Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hoops Gameday Visiting South Bend

EsPN just announced that the basketball version of GameDay will be making its inaugural visit to South Bend on January 24th for the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies of UConn, which will tip at 7pm on EsPN.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We'we Hunting Wabbits

That's what Elmer Fudd says when he's chasing after Bugs Bunny. But as we all know, when he actually does take a shot, he never hits what he's aiming at and often causes himself more problems.

I'm starting to view EsPN in the same manner.

As I discussed over the weekend, there were some interesting things said by drunken analyst Dana Jacobson at a roast for Golic and Greenberg earlier this month. Two of them were knocks against ND, which, while unoriginal and not entertaining, are the kind of things you may hear at a roast. The third thing was a knock against Jesus, which is none of those things.

To somehow alter Jacobson's career path over her ND comments, I said, would be stupid considering her lack of insightful commentary and hosting ability hasn't done that already. I allowed, however, for the fact some people might get very upset about her alleged comment "F!@# Jesus".

So what does EsPN do? According to the Chicago Trib, they've suspended her for a week ... for the ND comments.

Who is running things over there?

First, why would they believe she deserves suspension over those remarks? If they wanted to suspend her because she was intoxicated at a company event and acted like an ass as a result, fine, do that. But does anyone out there believe she should sit because she rambled "F!@# Notre Dame" and "F!@# Touchdown Jesus"? I hear worse than that said about my school in my own house sometimes.

Second, the action doesn't address the only thing she said with which people may have an issue. Nobody gives a damn she (not allegedly) said things about Notre Dame. They give a lot of a damn she (allegedly) said something about Jesus, and EsPN doesn't address that.

I use the term "allegedly" because there's some dispute whether the third comment was made. Deadspin's source says she did. A poster on our board claims his brother, an EsPN employee, was at the roast and didn't hear her say that. There's still no video of the event.

But I find it odd EsPN wouldn't be in a rush to gainsay the most damning thing in the whole contretemps. They suspended her for the ND statements, which means she said them (and all sources seem to agree on that). But they're mum on the third statement.

I would think it'd be an easy thing to deny ... after all, if she didn't say it, she didn't say it. Since the Catholic League release came out yesterday, I would expect to see something from EsPN immediately, if not sooner.

I guess we'll see what today brings. No word if the network plans to wield its Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Why the Long Face?

It should probably go without saying that, being an ND alumnus and all, I'm not a big fan of Deadspin. The poor dears have Irish Issues, and as such, don't draw my interest all that often.

But one of their reports the other day crossed over into one of my favorite topics, EsPN. They got some more info on "First Take" anchor Dana Jacobson's drunken ramblings on stage during the roast of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic a couple weeks ago. To save you actually having to visit the site, according to them, Ms. Jacobson had a few choice words to say for some in attendance, physically and spiritually:

"F!@# Notre dame"
"F!@# Touchdown Jesus"

Not exactly original, but not earth-shattering either. She's Michigan born and (horse)bred, so I imagine her parents were probably teaching her that prenatally with the whole earphones-on-the-tummy thing.

"F!@# Jesus."

Screeeeeeeeeeeech Hold on thar, Baba Looey. That's a horse(face) of a different color.

Now let's get some stuff out of the way quickly. I'm not the type who gets offended by religious slurs. I figure if people are that ignorant, they probably lead a pretty meaningless life anyway. I'm also not the type that takes everything ... hell, anything at all ... Deadspin says as any kind of Gospel (no pun intended), so I'd prefer a report from a reputable news outlet before lighting any torches.

Edit: Just to make sure there's no misunderstanding here, I'm going off what Deadspin said. I realize that's not always the best path, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to assume (and yes, I know what happens) they know what they're talking about.

I am also, however, not a big fan of hypocrisy, as my previous writings have laid out. And if this is what went down, our friends at the World Wide Lushes, er, Leader, are wading in that pool up to their necks.

First off, word is they're trying to suppress any and all video from the event. Granted, according to reports, the roast itself wasn't received all that well, and I can understand not wanting evidence of poor production circulating around. But here we have the lead anchor of one of ESPN's more prominent programs slurring her slurs on the dais at a public event. Jimmy the Greek got pilloried for life for making his remarks in a restaurant after a couple drinks, and that video got more circulation than the Zapruder film. This woman was on the mic in Atlantic City. Should the public not get a chance to hear her in all her (drunken) glory disparaging one of the world's leading religious figures? EsPN is always so quick with the video when someone else is the focus of the tragedy, comedy or perfidy. I guess when the foot's on the other hand, their perspective changes a little.

