A Wisconsin voice from the past

If you are old enough to remember the Glory Years Packers, the answer to the question of who was the Packers’ announcer those years might be Ray Scott, from CBS-TV.

Unless you missed their home games on TV because you lived near Green Bay or Milwaukee in the old NFL blackout days, in which case the answer might be radio announcer Ted Moore:

And if you’re not old enough to remember Moore, surely you remember Jim Irwin:

Before Moore, who started announcing Packers games in 1960, there was Mike Walden, who announced Badger, Packer and, on TV, Milwaukee Braves games. One of Walden’s games was the 1963 Rose Bowl, which he announced on the NBC radio broadcast with USC announcer Tom Kelly:

Apparently Walden liked southern California, because he then left Wisconsin and moved to California, replacing Kelly on radio while Kelly moved to TV.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

USC’s broadcaster Mike Walden was in enemy territory when the Trojans’ basketball team finally handed UCLA its first loss at Pauley Pavilion in 1969. When it was over, Walden climbed atop the announcer’s table and yelled, “The Trojans win! The Trojans win! The Trojans win!” much like the legendary Harry Caray.

So Walden lost a few friends several years later when he took a job across town and became the only person to serve as the broadcast voice for both USC and UCLA.

“But Mike Walden was a journalist first, and did not want to be known as a homer,” his son, Gregory Walden, reminisced in an email.

Walden, a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame member best known for his coverage of the Trojans and Bruins, and for his loud sport coats, died Sunday at his home in Tarzana from complications related to a stroke, his son said Thursday. He was 89.

The interesting thing about the aforementioned Walden, Kelly (who died in June), Enberg, Miller and longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is that they all grew up in the Midwest. Kelly’s first radio job was in Janesville, and though he started broadcasting for USC in 1962, he returned to Illinois for years to broadcast the Illinois state boys basketball tournament. Miller was one of the two UW hockey radio announcers (two stations broadcasted games until Clear Channel purchased both stations). Enberg is from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University, and earned a Ph.D. at Indiana while announcing its games before he too headed west. (Hmmm … do I know anyone who grew up in Wisconsin and then headed to California …) Hearn, who grew up in Illinois, preceded Kelly (for one season) at USC, and once worked with Kelly on the Illinois state tournament.

 

Another thing liberals have ruined

Tonight begins the high school girls basketball playoffs in Wisconsin, followed one week from today by the boys playoffs.

So it seems appropriate to bring up self-described liberal sportswriter Bryan Curtis:

Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code. As Frank Deford, who joined Sports Illustrated in the ’60s, told me, “You compare that era to this era, no question we are much more liberal than we ever were before.”

In the age of liberal sportswriting, the writers are now far more liberal than the readers. “Absolutely I think we’re to the left of most sports fans,” said Craig Calcaterra, who writes for HardballTalk. “It’s folly for any of us to think we’re speaking for the common fan.”

Of course, labels like “liberal” and “conservative” don’t translate perfectly to sports. Do you have to be liberal to call Roger Goodell a tool? So maybe it’s better to put it like this: There was a time when filling your column with liberal ideas on race, class, gender, and labor policy got you dubbed a “sociologist.” These days, such views are more likely to get you a job.

Donald Trump’s election was merely an accelerant for a change that was already sweeping across sportswriting. On issues that divided the big columnists for years, there’s now something like a consensus. NCAA amateurism is rotten. The Washington Redskins nickname is more rotten. LGBT athletes ought to be welcomed rather than shunned. Head injuries are the great scandal of the NFL.

A few decades ago, Taylor Branch’s line that NCAA amateurism had “an unmistakable whiff of the plantation” would have been an eye-rollingly hot take. Now, if you turned in a column comparing college football to the institution of slavery, I suspect few editors would try to talk you out of publishing it. But they might ask you to come up with something more original.

As recently as the turn of the century, you could find columnists hanging Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract around his neck. Nobody much writes about free agency like that anymore. Even a bad contract is usually called a misallocation of resources by a team rather than a manifestation of a ballplayer’s overweening greed.

