The big story last week to rock the NFL world was the potential scandal involving daily fantasy football giants DraftKings and FanDuel.
As a quick recap: A DraftKings employee mistakenly published on Twitter sensitive information prior to last Sunday’s kickoffs about which players were being used the most by participants, then won a $350,000 contest on FanDuel.
The two companies stated that the employee published the information by accident, that his winnings on FanDuel were unrelated and that he did not improperly use inside information. But it has drawn a lot of scrutiny to the two companies — including that of the New York Attorney General — and forced them to change their rules to no longer allow employees to play on the rival sites.
DraftKings and FanDuel have arguably been the biggest story line of the 2015 season, with their advertising dominating NFL programming.
They also have left a lot of NFL fans scratching their heads. Doesn’t the NFL have a strict policy against gambling? And how is daily fantasy, which has been embraced by the NFL with in-stadium advertising and official partnerships with teams (Robert Kraft is a major investor in DraftKings), different from wagering on pointspreads, over/unders, and the myriad other gambling lines that are banned by the NFL?
So, let’s take a look at the NFL’s gambling policy and see how daily fantasy sports fits in:
1. What is banned by the NFL?
“The NFL opposes all forms of illegal gambling, as well as legal betting on NFL games or other professional, college or Olympic sports,” the league states. “Betting on any NFL game or practice, or any other professional (e.g., NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA, USTA), college (e.g., NCAA basketball), or Olympic sport, including but not limited to wagers related to game outcome, statistics, score, or performance of any individual participant (emphasis ours).”
2. How else does the NFL define gambling?
The league defines gambling as anything that has a prize, anything that forces a participant to put something up for consideration (i.e. a “buy-in”) and for the element of “chance” to be involved.
“The use or exercise of skill, strategy, and/or knowledge, unless it completely negates the element of chance (emphasis ours), does not convert an activity into something other than gambling,” the NFL states.
3. What is allowed?
“Attending legally operated casinos and horse or dog racing tracks and wagering on casino games or races on personal time is not prohibited by this policy,” the NFL states. “In addition, fantasy football games and league or club-sponsored skills competitions (e.g., racquetball tournaments, “Club Olympics” events) for prizes generally are not considered to be gambling or a gambling-related activity, provided that there is no wagering on the outcome.”
4. Can NFL personnel win money in fantasy sports?
“While participating in fantasy football games is not considered gambling under the NFL Gambling Policy,” the NFL states, “the policy does prohibit employees from accepting prizes in excess of $250 in the aggregate per season to avoid any appearance of impropriety due to perceived preferential access to information.”
5. So, why is daily fantasy football OK?
The NFL says daily fantasy football is a game of skill, not of chance.
“It’s hard to see the influence that it could have on the outcome of a game because individual players are picking different players from different teams, mashing them up, you might call it, and it’s not based on the outcome of a game, which is what our biggest concern is with sports betting,” commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. “So our position continues to be that way, but we recognize some states consider it legal, some don’t, and we’ll follow that law and make sure we do.”
6. How is that any different than betting on individual performances or over/unders?
It isn’t, really. Betting on Tom Brady to throw at least four touchdown passes or for the Patriots and Cowboys to score more than 50 combined points doesn’t seem all too different from daily fantasy football.
7. There’s no “chance” involved in daily fantasy football?
Of course there is. Injuries, fumbles, weather conditions — there are myriad variables outside of our control that determine a player’s performance.
8. So, how come the NFL is OK with daily fantasy football?
Let’s be honest — the NFL has found a way to monetize daily fantasy football through major partnerships with DraftKings and FanDuel, while the sports books and casinos don’t provide any value to the league.
“We have not taken any equity positions,” Goodell said of FanDuel and DraftKings. “We have allowed this to happen on advertising. There are sponsorship opportunities in the stadium, but not with our logos and marks. We’re following other leagues in that case, in the sense that other leagues have taken equity positions. We feel that a cautious approach is the right way, but we’re protecting our game.”