Second, I realize Catholicism is, along with obesity (and ugliness, for that matter), one of the world's few remaining acceptable intolerances to most. But here we have a sports reporter of the Jewish persuasion allegedly flipping the bird verbally to Christians everywhere at a public event, and the silence about it is deafening. If Charlie Weis had used his time on stage to say "F!@# the Torah", or if I suggested on this blog the Prophet Muhammad do something anatomically impossible, we'd be (rightfully) drawn and quartered on the 11 o'clock news and everyone would be falling all over themselves to decry such hateful bigotry. But this one, no, we're going to keep that quiet. After all, she was drunk (I missed the part where they tied her down and poured vodka down her throat against her will) and it was a roast and people get inappropriate at roasts and blah blah blah. If this isn't a big deal, fine, but then the next time someone says something that offends a different major religion, I expect the same radio silence.

Third and finally, hearing this story, I can't help but hearken back to December of 2004. Notre Dame had just fired an under-performing coach who had proven he couldn't get things done for the program either on or off the field. But EsPN (and their Mouse owners) got it into their little heads that ND was a racist institution because that coach was an African-American. So they led the charge on this vacuous story, even though they had no evidence anyone at the school had a racist agenda, and refused to reconcile that alleged agenda with the high graduation rates for African-American athletes the school has. Now we have one of their anchors engaging in bigoted behavior in public. Where is their outrage? Where are the talking heads calling for Jacobson's termination? The University of Notre Dame was declared guilty as charged for much, much less.

I really don't care whether or not Jacobson is fired. I've watched her show once or twice, and if they weren't willing to fire her for something meaningful like her not being very insightful or entertaining, it'd be dumb to do it now. Allegedly, she's sent a long letter of apology to Charlie Weis, and since he was there and not me, that would probably suffice. But the raging hypocrisy of EsPN's behavior here is yet more evidence of their sizzle-not-steak mentality ... a mentality contributing to the dumbing-down-to-a-sound-byte of American society. The less that network is watched, the better off we'll all be, so anything that makes them uncomfortable is A-OK by me.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Disconnect? More Like Chasm

Yes, it's been a couple days since the Mike Gundy contretemps, and plenty has been said on both sides. One might wonder why it's worth chiming in now.

But this article by Gene Wojciechowski piqued my interest, because not only was was it the first example I've seen of a media creature attempting to address the galactic disconnect that currently exists between sportswriters and the teams they cover and the fans of those teams (although other excellent examples exist like this one from the Fort Dodge Messenger), but it also addresses a pet Internet peeve of mine.

Here's the thrust of GW's jib:

The real work is to fix what's broken. There is a growing disconnect between the sports media and the coaches and players we cover, and the people who read that coverage. There have always been disagreements -- that's a given -- but there also was a common ground and a mutual respect. Now it's something much more polarizing. Mutual distrust.

I agree with him 100 percent. But I'd like to take it a step further and suggest a source for that growing disconnect.

It's been my belief that journalism in general, and sports journalism in particular, has changed its focus drastically in the last few years. It's no longer about the information you're sharing, but rather about how many people are the recipients of that sharing. I talked about this a little here in my comments about people like Pat Forde. The more hair they pull, the more people are talking about them, and the more eyeballs their advertisers get. No such thing as bad publicity, as the old saying goes.

Jenni Carlson's original article fed that beast as much as any other. Setting aside whether or not some of the things in the article actually happened, since when is the alleged mental fortitude or lack thereof of a backup quarterback news? Can you imagine Grantland Rice spending that many inches writing about a quarterback's psyche? Jason Whitlock, in a response in the KC Star, called it a "message-board attack", and he's absolutely right. As a message-board operator, I know this kind of crap when I see it, and if it had appeared on Rock's House written about a Notre Dame player, it would have been deleted as fast as I could move my mouse. That Carlson's editors not only didn't squelch it but featured it prominently betrays their motivations better than anything I could write here.

