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Liverpool, Man United failed in ‘Project Big Picture,’ but English football’s problems won’t go away

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OK, so it’s dead. The radical overhaul that would have guaranteed income in perpetuity to the 72 league clubs outside the Premier League, while giving an even greater slice of the pie to the “Big Six” at the top of the pyramid (while screwing everything else in between, starting with whatever shred of competitive top flight balance is left) — AKA “Project Big Picture” — will not be pursued by the Premier League. They told us so themselves.

And, guess what? It was, they say, unanimous.

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Which is a bit odd, since two of those 20 clubs — Manchester United and Liverpool — also happened to be the ones driving “Project Big Picture.” Odds are they weren’t the only ones — the “Big Six” have been meeting privately for some time — though if the folks at Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City were active supporters as well, they did not put their heads above the parapet.

Still, on the day, the Premier League showed its unity, rejecting the proposal while committing to a “comprehensive review” of TV rights and income distribution. For now. Because the issues and challenges facing the league — and, to differing degrees, most European leagues — haven’t gone away. Read this as the act of laying down a marker and kicking the can down the road.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s also worth dwelling for a minute on the more distasteful aspects of “Project Big Picture.” Some of it is downright ghoulish. At a time when most of the English Football League clubs are reeling from the effects of the pandemic, the Premier League were offering to sell their TV rights jointly and share the revenues, giving 25% to the lower leagues. Assuming they get as much from their next TV deal as they do now — which is a tad optimistic, given the state of the world — that would amount to 25% of £3.2 billion, or around £800m.

Sweet, right?

But once you take away the value of the EFL’s current deal (around £113m), and the fact that there would be no more parachute payments (around £260m to recently relegated clubs) or solidarity payments (about £100m) and suddenly, it’s a more modest £325m uptick. It’s enough to keep clubs afloat, sure — and the deal would have made £250m available straight away — but hardly worth everything they’d be giving up: one guaranteed promotion spot, control over the EFL fixture list, salary cap and, ultimately, becoming no more than a feeder on life support for the Premier League, or, more accurately the nine longest serving clubs in the top flight — or, more accurately than even that, the “Big Six.”

But hey, many EFL clubs are desperate and desperate folks do desperate things, which may explain why EFL boss Rick Parry backed the plan.

And what about the £100m “gift” to the Football Association? (Yes, it was split between direct funding — £55m — and grants for the women’s game and grassroots, but guess what: it all comes out of the same pot.) The FA, of course, has a “golden share,” which would have allowed it to veto any such plan. Well, the FA has also laid off 124 employees and suffered losses of £300m due to the coronavirus. If you were really uncharitable, you might describe it as the kind of gift the Sopranos crew might give a local merchant in exchange for his undying loyalty.

United and Liverpool said that despite their pet project being knocked back, they were pleased with the outcome, since many key issues will now be discussed that have thus far been ignored. It may be spin, but they’re also right. For too long the Premier League has had its quirks and inconsistencies that, frankly, make little sense.

Even the positive aspects of Project Big Picture get lost in this conversation. For example, eliminating parachute payments to relegate teams simply make sense. They vastly distort the market in the Championship and drive up costs. If you have a relegation clause in every contract where wages are cut by a certain percentage if you go down, you don’t need them (certainly not in their current form). Yet even bringing up the issue brings accusations of the greedy “Big Six” not wanting to share.

The same goes for scrapping the League Cup and moving to a Premier League with 18 clubs instead of 20. It would free up at least half a dozen midweeks so that players could get off the hamster wheel and recover from injury; it would also give coaches time to actually teach and work, and because you’d only be losing midweek rounds, you wouldn’t be taking much of a hit since those games are less valuable. Plus, it would make the latter stages of the season more exciting, as more games would actually matter.

Yet if you raise the issue, you’ll immediately get accusations that certain clubs simply want to play more European fixtures and that they have no respect for tradition, motivated solely by greed. (Never mind the fact that the Premier League’s founding documents were designed for an 18-club tournament, and that the League Cup itself was created purely as a money-spinner: a midweek evening competition that would help clubs pay for the floodlights they had just installed.)

Salary caps in the EFL? At a time when everyone is hemorrhaging money, it’s a natural move to preserve what really matters: the clubs themselves, rather than their right to pay a reserve right-back an extra £100 a week. And, in fact, League 1 and League 2 clubs already recognise this, which is why they voted to introduce a cap back in August. But again, if the suggestion comes from a Glazer or a Henry, then it becomes about limiting their ambition and keeping the little guys down.

On the other hand, having seen the plan they drew up, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was — as both FA chairman Greg Clarke and British sports minister Oliver Dowden suggested — nothing more than a “power grab.” When you come up with stuff like that in secret and aren’t prepared to defend it personally, what else do you expect?

