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Tanaka? Paxton? Keuchel?! Handicapping Yankees' Opening Day starter

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TAMPA, Fla. -- All winter, it was practically a foregone conclusion who'd be starting Opening Day for the New York Yankees.

Then, about 15 minutes prior to Tuesday's spring training game against the Braves, it became dramatically less certain.

Although an MRI of Luis Severino's right shoulder came back that afternoon mostly positive, only revealing rotator cuff inflammation, the Yankees were still forced to sideline the right-hander. He won't be making his long-expected start at Yankee Stadium on March 28 after all.

Who will be pitching in his place? While a front-runner appears to be emerging, there are others perhaps worthy of consideration. Here's a rundown of potential Yankees Opening Day starters and the likelihood they'll be handed the ball to start the season. [Vote for your favorite option here.]

Not in contention: Severino, CC Sabathia

While Severino could land on the injured list for a short stint at the start of the regular season, the Yankees are expecting to make a similar move with Sabathia.

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Judge rules against NCAA in antitrust lawsuit

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A judge has ruled against the NCAA in a federal antitrust lawsuit, saying football and basketball players should be permitted to receive more compensation from schools, but only if the benefits are tied to education.

The ruling Friday night from U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, California, said the NCAA cannot "limit compensation or benefits related to education.''

The plaintiffs in the so-called Alston cases were seeking much more. Plaintiffs had asked the judge to lift all NCAA caps on compensation and to allow schools to provide benefits beyond a scholarship to college athletes.

The goal was to create a free market, where conferences set rules for compensating athletes, but this ruling still allows the NCAA to prohibit cash compensation untethered to education-related expenses.

The claim was against the NCAA and the 11 conferences that have competed in the highest level of college football.

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Sources: Gottfried directly linked to payments

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Court filings in a federal criminal case involving college basketball corruption link former NC State coach Mark Gottfried to being the first head coach directly connected to impermissible payments to players, sources told ESPN.

According to a disclosure from federal prosecutors, former NC State assistant Orlando Early's attorney said his client disclosed that Gottfried on two occasions gave him envelopes -- containing what Early believed was cash -- to deliver to star guard Dennis Smith Jr.'s trainer to ensure he signed with the Wolfpack in 2015.

Smith Jr.'s trainer, Shawn Farmer, was supposed to deliver the envelopes to Dennis Smith Sr., the father of the five-star recruit, who is now a point guard with the New York Knicks.

According to sources, the allegations concerning Gottfried were included in a sentencing memorandum filed Feb. 12 on behalf of former Adidas executive James Gatto, who was sentenced to nine months in federal prison on Tuesday.

The information concerning Gottfried, who is now coaching at Cal State Northridge, is redacted in the sentencing memo that is publicly available.

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Broncos propose alternative to trying onside kick

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NFL teams have proposed nine rule changes for 2019, including an intriguing alternative from the Denver Broncos to bypass the onside kick.

According to the Broncos' proposal, released Friday night by the NFL, each team would have one opportunity per game to remain on offense after a fourth-quarter score. Instead of kicking off, the team would line up at its 35-yard line for what is in essence a fourth down-and-15. If the team gains at least 15 yards, it maintains possession. If not, the defense takes over.

The NFL annually invites teams to propose rule changes, but the competition committee is charged with vetting and either endorsing or allowing them to stand on their own. Historically, owners defer substantial judgment to the committee, which is scheduled to meet later this month to finalize its recommendations for 2019.

Minnesota's Adam Thielen jumps on an onside kick in a game against the Eagles last season. A proposal by the Denver Broncos would provide teams with an alternative to the onside kick if approved by NFL owners. Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

Votes from 24 owners are required to approve any rule changes. The Broncos' submission reflects the increased difficulty of onside kicks under new kickoff rules implemented last season. In 2018, NFL teams recovered only four of 52 onside kicks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The new Alliance of American Football (AAF), which has outlawed kickoffs, offers teams the chance to convert a fourth-and-12 from its 28 if it is down by 17 points or more in a game, or if it is trailing by any deficit with five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter.

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How will Arsenal and Man United respond?

W2W4 previews the weekend's Premier League action by highlighting its most compelling storylines ...

Man United and Arsenal nursing different hangovers

Arsenal and Manchester United are both dealing with European hangovers of a different nature. Arsenal will have a day fewer to prepare after a 3-1 loss to Rennes in the Europa League, but it's the Manchester United players who will probably be more exhausted ahead of their game on Sunday. After Wednesday night's miracle/VAR-assisted win in Paris, the energy must be drained from the bodies and minds of the United players. The remarkable effort required to defeat PSG will ultimately be worth it, but there are short-term consequences: specifically, how well they will recover for their next test, a trip to face Arsenal, particularly given the number of injuries they will still have to cope with.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. | ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check it out.

