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Golf is back in the Olympics for the second time after a 112-year absence, following a successful return in Brazil in 2016, when England’s Justin Rose captured the gold medal. Rose held off Sweden’s — and then-reigning Open champion — Henrik Stenson. American Matt Kuchar finished third to win the bronze.

None of the three medalists are back this time when the event begins Thursday just outside Tokyo. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama figures to be among the biggest storylines in his home country, but there are plenty of others, including one that involves a couple of top players who will not participateJon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau.

Here is a look at the tournament.

How we got here

Only 60 players qualify for the competition, based on the Official World Golf Ranking of June 21. A maximum of two players per country can participate, with up to four if all of the players are ranked among the top 15 in the world. The United States had 10 players ranked among the top 15 and is the only country to qualify the maximum of four players.

If one player qualified for the tournament, another player from that country could also participate, regardless of ranking. And if someone from a country withdrew, another player from that country could take the spot, so long as that player qualified within the ranking criteria.

Format

Starting Thursday, there will be 72 holes of stroke play through Sunday, with no cut.

Countries represented

There are 35 countries that have at least one player competing in the tournament.

The venue

Kasumigaseki Country Club is the home for both the men’s and women’s events. The club is a 36-hole facility located about 35 miles outside of Tokyo, with the East Course being used for the competition. Opened in 1929, the club has hosted several high-profile tournaments, including the 1957 World Cup, where Koichi Ono and Torakichi Nakamura of Japan defeated the heavily-favored U.S. team of Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret. It has also been home to multiple Japan Opens, Japan men’s and women’s amateur championships and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, won by Matsuyama — earning him his first invitation to the Masters the following year.

The East Course has made Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the world and underwent a renovation in 2016 by Tom and Logan Fazio. It measures 7,466 yards and features the Japanese dual green system, meaning each hole has two greens, one used for summer play and the other in the winter.

The favorite is out

Spain’s Jon Rahm figured to be a strong bet to win the gold medal, given his recent form that included a victory at the U.S. Open and a T-3 at The Open. But prior to leaving for Tokyo, Rahm tested positive for COVID-19, ending his dream of representing his country in the Olympic Games.

Rahm’s withdrawal — along with that of Bryson DeChambeau, who also tested positive for COVID-19 — means a rocky start for a tournament that expected to see both players figure prominently. This is Rahm’s second COVID-19 withdrawal; he was forced out of the Memorial in June after three rounds of an event in which he led by six strokes going into the final round.

Given his positive test there, Rahm would have no longer been required to test on the PGA Tour for at least three months. The Tour actually had plans starting last week to halt its testing program.

But the Olympics required a series of tests and Rahm is out. Spain will still have two competitors, with Jorge Campillo a late add who will join Adri Arnaus.

The Americans

Dustin Johnson would have qualified, but he announced in March he would be skipping the Olympics. Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele are top-10 in the world and will be considered among the favorites to win the event — or at least earn a medal. Patrick Reed, who is replacing DeChambeau, has fallen to 13th but was ninth when the Olympic cutoff occurred on June 21. He’s the only American to have competed at Rio in 2016, when he tied for 11th. Both Morikawa and Schauffele have Japanese family ties, which heightened their interest in competing.

What will DeChambeau do next?

He won’t be competing in the Olympics, and perhaps an eventful month that included a back-nine blow up at the U.S. Open, a caddie break-up at the Rocket Mortgage and then a dust-up with his equipment manufacturer at The Open (for which DeChambeau apologized), this will be a welcome break. DeChambeau was in need of a re-set anyway, and will get that chance.

Captain America

Reed appears excited about the opportunity that was presented when DeChambeau had to withdraw and will endure quite a few hassles to make it happen. He was required to go through a prolonged testing process that won’t get him to Tokyo until Wednesday, which means he will not have time for a practice round.

Little time to celebrate

Fresh off his Open victory — and second major championship — Morikawa now takes a shot at Olympic glory. He became just the eighth player to win two majors before the age of 25 as well as becoming the first to win two majors in his debut appearance in each.

As for the Olympics, Morikawa was certainly excited about the prospects when he qualified.

“It’s going to be one of the best things of my life,” he said. “To think back that I was an amateur two years ago, literally two years ago, and to be on this team and heading to Tokyo puts a smile on my face. I’m really excited.”

