Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Think System

I've probably devoted more bandwidth to l'affaire Beer Olympics than it deserves. But in the clamor to evaluate the situation (and hope beyond hope it's the proverbial straw on the camel's back for this kind of non-news news), I have yet to see a good critique of the true mistake-maker in the whole thing: The Olympic-class nimrod who not only took the picture but posted it on a public networking site.

I don't know where the picture originated, but for a site like The Big Lead to get their hands on it, they either took it (very doubtful) or were sent it by someone who saw it somewhere (very likely). This means some nitwit took a picture of football players at a party and, for whatever reason, decided to share them.

Now, obviously I have some experience running a website*, so I have a reasonably good idea what led to the posting. Someone had football players at his party and wanted to show his friends at home he was hanging out with them. One of the players' friends wanted to make sure everyone saw the goofy "uniforms" they were wearing. I'd like to think it wasn't because someone wanted to get them into trouble. But any or all could have been the cause.

Unfortunately, as so many in their situation do, the poster didn't think it through and realize what posting something on the Internet does.

So often, people on message boards or social websites or the Internet in general get caught up in the individual conversations or exchanges that take place through the electronic medium and forget the wider audience involved. If you're sending an email to your buddy, Joe, it never occurs to you other people might see it if Joe decides to forward it. If you're participating in a message board thread, you're focused on your discussion with a couple of other posters, not realizing thousands of other people who aren't posting are reading it (and maybe copying it into emails and sending it to even more people). When you put something on MySpace or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn), it goes beyond your 10 friends on the cheerleading squad, and may end up with teachers or parents before it's done.

It happens over and over (as detailed by The Fire). This isn't even the first Notre Dame-related example ... I recall an email written by a recruit's dad that ended up forwarded to thousands of people. In the email, he shared some details about his son's visit to ND, including some exchanges with coaches that were meant to be private. Both the dad and the kid ended up very embarrassed over the entire thing. But again, it wasn't thought through.

I suppose what bothers me the most about it is the response in these situations is never, "Gee, maybe I should think before I post something online", but rather, "Stop harshing our buzz, man, I can post what I want." You should never blame other people because you don't think. Remember the Miranda warning: Anything you say can and will be used against you. Would you walk into your parents' bedrooms and tell them, "Wow, you wouldn't believe how many beers I had last night" as a senior in high school? Would you tell your wife about the hot girl you were flirting with at a bar when you were away on a business trip? Only if you're an idiot. But if you post it online, you're as good as doing that. Idiot.

As I've said many times about NDNation, when you open something up to the public, the public tends to show up and you shouldn't blame them when they do. Unless the medium you're participating in is somehow restricted, like a premium content website, what's said to one is being said to all. To expect people not to read your publicly-available profile or site or post because you have a right to privacy is at best self-contradictory and at worst really really stupid.

So next time you're going to hit the "post message" or "upload photo" buttons, think for a minute: Who is the absolute last person I'd want to see this picture, and what are the chances he or she has Internet access? Then think a little more.

* private joke, relax

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Gladiator Games

Normally, SEE and I are pretty close on our viewpoints, which is what enables us to work together so smoothly.

This time, however, I'm going to depart from his conventional wisdom a bit. Devil's Advocate? Perhaps, but I don't think the situation is as black-and-white as he does.

Before I get started, in the interest of full disclosure, I have some connection to the Chicago Trib. Aside from it being my home-town paper and my having a subscription to it daily, my cousin (and writing mentor) not only works there but is Brian Hamilton's boss. For the record, this article is written from the random thoughts emitting from my own overworked noggin and not as a result of contact with or suggestion from him (although I'm guessing I may hear about it later).

And before you ask, yes, members of my family routinely ride him for hiring David Haugh. It's an agree-to-disagree kind of thing. Moving on.

I agree with SEE that this whole thing is not news. A college student possibly drinking a beer, possibly before reaching the age of 21? If we reserved inches in the print media every time that happened, everyone would wake in the morning with a phone book on their front porch. I drank when I was in college, and so did 99 percent of the people I knew then and know now. I don't know if Clausen, Aldridge, et al, were imbibing (although a reasonable-person test indicates they probably were), but frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn whether he was or not.

Now, if he'd gotten into a car after drinking, that would be news. If he'd gotten hurt after drinking, again, news. If he'd hurt someone else after drinking, definitely news. Any of the three would be news I want to hear, because I don't like things like that happening anywhere, let alone at my alma mater. I also realize any or all of those three things could happen when someone decides to drink alcohol. But in this case, just as my my sister's lack of testicles means she's not my brother, it ain't news because none of that happened.

I'll take it a step further and say I don't think the majority of ND fans believe it's news either, nor do they (or any other rational person) believe it would reflect poorly on either Notre Dame as a whole or Jimmy Clausen and his teammates in particular if the school were to shrug its shoulders and respond, "So?" If there is any source of angst associated with this, it's that rational reactions for things like this have been in short supply in South Bend lately, and the fear is that Notre Dame will overreact because, history being our guide, that's what they do. The coming days will tell us whether or not the worry is worthwhile.

But even though I don't believe it's news, I understand why Brian Hamilton wrote the story. Dan Wiederer covered the concept nicely, but I'll build on it: In a society as influenced by reality television and its ilk as ours is, the definition of what people consider news has shifted and some media outlets are merely trying to keep up.