In the new world of liberal sportswriting, athletes who dabble in political activism are covered admiringly. Last year, Slate’s Josh Levin went searching for the voices who were dinging Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest. Levin found conservatives like Tomi Lahren and a couple of personalities from FS1. In the old days, such voices would have filled up half the sports columns, easy.

Institutions that made for easy off-day fodder for the writers now get increasing scrutiny. The writer Joe Sheehan has called the Major League Baseball draft “a quasi-criminal enterprise that serves the powerful at the expense of the powerless.” Lester Rodney would have been proud of that line.

And these are just issues within sports. Look at the way sportswriters tweet about politics now. “God bless the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost,” Peter King tweeted earlier this week after the papers revealed the Trump administration’s web of ties to Russia. Two weeks ago, sportswriters blasted away at Trump’s immigration ban — staging their own pussy-hat protest within the press box. Last year, Roger Angellcame out of the bullpen to endorse Hillary Clinton.

“How many sportswriters have you seen on Twitter defending Donald Trump?” asked the baseball writer Rob Neyer. “I haven’t seen one. I’m sure there must have been a few writers out there who did vote for him, but there’s a lot of pressure not to be public about it.”

Forget the viability of being a Trump-friendly sportswriter today. Could someone even be a Paul Ryan–friendly sportswriter — knocking out their power rankings while tweeting that Obamacare is a failure and the Iran deal was a giveaway of American sovereignty?

In sportswriting, there was once a social and professional price to pay for being a noisy liberal. Now, there’s at least a social price to pay for being a conservative. Figuring out how the job changed — how we all became the children of Lester Rodney — is one of the most fascinating questions of our age.

There was always a coven of liberals in sportswriting: Shirley Povich, Dan Parker, Sam Lacy, George Kiseda, Robert Lipsyte, Wells Twombly, and the merry band known as the Chipmunks. As Roger Kahn once wrote, “Sports tell anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men.”

But these idealists plied their trade in a media universe almost completely different from our own. The first reason sportswriting became a liberal profession is that the product known as “sportswriting” has been radically altered from what it was 40, 30, even 20 years ago.

The old liberal sportswriter was a prisoner of daily newspapers. If he wanted to write about politics, he had to do it within the confines of a sports story.“You decide whether you think this is a lefty idea or not,” said Larry Merchant, who was a columnist at the old (liberal) New York Post. “I wrote a story about a horse that had ridden in the Kentucky Derby. Now, it was in service of the national police in riot control in Washington, D.C. To me, that’s the most natural story in the world!”

Even if a newspaper had a “political” sports columnist, he was nearly always paired with a second, apolitical columnist, who matched the former’s moral crusades with his own rigid attention to balls and strikes.

“When you treat sports as a self-contained universe into which the rest of the universe does not intrude, it will inevitably be conservative,” said Craig Calcaterra. You defer to the commissioner, to the head coach, to the reserve clause — to the reigning authority.

The internet leveled the barrier between sportswriting and the rest of the universe. It also dropped the neutrality that was practiced by everyone but a handful of columnists. “We might have been more liberal than you would have imagined we were, but we didn’t bring it in our copy, you know?” said Deford. “We separated our individual lives from what we wrote because that was what was expected.”

This loosening of the prose was hastened along by a technological change. Starting in the 1950s, accounts of games (“gamers”) became less valuable when fans could watch for themselves on TV. As the game inventory on cable and then DirecTV and then the internet has exploded, gamers are less valuable than ever. Newbie sportswriters have been redeployed. “The people who in an earlier generation would be telling us what they saw are telling us what they think instead,” said Josh Levin.

The internet transformed sportswriting in another way: It made a local concern into a national one. On one level, this is pure joy: Now everyone gets to read Andy McCullough. But it also meant that reactionary opinions that may have played in St. Louis or Cincinnati are now held up for ridicule by the writers at Deadspin. I suspect a lot of sportswriters who might be right-leaning either get on the train or don’t write about politics at all.

