FILE - In this April 4, 2019, file photo, NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions at a news conference at the Final Four college basketball tournament in Minneapolis. As Congress considers whether to allow college athletes to receive endorsement money, the NCAA and its allies spent nearly $1 million last year lobbying lawmakers to shape any reforms to the organization's liking. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

As the Astros turn

Pitchers and catchers are reporting to sunny locales in Arizona and Florida.

This should be the time that seam-heads get giddy. Did your team do enough in the offseason? Is Hotshot Rookie X ready to make the leap? Is this the year it all comes together?

Spring training is more than about questions and possibilities. Spring training pedals in the greatest and most euphoric of sports commodities.

Spring training is based in hope, and even more than winning, hope is the lifeblood and the chemical addiction for every fan.

Yes, Spy, more than winning. Yes, like Nuke told Crash, "I (bleeping) love winning," and we all do.

Ultimately, wins are too often about the relief of not losing. Yes, that's a distorted and sad statement on the present-day fan.

Hope, however, truly springs eternal and is the team light to our firefly fandom.

That eternal and annual hope of spring training has been overshadowed this spring by the omnipresent sign-stealing scandal. Heck, even the always-cheery Tim Kurkjian seems down.


And there's no end in sight, gang.

Houston owner Jim Crane is scheduled to address his team today and likely will give them the Astros' public stance on the matter.

This is such a bad PR move. Because now, even the most eloquent response from any of the involved players will be viewed as orchestrated or coerced and certainly will be filtered by everyone to the levels of sincerity from the players.

One of the interesting side stories in this much-reviewed sign-stealing controversy is former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger suing the Astros and claiming the sign stealing changed the course of his career.

Bolsinger's last MLB outing of an undistinguished and journeyman-like career was a third of an inning against the Houston Sign Stealers. He allowed four hits and four runs while walking three. It lasted 29 pitches.

"I don't know if I've had a worse outing in my professional career," Bolsinger told USA Today. "I remember saying, 'It was like they knew what I was throwing. They're laying off pitches they weren't laying off before. It's like they knew what was coming.' That was the thought in my head.  

"I felt like I didn't have a chance."

He's asking for personal damages as well as Houston to forfeit $31 million in postseason earnings, and to send those ill-gotten gains to L.A. charities for children and a foundation that helps former MLB players who are on financial hard times.

The precedent of settling on-field matters in sports in courtrooms is especially perplexing and may be the biggest trend-setter of this moving forward. Because if Bolsinger's suit has merit, what's to stop this from becoming a class-action suit from other players who felt jobbed, never mind the Dodgers and Yankees for the 2017 postseason defeats.

To that end, I don't even know if MLB will let Houston settle this out of court. And to be honest, the fact that there is a lawsuit filed gives everyone in the Astros organization the forever, get-out-of-interview-free card of "Can't comment on that while there's a pending lawsuit."

But here's an idea for Crane and the rest of the Astros. Rather than continuing to step on your image and instead of handing out canned statements to the players who probably should be suspended and certainly should be sincerely apologetic, look at the requests of Bolsinger's lawsuit.

Take that $31 million — double it in fact; triple it, since Crane is worth $1.3 billion, according to Forbes — and meet those noble demands.

Start the process of contrition rather than continuing the cover-up.

Well, at least that's my hope.


Fore-sure concern

Gang, if there's one thing the PGA needs less than another downturn in the economy it's competition.

No, not among the players. Competition on the course is a great thing.

This competition is for the players. The news that Tiger Woods has been contacted by Premier Golf League about his interest in their start-up golf tour had to set off every bell and alarm at PGA Tour headquarters in Florida.

Here's more from Golfword, and here's the back story:

Premier Golf wants to have 18 events — 10 in the U.S., eight internationally — with $10 million prize purses at each. There would be 48 players, who are divided into 12 teams, playing 54-hole events with no cuts, meaning everyone gets a check. "Hey Llama, how about a little something for the effort."

And not unlike how Virgil Sollozzo's plan hinged on killing the Don, the Premier Golf League only works if Woods signs on.


Without Woods, this is a non-starter.

But with Woods.

Ask yourself if this: If Woods and maybe a third of the top 20 players in the world try the Premier Golf League, and it's opposite the John Deere Classic or The Greenbriar, which one are you watching?

