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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Problem With Evans

Hey all, I haven't found a lot of time lately to post, but I thought this particular news item merited attention for basketball fans out there.

Today, Tyree Evans, the guard Maryland offered a scholarship over Bobby Maze a mere six weeks ago, announced he will not be coming to Maryland.

It's hard to imagine how things could be worse at this point - all told, Maryland has lost 3 players for next season: Maze, Evans, and Shane Walker through a transfer. There will be, by my count, two open scholarships next year, and only four post players available when the season starts.

It's kind of unbelievable that recruiting was so bungled this year, much in part due to Gary's silence on Evan's criminal record. He blew off Maze for Evans, and now Maryland has neither, and lost another guy from the roster. I actually have a hard time conceptualizing a more botched recruiting job by anyone ever.

I hate to say it, but for most other coaches, this is probably a last mistake. One tournament visit in the last four years, a disappointing class after the national championship, and now Gary can't even give a scholarship to a JuCo player? Maryland basketball has fallen on hard times - I'm surprised someone like Sean Mosley would even consider coming here.

If Maryland has another disappointing finish to this season (and I'm 90% confident that they will with the lineup they'll put out), expect the Gary Williams era to come to an abrupt and shameful close.

Photo Credits: Baltimore Sun

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm Going To Stop Paying Taxes If This Continues

This is my elected representative, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), sitting on a Congressional hearing listening to Roger Clemens. Guess who I'm not voting for?

This is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) talking about Spygate and calling for an independent investigation of the incident. He also threatened Congressional probes.

If they don't [act], I think it's up to Congress to investigate and take corrective action.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of this. I think its wasteful and plain silly for Congress to be sticking their overly large noses into sports like this. I'm not ready to fund some senator's overindulgent "investigation" into professional football's integrity. It honestly ticks me off. I'm tired of Spygate, and furthermore, I don't think we, as a people, should give Congress reign over anything they want. Roger Goodell and Matt Walsh don't have to "report" to Specter at all - no one made him World Police (warning about link: language).

I'm bordering on being serious here: If I keep seeing Congress take these silly ventures into sports and try to control every aspect of our lives, even our leisure interests, I'm going to stop paying for it.

Ridiculous. Be ashamed of yourselves and mind your own business ... like, say, ending the war.

AP Photos

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blogging and Sports Journalism - Can't We Get Along?

I guess that I must be the last person weighing in on this issue, and I'm not carrying much weight to throw in. However, I feel like I'm one of the people caught in between the sides of this suddenly hot issue.

For those of you that haven't heard about the craziness of Bissinger v. Leitch, here's the video. Anyone who is interested in how sports are going to be covered in the future should watch it. As well as anyone who loves to watch a profanity-laced argument on TV. Isn't it ironic that Bissinger accuses bloggers of vulgarity by whipping out the bleepables?

I feel like Costas was a good moderator, but I also felt like both sides were misrepresented. If you're going to do a debate, do it right. Get a roundtable of bloggers and writers - not just the poster boy for sports blogs, an irate Pulitzer winner and a random athlete who has a vague understanding of the topic (no offense, but Braylon Edwards was beyond out of place in that debate).

BLOGGERS LOOK LIKE: Young irresponsible jerks who live in Mom and Dad's basement and take out their youthful angst on sports stars through a series of personal attacks.

Ancient, arrogant grumps who love the smell of their own flatulence and fight their fear of the younger generation with outright animosity.

Articulate, but unprepared to talk about blogging specifically. Sorry, buddy. Do your homework.

All of these perception beg the question: What is the real deal about blogging? Is it the next thing in sports journalism? Is it just a bunch of kids making up stuff on their computers?

The answer: It's a movement of culture. It doesn't have to make sense by our traditional standards - it just is.

The confusion lies in perceived overlap of fields. The media feels threatened because people increasingly get their news from blogs. The bloggers feel like they have to "fight the power" of traditional media, either because their coverage doesn't satisfy them or because their voice isn't being heard.