The Globe’s stance on sports gambling is fairly clear, since our football writers pick each game against the pointspread in each Friday’s newspaper. As far as I’m concerned, the NFL and the other major sports leagues should accept reality and embrace sports gambling, a movement that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is championing.
It would also end the current charade in the NFL, which is bending over backward to pretend that daily fantasy sports isn’t gambling, even though it clearly is.
MESS IN MIAMI
Firings symbolize Dolphins’ failings
Of all the disappointing teams through the first quarter of the season, the Dolphins are atop the list, sporting a 1-3 record after last week’s 13-point loss to the Jets. The Dolphins were supposed to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East crown this year, but have one measly sack this year after spending $60 million guaranteed on Ndamukong Suh. Owner Stephen Ross decided he had seen enough last week, firing coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle four games into their fourth season.
Ross has given the Dolphins plenty of resources over the years to be competitive, signing major free agents, renovating the team facility, and so on. But the Dolphins didn’t make the playoffs in his first six seasons as owner, and are on pace for a seventh.
Ross has taken some heat in Miami for being an absentee owner (he lives in New York and flies to Miami for games) and twice now he has kept a coach too long because he didn’t have a pulse on the team — Philbin this year and Tony Sparano in 2011.
Ross keeps making two other major flaws:
1. He needs to stop hiring and firing his football staff piece by piece. In late 2011, he fired coach Sparano but kept general manager Jeff Ireland. In 2014, he fired Ireland but kept Philbin. Now he’s firing Philbin and keeping the front office intact — for now. It has caused a lot of friction inside the football department, and it would behoove Ross to allow first-year football czar Mike Tannenbaum to clean house after this year and hire a coach and scouting/executive staff that are in lockstep with each other.
2. Ross has to stop empowering the players. It seems after every loss we hear of unnamed players complaining about the coaches and the schemes and how the coaching staff is holding the players back. Firing Philbin and Coyle was clearly a move to appease the players as much it was the fans.
The Dolphins are 1-3, but their season is hardly over. Interim coach Dan Campbell, a former 10-year tight end who last played in 2009, might turn out to be a fine head coach. And new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo might be able to fix what’s ailing the defense. But they’re both first-timers in their new jobs, and neither is known as an X’s and O’s savant.
Campbell will probably change the culture in Miami — he had players perform the hard-nosed “Oklahoma Drill” in his first practice last week — but instilling toughness and improving the team’s mind-set isn’t going to help them beat the Patriots. It’s about scheming and game-planning, and do we really think Campbell and Anarumo are going to match wits with Bill Belichick and the Patriots? Good luck.
Keeping pace with the Patriots
A couple of Patriots-related tidbits:
■ The Patriots will have an interesting portfolio of draft picks in 2016. They traded their fifth-round pick for Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin, received the Texans’ sixth-round pick in addition for Martin, traded a sixth-rounder for linebacker Jon Bostic, will likely receive a seventh-rounder from the Texans for Ryan Mallett, and, of course, won’t have their first-round pick because of Deflategate.
That leaves them with picks in the second, third, fourth, sixth, and two in the seventh round. But they should cash in on compensatory picks. OverTheCap.com projects the Patriots to get an extra third-rounder for losing Darrelle Revis, a fifth-rounder for Vince Wilfork, a sixth-rounder for Shane Vereen, and a seventh-rounder for Akeem Ayers.
And don’t be surprised if a quarterback-desperate team throws a first-round pick at the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo. Houston Texans, anyone?
It’s important to note that if the Patriots trade for a first-round pick, the NFL will take away whichever one is higher.
■ Why did the Patriots, who never invest in running backs, sign Dion Lewis to a contract extension through 2017 after just three games? In true Patriot fashion, the team got tremendous value out of the deal.
Lewis, who has two TDs and is averaging 108.3 yards from scrimmage per game, realistically signed a three-year deal (2015-17) for only $600,000 guaranteed (his signing bonus). Lewis’s new 2015 cash intake is $1.185 million (signing bonus plus $585,000 league-minimum salary), or the same as Brandon Bolden, a core special teams player who has touched the ball eight times this year.
