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Ballon d’Or 2021: Who will be crowned the best players in men’s and women’s football?

(CNN)The world’s best footballers will be recognized at the annual Ballon d’Or ceremony in Paris on Monday.

Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah are among the favorites to be crowned the best men’s player, while Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso headline the women’s nominees.

However, the scheduling of the awards in the middle of a women’s international break has drawn criticism, a decision that makes it hard for some of the nominees to attend.

For instance, Australia and Chelsea star Sam Kerr, who is in the running to be crowned the best player in the women’s game, is set to be a notable absentee from the ceremony with the Matildas facing the US in Newcastle on Tuesday.

"Incredibly disappointing that the highest award for the best female players in the world is not even accessible for them to attend — these things need to keep being highlighted as not acceptable," Rehanne Skinner, head coach of Tottenham Hotspur Women, said on Twitter.

Some players have been released in order to attend the awards, including Spanish internationals Putellas, Hermoso, Irene Paredes and Sandra Paños.

The quartet left training with the national team and will return ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Scotland in Seville on Tuesday. Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or award in 2018. CNN has contacted France Football, which organizes the Ballon d’Or awards, regarding the scheduling of this year’s ceremony.

"I don’t think it’s an intentional snub … I just think that the Ballon d’Or now by definition is both a men’s and women’s award, and in the third season, they really need to get it right and they need to promote it in that way," former New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith said on CNN World Sport.

"It’s just another one of those, "C ome on " — half the fun of the awards is having the players there.

"I’m not sure if Sam Kerr, should she win it, can jump on a private jet from Australia all the way to Paris to pick it up."

The women’s Ballon d’Or was introduced in 2018 and won by Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, while American Megan Rapinoe became the second winner the following year. Last year’s awards were canceled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the 20 players nominated for this year’s award, 10 play for Chelsea or Barcelona, the two sides that contested the Champions League final in May. Barcelona’s 4-0 victory in that game was the highlight of the side’s treble-winning season.

In the men’s award, Messi could claim a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or having won the Copa América title with Argentina earlier this year. Messi poses with his sixth Ballon d’Or trophy in 2019. Lewandowski’s sensational goalscoring form for Bayern Munich has also put him in the running; the striker has netted 53 times this calendar year, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.Liverpool’s Salah, the top scorer in the Premier League this season, and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, the top scorer so far in La Liga, are also among the favorites, as […]

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New England Patriots defense bullies Tennessee Titans for sixth straight win

New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne celebrates his touchdown during the against the Tennessee Titans. (CNN)On a weekend marked with feast, the New England Patriots made sure they had a seat at the table as their defense ate up the Tennessee Titans in the second half in a 36-13 victory.

Bill Belichick’s specialty has long been the defensive side of the game, and it was on full display as the Pats forced four turnovers in the win.

Facing a Titans team missing 2020 Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry as well as their two main wide receivers — Julio Jones and A. J. Brown — New England ended the game with three forced fumbles along with a Ryan Tannehill interception.

The game though was tight going into halftime — a slight 16-13 New England lead — with the Patriots struggling to rein in Tennessee’s running game. Even without Henry, the Titans’ backs found plenty of holes in the New England defense. Belichick was asked postgame about the first half and gave an on-brand, terse answer about the defense. Mac Jones Patriots looks to make a pass against the Tennessee Titans. "They did a better job of coaching it than we did. We have to coach and play better," Belichick said.

The Pats defense turned it around after the break though, as they shut out the Titans in the second half and got the ball back repeatably for rookie quarterback Mac Jones and the offense.

The Jones-led offense has been on a roll during the Patriots’ six-game win streak as his pass catchers have become more used to the offense — New England has outscored their opponents 211-63 during the winning-run.

The emergence of wide receiver Kendrick Bourne has become a story to watch as he and Jones are finding their stride. The QB threw for two touchdowns to Bourne in the win and that connection has become apparent to more than just Patriots fans.

"KB is like the energizer bunny, man," Patriots center Andrews said about Bourne. "I think he’s like a Labrador. Golden Retriever-like. I’ve had those dogs before. They’re just always happy, you know? Even when you kind of correct them or get onto them, they’re just like, ‘Alright. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll get it done.’ KB’s been awesome." Bourne runs after the catch for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. While the Pats’ trademark, steadfast defense has remained prominent during the streak, the evolution of rookie QB Jones has been the main reason for optimism around the team so far. Tom Brady’s heir-apparent has limited his mistakes as he continues to learn and lean on the team’s opportunistic defense.

"That was awesome. I think they played great, and they are always getting takeaways," Jones said after the game. "It’s just a matter of time. Once that happens it changes the momentum of the game and they have done that all year.

"The goal is to not turn the ball over on offense and do what they did today and get the four takeaways. You […]

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Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play at the Masters, dies at 87

In 2011, Joseph Bramlett became the first golfer of African-American descent to play on the PGA Tour since his fellow Stanford University alumnus Woods. He held his card for just one season and played on the second-tier U.S. tour from 2012-13. Photos: Defying golf’s racists Forty years ago, Lee Elder became the first black man to play in one of golf’s most revered tournaments — the Masters. It was one of sport’s last remaining race barriers to fall. Photos: Defying golf’s racists Elder qualified for the Masters by winning the Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida. It had extra significance given that Elder had vowed never to play in the tournament again after being denied entry to the clubhouse on a previous playing visit. Here he celebrates holing the winning putt in a playoff, after which he needed a police escort back to the clubhouse. Photos: Defying golf’s racists Elder received threats in the lead-up to the 1975 tournament and rented two houses for the week in order to stay safe. After saying a prayer in the clubhouse he emerged to walk to the first tee, being clapped all the way. "The applause was the relieving factor for me — it really helped me to relax," he told CNN.

Despite his nerves, Elder’s drive off the first tee landed right in the middle of the fairway. "How I accomplished that I do not know," he said. Elder received a standing ovation on nearly every tee and green during that first round.

Elder missed the cut in his first Masters but returned five more times, finishing tied for 17th in 1979. Reflecting on that opening round, he said: "There was definitely a sense of pride because you want to be the first in a situation such as that — to make history. That’s what I felt I had done. It was a very proud moment for me." Photos: Defying golf’s racists

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Fenway Sports Group acquires NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins

A general view of the PPG PAINTS Arena prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders on February 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (CNN)Fenway Sports Group (FSG), which owns Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and English Premier League team Liverpool, has reached an agreement to acquire controlling interest of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

FSG made the announcement on Monday and said as part of the transaction, Hockey Hall of Famer, Mario Lemieux, along with Ron Burkle will remain part of the ownership group.

"The Pittsburgh Penguins are a premier National Hockey League franchise with a very strong organization, a terrific history and a vibrant, passionate fan base," FSG Chairman Tom Werner said in a statement.

"We will work diligently to continue building on the remarkable Penguins’ tradition of championships and exciting play.

"We are particularly excited to welcome Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to FSG and have the utmost respect for all they have done to build the Penguins into the perennially successful franchise we know today.

"We look forward to working with Mario, Ron and the entire Penguins front office team."

Lemieux and Burkle purchased the team in 1999 and have delivered Pittsburgh three Stanley Cups.

"As the Penguins enter a new chapter, I will continue to be as active and engaged with the team as I always have been and look forward to continuing to build on our success with our incoming partners at FSG," Lemieux said in a statement.

"They have an organizational philosophy that mirrors the approach that worked so well for Ron and me over the past 22 years."

Burkle added: "Mario and I came in together, and we are excited to become a part of the new ownership group. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be in good hands with FSG, and Mario and I are here to support them, committed as much as we’ve always been to the success of the franchise."

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Notable Bets: November among worst months ever for betting public

The proud and confident American betting public just turned in the worst month of NFL gambling that veteran bookmakers can remember.

Entering Monday Night Football, underdogs have covered the spread nearly 60% of games in November. Twenty-three underdogs pulled outright upsets during the month, and heavily-bet primetime favorites seemed to go down on a weekly basis.

"From week to week, things appear to change dramatically," Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos, said. "Dominant teams earlier in the year have come down to earth, and dogs have been covering at a much higher clip. There are 24 teams that are still fighting for playoff spots." Daily Wager

A daily sports betting news and information show (6-7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) that aims to better serve the millions of sports fans who participate in sports wagering and help educate general sports fans with in-depth analysis. A daily sports betting news and information show (6-7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) that aims to better serve the millions of sports fans who participate in sports wagering and help educate general sports fans with in-depth analysis. Watch » Public bettors have struggled to figure it out and got crushed in November.

