Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Few College Football Thoughts

1. I don't have much to add on the Mike Gundy-Jenni Carlson story, since it's already cold. But since I write a lot about the media and college football, I guess I can add something to one aspect of the story that Gene Wojciechowski covered here. The piece itself is kind of odd. I sense that he wants to defend Carlson, but his own reporting on the story suggests that her column was filled with hearsay, inaccuracies, and most certainly unfair descriptions. But then the last paragraph or so Wojciechowski hits on a bigger issue:

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.

In this day and age, I find it pretty hard to believe that a journalist of any stripe can be surprised that the public distrusts journalists. The reasons are too numerous to go into, but there are probably two that I'd like to highlight.

A) Sometimes mass media journalists simply get things wrong - or fail to cover things the public actually wants to see, hear or read because of other considerations. Journalism is like no other profession. People screw up. And just like any other profession, credibility is currency. If a lawyer screws up, the client's going to go elsewhere for his or her legal services. If a doctor gives bad advice, often the patient will find a new GP or specialist. And if a journalist screws up a story or slants a story or fails to cover something of interest to the audience, the audience is going to look elsewhere. In the past, there was no "elsewhere". 25 years ago in most locations you couldn't get sports news on the radio, TV or the internet 24 hours a day. There was no "elsewhere". Now there is. So if journalists don't serve their audience well, they'll look elsewhere. And as for "distrust", that's just part of being a professional and screwing up sometimes. When my family has had to find a new doctor, we most certainly hold the screwup against the old one. When I've worked alongside or opposing a bad lawyer, I remember that. If you don't like the distrust the media is receiving as a journalist, do your job better.

B) Opinion journalism, I feel, works against the credibility of journalism as a whole. Opinion journalism is a different monster entirely from traditional journalism, and their aims are clearly at odds. Opinion journalism's point isn't to bring facts or truth to the reader, but rather to keep the story going - to draw a response, to press buttons, to draw more readers in. I've written before about how these aims necessarily may conflict with the facts, as opinion journalists have the tools to soften or dance around an actual falsity. The problem for journalists - both traditional and opinion - is that if there are outlets all over the place where anyone can get the facts of a story (online, on a ticker on cable, every 20 minutes in a "sports desk" radio update), what draws readers to this particular outlet are the opinions, whether they be aligned with the readers or diametrically opposed. Reaction matters more than accuracy, because you can get accuracy anywhere. The problem is that, even though we all have a natural "moth-to-flame", car wreck attraction to strong opinions, most readers don't like to be lied to or otherwise messed with. Just because we're reading an intentionally flaming column doesn't mean we don't resent the writer. And resent really is the proper word. I don't think I'm outside the majority of people when I say that. I sense that when an opinion writer aims for controversy rather than accuracy, it's an insult to the reader. The natural response is resentment.

So I leave it at this: if journalists don't like the distrust they sense from readers, there's two things they can do to respond: (1) do a better job at getting things right and covering the things the readers/listeners/viewers want; (2) focus on accuracy rather than eliciting a response.

2. Since 1995 and the beginning of the Bowl Alliance and the effective elevation of the Orange, Rose, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls, Notre Dame has been to one of those four bowls a total of 4 times. Arguably, two of those bowl selections were undeserved (in 2000, Notre Dame was selected at-large ahead of 2 eligible teams with higher BCS rankings, Nebraska and Kansas State, and ineligible Oregon was also ranked ahead of the Irish; in 2006, Notre Dame was selected at-large ahead of one eligible team with a higher BCS ranking, Auburn, and ineligible Wisconsin was also ranked ahead of the Irish). Since 1995, Virginia Tech has also been selected to play in 4 Bowl Alliance/BCS games (though all 4 were automatic qualifications as a result of winning their conference). Over that same stretch of time, neither team has won a National Title, though Virginia Tech has played in the game that decided it (Notre Dame has not).

Here's the question: were Virginia Tech to start the season unranked, lose its first 1, 2, 3 or 4 games, how much television coverage would be given to Virginia Tech and their coach's struggles?

Yes, I realize that football did not start in 1995. But I also state that television coverage and the current BCS structure have significantly altered the sport.

Who is a proper comparable to Notre Dame? Is there one? Excluding the argument that Notre Dame allegedly draws more viewers than most (which isn't necessarily proven), is there any explanation for Notre Dame's coverage by major media sources of its current on-field failures?

My take is that the Irish just aren't a good team this year. Bad teams shouldn't get coverage. Army, Illinois, and Minnesota all have multiple national titles from long before the memories of current players, but their recent troubles didn't lead to weeks of stories and TV segments on what has gone wrong with them and how they can get back to national prominence. And I'd like to be very clear about one thing: my criticism is not toward Notre Dame or their fans. Lots of schools have bad seasons every now and then. The criticism is directed toward writers and TV producers who think this is a story. It's not. There's no need for constant Notre Dame updates this year.

3. I have done an initial draft of the Lebowski Standings because the Colley Rankings came out. I think I'm going to wait one more week for sorting things a little more. I'll give you a top 5 tease...

5. Ohio State
4. Oregon
3. Missouri (really)
2. Florida
1. LSU

Georgia's 28th, right behind South Carolina because of the tiebreaker. I expect big changes this week.

