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Fired Red Sox manager Cora suspended 1 season for role in Astros' cheating scandal – CBC.ca

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The Boston Red Sox got off lightly in Major League Baseball’s sign-stealing scandal after Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded their violations were far less flagrant than those of the Houston Astros.

Boston was stripped of its second-round pick in this year’s amateur draft for sign stealing in 2018 and former manager Alex Cora was suspended through the 2020 post-season for his previous conduct as the Astros’ bench coach. Manfred had held off a decision on Cora until now.

Manfred issued his decision Wednesday, announcing Red Sox replay system operator J.T. Watkins violated the prohibition on in-game use of video to revise sign sequences provided to players. Watkins, who denied the allegations, was suspended without pay through this year’s post-season and prohibited from serving as the replay room operator through 2021.

Boston won the 2018 World Series, but Manfred said the misdeeds didn’t occur during the post-season. He found Boston’s cheating was not as pervasive or egregious as the behaviour of the Astros, whom he determined repeatedly used a video camera in the outfield to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 championship and again the following season.

Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended through the 2020 post-season on Jan. 13 and fired that day by the Astros. Houston was fined $5 million US, the maximum under the Major League Constitution, and lost its next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

Baseball’s season is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, and this year’s draft may be cut from 40 rounds to as few as five. Manfred said he was mindful “this penalty may have a more significant impact on the Red Sox than in a normal year.”

“Unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’ conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact,” Manfred wrote. “The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7 per cent of plate appearances league-wide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences.”

Replay system operator ‘key participant’

A 30-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Watkins is a 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. The catcher was selected by Boston in the 10th round of that year’s amateur draft and played in the Red Sox system until 2015.

Manfred called Watkins a “key participant” in the 2017 Apple Watch incident, saying he relayed decoded signs from Boston’s replay room to the dugout, at first with a runner and then with the watch to an athletic trainer.

Watkins compiled advance scouting information in recent years, and part of his job was to decode opposing pitchers’ sequences ahead of series. His replay room was moved from a remove location to adjacent to the dugout in 2018.

Manfred said the latest misconduct occurred during the 2018 regular season but not in the post-season, when MLB began to place staff in video rooms to monitor conduct.

Manfred concluded Cora did not know and had no reason to know of Watkins’ conduct, but “did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season.”

Cora, an infielder on Boston’s 2007 champions, was mentioned 11 times in Manfred’s decision on the Astros, which said he developed the cheating system. But Manfred held off on a penalty until after investigating the Red Sox. Cora left Houston after the 2017 season and joined the Red Sox.

Interim tag removed from new manager Roenicke

Fallout from the January penalties caused Cora and newly hired New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran to lose their jobs. Beltran, the senior player on the 2017 Astros, was the only player mentioned as participating in the scheme to place a monitor near Houston’s dugout to receive video from the outfield and have players bang on a trash can to signal breaking pitches.

Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke was promoted to interim manager after Cora’s exit. The interim tag is now set to come off Roenicke.

The Red Sox largely escape being labelled as tainted champions. The NFL’s New England Patriots were found to have stolen signals in their 2007 AFC championship season by videotaping opposing coaches. The league fined the Patriots $250,000 and docked them a first-round draft pick, and also fined coach Bill Belichick $500,000.

“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said in a statement. “Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball.”

Red Sox players were promised immunity in MLB’s investigation, but Manfred said even if players had been subject to discipline, none would have been punished.

He wrote “11 witnesses identified features of Watkins’ in-game communications that indicated to them that Watkins had at times acquired the sign sequence information from the replay room during the game.”

Manfred said six witnesses claimed they observed Watkins writing signs during games and four said they saw him use gestures or notes to communicate signs when a video monitor was present, which made them think he was trying to conceal prohibited conduct.

Watkins told MLB that any information he provided during games was obtained from advance scouting. He said any gestures he made were innocuous and suggested the possibility players may have been confused by his providing information during games, not understood his preparatory work or may have accused him in a competitive move only after moving on to other teams.

“Watkins did not provide a persuasive explanation for why the information he provided to players during the game differed from information provided prior to the game,” Manfred wrote. “I am significantly troubled by Watkins’ admissions that he knowingly attempted to conceal his communications with players from the video room monitor.”

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Stanley Cup Playoffs to be best-of-7 following Qualifying Round – NHL.com

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All series in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be best-of-7 and will be set based on seeding, the NHL announced Thursday.