The local favorite

A lot of attention will be focused on Matsuyama, who became the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship when he captured the Masters in April. Matsuyama, who won the 2009 Japan Junior Championship and the Asia-Pacific Amateur at the same course in 2010 (and then defended his title a year later in Singapore), has had little success since his victory at Augusta National. He tested positive for COVID-19 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which caused him to skip The Open. Rikuya Hoshino, ranked 76th in the world, is the other Japanese player in the field.

Keeping gold in Great Britain

Justin Rose is not in Tokyo to defend his Gold from Rio, but fellow Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey are determined to keep the medal for the United Kingdom. Both players have come across as more than eager for this opportunity, spurred on by the joy shown by Rose.

“What came from that was the surprise of how proud Justin was and the emotions he felt from winning,” Fleetwood said. “He spoke to me about it a lot. I just think it was really cool seeing his face light up and hearing him talk about how he felt about not only competing in Olympics but being an Olympic gold medalist. It was very, very cool seeing him and watching him talk about it.”

Fleetwood added that “you’re not just playing as an individual, you’re playing for the nation. I don’t know that we would see that as pressure. We would see that as a proud moment and something that we’re, really, really excited about. It is fantastic that we’ve had a gold medalist for our sport, and I’m sure we would just absolutely love to keep that going.”

Growing the game

Juvic Pagunsan is the sort of player golf’s leaders had in mind when they began pushing for inclusion in the Olympics more than 15 years ago. It wasn’t all about the top names; part of the plan was to inspire Olympic participation in countries where golf might have otherwise been underserved.

Pagunsan is 43 and from the Philippines. He has played most of his golf on the Japan Tour, where earlier this year he won his first title, the 2021 Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open. He used only 11 clubs and had to carry his own bag due to COVID-19 restrictions, which did not allow caddies. That victory got him into The Open but he elected to skip the tournament at Royal St. George’s in order to prepare for the Olympics.

Team Norway

Viktor Hovland and Kristian Krogh Johannessen will represent Norway at the Olympics. They have known each other for years. Johannessen has been somewhat of a mentor to Hovland, who played college golf at Oklahoma State and has won twice on the PGA Tour. They partnered at the 2013 European Boys event.

“We have a very rich Olympic tradition,” Hovland said. “Now, with golf being an Olympic sport, I think it would be great for people back home to just get into the sport.”

The ultimate pressure

How important is the Olympics to Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim? The South Koreans are both prominent players on the PGA Tour. Each decided to skip The Open in order to be better prepared for the Olympic tournament. And it’s not just the medals they covet: Earning a spot on the podium means an exemption from military service.

Both Im and Kim are subject to compulsory military duty called conscription in South Korea. Males ages 18 to 28 are required to serve at some point. Sangmoon Bae was on the International Presidents Cup team in 2015, his last professional event before his mandatory service. He came back to golf and won on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. But it has been a struggle to regain his place. Bae barely played during his two years of service.

The way to avoid military service? Win an Olympic medal.

The perks

Gold, silver and bronze medals are the obvious prizes for Olympic glory. There is no prize money.

For those competing in the tournament, world ranking points are being offered. But it appears that the Olympic competition will have a strength of field that offers fewer than 50 world ranking points to the winner, a number that was decreased due to the loss of Rahm and DeChambeau. That would put the Olympics in line with a tournament such as the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Those points can be particularly important to those players farther down the list.

The tournament is also considered an official event on the European Tour and a victory would offer full status there. The winner of the tournament will also receive a one-year exemption into the major championships and the Players Championship, while the medalists are exempt from local or first-stage qualifying for the U.S. Open.

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College athlete employment bill moves forward

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College athlete employment bill moves forward

A Congressional committee voted Thursday to move forward with a bill that would prevent college athletes from being deemed employees of their schools, conferences or the NCAA.

The vote in the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce represents the first tangible signs of progress the college sports industry has made in its years-long push for a federal law to help reshape college sports. It comes just weeks after the NCAA and its power conferences announced they have agreed to share significantly more revenue with athletes as part of an antitrust lawsuit settlement.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Good (R-Virginia) on the same day the antitrust settlement was announced, is in the early stages of the legislative process. It is likely to face opposition from Democrats in the Senate as well as legal challenges if it’s passed.

The NCAA is currently a defendant in multiple ongoing court cases that argue college athletes should be granted the rights of employees. One case in federal court — Johnson v. NCAA — is seeking minimum wage and other workplace protection for college athletes. Two other active cases in front of the National Labor Relations Board are seeking to give college athletes the right to form unions and collectively bargain.

NCAA president Charlie Baker said earlier this week that he hoped the recent antitrust settlement, if it’s approved by a judge, would provide the framework for a college sports model that allows schools to compensate their athletes without turning them into employees. Baker said he does not believe most college athletes want to be considered employees.