"There was one week where the players had only one game that they won, and another week they only won two games," Jeff Stoneback, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas bookmaker, who oversees BetMGM’s sportsbook in Nevada, said. "We did have big wins, yes, but the number of wins, percentage-wise for us, was unbelievable. I was shocked."

Sportsbooks’ net profit or loss on bets is known as the "hold," as in the amount of money that bookmakers hold onto after everything is settled. Over the last three decades, Nevada sportsbooks on average have held around 5.5% of the money bet. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas was on pace to hold around 6.25% this November.

"It looks like it will wind up being one of our best hold months in Nevada on record," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.

For the betting public, the unfortunate November came directly after a hot streak. In October, sportsbooks endured three consecutive losing Sundays. But all that did was plumpen bankrolls in time for a bookmakers’ Thanksgiving feast.

Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, said Week 9 was when the season turned against bettors, pointing to the Jaguars’ upset of the Bills as two-touchdown underdogs as "especially notable" for his book.

Murray said Nov. 7, the Sunday featuring the Jags’ upset of the Bills, was the SuperBook’s best day of the season by far.

"There were some terrible Sundays for NFL favorites this month and that meant great returns for the house," Murray said. Sports Betting

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CFB: Buckeyes’ Stroud Heisman favorite CBB: Gonzaga again favored to win title NBA: Nets favored; bettors back Lakers NBA: Best bets for the 2021-22 season MLB: Dodgers favorites to win ’22 Series NHL: Best future […]

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Gonzaga takes Vegas: A week on and off the court with college basketball’s most fascinating team

LAS VEGAS — Seven hours before its 84-81 loss to No. 5 Duke at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, No. 1 Gonzaga ‘s players, coaches and staffers launch half-court shots at the end of a pregame shootaround.

Minutes earlier, assistant coach Roger Powell Jr. was talking trash to freshman Nolan Hickman in their ongoing series of shooting contests. Powell missed his next shot and lost — again.

On the other side of the court, Mark Few was questioning his veteran star’s jewelry.

"I thought we were done with the 50-year-old, gold chain look?" he asked Drew Timme .

The half-court shooting contest is a tradition for the program, which prefers to keep things light in between the rigors of the college basketball season. Games against No. 8 Texas the previous week and No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday preceded the monumental matchup against Duke. No. 10 Alabama and Texas Tech are on the schedule in the weeks ahead.

But the concerns about the team’s high-stakes schedule, in Vegas and after, can wait.

Everyone’s at midcourt, ready to start the competition. Evan Manning, a grad assistant and the son of former Wake Forest coach Danny Manning, nails a shot. Chet Holmgren , the projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft per ESPN, does too. But a shot by sophomore Dominick Harris , who is currently sidelined by a foot injury, clanks off the rim.

"Ohhhhh!" Timme yelled as Few, who always shoots last, air balls his shot. The Zags had a dominant first half of Feast week, beating Central Michigan and UCLA to win the Good Sam Empire Classic Championship Gonzaga Athletics/Torrey Vail/Nick Tomoyasu One-by-one, players come over to look at the sheet and see where they stand in the competition throughout the season. "These numbers are garbage," Harris said of his numbers. "I gotta get it together."

A few years ago, the tally record was misplaced by a staffer and players "allegedly" inflated their numbers. That’s why this sheet of paper matters so much to these guys, who value their half-court shooting marks. It’s the only record they trust. Julian Strawther tops the leaderboard. Few? He’s near the bottom.

This is Gonzaga basketball. With a game against Duke in a few hours, the program does not break character. Balance is all it knows.

The Bulldogs have spent the past five years just a handful of plays from capturing the school’s first national championship. In 2017, they lost to North Carolina in the title game. In 2019, they lost to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight. A year later, a 31-win squad never got the chance to chase its dream when COVID-19 canceled the NCAA tournament. And last season, they were dominated by a veteran Baylor squad in the final.

They’ve been so close, which has only magnified the anticipation around this season. Yet their goals have not outweighed their determination to enjoy the journey. 2:15 Holmgren shines on both ends in Gonzaga’s win over UCLA

Chet Holmgren finishes with 15 points, six rebounds and four blocks in Gonzaga’s 83-63 […]

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Bold predictions for the end of 2021 in MMA, including a defining moment for Rob Font

By the time fighters in Bellator and UFC return to their respective cages on Friday and Saturday, the calendar will have flipped over to December. Although there are only a month’s worth of fights remaining in 2021, there’s still a lot left to be sorted out for both promotions.

