So much for keeping to a schedule, huh? After the jump we've got some Pat Forde coverage, and who doesn't want that? (Oh, and if you're wondering, if we totally hacked out like Forde and started naming a "Pundette" every week, this week's would definitely be Zoe Saldana. Because, well, you've seen that Calvin Klein commercial, right?) Anyway, this Pundit Roundup really belongs to txtwstr7 with only some mild contributions from me. Enjoy his rhetorical stylings (including the sidebar, an excellent article on preseason polls and his citation of a Gregg Doyel column as something other than a punchline!).
THE SYMBIOSIS OF POLLS AND MEDIA NARRATIVE
Last Tuesday, the College Football world was all atwitter over two major stories. As you all know, Reggie Bush decided to give back his Heisman (but admitted nothing) and Chris Rainey decided to send a text message that would make Elijah Dukes proud. These were big stories, to be sure, but they served as a distraction from another major piece of information released on that same day. A piece of information that--if unveiled on another day--might have singularly reignited the debate over the wisdom and necessity of preseason polls.
In case you missed it, I'm referring to the bombshell that Gregg Doyel dropped in his column last week. Doyel reported the coaches were actually in favor of eliminating the initial preseason Coaches Poll for last year. The poll would have instead been unveiled at some point during the regular season, with the rankings presumably based on actual on-field performance. I know what you're probably thinking: What a crazy idea! Why hasn't anyone thought of that before? Wouldn't this actually solve some of the constant problems with preseason polls that seemingly pop up every single year? Who could possibly be against this well-conceived suggestion? The media itself, that's who.
In the article, which you should read in its entirety, Doyel explains how the coaches' wish to eliminate the preseason poll was jettisoned after USA Today asked them to reconsider. Later in the article, Doyel tracks down quotes from editors of both the USA Today and the Associated Press. The most enlightening quote in the story comes from USA Today deputy managing editor Jim Welch:
"Operationally, [eliminating the preseason poll] wouldn't be a problem at all," Welch said. "If it ever comes down to doing that ... that's a tough one. We value that relationship [with the AFCA], but at the same time feel we strongly that [a Top 25] is something that should be out there sooner. It helps shape our coverage, and it helps fans size up the field."
"I've been craving those cheesy biscuits for a while and haven't had a chance to get over there and get any. Maybe tonight I'll be able to go back."
-With these words, Kentucky WR Randall Cobb took the high road and ended his brief feud with Red Lobster. Yes, really. You can't even make this stuff up.
Mark May: "Pressure is on GA coach Mark Richt to win a game"
Desmond Howard: "Learned a lot about quite a few teams last night..now I'm ready 2 figure this whole thing out. dH" [HA! -ed.]
Hey, You Know Who's Notre LAME? Pat Forde! Look, I know that he just wrote that great article about Mack, but his prior transgressions cannot go overlooked. After the Virginia Tech game, Forde's column issued a proclamation for everyone to "Get on the Bus" for Boise State. He said it quite a bit. In fact, he said "get on the bus" eight different times. More specifically, at one point, he said it four times in seven paragraphs.
So, after the JMU fiasco for Virginia Tech, I was interested in reading Forde's response. He didn't disappoint. To be fair, there are quite a few arguments to be made regarding the relevance of the VT-JMU game and how it applies to Boise State. One such argument would be adopting a "wait and see" approach over the rest of Virginia Tech's season. Another would be stressing patience to see how Boise handles Oregon State. Yet another would be to emphasizing that no other team may run the table this year. For now, I think those are all legitimate arguments.
Last week, in continuing the "get on the bus" campaign, Forde did not use any of these arguments. He took a slightly different path. Forde argues that Virginia Tech's loss to James Madison should be mitigated because the Hokies were a "sore bunch" after their battle against Boise State. He further argues the VT-JMU game should be devalued because it was played "too soon" after the Boise game. Finally, he tries to explain the loss by comparing VT's fate to Colorado, who lost to Toledo last year after a short turnaround.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Pat Forde is featured this week.
The first and last sentences are the ones that really jump out. In the first sentence, Welch admits the obvious, which is that eliminating the preseason poll would be easy. It simply involves not doing something that has always been done. The last sentence is a much more complex admission and deserves an extended discussion.
The last sentence should be broken down into two parts. The first part--that the preseason poll helps USA Today shape their coverage--is absolutely true. It's also irrelevant. As a fan, I couldn't care less that having the preseason Coaches Poll helps USA Today decide how they want to cover an upcoming week. In fact, it pisses me off. The notion that the preseason poll should be kept based on the justification that it helps a certain newspaper cover the news is ludicrous. It's even more ludicrous when you isolate the inherent problem of the poll, which is its tendency to remain frustratingly static from week-to-week.
And this, of course, is largely why the preseason polls help shape the coverage. By and large, the preseason rankings are automatically assumed to be correct until definitively proved otherwise by a loss. Therefore, as long as teams don't lose the early games on their schedule (and, sometimes, even if they "respectfully" do), the purported marquee matchups can be isolated weeks in advance. Subsequently, these matchups can be appropriately hyped, as the preseason rankings have already dictated their importance.
