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Worst Sports Owners Tournament: Hockey/Soccer Round 1

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By Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)

If your team has an owner or owners who treat the fans with respect, be grateful.

If your team has an owner who spends within his/her/their means, but can still improve the team, enjoy it.

If your team has an owner who is capable of dealing with the team’s home city in a respectful, civil, and productive manner, don’t take that for granted.

After all, you could have ended up with one of these schmucks.

Welcome to Day 4 of the WSOT. The Worst Sports Owners Tournament brings together 32 of the worst owners in the history of sport for a no-holds-barred battle to the death, which you, the faithful reader, can decide. If you think a cheap owner is worse than one who picks up his team and hauls it off to some other city, here’s your chance to voice that opinion. If you’re reluctant to get behind your team on the field when the owner is a criminal off it, vote them up right here and remind everyone just how big a scumbag your team’s boss was/is.

The tournament will roll through three weeks, and the votes will be decided between Athlon’s editorial staff, the comments you post below each piece, and comments on the Facebook pages of Athlon Sports and 4 Quarters Radio. Remember, you’re voting for the owners whose crimes against sport, humanity, and/or nature were the most egregious. We’ll offer anecdotal evidence of each owner’s evil/incompetence, and if you’ve got more, feel free to throw it in.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday, Week 1: Baseball Round 1
Tuesday, Week 1: Football Round 1
Thursday, Week 1: Basketball Round 1
Friday, Week 1: Hockey/Soccer Round 1

Monday, Week 2: Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Round 2
Thursday, Week 2: Football/Basketball Round 2

Monday, Week 3: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Week 3: Semifinals
Friday, Week 3: Final

All in all, our little tourney isn't too different from the World Series of Poker. There's stacks of cash, gaudy jewelry, and the occasional tantrum involved, but at least there are no epileptic seizures from staring at Greg Rayner's shades.

There are two other major team sports with some following in America, and they had to be uneasy roommates in this tourney. After all, a 40-person tournament could get a little awkward in the semifinals. Anyway, here are some of the goofiest and nastiest from hockey and soccer (or football, if you're English).

(1) Tom Hicks (Liverpool Football Club, 2007-2010)
vs.
(8) Charles Wang (New York Islanders, 2004-present)

Tom Hicks has owned or helped to operate four different clubs in three different sports, and in all honesty, he could have been a contender in this bracket or the baseball tournament. At all four clubs, Hicks’ ownership either alienated fans or put the organization into unsustainable debts. In the other corner, we have Charles Wang, a relative novice in the sports arena who’s admitted to serious regrets about purchasing his team, regrets that are shared by said team’s fan base.

When Wang bought the Islanders in 2000, he gave then-GM Mike Milbury complete carte blanche to spend cash for free agents or trades, anything to improve the team. He quieted the threats of the previous regime regarding a potential move to some other city, at least for the time being. That first season ended with a dismal crash and burn, with the worst record in the league. Fortunes would pick up behind acquired talent like Alexei Yashin and Mike Peca, but after two straight trips to the playoffs, coach Peter Laviolette was fired in 2003.

Still, most of the fits and starts could be charged to Isles GM Mike Milbury, as Wang had given him full autonomy over personnel. In January 2006, though, Milbury announced his resignation from the job. It took Wang five months to settle on former Rangers GM Neil Smith as Milbury’s replacement, and Smith’s tenure lasted a successful and distinguished…five weeks. Wang’s next choice after firing Smith was backup goalie Garth Snow, who retired from playing to move upstairs. That had to be a trippy time for the coaching staff, similar to what you'd experience if Guido from shipping was suddenly your supervisor one morning.

Snow had no sooner accepted the job than he was in negotiations with the man he had been backing up on ice, Rick DiPietro. Wang wanted DiPietro in an Islanders sweater for the rest of his career, and the goalie’s new contract would seem to make that very likely. The deal was for 15 years and $67.5 million, a deal which raised eyebrows at the time and causes snickers now, since DiPietro has played 39 games over the last three seasons, recording a 3.28 goals against average. Yashin’s 2001 contract was shorter, but even bigger, weighing in at 10 years, $87.5M.

Wang was seeking a replacement building for Nassau Coliseum, but has had several privately funded proposals shot down. Just this month, a referendum was on the ballot for a public funding plan, and the voters turned that down. To Wang’s credit, he has never explicitly threatened to move the club. When the Nassau Coliseum lease expires in 2015, things could be very different. Really, the largest claim against Wang is a very shaky track record of hockey decisions.

If a few personnel moves were all that was stacked against Tom Hicks, he might actually still own something. Leaving aside Hicks’ issues with the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, his Liverpool misadventure smacks of everything that voters hate about politicians: exorbitant promises that aren’t kept, terrible budget management, and lying about the decisions that were made.

Hicks and co-owner George Gillett promised that within 60 days of their takeover of the club, fans would see “a spade in the ground,” beginning work on a new stadium to replace the aged Anfield ground, which opened in 1884. Other than a couple of fences going up around the intended property, there wasn’t a shovel to be found. Perhaps there should have been little surprise that Hicks and Gillett were unable to secure financing for construction, since they had needed to borrow £185 million from the Royal Bank of Scotland just to buy the club.