Category Archives: Sports

Vincent’s Least Favorite of the Pac 12: Colorado

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts about the five major college football conferences, focusing on one conference per week over the next five weeks. We introduced the concept of the series in this post last Friday. Each Monday, our writers will discuss their least favorite teams in each conference, and today we begin with the Pac 12. Also, due to our extreme bias as irrational fans of Notre Dame, we decided that for our least favorite teams in the Pac 12, we had to choose a school other than USC, which would have been the unanimous choice.

As Matt mentioned, we decided to avoid writing about USC because it’d be too obvious. Hating USC as a Notre Dame fan isn’t an opinion, it’s an axiom. So this column is actually more accurately described as Least Favorite PAC-12 Team *non-USC Division, adding another asterisk to the many that surround USC football.

Picking a least favorite team is easy when you have strong hatred for one. For me, this doesn’t apply to any team in the PAC-12 *non-USC division. Therefore, I thought about this question in terms of the team which had the fewest qualities that would make me cheer for them. With that in mind, Colorado Buffaloes, come on down!

Underdogs are always fun to root for, and when you’re arbitrarily picking teams in conferences to hitch your wagon to, teams at the bottom are always appealing. That said, it’s one thing to buy a fixer-upper from the junkyard and another to pick up disparate parts from the scrap metal pile. If you’re an advanced statistics kind of person, Colorado ranked 124th in 2012 F/+ rankings, putting on display the country’s sixth-worst offense and second-worst defense.  If you’re not, watch this GIF of CU QB Jordan Webb running a first down QB sneak in a 38-3 lost to Washington. If I had a shred of emotional investment in Colorado football and watched that play live, anger tears and a broken TV would have been inevitable.

Hope springs eternal with San Jose St. savior Mike MacIntyre coming onboard as the HC next year, but to me, the odds on reaping the joys of Colorado fandom just seem far too long. Colorado, for being the team that would be most likely to lead me to a mental breakdown, I award you the title of Least Favorite in the PAC-12 *non-USC division

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Matt’s Least Favorite of the Pac 12: Stanford

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts about the five major college football conferences, focusing on one conference per week over the next five weeks. We introduced the concept of the series in this post last Friday. Each Monday, our writers will discuss their least favorite teams in each conference, and today we begin with the Pac 12. Also, due to our extreme bias as irrational fans of Notre Dame, we decided that for our least favorite teams in the Pac 12, we had to choose a school other than USC, which would have been the unanimous choice.

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Aside from USC, I don’t really harbor strong feelings–good or bad–for any Pac 12 program. I’ve only been to the west coast one time in my life, and it was an overall pleasant experience. I don’t know anyone who went to a Pac 12 school, and I’ve never been to any games on a Pac 12 campus. That being said, this pick is based solely on the fact that a certain Pac 12 school has become a huge pain in my favorite team’s ass. Plus, the tree. No one likes the tree.

From 2002 through the 2008 season, Notre Dame beat Stanford seven straight times. Then, in 2009 Stanford broke the streak by beating ND on the way to an 8-5 season, its first winning season in several years. We know the rest of the story: from 2010 on, Stanford has been really, really good and has become (arguably) the toughest, most hard-nosed team outside of the SEC. What was once a guaranteed win has become one of the toughest games on the ND schedule year in and year out.

Has head coach David Shaw taken the “tough” identity a little too far? Maybe, if this tweet from Paul Myerberg is accurate. Will too much toughness be the end of Stanford’s excellent recent run (yeah, I’m reaching…)?

Only recruiting the “toughest guy on the team” has some interesting implications:

  • Shaw can never recruit two guys who played together in high school — only one can be the toughest!

  • Stanford is going to have the toughest punters and kickers in football history… but will they be able to kick?

As a Notre Dame fan, I can only hope that musclebound, inaccurate kickers lead Stanford’s descent back to the ranks of the cellar dwellers.

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Beginning Next Week: The Commutes College Football Extravaganza

College Football

Courtesy of Flickr user starmanseries

Believe it or not, we have only five full weeks left until the first college football weekend of 2013. Before long, we’ll all be able to feel normal about drinking at 9:00 AM on Saturdays again. To help pass the five weeks until that glorious day, The Commutes will publish a five-week series of posts about college football, with each week focusing on a particular major conference (Pac 12, Big 12, ACC, SEC, Big 10). As most of our writers are fans of an independent program, we figured it’d be fun to offer our outsiders’ views on each conference.