Sites like Deadspin, The Big Lead, WWTDD, et al, exist because we've become a society of voyeurs. It's gladiator games in the Coliseum all over again, except now you don't have to get off your ass to watch unless your TV remote isn't working. People seek out this minutiae, so providers move to fill the niche and satiate the need.

While I don't consider the Clausen thing news, unfortunately, there's a subset of mammals out there in Billy Joel's No-Man's Land who do. And they're going to go to the place that gives it to them first. If Hamilton didn't write the article, someone else would have, and that person would have his name repeated "as reported by" a couple hundred times.

Is it right? I don't believe so. But it's what is, so either the reality or the perception must change. I'd deal with the latter while working on the former, but we're not there yet. I can't wait until we are.

Edit, since I didn't do a good job of summarizing my point: Some people are acting like this is all Brian Hamilton's fault and if he wouldn't have written the story, it'd all be fine. That's not the case. BH bears some of the blame for writing a non-story, but an equal part of the problem is the public jones for stories like this. BH could leave the Tribune tomorrow, and we'd still see these kinds of stories. The only way to truly combat them is to not read them and let people know they're not necessary.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Quiet Men

An Irish story, indeed, except instead of a man fighting for his wife, these men are charting the future of Irish athletics.

I was chatting with a good friend on campus last week, and the first words out of his mouth were, "It's so quiet right now". I guess he had anticipated an inquiry on the search for a new Athletics Director, and obviously I need a new year's resolution to talk to some folks about more than just ND sports happenings.

But he was right. This truly is the radio silence time of year at Notre Dame, regardless of what's happening. Between graduation day and the third week in June, not a lot is happening on campus. The summer sessions haven't begun, and most of the time is spent decompressing from the last school year before the ramp-up for the next begins. So people tend to use their vacation, schedule off-campus meetings, and otherwise scatter far and wide.

But that's what makes the info hard to come by. Though the mice will play when the cat's away, it's also hard to tell what kind of catnip he's buying while he's gone.

That doesn't mean there's no new info. As my dear friend Rock posted yesterday, ND has not been idle during the quiet time. They've retained an executive search firm (unsure of which specific one) and have started the vetting process. Joel Maturi, like Gene Smith, has taken himself out of the running (in a classy and deferential manner, just as Smith did), which is too bad, but at least it gives the new AD a specific first task in calling Maturi and getting that stadium-opening game set up.

From what I've been told, we can expect the search to "heat up" a tad as the month progresses into July, with school starting up again and more campus activity. If I were a betting man (and this is based completely on a gut feel from offhand talks with a couple people, not any specific info), I would put my money on Steve Orsini being named by the end of July with Rick Chryst as the dark horse. Then again, there's a good reason I don't live in Las Vegas.

This whole process got me thinking about a number of things.

The entire concept of executive search firms befuddles me, especially when they're used to search for a coach. It seems to me a lot of the functions they would serve, like vetting candidates and whatnot, used to be part of the job description of the appointed searchers (like an AD or an EVP). I know the ND folks have more on their plate than finding Kevin White's replacement, and there's a lot of administrative bullshit you have to pour through when you're handling this kind of stuff. But it seems like an effort to distance the searchers from the searchees, making the whole thing really impersonal and CYA-governed. It's reassuring Fr. Jenkins has affirmed it'll be his decision and the buck will stop on his desk, so we'll see how it all turns out.

The difference between coverage of a coaching search and coverage of an AD search could not be more stark. Compare the jungle-animal-instinct masteria of Decembers 2001 and 2004 with today. Right now, Michael Rothstein might have a blog blurb about someone either promoting or excusing themselves. But the rest of the media world seemingly couldn't be less interested. The Decembers of our discontent, on the other hand, had multiple articles every day talking about the ND coaching job and its alleged perceived viability in the known universe. I guess sensationalism sells because effort isn't required. Nobody tell Grantland Rice, he'll cry.

I think there's a site out there that makes some ND admin folks more uncomfortable than we do: FlightAware. Back in the post-Willigham daze, some administrati were getting itchy over the number of posts tracking the ND plane -- "Don't your people have anything better to do with their lives?" was a question posed to me. Now ND is back in the human resources business, and we've already had two threads about where N42ND is or is not headed, so I can hear the scratching from here. Of course, the problem could be solved if they flew commercial. As George Carlin once said, see how often the simplest solutions will elude us.

I still believe handling a relatively-high-profile football program is a good prerequisite for the job, which is why Orsini is high on my list. I realize there are commissioner aspects to the ND job, but I don't think Rick Chryst has enough on-the-ground time at a specific school. Besides, the number of irritated voices from the MAC football group gives me too much pause.

Happy Father's Day to one and all.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

It's hard to get away from Spygate these days, but given my lack of predilection for New England Patriots news, I've been pretty successful thus far.

That is, until today, when the Trib's Brian Hamilton brought it up. He doesn't accuse Weis of wrong-doing, but wonders why he's been so silent on the subject. He was on the Patriots' coaching staff during that time, wasn't he? Why isn't he explaining himself, and why aren't the fans pressing for an explanation? What does all that say about Notre Dame's integrity?

