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Duke guard Jordan Goldwire (14) fouls Miami guard Isaiah Wong (2) as he drives to the basket, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

COVID wins again

We know that TV numbers for sporting events have plummeted during the pandemic.

The clear line of thinking has to be one of two things. And more than likely both.

First, we as a culture are finding other things to watch. The off-and-on self-isolation of the last 11 months that made Tiger King a hit and turned Baby Yoda and Mandalorian into everyone's favorite duo side Sonny and Cher has opened so many to the plethora of entertainment options in and beyond your cable box.

Second, and likely more importantly, the crowd-less atmosphere and void of energy at all of our favorite games, tournaments, arenas and spectacles is palatable.

The Super Bowl is the latest to kick COVIDed, dipping 9 percent from 2020 despite the dream quarterback showdown. It was the lowest rated Super Bowl in 15 years. Also, according to Nielsen, only 38 percent of the households with a TV tuned into the game, marking the lowest percentage since 1969.

And further extending the cord-cutting, outside-the-cable-box conversation, it was the most streamed — an average of 5.7 million — event ever. So there's that.

(Side observation: Allow me a tangent here, but I'll bet that sooner rather than later, the Comcasts and the EPBs and the rest of the cable providers are going to provide cable free of charge with packages to bu the interwebs. A decade ago, anyone who would have suggested that the cable box will be the landline home telephone of the next generation would have been fitted for a jacket and rushed to rubber room.)

And the funny thing is the NFL is likely turning cartwheels over those dreadful TV numbers. After being down only 7 percent during the regular season, a 9 percent dip in a game that was done before The Weeknd ruined the weekend is by comparison a success.

According to the folks who cover sports and television, here are the declines of the major sporting events in the finless age of COVID:

> Stanley Cup final down 61%;

> Masters final round down 58%;

> Kentucky Derby and NBA Finals down 49%;

> World Series down 30%;

> College football title game down 27%;

> Super Bowl down 9%.

And now remember that the vast majority of these events had super-high-profile stars involved from the national brands that are Alabama and the Dodgers to the individual star power of Dustin Johnson, Tom Brady and LeBron James.

 

March into oblivion

And the outlook for one of all of our favorite events in terms of the evidence above is grim.

March Madness, Masked Madness, March Maskedness, Masked Maskedness or whatever you want to call it will be almost assuredly be filled with TV sadness.

First, the event will be bubbled in several venues in and around Indianapolis. This made sense when that decision was made, and was almost a necessity because there simply is no way the NCAA can go another year without its bell cow event.

The NCAA lost $600 million by not having a 2020 men's basketball tournament. Another hit like that would kill various programs across the country, and not just small schools.

But, the decision to bubble now looks somewhat premature considering venues like McKenzie Arena are allowing limited numbers of fans as the vaccine starts to circulate and thankfully numbers continue to dip. Again, it made sense and still makes sense because the NCAA simply has to have this tournament. (The sacrifices and risks by the unpaid players to provide the billions to the organization, the hundreds of millions to the conferences, the tens of millions to the schools and the millions to the coaches is a conversation for another time.)

Still it's going to look kind of strange if we go from conference tournaments with partial crowds to NCAA first-round games that feel like scrimmages filled with sneaker squeaks.

And that's just the atmosphere issue for Masked Madness. There are others.

How about no Goliaths in this year's field. Sure, Gonzaga is great, but it's not Goliath. Baylor is excellent and is approaching even money to go undefeated. But it's not Goliath.

The Goliaths are, simply put, the blue bloods that everyone knows. The Kentuckys, UNCs, Dukes, Kansases and those programs that carry the weight of expectation and embrace the scorn of every other fan of every other school in their bracket. Heck, unless a UNC or a Kansas makes a late charge or any of those all-timers wins its conference tournament, we may not see any of them in the dance.

And that will hurt — in TV numbers and interest. And it will hurt in fun because part of the magic of March is the Davids vs. Goliaths, and as great as Gonzaga is, Joe Six Pack is not going to care if Wofford has the ball and a two-point lead with three minutes against the Zags as he would in the same situation but Wofford was leading the Blue Devils or the Jayhawks.

The other part of the magic of the Madness has always been the brackets, and if the NCAA was not willing to admit it before, it will feel the brunt of bracket backlash this spring for sure.

What's another name for our bracket? Some even call it an office pool. When was the last time you went to your office?

