Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shanoff BlogPoll Top 25 Preseason Ballot

Here is the BlogPoll Top 25 preseason ballot I submitted, with your input:

1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Penn State
4 Oklahoma
5 Southern Cal
6 Mississippi
7 Alabama
8 Georgia Tech
10 Boise State
11 Oklahoma State
12 Oregon
13 Ohio State
14 California
15 TCU
16 Kansas
17 Brigham Young
18 Utah
19 Georgia
20 Iowa
21 Virginia Tech
22 Oregon State
23 Florida State
24 Cincinnati
25 Central Michigan

The biggest change: Western Michigan is out; everyone behind them moved up; Central Michigan moved into No. 25 -- that's right: No Notre Dame. They will have to prove it, first. (Besides: I think if the best team in the MAC played Notre Dame, the MAC team would win by double-digits.) As always, expect the poll to change wildly, especially in the first few weeks.

-- D.S.

AP Top 25 Comes Out: Florida No. 1 (58/60)

Florida is the AP's preseason No. 1 team -- by a wide margin, earning 58 of 60 1st-place votes. No. 2 Texas earned the other two top votes. No argument here if you pick Texas.

(Don't forget to weigh in on my BlogPoll ballot before I file it later today. I want your input!)

Still, I would like to know which two AP voters picked Texas -- actually, I'd like the AP to make all of their voters' ballots not just transparent, but easy to find in a database. That way, fans can judge biases and credibility of each individual voter.

Couple of other notable things from the poll:

*Oklahoma was No. 3, setting up a winner-take-all between Texas and Oklahoma -- as usual.

*Virginia Tech at No. 7, eh? Did AP voters look at summer preview magazines only and not notice that VT lost their starting RB?

*At No. 14, Boise State gets the highest preseason AP ranking for any non-BCS team in the BCS Era. What makes it amusing is that when Boise goes unbeaten, they'll finish higher than that.

*Aside from Boise, the late-teens continue to be the non-BCS ghetto -- TCU, Utah, BYU. Just like the coaches' poll (please stop arguing that the AP somehow is quantum leaps more insightful than the Coaches -- all poll groups are limited. I wonder what would happen if you told AP voters they couldn't use any preseason polls to create their ballots (Coaches Poll, preseason magazines, etc) -- they had to build it by themselves from scratch and original analysis. I wonder how many do that. Hell, I wonder how many BlogPollers do that. But, still, as you'd expect, I like the transparency and "biased integrity" of the BlogPoll over either the AP or the Coaches polls.)

*Notre Dame at No. 23 -- Ha! You know, I took some grief yesterday for not ranking ND on my BlogPoll ballot; the difference between the AP's No. 23 and my "non-ranked" is negligible.

*Either I or the AP is seriously wrong about Kansas.

*At No. 28, Pitt is the highest-ranked Big East team. I'll still take Cincy as the best in the league, and worthy of a peripheral Top 25 spot.

*I have Western Michigan in my Top 25 -- this year's MAC-could-go-unbeaten team (a la Ball State). They don't even have an "Also Receiving Vote" in the AP poll; Central Michigan has 7, which I presume you can attribute to the media loving Tim Tebow; CMU's Dan LeFevour is widely regarded as sort of a Tim Tebow Lite.

Finalizing my BlogPoll ballot this afternoon. Let me know if you have any other feedback!

-- D.S.

Saturday 08/22 (Very) Quickie

Favre. Ovation. Ugh. Perhaps the crowd's enthusiasm was diminished slightly when Favre threw all of 4 passes (though that's what would you expect). Ironically, Tarvaris Jackson didn't look half-bad. Percy Harvin was pretty quiet, but appears solid on kick returns.

Hmm: Was Tim Tebow held out of practice this week? And is it a potential balky back issue? That's what Rivals is saying, but you would never know it, because the issue hasn't come up from ANY of the Gators' beat writers during the week. Or ESPN. Or anywhere else.

MLB: Giants beat Rockies in Colorado... Yankees beat Red Sox (again)... If the Rays are going to win the AL Wild Card, they need Kazmir to be his old self (like he was last night) for the next 6 weeks... Cubs show in L.A. that they aren't ready for (playoff) prime-time.

Nats introduce Strasburg: The team needs to do whatever it can to feature this guy between now and the end of the season. OK, maybe they don't want to pitch him, so his 4-year deal doesn't kick in. So how about having him throw exhibitions before the game to local college and high school star players? ANYTHING to get him out there -- and fans paying to see him.

Urban Meyer rips Ron Zook: Urban is an intense dude, but very disciplined. I wonder why Meyer finally dropped that now to rip Ron Zook for the environment he had before Meyer got to Florida. More than anything, it underscores that "family atmosphere" is yet another thing that Meyer does best in the nation. If I was Notre Dame I would offer him $10 million a year for 10 years. He may not accept it, but at least you can say you have done everything possible to get him.

You know what? Jim Rice is a joyless crank. That he wouldn't rip on current players until he was safely given the lifetime appointment to the Hall of Fame is classless. Hey, Jim: Gotta question for you -- did you or players of your so-called "clean" era ever use any form of now-banned amphetamines?

-- D.S.

Friday, August 21, 2009

REAL Memphis Punishment: 16-Seed "Beats" 1-Seed, NCAA Tourney History Made

BIG UPDATE: Thanks to the Commenter who pointed out my historical flaw: Both the '93 Michigan team AND the '96 UMass team were 1-seeds who vacated Tournament wins. That basically makes my post moot, except to the extent that it is amusing that John Calipari has now led two Tournament 1-seeds unable to make it out of the 1st round of the Tournament.

