Easterbrook might be sitting on top of the long list of terrible sports writers.
Gregg Easterbrook's Cannons of Sanctimony
In which I defend Notre Dame. Seriously!
Gregg Easterbrook first came in for a lashing around these parts when he claimed Rich Rodriguez had been in contact with Michigan before West Virginia's game against Pitt without a shred of evidence and used this in a tiresome broadside at the idea that a college coach would take a better job. When this was totally disproven by actual court records, Easterbrook—who loves to complain about New York Times errors being on page one and corrections on page 37—did not deign to notice, instead launching tiresome broadside after tiresome broadside at "weasel" coaches.
It's December again and a major program has just hired a coach, so it's time for yet another tiresome broadside:
Charlie Weis and Bobby Bowden had to go -- Notre Dame and Florida State weren't winning every game! Get rid of the bums! All we heard from sports commentators, and from alums and boosters, was get rid of the bums, we gotta win, win, win. Sorry to interject, but why? Why does Notre Dame or Florida State or any university need to win every game? Is it now official that big colleges care more about sports than education?
You'd think a guy like Easterbrook, who is paid to be a political pundit, would have at least a tenuous grasp on economics: Florida State and Notre Dame would like to win because if they do not win they get less money for their athletic departments. If they continue to stick with coaches who are not performing, fan enthusiasm will crater and they'll be faced with the dissolution of a tradition treasured by thousands. Why am I explaining this to you? You understand this because it is obvious. Nevermind. I'll stop treating you like you are a simpleton.
Easterbrook, on the other hand, seems determined to display his ignorance at every opportunity. In previous columns he's claimed Michigan Stadium's renovations are being paid for by "public funds," which if true is only true in an extremely technical sense since the athletic department is and remains self-sufficient*, and that Michigan "surprised" Notre Dame by running the no-huddle style of offense Rich Rodriguez has been deploying for almost a decade at big important newsworthy schools.
In this column his impression of Notre Dame's recruiting under Weis is totally wrong:
Notre Dame was among the few prominent holdouts, insisting its football players be students too. This generated a recruiting disadvantage -- and a recruiting disadvantage caused by high standards, not Weis suddenly forgetting how to coach, is the reason for the recent records of Notre Dame football. Notre Dame alums and boosters should have been proud that high standards keep the school from going 12-0!
According to Rivals, ND's recruiting classes under Weis: 8, 8, 2, 21. (The 2005 class was technically signed by Weis but was almost entirely the (lame) creation of Tyrone Willingham.) Every class at Notre Dame except redshirt seniors and freshmen was part of a top ten recruiting class.
Easterbrook also suggests that the past two decades have seen a "race to the bottom," providing no evidence other than Florida State's recent cheating scandal. He places Nebraska in a list of "academics-first colleges where football players are more likely to attend class"…
…which is a hilarious juxtaposition of concepts. He dubs Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick's desire to not go 6-6 a "bizarre notion." In his attempt to make a case that big time division I-A football can be won by nerds he cites playoffs at lower levels all the way down to Division III and Director's Cup standings heavily biased towards nonrevenue sports. When he returns to the "weasel" coaching meme—which appears to be any coach who takes a job anywhere else and thus includes some 80% of I-A coaches—he cites Brian Kelly "misleading" his players when Kelly, more than any other coach in recent history, was publicly open to a move. He freakin' tweeted about it.
Reality is just something that gets in the way of Easterbrook's arguments.
The worst thing is that buried in yet another Easterbrook-patented tiresome broadside is a concern I share for the players who play college football and end up coming out the other end with little except some memories and a concussion or two. He's not wrong that the way the NCAA is constructed is increasingly silly. Money gets poured in and ends up going to coaches because it can't go to players and has to go somewhere. The result is yet more ridiculous salaries at top schools. The first million-dollar coordinator isn't far off.
But Easterbrook eschews anything resembling a useful suggestion in favor of calling people weasels when they're just acting rationally given the situation. Here's my suggestion to help divert some of the torrent of cash to the players that has more than a snowball's chance in hell of being approved: allow programs to offer players in revenue sports two free additional years of scholarship after their eligibility expires as long as they enroll within five years. At that point it should be clear if you have a serious professional future and those who want to buckle down and make it in the real world will have an opportunity to get a degree that will help them do that.