Well, allow me to answer on behalf of the queried: It doesn't say a damn thing. In no particular order of importance, here are my reasons as a Notre Dame alumnus and fan why I really don't care about Spygate:

It's not a Notre Dame matter. I realize that phrase is giving some pundits a facial tic, but that's the crux of it. Much as it might run better if we did, Notre Dame alumni don't rule the world. I can't control what people do in external positions, and as long as what they do doesn't affect ND, I don't have room in my brain to care.

I've talked in the past about ND accountability in the media. I'm not looking for a snowjob. If there's wrong-doing in South Bend, let me know, because I want it rooted out at all costs. And with this, there was no wrong-doing in South Bend. This was something that happened years ago in New England. I don't see the relevance.

No one is perfect. While I expect coaches to come as close as possible to that standard when they're employed by ND, the before and after really aren't worthy of my attention. Granted, I don't want someone like Kelvin Sampson or Dennis Erickson getting a job on campus, and we likely dodged an ethical bullet with Meyer, but those represent the extremes of thought. As George Carlin once said, somewhere between "Live Free or Die" and "Famous Potatoes", the truth lies.

Next, Weis is not a Patriots employee anymore. This one may not seem intuitive, so I'll explain.

There's nothing I hate more than when a former Notre Dame coach pontificates about the state of the various programs. Yes, they have a unique perspective on the position, and there's a value to that perspective when discussing how things are going. But by the same token, the state of both Notre Dame and the various sports it fields changes over time, and things like scholarship limits and scheduling concerns and scholastic standards may not be the same as they were when the coach in question is under the Dome. They didn't like being second-guessed during their tenure, so why put the shoe on the other hand now?

I can handle it when someone like Lou or Ara or Tom Pagna or Digger does it, because those men contributed a lot to Notre Dame in their lives and Notre Dame had great success as a result. So if they want to share their thoughts, I'm willing to listen to them. But when nitwits like Bob Davie or (even worse) Tyrone Willingham go off the reservation, I need to break out the calamine lotion. Gerry Faust gets a five-minute window per year to prairie-dog his philosophies, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So I can understand why Weis wants to stay out of it. He's not part of that organization anymore. The Patriots are dealing with the situation as they see fit, and for a former employee to suddenly start chiming in is disrespectful. If I were a Pats fan, I would give less than a damn about what he thought about Spygate, particularly since....

Weis wasn't the head coach at the time. If the entire thing was Weis' brainchild or he put together the initiative, I'd probably be more concerned. But the responsibility for wrong-doing, such as it was, has been laid by the NFL at the feet of Pats' management in general and Bill Belichick in particular. The buck stops with him. I find it odd that Weis gets singled out here, yet as far as I know, Romeo Crennel -- who is still in the NFL and has had a much poorer performance as a coach since leaving the Pats than Weis has -- has not been pursued in this manner. Considering offensive signals were taped as well as defensive, I'm guessing that means the NFL sees Crennel as a soldier who was doing what he was told, much as Weis would be were he still there.

This is why the analogy of George "By God, It's" O'Leary breaks down. O'Leary wrote his own resume, and had ample time over the years to fix it. By submitting that resume to Notre Dame, he directly lied to the people who hired him. I don't know what Weis has been asked about Spygate, but knowing Notre Dame as I do, I'm pretty confident questions have been asked and I'd imagine whatever answers were received were to Kevin White's, Fr. Jenkins', and John Affleck-Graves' satisfaction. If it comes out later that Weis was not truthful in that case, I'm sure that will be evaluated just as O'Leary's situation was, and if that ever happens, wake me and let me know because I won't be interested until then.

And finally, I don't see what the big deal is. The contests they taped were part of public record. It's not like they were sneaking into practices. Had the allegation they had taped a walk-through been proven correct, that'd be a horse of a different color. But now we have a major metropolitan newspaper apologizing for suggesting it happened.

Sign-stealing happens in every team sport that uses them. Catchers change them up when there's a man on second, and no one bats an eye. Sure, it's on the unseemly side, and my preference would be that it not happen. But I'm not that naive.

Besides, how much did it really help? You're asking someone on the sidelines to read the opponents' signals, get them to the applicable coach, who then has to call a play quickly and relay that to the captain before the play clock runs out. I think it's interesting that the game so much of being made of was a Patriots loss. If you only score 16 points and you allegedly know the plays your opponents' D is running, the guys from the Jewish house are telling you all the answers you had were wrong.

I think obsession with Weis on this is more than a little goofy. Are we so desperate these days to keep salacious commentary in the news that we continue to beat Eight Belles long after the fact? Notre Dame's integrity is rooted in the fact it follows the rules of college sports and holds its people accountable on the field, in the classroom, and everywhere else, not the degree to which an assistant coach participated in a resolved matter from the NFL five years ago. Those Haughian nit-picks tend to skew gratuitous.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One for the Road

It's a tale of two cities on the Notre Dame scheduling front. Last week, the University of Connecticut backed down from a previous ultimatum, and agreed to sign a six-year deal with Notre Dame for football games that included their home games played at neutral sites. This week, Rutgers went the opposite way and backed out of negotiations because Notre Dame wanted the RU games played at the Meadowlands.

And now Harvey Araton of the New York Times tosses his two pennies into the fray. Good for Rutgers, says he, and fie on the Irish for pushing such unfair terms. What does the Big East need with Notre Dame anyway, since they look down on the conference with such disdain.

