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Donald Trump reportedly tried to stop Spygate investigation on behalf of Patriots, Robert Kraft

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Donald Trump reportedly tried to stop Spygate investigation on behalf of Patriots, Robert Kraft

Did Donald Trump make a phone call on behalf of Robert Kraft and the Patriots during the Spygate scandal? According to a report from ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, the answer is yes.

Shanin Specter, the son of former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who famously launched an investigation into the Spygate scandal, and Charles Robbins, the senator’s communications aide and ghostwriter, both claim to know that Trump offered money to make Specter’s investigation go away.

The elder Specter, who was a staunch critic of the NFL, wanted league executives to testify under oath about why evidence of cheating had been destroyed. The investigation never made headway.

MORE: Julio Jones unaware FS1 interview with Shannon Sharpe was live

Why it matters: If Trump did offer Specter any money to make the Spygate scandal go away, that could be considered a bribe and would potentially have been a prosecutable offense. 

  • Kraft and Trump have enjoyed a friendship for quite some time, dating back to Kraft buying a place near Mar-a-Lago in Florida back in the 1990s. The two became friends at that point, and more recently Kraft has spoken about how involved Trump was in his life after Kraft’s wife, Myra, died. So, the two do share a long-term connection.
  • The NFL really didn’t want the scandal to be investigated, with Roger Goodell once saying, “If it ever got to an investigation, it would be terrible for the league.”

What they’re saying: Of course, the former president of the United States and the Patriots’ owner both deny that Trump made any overtures to Specter while the Spygate investigation was in the works.

  • “This is completely false,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, per Van Natta Jr. and Wickersham. “We have no idea what you’re talking about.” Miller declined to answer a series of follow-up questions. A Patriots spokesman said Kraft “never asked Donald Trump to talk to Arlen Specter on his behalf.”
  • “Mr. Kraft is not aware of any involvement of Trump on this topic and he did not have any other engagement with Specter or his staff,” the spokesman said via email.

But … : The younger Specter insisted that Trump was “acting as a messenger for Kraft,” according to Van Natta Jr. and Wickersham’s report.

  • “My father told me that Trump was acting as a messenger for Kraft. But I’m equally sure the reference to money in Palm Beach was campaign contributions, not cash. The offer was Kraft assistance with campaign contributions. … My father said it was Kraft’s offer, not someone else’s.”

What came of this: Arlen Specter did not report the offer to the after concluding the offer wasn’t a bribe solicitation, Shanin Specter said. Campaign contributions, which is reportedly the form that Trump and Kraft’s offer came in, aren’t considered bribes. But even at this stage in the history of the Spygate scandal — 13 1/2 years removed from it — this story is an intriguing anecdote.

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With 12-team playoff, college coaches on hot seat may have higher survival rate

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With 12-team playoff, college coaches on hot seat may have higher survival rate

A College Football Playoff subcommittee revealed a proposal for 12-team expansion last week, a move that became the leading topic of the offseason. 

Soon enough, we will be back to the hot-seat coaches. That chatter never goes away. 

While that expansion won’t impact the futures of head coaches for the next few seasons, the potential ripple effects on the coaching carousel will be intriguing. Just wait until the 12-team playoff and hot-seat talk mix. 

MORE: How a 12-team College Football Playoff works 

That will lead to some interesting questions about the definition of coaching success. 

Is it a trip to the 12-team CFP? Would winning a Playoff game save a coach’s job — similar to a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament? Which coaches would have different temperatures now if the 12-team Playoff started in 2014? Will fewer coaches be fired as a result?

Those are legitimate questions when you consider past results. Here is a look at the schools that would have multiple CFP appearances if the 12-team format started in 2014:

If CFP had 12 teams since 2014 … 

SCHOOL PLAYOFF APP.
Ohio State 7
Alabama 6
Clemson 6
Oklahoma 6
Georgia 4
Notre Dame 4
Penn State 4
Florida 3
Florida State 3
Washington 3
Wisconsin 3
Baylor 2
LSU 2
Michigan 2
Michigan State 2
Oregon 2
TCU 2
UCF 2
USC 2

Now, here is how it would have changed the outlook on some programs and coaches in that time frame: 

Which programs would have benefitted with 12 teams?