4. Scores that stunned me last week:

  • Syracuse over Louisville, obviously.
  • Ball State nearly beating Nebraska, obviously.
  • Western Kentucky winning at MTSU was a surprise and the Hilltoppers could make waves next year in the Sun Belt (and what happened to MTSU becoming a Sun Belt power?).
  • North Dakota State over Central Michigan by 30 in Mount Pleasant. Another 1-AA/FCS win over a 1-A/FBS team. And how good a coach must Brian Kelly be? Last year he had the Chippewas winning 10 games, the MAC title and a bowl. This year the Chipewas are 1-3, while Kelly's undefeated coaching the Cincinnati Bearcats.
5. Something's Got to Give! Matchups between unbeatens:
  • West Virginia at South Florida (Friday)
  • UMass at Boston College
  • Michigan State at Wisconsin
  • Cal at Oregon.
6. Please God Something Give! Matchup between winless:
  • Florida International at Middle Tennessee State.
7. Odd Road Games. Last week the odd road games led to some of the closest games. Iowa State lost to Toledo by 1, Wyoming beat Ohio by 1, and Idaho had recovered an onside kick and was driving when they were stopped, losing by 7. This week not as many because the conference season is in swing:
  • Memphis at Arkansas State (tonight). Rare Sun Belt OOC home game against 1-A opposition.
  • Syracuse at Miami (Ohio).
  • Cincinnati at San Diego State.
  • LSU at Tulane (really, this won't be a road game).

8. Big Impact Games. Any matchup of unbeaten conference/divisional foes gets mentioned.

  • WVU at South Florida
  • Michigan State at Wisconsin
  • Baylor at Texas A&M
  • Iowa State at Nebraska
  • UTEP at SMU
  • BYU at New Mexico
  • Cal at Oregon
  • UL-Monroe at Troy
  • Hawaii at Idaho
9. Revenge Games.
  • WVU at South Florida. Last year's USF upset may have cost WVU a BCS bid.
  • Clemson at Georgia Tech. Clemson was Tech's only regular season ACC loss last year.
  • Pitt at UVA. If not for last year's loss to Pitt, UVA would've been bowl eligible.
  • Kansas State at Texas. Last year Texas was #4 and en route to another BCS game when the Wildcats upset them.
  • Indiana at Iowa. Last year's Hoosier upset started a bad slide for the Hawkeyes.
  • UTEP at SMU. If not for the loss to the Miners last year, SMU likely would've gone to their first post-death-penalty bowl.
  • Air Force at Navy. Commander in Chief Trophy has been Navy's for a while now. This should decide it.
  • NIU at CMU. The Huskies' win kept CMU from perfect in the MAC last year.
  • Cal at Oregon. Last year Cal waxed the higher-ranked Ducks.
  • UCLA at Oregon State. This might surprise you: had UCLA not beaten Oregon State last year, there would've been a three way tie for the Pac-10 title, with the Beavers, Trojans and Bears.
  • WSU at Arizona. WSU would've gone bowling if not for the loss to Arizona.
  • Auburn at Florida. The Gators' only 2006 blemish.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the coverage of ND has been overdone this season. However, your assertion that it is not proven that ND attracts more eyeballs (and implicitly more interest generally) is simply incorrect.

There is a litany of ratings that prove this. The differential today isn't what it was, but ND is still the biggest attraction.

I wish more national attention were focused on the SEC, year in and year out. CBS deserves a better return for the investment it makes down your way. But the reality is that it isn't the most meritorious whom TV loves. There are other factors in play

I love your GaneDay recaps and never miss one. Thank you for your effort!!

LD said...

If I remember correctly, either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal did a study a year or two ago that determined the team that caused the highest boost in ratings for college football. Unless I'm remembering it completely wrong (and I don't know why I would think this otherwise), the team that had the biggest positive impact on ratings was actually Oregon.

Chg said...

Regarding the biased journalism, I read a soccer article about the Scurry decision that referenced her earlier win over Brazil that said Scurry was the keeper and the US won due to her efforts and 'despite being outplayed.'

I was so ticked off. That writer's opinion had no place in the article. Say Brazil outshot the US or dominated possession. Say many observers felt Brazil deserved the win. Say how many saves Scurry made. Don't state an opinion as if it is iron clad fact, especially when I am skeptical that the writer even watched the match referenced.

The journalist and editor need rudimentary instructions from a local 6th grade Enlish teacher.

Ed said...

The stats that matter, which are the internals generated by Disney and CBS, demonstrate that ND is the show pony. If they weren't they would not get this attention.

TV ratings are even more susceptible to "tweaking" than sports statistics. One can get them to say a bunch of things. The methodology employed by the WSJ and/or NYT are not accepted in the real world of network programming.

However, the gap is definitely closing. ND is not the ratings juggernaut of old. All bets are off, though, if they get as good as their recent recruiting suggests.

Kyle W. said...

There's only one issue that matters in the Carlson-Gundy story. What public interest was served by a piece revealing Bobby Reid as a soft mama's boy? None. That column should have died in the Oklahoman's news room. Carlson's argument that she was trying to explain why Reid was mysteriously benched for the Troy game comes across as lame and contrived. Her press defenders have tried to make this out as some sort of "rights" issue, which is utterly bogus. This was, from the beginning, about press responsibility.

As an opinion journalist myself, though, I'd like to take issue with your assestion that "opinion against the credibility of journalism as a whole." Good opinion journalism is good for the same reasons as good straight news reporting: because it's based on solid reporting and adds to the public debate. Opinion only undermines plain news-reporting when the line between the two is blurred, and the damage done by an opinion writer who "finesses" the facts is no worse than that caused by a straight news reporter who colors his facts with opinion. In fact, I would argue that the latter is far more responsible for the media's credibility woes today than the mere existence of opinion journalism (the regrettable shrillness by some opinion journalists, who must simply be out of good ideas, notwithstanding).

Knowing you as I do, I suspect you didn't mean to sound as categorical as you did; otherwise, you'd have to say that most bloggers, being essentially opinion journalists themselves, are necessarily bad for journalism as well. I'd never make that argument just because I happen to think some blogs (certainly not this one) are irresponsible, and I think your point about opinion journalism -- as it was phrased here -- was equally off-base.