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Jackson State Men’s Basketball Plays on the Road, Where the Money Is



MILWAUKEE — As November blew into December, the men’s basketball team from Jackson State University arrived to face Marquette in its seventh consecutive road game, played in the sixth different state. The Tigers had been away from their Mississippi campus for 17 of the 23 days since the season began. And the traveling was far from over.

By chance, the Tigers met the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the team hotel, where he jokingly admonished them to play defense and said “don’t let your legs start shaking like you never played basketball before.”

It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say that Jackson was one of the few familiar faces the Tigers encountered over the first two months of the season. Jackson State travels on meager finances without so much as cheerleaders. Only a sprinkling of relatives, friends and alumni rooted on the Tigers against Marquette. As usual, the loudest clapping came from the players themselves.

“It’s always 15 of us against 15,000 of everybody else,” said Darrian Wilson, 23, a graduate student guard.

It is all but impossible for Jackson State and other historically Black colleges and universities in the Southwestern Athletic Conference to draw home games against basketball powers like Duke and Gonzaga and U.C.L.A., who have little to gain competitively or financially on the road against lesser opponents. A partnership between the SWAC and the Pac-12 Conference, beginning next season, will help to alleviate that disparity, at least temporarily. In the meantime, the SWAC has turned the sport’s usual funding mechanism on its head.

Most schools reinforce their budgets at home with ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and concessions sales. Jackson State and the other teams in its conference seek supplemental financing on the road, traveling for most or all of their nonconference games for guaranteed paydays to help bolster some of the smallest athletic budgets in Division I of the N.C.A.A.

In effect, their higher-profile opponents seek to rent victories, while SWAC teams ease the pain of regular defeats with payouts that range from $60,000 to more than $100,000 per game.

Marquette offered Jackson State more than a snippet of polka music, a chance to play against a perennial N.C.A.A. tournament team, a national television audience and a court it shares with the N.B.A. champion Milwaukee Bucks. It also kicked in about $150,000, which included funds to pay for the Tigers’ flight and lodging expenses, according to Jackson State’s coach, Wayne Brent, and Marquette officials.

In addition to studying and playing for their teams, basketball players in the SWAC carry the added responsibility of fund-raising. Brent, his staff and his team seem cleareyed and pragmatic about these complicated roles.

Extended travel can be an adventure and a bonding experience. Texas Southern of the SWAC has won two N.C.A.A. tournament play-in games and, earlier this month, defeated Florida, then ranked 20th. But the travel can also be a physical, mental and academic grind. In 2019, another SWAC team, Mississippi Valley State, lost at Utah by 94 points — the largest margin of defeat ever in a Division I game.

“It’s necessary, to generate revenue,” Cason Burk, 33, Jackson State’s associate head coach and a former player there who handles the team scheduling, said of the travel. “I think the negatives outweigh the positives. But it’s got to be done. As a player, you have to look at it as a badge of honor. I’m doing this for a situation bigger than myself.”

Jackson State’s final nonconference road game, against Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 21, was canceled because of the coronavirus, but its home opener on Wednesday against Southeastern Baptist College was still on the schedule. The Tigers (2-9) have traveled to play 11 so-called “guarantee games” — more than a third of the regular season. The prolonged road trip through November and most of December contributed about $800,000 to Jackson State’s general athletic fund, Brent said. That would be roughly a tenth of the school’s sports revenue, according to the latest available figures.

A USA Today database for fiscal 2019-20 indicated that Jackson State’s athletic revenue was $8,300,756, which ranked 223rd among 230 public Division I universities and was all but a rounding error compared with the $391,769,609 in revenue at the University of Oregon.

Charles McClelland, the SWAC commissioner, said it is frequently and inaccurately stated that “guarantee games” are necessary for the survival of basketball and other sports at conference schools. “We are not selling our souls to the devil to have an athletics program,” McClelland said.

In fact, the SWAC routinely leads the Football Championship Subdivision in football attendance. But during the 2019-20 basketball season, the league averaged fewer than 1,600 spectators per home game, which ranked 29th among the 32 Division I conferences. McClelland said it makes greater financial sense to travel for “guarantee games” in the early part of the season than to lose money playing at home.