Lost in the various opinions about Memphis having to vacate the 2008 season is this:

For the first time in the history of the 64-team NCAA Tournament, a 1-seed did not advance out of the 1st round.

Yes, this is a bit of semantic yoga: Technically, the 16-seed did not BEAT the 1-seed -- logically flawed but logistically necessary, the NCAA says "vacating" a win doesn't mean that the opposing team is suddenly credited with the win, rather than merely "losing" the loss.

However, it does mean that -- in the history books -- Memphis the 1-seed did not advance to the 2nd round and, thus, became the first-ever 1-seed to fail to advance out of the 1st round of the 64-team men's NCAA Tournament.

If you found "vacated wins" to be unsatisfying and are looking for a bit more historical humiliation to lay on Memphis, I think this might be the best bet.

Congratulations, University of Texas-Arlington.

-- D.S.

College Football BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot, Pt 1

Here is my first pass at my preseason college football BlogPoll Top 25 ballot. Let's get to it (caveats and methodologies below poll, with number of projected losses designated next to team, probably fudging "trap factor" by 1 loss per team):

1. Florida (Unbeaten "-0")
2. Texas (-0)
3. Penn State (-0)
4. Oklahoma (-1)
5. USC (-1)
6. Ole Miss (-2*)
7. Alabama (-1)
8. Georgia Tech (-1)
9. LSU (-2)
10. Boise St (-0)
11. Oklahoma State (-2)
12. Oregon (-2)
13. Ohio State (-2)
14. Cal (-2)
15. TCU (-1)
16. Kansas (-2)
17. BYU (-1)
18. Utah (-3)
19. Georgia (-4)
20. Iowa (-4)
21. Western Michigan (-0)
22. Virginia Tech (-3)
23. Oregon State (-3)
24. Florida State (-3)
25. Cincinnati (-2)

My methodology is shaky: In the absence of any 2009 evidence, it is mainly a projection of how I think they will finish the season. (Thus, if I think Boise State will be unbeaten, I have them in the Top 10, where the "real" polls will absolutely have them. That doesn't account for the idea that I think Western Michigan might run the table; they would finish closer to 10th than 20th.)

The larger point: I want your feedback, via Comments, which I will check throughout the day and evening, into tomorrow. Who is too high? Who is underrated? Who is left out but shouldn't be? Make a case, and -- you know me -- I'll flip-flop in the face of strong evidence. I would love to have this locked in by Sunday morning, at which point I'll do a post with my final ballot.

* - Per the Comments, let me explain: Ole Miss will have 1 loss going into the SEC title game, which they will lose to Florida. The "loss" parenthetical counted conference title games but did not count bowl games. As Ole Miss will beat Bama head-to-head and win the SEC West, I felt it fair not to punish them by ranking them behind Bama when the Rebels lose to Florida.

** -- That's right: No Notre Dame. I will bet on Weis's failure and take my chances being proven wrong. More power to them if they have a season worthy of the Top 25. I project they won't sniff beating a Top 25-worthy team this season.

Why The 800-Word Columnist Must Change

You really must read Spencer Hall's obituary for the 800-word "generalist" sports columnist.

He nails it, but let me add some context: 800 words was a construct of the space the newspaper had to work with. The generalist was a function of the newspaper's monopoly in a community.

That's it. There was no consumer-focused or "journalistic" rationale for the format or form.

That's why Bill Simmons found a market for 3,000-word columns -- even before, when he was building his brand at AOL Digital Cities.

That's why Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon would have simply had a more timely, two-man version of "Sports Reporters" if not for the innovative format layered on top of "PTI."

And, personally, that's why I found a national market for an 800-word "generalist" column that was atomized into 50 different pieces and storylines, tagged to daypart and consumer habits.

Among other reasons, because I recognized that FUNCTION was as important as form, at least as it related to the new consumer of sports news: First thing in the morning, "just enough."

As soon as you start building a column around the number of inches your editor needs to fill a newspaper page, you are going to pad it with too much -- or not back up your argument enough.

Here is the reality -- and you can see this at the Quickie, on Deadspin, on PTI, on Twitter: Making an interesting point doesn't take a lot of time.

It is potentially HARD (harder than fluffing an 800-word column with a lot of stuff your reader wouldn't need to understand your argument or develop their own p.o.v. about it.) But it doesn't take a lot of room.

That's not to say there isn't brilliant analysis or perspective that takes way longer than 800 words to explain -- and when it is good enough, fans are more than ready to give time to it.

(To Spencer's point, the standard "generalist" column was rarely that brilliant -- and if you told the writer they could have 300 words or 3,000 words, their arguments would be better... at least when executed by the rare brilliant generalist.)

There is one point that sticks with me:

Let's stipulate that "800 words" did not come from "optimal for consumer" or "optimal for creator," but "optimal for newspaper space." And, in a world of specialization, strict "800-word generalist" is unnecessary -- unless you are the uber-rare talent.

Why, then, do so many major Web sites -- in and out of sports -- still promote the "800-word generalist" take as some sort of ideal?

As ex-newspaper columnists find homes online -- and this has been for YEARS now -- they aren't joyously taking advantage of the limitless potential of the new medium's flexible format rules.

They are churning out the same old 700- to 800-word columns that they wrote in the newspaper. And they (and their editors) will eventually run into the same problems:

Fans don't want that. They are too busy, with too many other great things out there to consume, to deal with your standard 800-word column.

(Especially when that column isn't by a topic expert, but a generalist. But even when the 800-word column is written by your sport-specialist columnist, it still fails as a matter of format.)

This isn't meant to dump on ex-newspaper columnists who now find themselves recycling the same old "800-word" strategies online.

