Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Coach Of The Decade

I've been trying real hard to come up with a synopsis of the last decade. Whether it's trying to explain how tragic it is that Radiohead seems to be the defining band of the 00's or how the internet has born an age of amateurs, nothing seems to be really important enough to collect my thoughts. But just as the decade was wrapping, and time seemed to be dwindling, Jim Caldwell came into my life.

The Colts were 14-0. Their last two games were against the Jets and the Bills; two teams prime for a beating. On the line was the title for the greatest football team there ever was, and solidifying Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time. Immortality was staring them in the eye. And their coach chose personal criticism over shooting the moon. This pisses me off.

Any trend over the last decade can be disputed and construed as personal and irrelevant. Perhaps I just don't understand Radiohead or couldn't feel the importance of Slumdog Millionare. Okay, I concede. But sports has one trend that cannot be disputed: the men that make the decisions are, in fact, affected by the media.

Let's get inside the mind of Jim Caldwell, or more accurately, our minds in Caldwell's position. We have one of two options; either play for 16-0 and football God status, or rest your starters. 16-0 sounds pretty good, right? So what's the upside of sitting Peyton Manning? That would be to save face in case you implode in the playoffs. If you lose, like Bill Belichick lost, after running the table in the regular season, your decision to rest or not rest your starters would be crux of criticism for the entire season and offseason. The debate between rest and momentum would define the year. This is, of course, a completely fake, media-based argument.

And that's alright, because that's what the media does. But a head coach of an NFL team - a 32 person fraternity - shouldn't be affected by this. In fact, he makes a lofty sum of money NOT to be affected by such things. But he obviously was. His own perception overruled his team's success. Why else would you not go for perfection?

When did the want for acceptance override the want for a win? In this decade, that's where. The 2000's is where perception became more important that anything else. Why else would a football man - a competitive man - not want to win?

Sports has become not a projection of excellence, but a mirage of calculated, over-thought analysis of what will work. Jim Caldwell is a prisoner of this new perception. He is not a football coach who made a bad decision. He is the coach of the decade.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dark Future of College Football

If there is one common trait amongst all American people, it may be the belief that anything that has been around for thirty years or more is here to stay. Yes, we can all agree that the Backstreet Boys and Sega Genesis aren't going to stand the test of time, because they couldn't even stand the test of a decade. But the Beatles and The Godfather cannot be argued; they've been culturally relevant for thirty-plus years, so they must matter a hundred years from now. Right?

This is flawed logic and certainly a product of the 24 hour news cycle and new media. So if you try to spark debate on whether or not football can fail in this country, you are met with very hostile disdain. Football is American lifeblood. There is no possible way that the people will get fed up with it. College or professional, football is here to stay. Right?

I've felt this fear for the NFL for a while now. Up until the last decade or so, football had been seen as a violent sport amongst death-dealing Gladiators. But with new rules and new concerns over players' safety, the game has evolved into something unlike the football I grew up with. Some may argue that the NFL is doing what Major League Baseball has refused to do - evolve with the times - which is exactly why it will survive. I'll concede that point for now.

Since that is the NFL's biggest hurdle, it should be fine. However, college football has another problem that is much bigger, and in my opinion, cause for much more concern. That problem? Arrogance.

NCAA football looks fine now; good ratings, great interest, television coverage all around. But let's look at its problems, which are well documented. The BCS is the main culprit. We all know why we hate it, so to save space I won't explain. Now think of the other complaints. Lack of black head coaches (the old boys' club) and the Heisman Trophy (biased) are the two main points I always hear. What do those all have in common? Arrogance.

See, the college football world exists in a vacuum. Though 99.9% of the fans think the BCS should be scrapped, the men who run the show just turn their heads. And they get away with it. It's the same thing that hurt George W. Bush so badly; not that the love of money and power was the ruling philosophy, but that this fact was so blatantly rubbed in our faces. The BCS heads know that their system isn't very good, but they don't care. "Deal with it", they say.

It's this same mentality that allows a majority of black players to be coached by old white guys. Ironically, it is this same dichotomy that makes the NBA so watchable. But I feel the relationship between basketball players and their coaches is actually more empowering for the black players (more on this at another time). In football, it's purely an Old Boys system, just the way it is.