On Feb. 8, a fire at an uninspected youth dorm at one of Brazil's highest-earning clubs killed 10 young players. How?

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Source: Bennett reunion with Patriots possible

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There could be a Bennett brothers reunion in New England, with Michael set to join the team via trade and Martellus contemplating a return to football.

The Philadelphia Eagles have informed Michael Bennett that they are planning to trade him to the Patriots, the defensive end told ESPN's Josina Anderson on Friday. With that trade set to be finalized, tight end Martellus Bennett is interested in coming out of retirement to join his brother in New England, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Adding Bennett gives the Patriots an affordable rotation piece, and they remain in position to make a strong offer to the younger Flowers.

The Eagles would receive a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft and send Michael Bennett and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Patriots, a league source told Schefter. Philly.com was first to report that a trade was close to completion.

Bennett played in 16 games (10 starts) last season and totaled nine sacks. He has 63 sacks over his 10-year career.

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LSU suspends Wade indefinitely amid FBI probe

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LSU has suspended men's basketball coach Will Wade indefinitely, the school announced Friday.

The decision comes a day after reports that FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone calls between Wade and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins, in which Wade expressed frustration about his inability to close what he described as a "strong-ass offer" for a recruit.

"Recent media reports regarding Coach Will Wade are without question concerning to us all," read a statement from LSU president/chancellor F. King Alexander and athletic director Joe Alleva. "As such, we and university officials have taken deliberate and purposeful steps to fairly assess and adequately address the situation. As we have done since media reports first surfaced months ago, we are closely coordinating with the NCAA with every step. They have our full cooperation and we will continue to report to them all facts and information on this matter.

FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone calls between LSU coach Will Wade and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins, in which Wade expressed frustration about his inability to close an offer for a recruit, sources told ESPN.

"All of us at LSU share the obligation to protect the integrity of this institution, as such we have suspended Head Coach Will Wade indefinitely until such time as we can ensure full compliance with the NCAA, as well as institutional policies and standards. Assistant coach Tony Benford will assume the duties of interim coach."

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Club cannabis: Will other leagues copy the NHL?

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Player X is in the NHL. After home games, he has a routine. Typically, he'll meet a few teammates at a local restaurant for a late dinner. He likes to order steak after games -- medium rare, with a side salad and mashed potatoes. Then he'll go home.

Player X sometimes has a hard time unwinding; it was a day of unbounded stimulation. He woke up and arrived at the rink for a morning skate and meetings, went home to nap, returned to the arena for warm-ups (bright lights and eardrum-blasting music), then exerted his body for 20-something sub-one-minute shifts during which he shoves, sprints, reaches, shoots, gets hit and sometimes bleeds on the ice. By the time he gets home at night, he needs something to ease the process of getting to bed. So he'll often reach for his weed pen and take a few hits. "Just to relax," he says. "Honestly, it's the easiest and most natural way for me to fall asleep and be ready for the next day."

Because Player X is on a Western Conference team based in a state in which there are broad laws legalizing marijuana, he knows he's not doing anything wrong. Actually, he's doing what he estimates thousands of others who live in his city do every night as well.

And because he plays in the NHL -- and not, say, the NFL, NBA or MLB -- he knows he won't be punished.

Evolving views

Society's views on marijuana are evolving -- fast. On Oct. 16, Canada became the largest country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. Coupled with results from the midterm elections in the United States, this is the landscape: Of the 31 teams in the NHL, 28 play in states where players have access to legal marijuana, whether it is for medicinal or recreational purposes. That's the highest percentage (90.3) of any of the major four North American pro leagues, but hardly an anomaly.

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Barnwell's free-agency and trade grades: Tracking every big move

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Welcome to 2019 NFL free agency. I'm grading the most notable offseason moves -- signings and trades -- below, so come back throughout the month for updates as deals get completed.

The most recent grades and write-ups are at the top, and the first grade goes all the way back to Feb. 7, when the Cardinals added cornerback Robert Alford.

Keep in mind that I'm not grading deals until we get a clearer picture of the money involved. So if you don't see a grade for a deal that has been reported, check back in later.

Jump to a big move:
NYG-CLE trade | DEN-WSH trade | OT Smith | S Weddle

Friday, March 8

The deal: Two years, $12.5 million with $5.25 million guaranteed
Grade: B

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Smith Jr. goes for his first world title against Bivol

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VERONA, N.Y. -- After light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. -- a former construction worker -- had a breakout year in 2016, he appeared headed to a world title fight.

