Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday 11/21 (Very) Quickie

First: Stop reading here (but come back after!) and check out my late-breaking Teblog guest-post over at Yahoo's Dr. Saturday college football blog, about the most important context for today's Florida game: Life AFTER Tebow.

(Believe it or not, Florida's annual cupcake game in mid-November has been marked by really notable events: Tebow's breakout in 2006, Tebow going "20/20" in 2007 and Tebow having what we thought was his last game at The Swamp in 2008.)

That's what goes for a compelling storyline in college football today, on a day when Oregon-Arizona is the most important game of the day; when Ohio State-Michigan is a punchline; when folks will watch Notre Dame-UConn if only for the schadenfreude; when something interesting has got to happen, if only because our collective expectations are so low.


*Oh, wow: Syracuse hoops is good. Really good. They solidly beat UNC -- a team most folks had in the Top 5. Wes Johnson is... well, he might be the best player on the East Coast

*The Magic showed that the Celtics' offseason moves -- even the return of KG -- still doesn't make Boston better than the Magic. Why? Because Orlando is younger, deeper, more spry and just plain ol' more talented. Losing to Vince Carter must be painful for Celtics fans.

*Josh Smith. How about Smith as 1/8th-season league MVP? Nah: My MVP would still be...

*Brandon Jennings: 29 points and 7 assists in a Bucks W. Forget a mandatory year in college; every high school player should have to play a mandatory year in Europe.

*Otherwise, the NBA story of the day was that the Knicks were passing on Allen Iverson. I think this was a mistake. Longtime Quickie theory: If you're not going to win the championship (or even contend for the playoffs), you better be entertaining. AI puts on the best show of any current player I have ever seen play live. The Knicks need that. (Otherwise, Knicks fans could simply adopt the Bucks and watch Brandon Jennings.)

*Of course France won't have to play a replay with Ireland. That's like asking the Yankees to play a replay of the Meier game with the Orioles.

*Hey, Boise State won! Of course they did. Be interesting to see what Boise's record would be if they played a BCS-league schedule... or even in the Mountain West.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday 11/20 Quickie: NFL Week 11, Ricky, UNC, OK St, Announcers, Cornell Hoops

To lead this morning's SN column, I couldn't help but joke about SN's ranking of the best football announcers: Which pair would I want announcing my kids' bar-mitzvahs? (Lundquist and Danielson, naturally.) (Then there is the default life-caster: Gus Johnson, whose enthusiasm could make even the lamest moments in your life feel exciting.)

But it's not like there isn't plenty to talk about today:

*That was Ricky Williams' best performance since before he cracked up.

*Oklahoma State will get a BCS at-large bid ahead of Boise State as long as they keep winning -- and as long as T. Boone Pickens is their biggest booster.

*The top storyline of NFL Week 11? How Bill Belichick comes back from "4th-and-2." (Answer: Mercilessly.)

*The top storyline of the weekend in college football? Probably Oregon-Arizona, but the Pac-10 is so lame this year (aside from national story of the year, Stanford, which won't even win the conference) that I think we have to default to two moments of schadenfreude: Michigan getting hammered at home by Ohio State or Notre Dame getting beaten on the road at at home by UConn.

*UNC and Villanova become two more top college hoops teams who don't show the ability to decisively put their opponents away -- UNC at least played a good team; Nova doesn't have much of an excuse, aside from inexperience. (BTW: Note that Kentucky gave up 92 points to Sam Houston State. The Cats might be able to score at will, but they can't play defense.)

*Pau Gasol is back (and looking good), but the storyline of the weekend in the NBA is whether the Knicks will sign Allen Iverson. With Saturday night's debacle against the winless Nets looming, wouldn't the Knicks be better served signing AI today and suiting him up tomorrow?

(Let's be clear: At this point, the Knicks should abandon any pretense of being a winning team and simply attempt to be the most entertaining team in the league, with the caveat that "entertaining" doesn't mean you have to win. "Most entertaining" isn't a bad niche to own.)