This is meant to challenge them to break out of the "800-word" newspaper-column-inch format and experiment with other formats and other forms beyond the lazy unreported take.

Writers who have been competing online in the blog era -- or even beyond -- are already, for the most part, intuitively constructing new forms and formats to try to engage and enlighten readers.

If you don't do the same -- and what a wonderful freedom that should sound like to you! -- your content won't ever be as powerful as it could be, because fans will find it easy to tune it out.

The cynic in me thinks that the ex-print folks can't think outside of the "800-word" box, because that was how they were trained, it was what they aspired to -- before their industry collapsed. Some, to their credit, have tested other formats for their perspective. Others, lamentably, think "other formats" exclusively means "when is my TV appearance today?"

The optimist in me thinks that between consumer feedback, editor prodding (ex-newspaper editors, lose the "800-word" mindset!) and the columnist's own enthusiasm for the opportunities within the new medium -- even if that enthusiasm is underlined by fear of their own potential irrelevancy -- we may yet see innovation from the "800-word" set.

-- D.S.

(Ironically, this was a 769-word "straight" column-like take. I needed to include more bulleting, more bold-facing and more interlinking; chop it into a couple of posts; add a clever photoshop and a YouTube clip; curate some aggregation of the best analysis on the Web of the "800-word" form; call for reader comments and feedback; and create some Baseball Prospectus-type statistics to support my case, ideally with a hip acronym like "J.E.N.K.I.N.S." -- Just Enough Newspaper Knowledge to Increase 'Net Success.)

UPDATE: E-i-C Rob King just tweeted: "Re: General sports columns -- Editors see them as luxuries, and some writers consider them birthrights. But thoughtful, caring work thrives." Totally agree. My only point would be that too many fit that into an artificial 800-word box. The most thoughtful/caring is often 200 -- or 2000. They take what they need, which is probably a good rule of thumb.

I think the better ex-newspaper (turned-online) columnists totally get that -- and have gleefully adapted to the creative options (and consumer habits) of the online medium. I think the bad ones still stick to the old norms and forms, and consumers can totally see it. At that point, I guess it is half on the columnist and half on the editor, who should be pushing for more online-embracing methods and execution based on their judgment, best practices from around online journalism and what we constantly find out about consumer interests.

I'm up for finding this innovation anywhere. Would be thrilled to see some of it come from the columnists, generalists or otherwise.

UPDATE 2: Must-read from Chris at Smart Football, about Grantland Rice and modern sportswriting.

Friday 08/21 Quickie: Ochocinco, Bolt,
Favre, Harvin, Brady, NL Wild Card, More

One of the best parts of my job is not when I KNOW well in advance -- even the night before -- what the lead of the column is going to be (see Vick, Favre), but when I get up at the crack of whatever and see the majesty that is something obviously and spontaneously lead-worthy for the day's column.

Like Chad Ochocinco kicking that extra-point last night. (And a kickoff! To the 10!)

It wasn't just the wild display of his talent. It was that he gave himself a Eurofied soccer name "Esteban." It was that he capped a week where he had the best comment about Favre. It was that apparently he is bringing back his "checklist" of CBs to burn.

It was that in a week -- and, yes, consider that it has only been a week -- of Vick + Favre, the antidote is Ochocinco. He is the clown prince of sports, but last night, he backed up the talk with "walk," but with kick. We should celebrate him for it.

More you'll find in today's column:
*If it wasn't 85, it would have been Usain Bolt, who brings more excitement in 20 seconds (or "19.19") than Brett Favre brings in months (or years).

*Speaking of Favre, I'd say he is THE NFL preseason storyline of the weekend, but I'm more intrigued by how Harvin looks. Oh god: Is this the beginning of "Favrin?"

*It's not even September, but Giants-Rockies and Rangers-Rays feels like a playoff-ish series. Maybe that's because the NL and AL Wild Cards could be significantly impacted this weekend.

*It's a great debate: What is the better division -- Big 12 South (Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) or SEC West (Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU)? That's three Top 10 teams per division. Yikes.

Lots more in today's column. Check it out here. And come back around noon, because I am revealing my preseason CFB BlogPoll Top 25 ballot -- the first version. I want (no: NEED) your input on it, before I submit my final version tomorrow.

Don't forget to sign up for the Daily Quickie Readers groups of the Pigskin Pick 'Em and College Pick 'Em!

-- D.S.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SEC New Media Policy: Reaction to Upheaval

As the SEC's new-media policies made the front page of the New York Times today, it seems like it is the appropriate time to weigh in. A couple of thoughts (and see the UPDATE at the end, per Rovell's post on this issue this morning):

The "revised" policy revolves around "fan" (not-for-profit) use versus "commercial" use.

That is why you can write your real-time Facebook or Twitter update -- or even post a photo or video clip -- without drawing the ire of the SEC. It is both logistical and common-sensical. Besides, your fans are your best (and cheapest) form of advertising.

Does the SEC have a point about game video? To a point. Rights-holders pay a lot of money for game video -- arguably the one piece of "uncommoditizable" content left in sports media.

Anyone could say what happened. Anyone could post the 3-5 "highlights" of the game. Anyone can gather or repurpose widely available post-game quotes. Anyone can have an opinion. What anyone can't have is the full (or expanded) video version of the game itself. That value is worth paying for and that value is worth protecting.

I would offer two "out" clauses to the SEC's policy:

(1) "Fair use": If I am a news (or even news-ish) or blog outlet trying to sincerely serve my audience with a very limited piece of intellectual property, that should be OK. (Where it gets murkier is when those outlets are cynically trying to monetize that IP on the backs of someone else financing it.)

