Fixing (maybe) what is (maybe) broken

While the bigger news from the WIAA was the three-seasons-away institution of the shot clock in basketball, bigger news may be reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Before private schools joined the WIAA and before the growth of small charter/choice schools in the Milwaukee area, basketball teams from small towns and rural areas won state titles almost every year.

If a proposal presented to the WIAA Board of Control on Thursday wins favor, that would again be the case in Divisions 4 and 5.

Board member Luke Francois of Mineral Point presented to the board a plan he crafted that he thinks could solve the issue of competitive equity in boys and girls basketball, a matter that has been simmering in the southwest corner of the state for the past few years.

The board did not approve the divisional placement proposal but did give it initial review and consideration and plan to make a topic of discussion at area meetings in September. The board did, however, vote to convene the basketball coaches advisory committee soon after the area meetings to discuss the plan’s merits. That group usually meets after the conclusion of the season but is being asked to meet earlier so that the proposal can make its way through the committee process and back to the board in time for its January meeting.

“Every proposal starts somewhere and this was the first opportunity that we’ve had to come together as a group and for me to lay out some of my best thinking with some of my counterparts and colleagues in front of the board,” Francois said. “It was an opportunity for us to poke some holes in it and ask some questions and clarify what the plan was.”

If the plans wins approval, it would take effect in 2018-19. Francois’ proposal called for it to have a two-year trial period.

Francois’ plan uses the designations given to each school by Department of Instruction, which categorize a school as city, suburban, rural or town, to place schools into divisions.

Here is how Francois’ plan would work.

*Division 1 – Schools with enrollments of 1,200 or more.

*Division 2 – Schools with enrollments of 600-1,200.

*Division 3 – Schools classified as city or suburban with less than 600 students and schools of 450-600 enrollment that are classified as rural or town but weren’t placed in Divisions 4 or 5.

* Division 4 – The 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment after Division 5 is determined.

* Division 5 – the 128 rural or town schools with the lowest enrollment.

“In Mineral Point, the contention was that the geographical draw in the I-43 corridor in just a 10-mile radius drawfs the entire draw that Mineral Point would have in all of Iowa County, just from the number of kids who could potentially travel to or attend that school district,” Francois said.

“The whole idea of urbans playing urbans and rurals playing rurals is to try to have a similar geographical draw and similar opportunities for kids in like-minded classification codes, which would be rurals and towns urbans and suburbans.”

“You can drive 45 minutes down the road and the experience in basketball in one community can be vastly different, suburban-urban, than it is in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is more rural.”

Under this plan, a great majority of schools in southeast Wisconsin would play in no lower than Division 3 regardless of their enrollment.

The proposal didn’t make a positive first-impress on board member Eric Coleman, an administrator in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“I think it creates segregation,” he said. “I’m not against it being presented to the association, so that everyone can hear the information so that it’s not confined to a small group of people and let them come to their own decision. But as far as me, I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it.

“I think the bigger issue is a race thing. Certain pockets, certain schools feel that the private schools from southeastern Wisconsin, specifically Milwaukee that have predominately African-American players are keeping them from winning state tournaments, so if you take them out of the equation, it increased their chances of winning the gold ball.”

Leave it to a Milwaukee Public Schools bureaucrat to immediately play the race card.

The proposal created more than hour of discussion before a motion was passed to convene the members of the basketball coaches committee following the area meeting.

Initially, Francois asked the board to adopt the plan pending approval of a majority in two of three groups: coaches advisory, sports advisory council and advisory council.

Kenosha administrator Steve Knecht was one of the board members who said he wouldn’t support the plan without more time to review it.

“I think we had a lot of good discussion because it’s good to hear different points of view from different people from different parts of the state on what real problems there are,” Knecht said. “I don’t see it currently as a problem the way basketball is set up … What we’re going to put out there, it’s good to get the feedback. I didn’t want to act on anything today other than to get it out there for people to see.”

This proposal is aimed right at the private-school athletic factories of La Crosse Aquinas (state Division 4 baseball champion and state Division 4 girls basketball runner-up), Madison Edgewood (state Division 3 girls basketball champion), Appleton Xavier (state Division 3 boys basketball champion), Eau Claire Regis (state Division 6 football champion), Manitowoc Roncalli (went to state in Division 4 boys basketball), Chippewa Falls McDonell Central (state champion in D5 softball and state in D5 girls basketball), Marshfield Columbus (ditto), Stevens Point Pacelli (D4 softball runner-up), Wausau Newman (D4 girls volleyball champion), Oshkosh Lourdes (D3 girls volleyball runner-up), Waukesha Catholic Memorial (D2 girls volleyball and D3 football champion), Green Bay Notre Dame (D2 girls volleyball runner-up and D3 football runner-up), Lake Mills Lakeside Lutheran (state in D2 girls volleyball), Milwaukee’s Divine Savior Holy Angels (state in D1 girls volleyball) These schools and others (Burlington Catholic Central and Whitefish Bay Dominican) are accused of recruiting public-school students, which they deny and which in turn is never believed.

As with anything, though, trying to kill one bug (the previous paragraph) will kill others. Most Wisconsin private schools are not athletic factories, and yet a 100-student Christian school will be in the same class as schools six times its size, and will be accordingly crushed early in the playoffs. It’s also not clear whether this proposal will include another small-school bugbear, charter schools, which are public schools generally in large metro areas. (Milwaukee Destiny was last year’s state D4 boys basketball champion, one season after Milwaukee’s Young Coggs Prep won the D5 title.)

There is also an argument to be made about whether or not in the era of open public school enrollment this should matter. Students now go to schools other than in their own school district of residence for sports reasons. Whether this is bad or not depends on whether you believe where a student lives should force that student to attend that school regardless of reasons that shouldn’t be the case.

One wonders if the solution to the private-school problem is to simply separate them out — to have, for instance, three public divisions and two private divisions at state. That doesn’t eject public schools from the WIAA, nor does it separate them from playing public schools in the regular season; it would simply group the schools that appear to play by different rules. (For instance, girls volleyball powers play out-of-state tournaments, which public schools rarely do for resource reasons.)

It will be interesting to watch the reaction to this proposal over the next school year.

 

Fixing that which isn’t necessarily broken

On Thursday the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, everyone’s favorite sports sanctioning body (insert eyeroll here), decided to implement a shot clock in the 2019–20 basketball season.

The Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s Mark Miller doesn’t like the decision for five reasons:

1) Speeding up an opponent is a strategy used often by high school coaches during game planning for an opponent. The idea is to make the opponent play faster and thus rush into rash decisions that negatively affect their team.

After watching high school games all over the state, both in season and during the summer, it has become abundantly clear to me that the vast majority of players struggle when the pace of the game increases. Speeding up kids on the basketball court most often leads to poor decisions. The elite-level players can handle the quickened pace of a shot clock, but the overwhelming majority of kids playing the game are not at an elite level. When forced to make a quick decision at the end of a shot clock, poor shots will be forced. That can happen without a shot clock as well, but my hunch is you will see even more bad shots taken when the WIAA moves to a shot clock in a few years.

2) Yes, professional and college basketball teams play with a shot clock. And it is fun to watch plays develop with the shot clock winding down. However, the players at that level are good enough to play with a shot clock. Professional players have competed in the game much, much longer than high school kids. College players, no matter the level, represent a tiny fraction of the entire high school crop. The fact so few states currently use a shot clock is a clear signal that it’s not something most view as necessary for the high school game.

3) An occasional slow-down game does create some uneasiness among the fans in the stands. Antigo’s 14-11 road victory over Rhinelander in the 2016 WIAA playoffs being a prime example. But those games are rare. I feel adding a shot clock will greatly decrease the chances of the underdog to pull the upset. Teams with less depth, less skill and less size than their opponent will have to play in a similar way with 35-second possessions. It takes a good chunk of the strategy out of the game. That is not a minor loss to the game.

4) Part of the beauty of following high school basketball is watching a deliberate team play against a full-court pressing team. Which team will dictate tempo? Who is better at making the opponent play their style? Much of that is now out the window with the addition of a shot clock. Teams that like to make an opponent play defense for minutes at a time will now get a mere 35 seconds for each possession. Most teams able to run their offense for minutes at a time end up with very high percentage shots. It is much easier to play defense for 35 seconds than two or three minutes.

