Friday, September 26, 2008

USC is the Greatest...Um, On Second Thought, Never Mind

Is it really necessary to not only crown a national football champion barely a month into the season but also to confer the title of "greatest football team of all-time" when we are still in the month of September? How exactly did USC's victory over Ohio State "prove" that the Trojans deserve such lofty praise? Of course, those two questions have been rendered moot by Oregon State's 27-21 victory over USC on Thursday night--but those questions are not really moot, because they represent exactly what is wrong with the media today (and not just sports media, but sports media is what we focus on here).

In depth analysis has all but disappeared from the airwaves, the printed page and the internet (by the way, when did it become cute--as opposed to pretentious and stupid--to refer to the internet as "the internets"?); in depth analysis takes too much time (both to research and to present in a coherent fashion) and there are not many people who are really qualified to do it (on any subject) so instead of rational comparisons we are endlessly bombarded with hyperbole: everything is either "the greatest" or "the worst"--and that is when the content providers even bother to use the pretense that they are providing analysis at all, as opposed to simply running gratuitous coverage of salacious stories. I suppose that it won't be too long before we hear that USC just did the "worst choke job ever" versus Oregon State; don't laugh, people were actually talking--or at least whispering--about whether or not Jim Tressel's job should be on the line because Ohio State committed the grave sin of losing in two national championship games and then lost a regular season contest to the "greatest football team of all-time." Think about that for a moment--shut off your iPod, hit the pause button on your TIVO and stop sending/reading a text message--and really think about that and then ask yourself if it makes any sense that Tressel should be fired for losing twice in the national championship game and once to "the greatest football team of all-time." If USC were actually "the greatest football team of all-time," then wouldn't it be logical to expect Ohio State to lose? When you actually slow down and really think about what is being said/written/proclaimed about sports, the vast majority of it is stupid, contradictory and illogical.

People can say that blogs are destroying the media or that the "24 hour news cycle" (whatever that is supposed to mean) has created an insatiable demand for new content but what is actually destroying the media is quite simple: stupidity. ESPN would not go out of business if they did not create ESPN 8, ESPN 9 or whatever number they are up to now. The fact is, there is more content right now at ESPN (and FOX Sports and the Sporting News and every other big website--I'm not just picking on the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader") than even a supergenius with a 200 IQ and no other interests could possibly consume if he ceased living normally and decided to receive his nourishment intravenously while sitting on a toilet 24 hours a day with a laptop on his lap in front of a wall with a flatscreen TV doing nothing but "mainlining" sports information until his brain and/or other organs exploded. No, we do not "need" more content nor is there an insatiable demand for content, any more than there is an insatiable demand for the fast food that people are cramming down their throats in place of real food; what we have is a herd of people consuming preprocessed junk (food, entertainment, so-called sports analysis) because they are too lazy or ignorant to seek out anything of greater substance--and we have huge corporations that are more than happy to create greater and greater amounts of preprocessed junk, because it is much easier to create massive amounts of junk than it is to produce even small amounts of high quality material (it is also a lot cheaper to create the junk).

All that blogging has changed is it has created a horde of small time producers of junk who hope that they can emerge from the garbage pile and get hired by one of the conglomerates that produce junk on a massive scale (there are also of course a few bloggers who produce high quality, in depth work--they receive about as much attention as you might expect in such a marketplace).

USC is not "the greatest football team of all-time" nor was their performance on Thursday a horrible "choke job." USC is a very talented football team but there are a lot of talented football teams and it is difficult to go through a season undefeated. Also, college kids will be less consistent in their performances than seasoned professionals are, so upsets are much more likely at the collegiate level than in the professional ranks. In about two months, we can look at the body of work of all of the top college football teams and have a much better idea which teams really deserve to be in the national championship discussion. After Ohio State lost to USC, there was this almost palpable relief in some quarters that we won't be "forced to watch" Ohio State lose in the national championship game again. One, I did not know that anyone was "forced to watch" Ohio State's previous appearances. Two, what do those losses have to do with the worthiness of this year's Ohio State team to play for the national title? Three, if every other worthy contender eventually loses at least one game, who can say with confidence now that in December Ohio State will not be one of the top two teams in the country? Why can't commentators simply let the season play out instead of acting like they have Tourette's Syndrome and are obligated to blurt out definitive pronouncements every five seconds?

At the rate that things are going, in five years sports will be as unwatchable--at least without using the mute button--as news telecasts have been for at least the past 25 years and sports writing will be as tendentious, hypocritical and just plain ignorant as mainstream news writing has been for at least a similar period of time. Everything now is about personal agendas, the creation of hype to drive ratings and the seemingly deliberate removal of any semblance of intelligence, logic, patience and reason from any kind of discussion/dialogue. If that portrait sounds too grim, then go back and find a tape of the Sports Reporters circa 1995 (hosted by Dick Schaap, with perhaps Ralph Wiley, John Feinstein and Rick Telander as guests), watch it and then for comparison purposes watch Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption or the current version of the Sports Reporters--and weep from the very depths of your soul.


JLK said...

Most content is dumbed down because most people like it that way or are simply indifferent.It's the lowest common denominator.

While it's true that some of the content generation resources have been spread thin in order to provide content throughout the day and week, a great deal of concentrated effort goes into, say, a Monday Night Football broadcast, and the result is still a watered down product.(Side note: I'm amazed that Tony Kornheiser was brought back for another season).

Finally, the internet has certainly provided an opportunity for people who know nothing to write about anything they please. However, it's also a place where true analysts can be heard without being pushed out by the lowest common denominator effect.

Smart analysis has become a niche product, but that doesn't mean it isn't out there. Your site, football outsiders, 82 games, and others are (for the most part) producing better content than ESPN and other sites.

Keep up the good work, and don't let Tonys Siragusa and Kornheiser get you down.

David Friedman said...


One thing that is discouraging is that Kornheiser used to provide high quality product--decades ago when he was a writer, not an entertainment personality--but now he has become almost a caricature of himself (or of something). There has been a dumbing down not only of the general culture but even of certain individuals within the culture who are surely capable of higher quality work but have decided to chase the dollars.

madnice said...

Dick Schaap moderated that show so beautifully and the guests were very knowledgeable and not (expletives) like Lupica thinking they invented sports. These shows now are a scream fest that are unenjoyable and like you said about personal agendas. If you were on that show you knew you were somebody anyway. Damn I miss Dick Schaap and Ralph Wiley.

I dont even watch that show now.