I am only talking about actual game footage -- things like post-game press conferences or on-field interviews conducted by the outlets themselves should be available to all (mainly because they are entirely commodified). Still, read to the bottom for more on this...

(2) "Fan use": If you have no interest in driving revenue from the photo or video -- but, say, merely want to create a cool mash-up that displays your love for the team and lets fans rally around some cool game footage -- I think the rules can and should be more relaxed. This includes bloggers who have a blog for fun, not as their business.

The reality is this: Open is almost always better than closed, as it relates to fan interaction with your product.

What is the distinction between "fan" use and "commercial" use? This goes back a long time; I can remember back in 1995 and 1996, when the NBA made a huge stink about "owning" game statistics in real-time in any format, which 15 years later, seems as absurd as it sounded back then. The same thing has come up recently with who "owns" players' fantasy stats -- which the courts have ruled in favor of "open access."

But I find it hard to listen to media companies complaining about wanting unfettered access to uncommoditizable content owned by rights-holders out of one side of their mouths, then scheming/freaking out about how to make money from it out of the other side.

The SEC's initial policy was ridiculous, mostly for the way it alienated the fans -- not the way it alienated the media. Like a good company in the customer-friendly age of new media, the league quickly iterated when faced with a (reasonable) backlash.

I contend that the policy remains in "beta" form (even if the SEC has no idea what "beta" means.)

Let's see how things go over the first few weeks of the season, then iterate again accordingly -- based on some compromise between reasonableness and rights-ownership. (And I don't mean to suggest those are the ends of the spectrum.)

I am going to be charitable and offer the SEC at least some props for attempting to create a policy here, then modifying it based on good feedback. Even if their policy was tone-deaf to the realities of media today (and tomorrow).

I am also going to say that the world is only getting more open, not less. And that "control" of your product is less about dictating specific terms than offering a wide framework for everyone to work within. It will ultimately help your product.

Let's be clear: It is a much bigger problem for media companies and others who want to make money off the SEC than it is a problem for fans (or bloggers) who just want to talk about the SEC. (Read the update at the end of this post for more on this.)

Once again, it comes back to the dramatic change in the underlying dynamics:

The SEC will find it relatively easy (and of long-term value) to "go direct" to fans with their product (particularly if they can double-dip by signing up paying rights-holders).

The folks with the real issue are the traditional (media) "gate-keepers" who historically have charged (either sponsors or subscribers) for the privilege of mediating the relationship, even if they haven't paid for the rights to the product itself.

Yes, it is incumbent upon the SEC to iterate its own policy and business strategy, based on reactions from fans and media. But the media must iterate its OWN business, too.

Locking out the media won't work, obviously, and the media surely has the power to generate incremental changes, as they have and will continue.

But -- based on the SEC's reaction -- the real power is actually in the hands of fans.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: CNBC's Darren Rovell has an absolute must-read about this issue, and he makes the point that no one else has really brought up: The SEC's campaign against unauthorized use of in-stadium photos and videos by "bloggers" is, as I see it, a straw man with no straw.

First, I'm not even sure how many of a team's good bloggers are actually in the stadium, rather than at home. (Watching at home not only provides the best angles, but the best way to post blog updates and reactions, both immediately and for the high-quality post-game posts that the blog's audience is going to demand.)

Second, even if they are at the stadium, the team's good bloggers are not wasting their time or energy taking a bad digital or cell-phone photo or trying to frame up their Flip video to catch the play of the game. They are watching the game.

Give the bloggers a little credit: They know that mainstream media will do this for them and it is -- at best -- of peripheral value to their audience, who get those photos/video elsewhere; the bloggers' job -- how they built the audience -- is on the analysis, not the photo or video footage. Their audience has been built on great analysis, which can only come from watching the game -- not worrying about snapping in-stadium photos or video.

As I pointed out to Darren: Cynical Web sites that use crappy self-made photos and videos from the stadium will fail in two ways:

(1) Their multimedia will never be as good as the photos or video fans can get elsewhere, from professional multimedia outfits with the rights and expertise to take good photo and video. (And everyone agrees that unauthorized use of those photos/video is wrong.)

(2) Fans want added value, not a cynical attempt to get them to click on a Google ad or a gambling ad. Fans will ultimately abandon these sites if they don't offer quality analysis. In-game photos and video are simply not enough of a differentiator.

I'm just not sure there's a "there" there.

Thursday 08/20 Quickie: Lee, Favre,
Holliday, Halladay, Memphis, Magic, More

Picking up where I left off last year (and perhaps a little punch-drunk from the Favre coverage), I think that Cliff Lee deserves the NL Cy Young, if the season ended today.

Part of that is because of last night's start he made, which was sick -- sick enough to lead today's SN column as the springboard for my Lee-for-Cy campaign.

Part of that is because he is the biggest reason the Phillies should be considered the team to beat in the NL. Part of that is because "yeah-yeah-Lincecum-is-awesome-ok." Part of that is CC Sabathia last year.

A year ago, Sabathia came over to the Brewers from the Indians and proceeded to destroy the NL, leading the Brewers to the playoffs -- his reward was a 5th-place finish for NL Cy. Terrible.

So it is in part the legacy of Sabathia -- and my own childhood mythology of Rick Sutcliffe in 1984 for the Cubs -- that makes me obsessed with Lee as the NL's best pitcher.

Yes, it's too early to say things like "Lee for Cy!" No, it's not too early to marvel at how he is -- right now -- the best pitcher in the NL.

One other big topic I'd like to touch on: Memphis getting its wins from 2008 "vacated."

