January 6, 2009 12:29 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
NASHVILLE -- A lot's happened in the past 48 hours. I've driven 1,450 miles through high Colorado mountain passes, endless Kansas, Oklahoma hailstorms. I've watched Southwest Airlines' careful domino-stack of hourly gate departures collapse under the weight of a weather delay, into a maelstrom of screaming passengers. I've changed into a suit in a cramped airport bathroom stall, then made tipoff by three minutes... only because of a late-ending women's game.
But the moment I'll remember most is flipping idly through my cell phone address book during a two-hour stay in a Dallas departure lounge, cleaning out ancient names and numbers. These were people I'd exchanged business cards with over the years, a gesture that's often used as a quick excuse to end a conversation prematurely. It struck me that most of these people were sportswriters. Then it stuck me that after five years of doing this, I don't have many sportswriter friends.
Sportswriters tend to travel in packs: going to bars together wearing brown sweaters, posting on specialized message boards and joining specialized sportswriter clubs. The only purpose of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association is for writers to give each other awards, and I've already stated many times that I will never, ever join that particular society of mutual adult pleasure.
Since I don't drink or smoke or have much to complain about, I tend to hang out with the sports information directors. There are a lot of SID's on my Christmas card list, and zero sportswriters. SID's, by their very nature, have to be poets and geeks at the same time, and don't get bylines. They're in this because they love it... it's certainly for not the money, or for the ego tripping.
On the other hand, sportswriters are a big part of America's sports problem. Last year, Neal Pollack wrote a smart-bomb of an opinion piece for Slate about the 2008 NBA MVP "race." "It's the ultimate circle-jerk of sports-guy self-regard," he wrote in April. "Sportswriters can't affect the outcome of the games--only David Stern can do that--but the MVP race is theirs to decide, and it's the most thrilling part of their season."
It's probably because he ran into a word count wall, but Mr. Pollack only scratched the surface by skewering invisible horse-races and arbitrary rankings. You can find sportswriters' desire to grab power, to place their opinions high above the everyman's, everywhere you look. In our game, we have an Associated Press writers' poll, and cheap web space gives individual writers the opportunity to have their ballots viewed individually. In the sport of collegiate American-style gridiron, the system is set up so that a team can't be national champion without the scribes' general permission. And the pinnacle of doughy hubris is the Hall of Fame... in baseball, it's the writers' last line of revenge against decades of hurt feelings. Just ask Jim Rice.
Young people ask me all the time how they can follow their dreams, ask me to provide tips on how to enter the corridors of true sports power, the pantheon of flab that passes judgement on all aspects of the passing parade. I figure that anybody brazen enough to ask me for tips on how to displace me is enough of a jerk to make it as a passive-aggressive sports scribe, and that they'll succeed just fine without my help. I just tell them to burn all their brown sweaters, because they make press rows ugly, and all the customers behind them didn't pay to look at the asses of fat white guys who shop at TJ Maxx.
My true, heartfelt advice for anybody who loves sports and writing and statistics is to become a sports information director. They are the true conduits, those for whom acting as intermediary between sports and the public is its own reward. They have my highest respect, and always will. There's a reason why there is no running weekly college basketball poll with SID's making up the panel, and that's because most are too humble or busy to participate.
Plus, that poll would always be dangerously and devastatingly accurate, and that'd be far too much truth for the public to handle.
With conference play in full swing across most of the country, the "Red Line Upsets" and the "They Came Close" segments of GMHN are becoming increasingly moot. So here's how it's going to be. Unlike in previous seasons, when a rundown of conference leaders left most readers' heads spinning, we're going to spotlight a few league races every day. Your favorite might not come up the day after a full conference slate, but try to remember that you already know what happened. We are general practitioners here, and this is a big landscape. I just drove across most of it.
Colonial: In our G!O!T!N! last night, Northeastern blew out Hofstra 73-50 at the Celtics' old barn. The Huskies and George Mason are currently atop the conference with 3-0 records, as the Patriots took out Georgia State by six. Any further inquiry into the situation would be redundant, as Litos has things covered, with Basketball State links as well.
Atlantic Sun: In our game last night, three-time league champs Belmont did just enough to knock out Florida Gulf Coast, taking a mind-numbing 79-67 decision that left us talking about World Cup skiing in the Twittercast. The Bruins are 3-1, as are Stetson and Jacksonville -- the Hatters beat Lipscomb across town by eight, and JU beat USC Upstate by 10 on the road. But in a league destined to split into an upper and lower division pretty rapidly, East Tennessee State is the lone unbeaten at 4-0, destroying North Florida 88-57.
Big South: We here at TMM maintain that this will be one of the more intriguing one-bid races in the country, with a lot of teams with enough strength to claim a crown that's been Winthrop's for almost a decade. It got a whole lot more interesting on Saturday, when the left-for-dead Eagles (2-10, 1-2 BSC) squeaked by Seth Curry and Liberty at home, 59-57. Liberty's troubles continued last night with a loss at D-I newbie Presbyterian, which is not eligible for the postseason but can still win the regular-season title... something not quite out of the question after a 3-1 start. But super-fast VMI is top of the pops right now, 4-0 after a 93-90 roadie win at Chuck S..
Hello, Bally Tuesday
After a week to recover from backorder situation, the weekly contest is back. Winners might have to wait an extra week or so for their Bally, but think of it this way: you've been waiting all your life for one, what's an extra few days?
Our game is full of second chances, hope and renewal. While a lot of folks look at the conference season as a meaningless two-month trudge, followed by the chance at a get-out-of-jail-free card at the end, we prefer to say that this is texture, and any team that has to play its way out of a low seed at its conference tourney is a heroic story of overcoming self-inflicted odds. Anybody who's had to work their way out from under early mistakes to succeed later can relate to Oakland 2005 (Pierre Dukes!) or the late Skip Prosser's 1994 team at Loyola (Md.).
Across Hoops Nation, there are a lot of teams with names you know that will have to climb up from early adversity if they want to make it to the Big Dance. Depleted Southern Illinois is 0-3 in the Valley, Chattanooga's lost its first two SoCon tilts... hey, even Nevada is 0-1 in the WAC after a home loss to Idaho, something that was previously unthinkable.
So here's your assignment for Friday... Give me the longest in-conference losing streak (sub-Red Line only) you can find to open a campaign, for a team that ultimately made the NCAA's. Use the form. There are two easy answers out there that I can think of off the top of my head, so we may have a drawing among best answers. But that's just a challenge to go find a longer streak.
U'useless Stat of the DayLast Saturday, the CAA league race was turned on its eyebrow by Delaware's gigantic home win over league favorites Virginia Commonwealth. You can credit the balance or the 10 3-pointers, but my favorite thing about this was that the Blue Hens, fueled by 27 made free throws, won despite just six VCU turnovers... and only one steal.
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|