A Pointless Rant About The Media In General And Playoffs In Particular

Ed. Note -- FP'd because AWESOME.

I don't know when we all agreed that this was the case, but it seems like everyone is on the same page these days: sportswriters do not actually like sports. I don't remember where or when I first got that impression, or when I first read or heard someone else express this opinion, but I remember the first time it really stuck with me was in Chuck Klosterman’s book, 'Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.' Mr. Klosterman wrote:

Nobody realizes how much the people who write about sports despise the subject they write about. There is nothing they hate more… The people paid to inform you about the world of professional, collegiate, and high school athletics would love to see all sports – except for maybe the NCAA basketball tournament – eradicated from the planet.

… and it struck me as making sense, considering the way most sportswriters and sports analysts (or whatever we’re calling "talking heads" these days) talk about the games they "cover." The vagaries of the job clearly take a toll on them: the hours, the travel, but, I believe, above, all, the desire to maintain an air of "objectivity" has sapped whatever enjoyment they once got out of sports.

This has led, as I imagine is true of any person who dislikes the subject matter of his or her occupation, to an astonishing amount of laziness in the sports media. And I am not just talking about the infuriating generalities presented as explanations for the random occurrences that make up essentially all sporting events. You (and, obviously, Marc Cuban) know what I’m talking about. "Individual X refused to lose." "Team Y quit." "Team Z just wanted it more."

My theory: this mindset is primarily a product of the infiltration of former players and former coaches – who, the vast majority of the time, are former players – into the sports commentariot, mostly as color commentators but occasionally as columnists or other analysis-providers. If you are a coach, of course you want your players believing that every single damn thing that occurs on a court/field/pitch is under their control. This is your main tool for motivating your players to get better at their jobs. There is no such thing as luck. There is no such thing as randomness. There is no such thing as variance. This philosophical position is an absolute necessity for coaches, and they ram it into the psyches of their charges – at every level of competition, going back to youth leagues – until the players believe it themselves. You lost? It's your own fault. You didn't get the job done and you need to be better next time.

So why does this nonsense rhetoric take hold of other "analysts," like the loathsome Skip Bayless and his ilk? Because it is 1.) simple, and 2.) unverifiable. It requires literally no knowledge or factual analysis. And you will never get reliable information, through either data ("these statistical measures confirm that the team/player was not giving maximal effort") or testimony ("You know what? When we were down by two touchdowns with under five minutes left, I just checked out and went through the motions the rest of the way") to confirm or refute the statement. Therefore, you can make those kinds of proclamations to fill column inches/airtime without any actual knowledge and with basically no fear of concrete reprisals. Easy-peasy.

This laziness has manifested itself in an even more subtle fashion in the "I'm an objective journalist" crowd, in their incredibly common refrain, "I don’t root for or against teams or players, I root for stories." Aside from being patently false in many cases (e.g., Brian Windhorst loves LeBron James and is almost openly rooting for him; Adrian Wojnarowski hates LeBron James and is almost openly rooting against him), no one seems to take issue with the fact that this point of view is a complete cop-out. If you are a sports journalist, your job is to write/talk about what happened, and, to a much lesser degree, what might happen in the future. The thing is, "what happened" is always, ALWAYS, a "story," whether journalists like the story or not. When journalists say they "root for stories," then, they must be rooting for specific stories. With a hat-tip to LD at the apparently-defunct Gunslingers blog, I submit that they are rooting for narratives that they have chosen ahead of time. So statements like, "I don’t root for teams, I root for stories" are an admission that journalists want their jobs to be easy: they don’t want to just write about what happened, they want the near-random occurrences they cover to conform to the narratives they have pre-determined to be the "most dramatic" or "most interesting."

I personally think this mindset is the driving force behind the mainstream media’s ever-expanding desire for a large college football playoff. As stated above, these people do not like sports. Being largely centered in New England, they especially do not like college football. They do not want to pay attention to a four-month season that has ebbs and flows and twists and (for whatever it's worth) momentum. They would much rather pay attention to a two- or three-week playoff, churn out their pieces about "Coach X's redemption" or how "Player Y dug down deep," and move on to talking about whatever it is they would rather pay attention to (in all likelihood, The Controversial NBA Player of the Moment, or, at all times of year, the NFL). They want license to ignore the sport entirely until the "games that matter," and then move on.

I humbly submit that actual fans of college football should pay absolutely no attention to these people. They do not care about the sport we love so much. In fact, they probably actively dislike it. Do the real decisionmakers, like the presidents and league commissioners, act out of naked self-interest a lot of the time, including when they're attempting to craft a playoff system? Yes. But their interests dovetail with those of college football fans much more than the media types who want to turn the sport into the NFL.

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