*(You might note that part of that link is a complaint about the tax-deductibility of athletic department contributions, but that's not the only part that decries "public" funding; the issue is explicitly framed as "and on top of the public funding of the stadium renovations, here's this problem with donations."
As long as I'm in a footnote, let me mention how breathtakingly stupid that argument is: Easterbrook and his emailer are whining about Michigan spending money that will convince extremely rich people to give them more money.)
In a media market that could feasibly lay claim to the top 3, Easterbrook's number 1? Oh, how quickly they forget...
1. Mitch Albom- No Mount Rushmore for terrible sports writers is complete without his elf-like visage. No longer content to be the suckiest writer of his generation, he seems to be shooting higher, for all-time sucktitude. How else can you explain 'The Five Douchenozzles You Meet in Heaven" and "I Hate Myself and Want to Die, But Suck Too Bad to Pull the Trigger"? (actually, that second one is still in press). Albom is so self-evidently sucky that I don't even need to justify putting him number 1 by mentioning his made-up articles.
2. Drew Sharp- Like Satan's yin and yang, Freep readers are constantly shuttled back and forth between two extremes- Albom's constant but misplaced optimism, and Sharp's constant but misplaced negativity. Seriously, when this dude even bothers to witness the events he covers, he still fumbles the ball, and no parade is too great for him to piss on in one way or another.
3. Rob Parker- I guess I should let him off the hook because he- finally- resigned. But I won't. This guy's just a complete dumbass, and he apparently enjoys being one.
So, compared to that lovely bunch, I'd guess Easterbrook's not that bad. His harping on weasel coaches is kind of stupid, but everyone who writes for a living is going to put something down that they regret later. He DOES produce stuff of value (his constant harping on the NFL to do more about concussions, to go or not on fourth down, etc.). His writing needs to be examined and filtered just like anyone else's. I think I'll respectfully disagree with Brian on this one- I see no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Unless that baby is Mitch Albom, in which case he's getting rifled out the window.
I had never heard of Easterbrook previously, and kind of wish I still haven't.
This is the best idea Brian ever had. It could really help people who need the help. Legal questions. Can you do this for the football and no other teams? Since there is not a girls football team, a Title IX issue always lurks.
Chait-level beatdown, Brian. Good show.
Easterbrook used to be a must-read on Tuesdays 10 years ago. He was about the only one out there doing analysis that didn't depend on tired sportswriter cliches and conventional wisdom. As good sports blogs like this one came to my attention, his work became less important until I stopped reading him completely. That, and his 15,000 word-cheerleader-science fiction-ignorance of college football schtick got tiring.
Gregg: never talk about college football again. Your ignorance is appalling.
Agreed. Easterbrook used to be an awesome columnists. I appreciated his wit, but now his column is just useless stats, political/science/economic pieces that he shouldn't dabble in, and cheap shots at coaches/celebrities that he retreads every week.
and cheap shots at coaches/celebrities that he retreads every week.
I haven't read any of his columns in a while, but does he still have his rundown of how all the schools that hired weasel coaches are having terrible seasons? Does he still include Alabama, coached by that weasel Nick Saban, on that list?
"The Big Three" of weasel coaches: RichRod, Bobby Petrino, and Nick Saban according to Easterbrook. I guess Brian Kelly now too. I guess a man isn't allowed to move on up in the world.
I think the problem was that he was apparently writing it in the early days for satirical purposes more than anything else, which meant that some of his stuff was funny simply because he was mocking your average MSM types.
As time went on, he never really seemed to change ... so bits where he'd talk about, say, predictability were ironic because his own column was becoming predictable.
And even that wouldn't have been too bad if it were his only problem, much like SNL can be tolerable at times if you grew up with old-school SNL because every now and then you see something that's kind of funny. (Not that I would know, because I haven't watched it in years, but let's just say that's true.) But he would also branch out into non-NFL areas from time to time, and in my e-pinion, he came off looking exactly like the people he intended to mock, as in this instance.
It became too easy to pick apart his columns, so I stopped reading them. Sounds like he hasn't changed any. (So hey! It's still like SNL for me. Could Easterbrook be the David Spade of sportswriting?)
I agree that Easterbrook is an idiot, but I don't think his point about Kelly is entirely off base. Two players claimed Kelly told them he was staying, and Kelly even said so himself during a radio interview a week before he left. Some of his players publicly criticized him for the way he went about the whole thing, indicating that at least a few of them did indeed feel misled (not to be a homer, but contrast this with Rodriguez, whose former players at WVU spoke highly of him after he left).
