Aaaaand we're back. Finally. Sorry about the 10 month absence. I'll try (to try) to do better next time. Due to my insane work schedule (mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be corporate lawyers in NYC) I've been gone for a while. But in an effort to keep this post regular regardless of how deep a rabbit hole of legalese I happen to have fallen into at any given time, I've enlisted some collaborators this year. Also because everyone wanted a piece of ripping the media. Come join us, won't you?
THE CURSE OF CONFOUNDING EXPECTATIONS
Around the beginning of each year, I inevitably write a post about the media "narrative" of the year. Last year I wrote about it on a macro level: the narrative arc of the 2009 season and how the more fluid week-to-week narrative affects that season-long narrative. This year, I think that, as far as Texas is concerned, what matters is the micro narrative of a specific team entering the season and how it affects what the media write about that team and thus what the public perceives about that team.
"I don't know if it was the heat, the sweaty hands, I don't know what it was, but we're figuring that out. We figured that out yesterday, and we're going to keep building on that this week." - Florida quarterback John Brantley on all the muffed snaps against Miami University. According to USA Today, Mike Pouncey said he's adjusted his grip on the football. Well then. (HT to txtwstr7)
Bill Simmons: "Are all college football game this good? I might have to start following this sport."
Bill Simmons: "How do I get on the Boise State bandwagon? Is there paperwork I have to fill out? Do I need to buy things online? Please advise." (HT to txtwstr7)
Hey, You know who sucks? Mark Kreidler! Not for suggesting that Reggie Bush was a better player in 2005 than VY (reasonable minds can disagree, but your reasonable mind is stupid), but rather for suggesting that Heisman voters have any clue what they're doing:
"The problem, for the Trust, is that the Heisman voters got it right that season. They watched the games closely. They were (as revealed by straw polls and other anecdotal collections of opinion) fairly divided in the early going among Bush, Young and USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who had won the award the season before. And then they watched Bush just obliterate opponent after opponent, especially in otherworldly performances against Fresno State (513 all-purpose yards) and UCLA (260 rushing yards), and they made their call."
Hahahaha, good one, Mark! (HT to txtwstr7)
Last year, I wrote the following: "Being good at something other than what people thought you would be good at is going to make them think that something's wrong, not that something's right." What I meant by this in 2009 was that it didn't matter how good Texas' defense was last year (or how many games they won because of it) because the media's micro narrative for the team was that it would be an offensive juggernaut (based on 2008 results, when it legitimately was one). Because Texas excelled in an area in which they were not expected to excel rather than the one in which they were expected to excel, the media narrative was not centered on how well Texas ground out wins with defense; it was instead a question: what's wrong with the Texas offense? Was that the narrative for Alabama, who had similar results (if not a similar style)? Of course it wasn't, and the reason is that this was not the pre- and early season narrative for Alabama.
That same 2009 quote can be applied to this 2010 Texas team as well. And it's the fault of the Texas coaching staff that this is the case. The buzz words this offseason emanating from Belmont were "downhill running", " pro-style", "offensive balance" and the like. Did you say "change of offensive system"? The media is intrigued and would like to write about this change ad nauseum. And with that, the coaching staff has set the bar high for what constitutes success in the running game. That's fine in theory, of course, as we would of course rather aim high than low. But as a result of so much talking, if Texas doesn't rush for 200 or 250 yards in a game, then the story written after the game by the Statesman or ESPN or even BON to a certain extent isn't an analysis of what we did well in order to win, it's an analysis of why we're still having trouble rushing.
The media wants, needs, craves a ready-made storyline. In a sport as chaotic and hard to follow on a detailed level (without re-watching on DVR) as football is, such a micro narrative provides a simple and casual-fan-friendly way to look at a team and gauge its success. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that--the running game will indeed likely be an important part of Texas' success (or lack thereof) this season--but the point is really that these micro narratives can have a tangible effect on how a team is publicly perceived and, because of the nature of college football's ranking system, this can affect the outcome of its season. The more Texas struggles in the running game throughout the season, the more the team is perceived to be struggling, no matter how many wins it racks up or how well the rest of the team is playing, particularly the defense. We saw it last year with the offense as a whole, and I think we'll continue to see it this year.
Of course, if the running game suddenly comes into its own and proceeds to shred opposing defenses in the process, then this micro narrative can work to Texas' advantage. But, um, well....you saw the Rice game, right?
A PERSPECTIVE ON THE FALSE DICHOTOMIES OF SPORTS MEDIA
by learned hand
The WWL and its progeny like simple "either"/"or" equations (e.g. "Either Boise State deserves to play in the MNC or they're a WAC pretender") While this is great for drama and ratings, it's terrible for helping fans understand what, exactly, is happening. The false dichotomy does two things to fans, it creates the illusion of prognosticative accuracy in our minds by boiling a complex event down to a single immutable equation (thus guaranteeing that one of two commentators will be right in the outcome if not in the analysis), and it reduces sports dialogue to simple, and erroneous, extremes. Life is messy, people are messy, and so is football. And a guy who writes a column as messy as Pat Forde should know this.
Football gives us the comforting illusion of finality, there is a winner and a loser and at the end we can represent that as a zero sum equation. One side won, one side lost, it all adds up. The problem arises because the method of explaining that zero sum generally sucks (i.e. was one team hands-down better, or was there a blown call or an uncharacteristic mistake etc.?), and all the factors outside of that single zero sum can't be explained without complex subjective and objective arguments that make for great blogs and boring television. But that doesn't mean that we, the fans, should believe that everything in our sports life can be exemplified by a trumped up argument between Mark May and Lou Holtz.
Back to Forde, a columnist whom I read only for the pictures (Writer, why is there a Sophia Vergara in my football column? Oh, to distract from the hackery? In that case, next time more statuesque blonde tennis players and less Wannestache.) The argument that he and Ivan Maisel make is that Boise now has "one foot in Glendale". As a rhetorical question, if any one of the ACC teams showing signs of life (UNC, Miami, FSU, Georgia Tech) had defeated Va. Tech by 3 points in the first game of the season, would they have one foot in Glendale? No. Beating Virginia Tech is an ACC tradition - the school hasn't gone undefeated in conference play in over a decade (and hasn't gone undefeated since 1954). ESPN would have delayed the coronation until at least October. So, why are we asked to give Boise more credit than a BCS school would get for the same effort? Conversely, why am I asked to believe that if Boise hadn't won they would just be another WAC illusion - the so-called "Establishmentarian" contingent Forde goes full Don Quixote de La Mancha on? Had Boise not pulled out the victory they certainly would have shown "any given Saturday" bona fides, as they have in several of the past years. I haven't seen anyone at least give them credit for playing BCS caliber football - if not necessarily MNC caliber.
By using the false dichotomy major media has a storyline to follow for the next few months, an entire team of plucky underdogs, which has to be worth at least half a Tebow. And the only cost was a little nuance from the amazing thing that is the college football season. Which is why we should all be encouraged to have room for nuance in our sports lives; it makes things more interesting. It doesn't have to be "Greg Davis is horrible/Greg Davis is the Best OC in college football" or "No BCS Buster deserves a shot at the MNC/We're ready to pencil in one team in Glendale after the first game of the season." In fact, if we want to get close to the truth, we should all accept that we'll often need to forgo black and white for a shade of grey.
And now, without further ado, but with apologies to New York Magazine and Adam Sternbergh, here is your weekly Undulating Curve of Media Hype.