After all, he had scored a major upset with a stunning first-round knockout of contender Andrzej Fonfara and followed it with an even bigger win in the encore when he sent legend Bernard Hopkins into retirement by knocking him clear out of the ring in an eighth-round knockout victory.

And then he appeared on his way to defeating contender Sullivan Barrera in his next fight when he dropped him in the first round. But Barrera got off the deck, broke Smith's jaw and went on to win a unanimous decision in a fight Smith somehow managed to go the distance in despite a brutal injury that sidelined him for 11 months.

But after returning for a quick first-round knockout win against journeyman Melvin Russell in June, Smith is finally getting the opportunity to fight for a world title that he has dreamed about. He will challenge Dmitry Bivol for his 175-pound belt in what many predict will be a fan-friendly fight Saturday (DAZN, 7 p.m. ET) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino.

Light heavyweight world titleholder Dmitry Bivol defends his belt against Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday in a fight that might be his last in the weight class.

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Bubble Watch: Under .500 might not be a problem in 2019

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Editor's note: The NCAA tournament Bubble Watch has been updated through games of Sunday, Feb. 24.

If there's one question we here at Bubble Watch receive more than any other, it is this:

"Why isn't my team in Bubble Watch instead of Team X?" Here, Team X always, without fail, refers to a team that has a sub-.500 record in major-conference play.

Let's be even more specific. As of the moment, the following teams would all be in the tournament if the selection were held today, according to Joe Lunardi's latest bracket:

All of these teams are carrying sub-.500 records in conference play, and Bubble Watch mainstays Minnesota and Clemson, perched right on Lunardi's cut line, are similarly underwater in their league games. How is this happening?

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Reports: Rangers ship Hayes to Jets for Lemieux

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The New York Rangers have traded center Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2019 first-round draft pick, winger Brendan Lemieux and a conditional pick, according to multiple reports.

Hayes is expected to plug in on Winnipeg's second line alongside Patrik Laine; this is the second consecutive year the Jets have secured a second-line center at the trade deadline. Last season, Winnipeg acquired Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues -- a move that helped the Jets reach the Western Conference finals.

Lemieux, 22, is a son of longtime NHL player Claude Lemieux. He has nine goals and two assists in 44 games this season.

The Jets were believed to be in on Ottawa Senators center Mark Stone, but the price tag was too high.

Hayes, 26, has 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points in 51 games this season while averaging a career-high 19:27 a night. He has been a regular in the New York lineup since 2014-15. Hayes has two goals and eight assists in 34 playoff games.

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'Last Chance U' coach resigns after Hitler text

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Independence Community College football coach Jason Brown, featured on Season 3 of the popular Netflix series "Last Chance U," resigned Sunday after allegedly telling a German player on the team, "I am your new Hitler."

Brown posted his resignation letter Sunday night on Twitter, writing "it would be nearly impossible to stay here." He referred to a story last week in the Montgomery County Chronicle, which reported a text message exchange between Brown and freshman player Alexandros Alexiou, who had posted the texts on social media.

Referring to disciplinary points that Alexiou had accrued for missteps, Brown allegedly wrote, "410pm on field u German f---. u have 17 points toward your 25 points ... u got an extra point for not hanging the lion poster as instructed I'm your new Hitler figure out your life."

Brown also threatened to take away Alexiou's scholarship during the Feb. 12 exchange.

ICC president Dan Barwick told KOAM television in a statement that the college did not condone Brown's language and was investigating. Barwick said he had addressed the incident with Brown, who "fully understands that his language was not appropriate."

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NHL trade deadline central: Rankings, grades, news and more

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The trade deadline for the 2018-19 NHL season is on Monday, Feb. 25. Luckily for you, we've got all angles covered as general managers around the league look to bolster their team for a Stanley Cup run, or maximize their assets looking ahead to the draft and free agency this summer.

Scroll through to find trade target rankings, grades, the latest news and more, and be sure to bookmark: We'll keep this updated through the Feb. 25 deadline with our final thoughts on all of the moves.

More: Trade tracker | Trade Grades

Feb. 25

10:54 a.m. ET: Center Kevin Hayes to the Jets.

The deal:

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Yanks ink Hicks to 7-year extension through '25

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The New York Yankees have signed Aaron Hicks to a seven-year extension that will keep the outfielder under contract through the 2025 season.

The deal, announced Monday, also includes a club option for the 2026 season.

Career high?
Games137Yes
HR27Yes
RBIs79Yes
Runs90Yes
WAR4.7Yes
-- ESPN Stats & Information

The Yankees did not disclose financial terms, but Hicks will make $70 million over the first seven years, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

"He's a big part of this team and a big part of our success ... I always love playing by him," said Yankees OF Aaron Judge. "To hear he got seven years, we'll be playing together for a long time."