This is the bed that "real journalists" have made for themselves. When allegedly responsible entities like AOL are affiliating with and giving an imprimatur to people like Brian Cook of MGoBlog, who turned his entire site into pictures of kittens when Michigan lost to AppyState, it tells the reading public the paragons of journalism care a lot more about the entertainment value of the way the news is presented than the news itself. When writers replace research and insight with the daily trolling of message boards for stories, the inherent laziness trickles down and is reflected in their writing, which turns off the fans.

I appreciate GW's willingness to address this problem, but I find it incredibly ironic that this warning comes in an article on a website that is one of the biggest contributors to that problem. Let's face it, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network elevated Entertainment above Sports a long time ago, to the point they should just change the logo to EsPN. People take positions to get ratings rather than to further a viewpoint. Their idea of giving the audience what they need is a ranting failed football coach putting on mascot heads. I love Lou Holtz to death, but that dog-and-pony-show he and Mark May put on during the week is on the level of Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd. I pity the people there who actually try to provide decent acumen like Jay Bilas and Andy Katz, because their efforts are being drowned under Chris Berman's parade of stupid nicknames.

If GW wants coaches and fans to start trusting sports journalists again, he can start by getting his employer to clean their own house.

Now, having said all that, the fans have a job to do as well. I talked about how I feel Carlson's effort was substandard even for a message board. Unfortunately, we see way too much of that on message boards all over the place, and that includes NDN. Carlson may have been wrong to call Reid a wuss, but at least she signed her name to it and has not shied away from the resulting criticism. Some message board patrons hiding behind anonymous handles should think about that next time they rant about how this player sucks or that player isn't trying hard and is a waste of a scholarship.

I sometimes wonder if NDN would be different if we abandoned handles and all made our names public, just as my fellow Ops and I do. It's a lot different when you can be directly taken to task for what you say, because it tends to make you think a lot more before you say it.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Drum Major, If You Please

Every parade must have a leader, and it's usually those who are adept at it who are asked to do it most often. So it comes as no surprise to me that ESPN resident hair-puller Pat Forde has decided to fire the first shot in the Weis-to-Willingham idiocy parade this year with his article today.

If memory serves, he was the first out of the gate last year on the subject when Washington started 4-1 and ND got handled by Michigan. But then the Irish peeled off eight straight wins while the Huskies lost six in a row (including that 20-3 decision to powerhouse Stanford), and Forde and the rest of the intellectually bankrupt muckrakers stuck their heads back in the hole, waiting for the next chance.

I don't want to link it because contributing to the decline of society by making people dumber is a mortal sin. You're welcome to hunt for and read it yourself, and on your own head be it. But I'll pull a couple of paragraphs here and there so you get the gist.

Domers, Your Credibility Is On The Clock. When Notre Dame trap-doored Tyrone Willingham after just three years on the job in 2004, it established a precedent for the next coach: You've got three years, pal. Have it up and running at full speed or else.

Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat Pat. So stupid so quick. Can't you even let the reader settle in before hitting them over the head with a mistake?

That's not the precedent, big guy. That's not even close.

No one was asking Tyrone Willingham to "have it up and running at full speed" in his third year, although that would have been nice. What they were asking him to do was improve on the previous regime while setting a good foundation for future success. And Willingham didn't even come close to succeeding on that score.

It wasn't just that ND wasn't competitive on the field for two and a half seasons (which would have been three outside of fortuitous bounces on defense). It also wasn't looking any better any time soon. Aside from a quality class in his first year (coached by Weis to the best first-two-season win total of any ND coach in its history), Willingham and his staff bumbled to two mediocre-at-best classes in a row to follow it up. After three seasons of ineptitude on offense and haphazard results on defense (to say nothing of atrocious special teams), no coaching changes were in the offing. And yet the golf course continued to beckon, at the expense of gameplanning and meeting with high school coaches and getting support from alumni and all sorts of other duties Willingham neglected in his three years in South Bend.

Willingham knew as well as Notre Dame did that the relationship wasn't working. That's why his reps were talking to Washington in October of that year, why his contract had a special buyout clause at the end of the third season (when if he'd done well, he'd be NFL bound), and why he refused to make any assistant coaching changes at the end of his third season when his bosses suggested very strongly he do so.

He could afford to be insubordinate. He had his golden (domed) parachute, both financial and philosophical. He goes sailing off into the purple sunset with many millions of ND's dollars -- more than had ever been paid to any non-African American football coach in school history, by the way -- while the Irish would have to deal with the small-minded fallout from people who couldn't see past the color of Willingham's skin to take in the (lack of) content of his character.