As far as the Heisman, this year's ballots tell all you need to know. Every single media talking head, and every single fan, had come to the same conclusion: Ndamukong Suh was the most dominant player in the country. According to, the trophy goes to an individual who deserves designation as the most outstanding college football player in the United States. Where did Suh place? Fourth.

Everybody just accepts that quarterbacks and running backs win the award. In the trophy's 75 years of existence, two wide receivers, two tight ends, and one defensive player have won. It's biased and makes absolutely no sense. Once again, we're told "deal with it".

This may have worked twenty years ago, but things have changed. In the diverse, opinionated country we live in today, people simply don't stand for these things. Imagine explaining the in and outs of college football to a non-fan. If honest, this is what you would come up with:

- The championship game is determined by a number of computers and human votes (of which are biased due to regional differences).

- In the event of more than two undefeated teams, the teams from BCS conferences are chosen for the championship. This is because BCS conferences are deemed as harder to win. If more than two BCS schools are undefeated, then somebody is left out due to no other reason than that only two teams can play the BCS championship. Those two teams, by the way, will ultimately be chosen by the biased human votes.

- College football is ruled by an older white class that is harder for a minority to break into than a country club.

- The game's most prestigious award can only be given to one of two positions. The balloting consists of former winners of those two positions and another regionally biased voting system.

- Every Saturday, a major network mandatorily shows you a game that is completely worthless because one of the teams used to be good. Of course, this is only true if NBC is still a major network in ten years, which is doubtful.

Not even Don Draper can sell that. The NCAA really needs to rethink its strategy. I'm still of the mind that the pussification of football will lead to the game's demise, but even if that's not true, than these problems surely will. College football needs to deal with it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Book You Should Read, But I Won't

I care about the NBA. I care about its growth and its future as a major American sport. I most certainly care about the integrity of the game, but I also understand that it is the most horrendously officiated sport there is. Make no mistake, while the MLB playoffs shed a light of fantastic incompetence, they can't even touch professional basketball when it comes to bad refs. I also like to read non-fiction and crave information. So Tim Donaghy's new book, Personal Foul, should be right up my alley. But I'm not going to read it.

In case you didn't know, Donaghy is the referee who the FBI found had been gambling on NBA games. Now he is trying to make his money back by promoting his new book, which tells tales of refs making bets with each other on who would call the first technical foul or even purposely extending playoff series. These are all things that I believe happen in the NBA. Unfortunately, Donaghy has no credibility with me. Like Jose Canseco before him, Donaghy just seems like someone riding the wave of newly found information for his own glory.

It's the same reason I don't watch Fox News or read the New York Times; I don't want to be tricked into believing a false reality. Those news publications have lied enough that I can no longer trust them as a news source. Sure, most of what they say or print is probably factual, but it is simply not worth the real news to ingest the "factually incorrect" information which is surely there. Donaghy is a proven liar and degenerate, so there is sure to be a lot of misinformation in whatever he's saying.

However, if you are not an NBA fan, I actually suggest reading it. Don't get caught up in all the little details, just understand the politics of the game and see how professional basketball really works. One of the reasons I never got into hockey or golf is because I don't really understand the sports. Yes, I know the rules and how the games are played, but nobody can teach you the in and outs, the game behind the game. I suspect this is what Personal Foul conveys, probably by accident.

I already know the story. But if you don't know why you've never gotten into the NBA, this might be an instructional manual. The sport is truly dirty, which is why I love it. It's the way all sports used to be. Not overprotective like the NFL or underevolved like the MLB, but just five black guys with a ball and three white guys who bet on them. It's actually kind of racist, but honest all the same.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dirty Deeds, Not Done Cheap

As I sat on my couch, smoking cigarettes and watching Killer Chimps is America (a great pregame to Oregon/Oregon State, by the way), my phone alerted me of of incoming text message. It was from a coworker of mine who also happens to be a Missouri fan. It read: "Mangino resigns."