Brent said that without supplemental funds, his players would not likely have the gear routinely available to Division I teams; more flights and fewer bus trips and comfortable hotel stays. Take away the money, he said, the Tigers would be “staying in a hotel for $70 a night” and eating at McDonald’s.

“I don’t want McDonald’s,” said the professorial Brent, 54, who is in his ninth season at Jackson State, wears bow ties during games and has a master’s degree in health and human performance. “And the kids don’t want it.”

He reminds his players that they are better off than “kids at home without a scholarship who wish they could play in the Bucks’ arena on CBS.” And they always have a chance to attract the attention of a pro scout who has come to watch the other team. “It only takes one guy to see you,” Brent said.

This season, two of the Tigers’ freshmen players and a student manager took their first-ever flights. Games against schools with rich traditions like Marquette and Indiana, a five-time N.C.A.A. champion, offered wide exposure in first-class arenas before extensive television audiences, while also providing a chance to measure up against highly-recruited players on opposing teams.

Dyllan Taylor, 22, a graduate guard, keeps a photograph on his smartphone of himself driving for a layup against Indiana in November. “That’s a picture you’ll frame,” he said, convinced that he “can play with anybody, regardless of the school.”

But the trade-off can be wear on the body, morale and confidence. Flights to and from Jackson require connections through Dallas or Atlanta. On the season-opening trip to the University of Illinois, a late airline scheduling change forced Jackson State players to split up on two different flights that landed in separate cities. The trip lasted 14 hours. The Tigers played the next night then awakened at 3:30 the following morning to catch another flight.

“Each game seems to last three days,” said Wilson, the guard.

Constant travel for the first third of the season added urgency to every situation, from guarding against nut allergies in hotel desserts to making sure the four players unvaccinated against the coronavirus were tested every 72 hours. It was difficult to practice regularly. Chris Freeman, 23, a guard/forward, struggled to rehab from knee surgery. Chance Moore, 23, a guard, had two young children back in Jackson who wanted to know when he was coming home.

“Being away, that’s hard,” he said.

On Nov. 30, the Tigers were tied with Marquette at halftime, only to wither against a press and eventually lose by 29 points.

“You ran out of gas,” Brent told his team.

On Dec. 1, the players met for breakfast, then had a mandatory study hall in the afternoon.

“Two hours, nobody leave the room,” Fredrick Hadley, Jackson State’s academic adviser, told the players.

Crunch Week, he called it. A road game in three days at Illinois State was to be followed by a trip home for final exams.

Five Jackson State players are graduate students. Another, guard Jonas James III, 23, was set to graduate on Dec. 10. Assuming the team would be on the road, he had not ordered his cap and gown. But he realized during the study hall that the team was not departing for its next nonconference road trip until the 11th.

“That would make a great picture, you running through the airport in your cap and gown to catch a flight,” Hadley said.

Later that day, the Tigers took a break, visiting a mall and attending a Bucks’ game against the Charlotte Hornets. On Dec. 2, the team left Milwaukee on a four-hour bus ride to Illinois State. A team meeting followed the next morning. Fatigue was evident in the yawns in the conference room.

“I missed November,” Brent said as he watched video of Illinois State while at breakfast. “I don’t know where it went. I was there for Thanksgiving, but I wasn’t there.”

During a second study hall, Ken Evans Jr., 20, a guard, grabbed his iPad and folded his 6-foot-5 inch frame beneath the skirting of a table of water pitchers, seeking privacy to work on a management project. Only his sneakers poked out.

“I can’t have any distractions,” he said.

On the afternoon of Dec. 4, Jackson State arrived at Redbird Arena at Illinois State in a buoyant mood. The next morning, they were heading home for six days for final exams. “It’ll be like Christmas,” Moore said. “I’ll be waking up happy as hell.”

The parents of freshman guard Coltie Young had driven nine hours from Starkville, Miss., to support their son and his teammates. Jackson State’s game plan was similar to the one against Marquette. Preserve tired legs. Play stifling defense. Keep the score in the 60s, or the low 70s. This time the plan worked. The Tigers held Illinois State nearly 30 points below its scoring average and won 61-55.

As players celebrated in a cramped locker room, Brent told them, “There is no better win than winning a guarantee game on the road.”

A three-game barnstorming tour of Iowa lay ahead but, first, six rare and glorious days at home awaited. The team bus was scheduled to leave the hotel at 4 a.m., but Taylor, the graduate guard, joked that it might not be necessary.

