CINCINNATI -- Recently, at a game, I sat next to a "national columnist" as I tapped away at my keyboard, scribbling notes in a notebook, wearing my suit with sneakers, accompanied by my stuffed basketball companion. Afterwards, as I was packing up, he extended his hand tentatively. "Kyle, right?" he asked. "I'm a big fan of your work." I immediately knew he wasn't. For one, he complimented me on the great top 25 poll I run every week and how good it is. I disengaged quickly and abruptly, turned my back, and walked off.
With very few exceptions, I don't talk to sportswriters at all anymore. I don't acknowledge them at games, and I ignore their e-mails when they ask me my opinion about such-and-such a team. I refuse when they request/demand review copies of my book (sportswriters always feel so entitled to free things) so that's probably cost me some money, and I'm sure the middlemen who share the profits wouldn't be happy with that sort of behavior. But I don't really care, and the book is selling well enough that I can afford not to.
The only journalists I chat with nowadays are the students and the brick-breaking bloggers, the ones who will destroy this system and lead the craft forward. We always have such a great time exchanging thoughts about the future. As for all the others, we're just not in the same business. I do one thing, and they do another thing. And most of what they do is talk to each other.
Perhaps you are aware of how elite basketball thought is generated. If you aren't, it's a giant unscripted Pardon the Interruption episode. Writers chatter endlessly on press rows and in media rooms, on closed message boards and in private e-mail loops, debating and sharpening points and takes. Out in the world of unpaid opinion, the model repeats itself in reverse miniature. Thousands of aspiring discussion leaders, dreaming of breaking through to work for ESPN, where they will ascend to positions of such importance that their own thoughts will be critiqued and debated on fan forums and Twitter.
So what's your opinion about Enes Kanter's eligibility situation? Purdue's National Championship chances without Robbie Hummel? Can Duke go undefeated this season? And seriously, how absolutely and totally great is this Champions Classic thing? (And, while we're on the topic, did North Carolina get shafted?) And OMGWTFBBQ, Bruce Pearl, amirite? Everybody's bending over backwards to say something new and insightful about all of these things. But taking a side, for or against, is always good enough, and so is adding some small piece of tangentially relevant information to the roundtable discussion.
I recognize the social science behind all of this, because a good American mid-major university taught me about such things. The glue that holds these conversations together is the same binding agent that fastens together talk-fragments about politics or reality television. It's the same force that compels a fan to declare allegiance to a team, buy a twenty-dollar hat, and seek membership in a tribe of like-minded others. So much of spectator sports now represents an escape from cold non-martyred singularity. Fanhood offers endless opportunities to be parts of greater and colorful wholes instead of wasting away as silent, sad, lonely Ones. Sports give people something to talk about. They also help make people interesting enough to be worth talking to.
This is not our game, and it never has been. For six years, we've been on a long and twisting ride, and I've slowly become better and better at recognizing that and reporting the results correctly. There are always two orbiting perspectives: my own personal one, as your narrator, and also that of the place where I find myself on any given day. The Mid-Majority is motivated by the twin spirits of curiosity and exploration, and those are very different than the fear of existential loneliness. This is why this is not like the other sites, and why it is so hard for some to understand, and why there are not millions of us. Some really don't understand, like the sportswriters who go on message boards and talk about what a dickish snob I am at games.
In the long run, my journey is irrelevant. You will barely remember my name when this is over and I am gone. But my favorite readers, the ones who will be my friends in my post-TMM era, are the ones who took to the road themselves. I will always hold a place for those who went to tens of small-conference college basketball games they wouldn't have gone to otherwise.
My people are the ones who find happiness in the struggle of imperfect unions, who contemplate the meaning of mascot basketball and chronicle media time-out contests. My people are those whose hearts melt for redheaded cheerleaders, the most lovely and rare and misunderstood souls attached to Our Game. If you are at a gym with your handheld Robot, tweeting ephemeral game reports at us, I will always make sure to RT. You are, after all, following the original directive of this site, which is over six years old and dates back to when this was just a map and a schedule. Go. And while you're there, document everything you see.
The conversationalists, I don't have much use for them. I'm not traveling these thousands of miles as a way to bide time before I die, so it's a wavelength issue. I don't know what to say to those people anymore, and there really isn't anything for them here, and I don't care when they leave in a huff. But, this: for the next generation of sportswriters, the students and the bloggers, there is a choice. Perpetuate the closed-circuit sportz dinner party, or step out on the real road.
It's not an easy decision, I know. You can't be afraid to be lonely. There aren't many people out here, even fewer to talk to, and no sides to be taken. Most of your time would be spent trying to convince others, anyone, that your chosen subject matter is worthwhile. But the rewards are strange and beautiful, I promise you.
So who's ready to take that ride?
One last reminder that our writing contest closes early tomorrow morning. Your mission: collect in words a moment that happened on a college basketball court that altered the course of your life. I have mine, do you have yours? Bonus points for a moment that revealed itself in retrospect, a shot or block or steal that you only grasped the full importance of later. Entries can be attached to The Form™. The prize is a Team Ballz of your choice.
In the spirit of overlap, we're announcing an art contest too. You know what the Season 7 logo means, what the significance of each of its elements is. Now it's your turn to render it. We're collecting Incomplete Circles for a larger work, and we need yours. Draw, construct, Photoshop, make it out of cake, anything. Make a JPEG file of it and attach it to The Form™ by next Friday morning, December 17. Same path applies: best few will be put to a vote, and the winner gets a Team Ballz.
That Just Happened
Two interesting games in interesting venues last night. Vermont scored the first hoop, but was unable to pull the RLU against Brigham Young last night at the Jimmer Fredette Classic in Glens Falls, NY. BYU went up 7-2 and cruised to an 86-58 win. We would have gone downstate and attended the sold-out North Carolina at Evansville game last night (the one in a 2-for-1 scheduling agreement), but couldn't handle going through hope and heartbreak like that two nights in a row, and opted to watch Toledo and IPFW fall all over each other instead. UNC won 76-49.
And Illinois and Oakland played for seven minutes with a women's basketball, and the G'Grizzlies were up by nine when they stopped. We've been reading the jokes about this all morning and wonder how many of these people would be willing to tell 6-foot-11 Keith Benson to his face that he's some kind of girl. Go ahead, I dare you.
Red Line Upsets
at Wright State 76, Air Force 61 -- The Raiders were up by nine at the end of the first quarter, and put on a ferocious burst out of the break to take a 53-28 lead. All this despite 61 percent shooting by Air Force, a team undone by 19 turnovers in a slow-paced game. Wright is 4-5 in Billy Donlon's first season as head coach, will likely break Brad Brownell's string of four straight seasons with 20-plus wins, and the Raiders are still not really considered to be much of a threat in the packed Horizon. But an RLU is an RLU.
at Indiana State 73, DePaul 51 -- And while Evansville was unable to come through for the Valley in a cross-Line home game, in-state conference rival Indiana State did. The Sycamores led 14-11 with 10:38 left in the first half, and then DePaul simply stopped scoring. Soon after the second half started, Kevin McKenna's team was up 36-16 for a mammoth 22-5 run. If a lower-tier Big East team thought it could go on the road and smoke some Trees, DePaul was so, so, so wrong.
The two home wins from Wednesday give us 62 out of 459 chances, for a 13.5% win rate. Last year on this date, the Other 24 was 75-for-505 (14.9%).
Game! Of! The! Night!
Army at New Hampshire Recreation & Sports Complex - Durham, NH 7:00 EST
A final exams-depressed 10-game slate tonight, an ongoing theme all week, and the game we'll be at (Butler at Xavier, 9 pm, #pixelvision) is the absolute and obvious highlight of the schedule. But rules are rules, and we have to send the invisible G!O!T!N! camera crew elsewhere. That elsewhere is the other Durham, where two teams that have been relatively invisible in the Patriot League and America East, respectively, will square off. New Hampshire hasn't had a winning record since the NAC years (1994-95) and has never proceeded to the NCAA Tournament, and Bill Herrion hasn't really got anything going in five seasons, but this year's team is interesting. It follows the same low-rebounding, low-shooting, high-ball control and stingy defense pattern that we like so much, albeit against one of the softest schedules in the land (SOS: 323). Still, an early 5-2 record is decent for a program that's won no more than 14 since the century's turn. Herrion is likely safe at UNH because it's a hockey school.
Army is in its second year of Zach Spiker, a longtime Cornell assistant who left Steve Donahue's bench in the summer of 2009 and consequently missed all the Sweet Sixteen fun. The Black Knights won 14 games in 2009-10, which has been about as good as it's been able to get recently. This year's team is 4-4, but piled up W's against the likes of NJIT, Bryant and Binghamton before dropping three in a row. Army's calling card has been the #superhoop, and they've hit 40 percent of them. Jeremy Hence, a 6-foot-4 senior, has nailed half of his (17-for-34). This team will only win when it hits enough threes to overcome a defense that allows 1.05 points per possession, and as Army has played the 325th toughest schedule in Division I, odds are that they'll allow a lot more going forward. Basketball State Preview/Box