March Madness Preview & Tom Brady’s “Unfinished Business” | Crooked Media
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March 15, 2022
March Madness Preview & Tom Brady’s “Unfinished Business”

In This Episode

Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal joins Takeline to discuss Tom Brady’s surprise return from brief retirement and Calvin Ridley’s indefinite suspension after gambling on NFL games. Joshua Robinson of The Wall Street Journal reports on the sale of Chelsea Football Club from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich amid war on Ukraine. But first, USA Today’s Dan Wolken helps us fill out our brackets.


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Jason Concepcion: I love my teammates and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business. Let’s fucking go. Hello and welcome to Takeline. It’s me, your guy, Jason Concepcion. We’ve got a wonderful show for you today. I’ll be talking to Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal, who had his weekend blown up like many of us did by Tom Brady’s surprise return after a 40 something day retirement. I guess it depends on how you exactly count the amount of days since he retired, but he’s back. Plus, we’ll be talking about Calvin Ridley’s indefinite suspension from the NFL after he admitted to gambling on NFL games. And I also talked to Dan Wolken of USA Today, who’s going to give us a great preview of the NCAA tournament, which I always need. Because that’s the one thing I have missing in my life is a workable and strong knowledge of college basketball. So lots of good stuff today, and I’ll talk to Joshua Robinson of The Wall Street Journal about the ongoing developments with Chelsea in the wake of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s sanction and announced sale of the club. But first, the Nets beat the Knicks on Sunday. It was a close one. No Kyrie, but he was sitting there courtside and after the fact, KD. In the postgame just teed off on New York City’s vaccine mandate rules and by extension, New York City Mayor Eric Adams. So Kyrie was sitting courtside, wearing a beautiful, what look like a suede shirt, was very engaged. It was definitely a weird. It’s a weird thing to see the star point guard for the home team, who is healthy and can play, sitting courtside in seats that he paid for and not playing for the team now. This is a result of an interesting loophole in New York City’s Vaccine Mandate rules. Which allows players and performers who come from out of state or live out of state, as Kyrie Irving does as a resident of New Jersey, allows them to under the more relaxed rules now to come and watch games. Not have to be vaccinated to come and watch a basketball game. But it still stipulates that people who live in the city and work in the city have to get vaccinated to perform their jobs. Kevin Durant said the following.


CLIP: Yeah, I don’t get it. It just feels like at this point now somebody is trying to make a statement or point to flex their authority. But you know, everybody out here looking for attention, and that’s what I feel like the mayor wants right now. Some attention, you know?


Jason Concepcion: OK, hold on a second. The mayor, first of all, Eric Adams is a wild guy. That guy, I think I’m not going to say that Eric Adams doesn’t want attention, but I will say that like the idea that Eric Adams is specifically flexing the authority vested in him by the people of New York City. Specifically, to keep Kyrie Irving off, the court is insane. I talked about it on the show a few weeks ago. It feels distant to us now because we’ve been living in this fucking crazy time for the past three years. But at one time, there were thousands of people dropping dead, dying, passing away in the U.S. from COVID every single day. New York City was the epicenter of that, and the state and local officials were groping around for ways that they could try and stem the tide when the vaccines became available. That became a way to do it. Make sure that New York City employees, various state and city employees are vaccinated before they enter common areas like offices, other places of business. Now, why is it that a player for the Brooklyn Nets who is unvaccinated can’t play but a player for the Indiana Pacers or the Charlotte Hornets, who is unvaccinated can come to the Barclays in Brooklyn and play? Because New York City’s ability to pass laws stops at the borders of New York City. They can’t pass a law that affects people from Charlotte or people from Indianapolis, or they could, but that would effectively cut off any kind of travel to and from those places. So they did what they had to do and what they could do and what they could do in the most efficient and easiest way they could while an emergency was going on. And that is pass a law that dealt with the citizens of New York City. Now does it look goofy now? It looks a little goofy when Kyrie can’t play. Yes, I admit that. But you also have to like, look at it in the context of what had happened, which was like an immense public health emergency. And I get it. Like, KD is out here. He’s pulling for his guy. He came to the Nets because he wants to win a title. He’s friends with Kyrie. The plan was for them to do it together. It’s certainly like Kevin Durant is good enough to win it on his own, as we saw in the postseason last year. The idea that like New York City specifically trying to suppress Kyrie Irving is just false. It’s not. It’s not correct.


CLIP: Hopefully, it gets figured out. Like I said, Eric, you got to. I mean, you got to figure something out, man, because you know, it’s looking crazy, especially on national TV, and he can come to the game but not play like, come on man.