I don't think leaving a job for a better one should automatically be regarded as blameworthy, but there is something to be said about coaches who unequivocally claim that they'll stay only to leave shortly thereafter. Coaches don't have to make "pine box" declarations to effectively handle media speculation, and the ones who don't often end up being both loyal and successful. Case in point: Billy Donovan never unequivocally stated he wasn't interested in the Kentucky job the last time it opened up, yet he ended up staying at Florida and won a championship. Pete Carroll has never ruled out the possibility of a return to the NFL when asked about the subject, and he's been at USC for 9 years and won two championships. And, as we all know too well, Les Miles never publicly said he was staying at LSU until he signed his infamous contract extension, and he's still at LSU and has won a championship.
What I don't understand is how a guy who writes this stuff also intersperses his column with accurate insight into how NFL coaches still don't grasp elementary risk/reward trade-offs. I read his column for the preposterous punt section and a few others, but am skipping through increasing large chunks now.
This guy is an idiot and, as Brian alluded to, totally unaccountable when he makes asinine statements.
I'll say this: when I've written e-mails explaining to Mike Florio on PFT why he's an idiot, he tends to respond. Easterbrook has not (though in his defense, I think I call him more offensive names).
You're probably not engaging him in a way that he finds worthwhile. I've traded emails with him a few times over the last four years, so I can attest that he does read and respond to some. Shorter emails are better.
Also, 'idiot' is a bit strong - dude is a Brookings scholar. I would call what he wrote here lazy. Brian's argument is better, and it's because he's thought more deeply about what's going on. I doubt Gregg spent more than an hour researching his argument.
I think this most recent Easterbrook rant shows that being reactionary and boisterous is replacing logical reasoning and neutral prose. I doubt he has forgotten how to write the past decade, but Easterbrook also realizes that to be heard above the din he needs to "call people out" and decry behavior inherent to college athletics. It is easy to say that ND holds its students to a higher standard than others because the average fan is not going to actually look into it and see that it is not true. It is easy to say that RR or Kelly lied to their players because that is the accepted story; to put forth a real analysis of the situation would simply be dismissed as missing the point.
In the past few years, I've come to realize that being a national sportswriter, writing about national stories, is really quite difficult. Sure, a few guys are able to do it for a time (Easterbrook was once like that), but ultimately information is too readily available and fanbases too well-informed to take these half-cooked ideas seriously.
I got over my depression from the season and came back to read at just the right time. It's easy to not be sad when you instead harbor a bizzare mix of humor and anger.
This is as close to equanimity as most of us in Western societies get.
I've been advocating* longer scholarships for athletes for years. With a 6 year scholarship, athletes could spread their studies across a longer period and - yes - have more time for their sport. I see no good reason why athletes should be required to take more than 2-3 classes in-season. Those who claim to be purists about "student-athletes" will get their shorts in a know over this one, which to me is ridiculous. If a low income, non-athlete student works at McDonald's 20-30 hours per week to pay the bills, takes 2-3 classes per semester and graduates in 6 years, we applaud his or her effort. We should. If a student-athlete does the same, why do we have a problem with that?
The only objection I give any time to is that of cost. We are after all talking about increasing room and board expenses by 50%. Tuition costs are theoretically the same because the number of credits is the same, but spreading them out over a longer period of time will lead if nothing else to a bit more inflation on a per credit basis. At any rate, we are looking at increasing athletic scholarships to somewhere between 125% and 150% of current levels. Spread out over all of the sports, men's and women's, this is a lot of money. Now, I know MI would likely be able to absorb this over the long run, but most schools have troubled athletic department bottom lines as-is. Those schools would complain and allege the creation of a have and have-not system. While I do not necessarily have a problem with that -to hell with parity :)- enough people would. Now, it would get easier if we could restrict this to just football, but politically I just don't see that happening.
In the end, if we can get past people's holier-than-thou attitudes about what it means to be a "student-athlete" the only problem left is money.....
*By "advocating" I mean babbling about it with a friend over beers at a sports bar and/or posting a semi-coherent blog post a couple of times per year....
I believe that Brian referenced renevue sports - football, hocket and basetkball. Maybe baseball and softball too. So that would be cheaper.