“A lot of the conversations I’ve had with people in Congress is: ‘The reason we’re interested in employment is because of the compensation question,'” Baker said earlier this week. “If the court blesses [the antitrust settlement], then it puts us in a position where we can go to Congress and say one of the three branches of the federal government blessed this as a model to create compensation without triggering employment.”

The NCAA and power conferences have lobbied Congress for laws that would limit their legal liability and prevent athletes from being employees for the past several years. College sports leaders say these laws are necessary to preserve many teams and athletic departments that cannot afford to pay their athletes like workers. Both the NCAA and power conferences have publicly stated their support for Good’s bill.

The bill is intended to be a narrow part of a broader package of federal legislation that guarantees more benefits for athletes in the future while preventing them from being employees. However, no partner bills that would guarantee athlete benefits have been introduced yet.

The Workforce and Education Committee voted 23-16 to move forward with the bill. All 23 votes in favor came from Republicans. All 16 votes against came from Democrats. The debate over whether Congress should weigh in on the college sports business model has been a partisan debate for the past several years.

Democrats in the House and Senate have previously co-sponsored bills that would have the exact opposite effect of Good’s bill — codifying college athletes’ right to unionize. Those lawmakers and other advocates say athletes need the ability to bargain collectively to make sure they can negotiate for items such as improved medical care and a fair share of the money they generate for a multibillion-dollar industry.

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) — a former college volleyball player who has been an active participant in the Capitol Hill debate on the future of college sports — said she will vote against Good’s bill if it reaches the House floor.

“Once again, Republicans in Congress have decided to plow forward with legislation to limit the rights of college athletes with little to no input from athletes themselves,” Trahan said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

If passed, Good’s bill would stop the ongoing efforts of the NLRB and in the Johnson v. NCAA case to make athletes into employees. Paul McDonald, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the Johnson case, said he believes the bill as written would violate federal equal protection laws. McDonald said it’s against the law to prevent some college students from being employees while others in that category — like cafeteria workers or teaching assistants — are allowed to earn wages and unionize.

“If enacted, [the bill] would never survive judicial challenge. To wit, it is a waste of time,” McDonald said in a statement provided to ESPN after Thursday’s vote. “Dilatory tactics have consequences. The only thing accomplished by the NCAA in needlessly dragging out the recognition of college athletes as hourly employees like their fellow students is to significantly increase the cost of resolution borne by its membership.”

In a news release issued prior to Thursday’s vote, Good said his bill was aimed at making sure the tradition of college sports wasn’t “ruined by reclassifying student athletes as employees.”

“My legislation will help maintain a balance between athletics and academics, ensuring that college sports programs remain viable, beneficial, and enjoyable for all student athletes,” he said.

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College football odds: Using FPI to gain an edge on lines

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College football odds: Using FPI to gain an edge on lines

The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals are coming to an end. The men’s College World Series wraps up shortly after, and all that’s left to get us through the scorching summer months are MLB, WNBA and soccer. Of course there’s some golf and the Olympics mixed in, as well.

Without other distractions, it’s the perfect time to get a jumpstart on some college football prep.

ESPN Analytics released its 2024 College Football Power Index (FPI) ratings and ESPN BET has posted lines for Week 0 and Week 1, as well as some other marquee matchups on tap throughout the fall. Where’s the value in what has been posted? What is the public seemingly valuing early on in the process?

You might think 10 weeks is too soon to start looking ahead, but you know how the saying goes: the early Jayhawk catches the Banana Slug.

Odds by ESPN BET. For the most up-to-date lines, click here.


1. Read, then react

Before firing away at August and September bets, take some time to refresh on how last season ended and the sheer volume of change the sport has undergone this offseason. Last year’s semifinalists have vastly different outlooks heading into 2024, with all four getting a new coach, starting quarterbacks or moving into a new conference.

The Pac-12 ceases to exist, three times as many teams can make the playoff, and the transfer portal carousel continues to spin. ESPN Analytics and FPI factor all this into their projections, so it serves as an ideal jumping-off point.

2. The Florida State vengeance tour begins, but will it start with a bang or a whimper?

After an undefeated season and subsequent playoff snub due to Jordan Travis’ injury, FSU will look to silence its doubters in the upcoming campaign. ESPN BET currently has FSU as the favorite to win the ACC at +260, followed closely by Clemson at +275. Yet, the last time we saw the Seminoles, their performance was anything but spectacular, as they needed a fourth quarter comeback against Florida, squeaked by Louisville in the ACC title game and then were walloped by Georgia 63-3 after half the team opted out.