Jason Concepcion: Again, Eric has things to deal with, like a growing sense of dangerousness around the city owing to a bevy of disturbing attacks on Asian citizens of New York City. He’s having to deal with, you know, the cratering real estate prices and various other things inflation as as many other state and local lawmakers are having to deal with. He’s having to deal with policing, how policing will happen in the context of the city, in the context of the ongoing public health emergency, in the context of a population that largely distrusts the police. These are all just like a few of the priorities there. Eric Adams, who again, is a wild, almost unhinged, wild man guy who will say stuff like, and this is like, I’m being hyperbolic now. But Eric Adams would be like, Hey, what if we had the cops repel down ropes like, like out of a Black Hawk wearing like super RoboCop mech suits like that? That’s the thing that Eric Adams will like kind of pitch sometimes. So he’s a wild guy, but he’s got a lot on his plate, not specifically Kyrie. And I understand KD’s frustrated. But guess what? It turns out changing laws actually takes some time. It’s actually like hard to do. If you change a law to benefit one person or give one person an exception, now there is going to come all these other people out of the woodwork, including hundreds, if not low level, low thousands of city employees who lost their jobs because of vaccine mandates. Now, all of a sudden, they’re going to be flooding into the court system, saying, Hey, what about me? Why can’t I come back? They let Kyrie play. Why can’t I come back and work? So there are a lot of knock on effects to just being like, OK, Kyrie, you have an exception that are simply and it’s sad to say this, although I’ll admit it does give me pleasure to say this as a Knicks fan that are sadly below the attention of the mayor of New York City and frankly, should be. Bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah. That’s right, March Madness is nearly upon us, the NCAA tournament unofficially began on Sunday with the selections for the first round. Match-Ups Selection Committee has done its job and now it is time for Dan Wolken, national NCAA basketball writer for USA Today. Do his job, which is to make us here at Takeline smarter about picking our brackets by filling out our brackets and just about informing us about these teams. Because straight up, if there is a hole in my sports knowledge, it is the NCAA basketball that we all love and watch every March. Dan, thank you for joining Takeline.


Dan Wolken: Appreciate you having me. Thanks for asking. Glad to be here!


Jason Concepcion: So did the selection committee get it right this year? It feels like every year there is like 63 teams that everybody absolutely agrees with. And then there’s five that are everyone is like, What happened? What are your thoughts on what we saw today?


Dan Wolken: I actually just wrote a column about this that you guys can check out at USA Today dot com. And I think the biggest problem with the committee is they just don’t have a lot of time. All of these results come in Saturday night, Sunday, and they are facing a six p.m. Eastern deadline to get this bracket out to CBS so that they can put it on television before 60 Minutes starts every single year. And there’s just a lot of moving parts and they screw up some things. Most of the time they get the right teams. Although I think this year Texas A&M was a mistake. I would have had A&M in, they did not put them in. I thought A&M played really well in the SEC tournament. They beat Auburn, they beat Arkansas, two very highly seeded teams. I would have had A&M in. I think the biggest issue is seeding. You typically, yeah, you can make an argument one way or the other about one or two teams at the very bottom of the bracket. But I think they just mess up the seeding way too often. Just as an example, Tennessee, they got seeded number three in the south region. But most of the pundits and prognosticators, especially after this SCC tournament run that Tennessee was on, had them not just as a number two seed, but maybe even the strongest number two.


Jason Concepcion: Interesting.


Dan Wolken: It just looks lazy on the part of the committee that they don’t really account for what happens in these conference tournaments and they do it every single year. I get it, they’re pressed for time. And you move one team around in a bracket that can cascade into all these other moves you got to make. So I understand why these mistakes get made. But I just sort of wish they had more time to really go back and scrub all these seeds and make sure they’re really getting it right


Jason Concepcion: Process wise, you’d think that an organization that is raking in the bucks every single year would figure out a way to just kind of like beef up this this little kink in the process. But that’s fine. So our number one seeds are Gonzaga, Baylor, Arizona and Kansas. Any thoughts there about who might be overrated, underrated and their paths to the Final Four potentially?


Dan Wolken: Yeah. I think as far as the number one seeds, they pretty much got them right. It’s fairly obvious that those four were deserving just based on the overall body of work. I think the biggest red flag with any of the number one seeds is that Baylor’s had some injuries, particularly Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who was such a huge part of their national championship team last year. Just such a hard working player who really gave them such a great identity, especially on defense, and he’s out, and they have not been quite as good since his injury. Baylor’s still really good. You know, it’s not like he was their best scorer or anything like that, but he just really gave them that kind of physical edge. And really, you know, five percent, 10 percent of their defense, I thought, was just sort of his energy. So Baylor, I think, is probably the most vulnerable, just just due to injuries. I think Kansas is really solid, and I thought they got a great draw, to be honest with you. Arizona, you can’t argue with what they’ve done this season. Thirty one and three, I think they’re the most complete team. And then Gonzaga, maybe not quite as dominant as they were last season, but they’re awesome. And you can’t argue with them. So really, it’s that Baylor region where you look at them and say, are they vulnerable to maybe getting upset somewhere early?


Jason Concepcion: How many? How many of your family and friends ask you to help fill out their bracket every year?


Dan Wolken: Well, I’m not good at it. That’s the problem


Jason Concepcion: No one’s good. Here’s the thing. No one’s good at it. No one’s actually good at it, right? But I would imagine. Listen, if we were if we were homies, I would be up in your text messages around this time every single year. Be like Dan. Help help a guy out.


Dan Wolken: Well, here’s the thing is. Just as far as strategy, take the specific teams out of it. You’re probably better off most of the time going with favorites. And then when you do want to pick upsets, pick upsets with teams that you don’t think are going very far anyway.


Jason Concepcion: Mhm.


Dan Wolken: In other words, like just as an example, Houston’s a number five seed. I don’t think they’re really going very far in this tournament. I just don’t think they have enough scoring to advance to the second weekend. So I’m going to pick UAB to beat them. As a 12 seed over a five seed because even if that pick doesn’t work out for me, I think Houston’s losing in the next round to Illinois anyway. So those are the kinds of strategic upsets you probably want to pick in the bracket. But yeah, like this thing is so crazy. I was there in the building when UMBC upset Virginia. I mean, I’m I’m this is not a joke. I was literally like on Yelp, looking at where to go, have dinner that night and just like getting out of the arena early. Because, yeah, oh come on. Virginia’s not losing to the UMBC. And then all of a sudden you look up 10 minutes into the game and you’re kind of going hmmm. And then at halftime. Hmm. And then as the thing goes on and like, Holy crap, I’m about to cover the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. So that’s just the way this tournament goes. Like, you can’t predict some of these, some of these results.


Jason Concepcion: This will be coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final NCAA tournament. This comes on the heels of some really disheartening losses, including one to an absolutely ebullient North Carolina team. Any any reason to think that this team in its current form can make a can make a run? Especially if they managed to get past the stomach virus issues that seem to have been plaguing them in recent days.


Dan Wolken: The more I’ve watched of Duke lately, the less I’ve liked, to be honest with you. They, first of all, they’re young, and that’s not always a great formula to have in the NCAA tournament. The Paolo’s a really good player, and they do have have some dudes who are going to play in the NBA on their team. But they don’t really seem to be handling the pressure of this whole thing very well. Of trying to get Mike Krzyzewski some of these big wins as he winds down his career. They did not play well against Carolina. I didn’t think they played very well in the ACC tournament, even though they did get to the final. I think what’s helping them here is their draw in the first weekend. I think it’s pretty manageable, like they’re not going to have any problem with Cal State Fullerton. Then in the second round, they play Michigan State or Davidson. Two really good coaches, obviously, but I don’t think this is a very good Michigan State team. So I’ve got Duke getting to the Sweet 16, but that’s where it gets interesting because, you know, if they end up playing Texas Tech in the Sweet 16, that’s just a really physical team that just guards the hell out of you. And I’m not sure that’s a great matchup for for a very young Duke team, so I could see them losing in the Sweet 16. I just I don’t see a path for them necessarily making the Final Four because you’ve got on the top half of that bracket, Gonzaga, you’ve got Arkansas. I just think that’s a lot for them to get through.


Jason Concepcion: You mentioned Arizona as one of the strongest, if not the strongest, most well-rounded team in the tournament and that the PAC 12 championship game between UCLA and Arizona as a possible Championship preview. PAC 12 is. That’s that’s the NCAA that I know. I love having the games on on Saturday night. I love Jaquez and Juzang. What do you see in there with those two teams?


Dan Wolken: UCLA is really interesting to me because they obviously made this great run last year to the Final Four was electric. What they were able to put together kind of coming out of nowhere and then they bring everybody back and there’s all these expectations on them and you kind of get the sense just listening to Mick Cronin that he kind of felt like they BS’ed their way through the regular season.


Jason Concepcion: Oh interesting.


Dan Wolken: You know that they just kind of like, Yeah, we’re, you know, we’re the dudes who made the Final Four last year, whatever. But they didn’t really always play hard. They didn’t really go after it, like maybe he wanted them to all the time. But I still think there’s a switch for them to flip here, and they’ve started to maybe do it a little bit more late in the season. I thought the PAC 12 Championship game was great. I just thought the execution on both sides was really, really good. And to me, that just looked like a very high level of basketball. And I like UCLA’s draw. I mean, Akron in the first round shouldn’t be a problem. St. Mary’s, potentially in the second round, should win that one there in the Baylor part of the bracket. So I think they had a great chance to beat Baylor. And then in the Elite Eight, you’re probably playing there Kentucky or Purdue very winnable games. Kentucky’s good, no doubt about it. Different kind of Kentucky team. But I do like UCLA getting through and getting to the Final Four again. And then as far as Arizona. You just sort of look at them and you know, you’ve got Bennedict Mathurin, who’s unbelievable player going to play a long time in the NBA. Can create so many shots off the dribble. They’ve got shooters on the wings. They’ve got two traditional bigs who can score around the rim. They’ve got lineup versatility. The one thing that is maybe a little bit of a concern is Kerr Kriisa has got a sprained ankle that he got in the PAC 12 tournament. You hope that it’s not serious and that he can be 100 percent, especially by the second weekend. I mean they’re thirty one and three this year. They’ve been awesome from the beginning of the season to the end. So I just I like both of those teams in the Final Four. I really do.


Jason Concepcion: What happened to the ACC this year? Was it just. Is it just cyclical? You know, is it just you’ve got some, you know, legendary coaches nearing the end of the run and just the cards falling in weird ways for other teams like what happened? This used to be the this is usually the power conference, North Carolina, Duke, et cetera, Syracuse. What happened?


Dan Wolken: Yeah, I think just some of these top programs are in transition right now. North Carolina Roy Williams retires after last season handed over to Hubert Davis. They’ve been OK. I mean, they’re in. There’s a nine seed or, I’m sorry, is an eight seed this year, which is about where they belong. Kind of underwhelming. You’ve got Syracuse, which just kind of continues to nosedive as Jim Boeheim gets really, really old. And this was a bad see. This was a bad Syracuse season. Louisville’s a mess for ever since the FBI scandal and Pitino getting taken down. They made a hire in Chris Mac that just didn’t work out. So they’re looking for a new coach. I mean, you’ve got a couple of programs that are just kind of stuck in the middle, like, Clemson, and this was a bad Florida State year. Florida State’s usually really good. Just didn’t didn’t have it this year. So I don’t know, like the ACC on paper, should be the best conference when you’ve got that many big time elite blue blood programs who want to be good, who invest a ton of money in basketball. But this is just a little bit of a weird transition time. And yeah, the ACC just was was flat out bad this year.


Jason Concepcion: Any predictions as as we bring this segment to a close and we’ve learned so much from you, Dan. And now I’m going to do the thing that I said I would do, which is to ask you for some predictions, what are your predictions if you have any, Dan,


Dan Wolken: I’m going to go with the big one here to start off first round Jacksonville State I’ve got upsetting number two seed Auburn.


Jason Concepcion: Putting this in.


Dan Wolken: In the first round, and.


Jason Concepcion: Ohhhh.


Dan Wolken: Here’s why. Auburn has been awful away from home this year. Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible away from home. They They’re like world beaters in Auburn, everywhere else, they’re pretty average. Jacksonville state is actually in Alabama. A lot of people may not know that, so it’s kind of an in-state game and they’re really interesting offensively, they shoot a ton of threes. This is not a typically like Bruce Pearl’s teams kind of play freewheeling and shoot a lot of threes. This Auburn team does not shoot it very well. I like Jacksonville State to pull a little bit of an upset or not a little bit a massive upset there. So I’m picking that, and again, I’m going back with my theory, I don’t think Auburn’s going very far anyway, so why not? I have UAB over Houston. I think I mentioned that earlier. I’ve got New Mexico State over Yukon as a as a 12 five upset. Everybody loves those 12 five upsets. New Mexico states one of those programs. They’re good every year out in the wack, and they kind of dominate out there. And they always have a couple really interesting players and UConn’s a little bit of a wildcard team and they kind of take on the personality of their coach, Danny Hurley, who is he runs really, really hot. And I don’t love that for the NCAA tournament. Like, I think you kind of need a little bit more even keel guy on the sidelines or these games get really long and the time outs are long. And I just kind of feel like he kind of he’s going to kind of blow up. So I like New Mexico State. I’ve got Arkansas in the Final Four in the Gonzaga region. I think they’re going to beat Gonzaga straight up. I think they’re going to make the Final Four. I think they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch of the season didn’t play great in the ACC tournament, but I don’t care about that. But I just don’t think these conference tournaments matter very much so. I really think Arkansas has got a shot. And yeah, I’ve got two PAC 12 teams UCLA and Arizona. So that’s kind of where I’m coming from. And I do think Kansas makes the Final Four.


Jason Concepcion: Well, my brain just gained five pounds because I got that much smarter listening to USA Today National NCAA basketball writer Dan Wolken. Dan plug anything you got right now. Where can people find your stuff?


Dan Wolken: Well, I just want to say, first of all, if all these predictions are wrong, please erase it from the internet like it never happened.


Jason Concepcion: That will immediately happen. I will make sure I’m trying to to Zuri, Ryan. Make sure we erase everything if Dan is wrong.


Dan Wolken: And yeah, just check out USA Today. Com Get a subscription. You can get all my content. All everybody who works for us, all my my great colleagues we’ll be covering the tournament like crazy over the next few weeks.


Jason Concepcion: Dan, thank you again for joining us. Have a great one.


Dan Wolken: Thanks, Jason. Appreciate it.


Jason Concepcion: [AD].


Jason Concepcion: Well, it was it was going to be a normal conversation about Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, who is now suspended indefinitely because he’s been caught gambling on games. Then Tom Brady tweeted that he’s unretired himself after retiring some 40 days ago. Here to discuss all of this with us is Andrew Beaton, NFL reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew, welcome to Takeline. Where were you on Sunday and what were you doing when Tom Brady tweeted the following quote “These past few months, I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands. The time will come, but it’s not now. I love my teammates and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business. Let’s fucking go.” Where were you when that happened at approximately 4:30 p.m. Pacific? And what were you doing? And had you any inkling that this would happen?


Andrew Beaton: Well, it was 7:13 or so Eastern Time then, which meant I was peeling some sweet potatoes and getting ready to cook dinner. It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday night before NFL free agency starts getting going.


Jason Concepcion: Wonderful yes.


Andrew Beaton: And then did I see this coming? I think everybody should have probably seen this coming right? He hasn’t exactly been subtle over the last month that he said, you know, one week after his Instagram post, where he now announced his quote unquote retirement, he’s on his podcast saying, Never say never. So it took him a week before he started equivocating. And then every hint since then has been that. All right. Maybe we shouldn’t be shocked if we see Tom Brady on the football field again.


Jason Concepcion: You know, what’s funny is when he announced his retirement now 40 something days ago, I was watching Wickersham on ESPN talking about how, man, Tom is more excited about his post-playing career than maybe he has been about his actual playing career over the past couple of years. Like, he’s talking about all the opportunities he’s going to have and his foundation and his various business ventures that he’s about to launch. And then so that’s gone in a second. You mentioned the timing. NFL free agency looming. It seems like the timing of this announcement was with an eye towards that, correct?


Andrew Beaton: I mean, it’s kind of hard to separate the two, right? Looking at this and looking at when he said this, right? If you’re a free agent and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,.


Jason Concepcion: Right.


Andrew Beaton: Do not have Tom Brady.


Jason Concepcion: Right.


Andrew Beaton: Are they an attractive destination?


Jason Concepcion: Ahhhhh no. We’re going to say, no,


Andrew Beaton: We’re going to vote no on that. And then if they have Tom Brady, you’re thinking, All right. This is a team that can win a Super Bowl. So if he is going to make this decision to come back, it’s in his own best interest to get it out ahead of free agency because he wants to plant that flag and say, Hey, folks, come to Tampa Bay, we can make another run at this thing.


Jason Concepcion: This is my favorite question that I’ve heard. Asked of national NFL reporters in the last couple of hours since this news broke. What do you think happened to Tom? Walk in one day, walk into his palatial mansion and get one look of his beautiful wife and children and just say, yeah. Did I mess up? I guess I messed up, I guess I got to go back and play football.. And any idea like what what it could possibly be driving this? And secondarily, what do we say to the gentleman who who I think bid like half a million dollars on the final touchdown ball of Tom Brady? Like, that guy needs to sue immediately?


Andrew Beaton: Well, I just want to say, if that guy bid half a million dollars on a football, I just hope that there’s more money where that came from, if you’re spending half a million bucks on that football. So maybe it’s someone that we don’t have to feel absolutely terrible about it for. But you know, one of the things that I’ve thought about a lot since he made this decision, and then pretty much immediately there started to be speculation about “will he or won’t he come back” is we going to try to assign all these motivations, intentions and you know psychology. But a lot of these decisions sometimes just come down to the whims of one human being. Right.


Jason Concepcion: Right.


Andrew Beaton: And this is a guy who, you know, if you follow his Instagram account, he’s hawking pants, he’s hawking cryptocurrencies, NFTs, pretty much anything. And maybe just like all of us, he got bored with NFTs. I don’t know. But it sometimes comes down to the whims of one guy and the decision back February 1st, when he put that out, that Instagram post would seem like, all right. Maybe he felt like that day he was done. Today, he feels like he’s not done.


Jason Concepcion: OK, let’s switch over to what I think is really fascinating story about Calvin Ridley, who has now been banned indefinitely from the NFL after placing bets totaling about $1500, according to him. I haven’t seen any confirmation anywhere else that that that is or is not the amount that was wagered, but that, according to him, it was about fifteen hundred dollars. And, you know, Ridley had been taking some time off to deal with his mental health and now will be banned for the foreseeable future and perhaps the foreseeable long term future. This feels as black and white an issue as has come down the pike in the NFL in a while. It’s really pretty simple, like whether it’s a penny or a million dollars. The NFL pretty much has to be completely like hard line with something like this. No?


Andrew Beaton: I really think they have to because, you know, NFL players get in all sorts of trouble. Fans get past it. Whether they should or they shouldn’t, teams sign players who have done way, way worse things than lay a bet on a football game. But if you think about the NFL as a business, the absolute worst case scenario.


Jason Concepcion: Right.


Andrew Beaton: For that could generate the craziest fan outrage is something untoward in this space you start if you find out that a Super Bowl an NFC Championship. Heck, even a Jaguars Jets game.


Jason Concepcion: Right.


Andrew Beaton: Had some funny business going on with it in the gambling space. Fans would grab their pitchforks and it would sort of open up an entire Pandora’s box of. All right. Is what we’re watching legitimate or what’s the difference between this and pro wrestling then, if the guys in it are laying those sorts of bets. And it’s this very strange world, because if I told you five 10 years ago that the NFL, which was so staunchly anti-gambling, would have gambling partners basically be so gung ho about this industry, you would’ve said, that’s crazy. The NFL is the biggest anti-gambling advocates out there. So it’s a strange space while they’re cashing in on it, but they also have to have this really sharp line in the sand on the issue.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, let’s unpack that for a second, because it has been one of the most whiplash inducing 180s in sports writ large that I can remember. You know, we all we all recall Pete Rose being banned for life. But to your point, all our major sports took immense pains to keep themselves at arm’s length from gambling, whether it was the NBA’s extreme sprint through the Tim Donaghy investigation or, you know, a kind of unwillingness to put a professional team for a long time in Las Vegas, at even the suggestion that gambling could in some way interact with pro sports was seen as anathema. And now all of a sudden it’s like, here we go, open the floodgates. I’m sure that the NFL must have been planning for this contingency, right? They knew that this day would come. They knew that somebody would break the rule at some point. So I wonder if you have any insight at all into what those kind of contingencies might be.


Andrew Beaton: You know, one of the things that’s interesting is Calvin Ridley got a lot of attention because he’s Calvin, really, he’s an extraordinarily good football player. This actually happened with an injured Cardinals player two years ago, and that was the first time it happened after the federal repeal on the gambling ban. So this happened before you got Joshua got the same penalty, which was basically a year. I mean, he hasn’t made it back into the league because he wasn’t Calvin Ridley. He’s not awesome football. But what’s interesting about this whiplash is if you think back on it, what’s funnier than the NFL making this pivot is that they didn’t do it sooner. Because, yeah, because the one thing, the one thing the NFL is so good at is making money. Yeah. And then one day they start to look at it and say, we can make an extraordinary amount of money doing this. You add new gambling partners and in the bigger picture, one of the things that the league realized was. All the fans that they’ve been trying to capture. You know, fans on their second screens. Younger fans, people who might only be kind of paying attention to a game but want to engage with it in a different way. Those were audiences that the NFL sort of, like every other league, desperately wants to attract. And they looked and said, Wait, that’s exactly what gambling does. So gambling in many ways wasn’t just a way to cash a check from Caesars or what have you on some ads and some sponsorships. They actually realized with this is an incredible way to actually try and grow our fan base. So it’s amazing that it actually took so long when the profits for them are so big in so many ways.


Jason Concepcion: So it really was caught, essentially because there is a like a third party security firm that works with the app that Ridley had used to gamble in the state of Florida, and that kicked that information over to the NFL, who then did what they did with it. I would imagine one that the NFL is going to be going to make an example of Calvin Ridley. And I would imagine, too, that the news that there are essentially like third party companies that are working with this data in this way will come as something as a surprise to a lot of people, including professional athletes who may think about gambling.


Andrew Beaton: Yeah. And I think one of the things to remember here is that there’s nothing bigger to bet on than football when it comes to when it comes to what people are laying their bets on. I mean, March Madness, which we’ve got coming up, is big. The NFL still always king in terms of TV ratings. In terms of handle, we all know it. And all these books essentially have to be in some form or some way basically in business with the NFL because of that. And so they have to do all their own security and monitoring for for themselves. And it’s in their own interest to work with the league, to work with those third party security data analyst vendors like Genius, which was doing it for the NFL in this case, because you know, their business with the NFL is what’s most lucrative for the sportsbooks. So it’s in their best interest to do what they can to uphold that. And also, theoretically, if you’re a sportsbook, you want to know if an NFL player is betting, they might know something. You don’t want that.


Jason Concepcion: Andrew, how was dinner? How were the sweet potatoes?


Andrew Beaton: I mean, we’re talking right now. So the sweet potatoes have not yet been eaten, but its sweet potatoes. What can go wrong?


Jason Concepcion: He is Andrew Beaton. NFL national writer for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew, thanks so much for joining Takeline. Go eat the sweet potatoes, go cook them and then eat them.


Andrew Beaton: Perfect. Will do, thanks so much, man.


Jason Concepcion: [AD]


CLIP: Let’s turn to sanctions now we know that the US, the UK, the EU have responded to this invasion with sanctions against Russian oligarchs. Well, the latest move by the UK government is to sanction the owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich. His assets will be frozen. That includes Chelsea, but the club will be allowed to keep playing


Jason Concepcion: The war in Ukraine continues, triggering scenes of mass tragedy over in England. It is also triggered a reckoning with that country’s relationship with money with Russian oligarchs in particular. And in front of that backdrop came a Chelsea vs. Newcastle, which focused those issues. Pretty interestingly, to join us to talk about that is Wall Street Journal reporter Joshua Robinson who’s based in Paris and therefore is up very early to talk to us, and we really appreciate that. Joshua, thank you for joining Takeline.


Joshua Robinson: Hey, thanks for having me.


Jason Concepcion: Um. OK, so Chelsea versus Newcastle, it had a little bit of a. But you know, besides that, how is the play Mrs. Lincoln vibes to it? Fine football match. But that was kind of framed by an ongoing conversation about the ownership groups for both clubs. Roman Abramovich of Chelsea recently sanctioned Russian oligarch and then the Saudi Investment Group. Recent owners of Newcastle conversation around that ownership group after the game was focused on, you know, the multitude of executions that have taken place in Saudi Arabia, as well as the dismemberment of a Washington Post reporter in recent years. Do I have that right, Joshua?


Joshua Robinson: Yeah, that’s right. And what it is. It’s interesting because this just brought together a whole bunch of issues that are really the story of the modern Premier League, right? You know, Roman Abramovich was the first of the kind of a sugar daddy owners in the Premier League who showed up in 2003. No one really knew who he was. I mean, we’re talking about a sale that was conducted with basically a cursory Google search.


Jason Concepcion: He liked that, too. At the time,.


Joshua Robinson: He cultivated it.


Jason Concepcion: I remember some quotes at the time where he like, “you’ll forget me don’t worry about it.”


Joshua Robinson: Exactly. So he cultivated that image. He was just a really rich guy who didn’t look that rich kid who showed up to the to sign the deal and like jeans and with a scruffy beard. And that’s the way he wanted to keep it. And but he was the first he started that era of like crazily wealthy investors in the Premier League and at the other end, bookending it 19 years later, we’ve got the Saudi Public Investment Fund that took over Newcastle after giving the Premier League what they called legally binding assurances that they were not controlled by the government. Of course, Mohammed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the chair of the Public Investment Fund, right? How you square those two things? I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone knows how the Premier League managed to to kind of rationalize that. But it’s those 19 years that kind of make you think. Has the Premier League learned anything about where the money comes from? And you know, is it time for that reckoning? And certainly, the conversation is much more animated now than it has been at any point in the past two decades.


Jason Concepcion: So since we last covered this story, the actual sanctions have been announced against Roman Abramovich. Some recent developments include Barclays pulling their credit card servicing from the team. What are some of the effects that we might see of the sanctions on Chelsea and Sale has been announced, but how would that actually, how would that actually work under these circumstances?


Joshua Robinson: Well, that’s the biggest issue for for now, at least in the immediate future of the club. Roman Abramovich saw that sanctions were coming, which is why he moved first to transfer control of the club to the trustees of the charity. That plan didn’t work out. Then he announced the sale. This all happened over the course of about a week and then the sanctions dropped, and that meant he could no longer do business of any kind in the UK. So that put the sale on ice, at least temporarily. But they still have to figure out a way to offload the club without Abramovich earning any money on it, which is tough when you’re asking for three billion pounds. So it’s it’s one of those situations where for the sale to go through the UK government now has to rubber stamp it and make sure that the funds go exclusively to the club. That Abramovich isn’t doing business in the UK. There are other effects, like the capping of how much Chelsea can spend even operationally to go to away games and things like that. Thomas Tuchel, the Chelsea man. It was joking that if you had to drive a bus to get the team to games, he would. And then of course, you know, Chelsea has been one of the biggest spenders in the transfer market for two decades now, and for the time being, they can’t do that under the sanctions.


Jason Concepcion: Chelsea, the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003 lifted Chelsea from, you know, middling status, I would say, in English football. Two international powerhouses. Do we expect that that era of international influence of elite level play is probably over?


Joshua Robinson: It’s hard to say because there will be some fabulously wealthy owner who comes in and agrees to continue spending at something close to that level. If the Premier League has taught us anything over the past 20 years, it’s that a lot hangs on where that owner happens to be from and what their objectives are. If they, for instance, end up being some sort of consortium of kind of Wall Street types who are hoping to Moneyball this whole situation and actually make money out of English soccer. You won’t see that kind of spending just because, you know they’re not inclined to come in and set money on fire. However, there are a lot of people who are Roman Abramovich is one of them. But we’ve seen it with groups from the Gulf who came in and invested and for whom the objective is not to make money or run a kind of stable business. It’s about projecting a different image for the country. So when you’ve got those two sets of objectives, you know, that really changes how the business is run.


Jason Concepcion: What do we know about how Abramovich came into his billions on his way to owning Chelsea Football Club? It’s been a point of discussion in the years since Roman has arrived. I remember seeing a documentary British documentary about about Roman, where they were talking to Chelsea fans as they were walking to Stamford Bridge, and they were all just like, you know, hey, as long as the checks clear, who cares? And I think that that was, you know, that’s a natural that’s a natural feeling for it, for a football fan and for a fan of Chelsea, I think to have. But now that there’s there is intense pressure, you know, within England, Boris Johnson is coming under fire from both sides of the aisle about relationships with money. These issues are being really focused. Questioned Now, where do we think Roman came up with his billions? How do we think that happened?


Joshua Robinson: So a small group of people made a lot of money very fast in the scramble that came after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Because all of these companies and all of these resources were suddenly available, whoever happened to be in power or control certain certain sectors like mining like energy was able in effect to and, you know, people who were there at the time talk about it being a totally wild west situation that you could scoop up licenses and businesses for pennies. And you know, suddenly you find yourself with a mining concession in Siberia that may or may not turn into something. But in Bergman’s case, it did. And pretty soon he was the head of a company called Seb Neft, where he had refineries and extraction going on in like really the far flung parts of Russia, you know, certain places where they’re basically uninhabitable. But they had resources in the ground and he was pulling those out and selling them at rapidly increasing market prices and found himself as one of the richest men in Russia very quickly. And when he arrived in London in 2003, with the goal to buy Chelsea or any club, actually he looked at, Tottenham first decided it was a horrible place. That’s that’s his opinion, by the way,


Jason Concepcion: As an Arsenal fan, maybe the one time in this segment that I’ll agree with Roman Abramovich. I’m just kidding


Joshua Robinson: I was told by a person who was in the car with him on their way up to Tottenham High Road that he looked around and said, This is worse than Omsk.


