Sports Fodder: Basketball next challenge for Mountain West | NevadaAppeal.com
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Sports Fodder: Basketball next challenge for Mountain West

By Joe Santoro


Sports Fodder . . . The next issue on the table for the Mountain West Conference, which has already canceled fall sports at least until the spring, is whether or not the college basketball season will start on time. College basketball practices are scheduled to begin in just two months with games in early November. What is going to change by then with the COVID-19 pandemic to allow the basketball season to start on time? Probably nothing. It is likely the same health and safety concerns that forced the Mountain West to cancel fall sports earlier this month will still be in play two months from now. But that doesn’t mean that college basketball won’t start on time or after a short delay. Athletic programs across the country are already suffering financially because of the loss of football. The loss of basketball on top of that would be devastating. The loss of football and men’s basketball revenue in the same year could wipe out some college athletic programs. There will be tremendous pressure on the Mountain West and other mid-major conferences to go ahead with winter sports on time.
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A Mountain West football season in the spring, though, seems highly unlikely. Would it be worthwhile financially to play games in front of a few thousand fans? What about no fans? Would fans even risk their health and safety to watch Mountain West football? The Mountain West, don’t forget, struggled to draw fans before the pandemic. The other issue involved with playing football in the spring is the timing. Would the 2021 season start on time? Could the NCAA ask college athletes to play two football seasons in a span of just seven or eight months? How many top players would be unwilling to play in the spring for fear of jeopardy a possible pro career? There are no easy answers with any of this. College athletics is in for some drastic changes in the coming years. 
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Tom Flores, who coached the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders to Super Bowl titles in the early 1980s, now looks like a sure bet to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Flores, now 83-years-old, was always a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame. His lifetime record as a NFL head coach was just 97-87 over 12 seasons, nine with the Raiders and three with the Seattle Seahawks. Flores was a definite Hall of Famer after his first seven years when he was 70-35 with the Raiders and won two Super Bowls. But his final five seasons (three with Seattle) were a struggle. Flores’ teams went 27-52 his final five years and never made the playoffs. Flores, though, is the first minority coach to ever win a Super Bowl and he was a combined 11-3 against Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh. If he gets into the Hall this February (or whenever the Super Bowl is played) he would have won a Super Bowl while the Raiders were in Oakland (after the 1980 season), won another when the Raiders were in Los Angeles (after 1983) and gotten into the Hall when the Raiders were in Las Vegas.
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The NBA and the media that fawns over it want everyone to believe that all is right in the NBA world right now. But the first week of the playoffs showed a definite lack of intensity (and quality of play) as the players figure out a way to live in a bubble and try to win a NBA championship at the same time. Three definite title contenders (the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks) were a combined 1-3 in the playoffs as of Thursday morning against three inferiors teams (Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic). Kawhi Leonard, for example, had 41 points and 10 rebounds and played 41 minutes but his Clippers still lost to the Mavericks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 17 rebounds but his Bucks still lost to the Magic. The intensity needs to pick up.
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The Vegas Golden Knights had to grind out a 4-1 series victory over the outmanned Chicago Blackhawks to advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Knights were clearly the better team and controlled the puck throughout the series. The final four games were all closely fought and the Knights should benefit from the intensity of the series as the playoffs move forward. Las Vegas might become the sports epicenter of the United States next month if the Knights win the Stanley Cup just as the NFL comes to town. 
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The UNLV Rebels, on the other hand, might struggle to stay afloat in Las Vegas now that the Knights and Raiders have stolen all of the attention. The Rebels, except for a few years in the Jerry Tarkanian era, never really captured the heart and soul of Las Vegas. It’s a tourist town, after all, not a college town. But now the Rebels, unless they win big, are in jeopardy of being totally forgotten and overlooked. Las Vegas has clearly outgrown the Rebels. Imagine if the NHL and NFL came to Reno. Would anyone care about the Wolf Pack?
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The best thing about baseball, hockey and basketball starting up again is not whether or not the games are entertaining or well played or seem a little weird without fans in the stands. The most important thing is that we can now bet on those games and we can play fantasy sports again. The months of April through July were awful for sports fans without betting and fantasy sports. Betting and fantasy sports, after all, is how the majority of serious fans pay attention to the games on a daily basis now. The month of September should be amazing for sportsbooks with the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup, major league baseball and, hopefully, some college football to bet on.