*Obviously, Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy, but the story of the awards season -- at least for pitchers -- continues to be the emergence of metrics beyond "wins" as something voters pay attention to. (Of course, if you interview voters who are statistically minded, you'll get pro-stats perspectives. For the stats-minded, this should be ironic -- the sample size is totally skewed.)

*Cornell hoops is the new bandwagon: Wins on the road over Alabama and UMass, with a potential third quality win tonight at home vs. Seton Hall.

Check out the complete SN column here.

Should be a fun weekend in sports -- all leading up to next week's short week before Thanksgiving (best holiday of the year).

More coming later today and all weekend long. Hope to see you around here. If not, have a terrific weekend.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

So About This "Tebow Girlfriend" Thing

By now you've probably heard about the pictures with one Erin Drewes, nude except for body-paint of the Florida No. 15 jersey, complete with "Tebow" on the back.

Drewes, of course, became Internet famous for the false rumor that she was Tim Tebow's girlfriend, after she showed up in a picture with Tebow.

Bloggers posted about it, and -- thanks to that -- she became the default result when the curious would type "Tebow girlfriend" into Google. Which happens a lot, apparently. (I am actually shocked that "Tebow girlfriend" or "Erin Drewes" weren't Top 100 on Google Trends today.)

Now consider the absurdity: A woman who isn't even Tim Tebow's girlfriend -- just someone mistaken for Tim Tebow's girlfriend -- lands a photo deal on

And people still question whether a blog entirely dedicated to covering the Tebow phenomenon has enough material to support itself?

Thursday 11/19 Quickie: Spiller, LeBron, Dolphins, Russell, MLB Awards, More

This morning was a weird one -- tons to talk about, but not one big lead story to drive the day, like there was after "4th-and-2" earlier this week.

That makes this a great moment to offer a quick PSA to be sure to check out, if you aren't already. I'm cranking out good posts over there: Four yesterday alone, including such topics as Tebow's Heisman chances (this week, at least), whether Tebow and Florida are "bored," the anniversary of Tebow's breakthrough "starter-ish" game as a freshman and, of course, the latest on "Tebow's girlfriend."

Anyway, I could have (but didn't!) led today's SN column with Tebow for two reasons: SN's latest mock draft has Tebow slipping out of the first round altogether (this after having him in the Top 10 as recently as a month ago), and an Orlando Sentinel story that Tebow's NFL stock has plummeted.

But let's think happier thoughts: Like of CJ Spiller, the best all-around player in college football. Let me put it this way: Teams that pass on him in the 2010 Draft will be thought of like the teams that passed on Adrian Peterson. He might not be the power runner that Peterson is, but he is more versatile (and certainly more durable) than Darren McFadden.

More happy thoughts:

*Notre Dame fans salivating over the idea of hiring Bob Stoops. (Unlike the Urban Meyer theory, I actually can see Stoops leaving OU for ND. This season was THAT bad.) I can only imagine how Oklahoma fans are feeling about that right now -- either the idea of losing Stoops... or the idea that Stoops would consider leaving. Many fans find a wandering eye a form of treachery in and of itself.

*Dan Levy arguing on TSB that MLB awards really should consider the postseason. I think this should go for every award. Sure, LeBron had an MVP regular season, but wow "MVP" could he really be if he can't even get his team into the NBA Finals? (I'm still giddy over the Wiz topping LeBron last night on ESPN.)

*Dan LeFevour. Perhaps no one is actually watching these Central Michigan games on national TV, but LeFevour is so fun to watch. He destroyed Ball State last night. So you have a guy like JaMarcus Russell being taken No. 1 overall, making a ton of money and absolutely sucking -- being replaced by a two-bit MAC alum like Bruce Gradkowski. That two-bit MAC alum could be LeFevour! (Chance that LeFevour will be taken ahead of Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft: High.)

*Brandon Jennings. The Atlanta Hawks. Rashard Lewis' impact on Orlando. Antawn Jamison's impact on the Wizards. Four reasons the NBA is fascinating right now.

*A college hoops double-header tonight featuring two match-ups between Top 25 teams at Madison Square Garden tonight. And the idea that Evan Turner is better than any player who will line up against him in a UNC uniform.

