins would not likely play here and you wouldn't be able to attend the games, hosting an event like that would bring some money in certainly. This is at least one hurdle that's been leaped over and if (really, when) it comes time for NFL games to come back to town this fall, there won't be any uncertainty about those games being played. It remains to be seen, but seeing how the NFL has been so aggressive in wanting to keep their operations as normal as possible, I wouldn't be surprised to see at least a half-full Heinz Field at some point during the year. Baseball...who knows. I'll get to that soon. 

3. Art Rooney II & NFL Owners Shoot Down Onside Kick Alternative 

STORY: In a virtual meeting on Thursday, NFL owners brought to the table the idea of an untimed 4th & 15 from a team's own 25 yardline as an alternative to the onside kick if a team elects to do so. The owners largely rejected the idea and tabled it for later discussion, citing issues with when this play would be allowed and whether there should be a minimum point deficit. Art Rooney II said he & Mike Tomlin thought it was too much of a "gimmick." 

Related: NFL Adopts 3 New Rule Changes, Onside Kick Amendment Does Not Pass

SPIN: I was disappointed by this news. I think if anything serves as a "gimmick"-like play in the NFL, it's the onside kick itself and not this proposed 4th & 15 play. Being concerned about a points deficit qualification is odd to me, considering this is significant risk involved in this play. If a team doesn't convert, its essentially giving at least a field goal away to the opposing team. I wouldn't bet we see it frequently, anyway. Regardless, having the top players on the field for a high impact play, an actual football play, is more appealing to me than watching an onside kick attempt that 90% of the time nowadays fails. Could this be backlash from the NFL completely botching the defensive pass interference call last year and rushing it into the game, only to take it away for next year? Perhaps. I hope this idea doesn't get tabled for too long because this could be an exciting addition that I think is only being rejected because of fear of change.  

2. A Pirates (& MLB) 2020 Season Is Slipping Away ​

STORY: In the continued money fight before games can be played this summer, MLB came off their 50/50 revenue split demand in a 2nd proposal presented to the MLBPA this week. Instead, the league suggested a sliding scale in which higher money players would take the biggest cuts while the lower money players would take the smallest cuts. The union felt insulted once again and are reportedly going to counter by suggesting they play more than 82 regular season games to increase revenue. 

SPIN: This has become a depressing story. The two sides are still fighting, still entrenched in the sides, still unwilling to concede their lines of thinking and open themselves up to meet in the middle somewhere...and all the while wasting time and a golden opportunity to capture the attention of a sports-starved society right now. I see it as this...

Most owners can afford to lose some more money in this. They're playing hardball while working against a very tight timeline and are playing with fire by doing so. The fact that so many minor leaguers lost their livelihoods this week sickens me, knowing all the resources these teams and these executives most likely have at their disposal. 

The high-dollar players are the ones speaking out but if it ever came to a majority vote, any proposal would pass fairly easily. Why? Most of the league is not Mike Trout. Or Bryce Harper. Or Clayon Kershaw. Or even Blake Snell. They are guys fighting for their MLB careers, they want to salvage as much of their 2020 salary as they can by actually playing games. The big money players are mad they are taking the biggest pay cuts and that they are being asked to prorate their salaries *again* after agreeing to it once before. The owners see it as necessary to make up for a lack of gate revenue. I don't think playing more than 82 games is all that feasible at this point, especially when it means they may have to play into November or cram in more games into a shorter time period. Players may think they want that, but my guess is there would be some complaining about too many games on too many days. Someone or something has to give and at this point...I don't have much hope for a season. 

1. Penguins Playoff Matchup With Montreal Set 

STORY: On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL will forgo the rest of the regular season & implement a 24-team playoff format for the continuation of the 2020 season. Exact locations and the exact timeline for when these games will be played as not yet been determined, although there are reports that players have been notified that training camps will not begin until July 10th. 

SPIN: Don't like the sound of that sentence. July 10th feels like an eternity away considering there will be nothing else (most likely) in terms of live major sports before then. There have been some gripes about the 24-team format and how fair it is that the Canadiens and Blackhawks, two teams that wouldn't normally be in the postseason are in it. Also how the top 4 seeds in each conference are being put into a round robin to determine the top seed, despite the disparity in total points during the regular season. 

I get that. I would have rather seen those round robin games, as Chris Mack suggested this week on The Fan Morning Show, be counted as an extension to the regular season standings so that the Bruins wouldn't have their 8-point lead wiped away completely. And yes, it sucks that the Pens have to go into a 5-game "play-in" series with Montreal instead of getting a bye. But the Pens have no excuse to lose that series. And no, Carey Price isn't THAT good that we should be frightened he will single-handedly end the Penguins' season. Under the circumstances, I think the league did well to put it all together. Now just a matter of hammering out those details. I'm much more positive about this happening than a baseball season and hockey could use the extra eyeballs on the product in a country that still, by ratings and overall interest, considers it a rather niche sport.   

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