Yes, coaches should get at least a fourth year as a rule. Some turnaround jobs are harder than others. But those coaches should be willing to meet the school halfway. Those coaches should be able to identify what's not working and make moves to try and make fixes. Those coaches should at least pretend they're interested in a career at their place of employment.

Willingham's recruiting was in the toilet. His offenses scared no one. His defenses were hit-or-miss. His relationships with high school coaches were terrible. His relationships with a lot of the ND alumni clubs, including those that had bent over backwards to help him feel welcome, were worse.

And what was he doing to fix those things? Absolutely nothing.

So what would the point of a fourth year have been, other than to dig Notre Dame into an even deeper hole? One more year of bad recruiting. One more year slipping away from the rank of winningest college program. One more year of players and fans walking away.

What would that have accomplished?

Oh, I have no doubt it would have accomplished a lot for the people who don't like Notre Dame or who thrive on mindless rhetoric. But I don't think it would have done much for us, the alumni and fans, and in the end, our opinions, needs and wants count a lot more than the haters'. And thank God for that.

At least you have the intellectual honesty to admit "Weis coached many of Willingham's players better than Willingham ever did". A logician would have recognized that as being the overall point and stopped there. Quelle surprise you did not, talking about what the "Willingham players" and the "Weis players" have accomplished on offense.

Of course, you fail to note how in most programs, upperclassmen are expected to contribute more than underclassmen, a condition exacerbated at a place like Notre Dame that does not allow automatic redshirting. And it should probably be noted that the Weis version of Quinn, Samardzija, Stoval, et al, were ten times the players the Willingham versions were (which, again, would be the overall point).

Should Charlie Weis be on the hot seat? Right now, no. When you spend two years giving the fans the results they want while working very hard to ensure a strong future, you build goodwill that takes you through the rough patches. And that has nothing to do with his Caucasianality and everything to do with knowing his job and doing it.

But his seat is certainly warming. If we're having this same conversation about ineptitude on offense this time next year, you can bet his tushie will be more than a little singed.

And that'll be no different than how Willingham was treated.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green (Roomed)

Now that Cam Cameron has hitched his star to Ted Ginn's bandwagon and Brady Quinn is a Brown, let's examine the happenings of Saturday.

First off, include me among those who don't believe Quinn's draft position reflects poorly on him or on ND in general. If a number of teams who needed QB's passed on him, that'd be one thing. But only one did, and they're being eviscerated in the press and by their own fans right now. If a number of QB's had been selected in front of him, that might have been a strong indictment. But only one was, and Quinn can probably be thankful he didn't get sucked into the career-destroying vortex that is the Oakland Raiders organization. Yes, Charlie Weis went to bat for Quinn and may have overstated his case. But I'd rather see the coach go too far in support of his player than not going far enough. Players should know the coach has their back.

But having said that, let's examine what the talking heads said about Quinn. Some of it has some basis, while some does not, with the truth, as usual, sitting smack-dab in the middle.

Accuracy. 60+ percent passing in his junior and senior seasons is nothing to sneeze at, nor is his TD-to-interception ratio. Quinn obviously makes good decisions and sees the field well. But it seems every game there was a pass or two that had us wiping our brows because it didn't quite go where it was intended. The first pick against Michigan this past season comes to mind -- the ball that bounced of an ND player's trailing shoulder before finding its way into the end zone courtesy of a Michigan defender. While most of Quinn's throws were on the money (especially the over-the-middle tosses to Carlson that always seemed to go for big gains), I also can recall a number of times where receivers would have to reach back for the ball, disrupting their rhythm and reducing the potential yards made after the catch, or would have to leave their feet to make the completion. Searching for such pinpoint accuracy may be a nitpick on my part, but it's not like unease on the subject is coming out of left field.

Arm strength. My one knock on BQ has always been the long ball. To me, a lot of passes over 20 yards ended up being jump balls between the Irish receiver and the defensive back covering him. When you had guys with tremendous leaping ability like Mo Stovall on the other end, the results usually ended up good. This season, with McKnight and Samardzija going up for the pigskin, the results were, as a noted Irish fan would say, good but not great. When your receiver has to camp out under the ball, it neutralizes whatever separation speed he brings to the table. Hitting a guy in stride on those 35-yard strikes allows him to make use of his talents more.