You might argue, as Neyer does, that the old sportswriters were probably mostly left-of-center types. But without Twitter, it was difficult for anyone to know this. “When I started doing this, in 2003, it felt a little lonely, like I was in a phone booth yelling this stuff,” said The Nation’s Dave Zirin. “I didn’t know, or have access to, a community of sportswriters who felt similarly.”

The changes in the architecture of sportswriting also changed the profession’s great dilemma. For a century, even sportswriters who had curious minds felt the narcotic pull of the toy department. (It took the carnage of the ’68 Democratic National Convention to shock Red Smith into consciousness.) Then — once woke — the sportswriter faced a second problem: What do I do? Try to sneak politics into my column? Abandon the good salary and Marriott points offered by sportswriting to do “real work” on the front page?

In the Twitter era, I suspect most sportswriters don’t feel this dilemma very keenly or even at all. As the world burns, they turn in their power rankings and then they tweet about Trump.

There were other tractor beams that pulled sportswriting to the left. After a slack period since Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown shuffled off the main stage, we’ve finally entered the second great age of athlete activism. “You’re talking about 50 years of pretty much quiet,” said Sandy Padwe, who wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer and later became an editor at Sports Illustrated. The new wave of activism “is not like the ’60s by any means,” Padwe said. “But it’s a hell of an improvement.”

It’s not only athlete activism that has rejiggered sportswriting but the athletes’ increased power. In the ’60s, a sportswriter who merely wanted to be a stenographer to the powerful would cozy up to the league commissioner or owner. Now — after the explosion in player salaries and the voice granted by Twitter — the same power seeker is more likely to cozy up to LeBron James, or his agent. As Lester Rodney would tell you, when you’re covering sports from the workers’ point of view instead of management’s, the trade inevitably moves to the left.

Non-sports types like Taylor Branch have given the industry a much-needed noogie. Branch’s 2011 article in The Atlantic transformed the crusade against NCAA amateurism from one often neglected in the sports press into one that burned up the New York Times op-ed page. “It makes sense that a hometown sports page is not going to get into this,” Branch said. “Their job is to feed the appetite of the sports fan. This is a fly on their dessert.”

Deford told me: “I kill myself when I think that when I ran The Nationalneither I nor the bright people on that paper thought we really ought to examine the NCAA. We never said that. We just accepted that. We took it at face value. We should be ashamed of it.”

If liberals have a long-standing delusion, it’s that the presentation of hard data (about everything from climate change to “voter fraud”) will win the masses to their cause. But within sportswriting, this is actually true. The publication of college football coaches’ rapidly inflating salaries floated the anti-amateurism crusade. If you know that the NBA signed a $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner, it’s hard to argue that even Timofey Mozgov’s contract is going to bankrupt the league.

“It’s the accumulation of evidence rather than political change,” said Bruce Arthur, who writes a column for the Toronto Star. “People just figured it out.”

There are chance events too. The fact that Dan Snyder hasn’t put many winning Redskins teams on the field has the side effect of undermining support for the team’s nickname — “If Snyder’s for it,” people think, “how can I not be against it?” Similarly, Roger Goodell’s mishandling of issues like Deflategate suggests that he might be mishandling player safety too.

Donald Trump’s election changed sports Twitter into a frisky episode of All In With Chris Hayes. But here, sportswriters are probably being radicalized at roughly the same rate as the rest of the electorate — a process that began during George W. Bush’s administration and continued apace through the Obama years. If most Democrats you know seem feistier than they did 20 years ago, it follows that sportswriters would too.

