Yahoo Sports AM: Athletes or employees?

In today's edition: The end of amateurism, Brazil's NFL debut, the NBA's creepiest mascot, finishing first by finishing last, and more.

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🚨 Headlines

🏈 Another year, another field issue: Last year, players trashed the slippery Super Bowl field in Arizona. This year, the 49ers are unhappy with the conditions of their practice field at UNLV.

🏀 Back in the poll: South Carolina is ranked No. 15 in this week's men's AP poll, their first time being ranked since 2017 and their highest ranking since 1998. Meanwhile, the women's team stayed at No. 1 for the 13th consecutive week.

🏈 Sons on the move: Steve Belichick (son of Bill) is the new defensive coordinator at Washington, where he'll team up with OC Brennan Carroll (son of Pete). Meanwhile, Jay Harbaugh (son of Jim) is joining the Seahawks as special teams coordinator.

🏀 Futuristic court: The NBA will use an all-LED court for events during All-Star Weekend. The court will display dynamic visuals like replays, real-time stats, player tracking and interactive games during breaks in the action.

🎓 The end of amateurism is near

Dartmouth players before a game in 2022. (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Dartmouth players before a game in 2022. (Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The college sports model is crumbling before our very eyes, and with each passing month, it becomes increasingly clear that amateurism is on the way out.

The latest: In a landmark ruling on Monday, the National Labor Relations Board's regional director in Boston found that Dartmouth men's basketball players are employees and granted them the right to unionize.

  • Unionizing would allow players to negotiate things like salary, working conditions and travel.

  • Dartmouth can, and almost certainly will, appeal the director's decision to the NLRB's national panel.

From Yahoo Sports' Ross Dellenger:

In September of 2021, at an event of college athletic administrators gathered in Washington, D.C., Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick delivered a jarring statement that startled many in the room.

"Sometime in this school year, somewhere in the legal world, or administrative level," he told them, "a student-athlete will be declared an employee."

It took a little longer than he expected, but Swarbrick's prediction has, officially, arrived two-and-a-half years later.

"This is the first shoe to drop in the long-running effort by college athletes to be declared employees," said Michael LeRoy, an Illinois professor and expert on labor policy. "It is consequential."

"If Dartmouth basketball players are employees, then it's easy to imagine that all other athletes at the collegiate level would also be considered employees," adds Gabe Feldman, a Tulane sports law professor and an expert on such NCAA matters.

Flashback: A similar ruling took place in 2014 when another NLRB regional director found that Northwestern football players were employees and could unionize.

  • But that fell apart when the NLRB decided that allowing football players at the only private school in the Big Ten to unionize would be a detriment to the labor market in the conference.

  • In a striking difference between the two cases, Dartmouth competes in the Ivy League, made up of only private schools.

Zoom out: This isn't an isolated case. There are several other avenues in which athletes can be ruled employees, including a collective action suit in Pennsylvania and another NLRB case against USC, the Pac-12 and the NCAA.

The last word: "It's become a tidal wave," says Feldman. "It could open the door to massive salaries at the top end of college sports and minimum wage at the bottom. It's a further wakeup call to college athletic leaders that the status quo is not sustainable."

🏈 Brazil to host NFL's "Friday Night Lights"

Corinthians Arena, also known as Neo Química Arena for sponsorship reasons. (Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images)
Corinthians Arena, also known as Neo Química Arena for sponsorship reasons. (Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images)

The Eagles will host a Friday night game in Brazil on kickoff weekend next season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Monday.

What they're saying: "We are just incredibly enthusiastic about our growth on a global basis," said Goodell at his state of the league address. "We are convinced we can be a global sport in the near future."

  • The NFL's website notes Corinthians Arena in São Paulo as the likely site of the game on Sept. 6.

  • The league will also play games in London and Munich next season, and is reportedly targeting Spain in 2025.

A rare Friday NFL game: The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act bars the league from scheduling games after 6pm ET on Fridays and Saturdays during the high school and college seasons.

  • Those antitrust restrictions span the second Friday of September through the second Saturday of December.

  • Opening week coincides with the first Friday of September next season, thus allowing the Brazil game to be played at night.

  • The NFL's "Black Friday" game, which debuted last season, has an afternoon kickoff due to the antitrust rules.

Starting off with a bang: Week 1 of the NFL season will now include games on Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday.

🏒 The Oilers are on the verge of history

Two Oilers celebrate after beating the Predators on Jan. 27. (Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)
Two Oilers celebrate after beating the Predators on Jan. 27. (Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

The Oilers take the ice tonight riding a 16-game win streak, one shy of matching the 1992-93 Penguins for the longest in NHL history, Jeff writes.

How they got here: It's been a tale of two seasons for the Oilers (29-15-1), who have fought back from the Pacific division cellar to reclaim their spot as a title contender.

  • Awful start: Edmonton was 5-12-1 through 18 games for one of the worst starts in franchise history. In the midst of that awful first month, they fired their head coach and hired Kris Knoblauch out of the AHL.

  • Hot streaks: The Oilers ripped off an eight-game win streak two weeks into Knoblauch's tenure. Then, after losing three straight, they beat the Devils in New Jersey and haven't lost again since.

By the numbers: Edmonton has thoroughly dominated opponents during the streak, with a cumulative score of 61-24. And thanks to their two goalies allowing just 24 goals on 441 shots, they've surrendered fewer than three goals in 14 straight games.

