ESPN Keeps Expanding Bowl Season With Its Own Games: There are 39 bowl games this year in college football. ESPN owns 11 of them. One of this year's network-created newbies is the Camellia Bowl, played in Montgomery, Alabama, at the 92-year-old Cramton Bowl, the longtime home of the BlueGray Football Classic and host to 20 Alabama games through the 1950s. The bowl was created to match up Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference teams and the inaugural opponents are Bowling Green (7-6) and South Alabama (6-6). The guaranteed payout for each team is only $100,000. "We realize this isn't Ohio State-Alabama in New Orleans," said Pete Derzis of ESPN Events.
Chris Wondolowski Relives That Shot: "Wondolowski went back to the locker room and showered and dressed. Moments later, he did something that no athlete in the aftermath of failure should ever, under any circumstances, do: He checked Twitter." Jordan Ritter Conn of Grantland catches up with Chris Wondolowski, six months after the World Cup round of 16 game-winning goal that wasn't.
Panthers Win in NHL Record 20-Round Shootout: The Florida Panthers defeated the Washington Capitols in an epic, record-setting shootout that went 20 rounds Tuesday night. Five times the Panthers needed a goal to extend the shootout and got it. The last was by Dylan Olsen, a rookie defenseman who said "I really only have one or two moves." In round 20, after Alex Ovechkin missed, Nick Bjugstad scored the winner.
Can True Sports Fans Switch to a New Favorite Team?: Ben Adler says no: "When I lived in Washington, D.C., I had a friend who is also from New York but had switched his allegiance to D.C. teams on the grounds that he planned on living there the rest of his life, so it would be more convenient. I couldn't even fathom doing the same. If you can make rational decisions about who you root for, are you even a real fan at all?" An NFL Shop commercial says yes with its "Vikings-Eagles-Bengals-Cowboys-Steelers family," but the ad gets hammered on social media every Sunday. Don Delco blogs, "We can all agree this family sucks. How can everyone who moved away become such bandwagon fans?"
Welcome to Middle Infielder Island: If you want your son or daughter to be a great middle infielder, move to Curacao, an island off the coast of Venezuela. From a population of only 150,000 have emerged some of Major League Baseball's current and future shortstops and second baseman: Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar. The secret is in the soil, which is hard and pebble-strewn even on the baseball fields: "[T]hose little rocks have helped produce some of the most talented middle infielders in baseball, softening their hands and honing their reflexes to react to the most unexpected of bounces," writes David Waldstein.
Zemgus Girgensons Leads NHL All-Star Voting: The top vote getter on the leaderboard for NHL all-star balloting is Zemgus Girgensons. The 20-year-old Buffalo Sabres center does not rank in the top 100 scorers -- 9 goals, 8 assists, 5 +/- -- but he has over double the votes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Girgensons, the only Latvian in the NHL, is getting enormous support from his country. From the NYT: "In the most recent week in which votes were measured, Girgensons added 400,000, 82 percent of them coming from Latvia."
Plans for 39th Premier League Game Abroad Fizzle: Six years after Premier League chief Richard Scudamore floated the idea of playing a 39th game in other countries, he is conceding defeat. "The idea of an extra game is gone," he said. "I bear the scars from thinking itís a good idea." Another proposal has been more successful: The next broadcast deal will feature Friday evening games beginning in 2016.
New Tennis League Called 'Minor Miracle' by Wall Street Journal: A new league founded by former doubles champ Mahesh Bhupathi, International Premier Tennis League, began last month with events in the Philippines, Singapore and India. The final event of the first season finishes today in Dubai. Four teams featuring some of the sport's best-known men and women -- including past greats -- compete in a series of singles and doubles events as the Micromax Indian Aces, Musafir.com UAE Royals, Manila Mavericks and DBS Singapore Slammers. Some rules speed up the sport, including a serve clock, next-point-wins provision after deuce and a worth-double "power point" a team can attempt once per set. There also are player substitutions mid-match. Wall Street Journal sportswriter Tom Perrotta said the league "should be considered a minor miracle -- and an important part of the sportís future. ... As of July, there were still rumors that the league would fail before it started. Instead, it has received a lot more attention and praise than anyone thought it would."
