College Sports

I don’t get college sports. I don’t like they’re as interesting as pro sports, and I don’t understand the fanaticism.

College sports is hard to follow. Let’s pick basketball as an example. Whereas the NBA has 25 or 30 teams, there are literally thousands of college teams. Thousands. And the turnover is huge. You only see a given player for 4 years, and if they’re any good, they will try and jump to the pros early. The players that are worth following are only the team for one or two years. So how can you follow a team? How can you be a casual fan? You probably don’t know any of the players, and if you do, you probably don’t know many on the other team. Contrast this to the pros, where most players stay on a team for at least 5 years, and many of the big names will be on the same team their whole career. If you add the front-office career factor, it can be decades. (Consider Larry Bird, Jerry West, Red Aurebach, Phil Jackson, Doug Collins, etc..) I just don’t know how you can follow college sports. I realized only a few years after I graduated that nobody who was part of the program was still there. Of course all the players were long gone, but the coaches, assistants, and athletic director had also departed. Who exactly was I rooting for, where was my connection? (True, the connection in the pros is also tenuous, but the stability of the league makes it much less so.)

And finally, the quality of play just isn’t as good. It’s self-evident that the pros are better players, I’m amazed I even need to argue the point. Sometimes I hear the rebuttal that college sports is more fun to watch because the players aren’t as good. OK, fair point, but why stop at college then? Why not watch high school sports? Junior High? Hey, I spent an hour with my 2-year old today watching him try to dribble, that doesn’t make for entertainment. (For more on this idea, read The Sports Guy’s definitive analysis of why the WNBA sucks.)

Now let’s talk about the fans. Whatever connection I have to my Alma Mater’s team is because, I in fact, went there and spent four years being part of the school. That’s the connection, however weak or strong that is 15 years later. It may not do it for me, but I guess I understand those who were into their college enough to want to keep feeling part of that world forever. At a recent wedding, the final event of the night was the playing of my Alma Mater’s fight song, which was shouted by the entire extended family of the groom, who had several generations go there. I thought it was a little weird to make that the climax of the wedding, but it was nice that their family had something they could share across the generations. If they felt that bond between them, good for them.

But. But, but, but. What about people who didn’t even go there? My next door neighbor is an enormous Auburn fan. (I think it’s Auburn. Maybe it’s Georgia Tech. See how much I care?) And he never went there! He just picked it at random. That’s not right! I mean, what the hell! And he didn’t even pick one of the great teams, if you’re going to just choose to be a fan of a team, at least pick a good one fercrisakes. I have another friend who coincidentally is a huge fan of my own school. Lives and breathes blue and maize (for my one reader who doesn’t know where I went, that’s a clue). And she didn’t go there. Again, what the hell!?

Iraq and World War II

The Washington Post has an excellent comparison of the effectiveness and sucess of the War against Terror as compared to World War II.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of 9/11. It is a depressing milestone, made grimmer by the comparison to World War II. President Bush himself drew this analogy in a speech on Aug. 30, declaring that we face a “determined enemy who follows a ruthless ideology” just as we did 60 years earlier, and “once again we will not rest until victory is America’s.” What Bush failed to note was that it took FDR and Truman precisely 1,347 days, from Dec. 7, 1941, to the surrender of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, to win WWII, pacify the enemy and largely secure the peace that followed. By comparison, 1,461 days have now passed since that terrible day in 2001. And even now there is no end in sight to the “global war on terror.” What is perhaps more unsettling, there is no detailed strategy for winning this war…

Most disturbing of all, the man who once called himself a “war president” has not formulated a well-thought-out plan for winning this war, either in public or privately within his administration.

Sports Media Morons

Having been raised properly, I am a Patriots fan. These days, that’s great, it’s virtually impossible to be trashtalked, you can make continual snarky comments and there is no reply. They are always on TV, which is a nice change when you’re stuck in Georgia.

But even a homer like myself is annoyed by the idiotic coverage. The rule seems to be that since the Patriots are such a great team, anything they do, particularly Belichick or Brady, must be amazing. This is of course ridiculous.

From yesterday’s disaster game against the Panthers, “..Brady steps back. No pash rush at all. Look how calmly he just stands there!” Um — if there’s no pash rush, what’s so hard about just standing there?

From the opener aginst the Raiders (paraphased), “For anyone else, that would be have been a very bad decision. But with Belichick, you know it’s part of a bigger plan.” Well, no you don’t. Belichick makes plenty of mistakes.

Belichick has one great skill that gives him the edge. He is an analytical thinker who challenges the conventional wisdom. That doesn’t sound like much, but when applied right, it’s all you need. He never overpays for players, he is able to find good players that no one else valued, he maximizes the player skill for the money. In today’s world of salary cap parity, that is an enormous advantage. During a game, he doesn’t accept the conventional wisdom about when to onside kick, when to go for it on fourth down, not to repeat the same play twice, etc.

My prediction: Over the next 5 years, you will see a new crop of coaches that understand how to think this way. The Patriot’s edge will slowly dilute, because other teams will be doing the same things they are.

How to spend money

You wouldn’t think that’s a dilemna, but if you’re a political party, it is. Do you put it all in close races (the conventional wisdom), or spread it around a bit more? This article is the kind of analysis I love, using the power of mathematics, statistics, and clear thinking to reach a seemingly obvious conclusion. The gist is that you get diminishing returns from the big money thrown at close races. That money has more of an effect in races where your candidate is facing long odds. In any race, that seems foolish, but taken as a whole, some of those long odds will convert.

I would also note that part of the GOP strategy has been to attack all the Democratic strongholds. They’ve made huge inroads into Labor, the African-American block, the poor, Catholics (despite the Democrats running a Catholic candidate!), etc. Although these are all still majority blue, they are no longer overwhelming, and the Democrats have had to spend much time defending their home turf. Spending money in places where the GOP doesn’t expect to have to fight a battle can have a disproportionate outcome, as they have to spend resources defending rather than attacking.

Left vs. Right

Peter Daou has a good overview about the lenses used by the right and left.

The unbridgeable divide between the left and right’s approach to Iraq and the WoT is, among other things, a disagreement over the value of moral and material strength, with the left placing a premium on the former and the right on the latter. The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent. They see the left’s protestations as appeasement of a ruthless enemy. For the left (broadly speaking), America’s moral strength is of paramount importance; without it, all the brute force in the world won’t keep us safe, defeat our enemies, and preserve our role as the world’s moral leader…

For the less gullible among us, the administration’s alarmist rhetoric in 2002 was a grim farce, and the unfolding of the nightmare we see today was a foregone conclusion. Saddam was no greater or immediate a threat – and arguably a lesser one – than North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. Hindsight has proven these war critics correct. Few dispute that the threat from Saddam was over-stated – to put it mildly. And evidence continues to mount that the invasion was a fait accompli by 2002 if not 2001. Calling for an immediate pullout from Iraq has nothing to do with capitulation and everything to do with righting a moral wrong and undoing the damage done to America’s moral standing.

Definitely worth reading in full no matter which side you are on.