5) And now the kicker. The fifth foul so to speak. More game-management personnel for each game leads to more expense. The implementation of a shot clock at the prep level is mind boggling when you consider most — not a few — but MOST schools struggle to keep track of the score, the game clock, the possession arrow or the scorebook accurately. Schools need to find a competent person to run the shot clock, pay that person and find room for that person at the scorer’s table. Adding shot clocks to close to 500 gyms across Wisconsin is obviously a big expense. Running the shot clocks during games only adds to the expense.

And by the way, where will the shot clock be located? Are all gyms equipped to add a shot clock above the basket? Will it be located next to the scoreboard? How many times during a game will officials have to stop the game because of shot clock malfunctions and/or mistakes?

In short, the WIAA Board of Control committed a huge turnover today by adding a shot clock to the high school game. Others obviously disagree with that statement, but it is my belief the WIAA just hand-delivered a big headache to athletic directors across the state while at the same time taking away a great deal of coaching strategy from a game that wasn’t in need of a fix.

I must say I prefer watching up-tempo basketball. (Though it is harder to announce.) However, as a fan I like to see a variety of styles of basketball, not just one (as sometimes is seen with all the Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan disciples out there). One thing that was cool about announcing the Division III Midwest Conference is that you had the whole gamut of basketball styles, from plodding (St. Norbert and Lake Forest, though not so much now) to what’s-defense? (Monmonth under Terry Glasgow) to Grinnell, which was in its own universe as far as pace.

Basketball coaches play the style that they’re accustomed to playing based on the talent of their teams. It is unlikely teams with three offensive linemen playing forward are going to be able to run up and down the floor. As for teams with quicker players, there is nothing stopping them from playing an up-tempo style now. I can foresee a lot of teams running 34 seconds of offense and then flinging a shot up at :01 on the shot clock. I can also see a lot of blowouts because teams with good coaches will be able to adapt to the shot clock, because good coaches always can adapt to rules changes.

The WIAA may be visualizing a dramatic increase in scoring on the level of high school all star games. (This year, on the boys side: Division 5 South 102, North 86; Division 4 South 83, North 73; D3 South 111, North 87; D2 North 107, South 96; D1 North 109, South 85.) They’re not going to get that. As with the three-point shot, scoring may blip slightly upward, but it will settle back eventually once teams learn that all they need to do stop another team is play 35 seconds of defense. The three-point shot is useless if you can’t shoot from the outside, and the shot clock is useless if you can’t run an offensive set to set up a shot before the buzzer goes off.

 

“Let me root, root root for the home team …”

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Scott D. Pierce:

Some fans want sportscasters to cheer for the home team. Those fans aren’t happy when it’s pointed out that, no, not every foul against their team is a bad call and, yes, sometimes the opponents play well. You run into these folks at every game. And they make noise on social media.

I was at a football game years ago when the visitors picked up an incomplete pass and ran it in for a TD. A guy in front of us bellowed at the refs; my friend and I remarked that it had been a backward pass — a lateral — and the right call; the guy then bellowed at us.

Ah, fans. You’ve got to love them. Or not. I personally want sportscasters to do their jobs. To tell us what’s actually happening.

Yes, a lot of it is opinion — whether it’s about how well a player is performing, a coach’s decisions or a ref’s calls.

But if you’re going to complain about every call made or missed, I’m going to tune you out.

Sportscaster Life’s Alex Rawnsley adds:

Being a homer is one of my sportscasting pet peeves. Sportscasters are story tellers first and foremost, so I always wonder how homer sportscasters can tell that story properly while being so slanted in one direction or another. Whether it’s the other team, your team or the refs, taking focus away from the game, the story, by being a homer can be a big negative when it comes to sportscasting.

Before storytelling there are the responsibilities of telling fans what’s going on, the mechanics of getting the ads on, promoting the station and future broadcasts, etc., which you’d think would be difficult if you’re wrapped up with a bad call or bad things happening to your team.

Whom might that refer to? Off the top of one’s ears there’s the White Sox’s Ken Harrelson …

… and the Vikings’ Paul Allen …

… the Bruins’ Jack Edwards …

… and …

All of those announcers, and any team’s announcers, are employed either by the teams or by their flagship radio or TV station or cable channel. (That includes Wisconsin’s Matt Lepay, the Packers’ Wayne Larrivee, the Brewers’ Bob Uecker, the Bucks’ Ted Davis and all their partners.) So unlike ESPN or Fox announcers, they’re viewed almost exclusively by fans of the team they’re announcing for. Even for a sportscaster viewed as impartial such as Vin Scully, it is in their professional interests for their employers to do well on the field.

Certainly Pierce is referring to the announcers who confuse hoping your team does well to assuming your team can do no wrong, the opponent can do no right, and the officials and the league are in a conspiracy against your team. It is, however, rare that an announcer will admit to being a homer, as an interview of Yankees announcer John Sterling with the New York Post reveals:

Q: What criticism of you that you feel has been the most unfair?
A: That I don’t tell the truth about the Yankees. My broadcast is as honest as can be. And people think because I get excited and exuberant over Yankee success, that I’m a homer. You know it used to kill Mel Allen, when he’d be accused of being a homer. He used to bend over backwards — we used to kid about it as teenagers — “Oh, the always-ready White Sox, and the ever-charging Tigers.” It killed Bill Chadwick that he was called a homer. I don’t let anything bother me. If you don’t like it, you know, they have an idea what they can do.

Larrivee is an interesting case. There’s no question he wants the Packers to win. His critiques of officiating and the NFL (for instance, the rules) are not exactly impartial. But if things aren’t going well for the Packers, he will tell you that the opposing offense is “gashing the Packer defense!” Sometimes listening to a Packer game is a bit of a bipolar experience, frankly.

One of my favorite announcers is the Reds’ Marty Brennaman …

… because he does not shy away from criticizing his team:

If Uecker has criticized the Brewers on the air in the past, I don’t recall hearing it. The operative phrase there is “on the air.” My favorite announcer, Dick Enberg, told the story of his Angels partner, Don Drysdale, who would rip the bad teams Enberg and Drysdale were covering by turning off his microphone. And then after he got done, the mic went back on, and there was Drysdale, pleasant as always. Listeners over the years may have heard somewhat lengthy pauses during Brewers games when things weren’t going well. Uecker and Drysdale were friends, so perhaps that’s what Uke was doing.

Sports announcing is not merely about calling the game. At every level, it’s about promoting broadcast sponsors and getting people to keep listening as well. At the college and pro level, it’s also about promoting the team, to get people to come to home games. (Which might seem at cross purposes given that fans at the game presumably don’t watch or listen to the game, but that’s not always the case.)

Homerism appears to be a bigger thing now than it used to be, though as the previous examples show homerism has existed for a long, long time. Red Barber, who almost invented radio baseball announcing, worked for the Yankees in 1966 when, according to Awful Announcing a game was played on an awful September day:

Strikingly, only 413 fans showed up at the cavernous ballpark, the smallest crowd in the stadium’s glorious history. John Filippelli, a current broadcast executive with YES and then a teenage vendor at Yankee Stadium said, “It was very spooky, surreal and strange.”

Barber felt strongly that the empty stadium was the story and asked that the cameras pan the empty park. But Perry Smith the team’s broadcast head wouldn’t allow it. Red talked about the eerie emptiness anyhow, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game,” he said. The Yankees lost to the White Sox that day 4-1.

Because there were rumors about his future with the club and the season was coming to an end, Barber requested a meeting with Michael Burke who had just been appointed the Yanks’ president by the team’s new owner, CBS.  They met for breakfast on Monday September 26th and before Red finished his first cup of coffee, Burke told him his contract would not be renewed.

Barber asserted that he was fired for maintaining his journalistic integrity when the stadium was virtually empty. And over the last fifty years, others have summarily and faithfully accepted Barber’s account. …

[Fellow announcer Joe] Garagiola later postulated that Barber was fired because he was bossy in the booth and annoying to his fellow announcers. He felt that Barber himself played up the story about dictating that the cameras focus on a near empty stadium to appear sanctimonious.

“I said there are more people going to confession at St. Patrick’s than there are people at the ballpark and Mike Burke didn’t say anything to me,” Garagiola proclaimed.