Setting aside for the moment the inherent instability of the Big East, it's perceived lack of value in football, and precarious standing in the BCS and bowl system to begin with, all of which Notre Dame salves with various signed agreements and association with the conference, and the pluses Notre Dame brings to the conference in the non-football sports, his overall point is good. I'm long on record with my opposition to 7-4-1. As a scheduling philosophy, it sucks cold diarrhea out of a dead cat's ass. Not only does it make for uninteresting matchups, it fails any litmus test of fairness, which the Notre Dame I grew up watching seemed always to be about. If you're going to play games against any school, you should be willing to play on their home turf at least once.

Just because people are willing to sell themselves to you for money doesn't mean you should take them up on it. I read stories like Ohio State canceling or moving games that were supposed to be played at Cincinnati, and it really rubs me in the similarly wrong way. It smacks of flop sweat and fear. God forbid the powerhouse program in the state test itself away from home. Perhaps if the Bucks weren't playing eight games at home every year, they wouldn't get waxed in bowl games the way they do. Just like ND's basketball scheduling philosophy, the 7-4-1 philosophy is rooted in revenue maximization, and even though "Come Sweet Cash" is an ND joke older than I am, it's still extremely off-putting to see it exhibited in such a bald-faced manner. A pimp dressed in green and carrying a shillelagh is still a pimp.

The only way to fight this tendency, both at Notre Dame and elsewhere, is to let the market speak. On the one hand, Connecticut decided the payday and exposure of a Notre Dame series was worth the PR hit with its fans by not bringing the Irish to Rentschler (which, it should be noted, isn't on UConn's campus either). On the other, we have the Scarlet Knights telling Notre Dame to take its ball and go home, literally. That's the best way to convince ND 7-4-1 is unworkable, although it's going to cost Rutgers in the short term. Maybe then when Alabama calls, Kevin White will find he has room in the schedule.

Having said that, the attitude Araton takes in the article is just as moronic as the 7-4-1 philosophy. It boils down to him criticizing Notre Dame for trying to leverage its prestige in order to gain terms more favorable to it. To try and brand ND as the only sinner in that congregation is a foolish enterprise. There's a reason the New York Times charges $330 to deliver in my neighborhood while I get my village's paper for free. I guess if Araton were running the organization, I'd have the Times on my doorstep every morning gratis, because, after all, it's not fair for the big bully NYT to force people to pay more for its content. I'm sure the folks who write for the Idaho Statesman or the Bangor Daily News would queue up to get Araton's salary --- why should he use his degree or his skill to demand a higher rate? I realize borderline Communism coming from the New York Times is hardly man-bites-dog, but they should keep it out of the sports pages.

When even mopey NYT scribes are hitting the mark on their Notre Dame hair-pulling, it's time for the Fighting Irish to re-examine their priorities. Would it kill them to go to Hartford or Piscataway at least once? Are they so focused on "no more heavyweights" in pursuit of the almighty dollar that we're doomed to slates of MAC teams? God I hope not.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Dish Best Served Cold

Almost nine years ago, a frustrated Fighting Irish football fan wallowing in the midst of a 5-7 effort by Bob Davie and crew, vented those frustrations by writing a fake news article for a Usenet newsgroup. In that newsgroup, creating such faux factograms was de rigeur, with participants trying to hook as many fish as possible.

Ironically, the furor that article created helped set me on the path of "legitimate" reporting that brought me to NDNation (via NDHoops) and book authorship and the wonderful community The Pit has become. But at the time, the hassles ended up outnumbering the laughs, and I swore off fake news, seemingly forever.

But that's the problem with lessons learned long ago ... they tend to fade in your head. And you end up in the shower on one April Fool's Day morning with an idea bouncing around in your noggin, and you forget (as many folks do) that a lot more people read posts on the board than the people who respond. Then you read blog entries about your little joke, and realize you got some 'splainin' to do.

Let's be clear: As far as I'm aware, no one from Indiana University has talked or plans to talk to Mike Brey about anything. My impression has always been Mike is happy as a clam at ND and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Just so no one remains confused.

It's hard to determine how to react here.

On the one hand, as I constantly remind people (and should have reminded myself), plenty of people read the Internet and plenty of messages have unintended consequences. Two seasons or so ago, the father of a signed recruit sent an email to some friends where he shared some Ancient Chinese Secrets about how the coaching staff was doing business. The recipients forwarded to two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on, and next thing the poor guy knew, the email was being posted on every ND site and was traveling all over the world. He ended up very embarrassed, as did (I'm sure) his son.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. We here at NDN are certainly blessed with a large and active readership, but that readership comes at a cost. I usually pride myself on verifying info I'm going to share, and when I do things like this, I jeopardize that relationship with the readers.

On the other hand, though, it's freaking April Fool's Day. Part of me thinks the only thing I should be embarrassed about is the joke is so hackneyed a twit like Brendan Loy apparently thought of it too. And if we can read stuff like this about Juli Boeheim, perhaps I should tell people to lighten the !@#$ up about my relatively tame stuff.

But then again, I'm not and don't want to be either of those guys.

I see the points of those who wonder if what I did was a good idea. At various points during the day, I've wondered myself. But it's done, and I gave up second guessing myself for Lent, so onward and upward. Besides, IU seems to have their coach, and I get to watch the Marquette folks get all squirrelly to boot.

