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Calgary councillors question insurance plan to cover Olympic overruns

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Calgary 2026 Olympic bid supporters cheer during a rally in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Calgary’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics hinges on a plan to avoid the cost overruns that have plagued past Games by buying an insurance policy, but some on city council have questioned whether it would be worth the cost.

With the price tag for the Calgary Games expected to reach $5.1-billion – $3-billion of which would need to come from the public sector – the federal and Alberta governments have said they will not cover any cost overruns.

Without the backing of a senior level of government, Calgary’s bid commits the city to paying for an insurance plan to cover $200-million in unforeseen costs. The insurance comes along with a nearly $1-billion cushion built into the bid’s cost to cover potential overruns.

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The Calgary 2026 bid corporation told council’s Olympic committee on Tuesday that the city’s insurance broker has confirmed a $20-million or 10-per-cent premium should cover the required plan if a company can be found to provide it.

“We’ve been given some assurance by Calgary 2026 that this is possible,” city manager Jeff Fielding told the council committee.

The search for an insurance plan is happening as Calgarians prepare to vote in a Nov. 13 plebiscite on whether the city should pursue the Games. The vote has become a divisive issue in Calgary as campaigns in favour and opposed have duked it out in public forums.

Speaking at council on Tuesday, councillor Peter Demong expressed reservations about the cost of the city’s plan to secure insurance, which is expected to also include a further 10-per-cent deductible before the insurance would take effect.

Mr. Demong said he was bothered by information provided to council by the bid corporation about two exclusions from any insurance plan: Money would not be paid out if costs went over budget as a result of changes in any project or because of overruns caused by contractors.

“Why would we go down this route if the exclusions are basically the areas that the majority of overruns come from? If scope changes aren’t included, change orders aren’t included, overruns by contractors aren’t included, what is included then?” he asked the city’s bid corporation.

According to Calgary 2026, any insurance would cover overruns caused by the weather, labour unrest and unforeseen environmental issues, among a number of other potential problems.

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Councillor Jeremy Farkas, an opponent of hosting the Games, also expressed concern on Tuesday about whether the insurance plan would be useful when the city actually needed it. “It’s like buying health insurance that doesn’t kick in if you get sick,” he said.

According to Trevor Tombe, an economist at the University of Calgary, Olympics tend to generate cost overruns. “Overruns happen all the time. For the past half-century, all Games have gone over their initially projected cost,” he said.

According to Mr. Tombe, one of the risks facing the city’s bid would be a rebound in the price of oil that would jump-start the province’s economy and lead to a rapid escalation in labour costs.

Anne Kleffner, a professor in risk management and insurance at the University of Calgary, said the insurance the city is considering is a rare type of plan. The 10-per-cent premium would also make it an expensive option, she added.

“A 10-per-cent premium is expensive. I think the value in the policy, as the city sees it, is managing the uncertainty. They can budget the upfront premium cost better than the uncertain cost down the road. The reality is when you’re talking about this size of project and this type of time frame, it’s unlikely you’ll get the costs right,” she said.

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Snell, deGrom earn 1st career Cy Young awards

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After a season marred by narrow defeats, Jacob deGrom became a runaway winner.

The New York Mets ace easily won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday night, a reward for a historically fruitless season in Flushing. The right-hander won just 10 games, the fewest ever by a Cy Young-winning starter.

DeGrom easily beat out Washington's Max Scherzer, who was seeking a third straight Cy Young and fourth overall. DeGrom got 29 first-place votes and 207 points from members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Scherzer had the other first-place vote.

Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays narrowly beat out past winners Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber for his first AL Cy Young after leading the majors with 21 victories.

In his first season after chopping off his distinctive long hair, deGrom cut down hitters from start to finish despite little help from teammates. He had a 1.70 ERA, the lowest in the NL since Zack Greinke's 1.66 mark in 2015. Yet the 30-year-old right-hander went 10-9, eclipsing the low bar among starters set by Seattle's Felix Hernandez when he took the award with 13 victories in 2010.

DeGrom allowed three runs or fewer in 29 consecutive starts to close the season, breaking Leslie "King" Cole's 108-year-old record of 26 such outings. Yet the Mets were 11-18 in those games and 14-18 overall with deGrom on the mound.

"My thought process was, `Hey, take the ball every fifth day and continue to try to put this team in position to win and control what you can control,"' deGrom said.

Shift in voting

Hernandez's Cy Young victory signaled a major shift from voters, who once prioritized pitcher wins. The push toward advanced analytics made deGrom's candidacy possible, and by September there was little debate deGrom was worthy, even as the Mets regularly wasted his dominance.