The problem is that fans apparently — or so teams seem to think — don’t want to hear bad news about their team, even when bad things are happening to their team. That is one reason for the hate for such announcers as Fox’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who are supposed to be neutral, but fans of neither team Buck covers appear to believe that. Fans also (in the opinion of the teams or their broadcast outlets) want announcers who show their support of their employers by over-the-top yelling instead of reporting on what’s going on.

I have never been told by my broadcast employers to root, root root (harder) for the home team. I’ve never been employed by a team, though. I have over the years toned down my calls because, possibly unlike my early broadcast days, I learned that there is always a next season (whether or not I announce that) and usually (except for season-ending losses) a next game. That’s what your brain tells you, though that’s not necessarily what your heart tells you. I’ve toned down my criticism of officials because I’ve concluded that if you bitch about the officiating incessantly (see Harrelson, Ken “Hawk”), your credibility is imperiled when an official actually does blow a call. (There are subtle ways to express an opinion about a call, such as to call a hitter or baserunner “officially out.”)

 

Mr. Quarterback President

Bleacher Report reports:

After a photograph of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning departing the White House after reportedly golfing with President Donald Trump circulated over the weekend, some in the NFL, busy with OTAs and other offseason shenanigans, started talking about it.

When I asked one AFC general manager his thoughts about the picture, he texted back, succinctly: “Peyton Manning will be president one day.”

He suggested, as did others, that one day America could see a Republican nomination fight between Manning and Tom Brady. Another NFL voice even went so far as to predict a Manning-Brady faceoff against LeBron James for the presidency.

Sure, for now that sounds like science fiction, but it is a fact that some of Manning’s former teammates, and others around football, believe Manning would make an excellent politician. Pat McAfee, who joined the Colts before Manning’s last three years in Indianapolis and is now with Barstool Sports, said he believes Manning would be a great political leader.

“If he was to become a politician, I assume he’d be incredible at it,” McAfee told B/R. “He’s a leader, a tireless worker and a fabulous communicator. I don’t know much about politics, but I think if you have those three traits, you have a chance of being a real world-changer. I hope he gets into it someday; would be great for our country.”

Some of you may love the idea of a Manning presidency. Some of you may have just thrown up in your mouth a little. But before a fight breaks out in this edition of the 10-Point Stance, let’s back up a little to understand why this is even a debate.

TheHill.com reported over the weekend that Manning, Trump and Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, were seen returning from one of Trump’s golf courses. Other reports noted that Manning was later seen on the White House South Lawn with Corker.

As photos of the outing went viral, I texted various players and team executives to get their thoughts, and the responses basically were the same: No one was surprised. …

Around the league, one of the worst-kept secrets was that Manning would go into politics and eventually make a run at the presidency as a Republican. The Trump photo only bolsters that speculation.

Now it’s possible that all Manning was doing was showing respect for the office of the president by golfing with Trump when asked. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Manning has often publicly denied any interest in pursuing politics, and when asked in March about speculation that in 2020 he would run for the Senate, he said he had “no interest in the political world.” Even McAfee told me Manning never mentioned politics to him when they played together, and the two “shared a few beers back in the day,” McAfee said.

But few in football buy it. I’ve heard from former teammates how much Manning actually loves the idea of getting into the political world. Many feel as McAfee does—that Manning would be an excellent politician, and that one day he’d get into it not only to serve but also because it would appeal to his ego.

Republican leaders in the past have said that if Manning ran for office in Tennessee, he’d be a dominant candidate.

“He is a Tennessee hero, and if he should ever choose to use his legendary determination, knowledge and drive in politics, he would be an extremely formidable candidate,” Scott Golden, the Tennessee state party chairman, told the Commercial Appeal in March.

Manning is seen as someone who, in a locker room, united many different kinds of people from all different types of backgrounds. His backers think he could do the same with a city or a state or even the country. (Though he likely would lose the “idiot kicker” vote.) And with Manning’s smarts and leadership ability, some around the league argue he couldn’t do any worse than some of the politicians we see now.

I’m just relaying what I’m hearing. Don’t @ me.

There is, of course, a precedent for athletes getting into politics—Bill Bradley, Lynn Swann, Jack Kemp and former President Gerald Ford, just to name a few (and, interestingly, a lot of them are former quarterbacks). There’s even precedent for a former Tennessee quarterback doing it. Heath Shuler played for the Volunteers and in the NFL before he became a U.S. Representative from 2007-13 for the state of North Carolina.

What I think we’re seeing is Manning perhaps testing the political waters, using Trump as a temperature gauge. Another Michael Freeman (he’s the smart one), a speechwriter and communications consultant, made the point to me on Twitter—and I think he’s right—that Manning wanted the picture with Trump as a way of saying: “If he can do it…”

While a Manning run at the White House is what has some in the NFL talking, it seems unlikely he would start there. More realistic may be a run at a lower level, even for a statewide office, and to then build up, the way Kemp did.

Either way, we might want to start getting used to the idea that Manning may be on CNN a lot more than ESPN in years to come.

Brady vs. Manning, with the winner taking on James in a presidential election? Start writing the speculative fiction now.

Let’s remember, though, that the current president had never run for office before, and the most successful Republican president of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, was an actor for most of his professional life, though he was governor of California for eight years before running for, then becoming, president.

Post-series schadenfreude, Amazin’ edition

It turns out that predictions about how bad the Brewers would be this season may have been exaggerated, largely because there are worse teams on the Brewers schedule.

One of them is the Mets, swept by the Brewers this weekend 7–4, 11–4 and 11–9.  Friday starting pitcher Matt Harvey gave up three home runs, two of them pinch-hit, one of those described by a Facebook Friend as appearing to have been hit by a guy in the accounting department. Meanwhile starting pitcher Matt Garza, one of the worst acquisitions in Brewers history in terms of performance for pay, resembled a major league starting pitcher.

The Mets pitching staff gave up eight home runs on the weekend. According to the New York Daily News Mets starters have the worst earned run average in baseball and have pitched the third fewest innings in the National League.

It turns out that Harvey has more problems than giving up gopherballs, Page Six reports:

Supermodel Adriana Lima was still slinging arrows at The Dark Knight Saturday, as diehard Mets fans trolled her for breaking the hurler’s heart.

“U ruined Matt Harvey” fumed nicholaspetro43.

“You ruined the Mets season go away!” taunted dadinoooo.

But the bodacious Brazilian did not shrink from her critics. “There is always two sides of the coin,” she responded. “Only 1 has been heard.”

Harvey was suspended for three games last week after he failed to show up for the May 6 game against the Marlins.

The Post exclusively reported Harvey spent the night before drinking — drowning his sorrows after Lima posted an Instagram photo showing her stepping out with a former beau, New England Patriots wide receiver ­Julian Edelman.

On Saturday, throw out the Brewers’ fifth inning, and it would have been a close ballgame. Unfortunately for the Mets, the Brewers scored eight runs in their fifth inning.

Then on Sunday the Mets had a 7–1 lead that disappeared like watching the Titanic sink.

The New York Post, never one for a measured response for a local team failure when gasoline can be poured on the fire, wrote:

So this is life for the Mets without Jeurys Familia.

There is no guarantee the Mets would have won Sunday’s game even if their All-Star closer was active, not with the manner the ball was jumping at Miller Park, but calling Addison Reed’s number for five-out saves sure doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.

But that’s where the Mets were after Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas and Josh Edgin all pitched to some level of disappointment. Reed surrendered a three-run homer to Manny Pina, sending the Mets to the bottom of Lake Michigan in a painful fourth straight loss, 11-9 to the Brewers.

“Slider down,” Reed said, when asked what he was trying to throw Pina. “I think it was down the middle of the plate.”

That assessment summarized the final three innings for the Mets, a torturous stretch in which the Brewers scored 10 runs against Jacob deGrom and an overwhelmed bullpen. The Mets led 7-1 heading to bottom of the sixth before the Brewers scored two, three and five runs in their final three at-bats.

The save situation was the Mets’ first since Familia underwent surgery Friday for a blood clot in his right shoulder that will keep him sidelined for three to four months.

“We had a big lead and we blew it,” said deGrom, who slogged through six innings in which he allowed four earned runs on eight hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. …

“We have a clubhouse full of veterans and they have all been through a game like this,” [manager Terry] Collins said. “They have all been through a series like this before and you have got to rise out of the ashes and get back on the horse.”

