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Yahoo Sports AM: The end of sign-stealing

In today's edition: Why sign-stealing could disappear from college football, Embiid vs. Jokić, the first true MLS superteam, and more.

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🚨 Headlines

🏀 Clark passes Griner: Caitlin Clark (3,306 points) is now No. 4 on the women's D-I scoring list after passing Brittney Griner (3,283) on Tuesday. She's on pace to break Kelsey Plum's record (3,527) in February.

🇸🇦 Saudi signs Nadal: Rafael Nadal has been accused of aiding Saudi Arabia's "sportswashing" efforts by becoming an ambassador for the country's tennis federation.

⚽️ Record NWSL contract: The Chicago Red Stars signed USWNT striker Mallory Swanson to a four-year deal worth around $2 million, making her the highest-paid player in NWSL history.

⚖️ Dolan lawsuit: Knicks chairman James Dolan has been accused by a former massage therapist of sexual assault and sex trafficking involving Harvey Weinstein.


🏈 Why sign-stealing could be on the way out

The use of these primitive play-calling signs could soon become a thing of the past. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)
The use of these primitive play-calling signs could soon become a thing of the past. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Newly-crowned champion Michigan brought sign-stealing to the forefront of college football this season, but the recent introduction of NFL-style technology to FBS games could soon make it a thing of the past, Jeff writes.

Bowl season experiment: Teams were allowed to use coach-to-player helmet communications and tablets during some bowl games this year as part of an NCAA-sanctioned experiment to test the technology for a potential wider rollout in the future.

  • About 14 bowl games featured at least one of those technologies, which were opt-in for participating teams and whose use had to be agreed upon by opponents.

  • Teams took different approaches to the use of helmet comms. One example: Texas Tech put them in eight helmets (QB, backup QB, two linebackers, a safety and their backups), while the head coach and both coordinators could speak to them via one-way radio packs.

  • As for tablets, most teams had 10, with eight on the sideline and two in the booth. Their sole functionality was to show video of previous plays.

What they're saying: "The players loved it," Texas Tech's head equipment manager told Yahoo Sports. "Quarterback loved it. He didn't have to look at the sideline. He could keep his eyes on the field. The defensive guys wished everybody on defense could have had [the tech]."

  • "However we can get it passed, we need to get it passed," head coach Joey McGuire added, referencing the fact that the NCAA will now consider adoption of the tech moving forward.

  • "We are hoping like crazy it gets passed for next year."

Eliminating sign-stealing: In-game sign-stealing is legal* and about 80% of teams do it, and according to Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy. But it's 2024. Why are million-dollar programs calling plays with cardboard signs when tech already exists for that express purpose?

"You go to a high school game, there is technology on the sideline. You go to an NFL game, there is technology on the sideline. You go to college, there is nothing." — Nebraska coach Matt Rhule, to Yahoo's Dan Wetzel

Why has this taken so long? The NFL has had helmet comms since 1994 and tablets since 2014, but that's a self-contained league with 32 billionaire owners. NCAA rules must govern hundreds of teams from FBS down to D-III, making cost an issue.

  • Another factor is that adding a third-party device to a helmet changes its liability protection — a significant consideration given the ongoing legal challenges against the NCAA over concussions.

  • The pandemic — and the ensuing explosion of NIL and the transfer portal — also delayed talks on non-essential improvements as the NCAA went into "survival mode," as one member of the rules committee told The Athletic ($).

Looking ahead: The rules committee that approved the experiment meets in late February, and committee co-chair A.J. Edds told Yahoo Sports they are "working towards 2024" to approve the tech for wider use.

*Reminder: Michigan didn't come under fire for stealing signs. The Wolverines were accused of in-person scouting of future opponents to prepare themselves for sign-stealing, which is illegal.