I would add three modifications. First, I would have the NCAA control the scholarship fund for the two years after eligibility. This money could come from payments from schools and revenue taken from the bowls, BCS, final four, college word series, etc. You would probably have to even the money around between mens and womens sports.
Second, I would make it applicbale to grad school as well. If we give two more years to those who don't graduate in four years, we should take care of those who do graduate and go on to post-grad studies.
Third, make the extra two years transferrable to any D-1 school. If a kid plays someone else and gets into Michigan Law, he/she should be able to come here. Or, if he/she plays at Michigan and wants to finish up his/her degree closer to home, that should be OK too. With the NCAA paying the extra two years, the schools shouldn't care. That person is a paying customer like anyone else.
His NFL stuff is still interesting, but some of his views are so ridiculous, poorly thought out, and ill informed that I had to stop.
Sounds like this guy needs to get a life.
Gregg is a tool who is always trying to prove how smart he is. His brothers Frank and Neil got the real brains in the family and Gregg is left flailing around making nonsense arguments about the NFL, astronomy, and the environment. I used to read him when I was young and dumb but now avoid his columns like the plague.
When I read the column (yes, I did before this, no I don't know why) I immediately noticed that when he was mentioning teams which succeed while have good academics he conveniently (purposefully?) leaves out Michigan, which seems suspicious with all his Rich Rod bashing.
Yes, Lawrence Phillips exists and is one of the darkest (if not THE darkest) stains on the Nebraska football program. It was a terrible mistake to not ship him out of town the *second* it became clear what he had done, and when Osborne allowed him back on the team he opened himself up for a torrent of fair, justified criticism that I largely agree with. But I've got to stick up for my alma mater here: Lawrence Phillips does not invalidate the fact that UNL has has more Academic All-Americans in football (98) than any other school. That doesn't prove that Nebraska isn't a win-at-all-costs, academics-last school, but it's at least as valid an argument as throwing up a picture of Philips.
The LP saga was 14 years ago. Can we please finally drop the idea that he has anything to do with the current program, six head coaches and ADs later? Thanks - I'll sit over here and take all the negatives like a man....
You're just sticking up for your program (though how you found your way here over this...).
I'll say what my perception is, and probably that of a lot of people: Nebraska was one of those programs, like Penn State before they entered the B10 and became a rival, one of the few, that Michigan fans would root for because they did things the right way. Sure, they took their lumps for it in bowl games because of it (something we could relate to), but Osborne was on the up and up.
And then it seemed like after taking one two many losses from obviously shady programs, the if you can't beat them, join them philosophy took over. Because I don't think Phillips was the only problem child of the era. And it worked...they won National Championships, and has the best single season team I've seen in my lifetime. But they kinda sold their soul to do it.
Does that reflect necessarily on the program now? Possibly not. But between the sorry whining and begging for a shared national championship (to set up an unprescidented leap in the polls for a retirement gift), and having to go through the worst officiated bowl game of all time (when even the announcers who cover for refs are flabbergasted...), there probably still some bitter feelings that go into it.
I don't begrudge any Michigan fan for feeling that way about the split title in 1997 or the Alamo bowl. I might argue with them, but I completely understand it - that's part of fandom. I'm still pissed at the officials who did our 1982 game at PSU...
And as for how I got here, I was already here, just had never posted. Michigan's not my team, but it is my other alma mater, and Brian's a good enough writer that I don't have to root for Michigan with all of my heart (just a little bit) to find mgoblog an engrossing daily read. More than once I've wished there was a Husker blog as good as this one.
My first year here in Ann Arbor was 1997. That was, um, awkward.
I wouldn't feel guilty about backing your 97 team. However if you want to argue the officiating in the bowl game, I think we're going to have to check you for glasses. :-). (Didnt actually see the '82 game, but from what I've read and highlites I've seen, you have a beef there).
I think you'll find the site open to thoughtful other viewpoints, which yours are. Irish being a prominent example. Stick around.
We should applaud this monk among pundits. Indeed, the man's awareness is bereft of reality --- but is this necessarily a bad thing?
Perhaps Easterbrook has transcended reality. Perhaps it is merely our ignorance that makes his arguments appear insolvent. Were we not bound to this mortal coil -- this "reality" of which we speak -- then we would understand the inconceivable.