As a result of the weekend and their opponent as described by the Mets manager’s mixed metaphor, the Brewers are one game out of first place in the National League Central Division. I highly doubt the Brewers will be anywhere near first place by the end of the season, but if teams are going to give games to you, you might as well take them.

“Let out that yell now for our great team …”

A Facebook Friend posted a snippet of this, and since this blog didn’t exist when published in 2010 this seems a good time to re-reveal the Wisconsin State Journal’s list of best Madison La Follette boys athletes.

The State Journal’s Tom Oates supervised the votes of the best at-least-two-sport athletes of all time from Madison’s eight high schools, six of which still exist today. (The other two were the University of Wisconsin High School, open from 1914 to 1964, and Central,  which closed in 1969. Malcolm Shabazz City School has no sports, so they weren’t included. The top 60, up to 2010m included …

5. Gary Anderson, Class of 1969

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors:

• All-city, all-Big Eight and second-team all-state quarterback as a senior; also named city and Big Eight player of the year

• Two-time all-city, all-Big Eight and all-state pick in basketball (first-team all-state in 1970, fourth-team in 1969); also two-time city player of the year and two-time Big Eight scoring leader

• Two-time all-city outfielder in baseball

• Three-year starter in basketball at UW, earning team MVP and all-Big Ten second-team honors as a senior

• Drafted by NBA’s Washington Bullets and ABA’s San Antonio Spurs

Quotable: Former La Follette coach Pete Olson: “Mr. Smooth. He made everything look easy.”

Gary and his younger brother Ross, who played on La Follette’s first state champion team in 1977 and then played football at UW, and brothers Dean and Steve had a younger brother, Craig, who was a senior when I was a freshman. Everyone looked up to Craig because (1) he was 6-foot-6 and (2) a great athlete who (3) didn’t let it go to his head; he was really the kind of high school athlete, including in demeanor, you want to have. Craig was a reserve on Ross’ 1977 state champion team when freshmen were never on the varsity, and then he got to state in 1980, along with three state boys volleyball trips. Craig played basketball at Iowa, but nobody’s perfect.

17. Jonte Flowers, Class of 2003

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight as an end and defensive back in football

• City back of the year and Big Eight receiver of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in football as a senior

• Three-time all-city and two-time all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• City and Big Eight basketball player of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in basketball as a senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion as a junior

• Third in high jump as La Follette won title at the WIAA state track meet in 2002

• Played football at UW as a freshman

• Transferred to Winona State and played four years of basketball; starred on team that won NCAA Division II titles in 2006 and 2008 and lost in the final in 2007

• Division II second-team all-American and voted most outstanding player in NCAA tournament in 2008, scoring 30 points in the final

Quotable: Capital Times sportswriter Adam Mertz: “His resume reads like something from the ‘50s. No one was as dominant in three sports over the previous three decades. Didn’t figure out his best sport until college.”

18. Nathan Brown, Class of 2002

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight halfback and linebacker

• City back of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team linebacker in 2001, second team in 2000

• All-city honorable mention in basketball as a senior

• Won both hurdles events and the 1,600 relay in leading La Follette to the Division 1 WIAA state track title in 2002

• Also won intermediate hurdles and was second in high hurdles in 2001

• Recruited by UW for football but had to drop the sport for medical reasons

• Lettered five years in track at UW

• Won the heptathlon at the Big Ten Indoor meet and the decathlon at the Big Ten Outdoor meet in 2006

Quotable: State Journal sportswriter Rob Hernandez: “This kid might have been the smartest all-around athlete on this list. He used his brains to complement his natural ability.”

23. Rick Olson, Class of 1982

Sports: Basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight in basketball

• First-team all-state as senior, when he set city single-season scoring record (694 points) and was the city, Big Eight and state player of the year

• Leading scorer on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• All-city and all-Big Eight outfielder in baseball as a senior

• Four-year starter in basketball at UW

• Still fifth in career points at UW with 1,736

• Scored 39 points in one game in 1984 and averaged 20.4 points in 1986

• Team MVP in 1986 and all-Big Ten honorable mention in 1984 and 1986

• Drafted by NBA’s Houston Rockets

There is no quote, so I will provide one. On La Follette’s 25th anniversary year, I did a story about 25 years of La Follette boys basketball and asked Olson’s coach, Pete Olson (not related to Rick, nor to a future sportswriter at the same newspaper named, yes, Pete Olson) for his top list of players of all time. He simply took his top five scorers list, which included the aforementioned Anderson and Olson, who at the time was the school’s career and single-season scoring leader. I couldn’t find his career total, but he scored 697 points in the 25-game 1981–82 season. That’s 27.8 points per game, without the three-point shot, by a 6–1 guard. But don’t believe me, read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Badgers basketball coach Bo Ryan was asked to comment on the long-range shooting ability of guard Ben Brust, who had 17 points in Wisconsin’s 68-41 victory over Colgate on Wednesday night.

“He’s got Ricky-Olson type range,” Ryan said of the former Wisconsin and Madison La Follette guard, who played for the Badgers from 1983-’86.

Ryan pointed out that Olson did not have the benefit of the three-point line when he played. But Olson still ranks fifth in career points at UW with 1,736 and as a senior averaged 20.4 points.

“The young people are looking at me … they’re Googling Rick Olson right now,” Ryan said. “He was a pretty good outside shooter for the Badgers, back in the ’80s.”

By the way: Olson was a three-sport athlete. He was a setter for La Follette’s boys volleyball team, which went to state in 1979 and 1980.

24. Tim Jordan, Class of 1982

Jordan, in gray, is about to jump center against future classmate Jay Laszewski, who is about to lose his first senior-year high school basketball game.

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight defensive end in football

• Started at center on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• Set records in 100 and 200 at Big Eight track meet and was fifth in 100 at WIAA state meet as a senior

• Lettered four years in football at UW at outside linebacker

• Drafted by NFL’s New England Patriots in 1987

• Played three NFL seasons

I was a year behind both Olson and Jordan, two of the starters on the 1982 state Class A boys basketball champions. I didn’t know Jordan was the Big Eight 100 and 200 record holder. That’s impressive because he was 6–3 and 200 or so, which is a little large for hig school sprinters. It’s kind of too bad that La Follette didn’t have better football players in those days (as you know my first three years at La Follette the Lancers had three, one and one wins), because just based on size and speed he would have made a world-beater tight end. At UW Jordan and Memorial graduate Rick Graf were the “Thunder and Lightning” outside linebacker duo; Graf went on to the Dolphins.

25. John Krugman, Class of 1968

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight halfback

• Conference player of year and all-state in 1967 after breaking Alan Ameche’s 17-year-old Big Eight record with 115 points and 19 touchdowns in eight games

• Three-time all-city in basketball and all-state honorable mention in 1968

• Two-time all-city in baseball

• Lettered two seasons in football at UW as a punter and fullback

31. Michael Flowers, Class of 2004 

UW Flowers, not La Follette Flowers.

Sports: Football, basketball

Honors

• All-city, all-Big Eight and all-state honorable mention at quarterback as a junior; didn’t play as a senior

• Three-time all-city and all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• All-state first-team basketball as a junior, honorable mention as a sophomore and senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion in 2002

• Lettered four years in basketball at UW

• All-Big Ten second-team pick as a senior, honorable mention as a junior

• Twice named to Big Ten all-defensive team

Note the mention of his not playing football as a senior. As a football player, Flowers was compared to Michael Vick. Imagine him playing football instead of basketball for the Badgers.

 

100 fewer employees later …

The biggest news in sports media this week was Wednesday’s layoffs of 100 ESPN employees.

As someone who was told not to go to work the next day or any future day by an employer (which event started this blog six years ago), I have sympathy for those laid off. It seems highly unlikely that ESPN’s business problems are the fault of, for instance, Ed Werder, ESPN’s 17-year NFL reporter, or Jayson Stark, ESPN’s 17-year baseball reporter. Evidence that life is unfair is that the worker bees get laid off instead of those on the executive floor whose bad decisions caused bad financial results that led to the need for those layoffs.