Bitcoin Bowl Brings Virtual Currency to St. Pete: The first Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl will be played on December 26 at Tropicana Field between N.C. State and UCF. The bitcoin processor BitPay bought the naming rights, paying for the deal in the virtual currency, and the event has grown beyond the game. A nearby town in a "Bitcoin Beach" initiative convinced 65 percent of its businesses to accept the currency, touting no transacation fees or chargebacks as incentive. Five bitcoin ATMs will be installed at the game and concessions will take it as payment. A sign that this isn't all bitvana, from the Tampa Tribune: "A downside to the coin is that its value fluctuates. But BitPay has offered area merchants the opportunity to accept it from customers and then receive the exact dollar amount of the transaction back into their bank accounts."
Wage Lawsuit by Bills Cheerleaders Details Appalling Treatment: The Buffalo Bills make over $200 million in revenue a year but not a penny of that goes to the team's cheerleaders. A minimum wage-violation lawsuit filed by five of the Buffalo Jills details how they had to pay $650 for their own uniforms, got no wages, had their Facebook accounts monitored, were told how to handle their menstrual cycle and were required to visit a plastic surgeon who pitched them on breast augmentation. And then there's this: "The Jills were required to attend a golf tournament for sponsors. The high rollers paid cash -- 'Flips for Tips' -- to watch bikini-clad cheerleaders do back flips. Afterward, the men placed bids on which women would ride around in their golf carts. A not-incidental detail: The carts had no extra seats. Women clung to the back or, much more to the point, were invited to sit in the menís laps."
Jon Lester Signs 6-Year, $155 Million Deal with Chicago Cubs: Free agent pitcher Jon Lester has reportedly agreed to the richest contract in Chicago Cubs history -- a six-year, $155 million deal. Other teams vying for his services were the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants. In terms of annual value, Lester becomes baseball's second-highest paid hurler behind Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. How are they taking this news in Boston, Eric Wilbur? "Red Sox proved incompetent in losing Jon Lester."
Oklahoma Judge Asked to Overturn High School Playoff Game: On Wednesday, a district judge in Oklahoma will rule on whether to invalidate a high school football playoff game because of an officiating mistake. Locust Grove defeated Frederick A. Douglass 20-19 after a 58-yard Douglass touchdown pass was reversed with 64 seconds left. A coach had accidentally bumped a referee during the play, and the referees wrongly threw out the score instead of assessing a five-yard penalty on the extra point or kickoff as the rules dictate. To those who scoff at the idea the mistake should result in a partial or full-game do-over, Oklahoma City public schools general counsel Brandon Carey said, "Just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean itís not the right thing to do."
Alia Atkinson Becomes First Black Female Swimming Champion: The Jamaican Alia Atkinson became the first black woman to win a world swimming title, taking the 100-meter breaststroke at the world short-course championships Saturday. The 25-year-old also tied the world record of 1 minutes, 2.36 seconds set by Ruta Meilutyte. Check out the link for a photo of her epic reaction upon learning what she did.
538: 7 Other Schools That May Follow UAB Out of Football: The number crunchers at 538 look at the financial situation that led University of Alabama at Birmingham president Ray Watts to announce the shutdown of the school's college football program this week. Eight other schools have added football programs since UAB in 1996, and seven of them have similarly difficult funding situations: Florida Atlantic, Florida International, South Alabama, UT-San Antonio, Georgia State, Old Dominion and UNC-Charlotte. "All of them are based in the South, and all of them felt they had a chance to succeed because of the prestige of the game and the fertile recruiting grounds in the region. But they've found it incredibly expensive to field a competitive FBS program," writes David Goldenberg. "And as the Big 5 power conferences start to crank up the financial pressure -- both with lavish spending on facilities and upcoming allowances for players -- it's possible that some of these programs could join UAB on the sidelines."
Streamers Return to The Palestra: An old Philadelphia college basketball tradition returned today at The Palestra at the start of the Temple-LaSalle game. Fans threw streamers onto the court after each team's first basket. This was a tradition from 1955 to 1985 during games at the arena between the city's Big 5 -- Penn, La Salle, Temple, St. Joseph's and Villanova -- but it ended when the NCAA banned the practice and said it would result in technical fouls. Fouls were assessed Saturday, but both coaches had their shooter intentionally step on the free throw line to invalidate the shots.
Winter is Coming: Grantland offers a preview of Major League Baseball's winter meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego. The overabundance of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielders suggests one or two could be dealt such as Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier, opines Ben Lindbergh: "The outfield was crowded last winter, but now it looks like the line outside Foot Locker on LeBrons release day." The weirdest thing in the piece: His assertion that the Chicago Cubs, a suitor for pitcher Jon Lester, "can offer a chance to contend."
