John McGrath

John McGrath: Dear Rich: Your fat contract, sir, partly causes 8 p.m. kickoffs

Column as I see ’em …

During his recent rant about the 8 p.m. kickoff time that his Arizona football team faced Saturday at Husky Stadium, Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez was preaching to the choir. Late starts that push the conclusions of games toward midnight are as unpopular with fans and the media as they are with coaches.

But I don’t recall Rodriguez sending any distress signals last fall, when he agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $2.2 million a season — a deal that included such bonus perks as $200,000 for winning the Pac-12 South.

College coaches are able to command those kinds of salaries thanks to the very television networks dictating the 8 p.m. kickoffs. In exchange for allowing the likes of Fox and ESPN to schedule games at whatever time the networks choose, the Pac-12 is receiving $3 billion over 12 years.

Rodriguez’s frustration with the travel itineraries associated with late-night kickoffs is understandable — the Wildcats weren’t expected to return home to Tucson until 5 a.m. Sunday — but unlike his players, the appropriately nicknamed “Rich Rod” is paid very well for the inconvenience.

▪ Speaking of contracts, the Kansas City Royals’ Alex Gordon appears to be on the cusp of a monster deal. If the left fielder declines his $14 million player-option season with the Royals in 2016 — it’s difficult to imagine he won’t — he’ll be among the most coveted position players on the free-agent market.

Gordon, at 31, offers an intriguing skill set. He’s not a slugger, but he’s got power. A .269 career hitter, he’ll never lead the league in batting average, but he’s the last guy a pitcher wants to face in the ninth inning of a close game. An experienced third baseman who’s also played first, he’s become a Gold Glove outfielder.

Gordon does nothing that wows you, but lots to impress you. A jackpot awaits.

▪ LSU running back Leonard Fournette averages 7.7 yards every time he carries the ball, a ridiculous number that has vaulted the sophomore’s status from Heisman Trophy contender to Heisman favorite. But the race will get interesting.

A bye date Saturday prevented Fournette from adding to his season total of 1,352 rushing yards. When LSU resumes its schedule, he’ll take on an Alabama rushing defense that went into the weekend with a No. 4 national ranking.

Heisman Trophy voters tend to be of the “What Has He Done Lately?” school. If a bye week is followed by a pedestrian performance against the Crimson Tide, all bets are off.

▪ The San Francisco 49ers cut former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne from their roster Saturday, a few hours after Fox announced that Pete Rose no longer will be part of its studio-analysis team. The connection? I was kind of hoping both Hayne and Rose would succeed in roles that obviously weren’t in their comfort zones.

Hayne dazzled as a punt returner during the preseason, but when the lights got bright, he fumbled three times in eight attempts. Ouch.

As for Rose, swiveling this way and that on his studio chair, he looked like a restless kid during the second hour of a three-hour church service.

▪ The Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy combined to score four goals in the first 22 minutes of their knockout-round playoff game Wednesday, and what’s notable about the offensive explosion is that it will be recalled as a mere footnote to the craziest two days in the 20-year history of MLS.

Definition of crazy: The Portland Timbers surviving a marathon match against Sporting Kansas City that ended up with K.C. goalkeeper Jon Kempin, a late injury replacement, missing an attempt in a 7-6 shootout.

▪ On this day in 1959, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante took a puck to his face against the New York Rangers. Plante went to the locker room for stitches, and returned wearing a fiberglass mask disapproved of by Canadiens coach Toe Blake.

Masks, Blake believed, were for wimps.

Plante, who had endured four broken noses, two broken cheekbones and 200 stitches to the head, thought otherwise. On the night after Halloween, he wore a mask that made him a pioneer.

Stopping hockey pucks without facial protection, how bonkers is that? Almost as bonkers as football players taking the field without helmets. The league we know as the NFL began business in 1919. Helmets weren’t required until 1943.

▪ I’m trying to turn back the clock on my bedroom radio, but every button I push leaves the clock blinking at 12:00, along with the sound of ocean waves.

Toe Blake was right. This newfangled technology stuff is for the birds.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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