ESPN’s problems are driven by economics, in two directions. Former ESPN, well, whatever he was Colin Cowherd opined, and Awful Announcing heard him say …

Speaking on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Cowherd said he knew things were going to change at ESPN when he learned of the news that the network had signed a huge megadeal to keep the NBA:

“I told my producers … ‘fellas, it’ll never be the same here.’ You can not pay four times for the house what you paid for the house last year. And I said this company will never be the same.

“It was at that point I started looking, and this is not going to end today. They have really cost-prohibitive contracts, combined with cord-cutting.

“I said this when they cut 850 people, I said it the next day, it’s awful, and it will happen annually for the next decade. You have to have contracts …”

And regarding the layoffs, Cowherd noted that the overpayment for the NBA and in particular, the NFL has come back to bite ESPN and it’s forced the company into layoffs:

These firings are awful. It makes me sick.

“The good news is – most of the people let go are really talented, but this is all about business, and when you have overpaid for products, sometimes six and seven hundred million more than you had to pay, certainly with the NBA that’s the case, they just pay way too much for it. This is the result, it’s awful, and I think unfortunately this was the first of a 10-year deal with the NBA and I just feel awful – there’s are a lot of good people.”

But he added that he feels that ESPN has let go of the most expensive people at the company and that “a lot of them are going to land in really good places.”

The other half is that ESPN charges cable operators more than $7 per subscriber per month, and of course those charges are passed on to cable customers. Cable companies’ failure to get viewers the channels they want and not pay for the channels they don’t want has prompted cancellation of cable TV. ESPN has lost about 10 million subscribers over the past three years.

ESPN has a website, and has an app. But if you’re not a cable subscriber, you can’t see live games on either, including WatchESPN. (You also can’t see live games even if you are a cable subscriber if your cable company doesn’t offer WatchESPN.)

Even if you’re a sports fan there are a lot of ESPN “sports” not worth watching, including so-called “extreme” sports, Mixed Martial Arts (imagine boxing with no rules) and poker, and has replaced them with far too many debate shows. Part of it is that ESPN has lost a few properties, including the baseball postseason, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR auto racing, and according to viewers (of which I am not), its news coverage of sports it doesn’t cover has dropped precipitously.

What viewers may find somewhat ridiculous is who is still at ESPN — namely, Chris Berman, whose best days are well past him, and Stephen A. Smith. The latter got rather defensive about his job status, as reported by Alex Putterman:

In the midst of ESPN’s massive round of layoffs Wednesday, more than a few people brought up Stephen A. Smith as evidence of how the Worldwide Leader had gone astray. How, people wondered, could ESPN fire so many great reporters while keeping a loudmouth hot-take artist like Stephen A. Smith around to appear on First Take and numerous other shows?

Among the legions making some version of that argument was former Sports Illustrated writer and best-selling author Jeff Pearlman, who called Smith’s employment in the face of layoffs “an assault on the profession.” …

Well Stephen A. Smith puts up with a lot of crap, but he apparently wasn’t willing to put up with that. On his radio show Thursday, he addressed Pearlman’s criticism, as well as the general perception that he is unqualified for such a lofty position at ESPN.

Smith began the segment by saying he didn’t like to respond to criticism but that he felt compelled to in this case. He then described the layoffs as business-related and implied that he was protected because his show is popular and well-rated. Then he really got going:

I’m going to ask Mr. Jeff Pearlman and all the Jeff Pearlmans of the world a simple question: Why are you focusing on me? There are people in our business who actually get paid more, who do less and produce less. Why are you not talking about them?

Like when they call me ‘Screamin’ A?’ I’m the only dude on the air who’s loud? I know plenty of white dudes who are screaming and going off. They’re called passionate. I’m called loud. … The real issue at hand is, what you’re bringing into question are my qualifications.

Smith then listed out his career history, from graduating from Winston-Salem State University to holding numerous internships to working at several newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was promoted again and again until he became on of the only black sports columnists in the country.

His point was simple: He worked hard to earn the position he’s currently in.

Some people will surely balk at Smith’s invocation of race, but he wasn’t really calling Pearlman racist or suggesting all criticism of him is due to his skin color (though undoubtedly some fraction of it is). This was his main idea:

I used to be a journalist? Mr. Pearlman, you used to be a college student. You used to be a high-school student. Last time I checked, there’s a level of elevation that took place because you graduate to certain levels. I’m not a blogger. I came up in this industry where you had to be a journalist. You had to break stories. You had to break news in order to elevate your career to get to a certain point to get to a certain level before you even had the license to give your opinion, especially if you were a black man. 

Mr. Pearlman’s not black, maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. Maybe that’s why he’s so quick to talk about what I have deserved. I gave ya’ll my resume. I transferred from newspaper to television, from television to television and radio. I’ve done this. My credentials speak for themselves. I’m so sick and tired of people coming at me. If you want to talk credentials, name the time and place. Tell me what level I didn’t work on.

Smith repeatedly complimented Pearlman, saying he would never dare question another writer’s credentials.

Stephen A. is absolutely 100 percent correct that he has the resume for the position he’s in, that he worked his way up the ladder and earned bigger and bigger roles, and that it’s not easy to get to where he is now. Without question, his critics lose sight of that all the time, unfairly depicting him as a brainless carnival barker.

However, it’s certainly fair to wonder why Smith uses his hard-earned position to propagate a high-pitched, disagreement-centered, occasionally offensive model of television that risks undermining the more journalistic aspects of the industry—and to question why that’s the model ESPN chooses to reward.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room, however, is ESPN’s conscious decision to insert politics into its sports coverage. Those who approve of this have sworn up and down all week that that has nothing to do with ESPN’s current financial problems. Certainly it’s not the primary cause, but if cable subscribers are dropping you, and some number of your viewers are not fans of the liberal politics you’re espousing, one would logically seem connected to the other.

ESPN quotes a fellow La Follette Lancer (we were in the same journalism class) on its editorial policy:

ESPN has issued new political and election guidelines for its employees that, while allowing for political discussion on the network’s platforms, recommend connecting those comments to sports whenever possible. The new policies also provide separate guidelines for ESPN staffers working on news and those engaging in commentary. …

“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” said Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board, which drafted the new guidelines.

Stiegman said no single issue or incident led to the change, but Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and managing editor of newsgathering and reporting, said the nation’s tense political climate did play a role.

“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once,” he said. “Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that.”

Stiegman said the new election guidelines are no longer just targeted at presidential elections. “We simply extended our approach to covering presidential elections every four years to major elections, in general, believing all the same principles should apply,” Stiegman said.

So what’s different in the new policies? Let’s start with the Political and Social Issues guidelines. Its first line lays out ESPN’s challenge quite accurately:

“At ESPN, our reputation and credibility with viewers, readers and listeners are paramount. Related to political and social issues, our audiences should be confident our original reporting of news is not influenced by political pressures or personal agendas.”

As I wrote in November, not all ESPN consumers — or employees, for that matter — feel the company has lived up to this ideal. Stiegman said that the buzz around the topic of ESPN and politics — also written about by The New York Times, Awful Announcing, the Orlando Sentinel and many conservative sites criticizing ESPN’s perceived leftward tilt — didn’t play a significant role in the revision of the guidelines.

The two most notable changes from the Political Advocacy policy are the delineation of guidelines between news and commentary, and allowing for increased political discussion on ESPN platforms, as warranted and connected to sports. This isn’t a surprising development, it’s just new.

“We wanted to err on the side of transparency and trust with our reporting,” Stiegman said, “but also give our columnists and commentators the freedom to discuss topics relevant to those sports fans who visit our platforms, even if the issues are political or social in nature.”

Here are other notable points in the Political and Social Issues policy, with my thoughts:

“Original news reports should not include statements of support, opposition or partisanship related to any social issue, political position, candidate or office holder.”

This one seems straightforward and achievable, at least within ESPN’s platforms. The one place on ESPN in which you don’t see straight opinion is on the hard news side of the operation.

“Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”

The three key words here are “public-facing forum.” That expands this policy beyond ESPN’s borders and brings the Wild West of social media into play. In fact, later in the memo, it is said directly that the policy applies to “ESPN, Twitter, Facebook and other media.”