Exactly. Sure, a lot of folks do them online, but there are so many more who take a sheet on that Monday morning  from the loud-mouthed A2 columnist, fill-it out because he pesters you to enter and the next thing you know you're vested into the tournament and you care about whether St. Mary's can win two games as a 12-seed.

Plus, without doing it last year, a lot of the fringe bracket participants will realize they really didn't miss it so, "Thanks but no thanks, loud-mouthed A2 columnist." (And yes, I circulated the brackets at the TFP. Shocker, right?)

So now, March Madness will be without fans and the accompanying energy, without the Goliaths that we all either root for or against, and with limited bracket buy-in.

Here's betting the CBS folks would take the Super Bowl-esque, down 9% from 2019 right now in terms of TV viewers for the NCAA tournament. Heck, it might be closer to up 9% from last year when there was not a tournament.

 

The day the music stopped

OK, I don't think any of us are surprised about this. If you are, feel free to say.

Sure, there are a lot of other emotions that come from the news that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has decided his team will no longer play the national anthem before home games. (And yes, feel free to insert a "Of course a Cuban hates America" joke if you wish.)

Cuban did not announce the decision or comment on it. He just confirmed that was the team's policy after some asked about the lack of the anthem being played in the 13 home games to date.

So there's that, and while there's a pang of sadness, there also is a fair measure of understanding.And it's not just taking out the platform that has become controversial makes sense, because Cuban is many things, but above all else, he's a very savvy businessman.

As an NBA owner he needs to be player-friendly, and a lot of the players have protested during the anthem. As a business owner, if his customers become upset because of the protest, then that's detrimental.

(And never mind the fact that his two best players are from Slovenia and Latvia, which is just outside of Houston, I think.)       

 

This and that

— So we've got a conservative group upset that the American Girl doll line has lesbian storyline with the dolls aunt being a lesbian. So there's that.

— So Aunt Jemima has been rebranded as "Pearl Milling Company" by Pepsi. So there's that too.

— So Turnip the tortoise of the Tennessee Aquarium has become an interweb star because it likes to dance during shower time. So there's that, as well. (Seriously, the video has been viewed more than 5 million times. C'mon Spy, who doesn't like a dancin' turtle? Sorry, Turnip, still got a ways to go to crack the turtle Rushmore, though. There's Turtle's Records and Tapes — ask your parents, 'Dro — and Turtle from Entourage as well as the TMNT crew and of course Tippy Turtle, who famously sang on SNL, "First I'm gonna bother everybody I meet, then I'll probably go home and get drunk.")

— What a load of, well you fill in the blank. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and he refuses to even consider the wise suggestion of trying to find ways of giving the $1,400 stimulus check to those Americans who truly need it through personal and/or household income baselines. His logic — if you want to call it that — is "People who got the first two checks are expecting a third." Friends, a vast majority of Americans getting to the place of expecting the government to pay their bills is not relief or stimulus. Heck, it's not even part of a Democracy. It's Socialism.

— Side note: We mentioned above about finding other shows and such. Well, the Mrs. 5-at-10 and I are plowing through Ray Donovan on Showtime. It's not The Wire per se, but what is? Ray Donovan is quite entertaining to be honest.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the Vols' search for a DC.

— This story is hilarious. Apparently, according to Tampa Bay quarterback coach Clyde Christensen, in the final QB meeting before the Super Bowl, Tom Brady comes into the room and informs everyone that the over/under on his rushing total is 0.5 yards. Brady then hatches a plan for everyone to pitch in and they will bet a million on the over and as Christensen recalled Brady saying, "'Hey, I got an idea. There's a half-yard Over/Under for me rushing for half a yard in the Super Bowl. Here's what I'm saying: We all put in $1 million and the first time they're in two three-techniques, I'm going to gain six and we're going to sit on that thing and protect it the rest of the way and we're going to fund our offseason.'" Wow. Here's betting the NFL suits do not think that story is as cool as the rest of us do.      

 

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way.

Which of the big four college basketball programs — Duke, UNC, Kansas or Kentucky — has the best chance to make the tournament?

Which word describes your emotion upon hearing that Mark Cuban has done away with the pregame national anthem?

As for today, Feb. 10, let's review.

Elizabeth Banks is 47 today. She is supremely talented and is pretty excellent in just about everything she does.

Wow, on this day in 1942 Glenn Miller was awarded the first ever gold record for selling 1 million records. The song? The Chattanooga Choo Choo of course.

"Tom & Jerry" debuted on this day in 1940.

And Greg Norman was born on this day. The Shark turns 66.

Rushmore of golf nicknames, because the Shark is pretty excellent.

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