Florida State kicks off the entire collegiate season in Ireland against Georgia Tech, in what’s currently the most bet-on game at ESPN BET. They’re installed as 13.5-point favorites, a fair line since FPI has it as a 13.8-point FSU win. The Noles then travel home to face their second straight ACC foe, laying 21.5 against Boston College, where ESPN Analytics has a much less rosy outlook. The Eagles are given a 16% chance to win and should be only 17-point underdogs, according to the model, a far cry from the 9% chance to win that BC’s +1000 odds are implying.

3. Georgia will be ready to bounce back

The Bulldogs only lost two first-round picks to the most recent NFL draft, which would look like a rebuilding year to nearly anyone except Georgia, which had eight first-round picks in the previous two drafts combined.

Since November 7, 2020, Georgia has gone 46-2, with both losses to Alabama. When the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, it will have been 1,392 days since Kirby Smart lost to anyone other than the now-retired Nick Saban.

After missing out on the Playoff last season following back-to-back title runs, Smart and Georgia will be ready to hit the ground running this year against a Tigers squad that won only half of its ACC games last season. The Bulldogs are FPI’s top-rated team heading into the season, with Clemson at No. 15. ESPN Analytics has Georgia favored by 15.2, a couple points of value on the current line of 13.5 and also crossing the key number of 14.

4. Is Colorado “primed” to make noise in Year 2 of the Deion Sanders extravaganza?

The literal answer, of course, is yes. There’s going to be a lot of noise coming from Colorado‘s campus as Coach Prime motivates his team, but are the Buffaloes ready to compete? Their season opener against FCS North Dakota State should be a great litmus test. The Summit League powerhouse could easily hold its own in a Group of 5 conference, having reached the FCS title game in 10 of the past 13 seasons, and they’re rightfully respected as just 8.5-point underdogs in Boulder (ESPN Analytics has it projected as an 8.7-point victory).

We tackled the idea of combating the hype with a true analysis of on-field play last season after Colorado started 3-0 (it promptly lost 8 of 9 to end the year), and the same can be done in 2024.

Colorado was plagued by terrible offensive line play last year, ranking at the bottom of FBS in sacks and pressures allowed and couldn’t create in the run game. But Colorado has the No. 3-ranked transfer portal signing class, adding third-team All-AAC OL Tyler Johnson, All-CUSA honorable mention OL Justin Mayers and signing the No. 1 OT in the ESPN 300 (19th overall) in Jordan Seaton.

Colorado’s O-Line last season:

  • 56 sacks allowed (second most in FBS)

  • 232 pressures allowed (third most)

  • 45.3% blown block rate (third most)

  • 0.32 yards-per-rush before contact (last)

All that being said, I can’t bet against North Dakota State in this spot. Since rising to FCS royalty just over a decade ago, the Bison are 6-1 straight up and 6-1 ATS against FBS teams, including 5-1 straight up and 5-1 ATS against power conferences. Their average cover margin is an absurd 17.2 points per game in that span, and sportsbooks have seemingly failed to rate NDSU properly.

5. Public is fading USC following the departure of Caleb Williams

According to ESPN Bet, the single most lopsided betting market is one of the crown jewels of the Week 1 slate, as the Trojans and LSU square off in Las Vegas on Labor Day eve. All eyes will be on this matchup as the final Sunday before the NFL season begins, and so far a whopping 78% of spread bets in this game are in favor of the Bayou Bengals.

The public seems to be fading USC on the basis of Caleb Williams carrying the team for the past few seasons, but ESPN Analytics sees it differently. LSU also lost the No. 2 pick in the draft in Jayden Daniels, and two of his record-setting teammates in Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. were both first-round selections, as well. FPI suggests the Tigers should be favored by just 1.9 points, so this could be a prime upset spot for the Trojans.

6. The Big 12 has been completely flipped on its head

It’s true that the poorly-numbered conference hasn’t had 12 teams since 2011, but the massive upheaval across college sports has created a 16-team conference where half of the league was elsewhere just two years prior (BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF joined last season, Colorado has returned, along with Arizona, Arizona State and Utah having their conference unveiling this fall).

It’s rather fitting that the two favorites to win the conference, according to ESPN Analytics, have been mainstays since the formation of the league back in the 1990s. Kansas has a 17% chance to win the conference, best in the Big 12, with Kansas State nipping at their heels at 16%. Both Sunflower State schools face FCS opponents — Lindenwood and UT Martin, respectively — to open their season, and there aren’t currently lines available at ESPN BET, but FPI has both teams projected to win by 30+ points.