Each Monday through Thursday will feature our writers’ takes on a different topic related to the conference:

  • Monday — Least favorite team/school in the conference. Everyone has that team they hate in a particular conference, whether for a good reason or not. Didn’t get in to school there? Got arrested there? Hating on schools is fun, especially when you’ve got a case of the Mondays.

  • Tuesday — Favorite team/school in the conference. Even if you’re a fan of an independent team, you usually have a crush on some other teams and like a little something on the side.

  • Wednesday — All-Time Conference Skill Position Team (1 QB, 1 RB, 1 TE, and 2 WRs). The purpose of this isn’t to pick the best group of skill position players in the history of the conference, but to pick favorites or just throw together an interesting group of players. Jamal Lewis, Matt Jones, and Aaron Hernandez on the same team? It’d be like Urban Meyer’s all-time dream team of crime. Anything is possible.

  • Thursday — Free-for-all. These posts can be about anything and everything relating to the conference.

We’ll be starting next Monday with the Pac 12, the conference-we-want-to-get-out-of-the-way-because-no-one-actually-gives-a-shit-about-it.

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Nate Silver, Bill Simmons, Skip Bayless: WE ARE LEGION

by Vincent Kwan

Nate Silver is taking his talents to Bristol. Internet contrarianess will debate over the significance of Silver’s move, but I think it’s relatively safe to say that Silver and his new home are an interesting fit. As much an exercise for myself to try to wrap my head around things as it is a primer for you, the reader, some summations/observations/speculations on Silver’s new gig over at the World Wide Leader:

1. What will ESPNate look like?

Silver and his staff will be operating under the domain http://www.fivethirtyeight.com which is now a permanent property of ESPN (unlike the three year “partnership” Silver had with the New York Times). I imagine FiveThirtyEight struck the same autonomy bargain that was offered to Bill Simmons’s Grantland: largely unimpeded creative freedom with an implicit understanding to not bite the hand that feeds them. Much like Simmons, Silver will be given the funding to assemble a dream team to staff a revitalized FiveThirtyEight that will produce content along the same areas as it did before, though, as you might guess, with a greater emphasis on sports (EDIT: “Simmons-like” was certainly a selling point to Silver. His ESPN team duties will involve becoming a regular correspondent on human Livestrong bracelet Keith Olbermann’s upcoming ESPN2 show, “interfacing” with traditional ESPN properties, and becoming a feature on ABC’s mainstream political and Oscar (!?!) coverage. It’s anyone’s guess if Silver will enjoy his “interfacing” or think of it as a chore, but all in all, it doesn’t sound like a terrible compromise for the independence he’ll be granted with FiveThirtyEight and the Brinks truck that’s pulling up into his New York apartment as we speak.

2. What does this mean for the New York Times and “Traditional” News Media?

This is the meta question journalists have been asking themselves. NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s post on her former colleague’s defection described Silver as “disruptive,” never really “[fitting] into the Times Culture,” and even stating that “a number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work.” When you make statements like “punditry is fundamentally useless” while working for one of the world’s foremost employer of pundits, water cooler discussions can tend to get a bit awkward.

I think Sullivan’s comments about Nate’s “fit” is key, but not necessarily about his fit in a traditional newsroom. By itself, a distaste for talking heads is a peculiar reason to join ESPN. First Take’s “Embrace Debate” mantra seems to be antithesis of everything SIlver stands for and as unsavory as sharing debate with, say, Thomas Friedman might be,  having to professionally consider Skip Bayless as an equal debate partner is just cause for self-induced head trauma. The “fit” question really is one about content. The simplest explanation for all of this is that Nate just loves sports and wants to write about it more than he did/was able to over at The Times. You can be as jaded and cynical as you want over that assessment but if you were to ask me what the primary driver behind The DecisioNate was, I would guess it’s just that he wants to write about the shit he wants to write about and ESPN provided him with the best opportunity to do that. Additionally, unlike at The Times, Silver will be the unquestioned God-King of electoral coverage at ESPN (assuming Jalen Rose keeps his nuanced opinions about the methodological soundness of aggregating polling data to himself). I don’t think Silver leaving NYT really amounts to an all-out assault on traditional news media or anything like that, ESPN is too “kettle black” for that argument to work. The move, at least in my baseless, unfounded opinion, seems to be driven by more basic, personal reasons. Silver wanted to write more about his first love, sports, and wanted to produce electoral analysis without  the threat of in-house sniping from his colleagues. And, oh yeah, the assload of money he’ll be getting from ESPN. To me, these factors seem to suggest the DecisioNate is just one guy looking out for number one rather than any indictment of the current state of traditional news media.

3. So ESPN is a full house nowadays, huh?

With Nate Silver and his TBD staff coming into town, ESPN could make a strong argument for amassing the most culturally influential collection of blogging talent in American news media. Simmons/Grantland’s ability to pull in ace sportswriters like Bill Barnwell, Chris Brown, and Kirk Goldsberry was expected, but it was its ability to lure an amazing team of culture writers (Chuck Klosterman, Jay Caspian Kang, Wesley Morris, Mark Lisanti, Colson Whitehead, even the HIPSTER RUNOFF Dude) that I found shocking. If Simmons had that pull and resources, I can only imagine what sort of murderers’ row Nate Silver will be able to compile for the new FiveThirtyEight.

Thoughts of a Nate Silver-penned 30 for 30 documentary are currently swirling around in my head, causing faint dizziness and definite arousal. ESPN essentially has all the pieces in place to create a sort of blogging think tank: jam some of the smartest and most influential people in a variety of disciplines together, and watch as their collaboration becomes the genesis for some of the best and most unique work that’s been seen in the blogosphere. Sadly, I don’t know if ESPN or its contributors have any desire to do that. ESPN is a such a tough entity to get a feel for because it is simultaneously smarter than it has to be while still finding time to drag conversation far below the lowest common denominator. The company is really nihilistic on the idea of sports journalism: it makes no judgments regarding quality and simply offers a wide base of writing to appeal to any and all sports fans. People who are really invested in abstract moral concepts like grittiness and Tim Tebow can read their Rick Reilly articles alongside the stat heads and culture junkies who tune in for articles by Chris Brown or Wesley Morris. In amassing the Monstars of the blog world, ESPN has not only purchased additional production, but also, protection. ESPN’s traditional media has been rightfully criticized for being vapid and sensationalistic, a result of stupidly believing that sports need a 24-hr news cycle. In comparison to the irreverent, agile Gawker-esque sites that routinely criticize it (e.g. Deadspin, Fire Joe Morgan RIP, Every Day Should Be Saturday), the flagship looks clunky and outdated and on the verge of descending into a vicious cycle of unconscious self-parody. But, by purchasing some of the blogospheres hottest names, they not only up their legitimacy cred by producing better content, but they put on payroll the very writers that might criticize them were they writing for another outlet.

You shouldn’t be able to purchase taste and credibility. These qualities that are usually brought out in arguments as things that serve as a counter to wealth. ESPN is making a strong case against that sentiment. As sports fans, we’re basically being offered a Xerxes moment: kiss the ring and enjoy twenty articles on Bayesian decision making in the 2014 NFL Draft. The ring is already so far down my throat that I’ve almost forgotten the guilt of bowing down to it.

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Darren Rovell’s Twitter Feed: A Tale Told by an Idiot, Signifying Nothing

by Matt Waller

Last Thursday morning, as the world was learning the tragic news of Oscar Pistorious’s alleged murder of his girlfriend, Darren Rovell tweeted (twote?) the following:

Rovells’ tweets are usually inane, but this one had a slightly caustic twist, trivializing a deeply human story with his typical, mechanical corporate slant. The tweet was just another example of the sad spectacle that is Rovell’s Twitter feed. Last week, Will Leitch at Sports on Earth presented a strong argument for the top ten reasons why people hate Rovell, so I won’t get into those details here. What I’ve been wondering is how and why, despite the general disgust, does a thing like Darren Rovell’s Twitter feed exist, and why does it have such a following?

Darren Rovell’s tweets are a microcosm of Twitter at its worst. His formula is frequency over insight, information over knowledge. Twitter’s greatest utility lies in its ability to provide a real-time stream of valuable information. At its best — and depending on how one curates its content — Twitter offers an effective real-time hub for a virtually limitless network of useful and interesting information. At its worst, it’s a nihilistic stream of hackneyed “thoughts” and “insights” — a ceaseless flow of information that becomes impossible to comprehend. Rovell’s use of Twitter falls into the latter category.