Blitz handling. This is one where I don't see the talking heads' point. I do remember a number of times the OL had to go to max protect mode to make sure Quinn had enough time, but I think this said a lot more about ND's OL quality and depth than it did Quinn's ability to handle it, not to mention the lack of a starting fullback for most of the season to help in pass protection. If Quinn was indeed bad at handling the blitz, I would have expected to see a lot more interceptions thrown and/or a poorer completion percentage, and we saw neither. I don't think Quinn's decision-making is an issue.

Now, do I also believe (a) all these applicable issues are correctable, and (b) BQ has both the intelligence and the work ethic to make that happen in relatively short order? You betcha. Do I believe Miami was stupid for passing on him given those things? Right again. And do I believe Quinn has the chutzpah that so many quality NFL quarterbacks have, which is a quality in high demand? Three for three. It all adds up to him being a value pick where he was, and I believe his career will validate that.

I also think it's probative the quarterback that was chosen first spent the last season throwing to two wideouts that were taken in the first round of the draft. Samardzija's decision to play baseball and Carlson's return to ND for his final year aside, none of Quinn's targets have been drafted yet. McKnight and Walker's names weren't called on Saturday, and both hope to be tagged on Sunday. But one must wonder -- give Quinn Russell's receiving corps, and would he have gone first instead?

All that matters now is Quinn's performance on the NFL stage. He'll probably have to step in sooner rather than later, and I have no doubt he's up to the task. Good luck to him.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Miss a little, miss a lot

One of the downsides to not being a very big ESPN fan is you miss donnybrooks like the post I've linked in the title above. It's very much worth viewing the posts and responses on the blog itself, but I'll give a quick synopsis:

Last Thursday, Colin Cowherd, who hosts ESPN radio's late morning show, talked about denial of service attacks -- planned attacks on websites where so many people overwhelm the site's servers with requests that the server crashes or is otherwise made unavailable. He rhetorically asked if it would be a good thing if he could send all his listeners to a site and effectively carry out such an attack. Then he mentioned a specific blog, The Big Lead, telling his listeners go to there. I can't tell if it was just the audience overload or someone in his listening crowd actually executed a DoS script/program, but the result was The Big Lead was out of commission for a while.

According to a number of blogs covering the situation, Cowherd got his hand slapped by ESPN's media ombudsman for the toolish behavior and issued an on-air apology. The Big Lead guys are considering a lawsuit (the merits or lack thereof for which are very well summarized here), and once again, the cold-war-like conflict between traditional and electronic media erupts into an actual battle before subsiding into the current tension.

I'm fortunate to know a number of guys (and girls) in the print media, most of whom work for major metropolitan newspapers (and none of whom are named Kent). Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people. I also know a number of guys (and girls) on the electronic side of the aisle at places like Scout, Rivals, and some independent blogs. Some are assholes, but the majority of them are good people.

And for the most part, at least below the surface, they all hate each other.

The print folks don't respect (or, in some cases, even like) the electronic folks, thinking the bitmasters didn't have to pay their dues like the inksters did. The electronic folks chalk it up to jealousy over money and viewership and give back as good as they get, citing the number of blogs written by newspaper columnists that have popped up in the last year.

Both sides, I think, have a point.

Barriers to entry tends to create a de facto quality in any marketplace. If it costs you to get something started, you're not going to do it unless you truly have a gift or can make it worth your effort. But when there aren't any costs, people who shouldn't be doing it end up doing it anyway. After all, if I can put together a blog, any schmuck can do it.

But I also feel the electronic marketplace is the ultimate in efficiency. The Chicago Sun Times, for example, can hire a talentless douchebag to write columns for it, and that douchebag will gain a following thanks to the imprimatur of the paper and the access and other perks that job entails (along, perhaps, with access to the lowest common denominator of readership, but that's a conversation for another day). A web site operator or blog writer, on the other hand, must earn whatever influence they gain on public opinion via their writing or their coding or their reporting, often without assistance from any large group. It truly is capitalism at its finest.

The Internet, of course, is still feeling itself out as a medium, trying to find the proper balance between speed and accuracy. This represents a paradigm shift in media, which has always valued speed but never imagined the speed at which the Internet can move information. The true shelf life of information has never been defined so precisely as it has in the Internet Age, where a verbal agreement of 10 minutes ago might no longer be in effect, but there's still a blog entry about it hanging around in the electronic ether to give it an air of permanency. Who-what-where-when-and-why, in computer parlance, has gone from a semi-static state to a multi-dimensional array whose values are not only all known but also dependent on what the clock says.

This is a tough time for traditional media, as the Chicago Tribune buyout saga illustrated. They're trying to battle a speed they can't match, as not even the ESPN's of the world can get info out as fast as Joe Blogger in some cases. But none of it is an excuse for what Cowherd did (which was wrong and should go beyond the bullshit apology he offered on the air recently), and it's also not an excuse for the disrespect a lot of print mavens show their electronic counterparts.

It's also a tough time for electronic media. It's still the Wild Wild West era, for the most part, and the wheat is trying to separate itself from the chaff without getting choked by it. But that's no excuse for sites looking to make names for themselves trampling all over people, figuring it's easier to apologize later than show maturity now. The Big Lead didn't do this to Cowherd, but there are other sites out there that have no compunction for the practice.

Both sides of this debate need to get together. The market is changing, like it or not, and those changes can either go roughly or smoothly. It's all up to the participants. Traditional folks need to stop looking down their noses at websites. SiteOps need to adopt the requisite level of professionalism.

Ben Franklin once said something about hanging together or hanging separately. It fits.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Looking for angst in all the wrong places

With all due respect to my compatriots who have chimed in on the subject (including ndoldtown, who, as usual, is clear and concise on the subject), I'm not all that upset right now over the outcome of the Heisman award ceremony.

Disappointment in this case, to me, is not applicable. It's not like we went in thinking Quinn was going to win the award. As disappointed as I am that Smith's poor performances this season were glossed over because his team won in spite of them, it's par for the course. The Heisman race has its "perceived value" component, and when you're in the ND fishbowl, everything you do will be magnified, both good and bad. This isn't the Man trying to keep Brady Quinn down, it's (biased) voters plying their craft, such as it is.

I'm also having trouble getting upset at the third-place finish because I really don't give a damn who comes in anything other than first in that race. I don't think a one-place difference illustrates a strong effort to screw anybody.

I agree, by and large, ESPN has a vested interest in bringing ND down. But let's remember everything ESPN does is orchestrated schtick, no matter what team they're pimping or denigrating. They're all circus monkeys dancing with cups in their hands, and deserve about as much attention. If I was an actual journalist working for that organization, my tear ducts would be infected from my copious weeping for the state of my career. When ESPN finally has meaningful influence on something of true substance, let me know, because until then, they're on the pay-no-mind list.

I agree, by and large, the criteria for the Heisman has changed, and not necessarily for the better. But until a Notre Dame player fits the new criteria and is somehow excluded from or marginalized in the award process, I'm hesitant to talk about biases. If things go the way we want them to the next couple of seasons (after what is sure to be a learning experience next year), ND will have strong players on highly-ranked teams. Then we'll see what we shall see.

This all isn't to say I'm pleased overall with the situation. I think, as usual, NBC's marketing of ND's program and players leaves a lot to be desired. While things may improve now that NBC has an NFL product to go along with ND (and have, a little, on the graphics side), more improvement can't come soon enough. The announcing team blows and has for a while. I don't want to hear the team talked down by the guys in the booth when it's not warranted. This is our television contract, after all, and if there's a little pro-ND bias in there, tough noogies.

A tough loss for Brady Quinn, made even tougher by the fact that Minter's D (MI) and McKnight's dropsies (SC) probably factored in a lot more than they should have. But BQ will be fine without the Heisman. He's poised for a good career in the NFL that will make him a very rich young man, and if something doesn't work out there, he's got a quality education on which he can fall back. Everything else is gravy.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Fanboys Unite

Bryan Curtis' article about yesterday reminded me I had not returned to a topic I had planned to address earlier this season. Better late than never, I suppose.

In his well-written piece, Curtis, while correctly (and honestly) calling fansites an "essential journalistic resource", says:

"Ever since Grantland Rice immortalized Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen in deadline metaphor, college football writers have had a penchant for swooning. But outside of a few great local papers, they never combined the cheerleading with an intensive study of a particular team."

"What has emerged is something beyond even what you’d find in the most boosterish local columnist: a new Internet species — half dogged reporter, half deliriously over-the-top fan."

"For readers, Rivals and its counterparts mean a different trade-off: more news but with less pretense of objectivity."
This revisits a theme from the infamous Clausen series by Carroll and Weineke, during which sites like NDN and writers like Mike Frank were derided as "fanboys" by the reasoned minds at (to which I refuse to link; seek it out at your own emotional risk). The school of thought is fanboy writers for sites like Irish Eyes and NDNation are incapable of providing quality journalism because they cannot get past their bias and can only serve as electronic mouthpieces for the schools they represent.

This is the point where I (and because I'm on the Internet, I can) call bullshit.

I credit Curtis for using the word "pretense" with regard to objectivity, but we're beyond pretenses here. All writers are biased one way or the other, especially in college athletics, so decrying one group as being more culpable in this area than others is the height of hypocrisy.

Bias is part and parcel of writing, because it's the truly unusual automaton scribe who can set aside all opinion and emotion when reporting a story. This is even more true with topics like college athletics, for which the presence (and sometimes manipulation) of emotion is a key element. While I'm sure all writers like to parade themselves as a truly objective voice, the fact of the matter is they've all got their agendas, and some are just better at hiding it than others.

There's plenty of ND bias out there, for example, and it swings both ways. People like Beano Cook, Dick Vitale, Kirk Herbstreit, John Walters, Jason Kelly, Malcolm Moran and T.J. Simers are pro-ND, whether they'd admit it publicly or not. On the other side of the aisle, you have guys like John Saunders, Bob Ryan, Craig James, Jason Whitlock, Michael Wilbon, David Haugh, and Jay Mariotti, who probably aren't all that shy about admitting their feelings.

For all of them, pro or con, their bias seeps into their writing / commentating / voting / whatever. Sometimes such seepage is subtle, like emphasizing the first-half struggles of the ND defense in a 38-14 Irish win. Sometimes it's quite obvious, like proclaiming multiple Heisman trophies for a quarterback who hasn't yet taken a snap in college. But regardless, it's there and (as far as I can tell) accepted.

So what is it about the writings of the Mike Franks and Tim Pristers and Lou Somogyis and Todd Burlages of the world that makes them somehow below standard as journalists? How are the "fanboys" any more or less biased than any other sportswriter?

Answer: They're not. In fact, I put it to you, gracious reader, that the fanboy perspectives are infinitely more valuable than "neutral" contributions. To wit:

Their alleged "bias" is right out front where you can get a good look at it. They're not pretending to be something they're not, and as a result, don't have to engage in journalistic acrobatics to get their points across. It's a refreshing (and unpretentious) honesty.

Their information and perspective is usually of better quality than you'd find elsewhere. These are guys who know the program and people in it. If they're telling you something, you know it came from those who know and those who know are being as straight with them as possible. It's funny what kind of relationships you can grow when you're not looking for the "hot story" that will vault you to national prominence and an ESPN gig.

(Then again, that would be a biased agenda, so I'm sure the "traditional media" wouldn't engage in that.)

They're held accountable by their readership. It's really easy for a Jay Mariotti or a Rick Telander to selectively respond to criticism of their writing. They can pick and choose the Letters to the Editor that get published, and usually get the chance to put their own spin on it. The Internet guys, however, are under the gun 24/7. If their readers don't like what they write, they (and everyone else) will hear about it on the message boards. They're also more likely to lose a subscription over a minor issue, as the team coverage is 100 percent of the reason the readers are there.

And most importantly, I strongly believe it's easier to overcome a positive bias and write something critical when it's warranted than it is to overcome a negative bias and write something positive when it's warranted. I don't know if it's harder to admit error when you originally came out against something or just a case of cranky pundits short on their prune juice, but that's been the rule of thumb from my vantage point.

Need evidence? Take a look at the AP ballots for this week. Craig James, king of the subtle seepage, has Notre Dame ranked 14th, behind Rutgers. Jason Whitlock also has ND 14th, ranked behind two-loss teams like Oklahoma and LSU, neither of whom have defeated anyone of note yet. On the other hand, Michael Pointer has ND 11th (but still behind Cal), and Kirk Herbstreit has the Irish 10th. The anti-ND contingent goes over the top in its criticism, while the pro-ND group isn't about to canonize Weis' crew but still manages to keep an even keel.

I enjoyed Curtis' article, but I'm tired of hearing about "cheerleading" writers for college-specific sites from hypocritical newspaper and television folks who use those sites for most of their leads. The fanboys are no more cheerleaders (or detractors) than those traditional media writers are. They're just more honest about it.

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