Today in sports: The bidding process for star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish ends tonight, Browns president Mike Holmgren thinks his training staff is doing a heckuva job, and Chinese soccer struggles to go legit.
- Hamilton County, Ohio, prosecutor Joseph Deters has decided not to file criminal charges against the players involved in the sucker-punch-a-palooza that erupted with 9.4 seconds remaining in the Cincinnati-Xavier men's basketball game on Saturday. Remarkably, neither school's athletic department seems keen on dropping the annual game between the crosstown rivals from the schedule going forward, even though eight players were suspended and the national sports media has been putting both schools through the wringer for four says now. Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski conceded that the rivalry -- one of the nation's fiercest -- has gotten out of hand in recent years. "I really do believe that this has been coming for a long, long time,” he conceded. (It was also probably a mistake to keep calling it the Crosstown Shootout.) Still, Bobinski tells the Cincinnati Enquirer the game should stay on the schedule "as long as the dynamic surrounding it changes" and has apparently already spoken to Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock "about finding ways to make it a positive event." (Again, we'd suggest ditching the phrase Crosstown Shootout.) In a potential act of fence-mending that would seem more at home in 1993, the Enquirer says the schools "have had conversations about uniting both teams for community-based work in sportsmanship at their seasons’ end. It’s one way players can show their understanding of the ramifications of the brawl." [The Cincinnati Enquirer]
- Football innovator and former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren is in his second season as president and de facto public face of the Cleveland Browns, a role he's embraced with the passion of a model train enthusiast distracted by other, more interesting hobbies. Not even Holmgren could duck the controversy over whether the team violated league protocol on head injuries when it reinserted quarterback Colt McCoy into the lineup just two plays after he took a thundering helmet-to-helmet shot from Steelers linebacker James Harrison. McCoy says he can't remember the hit, his dad is furious at coach Pat Shurmur for sending him back out on the field, and doctors from the NFL and NFL Players Association are investigating the club's handling of the injuryIt's a dicey good situation in regular Cleveland, but everything remains smooth sailing in Bizzarro World Cleveland, which is apparently where Holmgren has been spending much of his time, alongside the Browns' tip-top sideline support staff. “Our medical staff and our training staff, they are the best in football,” Bizzarro Holmgren said. “These guys are really good. So one of the things that is troubling to me in this whole process is that they’re getting slammed a bit, along with the head coach. . . .And it’s unfair.” Actually, there isn't anything more fair than judging people based on what they've done, but Holmgren looks content with being the NFL front office version of Edward Rochester's first wife in Jane Eyre. The good news is Holmgren doesn't think the team is going to face "punitive" damages for how they handled McCoy, so Cleveland sports fans won't have their hearts broken by tortious liability at least. [PFT]
- Starting pitcher Yu Darvish is the most highly-touted Japanese baseball player to try and make the jump to MLB since pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2006. The process by which American teams bid on Japanese big leaguers is a genuine mystery, even in the era of round-the-clock leaks to cable sports stations, blogs, and beat reporters. To begin with, all interested teams must submit bids to negotiate with the player. (The bidding period on Darvish ends this evening.) The bids are submitted in sealed envelopes and the club with the high bid gets the exclusive rights to negotiate with the player, then must hammer out a contract with him. (He also gets to keep his posting fee.) In 2006, the Red Sox posted $51,111,111 for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka and spent another $50 million to sign him. The New York Times expects a team will post a figure in the n "perhaps $30 million to $50 million" for Darvish, and notes and "some people in baseball have projected that figure below $30 million." That wasn't the case in 2007 when current New York Mets manager Terry Collins was managing the Orix Buffaloes and facing the lanky right-hander, then just 21. Says Collins now: "Darvish [is] as good as any pitcher I’ve ever seen. Ever. I asked a scouting guy over there, ‘If Dice-K got $50 million, how much would Darvish get?’ At the time, the guess was $70 million.” Why the decline? Well, Matsuzaka has been inconsistent and the global economy is still hurting. but some in baseball say the entire posting system is flawed and all but rigged to help big-market teams. International players want to play in the limelight of cities like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Powerful teams can get promising international talent on the cheap, like the Yankees did last year when they won the services of shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima with a "surprisingly low $2.5 million" bid. The Oakland Athletics, meanwhile, posted $19.1 to negotiate with Hisashi Iwakuma, but he elected not to sign and returned to Japan. Agent Scott Boras, who most baseball fans have learned to be distrustful of over the years, actually has a reasonable proposal for fixing the system. He wants "a sliding scale whereby Japanese players can negotiate with any team and their Japanese teams would receive a percentage of the contract," in effect giving the player the right to choose where he goes instead of having one team and one team only as a suitor. [The New York Times]
- As the rest of China grows, the quality of its pro soccer lags behind. The Wall Street Journal notes that fans " blame corruption and mismanagement for the poor quality of the domestic league and of the national team, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 2002 but lost every game and failed to score a single goal." According to news agency Xinhua, senior Chinese soccer officials were arrested on bribery and match-fixing charges in 2010. The solution for suddenly cash-rich club owners is to lure aging international stars to China with the promise of a hefty paychecks. Over the summer, Argentine midfielder Dario Conca signed a $10 million contract -- the largest deal in the history of Chinese soccer -- with Guangzhou Evergrande, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, has also "paid $7.5 million for Brazilian forwards Cleo and Muriqui in the past 18 months." Earlier this week, former Chelsea and French national striker Nicolas Anelka and the Shanghai Shenhua.agreed on a two-year contract. Anelka's weekly salary will reportedly top $300,000 and The Journal says he's already the sport's "biggest international star." That doesn't mean the close ties between pro soccer in the country and Asian gamblers will disappear, or even be pushed underground with a nod. The Journal neatly captures China's problem when it comes to professional soccer in two sentences: "Shenhua's multimillionaire owner, Zhu Jun, posted a photograph on his microblogging account of Mr. Anelka posing with one of the club's shirts. 'Warmly welcome!' wrote Mr. Zhu, founder of Chinese Internet gaming company The9 Ltd., alongside the photo." [The Wall Street Journal]