We can only hope that the well hasn’t been overly poisoned by events of the past week and that the two extremes — those who view the lower leagues as something between a burden and a dysfunctional mooch, and those who view the “Big Six” as ignorant, profit-driven vultures — won’t be the ones dictating the conversation. After all, there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of dysfunction to fix.

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Will A Runoff In Georgia Decide Control Of The Senate? And Other Listener Questions.

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In this installment of Model Talk on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, editor-in-chief Nate Silver talks to Galen Druke about why state-level and national polls are showing different degrees of competitiveness. They also answer more listener questions.

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Riley ready to run it back with similar Heat team

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MIAMI — Pat Riley is always looking for ways for the Miami Heat to improve. This offseason has him wondering if that might come from within.

The Heat president on Friday said that the top offseason priority for the Eastern Conference champions “is to take care of the players that we have” — such as free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic — while maintaining salary cap flexibility to add an impact player in a 2021 offseason that could see many stars on the move.

“We have a good idea of what we want to do,” Riley said in his annual end-of-season media availability.

No plan can be considered completely firm yet; the NBA’s board of governors were meeting Friday, simultaneous to Riley speaking, to discuss ideas about when it might be feasible to start next season. And the financial details for next season remain unclear as well, such as salary-cap changes and luxury-tax numbers. All that will have an obvious impact on every team’s plans, Miami’s included.

But Miami is already clear on some matters: The Heat have no intention on letting extension-eligible All-Star center Bam Adebayo leave, and Riley said keeping this past season’s team as close to intact as possible has crossed his mind.

Kelly Olynyk has a player option for about $12 million, while Meyers Leonard, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr. are among the Heat’s free agents.

“We know what our priorities are,” Riley said. “It is to take care of the players that we have, that we have to make decisions on almost immediately. We know Bam has a decision to make and we do with him. We know the guys that have sacrificed for us that we really like, our free agents, especially Goran.”

The Heat might have ended up as the surprise of the league this season, with All-NBA player Jimmy Butler‘s arrival leading a turnaround that saw Miami go from missing the 2019 NBA playoffs to winding up in this season’s finals as a No. 5 seed. Riley raved about what Butler has brought to the Heat, and also lauded coach Erik Spoelstra for doing what he called a masterful job this season.

“Spo was the coach of the year, for me,” Riley said.

The Heat have long been expected to be a major player in the 2021 free-agent season, when names like two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and many others could potentially choose to hit the market.

What they do in this offseason will obviously affect their spending power next year.

“I just think we need to remain fluid,” Riley said. “Once we get all the numbers and we get everything down, we get the schedule, we know when the dates are, and what the rules are in everything, once we get all of that, we’re going to remain fluid. And whatever presents itself to us, we’ll look at it.”

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Sources: AB, Buccaneers reach deal on contract

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Antonio Brown and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reached agreement on a one-year deal, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

While contract language still has to be finalized and Brown has to pass COVID-19 protocols before he can join the team, Brown is likely to make his Bucs’ debut in Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints.

Both sides wanted to complete a deal that reunites Brown with quarterback Tom Brady. The Seattle Seahawks were also in the mix before Brown and the Buccaneers reached an agreement.

The Bucs have been banged up at the wide receiver position. Mike Evans has been playing on an injured ankle since Week 4 and hasn’t been able to practice consistently, while Chris Godwin just returned from a hamstring injury, and deep threat Scotty Miller has been limited by a groin/hip injury.

Brady had been pushing for the Bucs to sign Brown since the summer. Brady took Brown under his wing during Brown’s brief tenure in New England — on and off the field.

The two had immediate on-field chemistry — Brown had 4 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 win over the Miami Dolphins — in their first game together. As it turned out, it was their only game together, as Brown was released later in the week.

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians worked with Brown while he was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh and previously had been critical of Brown. Arians told Schefter on his podcast in 2019 that Brown was “too much of a diva,” and said as recently as March that Brown wasn’t a fit on the Bucs.

In July, the NFL announced it had suspended Brown for eight games without pay because of multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Brown is eligible to come off the suspension after Week 8.

Brown, 32, had been the subject of an NFL investigation following an accusation of sexual misconduct at his home by an artist who was working there in 2017. He also pleaded no contest in June to a felony burglary with battery charge and two lesser misdemeanor charges related to a January incident with a moving truck company outside his home in Hollywood, Florida.

The NFL said in July that Brown was directed to continue counseling and treatment. The league also said that any further violations would likely result in harsher discipline.

Information from ESPN’s Jenna Laine and Mike Reiss was used in this report.

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