🏀 Embiid, 76ers win battle of MVPs

(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Joel Embiid (41-7-10) outdueled Nikola Jokić (25-19-3) on Tuesday in a battle of MVPs, lifting the 76ers to a 126-121 win over the Nuggets.

By the numbers: Jokić has won two MVPs (2021-22) to Embiid's one (2023) and is widely considered the NBA's best center. But Embiid is now 6-2 against him, complicating the debate.

Head-to-head stats:

  • Embiid: 27.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 2 blocks

  • Jokić: 22.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks

The last word: This budding rivalry, which will pick back up in Denver later this month, is built on mutual admiration and respect. "I just told him he's the best player in the league," Embiid said after the game. "I was just telling him, 'Keep going, see you in two weeks.'"


⚽️ The first true MLS superteam

Luis Suarez (L), Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets during a recent training session. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Luis Suarez (L), Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets during a recent training session. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

14 years after the Heat assembled a superteam around LeBron James, Inter Miami is building one around Lionel Messi, recruiting his former Barcelona teammates to join him in South Florida. Will it work?

From Yahoo Sports' Henry Bushnell:

Tata Martino is an NBA fan. He rarely broadcasts his hidden passion to the world, but give him a nudge and proof will tumble off his tongue.

Martino knows, for example, that the Milwaukee Bucks are excellent. He knows that the Washington Wizards stink. And he seems well-versed in a craze that has defined the modern NBA, the "superteam." Try to explain that American term to the 61-year-old Argentine, and he'll nod assuredly.

"It's a team full of stars that everyone assumes will win," I told Martino last week, prefacing a question.

"And they don't always win," he said, interjecting — and conveniently framing the most novel project of his long, worldly soccer life.

Martino coaches Inter Miami, Major League Soccer's first true superteam. With Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets and now Luis Suárez, they are the clearest MLS preseason favorite (+200) in at least a decade, and undoubtedly the most-hyped ever. As they ambled onto a training pitch Saturday for their first session of preseason, they glanced right to see around 50 reporters and cameramen gawking.

Later, with privacy mostly restored, they plopped down on two gray benches to unwind. Messi curled up with a drink; Busquets stripped off his sweaty socks; Suarez and Jordi Alba flashed toothy smiles. Shared memories resurfaced. And surrealness sunk in.

The scene belonged in Barcelona, perhaps in 2015, en route to a famous treble. But here they were, four friends and serial champions, on a small strip of Florida pavement, in the shadow of a stopgap stadium, amid Fort Lauderdale's rundown warehouses and repair shops, in MLS.

Keep reading.


🇿🇦 South Africa's Jewish captain stripped of role

(Alex Davidson/ICC via Getty Images)
(Alex Davidson/ICC via Getty Images)

On the eve of the U19 Cricket World Cup, host nation South Africa has stripped its Jewish captain, David Teeger, of that role, Jeff writes.

What they're saying: Cricket South Africa said on Friday its decision was made for Teeger's safety, fearing that he could become a target of anti-war protesters due to pro-Israel remarks he made in the fall.

Context: After being honored as a "rising star" at a Jewish awards ceremony in October, Teeger said "the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel, and I'd like to dedicate it to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora.”

  • Those comments prompted calls for his removal from the team from the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance, among other groups, which led to an inquiry into whether he'd breached CSA's code of conduct.

  • He was cleared of wrongdoing, but there have been anti-war demonstrations across the country since then, and more are expected during the World Cup.

But was security really the driving force? The South African government has long been pro-Palestine, and last week it took Israel to the International Court of Justice (The Hague) on a charge of genocide.

  • On Monday, the government congratulated the team's new captain and called Teeger an "Israeli genocide supporter," indicating this may have been a political decision.

  • The South African Jewish Board of Deputies called Teeger's demotion a "disgrace" and asked the International Cricket Council to step in, but the ICC decided not to get involved.

  • "Far from turning the spotlight away from Teeger, it has now been shone directly onto him," writes ESPN's Firdose Moonda.