Going a step further, I'd even argue that the preseason rankings usually don't "help shape the coverage"; ultimately, in most cases, they "are" the coverage. Just think of the normal blurbs that typify the stock coverage of any early-season matchup. "Led by preseason Heisman candidate _______, the 5th ranked _________ will travel to the hostile road environment of _________ to play the 13th ranked ________, in a game that will put the victor on the fast-track to Glendale."
We get a star player or two, the location of the game, and the rankings of the teams. That's it. However, if you take out the firmly attached numerical rankings, the sentence reads a bit differently. It becomes....boring. And, to Jim Welch and the USA Today, that's simply not ok. So the rankings must stay. And the sentence must remain unaltered. The fact that both the rankings and sentence may later prove to be dangerously inaccurate is unimportant. The coverage must be shaped. And, in some cases, the false king must be summarily crowned.
This brings me to the second part of Welch's sentence, which is that the preseason poll "helps fans size up the field." On this point, I respectfully disagree. I believe that watching actual football games helps fans size up the field. The preseason polls helped me size up Florida as its usual juggernaut self. It took less than 3 quarters of watching their offense commit a series of Yakety-Sax moments to bring this idea into question. This point, for better or worse, can be made about countless football teams. But, outside of the potential errors of the polls, I want to highlight the difficulty of their initial construction.
Three weeks ago, I would have felt largely clueless in putting together a respectable preseason ballot. Today, after watching the first quarter of the season, I think my ballot would be pretty respectable. The difference isn't that the preseason polls "helped me size up the field" or "helped shape the coverage." The difference is simply that I had enough tangible information to put together a legitimate poll in the first place. And, to me, that seems to be exactly what the coaches wanted through their suggestion to eliminate the preseason poll. They wanted to wait for more information. They wanted some actual games to be played. They wanted more time to cast their votes. And they were rejected by a newspaper.
I guess that's really what upsets me the most. The coaches were apparently on-board with an idea that reflects the general consensus of most fans. They realized the dangers associated with preseason polls and tried to change the current system. And they were rejected. Or, perhaps even worse, they simply weren't willing to take a stand for their position. In either case, we are still stuck with pre-season rankings that can disproportionately affect a team's chances for winning a National Championship.
And, thanks to Greg Doyel, we now know exactly who to blame.
TANGENTIAL THOUGHTS ON PAT FORDE'S TEXAS HAGIOGRAPHY, IN NO LOGICAL ORDER
All right. I read it, you read it. It was good, right? That Pat Forde multimedia article going behind the scenes with the Texas coaching staff? A complete and utter hagiography, but good nevertheless. To a certain extent I read it from the perspective of a sports media critique and said, "Yes! This is what ESPN.com should be doing! Report, don't pontificate! Write long-form articles, not short form listicles! You have more access than any media members in the world; someone other than Bruce Feldman should actually use it for once!" One I calmed down, I thought a little bit about the difference between Forde and Feldman within the broader context of the growing sports-media-fan complex.
Forde is a pundit, primarily, while Feldman is a reporter, primarily. Each dabbles in the other's milieu from time to time (most notably Forde with this article), but by and large, these are the jobs that they do. Now, division of labor is fine, but what's interesting to me is that Pat Forde, pundit, is one of the faces of ESPN.com, the most prominent college football writer on the website (even appearing occasionally on TV), while Bruce Feldman, reporter, is stuck behind a pay wall. Why? Well, facts don't get pageviews these days, opinions do. But I think there are likely two other important reasons for it, which ESPN may or may not understand.
First, ESPN probably views what Bruce Feldman does as a niche market. That is, more people want to read high level analysis than raw reportage. And so it may be a niche market for now. But I don't think that can last for long. With the proliferation of excellent blogs and other electronic platforms for knowledgeable fans to speak their minds, it's gradually coming into focus for most people that people like Pat Forde have no idea what they're talking about. Or at the least, he has no better idea of what he's talking about than any other relatively informed and relatively intelligent person does. So since everyone's a pundit these days, it's easy to choose one that you like (and we've got some great Texas pundits here at BON, as does Barking Carnival). Which brings us to the second reason Feldman's behind a pay wall.
While anyone can pontificate, no one has the inside access that ESPN does, and they think that's worth a little extra to them. But how long can they last hiding Feldman and others? I really think that, at some point, raw reportage is going to be the future of ESPN.com as they realize that this is their only remaining monopoly. I think the TV station will continue to do as it does now because it has no real competition, but the internet levels the field on access to human eyeballs. So ESPN.com has to emphasize the areas where it can provide unique content. And that is the raw reportage that comes from access.
When I read Pat Forde's Texas article, I wasn't wishing the entire time that Forde had cut out a lot of the raw dialogue and videos for the sake of prose. And I bet you weren't either. You and I both wanted an inside look at the coaches, the practices, the program. And we got it from ESPN.com. That's something you can never get from BON or BC. At least not yet. And we loved it! I honestly think this the future of the mainstream online media. And in all honesty, I really just want to start a pay wall revolution. FREE BRUCE FELDMAN! FREE BRUCE FELDMAN! FREE BRUCE FELDMAN!
[Sorry guys, no undulating curve this week. Completely ran out of time. As you may have guessed from the quality of this article.]