The deal, which will start this year, was first reported by the YES Network.

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Sarri must punish Kepa for Carabao Cup outburst

If the world's most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, starts for Chelsea against Spurs on Wednesday, it will confirm what we have long suspected about player power at Stamford Bridge.

Let's be quite clear about this. Kepa is lucky that his contract was not torn up after openly defying his manager, Maurizio Sarri, and refusing to be substituted in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. Those of us who have been watching football for half a century have never seen anything like it. It was shambolic, amateurish and so unfair on Sarri given his current shaky predicament at the club.

The goalkeeper acted like a spoilt kid in an under-8 game, and his claim that it was all a "misunderstanding" is frankly laughable. Kepa had twice gone down suffering from cramps and Sarri wanted to replace him with Willy Caballero as the penalty shoot-out loomed.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. | ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check out the list.

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Power Rankings: Circle these games over the final two weeks

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There are officially less than two weeks until the end of the regular season, and there's a race shaping up to nab the final 1-seed -- and the last couple of spots in the top five of the Power Rankings. Duke is in pretty good shape with its résumé (assuming Zion Williamson returns soon); Virginia has lost only twice all season (both times to Duke) and is 9-0 in its other Quadrant 1 games; and Gonzaga has won 18 straight, hasn't had a game within single digits since Dec. 15 and appears unlikely to lose before the NCAA tournament. Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan and Michigan State all still have shots to move up.

While conference tournaments also will play a major role, what remaining regular-season games will help determine the pecking order of the top-tier teams in the Power Rankings?

Kentucky at Tennessee (Saturday): Tennessee seemed to be in great shape a couple of weeks ago, but the Volunteers are now locked in a three-way tie for first place in the SEC, and their lack of high-level wins outside of Gonzaga is more noticeable. Kentucky likely has to win in Knoxville or win the SEC tournament to remain a 1-seed in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket (and the top four in the Power Rankings).

Duke at North Carolina (March 9): Will Williamson be back by then? Carolina hammered the Blue Devils last week without Williamson, and the Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country. If they beat Duke again and then make a deep run in the ACC tournament, can they jump the Blue Devils? Their combination of wins over Duke and Gonzaga is unparalleled (besides Duke's two wins over Virginia).

There should be no asterisk on North Carolina's victory in Durham. The Tar Heels are the real deal.

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How Yasiel Puig has -- and hasn't -- moved on with the Reds

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Yasiel Puig had already broken in a red glove by the time his new team conducted its first full workout here last week. The cleats, the duffel bag, the batting gloves -- all red, flowing in perfect harmony with the Cincinnati Reds uniform that he will don for at least the next five months, perhaps even a bit longer.

"By the way," Puig said, starting to smile, "this is my color. I love red."

Any traces of Puig's tumultuous time with the Los Angeles Dodgers have faded by now, but only by way of appearance. The Dodgers remain a very noticeable presence in Puig's thoughts, acting mostly as a source of motivation in a quest to prove that he can -- and, no matter what the numbers say, always could -- hit those damn lefties.

He is, in spite of lingering bitterness, thankful for the time, thankful for the experiences, thankful for the fans and, yes, thankful for the color.

Blue, Puig announced, is his second favorite.

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Where Le'Veon Bell fits: We put together potential contract offers

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Le'Veon Bell is expected to reset the market for running backs when he hits free agency next month. Which teams are interested, and what could his contract look like?

We asked NFL Nation reporters to make their best offer -- on behalf of the teams they cover -- to the former Pittsburgh Steelers back, who sat out the entire 2018 season because he wanted a long-term contract.

We came up with three teams likely to make offers for Bell, and each has the cap space -- and need -- to sign him. There are also five teams popularly linked with pursuing Bell who our reporters think will get running back help elsewhere.

The offers below are based on what each reporter believes their team's front office would offer Bell next month. We then had senior NFL writer Mike Sando take on the role of Bell's agent and pick the best offer for his client. Check out his decision here.

Jump to the offers and verdict:
GB | HOU | NYJ | Verdict

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Sources: Dodgers re-enter Harper sweepstakes

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The Los Angeles Dodgers have re-entered the Bryce Harper sweepstakes and are interested in a short-term deal with the free-agent slugger, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

The Phillies absolutely want Harper. But does he want them? It's time for a final answer.

As Harper's new deal approaches the finish line, the intrigue only begins for the free agent and his primary suitor. Who else in baseball will be feeling the heat this season?

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Harper is seeking a long-term deal and, despite being unsigned just over a month before the start of the season, has given no indication that he is willing to change that demand, sources told ESPN's Jeff Passan.

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