Penn State, Georgia and TCU stand out.

The Nittany Lions have yet to make a Playoff appearance, and James Franklin is coming off a miserable 4-5 season in 2020. Franklin is on shakier ground than usual heading into 2021, but it would be a different story in a 12-team setup. 

Penn State would have made four at-large appearances from 2016-19. Imagine the impact that would have had on recruiting and how that would have helped make up ground with Ohio State — the only school that would have made the CFP all seven seasons. Over time, that would make the Big Ten East race more compelling than it is in the present day.  

Sound familiar, Georgia? The Bulldogs would have made the CFP each of the last four seasons, which is better than the one appearance Georgia has under Kirby Smart. Georgia has recruited at an elite level under Smart, but the program continues to chase its first national championship since 1980. For all the success, the Bulldogs are still operating in Alabama’s shadow. 

Perhaps in one of those seasons the Bulldogs would have made that run, but Smart’s success in Athens — and even Mark Richt before him — would be perceived with more appreciation.

Imagine what back-to-back Playoff appearances in 2014-15 would have done for Gary Patterson at TCU in the Big 12. Those misses stalled the program’s momentum. Patterson is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the FBS and has enjoyed steady success, but the Horned Frogs are 18-17 the last three seasons.

Which coaches would have cooler seats now?

Clay Helton and Jim Harbaugh have been on the hot seat the past few seasons. Those two coaches are talked about more than anybody else on any given offseason.

Helton would have led the Trojans to back-to-back CFP appearances in 2016-17 with Sam Darnold, and perhaps that would have helped the program avoid a two-year decline from 2018-19. Helton bounced back with a Pac-12 South championship in 2020, but USC might be further along on that road to true national championship contention.

Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State and has failed to break through to a Big Ten championship game since his arrival in 2015. Yet Michigan would have two CFP appearances under this setup, including that 2016 team that lost the double-overtime thriller to the Buckeyes on “The Spot.” The 2018 team also was Harbaugh’s last true Big Ten contender.

Perhaps those teams win a Playoff game or two. The Ohio State question still looms, but it isn’t the only talking point with Harbaugh. 

Which coaches might have stayed put? 

Chris Peterson retired after the 2019 season, but the Huskies would have been a three-time Playoff team in a 12-team setup from 2016-18. Would that have attracted the necessary talent for Peterson to make that national championship run?

Would Scott Frost still be at UCF? It’s worth asking knowing the Knights would have been a playoff team in 2017 and 2018. The Group of 5 inclusion might prompt more coaches to stay put (think Tom Herman at Houston). Frost is 12-20 the last three seasons at Nebraska.

Will there be fewer coaching changes?

Frost is a good launching point for that discussion. Consider that UCF coach Josh Heupel is at Tennessee now, and former Auburn coach Gus Malzhan is now at UCF. 

Auburn would have made the CFP only one time under this format, and Malzahn was formerly a coach that was on the hot seat every year like Harbaugh and Helton. Maybe that changes Malzahn’s status. Maybe it doesn’t. 

There were 17 coaching changes in the FBS this offseason. That was the first time in the CFP era that the number was under 20. Perhaps the 12-15 number becomes the norm in the 12-team era knowing that the definition of success slides with more includied in the Playoff.

Here is betting that will happen, and it will be a welcome change. 

Hot seat talk will never stop, but we’re looking forward to see how those conversations change. 

 

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MLB All-Star voting 2021: How it works, updated vote totals for Midsummer Classic

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MLB All-Star voting 2021: How it works, updated vote totals for Midsummer Classic

The MLB All-Star Game is back, after the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the cancellation of the 2020 game during the shortened 60-game MLB season. The 2021 contest was moved from Atlanta to Denver in early April, a controversial move spurred by a controversial voting bill passed in Georgia. But that’s a topic for another column.

Today, let’s look at how the 2021 All-Star Game voting is happening; it’s easy to forget that MLB changed the voting format a bit before the 2019 game, which was held in Cleveland. A few things have happened in the world — baseball and otherwise — since that change. 