This is where the potential for problems exists. ESPN news reporters tweeting political opinions from their own social accounts would technically violate this policy. Again, hard news reporters are less likely to use social media for this purpose than commentators, but how effective this policy is will depend on how hard executives choose to look at social media. Let’s be honest: It’s not too hard to find ESPN employees tweeting political opinions. Yes, much of that activity does fall within the new guidelines, which also note that those who do publicly express political views could be reassigned when covering stories. But the propriety of other posts is a tad murkier.

“Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines.”

This is meaningful because, unlike the company’s previous policy, it states that commentary on political and social issues is OK. The previous policy not only didn’t say that but also conveyed a tone that suggested that dipping into political waters carried more danger than reward. Put another way, the new policy has gone from “It’s dangerous out there, so probably best to stay home” to “It’s dangerous out there, so here are some tools to best keep you safe.” …

“The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.”

What is a “personal attack” and what’s considered “inflammatory”? As with many journalistic policy questions, those are subjective. And in policies like these, that can lead to caution.

“There is always a layer of subjectivity in such areas,” Stiegman said. “Editors and producers will work with those offering opinions on these topics to ensure the dialogue and debate is thoughtful, respectful and as fair as possible.”

That is not happening, according to Ben Shapiro back in November:

From giving Caitlyn Jenner a heroism award to stumping for Black Lives Matter, from pushing gun control to praising Kaepernick’s heroism, from firing Curt Schilling for expressing anti-radical Islam sentiments to threatening Chris Broussard for taking a religious view of homosexuality while doing nothing about Kevin Blackistone for calling the national anthem a “war anthem,” ESPN has become – as I’ve long said – MSNBC with footballs.

Now, ESPN’s public editor is admitting that the network has a problem. As Newsbusters reports, Jim Brady admitted, “One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same.” He added:

ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some…. For most of its history, ESPN was viewed relatively apolitically. Its core focus was — and remains today, of course — sports. Although the nature of sports meant an occasional detour into politics and culture was inevitable, there wasn’t much chatter about an overall perceived political bias. If there was any tension internally, it didn’t manifest itself publicly.

Brady talked to anchor Bob Ley, who admitted that ESPN has no “diversity of thought.” A conservative employee told Brady that “If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers.” Jemele Hill, naturally, said “I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed. Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”

This is the problem. And this is why ESPN and the media more generally fail. It is suppression to label those who disagree with you politically morally evil because they disagree. Yet that’s what Hill does. That’s what ESPN does, too. The left believes its opinions and feelings are facts; those who disagree are therefore either morons or fascists. That’s why Hill thinks Schilling should have been fired for putting up a meme expressing that transgender people should go to the bathroom in the restroom that matches their biological sex. Schilling must be evil.

That perspective comes across in ESPN’s casual leftism. And it alienates viewers. I’m one of them. I used to watch ESPN every time I worked out. Now I’d rather have the television off. I’m not interested in hearing talking heads who know less about politics than they do about water polo take for granted that they are morally righteous, and everyone on the right is morally obtuse. Screw them. I’d rather cut the cord entirely.

Sean Davis says:

The industry insider I spoke to said the focus on politics was a symptom, rather than a root cause, of all these current issues. According to this insider, ESPN executives saw the writing on the wall — higher costs, subscriber losses, lower ratings — and decided that it needed a bigger content pie to attract more content consumers. Sports is too small, so why not try for a real mass audience by broadening the network’s focus to include news and politics? If X number of people like sports, and Y number of people like politics, then surely combining sports and politics will lead to a much bigger audience, thereby solving the company’s financial dilemma.

This view, of course, ignores how people consume political news. The diehards who love political news don’t turn on the TV or open the laptop and navigate to sites with zero bias that just play it straight. Why? Because those kinds of political news and commentary providers don’t exist. Because that’s not what political junkies want. Liberals want news from liberals, and conservatives want news from conservatives. The Balkanization of political news and commentary didn’t happen by accident. People in this business know you have to pick a side. That works in political news. It doesn’t work if you have a bipartisan mass media audience.

Instead of expanding its pie by combining two types of mass media content, ESPN ended up communicating to half its audience that it didn’t respect them. How? By committing itself entirely not to political news, but to unceasing left-wing political commentary.

You want to watch the Lakers game? Okay, but first you’re going to hear about Caitlyn Jenner. Want some NFL highlights? We’ll get to those eventually, but coming up next will be a discussion about how North Carolina is run by racist, homophobic bigots. You want to see the box scores of today’s baseball games? You can watch those at the bottom of the hour, but right now some D-list network talent would like to lecture you about gun control. After that we’ll have a panel discussion about how much courage it takes to turn your back on the American flag.

The most interesting aspect of the mass layoffs on Wednesday isn’t that they happened, it’s who the network targeted. Not the high-priced carnival barkers and the know-nothing loudmouths doing their best to make Rachel Maddow proud. Nope. ESPN targeted sports reporters. In an effort to cut some fat from its bottom line, ESPN exchanged a scalpel for a chainsaw, skipped the fat entirely, and went straight to cutting out muscle.

If ESPN wants to once again be the worldwide leader in sports, it should refocus on covering sports, which used to be a refuge from politics and the news. America is politicized enough already, and if its citizens want political news, several cable outlets do political news far better than ESPN ever could. Instead of doing sports and politics poorly, perhaps the network could return to the thing that it used to do better than everyone else in the world: cover live sports.

Unlike those with nothing more than opinions, Deep Root Analysis looks at data:

The FOX blog “Outkick the Coverage” has attributed ESPN’s decline to the rising partisanship coming out of Bristol, labeling the network “MSESPN” in pieces like this one, headlined “ESPN Profit Plummets As Network Turns Left”. “Outkick the Coverage’s” Clay Travis supports his argument with Scarborough data showing most sports fans are conservative politically. With the news of today’s layoffs, Travis argues that the network’s leftward turn is “more a symptom of the collapse than it is a cause of the collapse.”

Naturally, the news out of Bristol has led to a variety of “takes” across the Internet. The National Review Online wrote a warning about politicizing sports. Others have scoffed at the idea that partisanship has kept people from watching ESPN, even as ESPN’s public editor concedes that it is among “a set of smaller causes” harming ESPN. Perhaps the hottest take of the day claimed that “sports fans really don’t like anyone who stands up for civil rights.”

WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?

But is there data to support the notion that Republicans are turning off ESPN as the network ramped up its political commentary during the 2016 election and beyond?

Deep Root Analytics specializes in local television measurement by segmenting the population into political, advocacy and commercial groups and matching those segments into observed TV viewership data via set-top boxes and smart TV data. This allows Deep Root to produce customized ratings and indices for every program and daypart on broadcast and cable TV – including data on ESPN’s viewership among loyal Democrats and Republicans.

We analyzed viewership data in a large media market in a swing state (Cincinnati, OH) for the entirety of 2015 and 2016.  Also, to control for any changes in partisan identification between 2015 and 2016, Deep Root Analytics analyzed viewership among the same audiences across both years.

In our analysis, a clear trend emerges: ESPN’s viewership in this key swing state market became less Republican during 2016.

Specifically, in 2015, the ESPN audience on average skewed Republican across all dayparts, ranging from 12% more Republican (Early News, Late Fringe, Overnight) to 21% more Republican than Democratic (Early Morning).

In 2016, every daypart on ESPN became less conservative, with Daytime being only 2% more Republican than Democratic, while Late Fringe and Overnight programming became 10% and 12% more Democratic than Republican – a 22 and 28 point shift, respectively.

The same is true across other ESPN properties. ESPN2 skewed Republican across most dayparts in 2015; in 2016 all dayparts skewed Democratic. Every daypart also switched on ESPN News from 2015 to 2016.

ESPNU was the only network that retained its mostly Republican audience. ESPN Deportes – the network’s Spanish language channel – became even more Democratic in 2016 than it already was in 2015.

Here is a complete look at the 2015-2016 shift in partisanship across ESPN networks:

To be sure, the ESPN layoffs signal a larger business challenge facing the network. But at least in Cincinnati, the partisanship of viewers noticeably shifted – just as ESPN’s problems got worse.

I would contend that there are more conservative fans of sports than liberal fans of sports. Conservatives did not create the odious phrase “the personal is political.” Conservatives did not create today’s culture of participation medals. Unlike most of life, sports is closer to black and white — team A defeats team B; athlete C finishes first, which means the rest do not.