What to watch: South Africa begins its quest for a championship on Friday against 15 other nations, including the U.S, which is participating for the first time since 2010.


🌎 The world in photos

(James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
(James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Melbourne, Australia — Russian 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva stunned No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, 6-0, 6-2, on Wednesday to reach the third round of the Australian Open.

(Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Dubai, Saudi Arabia — Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club, where he's won three times.

(Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
(Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Bath, England — Rugby, man. What a sport.


📆 Jan. 17, 1988: "The Fumble"

(E.L. Bakke/Getty Images)
(E.L. Bakke/Getty Images)

36 years ago today, Browns RB Earnest Byner fumbled on the Broncos' 2-yard line while trying to score the game-tying TD in the AFC Championship Game — a play simply known as "The Fumble," Jeff writes.

A cursed rivalry: Cleveland has played in three AFC title games since the AFL-NFL merger. All three were against the Broncos, and all three were losses*.

More on this day:

  • ⛳️ 1916: Department store heir and golf enthusiast Rodman Wanamaker invited several golfers to a lunch in NYC to discuss the formation of what would eventually become the PGA.

  • 🏈 1995: After 49 years in Los Angeles, the Rams announced they were moving to St. Louis the following season. 21 years later, they moved back.

*The other two meetings: In 1987, the Broncos won 23-20 in overtime thanks to "The Drive." In 1990, Denver won 37-21 behind a monster performance from John Elway (385 yards, 3 TD).


📺 Watchlist: Ranked matchups

UConn fans will
UConn fans will "White Out" Gampel Pavilion's student section tonight. (UConn Athletics)

Two ranked matchups headline tonight's men's college hoops slate. If the past week is any indication, the higher-ranked teams are on upset alert.

  • No. 18 Creighton at No. 1 UConn (7pm ET, FS1): The Huskies are playing their first game as the No. 1 team since March 2009*.

  • No. 25 Texas Tech at No. 5 Houston (9pm, ESPNU): The Red Raiders have won nine straight; the Cougars have lost two straight after starting 14-0.

More to watch:

  • 🎾 Australian Open: Day 4 (7pm, ESPN+; 9pm, ESPN2) … Second-round action for No. 1 Iga Świątek, No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz and more.

  • 🏀 NBA: Bucks at Cavaliers (7:30pm, ESPN); Mavericks at Lakers (10pm, ABC)

  • 🏀 NCAAW: No. 18 Ohio State at Maryland (7pm, Peacock); Minnesota at No. 16 Indiana (8pm, Peacock)

  • 🏒 NHL: Blackhawks at Sabres (7:30pm, TNT/Max)

*How long ago was that? Kemba Walker was a freshman at the time.


🏈 NFL trivia

Mayfield and Goff after the Lions' 20-6 win over the Bucs in October. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mayfield and Goff after the Lions' 20-6 win over the Bucs in October. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff are two of five No. 1 overall pick QBs to start a playoff win for multiple teams in the Common Draft Era (since 1967).

  • Question: Who are the other three?

  • Hint: No. 1 picks in 1987, 1998 and 2005.

Answer at the bottom.


🏀 Coming soon: "The Wall"

(Los Angeles Clippers)
(Los Angeles Clippers)

The Clippers are starting to share details about "The Wall," an exclusive fan section in the Intuit Dome, the team's brand-new arena that opens next season.

Details: Located behind one of the baskets, The Wall will be "51 uninterrupted rows of passionate Clippers fans" and include a standing-only section to "house 300 of our most energetic fans who will cheer loudly."

Rules include:

  • No cheering for the opposing team or wearing gear to support them.

  • Tickets can only be resold in the team's official Ticketmaster marketplace.

So, basically: The NBA version of a student section. I dig it.


Trivia answer: Vinny Testaverde (Browns, Jets); Peyton Manning (Colts, Broncos); Alex Smith (49ers, Chiefs)

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