“We’ll be running to the airport,” he said.

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Chelsea and Liverpool prove Premier League excitement, even if title is a foregone conclusion



LONDON — Manchester City have shown themselves to be in a league of their own, so the Premier League should be thankful that Chelsea and Liverpool are still able to keep us all entertained. Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge helped neither team and only consolidated City’s vice-like grip on the top spot, but football is about jeopardy, risk and overcoming flaws, and when it all comes together, you get an unforgettable game like this one.

Even before City moved 11 points clear at the top of table with a 2-1 win at Arsenal on Saturday, this second-versus-third clash was always a case of both sides needing to win to maintain faint hopes of catching Pep Guardiola’s winning machine. City’s win at the Emirates was their 11th successive Premier League victory and they have all been won with such monotonous ease, scoring 33 goals and conceding just seven, that every three points is now met with little more than a shrug of inevitability.

Barring an unlikely collapse in the second half of the season, City will win a fourth league title in five years and you will struggle to count on the fingers of one hand the times they have had to dig deep into their reserves to overcome adversity during that period. Guardiola has built one of the all-time great teams in English football history during his six years at the Etihad, but they may simply be too good to contribute to games like this one.

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Chelsea and Liverpool gave us such a pulsating encounter because they both have weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponents. And as a result, they both had to take risks in an attempt to secure a crucial victory.

And they also had to go into the game with unwanted distractions hovering over both clubs.

Chelsea, with three wins from their past eight in the league, were without £97.5 million striker Romelu Lukaku, dropped by coach Thomas Tuchel because of an outspoken interview about his failure to impress so far at Stamford Bridge since returning to the club from Internazionale in the summer. And Liverpool were without manager Jurgen Klopp, goalkeeper Alisson, defender Joel Matip and forward Roberto Firmino — all isolating because of COVID-19.

City, in contrast, have enjoyed a remarkably serene run of successes since losing to Crystal Palace in October, which is why they are free-rolling to another title. But the Premier League is regarded as the most exciting in world football because of games like this, and teams like Chelsea and Liverpool and the drama they create.

From the first minute, when Sadio Mane was fortunate to escape a red card for appearing to strike Cesar Azpilicueta in the face with an elbow after just 14 seconds, the game was incident-packed. Azpilicueta later said it was a “clear red card” when interviewed after the game.

Christian Pulisic, playing centrally in the absence of Lukaku, wasted a golden chance to open the scoring on seven minutes when, with only stand-in keeper Caoimhin Kelleher to beat, he was indecisive and allowed the youngster to smother the ball. It proved a costly miss when, two minutes later, Mane took advantage of his lucky escape from a sending off by pouncing on a mistake by Trevoh Chalobah to score.

Chelsea were in disarray and Liverpool looked like the team that won the title in 2019. When Mohamed Salah made it 2-0 on 26 minutes with a stunning near-post finish after gliding past Marcos Alonso, it seemed as though Liverpool were about to give Chelsea the kind of hammering they inflicted on Manchester United during a 5-0 rout at Old Trafford earlier this season.

Liverpool were unable to score a third, though, and two Chelsea goals in the space of three minutes at the end of the first half turned the game on its head.

When Kelleher punched Alonso’s in-swinging free kick clear on 42 minutes, the keeper looked to have done well to deny the Chelsea defender. But the ball dropped the Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the penalty area and, as he was backpedaling, the midfielder somehow guided a volley beyond Kelleher and into the net. It was a spectacular display of technique by the former Real Madrid player and it gave Chelsea a foothold back into the game.

And it took them just three minutes to score the equaliser when Pulisic atoned for his earlier miss by latching onto N’Golo Kante‘s pass before beating Kelleher with a precise left-foot shot past the Republic of Ireland international. As the chaos continued on the pitch, Mason Mount almost put Chelsea 3-2 up in first-half stoppage time with a scuffed volley that bounced just wide of the post.

When a game is so eventful in the first half, it rarely delivers a second half of the same quality because of coaches plugging the holes that had led to the earlier excitement. But while the goals stopped flowing, the entertainment didn’t.

Salah forced a crucial save from Edouard Mendy with a 25-yard lob on 57 minutes and Mane was also denied by the Chelsea keeper. Kelleher, not to be outdone, then produced a stunning save to prevent Pulisic from scoring his second of the game.