(Or you could try to follow Dolphins-Panthers on the NFL Network. No thanks. Or you could watch Oklahoma State destroy Colorado and continue to stake its claim for a BCS at-large bid as the Fiesta Bowl's replacement for Texas. Sorry, Boise State: T. Boone Pickens would buy up the entire Fiesta Bowl ticket allotment by himself, a one-man economic recovery plan for the state of Arizona... if the Fiesta Bowl execs would just select OK St over Boise.)

Plus: AI! Mark Mangino! Jason Marquis! Mike Shanahan!

Check out the entire thing here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday 11/18: Hoops, Greinke,
Belichick, Iverson, Weis, More

I say this as someone whose favorite sport was -- for the first 3/4 of my life -- college basketball, whose career began as a college hoops writer and who once was College Basketball Editor at College basketball has the most meaningless regular season in sports.

That's not a rip -- college basketball also has the most meaningful postseason in sports. (Don't think those things aren't interconnected, in the same way college football has the best regular season and the worst postseason.)

So I find the regular-season rhythms of college hoops to be hard to find lead-story material in -- even something like UNC-Duke in February is meaningless, when a win or a loss won't really impact either team's season.

But at the front end of the season -- or the occasional moment mid-season -- there is a result that makes you say "Hmm..." and file it away for March bracket work. (Or a mid-November lead item of a Sporting News column.)

I had one of those moments last night, as I watched Gonzaga give Michigan State -- a presumptive Final Four contender -- all it could handle in East Lansing. And watching the highlights of Gonzaga making Kansas look like anything but the overwhelming No. 1 team in the country. And, of course, there was Monday's near-debacle with Kentucky.

All three are teams I assumed would be Final Four -- Elite Eight at the very least. But this was a good reminder that there is no UNC this year; every team can stumble between now and the first Monday in April.

More you'll find in today's column:

*I agree with the folks who see Greinke's Cy as a victory for folks who believe that advanced stats have a place in sports. (Nice contrast to the Luddite freak-out over Belichick's 4th-and-2.)

*I would love to see AI play in New York or New Jersey, and I think both those teams have to consider "entertainment value" as a priority, because winning sure isn't.

*LeBron talking about playing in the NFL is the new LeBron talking about the summer of 2010.

There's a lot more. Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell Bites Back

If I ever enjoy the privilege of publishing a book (you never know!) and I enjoy the privilege on top of that to have it reviewed in the New York Times Book Review (hey, why not?) and I enjoy the privilege on top of that to have the reviewer question one of my arguments (as they surely will!), I hope I can learn something from Malcolm Gladwell about how to write a proper letters-to-the-editor smackdown.

The Real Reason Pundits Ripped Belichick

I remain so intrigued by yesterday's over-the-top reaction to Belichick from Sunday night.

The simplest answer is that it was a big game and a big call -- and it didn't work out. And sports pundits like nothing more than the safety of the second-guess.

The next-most simple answer is that the media hates Bill Belichick and extreme schadenfreude was the reason for the collective freak-out.

But in today's SN column, I put out another theory, because I just don't think the level of hostility -- the level of allergy -- can be explained away fully by the first two reasons.

I think that underlying all of it was what the 4th-and-2 call symbolized: The evolution of analytics in sports.

You saw it all over the place yesterday: The numbers bear out Belichick's decision. That it didn't work out was irrelevant; it was not only the smarter bet, but the safer bet.

The notion that he "should have" punted is the collected "wisdom" of decades of conventional thinking in the NFL. It's not right -- just conventional. And nothing brings down the thunder of sports pundits like going against convention.

Belichick (because of who he is) and the moment (biggest game of the year) simply put this decision on a higher plane, but it was a moment for the camp that dislikes -- even loathes -- quantitative analysis to say, "THERE: DO YOU SEE?!?!?"

There is a very real -- and quite possibly justified -- fear within sports media about the emerging work being done with data, mainly because it undermines long-held assumptions, but also because it exposes the cliches -- the conventional -- to being debunked.

Obviously, some embrace those new models -- you don't have to give yourself over to it entirely, but at the very least you need to acknowledge its validity and incorporate it into your analysis. (Joe Posnanski might be the very best at bridging the gap between qualitative and quantitative analysis -- he can think and write like hell, but always wants to back it up with data.)

Sports media -- and by that I mean the punditry -- is watching their expertise (sports) and their industry (media) transform... sometimes erode... right before their eyes. And it is unsettling. And many have decided that is best represented by young-ish, new-ish, quant-ish thinking.

So when they have the opportunity to try to undermine that advance -- say, when a leading practitioner goes with the analytically correct decision and it fails -- they will do it.

Yes, part of it was the "bigness" of the game. Part of it was loathing for Belichick. But part of it was their own complex about the evolution of sports... and their own place within it.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Check out this interesting analysis by Cold Hard Football Facts about the coverage of 4th-and-2 by the traditional media compared to non-traditional. (I get a shout-out, which I appreciated -- I'd pass along this link even if I didn't get one.)

Tuesday 11/17 Quickie: Belichick,
Wall, Jennings, Quinn, MLB Awards

I've got a new theory about the allergic reaction to Bill Belichick's decision-making that exploded all over sports media yesterday. It's the lead of today's SN column and I have another post coming at 11:30 to dig into it.

But that was only the biggest story on an otherwise interesting day:

*John Wall: How can you not love a buzzer-beater in his debut? But, wow, would it have been amazing to see what would have happened had Miami actually pulled off the upset in Lexington.

*Here's how crazy the expectations for Brandon Jennings are right now: 25 points in a near-miss against Dallas is considered a let-down.

*Stephen Jackson's arrival in Charlotte wasn't nearly as important or interesting as Rashard Lewis's return to Orlando's lineup.

*The Browns are awful. Brady Quinn is awful. Eric Mangini is awful. I'm not sure where this team goes from here, but Sam Bradford ain't the solution.

*Anyone else up for St. Peter's-Monmouth this morning?

*Someone's leaking damning evidence against Rich Rodriguez -- I think Michigan is trying to hedge, giving themselves an out if/when they want to fire him after this season.

(I cannot imagine that they aren't looking at Stanford and wondering how Jim Harbaugh would look on the sidelines in Ann Arbor right now. How could he turn down that job?)

*The MLB Rookie of the Year awards were conventional -- Conventional? The BBWAA? NO! -- and there were probably more interesting choices to be selected.

Check out the whole column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Missed Lesson From Bill Simmons' Success

Lot of talk this morning about the New York Times profile of Bill Simmons in today's Business section. First of all, I love that it led with a nod to Bill's origins on AOL Digital Cities back in 1998, which is where I first read him.

That was kind of the point: Bill had a non-traditional background, which he extended into a non-traditional style. Unencumbered -- even defiant -- of old (and, in the context of online, archaic) standards, Bill developed his own style. That new style -- combined with's platform -- has proven to be incredibly popular.

Here's where I felt the analysis fell short: It dabbles with the idea that Bill popularized -- and made mainstream -- a new template for mainstream sportswriting.

But that's not quite true. In fact, it's not true at all.

Oh, Bill found success -- he is, I would argue, the most successful, popular and influential sports columnist of all time. And he did it in a style fit for the moment, one that traditional sports media people had trouble understanding. My argument isn't with Simmons' bonafides.

My argument is with the idea that he created a new template for mainstream sportswriting.

Because a template implies that others followed him through into the mainstream universe -- in fact, few have: When the mainstream Web sites hire new columnists, they almost entirely pull from newspaper columnists and reporters, not non-traditional sources where you find talents like Bill Simmons.

Look at Despite Bill's success, they mainly have limited their op-ed hiring to newspaper columnists. I'm not saying those folks aren't talented; I don't think anyone would call them non-traditional. They are very solid, very safe bets -- almost by definition, they won't be massive successes like Bill.

