Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Say it ain't so Chet (and Sooners, Birds and golf, too)
The sports landscape will soon be an embarrassment of riches.
The college football season begins Saturday with a couple zero week games, one from Dublin, Ireland, Nebraska and Northwestern (11:30 a.m., FOX), because what screams Irish more than Huskers and Wildcats? The rest of college football (and high school football, too) begins next week.
The NFL season begins on Sept. 8, the NHL season on Oct. 6, Major League Baseball’s postseason on Oct. 7 and the NBA season on Oct. 18.
Still, there’s things happening right now worth knowing and following and here’s four of them to keep your sports brain busy.
1. Chet’s out, Thunder don’t have to be
Look it up should you need the medical details, because the Thunder made official today what appeared possible Wednesday, when rookie Chet Holmgren’s injury, suffered last Saturday, came to light.
It happened at a pro-am game at Seattle Pacific University that included several NBA players, Holmgren suffered what the Thunder are calling a Lisfranc injury to his right foot.
It occurred when Holmgren came down funny after defending LeBron James in transition.
The game, hosted by former NBA player Jamal Crawford, was called off in the second quarter due to condensation on the floor.
Holmgren, a slender 7-feet, 190 pounds was the No. 2 pick out of Gonzaga in and starred in summer league play prior to Saturday.
It’s unfortunate OKC has already declared him out for the season, because pretend he were to be medically cleared come March and … don’t laugh, because it’s possible, the Thunder had a shot at the No. 5 seed in the West.
If that were so, Holmgren could be the missing link to winning an opening round playoff series and then, who knows?
Nobody sees that happening because two years of purposeful losing has made the Thunder appear binary: selling out to chase a title or selling out to lose big and rise in the NBA draft lottery.
What nobody considers is how competitive OKC might be getting healthy play from a Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, Derrick Favors, Tre Mann and Jalen Williams, the 12th pick in the draft out of Santa Clara.
Not to mention, if the franchise want fans in the seats, it just can’t take another purposeful dive.
2. There’s a scenario in which Oklahoma, under first-year coach Brent Venables, really struggles.
It shouldn’t happen opening day against UTEP, nor the next week against Kent State, but could show up the following Saturday at Nebraska and beyond.
Venables recently proclaimed he had nine offensive linemen capable of playing “winning football … I’m talking about guys who can execute and win the game for us.”
Maybe, but will the first five he puts out there do it? That and other question marks abound.
Unless somebody we’ve not heard of catches fire, OU is clearly weak at running back. The guy it’s counting on to lead the committee is Erik Gray, who may hold down the fort, but is unlikely to raise its ceiling.
As the great Berry Tramel wrote recently, “This looks like the weakest OU tailback room in 20 years.”
Also, Dillon Gabriel’s a first-year quarterback in the program, playing with the receivers he’ll be throwing the ball to for the first time, and when Venables talks him up, it’s always the intangibles, which are great, but are not stand-ins for performance. Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, for example, was all about the intangibles.
Though the defense should be better, it’s still a defense that allowed 390.8 yards per game last season, 76th in the nation, and 25.8 points, ranking 60th, begging the question how much better can better be?
OU could win a national championship, too, because anything’s possible, but could also suffer several narrow defeats.
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3. That’s right, the Baltimore Orioles.
Earlier here, we wrote about the crimes committed by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, stealing from us Aaron Judge’s chase of Roger Maris’ one-time single season record of 61 home runs.
In passing, we also mentioned how a few more home runs this year might put Albert Pujols in position to reach Babe Ruth’s 714 total were he to push his retirement another season.
Well, given he’s hit .487 over his last 13 games (19 of 39), including seven home runs, bringing his career mark to 693, 700 suddenly appears doable this season.
Yet, all that aside, what in the name of Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger is going on with the Orioles?
Since reaching and losing the ALCS (4-0) in 2014, Baltimore has played one playoff game, a 5-2 11-inning loss in the 2016 AL Wild Card to Toronto.
Still, despite being 11 games under .500 on June 10 — 24-35 — the Orioles have gone 40-24 (.625) since, now sit 64-59, and were the playoffs to begin today … well, they’d still miss them, losing out on the final wild card entry by 2 1/2 games to Seattle.
But what’s important is they’re only 2 1/2 back of the Mariners, 3 1/2 of Toronto and 4 of Tampa Bay and there’s still 39 games to play.
If you can watch them at home, do, because you can feel their fans feeling it.
The Ravens could win the Super Bowl and it wouldn’t be as welcome as the Orioles reaching a real playoff series, because there’s nothing like giving an old baseball town a reason to remember its roots.
4. Though the PGA Tour is making changes, LIV hasn’t won
Here are the changes, announced this week:
• As determined by various criteria meant to identify which 20 players “resonate most with our growing fan base” those players will do two things:
One, commit to play at least 20 events, 12 being tourneys given “elevated” status by the tour, carrying average total purses of $20 million. Two, gain entry into the tour’s Player Impact Program (PIP), in which they’ll compete for shares of a $100 million bonus pool.
Eight of those tourneys have been identified: the tour’s three playoff events, The Genesis Invitational, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament, WGC Match Play Championship and the Tournament of Champions.
Presuming all 20 in the PIP are eligible for all events, they’re sure to also play in the four majors — Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open, Open Championship — and The Players Championship.
The players we want to watch most will compete against each other far more frequently and in return be eligible for far more earnings.
• All 125 fully exempt players on tour will be guaranteed a “league minimum” earning figure of $500,000.
• Every non-exempt player earning entry into a tour event will receive, should they miss the cut, a stipend of $5,000 covering travel and other expenses associated with being on tour.
The best, or most interesting players, will compete will meet more often; nine non-playoff events will have their upper tier status codified and any player who manages to qualify for an event won’t have to beg his backers for plane fare, gas or meal money for at least those weeks.
So, sure, thanks LIV Tour.
But you’ve won nothing.
Though you’ve improved the PGA Tour, you’ll never earn an audience for your 54-hole, no-cut, shotgun start events.