College Football Fan Map: The New York Times has given college football the fan map treatment, creating an interactive map of fan allegiances based on Facebook likes. "All told, 84 programs can reasonably claim to be the most popular college football team somewhere in the United States," the paper reports. You can zoom in on the interactive map to see zip-code specific findings. One discovery: "The most consistently loyal fans in America live in Wisconsin. More than 87 percent of fans in some Wisconsin ZIP codes support the Badgers, a level that isn't reached anywhere else, our estimates show."
Texans' Andre Johnson Takes At-Risk Kids on Toys 'R Us Shopping Spree: A group of 8-16 year old kids from family protective services in the Houston area were taken to a local Toys 'R Us by Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and given 80 seconds to fill an empty shopping cart with any toy they wanted, bought by him as Christmas presents. They also got a videogame system and some games on top of that. The bill was $16,266.26. Johnson has done this for eight straight years. The 80-second-spree idea was his uncle's. His reaction after the first year: "Wow, I didn't think they could grab that much stuff in that amount of time."
Lure Banned from Competitive Fishing for Being 'Too Effective': The Alabama Rig has become the first artificial lure ever banned from fishing competitions. It's too good at catching bass, walleye and northern pike. The top U.S. bass-fishing competitions, BASS and F.L.W. Outdoors, have banned its use along with similar lures, and BASS extended the ban to all levels. "The anglers feel that sometimes it can be too effective and it takes away some of the skill in what is a traditional tournament," said David Precht of BASS. Alabama Rig inventor Andy Poss is bummed. "I really looked up to those guys," he said. "But then you get in the business side of fishing; it was a really big letdown."
0-16 Philadelphia 76ers Two Games from Worst Start in NBA History: The Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Dallas Mavericks Saturday, falling to 0-16 and setting a record for the worst start in the 68-year history of the franchise. A Philly.Com poll asks whether the team will break its own NBA record of 73 losses in a season. So far, 85% say yes. The worst start in NBA history is 0-18 by the New Jersey Nets in 2009. The 76ers' next three opponents are San Antonio (12-4), Minnesota (4-11) and Oklahoma City (5-12).
New India Super League Has Fourth-Highest Attendance in Soccer: The India Super League began a month ago, hoping to bring soccer to prominence in a country where it was once the most popular sport. The league has brought on some older foreign stars -- Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka and David Trezeguet -- and drew 56 million viewers to its opening matches. The league has eight teams, plays three months and does not relegate, although it plans a merger with the smaller, established I-League within five years. Organizers tout that it has the fourth-highest attendance of any league, ahead of Serie A and behind the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga. In a country of 1.2 billion, there are a lot of potential eyeballs. "Even a niche does very well for numbers," said Siddhanth Aney, editor of Sports Illustrated India. "You only need 1 percent of the TV audience to be successful."
Cricketer Fighting for Life After Ball to Head: An Australian cricketer suffered a life-threatening injury when struck below his helmet while swinging at a cricket ball during a match in Sydney Tuesday. Phillip Hughes, 25, collapsed and his heart reportedly stopped before he was resuscitated. He was put in an induced coma at a hospital and is in intensive care. "In first class cricket, top batsmen face balls delivered at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour, so injuries aren't uncommon, but they are very rarely this serious thanks to the protection usually provided by padding and helmets" the Wall Street Journal explains.
Red Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez: The Boston Red Sox have reached deals with shortstop Hanley Ramirez (four years, $88 million) and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (five years, $90 million). Ramirez is likely to move to the outfield because the Sox already have Xander Bogaerts at his position. Jim Bowden expects the Sox to go after more than one top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers and names Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and James Shields among their targets. "The Red Sox lineup is now much better, but they're not even going to contend unless they completely revamp the top of their starting rotation with at least two elite starters," he writes.
Clif Bar Drops Sponsorship of 5 Climbers Over Risks They Take: Clif Bar, the nutrition bar maker that has long supported the sport of climbing, has dropped sponsorship of five well-known climbers. "We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go," the company wrote in an open letter to the climbing community. "We understand that some climbers feel these forms of climbing are pushing the sport to new frontiers. But we no longer feel good about benefiting from the amount of risk certain athletes are taking in areas of the sport where there is no margin for error; where there is no safety net."