Monday’s Sports In Brief

BASEBALL

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is considering expanding the playoffs to nearly half the 30 teams and allowing higher-seeded wild-card teams to choose opponents.

The playoffs would grow from 10 clubs to 14 under the plan, first reported by the New York Post. There would be four wild cards in each league, up from two.

Details were confirmed by a person familiar with the proposal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because MLB did not authorize any public comments. Another person, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said MLB has been looking at several plans.

Any proposal would have to be negotiated with the players’ association. The current collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2021 season.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former major league pitcher Mike Bolsinger sued the Houston Astros, claiming their sign-stealing scheme contributed to a poor relief appearance in August 2017 that essentially ended his big league career.

Bolsinger’s suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court seeks unspecified damages for interfering with and harming his career. He’s also asking that the Astros forfeit their nearly $30 million in postseason shares from their 2017 World Series title, with the money going to children’s charities in Los Angeles and a fund for needy retired players.

According to the suit, Bolsinger, then a reliever with the Toronto Blue Jays, was put into a game at Houston on Aug. 4, 2017, and allowed four runs, four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning in a 16-7 loss. The suit said the right-hander “was immediately terminated and cut from the team, never to return to Major League Baseball again.”

He was demoted to Triple-A and hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since. He was 0-3 with a 6.31 ERA in 11 appearances with Toronto in 2017. The 32-year-old pitched in Japan in 2018-19, and is seeking a job with a big league club for this season.

NFL

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers’ 16-year career with the Chargers has come to an end.

The franchise announced Rivers will enter free agency and won’t return to Los Angeles for the upcoming season. General manager Tom Telesco said in a statement that as they talked through various scenarios with Rivers, it became apparent it would be best for both “to turn the page on what has truly been a remarkable run.”

Rivers’ future in powder blue was the main storyline late in the season after the Chargers were eliminated from postseason consideration. The 38-year-old said during the final weeks that he intended to play in 2020, even if that meant going to another team.

Los Angeles made the playoffs in 2018 but was 5-11 this season with nine losses by one score. The seven-win decline was the worst dropoff in the league in 2019 and the second biggest in franchise history. Rivers’ 4,615 passing yards were fourth in the league, but his 20 interceptions were third most and just one off tying a career high.

NHL

NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL remains reluctant to reverse course and compete at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite new assurances from Olympic officials to lift various major stumbling blocks, which also have the backing of the league’s players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly significantly tamped down hopes of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2014 by referring to recent talks as being “very preliminary” and leaving open many unanswered questions.

Daly raised another concern by suggesting the issue of Olympic participation might be resolved easier if it were tied to ongoing negotiations to extend the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr responded by telling The AP he hoped the NHL wasn’t moving the goal posts on the union in regards to the issue of Olympic participation, with the Beijing Games taking place before the current CBA expires.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired veteran forward Jason Zucker from Minnesota, giving their top-six forward group a jolt as they prepare for a postseason push.

Pittsburgh sent forward Alex Galchenyuk, defenseman prospect Calen Addison and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick to the Wild in exchange for Zucker.

The 28-year-old Zucker has 14 goals and 15 assists this season for Minnesota. His arrival in Pittsburgh gives the Penguins more scoring depth to add to one of their top two lines. Pittsburgh, currently four points behind first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division, has spent the last five weeks looking to replace All-Star forward Jake Guentzel, who is out until late April after injuring his right shoulder on Dec. 30.

Zucker is signed through the 2022-23 season with an annual cap hit of $5.5 million. A dependable two-way player, Zucker has 132 goals, 111 assists and 243 points in 456 NHL games, all with the Wild.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

NEW YORK (AP) — The NCAA initial rankings had little impact at the top of the AP Top 25, but a three-game losing streak knocked preseason No. 1 Michigan State out of the poll.

Baylor remained No. 1 in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, two days after being the top overall seed in the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee’s preliminary rankings. The Bears received 48 first-place votes from a 64-person media panel.

Gonzaga remained at No. 2 and received 15 first-place votes despite being the No. 3 overall seed behind Kansas in the NCAA rankings released Saturday.

The Jayhawks had one first-place vote and San Diego State, the lone remaining undefeated team in Division I, stayed at No. 4 after being slotted as the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville remained No. 5 during a week in which No. 10 Seton Hall, which moved up two places, was the only addition to the top 10.

The biggest change: Preseason No. 1 Michigan State dropped out of the poll from No. 16, thanks to a three-game losing streak.

NEW YORK (AP) — North Carolina State jumped to No. 4 in The Associated Press women’s college basketball poll, its best ranking in 20 years.

The Wolfpack, who moved up three places, have their highest spot in the AP Top 25 since Jan. 10, 2000, when they were third.

South Carolina remained No. 1, receiving 27 first-place votes from a 30-person media panel. Baylor stayed No. 2, getting the other three first-place votes. Oregon was a solid third.

UConn, despite suffering its worst home loss in 15 years in a game against the Ducks a week ago, extended its streak of top-five appearances, coming in fifth. The Huskies have been a top-five team for a record 253 consecutive weeks dating to February 2007.

UConn was able to hang on to its top-five ranking because the two teams directly behind it in the poll — Louisville and Stanford — also lost this week. UConn then lost to South Carolina 70-52 on Monday night.

Mississippi State, UCLA, Stanford, Louisville and Maryland rounded out the top 10 teams in the poll.