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Today in sports: The Los Angeles Dodgers ownership mess is nearing a resolution, two Pakistani cricket players convicted for bribery, and Wolf Blitzer takes the credit (or blame) for Michael Jordan's last comeback.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball are closing in on a deal that would allow him to sell the bankrupt team and pocket the proceeds. The Los Angeles Times predicted this week's clash between McCourt's lawyers and baseball in a Delaware Bankruptcy Court would be a "winner-take- all showdown" for control of the team, with the court set to rule on whether McCourt could auction off the team's TV rights. Why the sudden desire to settle from McCourt? Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times says even if McCourt won in Bankruptcy Court and was permitted to auction the TV rights, the revenues still wouldn't be enough to get him out of his steep financial hole. Shaikin explains:

"Based on figures McCourt submitted to the Bankruptcy Court, he would be hard-pressed to sell the Dodgers' television rights, settle his divorce and be left with enough capital to renovate Dodger Stadium and restore the team to prominence."

For McCourt to win, Shaikin writes, the court "would not only have to permit the auction over MLB objections but would need to restrict the league's ability to decide how McCourt could spend the proceeds and how much would be deducted for MLB revenue sharing." That would have been a major reach. According to a source with knowledge of the proposed settlement, the team would be bundled in a deal that would "include Dodger Stadium and the surrounding parking lots in a package that could command a record price of $1 billion or more." The news will please Dodgers fans, who took to protesting in the streets for new ownership last summer.   [The Los Angeles Times]

  • A jury in London convicted former Pakistan national cricket team members Salman Butt (pictured above) and Mohammed Asif of "conspiring to cheat and take bribes" during a match against England last year. Butt, formerly Pakistan's captain was also convicted of "conspiracy to accept corrupt payment." Their involvement was originally uncovered in a sting conducted by the now defunct New of the World tabloid. During the trial, the defense repeatedly pressed former News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood about whether he got wind of the plan for Pakistani players to deliberately throw "no balls," which result in an automatic run for the other team, by hacking into the players' phones. Mahmood emphatically denied the allegation. The New York Times explains that while high-level cricket has been dogged by corruption charges for years, today's conviction could be a breakthrough for those hoping to clean up the game:

"The betting syndicates behind the London trial have grown up in the shadow of the sport’s new profile, with huge sums at their disposal that dwarf the earnings of most international players. Allegations that have swept over the cricket world for years have pointed to the result of some top international matches having been fixed outright, one of them a test match in Sydney last year between Pakistan and Australia in which Pakistan, after establishing what appeared to be an unassailable lead, collapsed on the final day’s play, handing victory to the Australians."

That investigation failed to turn up anything conclusive, and The Guardian wonders how much impact today's ruling will have on legitimizing the game. During the trial, International Cricket Council chief investigator Ravi Sawani offered his "conservative estimate" that the amount of illegal cricket betting per year in Asia is close to $50 billion. "The intricate nature of cricket" also makes it tough to police and explains why it's a favorite of fixers. Bettors aren't limited to just picking winners or the over-under. "[T]here are considerations of how many runs a batsman will score or a bowler concede, how many times a wicketkeeper might remove the bails from the stumps; even how many players are wearing hats at a given point can attract attention." [The New York Times and The Guardian]

  • The University of West Virginia announced last Friday it was departing the Big East conference for the Big 12. Big East commissioner John Marinatto said fine, but pledged to enforce the conference's 27 month waiting period on any team leaving the conference. Not wanting to wait that long, West Virginia did the only logical thing yesterday: they filed a lawsuit against the conference. the lawsuit argues the conference's by-laws, including the 27-month waiting period and $5 million exit fee, are moot because of the "lack of leadership, breach of fiduciary duties by the Big East and its Commissioner, and voting disparity between the football and non-football schools resulted in the Big East football conference no longer being a viable and competitive football conference." The "viable football conference" part already looks shaky, in the wake of today's news that the remaining Big East university presidents voted this afternoon to extend bids to Navy, Boise State, Air Force, Southern Methodist, Houston and Central Florida, all of which have football teams. [Metro News via Deadspin
  • When it looked as if players and owners were making real progress on a deal to end the NBA lockout last week, both sides were negotiating with the knowledge that lifting the lockout by the start of this week was their last chance to secure a full 82-game season. They couldn't pull it off and as a result, arenas around the country will be dark Tuesday on what should have been opening night. The bigger problem, according to NBA writers Henry Abbott, Marc Stein, Michael Wallace, Brian Windhorst, and David Thorpe is that with the possibility of salvaging a full season gone, there's no longer any impetus for the two sides to have marathon, 14-hour negotiating sessions like they had last week. All five agree that Christmas -- give or take a week -- is the new target date for labor peace, in order to save the league's annual nationally televised tripleheader. []

  • Why did Michael Jordan return to the NBA at the age of 38 in 2001 for two seasons with the Washington Wizards only to play like a slower, puffier version of his former self? If you believe Wolf Blitzer, it was his first-rate panel moderation that put the fire back in Jordan's belly six months before he announced his return. Blitzer tells The Washington Post's Michael Lee it happened during a CNN Late Edition town hall meeting at the old Newseum in Virginia, back in March 2001. Jordan was a on a panel with two of his agents, NBA commissioner David Stern, and NBA Players Association president Billy Hunter. The discussion, as these discussions inevitably do, turned to whether the NBA was stuck in a rut. At which point, Blitzer says, he planted the seed for another Jordan comeback. Blitzer tells Lee:

“At one point, I said to him, ‘This city would really explode if you put your uniform back on and started playing a little bit.’ And he laughed. Then I pressed him and pressed him. After the interview, he did it. Now being the egomaniac that I am, I take personal credit. But I suspect there were other factors besides my excellent questioning that convinced him to come back and play.”

That's possible, but we prefer the lone-Blitzer theory. (It should be noted that the transcript supports Blitzer's account. He really did tell Jordan  he could "electrify the game and cause a huge celebration around the world" by launching another comeback. Which Jordan probably already knew, because he knows he's Michael Jordan.) [The Washington Post via Yahoo]

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