Maybe it's a better day than I thought....

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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, October 18, 2007

Digging Up the Past

I was as baffled as anyone when it was reported weeks ago that not only had George Gipp's body been exhumed but EsPN was filming the exhumation. Given that the Gipper died almost 90 years ago, I wasn't sure why a desiccated corpse would be of interest to anyone.

Then I started nosing around the 'Net, and I discovered the name Eva Bright. Apparently the granddaughter of Ms. Bright was attempting to establish some kind of paternity for her mother, and since her grandmother had been dating George Gipp at the time of his death and had borne this woman's mother out of wedlock, Gipper was the "prime suspect", so to speak.

Looking at the replies to that message board post, the name "Mike Bynum" jumped out at me. In the post, he claims to be "editing a book for the family of George Gipp", and in the article linked above he describes himself as "a close friend of Gipp's closest living relatives", both of which he may or may not be. But the name seemed familiar, and a little more 'Net digging told me why.

Bynum apparently has been a Gipper freak for long and long. Back in the 1980s when I was a student at ND, he had a screenplay for a movie on Gipp's life, which may or may not have been written by him, called "Golden Glory", and was all set to make it into a movie. Trouble was, ND, as was its policy at the time, wasn't about to allow a movie focusing on the seamier side of the Gipper to be filmed on campus. Without the ability to include campus scenes, the project fell apart.

Bynum, reportedly, wasn't received too well either before or after that, and apparently has harbored a grudge against Notre Dame ever since. The article I linked above from Irish Legends has plenty to say about him, but I found these quotes interesting:

I've known Mike Bynum for nearly ten years now. In that time, he has been trying to find a way to capitalize on Notre Dame's football fortunes and history. He tried very hard to get me to invest $15,000 in his plan to publish a set of three books on America's three greatest coaches-Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. Mike spent a lot of time with Bryant while he was still alive. He had all the legal documents drawn up, etc., but something told me to back off and I did. He spends a lot of time when he is at Notre Dame with Col. Jack Stephens, former assistant athletic director to "Moose" Krause. Stephens told me a while back that Bynum was sued for plagiarism several years ago. I can't say if that is true. As for the "Rockne Returns" re-enactment of the world premiere, anybody who bought a ticket could attend, and it was the kind of affair a Mike Bynum would want to be in on.

"As for Bynum's advertising a book "Knute Rockne, All American," a book which to my knowledge does not exist, and asking people to send in $17.45, I do not know at this time how that was resolved. Roger Valdiserri, Notre Dame's Sports Information Director, who handles ads in the football programs, wrote to Bynum and said, "I hope we are not going to be embarrassed by a plethora of such letters since I don't think the University deserves to be put in such a position." The University was beginning to receive complaints, as was I from my members. Bynum was trading as Autumn Football, Ltd. The Bethlehem, PA, Globe Times ACTION LINE printed another complaint of identical nature. My monthly "Fighting Irish Sports Reports" has carried two stories on the situation with warnings to members.

"For your sake, I hope Bynum is on the level, but I can't imagine why any wealthy Notre Dame benefactor, particularly the Stepans, would need to go through Mike Bynum to finance a new Rockne movie. They would work through the University.

And then:

I appreciate your "warning" with regard to Mike Bynum. Indeed, he has contacted me. He has represented himself as your friend and as the front for some "very wealthy Notre Dame-Chicago alumnus." In fact, he has given me pretty much the same story he handed Tony DiMarco, apparently.

"Unfortunately by the time your letter arrived, having no particular reason to distrust him, I already had given Mr. Bynum a copy of my screenplay about George Gipp. What he has done with it, at this point, I don't know. He has lead me to believe he likes my version above all others he has read and is pursuing the financing of my screenplay for production.

"Fortunately I have made it very clear to him that Walter Mirisch of Universal City, CA, currently owns my screenplay, and he must deal with Walter if he wants to acquire it.

"I must admit, however, that if it's true he actually put his own name on Tony DiMarco's script at one time, I'm concerned that he now has possession of mine. I haven't spoken with Mr. Bynum since your letter arrived. He has been trying to call me from time to time, but I have been out of town. If and when he reaches me, you can be assured we're going to have a serious discussion."

Well, it looks like Bynum's tripe has found an audience in the new EsPN show "E:60". The purpose of the exhumation was to extract DNA to establish paternity for Ms. Eva Bright, and Bynum plans to unveil those results, along with the rest of his Gipper hatchet job, on EsPN's new "journalistic news show". No word on whether it'll be filmed in Al Capone's Vault.

Notre Dame fans are aware, of course, that the Gipper was no saint. Anyone who has watched "Wake Up The Echoes" knows the Ronald Reagan portrayal in KRAA was, to put it gently, artistic license.

But why people would suddenly care that a player dead for almost a century had fathered a child out of wedlock, I really don't know. And why they would want to hear the story courtesy of someone whose past with regard to Notre Dame is, shall we say, checkered, perplexes me even further.

But what doesn't surprise me is EsPN's interest. All the quotes about E:60 being the "next evolution of the brand" and the hopes it would actually focus on news as opposed to entertainment/sensationalism, in the end, are so much blather. In their haste to sensationalize, I hope they took the time to vet the hand that was feeding them the info. That'd be a refreshing change.

My suggestion to the ND faithful: No reason to watch. Just another example of EsPN trying to make hay off a bad football season by giving a questionable source 15 minutes of fame. Me, I'll be mowing my lawn.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


In my neighborhood, we were never stupid enough to let someone know we were going to hit them. We just hit them.

Apparently, Jason Whitlock didn't grow up in a neighborhood like mine, because he prefers to telegraph his punches. Right in the middle of what he bills as 10 NFL Truths, he tosses in this gem:

For you Notre Dame fans wondering at home, I'm a week or two away from writing a gloating/scathing column about Charlie Weis and the grossly premature contract extension Notre Dame gave him. Oh, I haven't forgotten all the nasty e-mails I received two years ago after pointing out that ND had no business giving The Great Weis Hope a 10-year contract extension for doing far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight at Notre Dame. But before I strike I'm waiting on additional information to trickle in, such as I want it to be crystal clear that the Irish are the fourth-best Division I football team in Indiana -- after Purdue, Indiana and my Ball State Cardinals.

I had hoped no longer working for EsPN might put Whitlock's race-baiting and immaturity into remission. Apparently signing up to write for another media behemoth provoked a relapse. Too bad, because most of his recent stuff at the Star had been good.

This is a classic example of writing without writing. He doesn't want to write the article now, because ND has started showing improvement, and should Weis' crew carve out a win or two in the next three games before the cupcake parade, the storyline would get swallowed up and he'd look like an idiot. So he covers his bases by tossing that throwaway paragraph into an NFL story. He gets his digs in to the "nasty emailers" and manages to get the crux of what he'd write about into the electronic ether to float just like any other kind of turd would.

Of course, it goes without saying if and when that article is written, the best response by ND folks would be to ignore it by not linking or not reading it. But having said that, I'm going to ignore my own advice. What can I say, it's been a slow day and I can sometimes be a slow guy.

The original position that Charlie Weis "did far less in his first eight games than Tyrone Willingham did in his first eight" was off-base and unsupported by data, which is why it most likely provoked "nasty emails". Tyrone Willingham's team won its first eight games because the defense created an unsustainable takeaway margin for those games. When the defense got figured out by BC, so did Willingham, who then did nothing for the next two and a half seasons to change the situation. Charlie Weis's offense produced consistent point differential improvement for his first two seasons, and when the defense proved suspect, he dealt with it by changing coordinators.

Let's compare some totals, shall we:

Number of BCS bids achieved:
Weis 2, Willingham 0

Number of wins in first two seasons:
Weis 19, Willingham 15

Number of top 10 recruiting classes:
Weis 2 (one more on the way), Willingham 0

Number of recruiting classes outside the top 30:
Weis 0, Willingham 2

A reasonable person could conclude potential, if not actual, interest in Weis from NFL programs, something ND never had to worry about with Willingham (or any of his assistants, some of whom have not managed to be hired away from him in over seven seasons). Was it a level of interest that warranted a 10-year extension so early? Of course not. But as I talked about a couple weeks ago, the contract extension was dumb in the same way ND has been dumb about many coaches in many sports for the better part of 20 years, not due to some kind of racial vendetta against an underperforming coach. In fact, ND probably did Willingham a favor cutting him loose when they did -- one or two more terrible seasons and he wouldn't have been able to get a job at the high school level.

Weis is just as culpable as Willingham is for ND's current situation. But that doesn't mean Willingham's performance can suddenly be judged as capable, nor does it make the positive results of the last two seasons go away.

Weis has already shown in two seasons of being a head coach he's more able than his predecessor to detect and take action on problems. We'll see what happens the rest of this season and into next before we evaluate the success of those actions. Meanwhile, Willingham seems to be much happier where he is.

From my viewpoint, everyone's happy. Except the muckrakers, of course.

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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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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, November 20, 2006

Travishamockery, and other thoughts

A travesty, they say.

Or at least Mike Lopresti of USA Today says it.

When discussing Notre Dame's chances of making it to the BCS championship game, Lopresti (and probably many others) responds:

"Absolutely not. Notre Dame instead of Michigan would be a travesty after the Wolverines drilled the Irish 47-21 in South Bend."

So head-to-head matters.

I'm shocked, but still have a question: Where was this cold-hearted logic in 1993?

Notre Dame, 11-1. Florida State, 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in late November, ended in favor of the Irish, with the game not as close as the final score indicated.

So who held the trophy in January? Florida State, of course. Because, we were told, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. Except when it is, and then it is.

That's the biggest reason I want ND to end up in the NC game on January 8th. The pundits will wail and gnash their teeth. The Michigan faithful will rend their garments (assuming they have any un-rent after Bo's passing).

Then Charlie Weis can get up in a press conference, and to every question posed him concerning the BCS, he can respond, "1993".

In fact, I just thought of a more delicious scenario. Some of it may be far-fetched, but stay with me:

Notre Dame wins comfortably in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Either Florida or Arkansas are upset by F$U or LSU, respectively.
The Florida/Arkansas upset victim then wins the SEC Championship game.

Come BCS selection day, the Irish and Wolverines are the only one-loss teams left. The pollsters and pundits, deciding to employ the cold-hearted logic, send the Skunkbears to the NC game for a rematch with tOSU.

The Irish are sent to the Sugar Bowl, where they unmericfully pound the SEC champ.
Michigan wins a mistake-filled game in Glendale.

Now what do the pollsters do? The coaches, by contract, have to vote for Michigan. But the AP folks aren't under the same restriction. They can choose a Michigan team that got a second bite at the apple, or an ND team that defeated two top-five opponents comfortably in the season's last two games.

Both teams 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in September, ended in favor of Michigan (who had a distinct advantage in prep time).

So who holds the AP trophy in January?

Remember, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. That's what we were told in 1993.

Except when it is.

Either way, the reactions from Ann Arbor would be a lifetime's worth of entertainment.

Some other items tickling my brain, mostly on the hoops side:


Besides a distressing return to the Bad Old Days, the Butler loss had another negative effect -- on ND's strength of schedule.

Granted, if Butler does well in NYC (and over the course of the season), that neutral-site game will help the Irish. But neutral-site games against some combination of Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina would have done even more.

Some people feel this schedule was set up for an NCAA bid. Outside of Maryland and Alabama, the remaining OOC contests weigh heavy on the cupcake scale, and the BE slate lacks any games against UConn or Pittsburgh while featuring South Florida twice. While this will do a lot for the win total, it's not going to do a lot for the SOS factor, which means ND is walking on a knife's edge. One bad loss might give the committee all it needs to relegate the Irish to the NIT once again.


I'm sure people are sick of ND people whining about 1993, but that pales to the degree I'm tired of hearing about how the ND basketball team quit two years ago. I'm tired of hearing it from ND students, tired of hearing it from ND alumni, tired of hearing it from ND fans.

Yes, that team fell apart. Yes, that team lacked any kind of cohesion. Yes, key players on that team mailed it in down the stretch. Yes, the coaching staff should not have allowed it to happen. Yes, it was a Bad Thing.

But just about everyone involved with that team is gone now. None of the players on the floor for the Irish can be accused of laying down that season. Most of them weren't even there. Of the ones who were, Russell Carter hardly played and the (rightfully) villified Holy Cross game was Rob Kurz's coming-out party. And I know people have a lot of opinions on Colin Falls, but I've never read "slacker" as one of them. I've never seen him give anything less than everything when he plays.

And last season, when this team had every reason to throw in the towel after so many close losses, they kept bringing it every game. That says something about the mental fortitude of the players and the coaches alike.

I think plenty of evidence exists to support a belief that situation was a one-time thing, and (to be blunt) I think the people who continue to harp on it are glomming on to a situation that fits the argument they want to make and are riding it long after it's been an effective argument.

Start your engines

The clamor already has begun for Mike Brey to work Luke "Bamm Bamm" Harangody into the starting lineup.

In today's SBT, MB is quoted as being concerned how that would affect the team dynamic.

I can't speak to dynamics, but if history is our guide, starting doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Over his last two seasons, David Graves was moved out of the starting lineup twice. But if you look at his minutes played, they stayed pretty constant. So while his name wasn't being called during the spotlight intros, he was still contributing in the same ways he had before the "demotion".

So I don't necessarily have a problem with him being out of the starting lineup. I would, however, have a problem with him not being among the leaders in minutes played among the Irish big men. Bamm Bamm has been pretty effective in his time played thus far, so if such effectiveness can be continued over more minutes, let's do that.

T'is the season for pushing envelopes, after all.

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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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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

See Dick and Jane Write

In the immediate aftermath of the controversy over Jeff Carroll and Bob Wieneke's series on ND recruiting, someone linked a sports journalist message forum on Rock's House. Wading through the critical comments about NDN in particular and "fanboys" in general, there seemed to be a thread of complaint that Notre Dame fans were afraid of what was described as "objective journalism" in coverage of the Fighting Irish football team.

Now, I know that hypothesis to be untrue. As I've said before, no one wants homerism in ND-related media because homerism is neither interesting nor informative. And most of the Notre Dame writers held in the highest esteem by a lot of fans (e.g. Avani Patel, Malcolm Moran, Vaughn McClure, Eric Hansen, Jason Kelly) are anything but homers (Kelly's status as an alumnus notwithstanding).

So what is it ND fans seek in their media? It's simple: Objective material that presents the facts and allows the reader to draw the conclusions rather than having those conclusions forced down their throat. That's what the five people I listed above do very well in most of their literary efforts.

So here is my primer on the things media folks can do or remember in order to give ND folks the coverage they'll read without sacrificing their objectivity. None of these things are difficult, and they represent the things the highly-regarded ND writers do that results in the readership taking them seriously. Perhaps instead of whining about the alleged intransigence of Notre Dame fans, some media folks could decide to meet them halfway.

Put some effort into your research

I hesitate to use a word like "lazy", given its pejorative underpinnings. So suffice it to say utilizing tired cliches and half-presented facts in an article is not going to win you friends anywhere, and the Notre Dame fanbase is no exception.

In the age of the Internet, fact-checking is made available to even the most novice web surfer, and you can bet on those folks verifying any and all allegations and information against all data available. You're going to be graded by a lot of motivated folks, so you're best served doing the legwork and getting it right before the lack of such legwork is exposed.

Under the Tarnished Dome remains the archetypal failure in this field and will probably not be challenged any time soon. But a new and similarly egregious example has emerged recently: comparing the first seasons of Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis as a cautionary tale for Irish fans.

Yes, they both lost only three games and got a lot of attention. Yes, after five years of Bob Davie's ineptitude, part of the ND fanbase was excited by a 10-win season. But Tyrone Willingham's first team didn't score an offensive touchdown until the third game of the season, looked terrible in four of their last five games, and suffered the first of three consecutive blowout losses to Southern Cal, so most knowledgeable ND fans went into season two with plenty of questions that needed (and, as it turned out, didn't have) answers. Charlie Weis' first team, on the other hand, scored less than 34 points in a game only twice over the course of the season while being competitive in all three games lost. As a result, there is a lot less uncertainty in the alumni and fans going into Weis' second chapter.

Past performance never guarantees future results. But given the unlikelihood Weis will hit his head and suddenly forget how to be the coach he's been so far, logic dictates (a) ND fans can reasonably be more confident now than they were in 2003, and (b) warnings about alleged "parallels" will be viewed as simplistic and overcautious, presenting a negative picture to the reader.

Subway alumni are people, too

Judge Smails once reminded us all the world needs ditch-diggers, too. Unfortunately for Notre Dame's subway alumni, this seems to be the prevailing attitude by which the media views them.

Not everyone in the world goes to college, and not everyone in the world goes to a college that has a Division 1 (or Bowl Division or Eagle Reading Class or whatever the NCAA is calling it now) football program. So logic dictates the masses of humanity filling up these football stadia every Saturday (or Thursday or Tuesday or whatever day ESPN, in its never-ending battle to do for sports what MTV has done for music, has bribed some schools to play its games) aren't entirely made up of the graduates of the two institutes of higher learning in question. So the non-alumnus fan is not a phenomenon unique to Notre Dame.

What is unique to Notre Dame, however, is the use of a specific term to describe such a fan. "Subway alumni" was coined in the 1920s and 30s to describe the many Notre Dame fans in New York City who, while they didn't attend Notre Dame (or any college, for that matter), would ride the subway to Yankee Stadium to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Black Knights of the Hudson from up Army way, and the term eventually grew to encompass the entire non-alumni fan contingent. Subway alumni take great pride in their status as such, and Notre Dame alumni recognize how they've contributed to the history and tradition of the program.

Also unique to Notre Dame, apparently, is the condescending, if not downright hostile, tone in which non-Notre Dame folks, including a lot of media creatures, use that term. No one has any problems with the auto worker from Detroit who makes seven pilgrimages to Ann Arbor every fall, nor the distillery worker who considers a September Saturday not spent in Knoxville to be a waste of time and life, nor the UCSB grad who has spent the last three years going to games in the LA Coliseum and who will no doubt disappear the next time the Trojans go 7-5.

But brand yourself a Notre Dame subway alumnus, and John Mark Karr has a better chance of getting positive comments from the media than you do. The subway alums, the media says, are somehow defective in their fandom. They only care about the team and not the school.

This, as I said, is a shortcut to a tune-out. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, most of the subway alumni active in their Notre Dame fandom care as much about the school in general as they do about football in particular. Attempting to create a "crazed booster" contingent in the fanbase is a strawman of the worst kind.

I suspect the root of the problem with opposing fans is a belief if the subway alumni weren't rooting for Notre Dame, the school would get less attention nationwide and would not enjoy the influence in college football it has. I would certainly hope media folks who are supposed to be objective about their topic wouldn't fall into such a simple-minded trap, because such things are supposed to be above those with journalistic integrity. Besides, all those schools have subway alumni contributing to their own influence that I'd guess they'd hate to lose.

Don't assume a willingness to embrace a lawbreaking culture

In short, selling ND's soul for football glory. Again, Under the Tarnished Dome sets the low-water mark, but this is the mistake Carroll and Weineke recently made in their four-part recruiting article in the SBT I talked about here.

In over 100 years of playing football, the only thing Notre Dame has done at a higher percentage of success than playing football is following its rules. All areas of the Notre Dame family, from the coaches and players on down through administrators, alumni, and yes, even Subway Alumni, put a priority on compliance just as much as winning. To them, a win out of bounds is not a win.

Therefore, if you're going to attempt to prove the existence of a mindset that runs counter to that 100 years of history, you need to bring very strong evidence to back up your assertion. Otherwise, your ND-related readership is going to turn the page. You might earn cheap points with those on the ND-hating side of the ledger, but if that's your goal, you're unlikely to take any of this to heart anyway.

No one believes Notre Dame is perfect

Not everything Notre Dame does is right. Mistakes get made there just as they're made everywhere. Sometimes they're benign, sometimes not so benign, but they're there, and any Notre Dame alumnus or fan with a basic level of intelligence knows it.

If you go into your story believing ND fans need to be convinced of this, most likely you'll end up with a heavy-handed piece that won't be viewed well because the readers will interpret it as an agenda on your part. You may think you need to make hyperbolic statements and arguments to drill through the perceived shell of resistance, but when the shell isn't there, the drill just goes too deep and weakens your piece.

If the details of a mistake are presented with a factual emphasis, most of the Notre Dame readership will listen. If it comes across as gratuitous, with aspects blown out of proportion or buttressed with questionable material, they will not, and that lack of interest shouldn't surprise you.

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