But don’t get too confident in rock chalk nation just yet. There are seven teams with +1000 odds or shorter to win the Big 12 at ESPN BET.

Shortest odds to win the Big 12:

Utah +325
Kansas State +350
Kansas +600
Arizona +750
Texas Tech +900
Iowa State +1000
Oklahoma State +1000

Quick hitters

  • ESPN Analytics runs simulations to project the leverage a certain game has on teams’ chances to make the CFP depending on whether they win or lose. The game with the highest leverage in Week 1 is Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M, with both teams likely in the mix for a playoff spot and both ranked top 15 in FPI, making it the second-best matchup of the opening week, as well. According to the model, Notre Dame is projected to win by 3.6 points, which is notable because ESPN BET currently has the Aggies favored with -115 money line odds.

  • The largest gap between FPI and ESPN BET on opening weekend comes in an intrastate battle between Georgia State and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will be coming back from Ireland and will be playing from a travel disadvantage despite hosting the Panthers. Tech is favored by both ESPN Analytics and ESPN BET, but the line is at 19.5 with Georgia State +750 on the money line. FPI has it as a 7-point game with a 34% chance that Georgia State pulls the upset.

  • Looking ahead to Week 2, the national semifinal rematch between Michigan and Texas is actually the second-most lopsided spread bet at ESPN BET, with 77% of tickets coming in on the Longhorns of the SEC. Similar to the Caleb Williams theory, this is a double fade in the public view with JJ McCarthy and Jim Harbaugh both abandoning Ann Arbor and advancing to the NFL ranks. Oh, and leading rusher Blake Corum and leading receiver Roman Wilson are gone, as are four other top-100 picks in the draft back in April. Maybe the masses are onto something here, as Texas is favored by 3.5 while ESPN Analytics sees it as a 6.3-point victory.

Where the lines don’t align

ESPN BET has a few other notable games cued up with lines for later in the season, and there are two games with significant discrepancies between the sportsbook line and the FPI projection.

  • Oregon and Ohio State face off as Big Ten opponents for the first time on October 12. ESPN BET has the Ducks favored by a single point at home, which actually means they view Ohio State as the better team on paper. ESPN Analytics projects the Ducks as the second-best team in FBS this season and would make them almost a touchdown favorite in this spot despite losing Bo Nix to the pros.

  • Alabama and LSU renew their rivalry on November 9, with LSU currently laying 2.5 points. However, FPI values Kalen DeBoer and Jalen Milroe enough to have the Tide rated fifth best entering the season and has Alabama winning by 5.6 points on average.

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Sources: Big 12 mulls windfall for naming rights

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Sources: Big 12 mulls windfall for naming rights

The Big 12 is exploring selling its naming rights to a title sponsor, with potential revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the deal, sources told ESPN on Thursday.

The commercial sponsor would potentially take the name “Big” out of Big 12 and replace it with the sponsor’s name. It could end up as one of the largest commercial deals in collegiate athletics history, not including media rights.

The conference, which has explored this option for the past six months, has had in-depth discussions and a decision is expected in the upcoming months, sources told ESPN. A deal could mean millions of dollars annually for the conference’s member schools.

The Big 12 distributed nearly $470 million to its member schools in overall distribution last year, and that number projects to be higher once its new media deal comes to fruition in 2025-26. That projects to be tens of millions of dollars less per school annually than those in the Big Ten and SEC, prompting the league to find new revenue streams.

The Big 12 has also been in discussions with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for a stake in the league between 15% to 20%, sources confirmed to ESPN. That could give the Big 12 up to a $1 billion cash infusion and would be the first known large-scale private equity investment in college sports.

Sources, however, cautioned that the private equity pieces include some skeptics, especially among presidents. Regardless, there is a clear desire to boost revenue in the Big 12 in the near future.

“Every commercial opportunity the commissioner is bringing is a way to close the financial gap between the Big 12 and SEC,” a Big 12 source told ESPN. “The No. 1 priority of the Big 12 is maintaining competitiveness, and these opportunities potentially help.”

Discussions between CVC Capital Partners and the Big 12 were first reported by CBS.

The Big 12 will have a new look amid the shuffled college landscape in 2024. Gone will be conference stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma (to the SEC), and a new 16-member lineup will include Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah joining the 12 returning members from last year.

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