Lewis’s base salary in 2016 will be $800,000, less than punter Ryan Allen’s ($1 million) and about half of this year’s lowest restricted free agent tender of $1.542 million. Lewis’s base salary in 2017 will be a modest $1.2 million, and his salary cap number will be the second lowest of all running backs under contract for that year. Lewis doesn’t have any guaranteed money for 2016 or 2017, and most of the contract is tied up in him being healthy ($12,500 per game) and productive (as much as $900,000 per season based on playing time).
Lewis is unproven but probably would have made more money had he waited until free agency this offseason. As comparisons, Vereen got $4.75 million guaranteed last spring, while backup running back Roy Helu got $4.1 million over two years, with $2.1 million essentially guaranteed. Lewis is arguably much better than both.
It’s hard to blame Lewis for wanting to put a little extra money in his pocket, but we’re told the Patriots were shocked that Lewis accepted this below-market deal.
Kicking misses keep on coming
Our weekly look at extra points and two-point conversions:
■ Extra points, Week 4: Kickers went 59 for 63 (93.7 percent) last week. The Giants’ Josh Brown, the Buccaneers’ Kyle Brindza, and the Eagles’ Caleb Sturgis each missed a kick, and the Bears’ Robbie Gould had one blocked.
■ Extra points, 2015 season: Kickers are 285 for 302 (94.4 percent). The 17 misses are more than double the eight misses from all of last season. Fifteen kickers have missed at least one extra point this year, while 20 kickers remain perfect. Randy Bullock and Brindza are the only kickers to miss two extra points, and both have since been cut by their teams.
■ Two-point conversions, Week 4: Teams went 3 for 4 (75 percent). The Giants, Bengals, and Browns were successful, while the Buccaneers were denied.
■ Two-point conversions, 2015 season: Teams are 15 of 29 (51.7 percent).
Belichick’s coaching curse
Bill Belichick’s coaching disciples haven’t been very successful once they branch out on their own, and Thursday’s terrible loss to the Colts had us thinking that Houston’s Bill O’Brien may be experiencing the same fate.
The coaches follow the same trend — getting worse in their second year. Their records: Romeo Crennel (Browns): 6-10, 4-12; Eric Mangini (Jets): 10-6, 4-12; Nick Saban (Dolphins): 9-7, 6-10; Josh McDaniels (Broncos): 8-8, 4-12; O’Brien: 9-7, 1-4.
Note to O’Brien: Pick a quarterback and stick with him (cough Brian Hoyer, cough).
Rex Ryan wants to build a bully in Buffalo, but the Bills need to tone it down and stop beating themselves. The Bills have 13 personal fouls — nine for roughness, three for unsportsmanlike conduct, and one for taunting. No other team in the NFL has more than six . . . Since 1990, 25 teams have started 1-3 and made the playoffs (the last to do it were Carolina and Philadelphia in 2013). Only one won the Super Bowl: the 2001 Patriots . . . If the Patriots beat the Cowboys on Sunday, the NFL will have had six teams at 4-0 this year, the most in history . . . The Toronto Sun reported last week that the NFL is considering Toronto and Vancouver for future International Series games, but the Canadian cities trail the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, and Brazil in terms of priority The Los Angeles Daily News also reported that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is eyeing Toronto or London in case NFL owners block his move to Los Angeles . . . You won’t see too many stats credited to the website Pro Football Focus anymore. The popular stats and analysis website recently changed its business model and is only providing its stats on a business-to-business basis. The site works with 19 NFL teams . . . Don’t look now, but we could have a huge Patriots-Jets game at Foxborough in a couple of weeks. The Patriots could be 5-0 if they take care of the Cowboys and Colts, and the Jets could be 4-1 if they beat Washington following their bye this weekend.
The Colts face Houston on Thursday night with an opportunity to stretch their winning streak against AFC South foes to 16 games, an NFL record. Here’s how their divisional run of dominance compares to the previous record holder and their closest competition: