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Today in sports: Optimism that the NBA lockout is on its last legs, ESPN's ombudsman explains its tricky relationship with the University of Texas, and NFL games are taking 89 seconds longer this year.

  • The NBA players' union and owners are negotiating again today in front of a federal mediator. That alone is an accomplishment since their last session ended with union president Derek Fisher calling NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver a liar in front of a room full of media, and Paul Reportedly sabotaging the last round of negotiating sessions simply by not speaking, but it looks like they also just might be about to end the NBA lockout. Yesterday's talks lasted 15 hours and didn't end until 3 a.m., but Yahoo NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski says they yielded significant progress on one of the labor fight’s most vexing obstacles: the luxury tax teams would have to pay for going over the salary." A source says the two sides have a chance to "punch it over the line" with a productive session this afternoon. Front office executives are confident enough this will happen that they're talking about schedule changes that would allow for a full 82 game season, but it's contingent on team beginning play on Monday or Tuesday. [Yahoo]
  • Homer sports fans love insisting that unrelated entities like ESPN, the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, and Las Vegas oddsmakers "hate" their favorite team and fawn over their rivals. From a logical standpoint, this has always been absurd, but now that ESPN launched the $300 million Longhorn Network devoted to University of Texas sports, its undeniable that ESPN is "financially vested in the success of a single school's athletic program," writes The Poynter Review Institute's Kelly McBride, one of several Poynter contributors that's been writing the network's ombudsman column on ESPN.com. The fear in such a situation is that the network's financial entanglements muzzle their reporters. As McBride correctly points out, the network "reported that the University of Texas paid $400,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by an assistant football coach" last week. So the network's editorial and business arms separate. That's the goal at every news organization. What McBride doesn't address is what happens when an issue comes along that's bigger than a football coach paying to have a sexual harassment scandal go away, something that could jeopardize a crown jewel of the network. It happened at ESPN in 2004, when the network cancelled pro football soap Playmakers after one season because of complaints from the NFL. Said ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro at the time: 'It's our opinion that we're not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we've done it, and continued to carry it over the N.F.L.'s objections. To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner's face.'' [ESPN]  
  • Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning hasn't played in an NFL game since signing a $90 million contract extension over the summer and may never play again. The flip side to Manning's story is New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas. A second-round draft choice in 2008, Thomas was New York's top tackler last year and seen as one of the best young quarterbacks in football. With his contract expiring at this season season, Thomas and agent Doug Hendrickson expected the Giants to offer him an extension "worth roughly $50 million, with slightly less than half guaranteed" sometime during training camp or early in the regular season. Then he tore his right ACL in a preseason game, the same ACL he tore in college. He made $2.5 over the course of his rookie deal and a team could always sign him to a deal heavy with incentives. It's another scary reminder of how things come and go violently for pro athletes. "This would have been life-changing money," says Thomas. [The New York Times]
  • The average NFL game is taking 1 minute and 29 seconds longer to play than it did last year. Naturally, there are no shortage of theories as to why. Newsday's Bob Glauber suggested on Twitter the rule change requiring a mandatory booth review on all scoring plays could be the source of the slow down, but the amount of time spent by referees at the review console has gone down by 13 seconds this year. ESPN NFL analysts Chris Mortensen and Mark Schlereth said it feels like more penalties are being called, but league spokesman Dan Masonson said the average number of penalties per game is down this year to 15.1, compared to 15.6 last year. Pro Football Talk's Gregg Rosenthal offered the most logical explanation. Says Rosenthal: "The simplest reason: Scoring is up.  That sounds about right." [USA Today]

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