Here is an example of ESPN’s self-defense, from its Undefeated site:

In sports, everything from choosing fantasy sports teams to selecting the teams that will play for big-time college football national championships is rooted in statistics and statistical analysis, wins and losses and strength of schedules. Further, in sports, everything from a player making an obscene gesture to a pro franchise abandoning one city for another can prompt earnest discussions about right and wrong, revenge, rehabilitation and forgiveness.

But in the nation’s public policy, we too often allow ideology and political maneuvering to render facts moot, especially when those facts support inconvenient truths such as global climate change. And morality, if it is acknowledged at all, is presumed to be the province of specific parties or ideologies, instead of governing our thinking, decisions and actions. From public education to health care, we focus more on the politics of changing public policy than the efficacy and morality of making the changes.

Consequently, our nation, a house divided, struggles to stand: We’re a people who talk to one another without a common political vocabulary, a people who seek to silence dissenting voices. We’re a people who seek to move without common direction, a people who would solve our problems without a consensus of what those problems are, or a common moral purpose to guide our actions.

The apologia for this comes from the oxymoronic Think Progress:

I truly wish this went without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: Reports of ESPN’s political agenda have been greatly exaggerated, and politics are absolutely not to blame for the cuts this week.

ESPN is not a political network. Its analysts do not spend hours debating the latest poll numbers, reporting on proposed legislation, or counting down to lawmakers’ town halls in their home districts.

ESPN covers sports. It just doesn’t pretend that those sports happen in a vacuum.

That means ESPN will cover stories like Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, a team of WNBA players wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts during warm-ups, and the domestic violence allegations against an potential NFL draftee.

Sports are an escape, yes, but they are also enriched and impacted by the real-life events happening around them. Covering these topics accurately and fairly when they directly intersect with the sports world isn’t politics, it’s journalism.

“The word ‘politics’ has become too all-encompassing,” SportsCenter host Jemele Hill said on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch in February. “Mike and I aren’t … breaking down the Affordable Care Act. That’s politics. Understanding somebody’s right to speak out against injustice, oppression, and police brutality, isn’t a political matter. It’s right or wrong.”

“‘Don’t hit women’ is not politics,” her co-host Michael Smith added.

“Sorry we don’t tolerate bigotry here. Why are you taking offense to us suggesting that African Americans — breaking news — have been treated differently and unfairly for the entirety of this country? That’s not a hot take.”

Of course, what Hill and Smith are touching on here is that when people complain about anything getting “too political,” it’s a safe bet the criticism is actually that it’s too liberal. And that usually implies it’s too diverse or too outspoken about inequality.

The president of the company has pushed back against this idea, too.

“The Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion,” ESPN President John Skipper said last year in response to similar accusations that the company had gotten too liberal. “We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”

Interestingly, not everyone at ESPN seems to be on board. The New York Post reports:

ESPN’s sweeping staff cuts are not just the result of ambitious TV rights deals and an overburdened budget, popular “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn suggested Thursday.

The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said Thursday on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

Cohn agreed with the argument that certain sports fans may have disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner.

The example used was of the 2015 ESPYs. Jenner, a former Olympic champion in the decathlon, won the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for publicly coming out as a transgender woman. Some felt athletes suffering from disease or disability — such as college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died from cancer three months before the ceremony, and marathoner Noah Galloway, who lost an arm and a leg in the Iraq War — were more deserving.

Cohn, a 25-year ESPN veteran, toed the company line.

“You know, when you work for a big company, you have to follow in line, you have to pay the bills,” she said. “But you just kind of look in the mirror and do what you think is right no matter what else is going on around you. And that’s what I always tried to do.”

ESPN and its liberal sycophants are taking the usual liberal tack that any position other than their own is wrong and not worthy of consideration. As usual, the left approves of every kind of diversity except for political diversity.

Whether you agree with ESPN’s politics, or whatever causes you’d like to attribute to ESPN’s decline, ask yourself this question: If ESPN is losing viewers (and it is), why should ESPN go out of its way to alienate its (remaining) viewers?

 

For maybe one more night

It figures that just as I started to get interested in the Milwaukee Bucks again, they would flop in two playoff games and now stand one loss away from having their season end.

So before the Bucks lose tonight or Saturday, you should read what Jabari Parker has to say:

The moment I went down … I knew.

As soon as I felt my knee buckle, and I hit the ground — I knew right away what had happened. I knew right away what it would mean.

I had torn my ACL.

Again.

Not exactly how I pictured my comeback season coming to an end.

But as tough as the injury itself was … where it really has hurt? It’s not where some people think. It’s not for what it means for my future: I’ve been through this before, and I came back better. And I know the player that I’ll be when I’m back on the court again. That doesn’t scare me. But the fact that I can’t be out there with my team, right now, during these playoffs — to finish what we started? Knowing the team that we’ve been growing into together … and not being able to see that through with them?

That’s what has hurt the most.

See, this year … it’s meant a lot to this team. This year, from the very beginning, was about us making a name for the Bucks — about us forcing our way into the argument of who the East’s top contenders are. We knew, going into the season, that we weren’t a team with a ton of playoff experience, or with a ton of veterans who’d been in these situations before, or with résumés like some other guys have in our division. We didn’t know our peak … and neither did anyone else.

And that was part of the fun.

This year, we vowed not to be one of those teams that other teams picked on. We vowed not to be one of those teams that guys felt they could rest their stars against, or relax against in any way. And, honestly, it’s not like we had some master plan, or that we did anything special. We just went out and played. That’s it. We went out every night, and we kept our composure, and we found our confidence, and we took each challenge as it was presented to us. We figured — what fun is it to play in the NBA if we’re not taking on those challenges? If we’re not getting hyped for the Clevelands, the Golden States, the San Antonios? If we’re not working hard to perfect our late-game plays, and flip the results on some of those last-second losses? If we’re not holding our own with the teams that we’re using as our standard?

And up until the night of my injury, we took on those challenges on the court together. So, you know, that’s what has really hurt: Not being able to be out there with my team, while they’ve kept this thing going.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done: They’ve just kept going. They’ve just kept playing. They’ve just kept making strides — and I’ve been so proud of them. And I know they’ve been proud of me, too, as I’ve had to take on new challenges of my own, with my rehab.

And through it all: We’ve both had the city of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, man … it’s home. You know I’m a Chicago kid, and Chicago will always have a big piece of my heart. But with Milwaukeefor me it was just love at first sight. As soon as I got here, I was like, Wow, this is the place for me.

I love this city.

It’s funny — I always think about this one day, pretty soon after I got here, when I took my car out for a drive around town. I pulled up to this spot … and I saw these olds guys, hanging out, sitting outside with their hot rods. I mean some real nice cars. And I parked my ride, I got out, and, man … we just got to talking. You’d look at us, and you’d probably be thinking that we have nothing in common — these old white guys, and then here I am, this young black ball player who’s bumpin’ rap music? No way. But it turned out we did. And it was just this really great day. I’ll still go back there, sometimes, and me and those guys, we’ll just catch up. I’ll ask them about cars. They’ll tell me stories about going to Bucks games in the ‘70s. It’s just very Milwaukee. We can talk about anything.

And that’s what I love about this city. It’s — well, it’s the love.

Honestly, I love this city so much that it scares me sometimes, in a way, you know? Like, I’ve seen other guys get traded and leave since I’ve been here … and you realize, Wow, as players we really don’t have that much control over it all. But one thing I do have control over, regardless of my playing career, is knowing that I want to raise my own family here someday. It’s that deep.

The Bucks have indeed taken big steps this season. It looked as if they had taken additional big steps by winning game one of this playoff series at Toronto and then just crushing the Raptors in game three. And then came games four and five, and the Bucks will have to win at home tonight and at Toronto Saturday to probably lose to Cleveland in the next series.

My concern with the Bucks dates back to their old days:

With the exception of the 1971 champions and the 1974 runners-up, the Bucks have always been not quite good enough. They had Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief and acquired Bob Lanier in the late 1970s, but were not as good as either Boston or Philadelphia. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dynasty ended when Abdul-Jabbar decided he didn’t like Milwaukee anymore.

The Bucks now have one of the best players in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo. (And you thought “Abdul-Jabbar” was hard to pronounce in the ’70s. I had to announce Antetokounmpo’s younger brother in a state championship game.) What if the Greek Freak decides he doesn’t like Milwaukee anymore? All the work the Bucks have done to build a team that is on the way up would be for naught. Again.