In total, there were 25 chances over the 90 minutes, with both sides registering six on target. Neither could find a winner, though.

“For the outside world it was quite a good game to watch, but we came here for three points and didn’t get them,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.

Even if one team had done enough to claim all three points, it’s difficult to imagine they would have been able to close the gap on City, who are destined for another title. And the challenge facing both chasing clubs only grows more daunting in the next month, with Salah (Egypt), Mendy and Mane (both Senegal) now heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

But the Premier League still knows how to excite, even if the title is already a foregone conclusion.

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Michael Scudamore has Do Your Job in mind for Doncaster | Racing News



Doncaster’s Lightning Novices’ Chase could be next on the agenda for Do Your Job following his creditable effort in defeat at Kempton over the festive period.

Runner-up to My Drogo and Belfast Banter in Grade Two and Grade One novice hurdles in the spring, Michael Scudamore’s stable star made a successful start to his chasing career at Warwick in November.

The eight-year-old fell at the eighth fence when stepped up in class for the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, but bounced back to finish second to Edwardstone in the Wayward Lad last week.

With Scudamore keen to avoid a rematch with the winner, who is seemingly bound for the Kingmaker at Warwick, Do Your Job could instead bid for Grade Two honours at Doncaster on January 29.

Reflecting on his Kempton performance, the trainer said: “I was very pleased. He jumped well and travelled well and did everything right, he was just beaten by a better horse on the day.

“The main objective was a clear round really and maybe if we hadn’t fallen at Sandown we might have pressed on a bit more and made it more of a staying race.

“The most important thing was to get a clear round under his belt and get some more experience over fences for him.

“I think we’ll stick to novice races while we can and we might look to the race at Doncaster. That is what we have pencilled in at the moment, anyway.

“It would certainly be Plan A to try and avoid Edwardstone and I was very pleased to read he was going to go for the Kingmaker. Hopefully they stick to that plan!”

While Do Your Job looks set to remain in novice company on his next start, Scudamore admitted is considering a step into the handicap arena for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham – a race he won with Next Sensation in 2015.

He added: “I’m sure he’ll have an entry in that. He also ran very well at Aintree last year, so there’s that to consider as well.

“He looks like a horse that could have the right sort of profile for a Grand Annual and we’ll see nearer the time.

“In some ways it might make more sense to go for a handicap now, but as we saw at Kempton some of these novice events don’t have a lot of runners in them and there’s some decent prize-money on offer, so it seems silly to pass them over when you’ve only got one chance to run in them really.”

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Adiwang hopes to fight Saruta next



Lito Adiwang was booted out of ONE Championship strawweight rankings after coming up short against Jarred Brooks. ‘The Thunder Kid’ is already itching to step back inside the cage and hopes to fight a ranked fighter next.

Of the fighters in the ONE Championship strawweight division rankings, the 28-year-old Filipino seeks to score a date with No.2-ranked Yosuke Saruta.

“I want a big comeback. I still want a big name. I want to challenge Yosuke Saruta. Maybe if ONE allows it, and he wants it, then I’ll take it. Saruta is someone who I really want to test myself against,” said Adiwang in an interview with ONE Championship.

The 28-year-old admits it is a dangerous fight and a huge risk to take. The high-risk, high-reward scenario is something that Adiwang would like to take as he seeks to put his name back in the rankings again by beating a former champion.

“It’s a big risk for me because I’m coming off a loss, but I want a great comeback and a big name in my return so I don’t fall far off from the rankings.”

Lito Adiwang seeking for a better year in 2022 at ONE Championship

Adiwang now holds a professional record of 13-4 and has been competing in ONE Championship since October 2018. He won his first five fights before receiving his first loss against Koha Minowa via a split decision two years later.

The Benguet-based fighter had three fights in 2021. However, he also suffered his second loss in ONE Championship against Jarred Brooks.

Still in his prime, Adiwang goes back to the drawing board and seeks to polish his MMA skills in 2022.

“I have to check my mistakes inside the Circle, but I also have to check my mistakes outside the Circle. It has to be a balance. Sometimes, I forget other personal obligations and those are the things that I have to work on. I have to balance things out based on last year. I have to correct this in 2022.”

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