Let’s look at that, along with the first batch of voting results.

How does the MLB All-Star voting process work?

As a refresher, here’s how MLB’s relatively new voting process works, with dates for 2021: For Phase 1, teams submit player names, one per position and three outfielders. And the voting, which started June 3, rolled out as usual. Fans vote, in a number of ways, for their favorite players or the players they felt deserved the nod (it’s always been vague and that’s part of the charm of a fan vote, I guess). There will be a second vote-total reveal on June 21. 

Phase 1 voting ends at 4 p.m. ET on June 24. On June 27, during an MLB Network show, the top three vote-getters at each position (the top nine outfielders) will be revealed.

Then, vote totals for those players all go back to zero. A new ballot will go live at noon ET on June 28, with only those three players at each position (and nine outfielders). Phase 2 voting does not last long; it ends July 1 at 2 p.m. ET. That’s just 98 hours of voting time to determine the starters at each position. 

The starters will be revealed later in the day on July 1. Details for that broadcast will be revealed at a later date. The full teams — including pitchers and reserves — will be revealed on a July 4 broadcast (again, details to come). 

Key dates ahead for the MLB All-Star Game

All-Star Balloting Update No. 2: June 21st 

Phase 1 Balloting Ends: June 24 at 4 p.m. ET

2021 Google MLB All-Star Ballot Finalists Show: June 27 at noon ET on MLB Network

Phase 2 Voting Begins: June 28 at noon ET

Phase 2 Voting Ends: July 1 at 2 pm. ET

2021 Google MLB All-Star Starters Reveal: July 1 (details TBA)

2021 Google MLB All-Star Selection Show: July 4 (details TBA)

Futures Game: July 11, at 3 p.m. ET

MLB All-Star Celebrity Softball Game: July 11, at 6 p.m. ET

MLB Draft: July 11, at 7 p.m. ET

Home Run Derby: July 12, at 8 p.m. ET

MLB All-Star Game: July 13, at 7:30 p.m. ET

First 2021 All-Star ballot update 

American League

Position/player Team Votes
C Salvador Perez Royals 694,710
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays 857,956
2B Marcus Semien Blue Jays 561,326
3B Rafael Devers Red Sox 451,042
SS Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 502,629
OF Mike Trout Angels 706,503
OF Aaron Judge Yankees 538,448
OF Byron Buxton Twins 383,178
DH Shohei Ohtani Angels 526,608

National League

Position/player Team Votes
C Buster Posey Giants 511,221
1B Max Muncy Dodgers 405,609
2B Ozzie Albies Braves 295,478
3B Kris Bryant Cubs 502,970
SS Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres 701,251
OF Ronald Acuña Jr. Braves 834,287
OF Nick Castellanos Reds 568,758
OF Jesse Winker Reds 462,692

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Goal from midfield at Euro 2021: Czech star Patrik Schick’s stunning strike vs. Scotland

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Goal from midfield at Euro 2021: Czech star Patrik Schick's stunning strike vs. Scotland

We’re only four days into Euros 2021, but it’s tough to see anyone topping Patrik Schick for goal of the tournament.

The Czech Republic forward scored a goal you don’t see every day: a shot from midfield. It was the second goal in the Group D match between the Czechs and Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow. 

Schick took a touch inside Scotland’s half and fired the ball from 50 yards out over flailing goalkeeper David Marshall, who was caught well off his line.

MORE: UEFA Euro schedule 2021: Complete dates, times, TV channels

The goal was Schick’s second of the game and the 2-0 win was a big one in a group that also features European heavyweights England and Croatia. His first strike came on a brilliant header which curled past the reach of Marshall.

The 25-year-old Schick plays for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. He came through with Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic before making a move to the Italian Serie A (Sampdoria and Roma). He played on loan with RB Leipzig in Germany before Leverkusen made a move to lock him up on a five-year contract.

The Czechs’ next Group D game comes against Croatia at Hampden Park in Glasgow, before taking on England for their final group game at Wembley Stadium.

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