Fanhouse has earned a ton of publicity -- even credit -- for its mass hiring of former newspaper folks: It started with Mariotti, but it includes Olsen, Blackistone, Gay, Whitley and more. I'm not saying those folks aren't talented; they are what they are -- newspaper columnists published online. (Fanhouse has a second tier of bloggers who fill out its editorial pipeline.), -- both have made their biggest columnist hires from newspapers, not online. CBSSports's best columnist ever was Clay Travis, who epitomizes non-traditional background for a sportswriter -- their featured voices now are ex-newspaper columnists like Mike Freeman and Gregg Doyel, writing the same old 800-word columns.

What is the most pound-for-pound successful site in sports media? Yahoo Sports. Why? Because among their successful strategies included hiring the No. 1 or 2 blogger in every major sport to be the lead voice in each sport. Traditional backgrounds? Barely -- their approach is entirely different from that of a newspaper columnist, and I would argue it is a huge reason for Yahoo's success.

That's not to say that hasn't gone outside the box beyond Bill. Rob Neyer was one of the first hires at, and he has been going strong for nearly 15 years -- is it a coincidence that he doesn't come from a traditional newspaper background?

Their most successful NBA writer is... TrueHoop blogger Henry Abbott, whose site was so good, not only did they acquire it, but they used it as a hub for a blog network, then took all their NBA writers and gave them a home there. (Henry will want to remind me that his journalism background is a big reason that he found success with TH; point taken, but he developed his most important chops online -- the journalism background was a nice foundation.)

(But it's interesting to see the contrast: When they needed to fill out their division-by-division and conference-by-conference bloggers, they went entirely with ex-newspaper reporters. I understand why -- and they are all solid talents. A few years in, we are seeing some shoots of innovative writing from a few of them.)

Let's not overlook: I was a huge beneficiary of's willingness to experiment with non-traditional backgrounds. Like Bill, I spent my entire writing career online -- like Bill, I started out in the AOL universe (I helped launch an AOL sports site in 1996.)

Like Bill, I wanted as large a platform for my writing as possible. I started with Page 2 a few months after it launched, doing non-traditional stuff like those old "What's Hot, What's Not" lists. While I was in B-school, I came up with this totally new idea for a column that would run every morning, covering anything I though fans would want to talk about.

ESPN bought into my idea and I wrote the Daily Quickie every weekday morning for nearly 4 years. Both on traffic and brand metrics, it was one of the most successful pieces of original programming the site ever launched. It couldn't have been further away from your traditional 700-word column -- or columnist. (Remember the old spin-off "Danimation" cartoon and the daily morning chat? OK: I'll end my reverie of self-involvement here.)

So it's not that I don't recognize that, indeed, it HAS been done -- I'd like to think I was a good case study for why there should be more.

Here is where I caveat everything: Many of the ex-newspaper folks are thriving; many of these sites HAVE dipped into the non-traditional talent pool. I'm just saying that given the biggest success in sports media -- Simmons -- came from a non-traditional background, you'd think you'd see more.

It's funny: You are actually seeing newspapers, magazines and, increasingly, local-TV and cable online sites dip into the non-traditional world (mainly sports blogs) for new talent -- not a ton, but considering where they started, it's progress. I think the biggest area for upside is local, where the war for talent feels like it's on.

Here is the upshot: Despite Simmons' success, you have to wonder if mainstream sports media has learned the biggest lesson of Simmons: Talent from non-traditional backgrounds can work out really really well for them.

That was something palpable I sensed in Las Vegas: As a group, bloggers are doing some really interesting work -- most feel frustrated that they can't "break through" with the benefit of distribution that ex-newspaper columnists get when they jump to online sites. I would argue that mainstream sports media sites haven't done enough to use the (free) talent-development pipeline of the last 5 years to staff their sites. We are seeing much of the same playbook we saw in 1996, 1997, 1998 and into the new decade: Online editors hiring newspaper folks -- it even feels like it is accelerating, now that so many newspapers and magazines are faltering, putting old-media talent on the new-media market.

Again, I am not knocking the newspaper ex-pats -- the best of them have adapted for the new medium and the new audience: They write for the format; they adapt new social-media tools; they get out of their 800-word-column comfort zone, because they understand that the 800-word column is not (quite) dead, but (nearly) irrelevant.

It's thrilling that Simmons found success for himself. It remains unfortunate that he didn't seem to smash a class ceiling that exists between traditional and non-traditional sports writers.

The next Bill Simmons probably couldn't get their big break today -- not because there isn't another supremely talented and ambitious young writer out there... and not even because there aren't tons of new platforms on which to self-publish the talent.

But because he probably couldn't get the big sites to hire him.

-- D.S.

Monday 11/16 Quickie: Belichick,
NFL Week 10, TCU/BCS, Jennings

You either recognize that Bill Belichick made the right decision -- regardless of outcome -- or you don't. That's the dividing line this morning.

In today's SN column, I couldn't be more clear about it: Belichick made the right call.

You can go by the numbers -- which support going for it -- or you can just use common sense:

Do you think the Pats offense can go the 2 yards needed and seal the win... or do you think the Pats D can stop the Colts offense, no matter if they needed to go 30 yards or 70. I'll bet on the former.

OK, so it didn't work -- that doesn't mean it wasn't the better choice and the right call.

I'm intrigued -- but not surprised -- by the instant history last night that second-guessed Belichick.

But I think that it will be a measure of how far analytical-based decision-making has come if today's morning-after reconsideration is that he made the right choice, regardless of outcome.

Bill Belichick may be the best coach to have done this -- it's hard to question the guy, as opposed to some lesser coach doing it.

But it may also erode recent gains in analytical-based decision-making -- the thinking being, "Well, if it doesn't work for Belichick, it won't work for ME."

This story will eclipse any other great storylines from the weekend -- notably TCU's awesomeness, USChadenfreude and the Brandon Jennings Bandwagon.

It's a loaded column today -- check it out here. More later.

And prepare yourself for Secondguess-Gate.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot: Top 10, And Then...

I'm going to give TCU a lot of credit for thumping Utah -- it's a more quality win than any Texas will have this season (certainly more than any Texas will finish with).

And while I am all about "and-oh" for Florida, you can't ignore that Alabama destroyed Mississippi State in Starkville, where Florida had some problems.

Cincy's close call notwithstanding, you cannot rank Boise ahead of Cincy when you compare who they have played. And Cincy still has Pitt. Boise has...?

I left USC out of the Top 25 entirely -- you can't suffer your worst loss in modern program history and not suffer for it.

I doubled down by putting Stanford in my Top 10; yeah, USC might not be great, but Stanford didn't just win at USC -- no easy feat under any conditions -- but they destroyed USC like no team in the Carroll Era. This, after thumping Oregon. That's more impressive of a pair of wins that any team in college football has produced this season: Not just who, but how.

Anyway, here's my first crack at the BlogPoll ballot. Take a look, give me your feedback, and I'll fix it per your arguments tomorrow morning. I will say this: After about No. 10 or so, I was so underwhelmed by the options -- how many teams crapped the bed this weekend?

1 TCU 2
2 Texas
3 Alabama 2
4 Florida 3
5 Cincinnati 1
6 Boise State
7 Georgia Tech
8 LSU 2
9 Pittsburgh 6
10 Stanford 11
11 Oregon
12 Ohio State 1
13 Oklahoma State 7
14 Iowa 2
15 Virginia Tech 3
16 Penn State
17 Clemson 8
18 Wisconsin
19 Oregon State 2
20 Brigham Young
21 Miami (Florida) 2
22 Utah 14
23 Houston 9
24 Arizona 15
25 Mississippi 2
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Southern Cal (#12), South Florida (#22), Arkansas (#24).

-- D.S.

Sunday 11/15 (Very) Quickie

Go back to my post on Florida's expectations from Friday for the essence of my feelings about yesterday's game -- I think I captured it there.

Meanwhile: USC's collapse as a national power this season is THE story of the day -- it's hard not to experience... wait for it... "USChadenfreude."

My preliminary Top 5: Texas, TCU, Alabama, Florida, Cincinnati -- in that order.

Brandon Jennings: Oh wow.
What a shot by Wade.

More later.

-- D.S.