There is no bigger joke of a punishment in sports. "Vacated" may change the record books, but it doesn't change your memories. It doesn't change that -- without Derrick Rose -- Memphis wouldn't have made the title game, let alone been a 1-seed... so the teams they beat along the way were robbed. It doesn't change Calipari's recruiting advantages based on that season -- or his job change that was another result.

How about this: Memphis gets a postseason ban for every round of the 2008 tournament they cheated their way into. Or a TV ban for a year. Or a reduction in scholarships.

The NCAA gets mocked because its punishment system is toothless. "Vacated?" Might as well say "Vacation." (And that doesn't even count that the penalty should follow Calipari to Kentucky.)

More you'll find in today's column:
*Holliday vs. Halladay
*Jason Williams is back!
*Two must-read SEC links. (I'm sure you're thrilled.)
*Fran Tarkenton tells it like it is.
And more.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Special Guest Post: Tourney Pick 'Em Daily Quickie Readers Winner Joel London!

It is my pleasure to turn over the blog to Tourney Pick 'Em "Daily Quickie Readers" winner Joel London. Don't forget to join the Daily Quickie Readers group of the NFL Pigskin Pick 'Em and College Pick 'Em games! You too can win this prestigious prize! Take it away, Joel.

First, a little about Joel:

Staff Sergeant Joel London serves as noncommissioned officer in charge of training, Engineering Technical Support Section, 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Sergeant London won the 2009 Daily Quickie Readers Tournament Pool in April. He operates a fledgling blog at He can be contacted by email (jlondon81-at-[yahoo]-[dot]-[com]), on Facebook (jlondon81) or on Twitter (@jlondon81).

"Sports and the Military"

Growing up, it did not take long to realize that few things bring people together like sports. Regardless of what part of the country you hailed from, you had your favorite teams, players, moments that became a part of you for one reason or another. A single sporting event can bring together people from all lifestyles, even if just for a few hours.

Take the Super Bowl, for example. The Sunday of the Super Bowl is a de facto national holiday. Most likely you watch the game with a group of friends, and if you happen to have a team in the game, all the better. On a grander scale, the World Cup brings whole nations together unlike any world event (including the Olympics, I would argue).

I have always found work environments interesting as well when it comes to sports, particularly in any type of workplace where there is a high turnover of personnel. The military is a great example of this. I have served in the Air Force for almost six years. I enlisted in Gainesville, FL – Gator Country. Naturally, I brought my Gator fandom into the military. When you consider what service members go through with stressful work environments and long deployments, sports is just another taste of home for many of us.

I can remember how during my 2005 deployment to Iraq I learned to measure time by when the next major sporting event was occurring. I was there during Super Bowl XXXIX. There was something about standing at attention for the national anthem in the chow hall packed full of hundreds of airmen, soldiers, and marines (at 3am no less!) that moved me more than any other time I had heard it. Knowing that I was to return home at the end of that summer caused me to pay more attention to when sporting events occurred. March Madness, the Masters, the NBA Finals, and the All-Star Game all signaled to me that I was that much closer to going home. The American Forces Network does a fantastic job of showing a variety of games during each season, and most airing live. When you are far away from home, even little things like that help make you feel connected to home.

Even in Alaska, it does not take long to realize that you can be so far away from home and still be in America. Like most workplaces, not a day goes by where the recent sports news does not come up. The diversity inherent in the military shows up especially at this time of year, at the start of football season. In my office alone, almost half the SEC is represented (Florida, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas). Two of my co-workers proudly display their Terrible Towels. We have a “Beaver Believer” Oregon State fan, a diehard Philadelphia sports fan, and even a faithful Lions fan. One of my former superior officers is an Oklahoma graduate, and he and I traded barbs over Tebow and Bradford before the national championship in January. (I held the trump card as our commander is a Florida graduate.) Sports can be a refreshing way for us to shed duty titles and rank and just be average sports fans, if even for a little while. Best part is we all talk up our teams as if they are the best in the world, because to us they are.

The military demands that regardless of your background, you work together as a team. This is true of sports and life as well. In my experience, sports have brought service members together sometimes in ways civilians cannot understand. It builds a sense of camaraderie amongst us, and allows us to get to know each other better. We learn quickly to work together and earn respect with each other… even if the person next to you is a Tennessee fan.

but that’s my take.

***Shameless plug time: Thanks to Dan for giving me the opportunity to write a guest blog post. You, the reader, have a chance to earn a guest blog post too by simply signing up for Pigskin Pick ‘Em and/or College Football Pick ‘Em on Find the group name “Daily Quickie Readers.” You never know how you might do! (Dan note: I didn't ask him to write that!)

DS Book Week, Pt. 2: Joe Drape "Our Boys"

It is hard to make sheer, utter dominance likable, let alone something you can relate to.

What makes Joe Drape's new book "Our Boys" -- about the sheer, utter dominance of the Smith Center Redmen in western Kansas -- so amazing is that he not only makes them likable...

...He offers them up as a template for all teams in any sport -- not just about how to construct a winner on the field, but how to navigate a bunch of teenage boys into adulthood off the field.

Drape -- whose main job is as horse racing guru for the New York Times, but whose incredible article about Smith Center back in 2007 inspired the book -- embeds in Smith Center for the year, the 2008 season.

But not him alone relocating from New York City. He takes his wife. He takes his 3-year-old son (whose exploits, briefly noted throughout the book, are as compelling of a symbol as anything).

And what he finds feels cinematic -- it is sort of like "Friday Night Lights," but it is blissfully free of dysfunction. The coach isn't a maniac; the boosters are friendly; the kids aren't self-entitled. (If anything, the players' challenge is to rise to the level of the stud class that preceded them.)