Perhaps no pitcher had ever been such a hard-luck loser. New York averaged 3.5 runs in games started by deGrom, second only to Cole Hamels for worst support in the majors among qualified pitchers. During one stretch late in the season, the Mets totaled 10 runs over seven of deGrom's outings, and four of those were driven in by the pitcher himself.

DeGrom nearly produced more wins above replacement than actual wins — a dubious sabermetric feat that has only been accomplished once, when the Philadelphia Athletics' Eddie Smith went 4-17 with 4.1 WAR in 1937. Baseball-Reference calculated deGrom for 9.6 WAR.

The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, he became the seventh rookie winner voted a Cy Young, joining fellow Mets Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. R.A. Dickey was the only other Met to win a Cy Young.

Snell got 17 first-place votes and 169 points to 13 first-place votes and 154 points for Verlander. Kluber had 71 points, followed by Boston's Chris Sale and Houston's Gerrit Cole.

Snell led the AL with a 1.89 ERA. The 25-year-old pitched just 180 2/3 innings, 33 1/3 fewer than Verlander, but his dominance was enough to sway the electorate.

Snellzilla

The lefty nicknamed Snellzilla wreaked havoc against the AL's top lineups. He was 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts against the World Series champion Red Sox, and 2-0 in two starts each against the Astros and Indians. The Yankees roughed Snell up twice, but he got threw five scoreless innings in a victory Aug. 16. That came during a late-season run of nine consecutive wins for Snell, including a victory against every team in the AL East.

Snell was the first player 25-or-younger to win 21 games since Barry Zito in 2002. He was highly regarded as a minor leaguer for his electric arsenal, but subpar control led to struggles during his first two major league seasons. He was even demoted to Triple-A for a month in 2017.

It all came together this year. Snell was a stalwart for a most unusual pitching staff, taking the ball every fifth day while manager Kevin Cash successfully experimented with reliever "openers" to start games in between. Snell led the Rays with 31 starts, and no other traditional starter had more than 17. After longtime franchise ace Chris Archer was traded to the Pirates on July 31, Snell went 9-0 with a 1.17 ERA.

"I felt with the opener, I had a bigger role on the team," Snell said.

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Casey returns to Toronto with head held high

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TORONTO – Dwane Casey isn’t quite sure whether he’ll be cheered or booed by the Raptors faithful when he makes his much-anticipated return to the building and city he spent seven years in on Wednesday evening, or so he says.

It seems crazy to think anyone would want to boo the man after all he’s meant and will forever mean to the franchise, but Casey was around long enough to see plenty of former cornerstones return to hostile receptions.

He saw Vince Carter come back and get booed. He saw Tracy McGrady get booed. Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani…the list goes on. Sports fans can be a fickle bunch and Raptors supporters have had a lot to gripe about over the years, especially early in Casey’s tenure.

When Casey first took over as Toronto’s head coach, back in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the team was coming off a dreadful 22-win season. They were one of the NBA’s favourite punch lines. Every star they had ever employed skipped town. The guys who stayed did so reluctantly. And so it went, until things turned.

Casey was one of the biggest reasons why it turned.

No, Casey will not become a member of that aforementioned, ill-fated club of booed former Raptors. Thanks in large part to his efforts, Toronto fans now have plenty to cheer about and the reception he gets on Wednesday will certainly reflect that.

“I’m not going to get emotional,” said Casey, the morning of his return. “I’ll appreciate it. I’ll really absorb whatever comes my way, the boos or the cheers, but not to the point where I’m going to cry or anything like that. I wouldn’t live it down.”

The Raptors will host Casey’s Detroit Pistons just over six months after firing their long-time head coach. It’s been a bizarre half-year for both parties – eventful and emotional – but here they are in the same place again, but on different paths.

Toronto is off to a league-best 12-2 start with its new coach – Casey’s former assistant, Nick Nurse – and its new superstar, Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, Casey has landed on his feet in Detroit. He’s the first of eight ex-Raptors head coaches to part ways with the team and immediately land another head coaching gig.

Casey’s return should bring back plenty of memories. Forever intertwined in basketball lore, the 61-year-old coach and his long-time franchise have been through a lot together.

The winningest coach in team history, Casey led the Raptors to the playoffs in five straight years, setting franchise records for regular-season victories in four of them. He took them further than they’ve been before – the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2015-16 – and oversaw the growth and development of several players, including all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

Those accomplishments will be highlighted in a tribute video the Raptors are planning to run for Casey during the first timeout of Wednesday’s game. Even if he’s successful in keeping it cool, that should be a special moment for the basketball lifer.

“You wouldn’t be human if I stood here and said it wouldn’t be touching,” Casey admitted. “I left a lot of blood, sweat and tears here. I left here with my head high and did what I was asked to do. I know revisionist history and everyone wants to take credit for the wins and the losses [are] an orphan. I’ll take all the losses, but I know what we started with, how it was built, what was built and how it got there. I take total pride in that.”

