The NBA succeeded inside a bubble. How will it fare in the real world?

Create: 2020-12-04
Update: 2020-12-04
Score: 5
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Friday, December 4, 2020
Friday at long last! It's our final meeting of the week so let's finish strong.
I'd like to thank the person who asked me about the return of the McRib in the mailbag earlier this week, as McDonald's reached out and actually delivered a McRib to my doorstep for lunch yesterday. After all these years, my journalism degree is finally paying off. And, for what it's worth, I can confirm that the McRib is still good after all these years, and I'm not just saying that because it was free. (Though that definitely doesn't hurt.)
Can somebody please ask me my thoughts on the PS5 in next week's newsletter? Just want to try something. 

📰 What you need to know
1. Why you should expect an ugly 2020-21 NBA season 🏀
When the NBA returned to play during the pandemic this past summer, the league managed to navigate an unprecedented situation with success. The Disney World bubble experience wasn't flawless or without its drawbacks, but the NBA kept players healthy and safe while finishing out the season and crowning a champion.
With a new season set to begin in just a few weeks, it seems fair to expect things to be a little bumpier this time around. Not only is the season being played outside of a bubble, but the virus is surging again and other leagues -- such as the NFL and college football -- are struggling to smother breakouts and stick to schedules. There are some ominous signs for the NBA already, too. The league has basically admitted they expect the virus to infiltrate team facilities and 48 of 546 players tested positive during the last week of November.
Not great!
Our Bill Reiter wrote a column yesterday detailing what this NBA season may look like and -- spoiler alert -- he thinks things will be ugly and unpredictable. Here's a glimpse at some of his thoughts and concerns:
  • It's going to be bad: "Though the league has prohibited team employees from discussing the reality, in private conversations there is a shared certainty that there will be many, many problems this upcoming season as players and team employees test positive and potentially whole teams are rendered unavailable for long stretches."
  • The show will go on: Despite the expected troubles, the league will be intent on finishing the season -- and playing all 72 games if possible. Teams will be able to lean on expanded rosters to make games playable, and the league's quick turnaround will create some flexibility for rescheduling
  • Injuries will be prevalent: A condensed schedule following a short offseason? That's a recipe for a lot of injuries, and those injuries could open up the league from a competitive standpoint and make the year utterly unpredictable
  • Weakest link theory: "Your weakest links on the floor could affect your team for weeks as depth becomes even more important, and your weakest links away from the arena could literally wreck your season. It only takes one player to behave selfishly and contract the virus to bring a team's season to a close or leave its chemistry and unity in tatters."
Reiter also raises a good point that, not only is it a gamble to trust players and personnel to strictly follow protocols and behave responsibly over the course of an entire season outside of a bubble, but that also may be more challenging when it comes to players on bad teams. All the teams inside the bubble at Disney were committed to competing for a title, but bottom-feeders may act more irresponsible away from the court because they've essentially given up on the season.
The more you think about it, the easier it is to believe that things could get messy really fast. If you're looking for a positive, though, people had plenty of doubts about the Disney bubble, too ... as well as pretty much every league that returned to action. Some ugliness may be inevitable, but the way that the league adapts to the challenging circumstances will determine whether the season is a success or not.
2. Prisco's Picks for Week 13 🏈
We had to survive this Thursday without a NFL game on the schedule (thanks, Ravens-Steelers), but that doesn't mean we can't talk some football this morning. Pete Prisco's picks for Week 13 were filed and published yesterday, which means it's finally time for us to laugh at him for how poorly he picked last week's slate. Pete Prisco? More like Defeat Prisco with that 4-11-1 record he put up against the spread. That brings his season record below .500 (84-89-3) and makes this a crucial bounceback week for him. 
Can he step up to the plate? 
That's to be determined, but let's see who he's riding with this weekend:
  • Falcons (+3) upset Saints: Taysom Hill and the Saints got the better of Atlanta a couple weeks ago, but Prisco envisions something of a revenge game here for the Falcons. Atlanta's at home and they've got tape on Hill, so the Saints will have a tougher time. Pick: Falcons 27, Saints 20
  • Rams (-3) bounce back vs. Cardinals: The Rams suffered a tough loss to the 49ers last week but they've got a good shot to rebound against an Arizona team that's sliding with two straight losses. Prisco thinks the Cards will remain out of sync on offense and drop a third straight. Pick: Rams 28, Cardinals 22
  • Ravens beat Cowboys on short rest: After everything that's gone down with Baltimore over the past couple of weeks, they're going to have to battle against the Cowboys on Tuesday. Plus, Dallas will be on nearly two weeks of rest at that point. But despite all that, Prisco thinks they can still win this matchup. Pick: Ravens 27, Cowboys 24
You can find the rest of Pete's picks right here. And you should know that I make fun of Pete so much because I love him ... he's one of my favorite characters here at CBS. And, at the end of the day, he knows a hell of a lot more about football than I do, so I feel good about riding with his predictions regardless of how his picks performed last week.
That being said, I can still bench press more than he can.
3. College sports watchdog: FBS college football teams should break away from NCAA 🏈
It's been suggested that major college football conferences  -- including the Power Five -- would be better off if they separated from the NCAA and formed an organization in order to govern themselves. Those rumblings have only gained traction as the NCAA has struggled to unify and support these major conferences during the pandemic. Now, things might be reaching a tipping point.
  • On Thursday, the Knight Commission -- a reform-minded college sports watchdog -- recommended that FBS programs and the College Football Playoff separate from the NCAA
  • The commission proposed a new entity called the National College Football Association, which would be comprised of the 130 current FBS schools and be funded by the CFP
  • The proposed NCFA would manage all issues related to education, health, safety, litigation, eligibility, enforcement and revenue distribution in major-college football
  • Under this proposal, the NCAA would still govern over basketball and other collegiate sports
The commission's reasoning for the recommendation is that the NCAA has a broken governance structure and "is no longer keeping pace with the rapid commercial growth of college athletics, particularly FBS football."
It's hard to argue that the NCAA's handling of college football hasn't been a bit of mess in recent years. Not only does the organization continue to battle multiple lawsuits regarding amateurism rights and use of players' likeness, but its inability to orchestrate a strong response while the season was hanging in the balance earlier this season ... that's hard to overlook.
Maybe this proposal from the Knight Commission isn't necessarily the answer, but the idea of the Power Five ruling itself continues to gain steam and be taken seriously. At this point, it feels like it's becoming inevitable.  
4. MLB's 10 most intriguing new free agents ⚾
We've spent some time this week talking about MLB's tender deadline, which passed on Wednesday night, so let's wrap up this week by looking at how that deadline has changed the offseason's free agent pool. If you're not yet caught up to speed, a quick explainer: Pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players who didn't receive a contract offer from their club by Wednesday were released into the free agent pool, making them able to sign wherever they please.
Almost 60 players didn't receive a tender, so let's look at some of the most intriguing players that entered free agency this week:
  • Kyle Schwarber: The former Cubs outfielder isn't very good in the field but he's got a whole lot of pop at the plate ... or at least he did before this past season. But there's plenty of reason to believe he can bounce back, especially if he's DHing most days
  • Eddie Rosario: Rosario sort of fell victim to the Twins' outfield depth -- they decided they'd be better off utilizing the money elsewhere. But he's got a strong bat and can provide value for a team looking to upgrade in the slugging department 
  • Archie Bradley: Bradley is coming off one of the best years of his career but the Reds decided he wasn't worth the money to keep him after acquiring him at the trade deadline. A contending team could be willing to break out the checkbook for Bradley's experience and composure in big spots out of the bullpen
You can find the full list right here. 
📝 Odds & Ends
  • Seahawks wide receiver Josh Gordon was reinstated by the NFL (again) and will be eligible to play in Week 16
  • An Alabama high school football team scored 10 points in final 18 seconds to win the state championship
  • Former Yankees minor-league affiliate filed a lawsuit against the club and MLB after shutting down 
  • A Texas high school football player attacked a referee during a game after he was ejected and it was caught on video