Jason Concepcion: This is a man, by the way, who not was a governor of I forget what area in Siberia he was the governor of, but for his family, for him to make that statement is wild.


Joshua Robinson: He he was not a fan of the neighborhood around Tottenham Hotspur, so he and he was mistakenly told that Arsenal was not for sale by his advisers and settled on Chelsea. And you know, Chelsea did two things for him at a time when a lot of these post-Soviet barons were occasionally vanishing. This gave him a very public asset. You know, it’s tougher to get disappeared if you own one of the most popular teams in England. Also, it’s a very public asset in hard currency, considering the way that the ruble has always fluctuated over the past 30 years. You know, this was something that he could hold on to and a place to pour a lot of pounds into.


Jason Concepcion: Right. One of the things that’s clear about the post-Soviet kind of chaotic era into the early 2000s was that anybody who made their millions and billions in Russia also needed an exit strategy, which is why you’re seeing now internationally the sanctions biting and you’re seeing scenes of yachts being seized. Because if you if you’re rich in Russia, what you want to be is rich outside of Russia.


Joshua Robinson: Exactly. And that’s the era when he was not the only one to arrive in London. I mean, there was such an influx of Russian money in London that it became known as a London grad..


Jason Concepcion: So where does this all go? Players have, you know, communicated concern about their about their paychecks going forward. Certainly, you know, the way the team, the team will essentially be under some form of government management, indirect or directly. Well, where where does this go in the short to medium term?


Joshua Robinson: The hope is still that a sale can be agreed pretty quickly. And we’re talking about anywhere in the next two to six weeks. If that happens, I think pretty quickly, Chelsea itself can resume business as usual. You know, even if the questions won’t stop and, you know, it certainly creates tension I think for the manager and for the players, it’s it’s something that they can’t neglect. But I don’t foresee any major operational issues for the soccer team in the in the very short term. If for some reason the sale process goes south, you know, then the whole thing can fall apart very quickly and you’d get a situation where, you know, Chelsea every month has such a huge nut to crack.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Joshua Robinson: And again, there’s a lot of money swirling around soccer clubs, but not a lot of profits. And I think it’s important to remember that because the various owners have told me this over the years, basically any spare dollar that goes into a club gets pushed straight to the players because the demands are so high when it comes to payroll. So, you know, in a situation where a sale can’t go through. The whole thing could unravel this summer when the players are out of contract, when they can’t replace them, when they can’t pay salaries properly and they can’t pay the bills, and then you suddenly you have to have a government administrator point penalties. I mean, you know, it’s a very quickly goes into, you know, Arsenal fan fic.


Jason Concepcion: And finally, I know that we brought you on to to mainly talk about Chelsea, but the other team in this in that in that match, it was having issues of its own. The Newcastle coach Eddie Howe, was pretty aggressively grilled about Saudi Arabia’s record of executions after it was, you know, news in England was some 81 people executed in a single day in Saudi Arabia that Eddie said that he would stick to football, which I understand. But also these are these are fair questions. The relationship with with the Saudi Arabian investment group, that seems to be going nowhere. But what about the the image of Newcastle going forward?


Joshua Robinson: A lot of Newcastle fans have decided this is the price they’re going to pay. Much in the same way Chelsea fans agreed in 2003 that, you know they were going to be known as Chelski and that everyone was going to say, “you guys just bought your success.” They don’t care about that. Success is success. And basically, for a team like Newcastle, which is in the same position that Chelsea was in or similar position that Chelsea was in in the late nineties, you know, hasn’t won a trophy in decades. This is a this is a starved fan base and I’m not I’m not defending the position that, you know, you can just focus on on-field things and nothing else matters because it’s clearly not true. But Eddie Howe has also made this deal and accepted that these are his employers and the questions are going to keep coming. You know, that doesn’t go away, and I think that’s really something that that is particular to soccer that maybe we don’t see in US sports where American owners are just all from the same general pool of rich American dudes.


Jason Concepcion: I mean, listen, I’m not a fan of most sports owners in general, but you know, when jumping from Stan Kroenke, who is a person I don’t like and whose politics I don’t like, but happens to own a team that I do like to, you know, the Saudi investment group of Roman Abramovich, it is. It is a order of magnitude difference in the in the level of bad stuff that it feels associated with.


Joshua Robinson: It’s harder to draw a straight line between Stan Kroenke and war crimes.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, I think with that, we will take our leave. Josh Robinson, thank you so much for joining us.


Joshua Robinson: Thanks for having me.


Jason Concepcion: That’s it for us. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe to Takeline Show on YouTube for exclusive video clips from this episode, plus my digital series All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday. Check it out. See ya next week. Takeline is a Crooked Media production. This show is produced by Ryan Wallerson and Zuri Irvin, our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard engineering, editing and sound design by the Great Sarah Dubalaska and the folks at Chapter four and our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez. Mia Kelman is on the Zoom for vibes, and the vibes are fantastic all the time.