Cuban Charge Kills Cubs Sale?

By Eamonn Brennan
|  Monday, Nov 17, 2008  |  Updated 12:33 PM CDT
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Cuban Charge Kills Cubs Sale?

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Hopes of doing this again in the future: dashed.

The big news of the day, at least in the domestic-NBA-owners-charged-with-federal-crimes niche, is that Mark Cuban, billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner and man about internet, is being charged with insider trading by the SEC. The charges relate to his dumping of Mamma.com stock, which took place a day before the stock lost a ton of money. The Wall Street Journal has the scoop, as well as the full SEC complaint in PDF format.

Cuban is not just a billionaire NBA owner to Chicago fans, though. He is something much more: the prospective buyer of the Chicago Cubs. Many fans, inspired by Cuban's relative success with the Mavs (he managed to turn them from a perennial also-ran into a perennial contender, albeit one without a title in his tenure) as well as his populist leanings (he's sat in the bleachers for Cubs games, and is known to party with college kids at his alma mater Indiana) were hoping he could "save" the Cubs. It also helped that Cuban has never been afraid to spend money on the Mavericks. That sort of financial clout gave Cubs fans hope for a future where payrolls never matter and money comes free. A successful future.

Not any more. This charge, if it sticks -- and maybe even if it doesn't -- takes whatever chance Cuban had of owning the Cubs, tosses it to the ground, and stomps on its neck. Repeatedly.

America doesn't like white collar criminals. We especially don't like them brash, mouthy, and incessantly smarter-than-thou, and that's exactly what Cuban is. Up until this point, his act had an endearing quality to it. He was the owner that acted like a fan -- like you and me! He was the self-made CEO that didn't take his wealth for granted. Sure, he annoyed us, but always in an enthusiastic way. Underneath it all, Mark Cuban seemed like a cool dude.

Whether or not that's the case, that image -- white collar criminal, inside trader -- will stick with Cuban, even if the SEC filing goes away. Which it won't. The formerly endearing risk-taker is now merely risky. As for the Cubs, Sam Zell is a brash businessman himself, but he's not an idiot. He's not going to sell his franchise to someone that could spend time in jail.

What's more, Major League Baseball requires approval by the owners of franchise sales. (This rule is not on the sturdiest legal ground, either, but that's a conversation for a different day.) Most MLB owners, some of whom are the stodgiest in professional sports, already saw Cuban as too abrasive for their exclusive club. Until now, Cuban's money could have trumped their sensitivity, but no more. This gives them every excuse.

It's questionable whether Cuban would have ever owned the Cubs. He had serious hurdles to clear. Now, though? We've never been more certain: Mark Cuban will never own the Chicago Cubs.

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