It is sort of like "Hoosiers" (a comparison I have seen in the last week or so), but Hickory/Milan was the consummate underdog -- Smith Center is the juggernaut of the state.

But they don't do it by professionalizing the experience for the kids. And the ultimate lessons about family and joy of the game make winning feel like the product, not the goal.

If there feels like a lack of conflict -- though no lack of drama over whether the team will fulfill the monumental pressures to extend the school's winning streak -- it is only because that's the point:

Great sports stories don't have to be about screaming coaches and preening players, mostly bringing the drama on themselves.

Sometimes they can simply be about a way to approach the game -- and life -- that feels remarkably reasonable... even if the results are entirely unreasonable.

Drape tells a great football story -- but you will want to dig into the book (and question your own approach to sports expectations) for the off-field philosophies imparted by Coach Barta.

Get the book here. And learn more about the author here.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 08/19 Quickie: Favre, Fans,
Vikings, Packers, Strasburg, Smoltz, More

I was thrilled to see yesterday's "Favre Revolt." Favre comes back -- fans basically reject it.

Now, nevermind that we were all glued to the Web, Twitter, TV to follow it. The point is that we all expressed our outrage, in various forms:

Vikings fans: "What do we do NOW?"
Packers fans: "I'm so conflicted!"
Everyone else: "God, does this suck."

In the end, Favre might make the Vikings slightly better -- if nothing else, more closely followed

(Pointed out in today's column: What about those of us who wanted to draft Percy Harvin in our fantasy leagues? We tie his success directly to rooting for Brett Favre to do well. Ack!)

It will be very easy to mock him as he inevitably throws game-killing INTs, to mock him as he battles inevitable injuries, to mock him as he plays the "look-at-me!" card over and over.

The sad part: We still look.

More you'll find in today's column:

*The Nats should pitch Strasburg this season.
*I like Smoltz to St. Louis in theory, not practice.
*Jamie Moyer: "Quality start" out of the bullpen
*I'm warming up to the fearless Rex Ryan.
*AI in NYC? Yes, please!
*Who had "Bryce Brown NCAA violation" in the office pool?

It's Day 2 of my Big Book Week here. Yesterday was Tunison's "Football Fan's Manifesto." Check back a little later this morning for the next book on my recommended list.

Complete SN column here. More later, including -- at 1:30 -- a special guest-post by the winner of the Daily Quickie Readers Tournament Challenge!

(Don't forget to sign up for the Daily Quickie Readers groups of the NFL Pick 'Em and the College Pick 'Em.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DS Book Week, Part 1: Michael Tunison
The Football Fan's Manifesto

It is impossible to understate the imprint that Kissing Suzy Kolber has made on being an NFL fan.

As one of the site's founders, Mike Tunison (aka "Xmas Ape") is the ideal person to write "The Football Fan's Manifesto," which comes out today (in paperback -- no excuses not to buy, cheapskate!)

At its heart, it is a blueprint for how to live your life as the very best NFL fan possible. (I might want to take notes, given my lack of NFL allegiance, beyond my superficial recent interest in the Jaguars and what will be an appalling allegiance-creation moment when I root for whatever team Tim Tebow is playing for.)

The book is divided into 10 chapters, each with 7-10 "sections" that take on a particular element of pro football fandom. I couldn't possibly run down all of them here, but it makes the book easy to pick up and put down when you have a couple minutes on the train, in between middle-of-the-night baby feedings, NFL halftime shows or, yes, the obligatory "bathroom time."

The book is heavily formatted -- which I both enjoy and appreciate. Look: Some days you want "When Pride Mattered." And some days, you want "Football Fan's Manifesto." That isn't to put them on opposite sides of some sort of quality spectrum; they are both excellent for what they try to offer.

Tunison covers the fundamentals of NFL fandom, its formative years, what to do on gameday, what to do in the offseason, fantasy football, truly "dedicated" fan opportunities and a lot more. And, again, within each of those, many parts and pieces.

Above all else, what "Football Fan's Manifesto" does is take NFL fandom absolutely seriously -- as you do. But not seriously at all -- as you shouldn't. If there is some sort of NFL fan "ideal," it is in this book. That may be a little too existential of a concept for a really funny book about NFL fandom, but I think it's a hell of a clever book Tunison has pulled off.

Honestly, I am even ready to call it the definitive book about NFL fandom. So for your NFL library: Go get your out-of-print copy of Paul Zimmerman's "Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football." You already have Stefan Fatsis' "Three Seconds of Panic." Owning Exley's "A Fan's Notes" is your nod to "NFL fiction." (Don't Google "Tom Brady Fan Fiction.") Save a little budget to buy Jon Krakauer's book about Pat Tillman, coming out later this fall.

And add to this definitive collection: "Football Fan's Manifesto."

For some free samples, here is Tunison's post about it at KSK and here is an excerpt that ran on Deadspin. Try before you buy! (If you like KSK or jokes about the NFL, you'll want the book.)

Oh, and here's a funny video preview for the book (even if I violate half the rules).

-- D.S.

So if KSK's Drew Magary has written the definitive "handbook" for pro athletes and Tunison has written the "manifesto" for sports fans, I cannot wait to see what books the other folks from KSK -- Matt Ufford, Josh Zerkle and Jack Kogod -- have in them. (Even if they aren't about sports.)

OK, So About Brett Favre...

Let's rip this off like a Band-Aid, then move on:

*Soulless Vikings fans now immediately root for a player they once despised.
*Packers fans may now, finally, see what a me-first prig Favre is. (Doubt it.)
*The rest of us will stagger through the coverage, hating him (Even more.)
*I think Drew -- a Vikings fan -- captures all this in one well-earned rant.

-- D.S.

NFL Wildcat Mania, Cont'd: Don't Overthink

I spend a lot of time at covering Tebow's NFL future, which seems intrinsically tied to the development of the Wildcat formation and its various variations going forward.

Yesterday, I was reading this terrific post about the Wildcat by Smart Football (which just re-launched and had a bevy of brilliant posts yesterday -- the site is a must-read).

Jon Gruden thinks there is a Wildcat "wave" coming. It has been top of the news since Mike Vick got to Philadelphia, where it is presumed he will run some form of the Wildcat for the Eagles.

Here is a quote that caught my attention:
"What the league hasn’t seen yet is the Wildcat with a true passing threat there," said Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who spent 7 years as the head coach at William Tennent and North Penn high schools. "Because if you have both, whether it’s a Vick or a Pat White, the key is whether he can withstand the punishment of basically playing tailback as well [as quarterback]. How long will they be able to withstand the pounding of it?"
So that got me thinking:

Not to be harsh, but who cares if Pat White logs serious Wildcat time in his first two seasons, then is pounded out of the NFL because of the punishment he took?

(1) White was never going to be a full-time franchise QB anyway; he was always going to be some sort of specialist.

(2) We never talk about running backs like that -- instead, we talk about how amazing it is that new RBs emerge when the two-season wonders eventually get pounded into oblivion.

(3) With the increase of dual-threat QBs in college running variations of the spread, there will be an increasing pipeline of players coming out to replace the beaten-down cast-offs.

What's the point of letting Brad Smith run the Wildcat 10 times in a season, and otherwise having him fill out a roster spot?

Why not have him run in 10 times a game, get absolutely punished for a season or two, then do what every coach does with the physically exhausted players when the season is over: Cut them and draft a replacement. Again: The talent pipeline is set up to do just that.

It seems to me that the secret to getting around the "But what kind of QB can take that kind of punishment over a 10-year career?" is to not have your franchise QB run the Wildcat.

Here is a good rule of thumb: Do not use a particularly high draft pick on a player you see as disposable after a few seasons, and don't pay them like a freaking franchise QB.

I think Gruden is right about the coming single-wing revolution, and it will take a mindset shift:

That you are not letting your "franchise QB of the future" get pulverized; you are letting your "4th RB/6th WR, who happens to have QB skills" get pulverized.

It sounds a little harsh, but it is the reality in the NFL -- and the reality of the talent pipeline in college football, as it relates to feeding the expansion of the single-wing in the NFL.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 08/18 Quickie: Strasburg, Paulus,
VickNabb, Cable, Ankiel, USC, Penn St, More

Today's SN column leads with a theme common to the Quickie, dating back all the way to 2003 and beyond:

As long as your team is going to suck, at least be compelling in SOME way that makes us want to talk about you -- or, even better, take the time to watch you.

And that's what the Nationals and Syracuse have both done.

Stephen Strasburg's nickname should be "Must-See," because he will command our attention every time he pitches -- whether he succeeds wildly, fails wildly or is simply mediocre.

But the point is: It is mid-August and we're talking about the Nats. And if they call Strasburg up in September, that will be THE story of the day in baseball, in the middle of a playoff race.

Who can say whether Syracuse naming Greg Paulus their starting QB is a gimmick or the real deal -- with the Orange's talent level, that Paulus beat out the holdovers is hardly crazy.

But again: It's mid-August, and we are talking about Syracuse football... Syracuse! And you can bet that when Syracuse is on TV, folks will tune in, if only for the novelty.

If you're not winning championships, you sure as hell better make yourself relevant in some other way. These two bottom-feeding franchises, in bold moves, did both.

(By the way, how not-bold were the Nats? $15.1 million over 4 years? Who was underwhelmed by the investment? If he wanted $15.1 million PER YEAR? Maybe. But what's a couple mil a year for (1) a new Face of the Franchise, and (2) someone who makes your team must-see, even if every five days. That sure beats never being must-see.)

There is a ton more in the column today -- a Pat White Watch, an NLCS preview, a reminder that NFL exhibition games are meaningless (and so are their "bizarre" endings) and more.

It is also a big day for book releases - and I have two posts coming later today about two big ones that should be on your radar.

Has Syracuse manufactured the Paulus jerseys yet? If not: Why not?

-- D.S.

Monday, August 17, 2009

AOL, Yahoo, ESPN: Creating the Content-Driven Path for Wider Media Industry

I was reading a short blurb about Yahoo in last Monday's New York Times Business section, and I was struck by this detail by the reporter, based on something said by CEO Carol Bartz:

"According to Ms. Bartz, the majority of Yahoo’s sites will go the way of Sports."

Over the last month, maybe you have been following coverage of new AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's 100-day review of the company. He, too, talks about AOL as being driven by content -- and when people talk about AOL's content success stories, one of the leading case studies is Fanhouse.

See today's media column by the NYT's David Carr about how AOL's content strategy is suddenly the envy of the industry, in part thanks to Fanhouse.

Here is his money (Fanhouse-related) quote from Armstrong:
"I am not sure that is important to the audience that Disney owns ABC or ESPN, so in the same way, FanHouse, our sports site, will live or die on its connection to the audience. We can light a fuse, but whether or not it comes to fruition is reliant on the content."
That is a template for all of AOL's 70-plus successful blogs. And, frankly, any large media/content company that wants to thrive in today's content economy.

Two weeks ago, ESPN took the much-publicized step of setting a Twitter policy. A few days later -- two Sundays ago -- the site brought out Simmons and Neyer and Stark -- among others -- to tweet during the Yankees-Red Sox game. Yes, you could find their tweets on Twitter, but the more robust experience was on, using the CoverItLive app.