Hold that thought. Like Lt. Kaffee in "A Few Good Men,", "We'll get the airmen in just a minute."


So what exactly is your job?

The last 10 days may be the perfect example of how broken, poorly led, and out-and-out inept the NCAA is.

Consider these headlines:

The NCAA denied appeals from players from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — that's right Spy, their team name is the Banana Slugs — to reinstate records and wins that were stripped from 2012-15 because the athletes got too much money from the school in book stipends because of a clerical error that the school noticed and self-reported. Seriously.

Word comes that the NCAA has spent $750,000 lobbying Congress to try to curb potential earnings for its athletes.

When summoned to Congress to update the body on the NCAA's progress on figuring out the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) issue that state legislators have brought to the forefront recently, Mark Emmert looked like a cross between all three of Dorothy's sidekicks as she headed to see the Wizard.

Emmert has no answers (no brain), he seems to care only about himself and his organization (no heart), and has the backbone of a jellyfish (no courage).

So it was hardly a surprise that despite knowing this issue is rising quickly and that the NCAA must come up with some way to construct the rules with an eye on fairness among its member institutions, Emmert sounded more a witness pleading the 5th than a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar-a-year operation.

From the SI report on Emmert appearing before Congress on Tuesday: "On several occasions, senators interrupted Emmert's answers and delivered biting comments about his job performance. They admonished his lack of transparency, none more than Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who was so displeased with Emmert's answer to her question about former Memphis guard James Wiseman that she cut him off and reminded him of his job—"You're the CEO!"—before gathering her belongings and marching out of the room."

Each time this issue has come up, I have tried to be clear with the almost-certain facts, whether you want the players to be paid or not.

> Players getting paid for their NIL as big-time schools is coming. It has been passed into state law in multiple places including California, Florida and North Carolina. It will be passed into state law in almost every state that has a college sports powerhouse.

> The NCAA has to get in front of this issue, because while there are real worries about inappropriate NIL payments in the recruiting process, the biggest issue of fairness has to be the details of the state laws. Think of it this way, what if Alabama passes a law that allows Tide players to paid up to certain amounts and then Georgia doubles the legal amount. Think that would be a recruiting edge for Kirby and Co.?

> Time is of the essence.

And with those irrefutable guidelines, Emmert looks as capable of leading this overhaul as he does of landing an Apollo spaceship on the Moon.

More from the SI story: "The creation of federal legislation may hinge on the NCAA working group's reform recommendations, expected in April. At that point, they will be presented to lawmakers, Emmert told senators Tuesday, while expressing his openness to accept suggestions on the proposals at that time."          

Emmert said that the earliest the bylaws could become NCAA policy is January of 2021.

To which one senator said, "January 2021 is simply too late. The NCAA is late to the game."

No kidding.


This and that

— Awful story out of Columbus as two football players for THE Ohio State have been accused of rape.

— Any win for the Vols right now is a good win. Especially if that's a 21-point romp over Arkansas. Here's more from Gene of Many Hats Henley, the TFP UT beat ace.
— We went 2-2 against the number last night in college hoops. We hit Kentucky minus-11 and San Diego State minus-15; we missed UNC minus-1.5 (dang, they got hammered by Wake Forest) and LSU minus-11 in a close win over Missouri. We're now 27-21 against the spread this season. That's 56.25 percent, which actually is slightly entertaining all things considered, and definitely entertaining after a very sluggish start.

— Our picks were better on Press Row on Tuesday for the New Hampshire primary. Paschall and I each had the same 1-2-3, and correctly guessed a Bernie-Mayor Pete-Amy K. top three.

— Zion went nuts last night. He had 31 in 25 minutes; that's efficient and impressive.


Today's questions

Lots to get to on a which-way Wednesday. Let's start this way:

> Which leadership group do you trust less, the NCAA or Congress?

> If he changed his stripes — and with the knowledge that it would not go against The Players or a traditional major — which Sunday final round would you watch: Tiger in the Premier or not-Tiger in The Greenbriar?

> Which former Democratic contender — Joe Biden or Liz Warren — will drop out first?

Got a which-way question? Fire away. Got a mailbag question? Fire that, too.

As for today, Feb. 12, well, happy birthday Charles Darwin (born in 1809) and Bill Russell, who is 86.

Darwin was born on the same day as Honest Abe Lincoln.

Rushmore of Lincoln. Go, and be creative.