Tag Archives: Journalism

Watching the NFL Scouting Combine (part 1)…

Texting is cool. When it first became mainstream in the last half decade, an appropriate question to ask a potential texting buddy was “Do you text?” Well the guys at ESPN working the NFL Draft certainly do. In the past five days, I have received eight text messages from ESPN on results from the NFL scouting combine.

These text messages contained 40-yard dash times and other physical measurements as opposed numbers that should matter such as yards-per-carry averages, sacks allowed or passer rating figures.

While I acknowledge the reason for the combine and the value gained by seeing these hundreds of athletes work out, it has evolved from a behind-the-scenes part of the league into an event put on the forefront, televised and analyzed beyond what is needed. Imagine if contract negotiations were televised and broken down by analysts and financial advisers and that is what the combine has become.

I used to be perfectly fine watching Mel Kiper, Jr. or Todd McShay tell me the week before the draft that Larry Johnson had a great workout during the combine or that Vince Young had trouble answering questions and scored low on the Wonderlic Test. I don’t need a nightly report from the combine, interviews throughout the week and text message updates when someone breaks 4.3 on the 40. Imagine if an NFL practice were covered like this. We’d have reports from Ed Werder that Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne were out of sync for two consecutive plays in practice. Then I’d have to get my iPhone out of my pocket to be told in a text message from Adam Schefter that Manning and Wayne were struggling.

Speaking of my iPhone, it had to come out of my pocket twice in one hour for the same player this week. USC safety Taylor Mays reportedly tied the combine record in the 40, running a 4.24. So on March 2nd at 9:18 AM, ESPN sent out a text that his unofficial time had tied the record according to “The Buzz,” one of the Worldwide Leader’s blogs from the combine. However, his official time ended up being a non-superhuman 4.43. The Buzz then corrected this on the live blog and ESPN sent out a second text at 10:17 AM, correcting the time to reflect the official reading. My disappointment was evident as I had to stop my Taylor-Mays-Broke-The-Forty-Yard-Dash-Record-Party which had been raging since 9:19. My guests were furious when I dismissed them, sent the strippers home and returned the keg to Lee’s Discount Liquor. It was the best 58 minutes of my life and now they are just as ordinary as any others.

How necessary are these updates? What good are they to the casual fan? Any fan? Do we actually think that University of Tennessee fans are sitting at home, watching the NFL Network to see Eric Berry wow scouts with a 43-inch vertical leap? Picture 20 inebriated Vols fans in a living room with high def TVs, beer, orange sweatshirts and plates of nachos. It’s not happening. Nobody cares.

What we should start doing is to hold viewing parties where a player does a workout in Indianapolis and then they cut to a packed stadium of fans from his university cheering when he has a sub-4.3 40-yard-dash time.

While the media saturation of the combine is objectionable, (I guess the NFL Network, which airs the combine, has to put some on their channel to avoid letting Rich Eisen talk anymore) what’s worse is that there is so much weight put on the workouts these athletes have when dictating where they are drafted.

I truly hope that guys like Trindon Holliday, whom ESPN texted me about when he ran the 40 in 4.27 seconds, doesn’t see his draft stock rise too much because of that performance. Holliday was LSU’s return specialist and had only 126 rushing yards last season but averaged over 18 yards per punt return and 24. 4 yards per kickoff returned. ESPN has him listed has the third best return specialist in the draft and Scouts, Inc. scores him as a prospect with a grade of 30 out of 100, (Ndamukong Suh is a 97).

When it comes to the NFL Draft, I like to track and watch it as much as anyone, but I want to recognize a player based on what he did in college not because McShay texted me that he ran a 4.34 in the 40. If Holliday gets drafted, I will only know him because of ESPN’s text and while that’s better than not knowing him at all, you won’t catch me jumping up at a draft party saying “Wow. Holliday had a heck of a 40 time. He should be a great fit for the Chiefs.”

This is part one of a two-part column.  Check out part 2 HERE.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN, Football, Journalism, NFL, NFL Draft, NFL Draft Combine, NFL Network

Watching ESPN’s college basketball bias…

Last night I watched SportsCenter on ESPN at 8 PM as my pregnant wife snoozed away (I wrenched the remote away stealthily and changed it from some housewife show).  Midway through the show, Scott Van Pelt and Steve Levy were rattling through highlights of college basketball games.  Following a Maryland basketball package where Van Pelt showed how much of a homer he is, they transitioned to show 90 or so seconds of footage from last night’s University of North Carolina vs. North Carolina State game.  I immediately thought to myself, “Self, why is UNC getting this much press on SportsCenter?  Didn’t they just drop WAY out of the top 25 in both polls?”