What is the common thread? (Aside from the fact that the key architect of the successful strategies at both Yahoo and AOL was Jamie Mottram?) Sports content strategy is driving innovation at the largest online media companies.

Yahoo wants to replicate its Y! Sports Blog network across news, entertainment and finance. Who is the MJD or Skeets or Wyshinski or Hinton of politics or Hollywood or Wall Street?

AOL used Fanhouse -- among other early AOL super-blog successes (like the acquired Engadget) -- as a template to build out its AOL Media (formerly MediaGlow) blog network to 70-plus sites along every quality vertical with a strong core audience, using AOL's still-viable "firehose" to drive traffic, build awareness and grow each into a best-of-category blog. Now, every content company wants its own version.

Meanwhile, has become the leader across all media -- not just sports. -- by being a huge site willing to experiment openly with how best to leverage social media tools like Twitter to connect with their audience, yes, but also to create some new value for themselves. Other traditional media companies are surely paying close attention. has always been a bit of a trail-blazer -- to be "the ESPN of politics" was the short-hand of Politico, and they have succeeded (and, yes, criticized) in large part because they took that approach.

(Politico was trying to bum rush a category already dominated by multiple players. ESPN's competitors -- like Yahoo or AOL -- had to fight "David"-style against ESPN's historical hegemony, using their general-traffic "firehose" to focus on "one-stop" (one-blog) content along fairly rigid vertical lines. In Yahoo and's case, a strong fantasy product was absolutely critical to serve as their own firehose.)

The larger point is that while the various online sports media divisions battle -- I'm not sure fans notice, by the way...we just want our needs serviced, wherever that might happen -- there is a bigger story here: That online sports media is offering up plenty of case studies -- and overall leadership -- for other key categories, like news, entertainment and finance.

(No, I am not trying to say it happens like this ALL the time. There are plenty of examples of vibrant content ecosystems in tech media, in political media, in entertainment media that sports media could learn from -- and probably don't learn from enough. The cross-pollination of ideas makes everyone better. Or at least should have everyone thinking harder.)

-- D.S.

Monday 08/17 Quickie: Yang, Tiger, Bolt,
Vick, Rangers, Rasmus, Sanchez, VY, More

Surprisingly, I'm not willing to say (yet) that Yang over Woods was the "Greatest. Upset. Ever.," in golf. I think it is a contender, given Woods' place as the greatest golfer ever; his fast start to the PGA; his majorless season -- and thus his motivation to win.

And, more than anything else, that Yang didn't back into it when Woods was injured or out of contention. He took him on, head-on, and beat him. Simply that.

And simply that alone is enough to put what Yang did up near the pinnacle of all golf accomplishments ever. Maybe not the Greatest Upset Ever in golf. But certainly the Greatest Upset of this generation.

Let's call it the Greatest Upset of the Woods Era.

And then there was Usain Bolt, who is so effing good that he coasted at the Olympics -- setting a new world record while winning gold, mind you -- and not only had some left in the tank, but enough left in the tank to lower his own world record by an insane .11.

There is no doubt: In Bolt, we are witnessing the greatest sprinter in history. Good god: He COASTED at the Olympics and STILL set a WR -- then came back a year later and smashed it. And he does it with ease -- with this joyfulness and playfulness that makes him all the more likable.

Why are Yang and Bolt even better than their individual accomplishments? Because either (and both) knocked Michael Vick from what should have been today's lead story, just as Vick took over sports last Thursday night and all day Friday.

Vick's 60 Minutes interview was underwhelming. I am still convinced that -- oh, yes -- he is sorry: But more sorry for screwing up his sweet life than what he did to the dogs. And I don't say that as some kind of crazy dog-lover. His quote last week was enough to convince me that he still assigns much of the blame to the crowd he was running with, not himself.

But the fact is that the "sorry face" is now out there. His performance on the Eagles is much more interesting than the protests about him or any pop-psychology about his state of mind. I hope he continues to put as much effort into working with the Humane Society as he does working on his game -- which, apparently, he has barely worked at in his career.

(I mention this in the column, but how staggeringly talented must Vick be for him to be self-professed "lazy" about football preparation yet still so dominant? How much better could he have been? It will be interesting to see if he wants to work harder in Philly, then turn into late-career Michael Jordan, who spent more time shooting carefully curated fadeaway jumpshots than dominating with his athletic ability.)

There is a ton more in the column today, including a discussion of whether NOW is the right time for Red Sox fans to sort of panic... whether Derek Jeter will go down as the greatest shortstop in history... whether Mark Sanchez is this year's Matt Ryan... whether Jay Cutler and Josh McDaniels miss each other yet... and a lot more.

Check out the complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday 08/16 (Very) Quickie

*Eh, it's like Tiger wants to make it mildly interesting before shutting the door on everyone else.

*From the footage, Vick looks pretty good for a guy who hasn't played in a couple of years.

*Yikes, the Bears' Jay Cutler Era starts slow.

*But not as slow as the Browns' offense. Yeesh.

*Hey, Matt Stafford didn't look half-bad! (Half-good, actually: 7/14 passing.)

*VY didn't look bad, either. See: He just needed to settle in.

*(What's all this talk that Colt McCoy is more valuable than Vince Young?)

*Scarier beaning: Kuroda or Wright? (Kuroda.)

*Anyone back in March have the Rangers beating out the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card?

*Nats are already managing expectations that they won't sign Strasburg.

*Plaxico Burress is the new Dante Stallworth: Suspended for HOW long?

*Most overrated MMA fighter ever: Gina Carano

*What's this? A Sunday New York Times feature about Tim Tebow and Florida? You don't say!

-- D.S.