  • The weaknesses that plagued them early on (third-worst penalty kill and second-worst save percentage) have become their recipe for success, as they've led the league in both categories during the streak.

  • Superstars Connor McDavid (26 points during the streak) and Leon Draisaitl (23) have paced the Oilers, but they've also gotten double-digit points from four other players. "What makes this special is it's been everybody," McDavid told The Athletic ($).

What to watch: Edmonton's attempt at matching history comes tonight in Las Vegas against the defending champs, who remain five points ahead of them in the Pacific division.

🏀 The NBA's creepiest mascot

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

King Cake Baby, the NBA's creepiest mascot, is back to spread the Mardi Gras spirit — and fuel your nightmares.

(Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

For those not in the know, King Cake is a Mardi Gras-themed dessert that often has a porcelain baby hidden inside said to represent Baby Jesus. There doesn't seem to be much Christ-like about this massive terror-inducing infant, though…

Everything about King Cake Baby — the always-watching eyes, the airbrushed bib, and perhaps most especially the evidently-ready-to-come-off-at-a-moment's-notice diaper — is deeply, deeply unsettling. – Dan Devine, Yahoo Sports

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

King Cake Baby was at Smoothie King Center for the last two Pelicans home games. Thankfully, he's taking a break after last night's appearance, so you can sleep a little easier.

📆 Feb. 6, 1971: Golf on the moon

(Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
(Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

53 years ago today, astronaut Alan Shepard — who had smuggled a modified club and a few balls aboard Apollo 14 — hit a golf shot on the surface of the moon, Jeff writes.

How it went down: Shepard, who'd only told the mission director about his plan, waited until his team had finished their nine-hour moonwalk, then seized his opportunity.

  • "Houston … you might recognize what I have in my hand as the handle for the contingency sample return," he said to the camera. "It just so happens to have a genuine six iron on the bottom of it."

  • He shanked his first shot into a nearby crater — "That looked like a slice to me, Al," joked another astronaut — but his second was a clean hit that went "miles and miles and miles" into the blackness of space.

More on this day:

  • 🏀 1988: Michael Jordan beat Dominique Wilkins in one of the all-time great Slam Dunk Contests, clinching the controversial* victory with his iconic free-throw line slam.

  • 🏈 2011: Tom Brady became the NFL's first unanimous MVP after tossing a league-high 36 TDs against just 4 interceptions. Only Lamar Jackson (2019) has since joined him as a unanimous winner.

*Home cooking: The contest took place in Chicago, and nearly everyone — including MJ himself — agreed that the judges scored 'Nique's final dunk unfairly.

📺 Watchlist: 60-point scorers

(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

If you want to see a 60-point game happen live, tonight's TNT doubleheader is a good place to start: Six the 14 active players* who've reached that mark are taking the floor, Jeff writes.

  • Mavericks at Nets (7:30pm ET): Luka Dončić has done it twice (including two weeks ago), and Kyrie Irving has done it once.

  • Bucks at Suns (10pm): Damian Lillard has done it five times (most among active players), Devin Booker has done it twice (including two weeks ago), and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bradley Beal have each done it once.

More to watch:

  • 🏀 NCAAM: Clemson at No. 3 UNC (7pm, ESPN); Butler at No. 1 UConn (8:30pm, FS1); No. 23 Texas Tech at No. 13 Baylor (9pm, ESPN)

  • 🏒 NHL: Oilers at Golden Knights (10pm, ESPN+) … Edmonton goes for an NHL record-tying 17 straight wins.

  • ⚽️ Asian Cup: South Korea vs. Jordan (10am, Paramount+) … The first semifinal.

  • ⚾️ Caribbean Series: Mexico vs. Nicaragua (10:30am, ESPN+); Dominican Republic vs. Curaçao (3:30pm, ESPN+); Venezuela vs. Panama (8:30pm, ESPN+) … Group stage.

*Somehow not on the list: Kevin Durant, also in action tonight, has scored 50 points 10 times, but his career-high is 55. He and Bob Pettit are the only players among the top 10 for career points per game to never eclipse 60.

⚾️ MLB trivia

(David Berding/Getty Images)
(David Berding/Getty Images)

Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and the Royals have agreed to an 11-year, $288 million extension, the largest contract in franchise history.

  • Question: Witt Jr. was the No. 2 pick in 2019. Who was selected ahead of him?

  • Hint: Catcher.

Answer at the bottom.

⛸️ You need to watch this video

Yang (left) passes the field during the first lap. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Yang (left) passes the field during the first lap. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Chinese speed skater Yang Jinru pulled off a mind-blowing strategy during a Youth Winter Olympics race last month: She finished first by finishing last, Jeff writes.

Wait, what? Short track speed skating races usually start slow and end fast, but Yang flipped the script in the 1500m final by taking off in a dead sprint 10 seconds into the race, and no one else followed her lead.

  • By the end of the fourth lap (of 13.5 total), she was coasting smoothly at the back of the pack, an entire lap ahead of the field.

  • As the race neared its end, everyone seemed to forget she was in first, leading to a chaotic finish for everyone but Yang and her teammate.

Trust me: Just watch.

Trivia answer: Adley Rutschman (Orioles)

We hope you enjoyed this edition of Yahoo Sports AM, our daily newsletter that keeps you up to date on all things sports. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.