When the NHL on May 26 announced its Return to Play Plan, which involves 24 teams in competition for the Stanley Cup, it said the length of the first-round and second-round series would be determined.

“Everybody is used to a best-of-7,” Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang told The Associated Press. “You know how it’s structured. You know how it feels if you lose the first two or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-7.”

The tournament will begin with a 16-team, eight-series Qualifying Round (best-of-5) and a Seeding Round Robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the playoffs.

 

[RELATED: Return to Play planEastern Conference matchupsWestern Conference matchups]

 

In each round of the playoffs, the highest remaining seed in each conference will play the lowest remaining seed in that conference, the second-highest remaining seed will play the second-lowest remaining seed, and so forth. It will not be predetermined by a set bracket, the format that had been used since 2013-14.

Ties during the round-robin will be broken by regular-season points percentage. The seeding order for these top four teams will remain the same throughout the playoffs.

In the qualifying round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.

During the first round, second round and conference finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular-season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular-season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

“Any team that is going to win five rounds, four rounds of best-of-7 … I think it will be a very worthy Stanley Cup champion and they’ll be as worthy as any team or players that won it before them,” Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said.

The NHL paused the regular season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and said the remaining 189 games would not be completed. The 12 qualifying teams from the Eastern and Western conferences were determined by points percentage as of that date. Seven teams did not qualify.

The qualifying round and round-robin will be held at two hub cities to be identified, one for the 12 participating Eastern Conference teams and one for the 12 Western Conference teams, and begin at a date to be determined.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers each will have a bye and play each other once in the round-robin to determine the order of the top four seeds for the first round of the playoffs.

The four Eastern Conference Qualifying Round series will be the Penguins against the Montreal Canadiens, the Carolina Hurricanes against the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders against the Florida Panthers, and the Maple Leafs against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars each will have a bye and play in the round-robin to determine their seeding order.

The four Western Conference Qualifying Round series will be the Edmonton Oilers against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators against the Arizona Coyotes, the Vancouver Canucks against the Minnesota Wild, and the Calgary Flames against the Winnipeg Jets.

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NBA approves 22-team return – TSN

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The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved a 22-team format for restarting the league season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida, another major step toward getting teams back onto the court and playing games again.

The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference post-season fields. The National Basketball Players Association has a call on Friday to approve the plan as well.

Thursday’s vote was the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through — including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

Meanwhile, a person speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the NBPA and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for their arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.

The NBA also said it is planning to have the draft lottery Aug. 25, the draft on Oct. 15 and start next season on Dec. 1.

If all 22 teams that are going to Disney next month play their allotted eight games before the post-season begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be cancelled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.

Those 22 clubs would play somewhere between 71 and 75 regular season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams who didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played somewhere between 64 and 67 games.

But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.

Teams will likely arrive at the Disney complex around July 7. Once there, camps will continue and teams will likely have the chance to have some scrimmages or “preseason” games against other clubs before the regular season resumes.

Thursday’s move by the board of governors — one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA Finals would have started if these were normal times — was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on March 11, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.

The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a post-season berth.

Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs — Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston — have post-season spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.

That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.

If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the post-season.

Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix — who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.

And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career — the longest in league history.

Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, is retiring. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Report: NBA’s Board of Governors approves 22-team return-to-play format – Sportsnet.ca

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The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved a 22-team format for restarting the league season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida, another major step toward getting teams back onto the court and playing games again.

The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference post-season fields. The National Basketball Players Association has a call on Friday to approve the plan as well.

Thursday’s vote was the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through — including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

Meanwhile, a person speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the NBPA and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for their arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.

The NBA also said it is planning to have the draft lottery Aug. 25, the draft on Oct. 15 and start next season on Dec. 1.

If all 22 teams that are going to Disney next month play their allotted eight games before the post-season begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be cancelled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.

Those 22 clubs would play somewhere between 71 and 75 regular season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams who didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played somewhere between 64 and 67 games.

But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.

Teams will likely arrive at the Disney complex around July 7. Once there, camps will continue and teams will likely have the chance to have some scrimmages or “preseason” games against other clubs before the regular season resumes.

Thursday’s move by the board of governors — one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA Finals would have started if these were normal times — was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on March 11, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.

The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a post-season berth.

Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs — Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston — have post-season spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.

That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.

If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the post-season.

Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix — who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.

And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career — the longest in league history.

Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, is retiring. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.

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