 

When color was invented

Todd Radom admits to not being a great baseball player (join the crowd), but watched baseball in the 1970s because …

I was focused on Reggie Jackson’s titanic home runs, but I was also mesmerized by the green and gold Oakland A’s uniforms.
I doodled sports logos on school notebooks and conjured my own teams — not so much for games as for creating logos and uniforms for them. I studied the cap marks of Major League Baseball teams and rendered them in painstaking detail with felt-tipped markers and cheap ballpoint pens.

I was fascinated by the visual culture of sports, and I still am, having devoted my life to sports design. Lucky for me, as a young baseball fan, I hit the lottery: My formative sports-aesthetics years came in the 1970s, the game’s most vibrant, colorful decade, with its smorgasbord of audacious and often garish uniforms. Bold graphics and sensationally showy colors were synthesized into some of sports history’s most memorable uniforms — a golden age of sports identity.

Sometimes, the results were mixed — not unexpected, coming off baseball’s longstanding adherence to traditional aesthetics — but that was just fine by me. My formative years coincided with the opening of modern, multipurpose stadiums, color TV, and a new approach to what sports could look like, played by athletes with long hair and flamboyant mustaches. While any number of the uniforms were considered ugly by contemporary standards, they also projected a sense of optimism and a fresh take on a very visible and vital aspect of American popular culture.

0 – 1 = 0

I wrote last week about the Brewers and their poor, to say the least, expectations for this season and the foreseeable future.

A win against the Cubs when the Cubs reverted to their usual suckage (a bases-loaded wild pitch) and two wins in Toronto haven’t changed my mind, by the way.

The Brewers are in rebuilding mode, which is not new given their historic sub-.500 record. One reason is exposed by Dan Zielinski:

In the last 10 years, the Milwaukee Brewers have had little luck in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, due to poor selections and lack of player development. The Brewers inability to draft and develop is a reason why the franchise is now rebuilding.

Take a look back at the Brewers first-round picks dating to the 2007 draft, along with options in this year’s draft with the No. 9 overall pick:

2007: Brewers select college first baseman Matt LaPorta (Florida) with the No. 7 overall pick

A two-time SEC Player of the Year from Florida, LaPorta was a well-regarded prospect after being drafted by the Brewers. He’s known for being traded in the deal that netted C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians in 2008.

2008: Brewers select prep catcher Brett Lawrie (Brookswood SS, Canada) with the No. 16 overall pick, prep right-hander Jake Odorizzi (Highland HS, IL) with the No. 32 overall pick and college lefty Evan Frederickson (San Francisco) with the No. 35 overall pick

Lawrie was a well-regarded Canadian prep player and moved to second base after signing with the Brewers. The Brewers traded Lawrie to Toronto for right-hander Shaun Marcum in December 2010.

When drafted, some scouts believed Odorizzi was the top prep arm in the 2008 draft. In December 2010, Odorizzi was part of a package of prospects sent to Kansas City for righty Zack Greinke.

Most scouts thought Frederickson would be a fourth-round pick. But the lefty had a private workout with the Brewers prior to the draft and blew the team’s talent evaluators away. He only lasted three minor league seasons before the Brewers released him.

2009: Brewers select college right-handed pitcher Eric Arnett (Indiana) with the No. 26 overall pick, college outfielder Kentrail Davis (Tennessee) with the No. 39 overall pick and college right-handed pitcher Kyle Heckathorn (Kennesaw St) with the No. 47 overall pick

One pick after Los Angeles selected Mike Trout, the Brewers drafted Arnett. Despite having a successful junior season at Indiana, Arnett wasn’t able to carry his college success over to pro baseball, never getting higher than Single-A. He was released in 2014.

A speedster, Davis moved through the minor leagues quickly and was already in Triple-A by 2013. However, he didn’t make it to the big leagues, struggling with plate discipline. He was released in 2014.

Heckathorn was a high risk, high reward righty from Kennesaw State, who many scouts thought would be a reliever in the majors. He never made it past Triple-A and was released in 2014.

2010: Brewers select prep right-handed pitcher Dylan Covey (Maranatha HS, CA) with the No. 14 overall pick

Covey didn’t sign with the Brewers and attended the University of San Diego instead, after being diagnosed with diabetes in a post-draft physical.

2011: Brewers select college right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann (Texas) with the No. 12 overall pick and college left-hander Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) with the No. 15 overall pick

Jungmann was a highly regarded college pitcher coming out of Texas, but didn’t make his major league debut until 2015. After starting the 2016 season in the Brewers starting rotation, the team demoted him to Triple-A. The Brewers transitioned Jungmann into a reliever this spring training.

In 2015, the Brewers transitioned Bradley into a reliever, after three so-so seasons as a starting pitcher. Last season, the Brewers traded Bradley to Atlanta, where he made his major league debut as a September call-up.

2012: Brewers select prep catcher Clint Coulter (Union HS, WA) with the No. 27 overall pick, college outfielder Victor Roache (Georgia Southern) with the No. 28 overall pick and college outfielder Mitch Haniger (Cal Poly) with the No. 38 overall pick

After being selected, the Brewers moved Coulter to the outfield. Coulter has experienced mixed results in his pro career and reached Double-A last season.

In pro ball, Roache has displayed impressive power, but has struggled to get on base and hit for a respectable average. Roache reached Double-A last season.

Coming out of Cal Poly, Haniger displayed solid power and defensive abilities. The Brewers traded Haniger to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014.

2013: No first-round pick after signing free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse

2014: Brewers select prep left-handed pitcher Kodi Medeiros (Waiakea HS, HI) with the No. 12 overall pick

Coming out of high school, many scouts believed the Hawaiian lefty would be a reliever as a pro due to his unorthodox arm angle. In three minor league seasons, the 20-year-old hurler has struggled, especially with his command. He spent last season at Class A-Advanced.

2015: Brewers select prep outfielder Trent Clark (Richland HS, TX) with the No. 15 overall pick and college left-handed pitcher Nathan Kirby (Virginia) with the No. 40 overall pick

Clark was a well-rounded prep player coming out of Texas. But, after a strong performance in Rookie ball in 2015, he hit .231 at Class A Wisconsin last season.

After pitching in five games, Kirby’s season ended with Tommy John surgery in 2015. He missed last season recovering from the injury.

2016: Brewers select college outfielder Corey Ray (Louisville) with the No. 5 overall pick

In his first professional season, Ray played in 60 games between Class A and Class A-Advanced, hitting .239 with five home runs, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. But his season ended with knee surgery, after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee last year.

One of baseball’s top prospects, doctors cleared Ray to return to game action on March 24.

2017: ???

The 2017 draft class is deep with college pitching and high risk, high potential high school arms. With the draft just two months away, there’s still uncertainty at the top of the draft. Some players to watch at the No. 9 overall pick are prep lefties DL Hall (Valdosta HS, GA) and MacKenzie Gore (Whiteville HS, N.C.), and college right-handers Tanner Houck (Missouri), Alex Lange (LSU) and Kyle Wright (Vanderbilt).

The Brewers’ best number one picks as defined by contribution to the franchise probably have been Gorman Thomas (actually picked by the Seattle Pilots), Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dale Sveum, Dan Plesac, B.J. Surhoff, Cal Eldred, Geoff Jenkins, Ben Sheets. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun. To that group can be added players who played for the Brewers and other teams, including Darrell Porter, Gary Sheffield, Bill Spiers and Alex Fernandez (who didn’t sign with the Brewers), along with players the Brewers traded to get better players, such as LaPorta and Lawrie.

That’s the good news. The bad news includes shortstop Tommy Bianco (who played 18 major-league games), Isaiah Clark, pitchers Kenny Henderson, Tyrone Hill and J.M. Gold, third baseman Antone Williamson (picked fourth overall, played 24 major league games) and outfielder Chad Green, who didn’t play for the Brewers or anyone else despite being the eighth pick. The Brewers’ current status as the number one minor league system is the result of stockpiling other teams’ high draft picks, not developing their own number-one picks. Since the names in this paragraph didn’t play for anyone else either, that would have to be considered a joint failure of scouting (did they deserve to be number one picks?) and player development.