In the conclusion to his (duly) critically acclaimed book The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver writes that “The volume of information is increasing exponentially. But relatively little of this information is useful.” To make any meaningful gains in the age of ever-increasing exposure to information, it’s essential to separate the meaningful from the meaningless (the “signal” from the “noise”). Rovell ignores any consideration of this distinction, and his tweets (all 39,000+ of them) devolve into an aggregate of meaningless babble (for example, this gem from February 16: “Just tested the 3 new Lays potato chip flavors. Cheesy Garlic Bread is the best.” )

So why does Rovell have over 300,000 followers on Twitter (including myself)? I described Rovell’s Twitter feed as a spectacle earlier, and I think that’s the appropriate word for it. Rovell’s Twitter feed is something we stare at rather than think about. In this way, it embodies the increasingly popular way in which people “receive” information (in the same way that a sieve “receives” water) — as an endless flow of data, unfiltered, generally incomprehensible, and presented for its own sake. It’s why I spend too much time staring at real-time stock market feeds, imagining that somehow the constant fluctuations in percentage points have some great significance.

It turns out that, in his 2003 novel Cosmpolis, the great Don DeLillo offered a  prescient assessment of Twitter (the “bad side” described above), Rovell, and the other fonts of “information for information’s sake.” In a memorable passage, DeLillo’s protagonist contemplates all of the information on digital display in Times Square, “the streaming release of words, of multinational news, all too fleet to be absorbed.” As the character contemplates the information, he realizes

“The speed is the point. Never mind the urgent and endless replenishment, the way data dissolves at one end of the series just as it takes shape at the other. This is the point, the thrust, the future. We are not witnessing the flow of information so much as pure spectacle, or information made sacred, ritually unreadable.”

In a similar way, Rovell’s Twitter feed attracts us as a pure spectacle; there is no larger point. Like that endless stream of information in Times Square, Rovell’s tweets are incomprehensible, examples of information for its own sake, and “ritually unreadable.” And there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. The  dissonance — and the resulting revulsion toward Rovell by thoughtful humans — comes from the fact that Rovell is painfully oblivious to his status as a mere transmitter of meaningless information. He presents himself with an inordinate amount of self-importance, but he communicates like a badly programmed robot. But alas, before DeLillo, there was Shakespeare, reminding us that Rovell’s “journalism” is simply “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Weekend Miscellany Part I: Erick and Matt’s Picks

coffeeSaturdays in February are generally pretty depressing. Erick and Matt have some links to keep you occupied. Mixing it up with a combination of videos and articles.

Erick’s Picks

  • Beck Does Bowie in Incredible Fashion (via Slate’s BrowBeat blog). A fascinating video on two parts. First of all, the way Beck approaches David Bowie’s “Sound and Vision” is simply amazing, I get chills at the 3:08 mark every time. But my underlying fascination comes from the fact that this project was produced by Lincoln (the car company). Lincoln has been engaging in a wide-ranging new ad campaign that I have started following with some intrigue. It’s full of pieces like this that certainly don’t mesh with the traditional idea of Lincoln, but I like it. Possibly more to follow on this later.
  • David Cross, “The Pride is Back” — In a tie-in to my comments about stand-up comedy, here is David Cross’s “The Pride is Back” for your viewing pleasure.

Matt’s Picks

  • An archive of longreads about the making of movies (including Pulp FictionApocalypse Now, and more), from the great people at Longform.org. Want to spend an entire day getting smarter? Explore all the articles/essays collected on Longform. 
  • “The Beatles of Comedy” by David Free. Free’s article on Monty Python explores their origins and legacy, offering some great insights about political correctness and taboos in today’s comedy scene vs. Python’s era. 
  • “Get Used to Deadspin Scooping Your Old Media Idols” by Connor Simpson.  A nice, quick read by Simpson that explores Deadspin’s emerging role as a breaker of some of the biggest sports news, and how Deadspin is raising the ire of some longstanding, traditional media outlets. In the wake of Deadspin’s excellent coverage of the Manti Te’o saga — which introduced Deadspin to much of the general public — this is certainly a timely read.
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LeBron’s Other Decision

by Matt Waller

Image courtesy of Flickr user phoch_98

Image courtesy of Flickr user phoch_98

Ever since his vast drop in popularity in the wake of “The Decision,” LeBron James has clearly struggled with what his role should be. For much of LeBron’s time in Miami, he wore the villain role like an uncomfortable suit. But this year — the best season of his career, and probably one of the best individual seasons ever — LeBron is slowly winning fans back with another decision: to leave the baggage behind, to relax, and to enjoy himself. LeBron the basketball player is as superhuman as ever, but thanks to some other on-court actions, LeBron James the man (he can finally be called that) is redefining his personal legacy. Continue reading

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