Sunday, October 9, 2011

a Signal Watch Rant: Sports Journalists are the worst (almost as bad as comics "journalism")

Why was UT #11 going into this week's game?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I'm a UT fan, and I am terribly embarrassed about the crippling loss to Oklahoma yesterday, but in the lead-up to the game, my jaw dropped when I saw that sports journalists had apparently voted my team (ie: us) to #11 somehow in the past week.

As much as fans can hold their team and coaches responsible, how do journalists and those voting on polls (which actually DO have an effect on the fates of teams) get a pass when they're so clearly wrong?

Look, I am a fan of the Longhorns, and so there are absolutely some raw feelings there as the Horns return to Austin shamed and with quite a hole to climb out from, but I like to think I can also be pretty honest about how we're doing as my interest in the team is mostly just typical alumni school spirit, not that of someone who prides themselves on their sports acumen.

I didn't understand how UT entered at, what was it, 5 or 6? last year.  We were a green team with an unproven quarterback and shouldn't have been ranked anywhere above, oh, 20, going into last year.  Of course the Longhorns weren't going to have a great year, which is what a 5 ranking suggests, but somehow people who do this for a living couldn't do that math.

And, likewise, I totally don't understand how anyone who watches any college football looked at UT the past few weeks and thought "oh, yeah, these guys can clearly beat dozens and dozens of other college teams, let alone in their own conference.  Let's, as a group, vote them to 11.".

Do Sports Journalists just suck at their job?  This isn't the fault of the players or coaches, that's a totally different issue (and there's a place to talk about win/loss records and performance, absolutely).  But someone out there is casting votes with a demonstrable lack of insight into the competitive ability of teams going head to head, all playing the same game.  And I find that remarkable.

Sports journalists are almost as bad at their jobs as comics journalists, and sometimes I think they're as unlikely to have watched the teams they're talking about as comics journalists are to have actually read the material they're spilling bits over.

What I think I'd like to see may not be a play-off system, which I think lacks pragmatism for all the usual reasons.  Instead, I think the votes should be public at the AP and the BCS polls.

Wouldn't it be worth seeing if we don't have some of these "qualified" journalists and coaches determining the fate of teams had to put a bit of skin in the game and folks could see their voting records versus reality?

The thing is, I don't want to dislike college football.  Its, by far, my favorite sport.  But much like comics journalism, there's frequently a seeming inability to see the real picture versus just riffing on a theme of the week or relying on "common wisdom" versus what's really going on out there.

The "gotcha" journalism of "why didn't you perform like a #11 team?" is absolutely ludcirous if that ranking was based upon illogical and badly informed decisions.  It may be fun for the guys writing news and give them a story, but its kind of dumb and takes away from a pretty simple way of looking at the game with wins and losses.  Frankly, I think it hurts the game for the casual fan.


Paul Toohey said...

The thing that surprised me was the lack of urgency. It didn't seem like anyone was really taking the reins and lead the team (especially on offense).

The League said...


The only real veteran they've got is Fozzy, who was, uncoincidentally, the only one who didn't collapse into a pile of uncertainty and misgivings.

They just looked so young, scared and outclassed.

Jake Shore said...

Yeah. On the one hand, it's the usual, let's just put Texas, Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, USC, and Ohio State in the top 10 because we can't do our homework.

On the other hand, it seems like a big set up for UT; if they crash and burn, everyone grabs a stick starts poking.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to understand how the College Polls work.

Most sports journalists are actually pretty good and have long argued for not have Preseason rankings and wait until 3-4 weeks in the college football season as the BCS race begins and conference season starts.

The Preseason rankings are required by the magazines to start the conversation. It's based on projections from last years record and analysis of returning experience.

The college rankings when the season starts after the first game is never a prediction of where everyone should end up at the end of the season. It's a continuum. UT was ranked #11 because Texas was undefeated and scored wins against BCS programs. Many, many teams lost. Some of those teams are better than UT. UT's ranking will adjust accordingly as the record plays out.

Anyone who really follows the sport knows that the polls will adjust as the season plays out and others fall out of being undefeated. Being undefeated ranks you higher than schools that have lost. As you lose, you fall in the rankings or out of the polls. Then the BCS formula kicks in at the middle of the season and takes into account rankings, strength of schedule and such. If Rice went undefeated for 4 games, even in Conference USA, they would be ranked. Houston is undefeated, they are ranked in the top 25.

So yeah, the sports journalists aren't bad. There are many good analysts out there. I can't think of a better system. Because if you don't take being undefeated into account and only take supposed "strength of schedule" then many good programs will suffer at the end of the season as bowl selection takes place. Is it a perfect system? No. Is it pretty decent? Yes. Again, I'm waiting for some smart person to think of a better way to rank schools as the season goes on. Should we go with Sagarin rankings? Should we exclusively follow ESPN analysts? You tell me. Someone needs to prove that the current system is totally lacking in accuracy compared to some alternative like the Sagarin rankings?


Anonymous said...

I know the score doesn't reflect it and I'm not saying that UT is a good team but the pieces are starting to come in place to be good next year and really good two years from now.

The problem has been that Mack Brown and his old position coaches did a very bad job on evaluating talent across the board and most notably on offense.

Harsin's scheme depends on really good offensive line play and running the football to set up the pass. It breaks down when you have two inexperienced quarterbacks that can't seem to recognize the inside blitz as it forms.

We actually are going to be finally good at running the ball next year if our recruiting class holds up. Texas has one of the worst offensive lines in the Big 12. If you're going to blame anyone, blame Mack Brown for not being on top of things and letting his lazy ass old offensive coordinator not hit the road and actually get real talent evaluations going. The entire staff got complacent and now we're forced to play 17 redshirt or true freshman. If you're all mad, get mad at Mack Brown who's paid 5 MILLION dollars a year. He's paid more than Bob Stoops. He should have been doing his JOB.

Our new coordinators are the real deal. They just need to get the guys to fit their system. Look at Boise State's offensive line this season. They held off Georgia's, and SEC team, pass rush and Kellen Moore ripped their secondary apart. That offense was pieced together by Harsin. He knows what he's doing. He's just stuck with the crappy parts left by Greg Davis and he has to play the hand dealt to him.


The League said...

As I said, the conversation about what Mack brown did and did not do since 2009 or so is a separate conversation. I agree that he's not done much to earn his salary the past two years.

But I don't find your argument very compelling. Again, I'm looking at this through the kaleidoscope of my own UT-Centric POV, but you HAVE to weigh strength of schedule if you're taking votes on the gut instincts of sports analysts.

And if these guys are so good, then fine - let them put their money where their mouth is and show what they're voting. That's really what I'm saying. Determining who goes to which bowl by secret ballot is absurd.

Anonymous said...

The AP Poll has always been public. It's the Coaches Poll that is secretive because coaches don't want to show their biases.

Bowl selection is done by the contracts a certain Bowl has with a conference through affiliation and a determination by the appropriate Bowl committee.

BCS determination is done first, then the other Bowls.


The League said...

Your use of "facts" to unfound my thesis is not appreciated at all, sir. We don't do "actual reality" around here when we're on a tear.