So I did some research.  Carolina got a combined one vote in both poll.  That one vote came in the ESPN/Coaches Poll, meaning not a single Associated Press writer voted the Tar Heels into the top 25 this week.  I wonder what coach voted for UNC?  Do you think he collects paychecks from an ACC school?

North Carolina, a school that has unmistakable ties to ESPN seeing that the network broadcasts ACC games and the annual ACC tournament, happened to win their game over NC State, a team they usually pummel.  UNC has reeled since the turn of the new year, going 2-4 since 2009 passed.  They had been 11-3.  They’ve started 2-3 in the ACC and are 13-7 overall.  They don’t deserve a top 25 spot and seeing that ESPN rarely shows highlights of games that feature no top 25 teams, they don’t deserve the coverage they received on SportsCenter last night.

But what will Dick Vitale have to talk about if North Carolina isn’t in the top 25?  Who will he get to promote?

Well, let’s look at some other schools that Dickie V can take a look at.  There is a litany of schools that have received votes or are in the top 25 that get little to no press and certainly aren’t given two minutes of coverage on SportsCenter.

How about Northern Iowa?  That squad is currently 17-2 and ranked 25th in the ESPN poll.  

Or what about Baylor?  They are from a big conference where their up-tempo play has led them to a 15-3 record and a number 24 ranking in the AP poll.  

Looking for someone a little more stable?  How about BYU?  The Cougars have one loss this year and are ranked tenth in the ESPN poll out of the impressive Mountain West Conference (more on the MWC later).  

Or maybe UAB catches your fancy.  They’re number 25 in the AP poll, sporting a 17-2 record.

So why don’t we hear about these great stories?  Who is reporting on these teams?  There are so many amazing seasons underway for schools that are impressing a lot more voting writers and coaches than UNC.  The following teams from big conferences are outside the top 25, but got more votes than Carolina in the most recent polls: Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Maryland, Virginia, Northwestern, Cal and Notre Dame.

And how about the little guys?  College basketball is built on the backs of the small schools that make March so exciting.  Where are their stories?  The following small conference schools are outside of the top 25 and have drawn more votes than the Heels: Butler (#18 in coaches poll, not ranked in AP), Cornell, Old Dominion, Xavier, UNLV, Siena, Saint Mary’s, Louisiana Tech, and Harvard.  Coastal Carolina has the same number of votes as UNC, which is one.

That’s right, Coastal Carolina has as many votes as UNC, and Cornell, Harvard and Old Dominion have significantly more ballots cast.  So where are the 90-second highlight packages on their seasons?  Oh that’s right, ESPN needs to make sure everyone knows the Tar Heel players so they are more recognizable when they have their first matchup with Duke on February 10th.  Duh.

ESPN’s alliance with the ACC and other big conferences runs deep.  Jay Bilas went to Duke.  Hubert Davis went to North Carolina.  So did Stuart Scott.  Dick Vitale praises anything that has to do with ACC basketball, especially if it takes place on Tobacco Road.  The network carries their games and the tournament, as previously mentioned.  Unfortunately, ESPN has such an effect on the landscape of college basketball that poll results may be swayed by their coverage.

Take the Mountain West Conference.  Home to the likes of BYU, Utah, San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico, the conference has continually made strides, but seems to stay out of the national conscience.  MWC teams consistently downed big conference powers in pre-conference play.  Arizona lost to three Mountain West teams (BYU, UNLV and SDSU).  BYU also beat Arizona State.  Louisville lost to UNLV.  Utah took down Illinois, Michigan and LSU.  New Mexico defeated Cal, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

The conference currently boasts two teams in the top 25 (BYU and New Mexico), with a third (UNLV) having spent time there and still receiving votes.  The MWC also boasts big name coaches like Steve Alford (UNM), Lon Kruger (UNLV) and Steve Fisher (SDSU).  So what’s keeping them from getting more attention?  Could it be partially because of ESPN’s lack of coverage while they are too busy giving time to ACC teams that are well out of the top 25?

UNLV only has four losses and two are to teams currently ranked in the top 15 (BYU and Kansas State).  The others are to USC in a Christmas tournament championship and Utah in a tough MWC matchup.  There are eight other teams currently in the top 25 that have four or more losses.  The Rebels have only two conference losses and one is at BYU.   The Cougars come to the Thomas & Mack center for the Vegas rematch on February 6th.

The MWC has television contracts with CBS College Sports and The Mountain, a network created by the conference.  ESPN has no vested interest to show their highlights, promote their games or make fans (and potential voters) aware of the brand of basketball being played in the conference.  One could laugh at ESPN for their fair and balanced coverage the way the general public does when someone talks about Fox News Channel.

The Mountain West is not the only conference being slighted as there is plenty of great basketball being played that the majority of the viewing (and voting) public knows little to nothing about.

The “Mothership” owes the legions of sports fans better than this.  Let’s drop the coverage of a floundering UNC team just a tad (you can still report on it and promote their games) and up the ante by talking up the big games in other conferences that have teams receiving significantly more top 25 votes, regardless of who their TV contract is with.

Let’s start with this: Cornell hosts Harvard on Saturday night.  Let’s cover that like you did the two unranked teams you gave pub to last night when UNC vs. NC State was pushed upon us.  At least Cornell and Harvard have more combined poll votes (18) than the Heels do (1).

Let’s all hope for a Big Red win over the Crimson to push them over the edge in the ESPN/Coaches Poll.  They are ranked number 27 now.  A top 25 berth would make ESPN cover them.  One can only wish…

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Filed under ACC, Basketball, BYU, College Basketball, ESPN, Journalism, Mountain West Conference, University of North Carolina, UNLV

Let the watching begin…

“Those who can’t, teach.”

I wish you knew how much pain that statement causes teachers on a daily basis. Being an educator, I know their pain and have felt it all too many times.

Not only is this statement completely false, but it is offensive to anyone who has had their life touched by an educator, which is pretty much all of us.

So what does this have to do with my new blog, “Scoreboard Watching”? Well, for years I’ve done a lot of watching. I’ve watched sports, yes, but for the most part I have watched life. I’ve seen several of my students do extraordinary things, I’ve observed media coverage both good and bad, I’ve watched my fantasy football teams choke time after time in the playoffs and I’ve checked out every sportswriter I can get my eyes on.

Over the course of my career of watching, I’ve come to realize that my opinions can be classified as “off the beaten path,” “unorthodox” or whatever cliché fits best. I’ve realized that I can make a pretty good case for myself on a variety of topics and that my breadth of sports knowledge is fairly impressive.

As a media teacher, I have had the opportunity to teach the tenets of good journalism, both in print and broadcast. My two programs at the high school where I teach have had immense success and I’ve seen the rise of several outstanding young student journalists. I’ve had the privilege of reading and editing great writing and like to think that I’ve made a big impact on several of the kids I’ve come in contact with.

Many of them have asked me in the past, “Wik, why don’t you write anymore?” Well, for a long time, I had nothing to write about. I’d moved on to teaching, stopped writing poetry, stopped journaling and didn’t work that part of my brain for some time. I hadn’t realized that my opinions were what I should be writing and that there was an outlet where my writing would have a home. That’s what this blog will become: a home for my (choose your cliché now) opinions. I’ll primarily discuss sports, but I can promise that life events and pop culture will inevitably be given their fair share of time.

I have to admit, that when blogging first appeared in our culture’s vocabulary, I was fairly offended by it, considering myself a journalist, trained and bred to investigate, report and inform. I saw bloggers as wannabes who couldn’t actually work for a paper or a legitimate news source and had no training. But alas, they decided to do what they wanted to but couldn’t and created a blog.

That’s when I coined my own catch phrase: “Those who can’t, blog.”

For years I panned bloggers for being self-absorbed creators of media that had no business doing what they were doing. I even slighted them in my media classes and encouraged my students to avoid websites without credentials, morals and AP style guides.

Now, after reading several blogs and seeing where digital media has been speeding, I realize the place for bloggers and feel that it is now a home where my writing can be nurtured and put out there for readers to see. There are still bloggers who create news or are more tabloid than journalism, but I can see the positives and see where the production of more unique content and the presence of more original voices are not just valuable, but welcome.

So, on “Scoreboard Watching” you’ll read about my opinions that may surprise you, like how I think the use of steroids is actually given a bad rap (coming soon in a blog). You may read about my displeasure with where sports is going or hear amazing stories that touch the hearts of sports fans and non-fans alike. I will attempt to treat this site like a column where I write two or three times a week. We’ll figure that out as we go, but I’m excited to get started and know that you will enjoy my first piece on the Mark McGwire admission and how it brings up important questions about the baseball hall of fame down the road. Look for that piece tomorrow.

So without further pomp and circumstance, let the watching begin…

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Filed under Bloggers, Education, Journalism