Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re looking for a balanced discussion of arena or stadium funding issues, don’t bother reading the sports pages. And if you’re looking here for another sports guy to carry water for an ownership group as it attempts to hold a mayor, a city and a civic election hostage, I’m the wrong person for that. And this is the wrong place for you.
You will hear a great deal of gibberish and economic hocus-pocus from Calgary Flames ownership – or, at least their president and chief executive officer, Ken King – in these next few weeks, as they attempt to paint Mayor Naheed Nenshi into a corner and force a “partnership” on the taxpayers of Calgary that will see them foot the overwhelming majority of costs for a new arena to replace Scotiabank Saddledome. And there will be no shortage of fellow travellers willing to take up their case.
The proper way to see all of this, of course, is that it’s work being performed by both sides of this debate – although for the life of me I don’t understand why this issue wasn’t dealt with while the circumstances would have favoured ownership: sympathetic Conservative provincial and federal governments, at a time when the economy of the province was more robust. The Saddledome didn’t just become outdated in the last three years. (And, yes, I am aware of the unforeseen circumstances created by the flood of 2013.)
This is the truth, Flames fans: You’ll get your arena and your team isn’t going anywhere. If this is too much money for the Flames’ current owners, might I suggest selling?
You know what separates the wealthy from the rest of us, regardless of the election? They always vote in their own self-interest, and throw up wedge issues to muddy the waters. It’s right out of the right-wing playbook: Get folks all worked up about things that have no tangible impact on your ability to earn a livelihood – like same-sex marriage – so you’ll overlook the important stuff that does.
All of this – including parachuting NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in to ratchet up the pressure – is right out of the playbook for getting a new arena paid for. Bettman is doing what he is supposed to do here: support his stakeholders and strike a deal that is something to build on for some other ownership group in some other jurisdiction down the road. Nenshi is also doing what he should be doing: mitigating as much as possible the amount of money taxpayers will eventually fork over. Look, if it were anything other than hockey, you’d be lauding Nenshi for this stance. And you know it.
AND ANOTHER THING
• Louisville head coach Rick Pitino told ESPN this week that he expects the NBA will go back to drafting high school players in two years, as commissioner Adam Silver continues both a public and behind-the-scenes approach to overhauling the league’s draft regulations which allow “one-and-done” decisions by players – a year of college followed by a declaration of intent to enter the draft.
Philosophically, I have no issue with allowing kids to be drafted after their senior year of high school; they might as well earn money as soon as possible as opposed to lining the pockets of millionaire college coaches and programs. Interestingly, many big-name college coaches prefer baseball’s setup where a player can be drafted out of high school but if he isn’t taken or doesn’t sign he can attend college and go back into the draft after his junior or third year.
I think Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin is on to something when he sees elements of racism in comparing the two: “Basketball players are black. Baseball predominantly white. Just how I see it. Why can one group be trusted to make decisions and the other is being regulated?” No one says three years of college has to be sacrosanct. What about allowing college basketball players just two years before they re-enter if it’s a means of generating consensus?
• Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians is making a late push for AL MVP honours but for my money the Houston Astros‘ Jose Altuve should still be the frontrunner. He leads the AL in WAR, batting average and hits and is tied for the lead in stolen bases. He is bidding to become the first player in MLB history to lead his league in hits in four consecutive seasons and is just seven hits and four doubles away from becoming the second player in history to register four straight 200-hit and 40-double seasons. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs did it from 1985-89.
• Remember when getting your city named as an Olympic host was a big deal, celebrated by all manner of partying and rallies? How strange was it, then, to see the worldwide shrug that greeted the decision of the IOC to name Paris as the site of the 2024 Games and Los Angeles the site for 2028?
This was a massive reset by the Olympic movement that will invariably see both the Winter and Summer Games ultimately rotated between a permanent group of cities or, as is the case of the World Cup, shared by several jurisdictions. And that’s all to the good; the cost of putting on the Olympics and the security arrangements involved are such that using pre-existing facilities and institutional knowledge and wherewithal is preferable to the sad spectacle dog-and-pony shows that used to be part of the bid process.
The question now for this country is how do we ensure our place in the winter-bidding scheme of things – after a healthy debate, of course – as to its importance to us.
I’ll have more to say on this mid-week, but with the Toronto Blue Jays starting their final homestand of the season it behooves me to remind you that we are likely seeing the last one for Jose Bautista in a Blue Jays uniform. I’ll say it again: So much of the Blue Jays re-claiming of their status as one of the true unifying sports brands in this country is owed to his late-career renaissance.
I’m not saying he’s the best Blue Jay of all time. But he’s certainly one of the most significant. Don’t miss this chance to give him his due, while wondering whether or not the same type of largely quiet ownership push to re-sign Bautista last winter offers any hints about Josh Donaldson’s future.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m. to noon and Baseball Central from noon to 1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan