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Clausen Redux

For as much as he's been lampooned on this site, the South Bend Tribune's Jeff Carroll wrote a balanced article on this silly Clausen story, where he put the story in proper context, using perspective, something that was sorely missing from most accounts. Carroll and the SBT lead with the headline, "Spotlight Blitzes Clausen." Notice what's not there. No sensationalist wording. No mentions of "Investigations" or "teammates in the crosshairs." He actually fleshed out the story to something broader without pimping it for hits. I've been a critic of Carroll, but credit where credit is due.

Even The Big Lead acknowledged the absurdity of the story, citing none other than Jeff Carroll (screenshot on the right) and wrapping it up nicely with,
"Tough spot for the kid - he’s a virtual celebrity on campus, as is any QB at ND. Of course people are going to break out the cameras when he shows up at parties, and of course Clausen is going to attend parties, which college kids should do. Again, we find nothing wrong this photo - and we feel the same way about the Matt Leinart pictures that emerged earlier this year. Athletes unwind in the offseason, and often, this will - and should - include partying. Assuming the Clausen photos were not taken from August-December … where’s the beef?"

Notice how a little thoughtfulness and perspective change the entire story? That's why writers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, especially ones who "break" a story, because their viewpoint will be parroted in papers and on television around that country. That's a lot of responsibility that directly affects a 20 year old's reputation. I have great affection for the Chicago Tribune, which is why it's so disturbing to see what looks like unbalanced reporting.

As Bob Chmiel writes (more eloquently than I) to Hamilton in Blue and Gold Illustrated's Troubled by the Trib about his reporting in the Tribune:

"And since you write for the paper I delivered, I had your back. But this week, I am just an old football coach who happens to write. There appears that there is some type of agenda, and today I am just a bit less proud of having thrown your paper on so many snowy porches a long, long time ago."

Where do we go from here? Not far. What we've learned from our posters is that Res Life doesn't get involved in off-campus issues unless the police were called. Of course, more to the point, there's no direct evidence of anything wrong. Sources inside Notre Dame say nothing needs to be done other than a verbal warning, which has been communicated to Clausen. In fact, if Notre Dame were to take action it would be treating Clausen different than it treats other students and that is highly unlikely.

In other words, it's a non-story except as a cautionary tale.

Let the season begin.

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The Tribune's Last Breath

Is this what it's come to?

The thing that struck me most about the recent "revelation" that underage athletes drink beer, which is what I learned from Brian Hamilton's recent "non-investigative" story around a picture he found on another website of Jimmy Clausen holding a cup of "maybe beer?" at a party, wasn't that it was exploitative, it was that there's no judgment at all left at the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune has become a Lampoon of itself.

There isn't just a lack of balance, there's a lack of anything tethering writers like Hamilton to their calling. Or maybe the calling just changed.

Regardless, I actually felt a little sad that it's come to this.

It was never this bad, trained writers clawing for hits, imitating TMZ.com for college sports by trolling for "possible stories" on the web. But Hamilton is the symptom.

With the slow, but steady demise of revenue for newspapers and television, Brian Hamilton represents what's left: bitter, angry, confused journalists doing whatever it takes to get hits. This is just embarrassing for the Tribune. It's like the journalistic compass went out the window. "Beergate" could actually make Jeff Carroll feel like a journalist. "I Googled Clausen and beer and 11,000 entries showed up."

The story is this: Hamilton found pictures from a 'gotcha' website showing Clausen having a good time drinking beer... wait a minute... holding a beer... wait a minute, how does Hamilton know it's beer at all? His journalistic instincts stoked... he called Notre Dame to alert the University of a possible "beer holding incident" and, I guess seriously, asked about university policy for underage beer drinking and announced an investigation. The University didn't say it was investigating (I've yet to hear about beer holding investigations,) but said "The office of Residence Life will investigate possible violations of university policies when it is made aware of them, such as in this case." Nice work Brian, an 11 year old with a computer and a cell phone could have done the same thing. If this is what he's getting paid for as a journalist, the Tribune should just create a fictitious byline and outsource Hamilton's job to the Philippines.

So, to be clear (unlike Hamilton,) the University doesn't necessarily think there's a case worth investigating here. Read the statement again, they don't mention the specifics of this "case" at all. That's a general quote for the masses. They are saying, that if you're alerting them to a possible incident that's in violation of university policy and you're not considered a crackpot (at least this last time) they'll investigate your claim... but not necessarily Clausen. In short, they're going to investigate whether your claim is worth investigating. But not only did the Tribune run the story on day one, but they ran a follow-up the next day.

Here's the headline the Tribune lead with today:

Irish QB Jimmy Clausen and at least two teammates face alcohol-use investigation

Web photo puts Irish QB, teammates in crosshairs

"Face alcohol-use investigation" is jumblespeak for "we don't know." Facing is a convenient, ambiguous word far too many media outlets throw around when there's a possibility of something happening, but they don't know if it's probable or unlikely, so they use facing to cover their bases and make it seem ominous. "Teammates in the crosshairs" is just sensationalist crap. This is the equivalent of a major market newspaper journalist trying to drum up hits like street hooker.

Hamilton has become the joke of the Internet. EDSBS is having a field day with this.

We believe we have found photos far more incirminating than those that led to your justified investigation of the shameful behavior of Jimmy HUSEIN Clausen. Please forward this to all your friends and family. Let them judge for themselves if this is what you want representing our country at quarterback. All of them can be found with the google and are REAL.

It's ironic that bloggers are the ones having to bring perspective to the traditional journalist world.

Even sillier, Hamilton didn't bother to investigate WHEN the photos were taken. And article number two (of this deep investigative series ) carried this disclaimer "No matter the date of the photos, at least two of the players would not be of legal drinking age." In other words, Hamilton didn't do any work at all. He found pictures on an Internet site, posted them and then called Notre Dame to create a story. He didn't ask himself basic questions such as, "Hey, why are they wearing jackets in August?" or "Jeepers, they aren't actually drinking a beer, is that a problem?" or "How can anyone actually prove there's beer in the cup?" Important questions, because I'm told that while this clearly looks like a game of flip-cup, the University can't take any punitive actions (even it wanted to) in a case like this because there are no pictures showing the players drinking. Something Hamilton should research, no?

Some funny headlines came out of it. Props to BallHype for this one: Even Jimmy Clausen's Beer Pong Balls Are Intercepted. The bottom line is that if Clausen wasn't out drinking, being a normal college kid, it would be odd to say the least. As one of our readers said, "I hope he's drinking Jack, Notre Dame needs more whisky drinkers."

I thought I'd give Hamilton a pass a few weeks ago when he noticed an Ad on NDNation featuring Clausen (completely against NCAA rules and unbeknownst to anyone but Hamilton) and alerted Notre Dame to create the story and then he immediately wrote a story about it, but this also came after he actually had to "make a phone call" (i.e. do some work) after having read an obvious April fools post on NDNation about Brey moving to Indiana and then write about that unprofessional NDNation making April Fool's jokes.

What I believe now is that he's just lazy, waiting on Internet controversy so that he can make a phone call, create a story where none existed and get hits on a blog, which may keep him around for a little longer, but have likely cemented his career ceiling. This is it, this is the big time, but his credibility is gone if it was ever there. There was an opportunity here to write a real article about the internet and judgment, but Hamilton takes the lazy way out.

Even if you're going to run a story like this, where's the balance or acknowledgement of the absurd? Is a college quarterback at a party where there's beer worthy of the Tribune's space? If they are going to run the story, doesn't the Tribune have an obligation to note that the picture appears dated? Of course it does. Leaving those obvious points out creates a better headline and more consumable story.

It's sad and it makes you angry that an adult who should know better is actually is willing to hurt a college kid for hits. But then, reading Hamilton's bio of himself that he wrote in third person, you have to wonder:

"In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity."

Hamilton made Clausen, he now must destroy him (there's humor there.)

Yes, he'll get short term hits, Clausen will receive no punishment because it ain't against policy to seemingly hold a seeming beer, but the Tribune is tarred again by more poor, sensationalist journalism.

As for Notre Dame, there was a time where even a non-story like this might have cowed the administration into feeling it needed to act, but most around the University seem to feel that the time of running for cover when a paper runs an intimidating headline is over. I'm going to make a prediction that no one will be talking about this story a week from now.

The adults are finally in charge in South Bend, I don't know who's running the Tribune anymore.

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

One thing seems certain, Irish football fortunes are going to snap back faster than the housing market. For the first time since 2005 I'm forecasting returns above guidance for the Irish. Of course, that doesn't mean much coming on the heels of last season's clusterbacle, but this season looks like a good buying opportunity.

I knew the Irish were over-hyped in 2006, because we were in prime over-hype position. We greatly exceeded expectations in 2005 and we were returning players at the glamor positions, which is all any preseason prognosticators have the ability to focus on. Yet we had significant losses and weaknesses. Michigan was in a similar over-hype position last season, after exceeding expectations in 2006 and returning glamor players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Heading into 2008, the Irish are now in a prime under-hype position. Notre Dame underperformed against any expectation last year leading Athlon to rank the Irish 60th in the country in their pre-season rankings (purportedly.) But the Irish talent level is rising back to contender status and we should be in title race by 2009. This chart on the right shows four and five star players weighted to the junior, senior and 5th year classes. As you can see Notre Dame is spiking dramatically up this year (granted this was done before Rueland, Frazier, Carufel and Jones transferred,) but regardless you can see a sharp rebound for the Irish in 2008. And one reason I'm not as fazed by the defections is that everyone of those players was beaten out by a younger player.

I'm gaining slow confidence that we're going to see a significant Irish resurgence for three reasons.

First, the overall talent level is finally rising from underneath. That means for the first time in years, we're going to have heated competition at most positions. If you remember last year at the Blue and Gold game we didn't have enough offensive linemen to make a two deep. This year, we're going to have six talented and fairly seasoned offensive linemen who can almost legally drink and you have to like the potential of a guy like Chris Stewart and the attitude of players like Wenger, Turk and Olsen. And even at positions where we don't have great depth, we've at least got young talent coming in. It's certainly not a perfect mix, but it's hard to improve when your starters are young and surrounded by more young.

Second, Weis has made some very positive coaching moves the last two years. He deserves a great deal of credit for dumping Minter (they didn't mesh) and hiring Brown and now Tenuta. Those are outstanding additions and I think we'll see much better player development on defense. Additionally, Weis stepping out of the signal caller role shows great self-awareness (albeit forced a bit) and hopefully will lead to a stronger run-pass mix which will in turn set Clausen up for success.

Third, Clausen himself. Our quarterbacks were sacked over 50 times!!! last season and Clausen still put up respectable numbers. I think Jimmy showed much better toughness and field awareness than he got credit for considering almost every play was a jail break and our receivers were, to be kind, not yet ready for prime time. By the second half of this year (assuming we finally get some blocking,) I think Clausen will be playing at a very high level. Weis's offense demands accuracy from the quarterback, which is why I think Clausen could be playing at a higher level than Quinn in just his sophomore season. If our freshmen and sophomore wide receivers can reach their potential early and Hughes and Allen can create some room, we might see a dramatic jump up the offensive rankings this season.

Above all, despite poor recruiting and numbers in the senior and 5th year classes, we're finally going to have three straight classes with decent talent and numbers. We're building depth, something we never had under Davieham or in Weis's first three seasons. We're finally becoming a program school again.

And as I pointed out previously, just as everything can go wrong in a perfect storm like last season, just fixing one or two parts can snowball rapidly in a positive direction.

If this team can just start believing it can win, the Irish could become the surprise story of 2008.

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Clausen Highlight Reel