A lot of what’s still hanging in the air comes down to the bantamweight division, arguably the deepest division in MMA right now. Rob Font , who has won four straight fights including victories over Cody Garbrandt , Marlon Moraes and Sergio Pettis , now takes on former UFC featherweight Jose Aldo . With a few fights left to be sorted in the UFC title picture, Font could line himself up for a title shot in the next 12 months if he continues his run through some legendary names.

In a battle of ESPN’s No. 5 and No. 6 bantamweights, Rob Font takes on former UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo.

UFC Fight Night: Font vs. Aldo
Saturday, Dec. 4, UFC Apex, Las Vegas
• Main card: 10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+
• Prelims: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+

Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive live UFC events , weigh-ins and more; Dana White’s Contender Series ; and more exclusive MMA content. Kyoji Horiguchi headlines Bellator 272 on Friday, as he looks to add the Bellator bantamweight championship to the Rizin bantamweight championship he won for the second time back in December 2020. If he’s successful against current Bellator champ Pettis, it would be the second time he’s held both of those belts. If he’s successful on Friday, is Horiguchi the best men’s bantamweight fighter in the world?

In the co-main event on Saturday’s UFC card, Rafael Fiziev and Brad Riddell face off with major future implications at lightweight. The winner will enter 2022 on a major upward trajectory.

Finally, after a tough start to 2021 because of an eye poke against Leon Edwards , Belal Muhammad has a chance to surge towards the top of the 170-pound division. He beat Demian Maia in June, and he faces another accomplished veteran in Stephen Thompson on Dec. 18. Will Muhammad cap the year with a golden ticket to call his shots in 2022?

Our panel of Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi give their bold predictions for the month of December in MMA. Font will beat Aldo, earn title shot in 2022

Rob Font’s latest victory, against Cody Garbrandt, put him on the precipice of the top of a deep UFC bantamweight division. Now he faces Jose Aldo. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC Raimondi: The bantamweight division has been much ballyhooed this year, and for good reason. Look at how stacked the UFC 135-pound weight class is at the top: Aljamain Sterling, Petr Yan , Cory Sandhagen , TJ Dillashaw , and on from there. Go a little further down the list and there are former UFC champions like Cody Garbrandt and Jose Aldo , too. One name that doesn’t get mentioned […]

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Women’s college basketball Power Rankings: Which teams are thriving and surviving November’s tough schedules?

The women’s college basketball menu for November always has its March-like matchups and its cupcake quotient. But many teams seem to be listening to the NCAA tournament selection committee regarding the benefits of playing a tougher schedule. And the results have also made things more interesting.

As of Sunday, teams that have been ranked in the Associated Press’ top 10 this month are 52-11 — the most losses for top-10 teams in November in the past two decades, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The .825 winning percentage is the lowest since top-10 teams went 44-9 in November 2000 for an .830 percentage. The last time the top-10 teams had double-digit losses in November was 2008, when they went 54-10 (.844).

The defending national champion Stanford Cardinal , who had just two losses in all of last season, already have lost twice.

Maryland , which elevated to No. 2 in the AP rankings a week ago, then lost to NC State and Stanford. Seven of the teams in the top 10 heading into Monday’s new poll release have at least one loss.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is wondering if she went too hard with the Cardinal’s schedule. They still have nonconference games on the road at Tennessee and South Carolina in December. Like the top-ranked Gamecocks, the Lady Vols currently are undefeated.

An avid skier, VanDerveer made an analogy to how tough a course the Cardinal are facing.

"I guess if maybe I had it to do it over again, I wouldn’t take this team up to the top of the mountain and bring them down the double-black diamonds. But that’s what I’m doing," she said. "Our team is welcoming the challenge."

For a team like Tennessee, wins against South Florida and Texas look strong. And after five consecutive games that were decided by 10 or fewer points, Tennessee’s Kellie Harper said the Lady Vols’ 80-55 victory Saturday over Oklahoma State in Las Vegas was a relief for the coaching staff.

"It was good not having to bite your nails off," Harper joked. "It was an enjoyable win, that’s for sure."