As you would expect from one of the classiest men in the business, Casey was diplomatic when referencing his unceremonious dismissal, which was almost unprecedented in professional sports.

Coming off a franchise record 59-win regular season and first-place finish, things went south in a hurry after the Raptors were swept out of the second-round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. Casey was fired and, a month later, accepted the NBA’s Coach of the Year award as a member of a different organization. If the vibe around Wednesday’s game is a bit awkward it’s because this whole situation has been a bit awkward.

The NBA is a business. We’re reminded of it regularly. Players, coaches, execs, they’ll all tell us – and probably themselves – it’s a business, but it’s also their lives. People get fired or they get traded from places they feel a strong connection to and it’s only natural to take things personally. Feelings get hurt, and that was what happened over the summer.

In many ways, Oct. 17 was an important day for Casey and for the Raptors. It was Game 1, the start of the regular season, and a chance to put the past behind them and play basketball again. Suddenly, wins and losses were all that mattered, not who was talking to whom and who wasn’t.

For at least one night, some of the uneasiness has returned. Questions about whether Casey and Raptors president Masai Ujiri split on amicable terms or why there seems to be tension between Casey and Nurse – former colleagues and friends – have resurfaced. It’s an inescapable narrative, but also a temporary one.

Shortly after Casey’s first trip back is in the books, the Raptors will begin to prepare for Friday’s big game in Boston and their former coach will head back to Detroit with his new team. The events that led to their breakup won’t seem so important, but the legacy Casey leaves in Toronto isn’t going anywhere.

“I’m a big boy,” Casey said. “I feel good knowing I left something here in Canada that was positive and good and it wasn’t negative and bad. Getting fired is not a negative… I have no ill will for anybody. I understand what happened, how it happened. I don’t know why it happened, but I understand it.”

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Game of Throws: Sitting out season a financial play by Bell, forces Steelers hand

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Le’Veon Bell will not play for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.

At this point, it’s more likely that he will never suit up for the black and yellow ever again.

Greer not surprised by Bell’s decision based on what happened to Thomas

TSN NFL analyst Jabari Greer explains why he isn’t surprised that Le’Veon Bell is willing to sit out the entire season, pointing out what happened to Earl Thomas earlier this season as the main reason. Greer also explains why James Conner’s emergence has made the decision easier for the Steelers to accept.

While the football world watched and waited in anticipation of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline for the All-Pro running back to sign his franchise tender, Bell remained comfortable with the decision he had made in the days and months leading up to Nov. 13.

The truth is that by the time the final hours of the deadline approached, the decision wasn’t nearly as difficult for Bell as it was made out to be.

The only reason it seemed that way is because the majority of those reporters covering the NFL weren’t aware of the potential loophole in the league’s collective bargaining agreement that actually strengthened Bell’s negotiation position.

Bell’s decision to sit out for the entire season essentially forces the Steelers hand.

Pittsburgh is left with three options in accordance with the CBA.

The first option is to give Bell the transition tag and allow him to negotiate a new deal with another team.

The second option is the two sides negotiate a long-term extension. However, the Steelers have already refused to budge on contract talks with Bell despite the threat of him sitting out for an entire season, so it’s hard to imagine their position changes. Remember, Bell was already offered a $70-million extension that he turned down this past off-season.

The third and final option for Pittsburgh is to offer Bell another franchise tender. This is where things get interesting. According to the CBA, the fact that Bell sat out an entire season would push him in to a category that defines him as a “Franchise Player for the League Year following the League Year in which he does not play.”

This designation means that rather than playing under a franchise tag that pays him $14.5 million like the one the Steelers offered him this season, Bell would be eligible for a franchise tag that pays him the “average of the five largest Prior Year salaries for players at the position with the highest such average.”

Essentially, in order to offer Bell another franchise tender, Pittsburgh would have to pay him under the same rules applied to franchise tags for the quarterback position, which is the “position with the highest such average.” That franchise tender would be more than $25 million.

In summary, the Steelers could negotiate with Bell under his terms and sign him to a long-term extension, let him walk and sign with another team, or pay him more than $25 million to play in Pittsburgh next season.

Pittsburgh can’t afford to offer Bell the franchise tag he’s now eligible to receive. They also can’t afford to pay him the money he wants on a long-term deal.

That leaves the Steelers with one viable option: Let him walk.

As for Bell, the decision must have been an easy one from a financial perspective once the loophole in the CBA was discovered.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back passed on $14.5 million to play this season in exchange for guaranteeing his health and the opportunity to negotiate the long-term contract he wanted from the Steelers with another team.

How much money can Bell expect to be offered when he hits the open market?

A lot more than the $14.5 million he turned down.

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