📺 What to watch this weekend
🏀 No. 4 Wisconsin vs. Marquette, 7 p.m. | MAR +4 | TV: FS1
🏀 No. 21 Oregon vs. Seton Hall, 10 p.m | SETON +3 | TV: FS1
🏈 No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Auburn, 12 p.m. | AUB +6.5 | TV: ESPN
🏈 No. 15 Oklahoma State vs. TCU, 12 p.m. | TCU +1 | TV: ESPN 2
🏈 Browns vs. Titans, 1 p.m. | TEN -5.5 | TV: CBS
🏈 Rams vs. Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. | ARI +3 | TV: FOX
📝 Top scores from last night
🏀 UConn 61, USC 58  
James Bouknight scored 18 points  in the Huskies' win in the Legends Classic. 
💵 Winning wagers: UCONN -2.5, Under (136.5)
🏀 No. 16 Virginia Tech 64, VMI 57
Keve Aluma had 17 points and 12 rebounds as VT won its 34th straight non-conference home game.
💵 Winning wagers: VMI +20.5, Under (137.5)    
College Basketball on CBS is back with a possible Final Four preview, as No. 2 Baylor and No. 1 Gonzaga tip off at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Don't miss any of the action this Saturday at 1:00 PM ET.
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An SEC on CBS doubleheader kicks off on Saturday with No. 6 Florida heading into Knoxville, Tennessee to take on the Volunteers at 3:30 PM ET. Then in prime time, we head over to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where No. 1 Alabama battles LSU at 8:00 PM ET. Watch both games live on CBS and the CBS Sports App.
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