But a significant road victory will help Tennessee, too. And the Lady Vols will look for that at Virginia Tech this week.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese said her team is experienced enough to know that early losses, especially against good teams, are not something to get discouraged about. Having a November to remember is nice, but everyone forgets about it if you don’t do well in March.

"I think you are seeing that teams are playing a much more competitive schedule, kind of wanting to learn about themselves in November to prepare for what lies ahead," Frese said. "It’s exciting for women’s basketball." Player of the Week: Shaylee Gonzales , BYU Cougars The 7-0 Cougars knocked off No. 17 Florida State and No. 22 West Virginia to win the St. Pete Showcase in Florida, and Gonzales was named the tournament MVP. She had 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists against the Mountaineers, and made the winning […]

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Former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov to expand his MMA promotion in the U.S. in 2022

Khabib Nurmagomedov might be retired from the UFC, but he’s as busy as ever.

The undefeated former UFC lightweight champion told ESPN this weekend that his MMA promotion, Eagle FC, is planning an expansion into the United States. Nurmagomedov said Eagle FC will hold an event January in Miami and there is another event being targeted for that city in March.

Nurmagomedov, 33, bought the promotion formerly known as Gorilla Fighting Championship late in 2020. Since December 2020, the rebranded Eagle FC — named after Nurmagomedov’s nickname "The Eagle" — has run 15 events, mostly in his home country of Russia. One was in Kazakhstan and another in Kyrgyzstan.

The January show will be Eagle FC’s debut in the United States, which will give way to several more in the U.S. in 2022, per Nurmagomedov. Eagle FC officials are working with media company FLX on a production facility in Miami that will be called FLX Arena. The Eagle FC events in the U.S. will be run out of that venue and streamed live on the FLXcast app.

Nurmagomedov, who is considered among the greatest MMA fighters to ever live, said the January show will be "very big," and several stars are already signed, including veterans of big promotions like UFC and Bellator. A news conference is scheduled for Dec. 15 in Miami for further announcements. He is expecting to sign 50 or more fighters for next year.

"If you want to become big in MMA, you have to be in USA," Nurmagomedov said. "For fighters, for promotion, you have to be in U.S. If you’re not in U.S., you can never become No. 1 or best. It’s almost impossible."

Nurmagomedov said he has his own vision for Eagle FC and doesn’t want to be a rival of the likes of the UFC, Bellator, PFL or any other promotions around the world.

"It’s not a secret the UFC is the best in the world," said Nurmagomedov, who retired with a 29-0 MMA record. "Almost 30 years these guys, the UFC, have done a great show around the world. UFC is a great brand. I don’t want to compete with them or other promotions. I have my principles. I have my view."

Nurmagomedov said he would play the part of promoter, like UFC president Dana White, at media events and during fighter stare-downs. But he joked he does not want to be completely like White.

"I have hair on my head, first of all," Nurmagomedov said with a laugh. "I see Dana’s photos when he’s just beginning with the UFC. Now, you can see he don’t have hair on his head. I don’t want to be like Dana."

In addition to running Eagle FC with CEO Rizvan Magomedov, Nurmagomedov has also become one of the best coaches in MMA since retiring in October 2020. He was undefeated as a cornerman across multiple major promotions in 2021. Nurmagomedov said, beginning in January, he will bring his fighters from Dagestan back to American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. His longtime training partner […]

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Temple Owls football coach Rod Carey out after going 12-20 over 3 seasons

Temple coach Rod Carey is out after three seasons, the school announced Monday.

Carey went 12-20 with the Owls, including 3-9 this season. He recorded eight of his 12 victories at Temple in his first season.

Wide receivers coach/pass game coordinator Thad Ward will serve as interim coach.

Temple last month hired a new athletic director in Arthur Johnson, who had previously been a senior associate athletic director at Texas. Carey, 50, came to Temple from Northern Illinois, where he went 52-30 with two conference titles and two division titles.

"It’s never an easy decision to replace a head coach," said Johnson in a statement. "The past two seasons have not been easy with the challenges of the pandemic. I want to thank Rod for staying committed to our student-athletes and wish him and his family well in their next chapter."

He is the first Owls coach to be fired since Bobby Wallace in 2005. Temple’s next four coaches — Al Golden, Steve Addazio, Matt Rhule and Geoff Collins — all left for Power 5 opportunities.