I wouldn't say blogging is the same as "journalism," partly because they don't have the same standards, but also partly because the word mentally confines the movement to journalistic functions. It's a battle of semantics, but really, they don't have to serve the same functions.

If ESPN were to shut down for one day, how would the bloggers get their news other than from people who were actually at sporting events anyway? And although the media can technically function without blogs, where is the outlet for a fan's opinion? I think in a way, traditional media and the blogosphere can form a weird harmony, even if they're bashing each other, because they don't necessarily do the same things. Think about it.

I also would like to defend blogging on a personal level, because in my experience, most people I've met in the online domain are perfectly nice, and some even strive to create a more responsible environment. Leitch is right - it really is a meritocracy. Among other bloggers, you're responsible for what you write. People get a reputation for reporting false rumors or being overly judgemental, although I think people on the Internet are given a lot more leeway.

Also, I think critics should take into account that while athletes are dismayed when their drunk pictures are displayed online, they are also embracing this trend. Yardbarker is one online forum where athletes are starting their own blogs. And not just no-namers, guys like Donovan McNabb and Baron Davis - yes, really. And their are ones who actually talk back to you: Where else is an NFL fullback like Ovie Mughelli going to talk to a dopey college kid like me? Blogging is calling to a market demand for sports coverage on a more personal level. We still get our info from the sports media moguls, and guys like me still want to read the paper every day, but we get to add our own spin. And you know what? People respond to that. They actually like to read it.

About content: I try to be mindful that my subjects are people and they could read it, but it is also a basic tenet of journalism in general that athletes are public figures and they know what they're getting into. Even Joe Newspaper Writer can agree with that. I try to avoid swearing and innapropriate references just out of decency, and to maintain a degree of professionalism. Many bloggers don't really have that standard, and on some level I feel that a lot of web content is trashy and immature, but I can't help that - I just try to produce my own work at a respectable level of quality.

One of Bissinger's valid points (and Michael Wilbon said this to me as well) is that bloggers don't have the experience of a professional writer and they aren't close enough to the game to know the intricate details and true nature that goes into being a great writer. If someone is going to write their opinion they should know these things.

I've tried to take this to heart and not overstep my bounds: I go to games and I cover the access I get. I make it a point to say when a guess is a guess. But in the same breath, why does blogging have to be held to the same standard as newspaper writing? Is it possible that sports media just feels a threat to their industry? I think that blogging can have its niche in the sports world, as traditional coverage can have its niche. One is fan opinion, the other is insider opinion - is it so bad that we should allow both? I don't think so, and I think they overlap less than people realize. Plus, we honestly have no idea where this technology is taking us.

We're stuck in the standards of our conventional systems: Sports media are caught up in the idea that blogging will replace them, and I think a lot of bloggers have it in their heads that they will. But take an example: When someone invented a home phone with a camera in it (so you could talk and look at someone), a lot of people thought they would replace regular phones. It didn't happen. Instead, we have online video chat that we can use on computers (which has come in very useful for business conferencing), and home phones are being replaced by cell phones simply for convenience reasons. No one uses home phones with cameras. Why? Because they don't conflict as much as we thought they would. You don't talk to someone on the phone necessarily for the same reasons you see them face-to-face.

Hopefully that analogy makes a little bit of sense. I see why there's so much strife between these parties, but at the same time, it seems overblown. I think we should do a media v. blogosphere part two, but do it right with more individuals who will represent a broader spectrum of their fields, rather than just representing, in effect, themselves.

It shouldn't be confrontational - it should be constructive. Old media and new media are blending together whether we like it or not, and sooner or later we're going to have to learn to be cooperative, not to mention work in both strata at the same time. There's a lot of shaking up to be done, but just trying to tear each others' throats out on national TV isn't going to make this stuff go away.

Photo Credits: Deadspin, Business Blog Consulting, RetireSloan.com, 700level.com, CBS Local

Friday, May 2, 2008

Evaluating Flacco - Part I

The honest truth about the NFL Draft is that it's a crapshoot. Even Mel Kiper and Todd McShay will tell you that. Guys rise up from nowhere (Willie Parker) and guys trip over their own shoelaces (Cedric Benson) when they finally get into the NFL.

Lately I've been reading up on the huge draft busts of the past to see what they have in common, and so far, I've seen that maturity can be a big factor in how draft choices pan out.

Classic example: Peyton Manning was the senior QB at Tennessee that had a good arm and was considered more grown-up, but athletically limited. Ryan Leaf was the kid out of Washington State with the actual "rocket arm" that Manning talks about in his commercials. At the time, Leaf was considered to have higher upside, while Peyton was the pro-ready prospect. No matter what Colt GM Bill Polian says, he was on the right side of a lucky guess. One is going to be a top-3 greatest QB ever when he retires, the other is the most epic flameout of the league ever.

Two other prospects that represent the maturity theory:

- Brian Bosworth: Just watch this video segment. His cultural celebrity eclipsed his NFL playing ability.

- Tony Madarich: Reading this SI article, how could people not know this guy was going to be a bust? He's a jerk!

So after my initial reaction of "Boller: Episode II" to the Joe Flacco selection, I cleared my head and began to look online for more about the guy. Knee-jerk thoughts are not the way to evaluate how scouting departments select the marquee picks of their drafts.

Luckily, people have done most of this work for me.

Dewey Hammond, who is one of the greatest blogging advocates and enablers today in my opinion, has developed his reputation behind the Yardbarker Network to the point where he's treated like a legitimate news organization representative. He gets interviews with athletes and direct-to-audience content like no one else does. Thankfully, he's also a Baltimore Ravens fan.

He somehow got in touch with Joltin' Joe Flacco and did this interview.

Reebok is trotting this man out, because he also did this interview with Keith Van Valkenberg of the Baltimore Sun, of whom I've become a fan in recent weeks.

Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but I feel like the general impression of Flacco is that he's a sharp guy that isn't afraid to be a little light-hearted. Ravens coaches apparently drafted him because of his physical tools and "coachability" or the way he actually executes what he's asked to do. Reports are that when he completed his workouts for the Ravens, he listened carefully to their suggestions and vastly improved over the course of the few days he was there.

This represents to me a kind of maturity that is a promising sign in a young prospect. Not every first-round draft pick has the character or the demeanor to work hard and do things a different way, even if it's difficult.

Furthermore, I've watched some of his video. On YouTube, it's a two-part series:

Part One

Part Two

What I see in these videos that the guy obviously has a big arm - he makes 40-yard throws with ease. But everybody already knows that. His accuracy is fair to middling; he'll have to work on his short-range accuracy. But he also has great poise and pocket sense. He stands in to take the hit, but he also knows when the hit is coming. He also doesn't have the bad habit of stutter stepping when he feels the heat, like Boller would do. I think we're dealing with more of a Jay Cutler than a Boller, hopefully.

From a personal standpoint, I'm warming up to the guy. I fully recognize that he was drafted as a project player and has a lot of development to do before he sits behind center in a real game. But even knowing these conditions, I feel better about the pick than I did before (similar to Rick Maese in this column). For a project, he seems to have everything you could reasonably hope for, and someday he could come out as one of the better QBs in this draft.

I'm not saying he's our savior, and I'm definitely not saying he's the best option we have this year, and I'm most definitely not saying he should win the QB battle out of training camp. The Ravens made their choice with the way they drafted this year - the organization is retooling. New coach, new personalities, project players warming up to their roles: that doesn't measure up to a winning season this year, especially when the Browns and the Steelers are going to be so competitive.

Flacco is an investment, something for next year or the year after that. Hopefully folks like Ozzie, Rex Ryan, Ray-Ray, Derrick Mason, Terrell Suggs and all the other vets are still around when it starts paying dividends. But for the organization, this could be - and I stress could be - the turnaround pick for this franchise.

The reason this post is labelled Part I is because everybody knows that draft picks cannot be evaluated for some time until they're actually in the game for awhile. I anticipate coming back to this selection several times over the next few years and seeing how he's progressing. This only counts as initial reaction and observation - nothing is written in stone.

Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun, The Tide Druid