I just stared at the message, with perhaps a blink, took another drag and continued watching what is probably the greatest episode of Monsterquest ever. I knew this was inevitable. Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins seemingly had it out for Mark Mangino. But then I went over to my laptop, found the article and read this:

"I have been instructed by legal counsel that we cannot release any documents related to this investigation, nor any details regarding our settlement agreement. The investigation and settlement agreement will remain part of Mark's personnel records."

In other words, the firestorm over Mangino's alleged physical and verbal abuse of players is over. Put down the pitchforks, Frankenstein is gone. The big, ugly monster is no longer going to terrorize the streets of Lawrence.

But where, I ask, has all the anger gone? Because last time I checked, Mangino had done a definite wrong and needed to be punished. Is firing him and (surely) paying him off a punishment? When did this story go from protecting the victims to saving face?

There doesn't seem to be any repercussions for Mangino's alleged acts. Which leads me to believe that Perkins engineered this all along, which is a view many Jayhawk fans have. The theory goes something like this: Mangino wasn't Perkins' guy, so he had him removed to make way for a new coach that Perkins has penned as the guy to take KU football to the next level. I'm not saying the players who accused the coach were lying, but were probably encouraged. Makes me wonder how many players at other universities are gagged when the coach they accused had a healthy relationship with their A.D.

So if this is the case, whoever the new coach is will be a very interesting follow. If this power play works, then Perkins may well be a genius. It's obvious he wants more than anything to make Kansas' football program matter on a national stage. Can he do it, or will this cripple the program?

Jim Harbaugh's name has been thrown out, which is a pretty lofty goal. But if Harbaugh or some other sexy pick lands in Lawrence, and Perkins' plan works, will it be worth it? Is ruining a man's reputation for the sake of glory make any sense ethically? Probably not, but it won't matter, because if this program rises to the top under whoever the next coach is, Mangino will be nothing more than an egg that needed to be cracked to make the omelet.

I like Mangino, but I'm alright with this. Ethics doesn't really seem to matter in sports anymore. Actually, it never has, this episode was just made public. I'm glad my school is willing to do what it takes to build a winner. Admittedly, this makes me a little sad to confess, but it's the truth. It's just the way it is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Us, Weakly

There are many reasons I love sports and follow it the way I do. For one, I am a compulsive gambler. I also have nothing better to do than own twenty different fantasy teams. But I used to think the main reason was because I love competition. Watching men in real time battle physically and mentally is like nothing else; it's pure reality. Well, unless you're watching baseball.

But this whole Tiger Woods mess is shining a different light on what I may have secretly enjoyed about athletics all along; all of the information that I want, and the kind of information I want, is dependent on me. If you follow politics or celebrities, you only get what the newsmakers want to give you. Only after sifting through piles and piles of bullshit can you actually find unbiased information. Everything is blown up, polarized and branded for mass consumption. Barely any of it is real.

That's why the Woods story isn't a sports story. Yeah, it's all over ESPN and every other sports network, but hey, it's Tiger freakin' Woods. I wrote on Friday that we were lucky that Tiger crashed his car on Thanksgiving weekend because it would turn into a non-story. That was before it came out that he was having an affair. Now it's turned into a tabloid fiasco.

And all of these "revelations" about Tiger are fed to us. We can't look up stats for his marriage or break down footage of his parenting skills. We can only learn what we've been told, with no chance of finding out the truth for ourselves. This formula is what fuels the tabloid world and networks like CNN and Fox News. We either have no way to learn how Brad and Angelina are really doing or don't take the time to really read the President's health care plan. We take everything at face value.

But sports has layers that we can dissect ourselves. Everything is out in the open in three hours of game tape. It would be like watching a Zapruder film of Woods' car crash. There would be no need for sensationalism if everyone had the same knowledge to work with.

Not to say this whole incident has no sports angle. I can talk all day about how I think this could affect his career. Will he cave mentally and no longer return to form or turn into Michael Jordan with an "Eff You" attitude where he simply doesn't care anymore? It will be interesting to watch. But every piece of "news" that breaks from here on out will be basically meaningless, because it's coming from sources that make a living out of controlling the story.

Sorry, I'm a thinker, and I like to get the information for myself, because I can trust myself. I don't need to be told what to think, keep the tabloids to yourself. Plus, there aren't any bookies that let me gamble on Jon and Kate.
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