Talk to the real lefties within sportswriting — Lipsyte, Padwe — and you find they’re skeptical that we’re witnessing a genuine ideological conversion. Sportswriters rarely touch issues like the antitrust exemption and the flag-waving militarism that drenches pro sports. (See Fox’s Super Bowl pregame show for one recent example.) There’s still plenty of PED hysteria, even if it’s getting better. The idea that league drafts unfairly conscript players to teams feels like an issue that’s just starting to get mainstream traction. In 10 years, woke sportswriters will be wondering why our generation didn’t talk more about it.

Maybe what we’re seeing is simply writers plying their trade in a different era. “We shouldn’t piss on things that are progress and are good,” Lipsyte said. “But how much of it is really any kind of expression of liberalism? How much is times change and we change with it? Maybe we’re just standing in the same place but being carried along by the flow.”

The Obama administration was a dream time for liberal sportswriters, who had a president who talked about sports like they did. Trump’s election caused a convulsion. Lipsyte added, “Kaepernick, the manifestos of Meloand LeBron, and the Trumpish tinge to the Patriots and its reaction from players who say they won’t go to the White House have to be acknowledged, and once you do that, it feels like left-leaning commentary. Unless, of course, it is.”

On November 8, we learned a lot of Americans aren’t ready to sail into the progressive horizon. In sportswriting, as in politics, there was a backlash that you could see across the media.

First, conservative political writers began grumbling about their sports pages the way they grumble about the front pages. A 2014 American Spectator column sniffed: “[The sportswriter] now lies prostrate before a new set of masters: Mimosa-sipping Manhattanites and liberal witch hunters whose sole interest in sports is purging football teams of offensive names, obtaining equal screen-time for females, and celebrating sexual diversity.” Equal time and diversity — what a crock.

Next, other sportswriters took up the critique. “The sports media is the most far-left contingent of media that exists in this country,” Fox Sports’ Clay Travis declared last month. In tsk-tsking the writers — and the athletes they worship — the holdouts sounded like the founders of Fox News. Your media’s been hijacked!

Those who are sitting out the liberal sportswriting renaissance are as likely to tweak the media as they are to offer competing ideas. This week, when Nike released an “Equality” ad starring LeBron James and Serena Williams, Jason Whitlock said: “all this ‘resist, resist’ … it’s bogus. It’s a campaign. … It ain’t got a damn thing to do with you, the ordinary working man.”

Earlier this year, when Ronda Rousey was throttled by Amanda Nunes, Travis said: “There were a ton of people in the sports media who wanted Ronda Rousey to be good because it somehow represented their belief that women are better than men.” Breitbart approvingly cited the remark. …

If anything has gone haywire in this new world … Writers trying to find the proper, liberal response to new issues wind up tying themselves in knots.

Take the reaction to the Ray Rice video in 2014. There was a hue and cry throughout sportswriting: Something ought to be done! (If there was any criticism, it came from the left: that replays of the elevator video were “re-victimizing” his then-fiancée, Janay.)

Unfortunately, many of the early columns didn’t always say who ought to do something or what it should be. Roger Goodell used the groundswell of rage to suspend Rice indefinitely and increase his already-fearsome power over player discipline.

Such imprecision doesn’t just empower hardliners like Goodell. A few months after Rice’s suspension, Adam Silver, the model of a progressive commissioner, used a gray area in his league’s CBA to levy a harsh punishment against a convicted domestic abuser, Jeffery Taylor. Silver attributed his actions to what he called the “evolving social consensus” — much of which was crafted in the media.

And there’s another liberal ideal at stake here: that criminals who’ve paid their debt to society ought to have a chance to re-enter it. In 2010, Barack Obama congratulated the owner of the Eagles for giving Michael Vick a job after he was released from prison. Rice’s bad acts were very different from Vick’s. But say Rice got another NFL job after his apology tour. Would a sportswriter have written an encomium to the owner who signed Rice? Should they have? It’s an awfully tough question.

In a sense that Curtis doesn’t mention I can understand how this happened. Of the five Ws and one H — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How — the Why and How could have more opinion than the rest. Did a basketball team lose because it failed to score for seven minutes, or because its opponent outscored them 14–0 over that seven minutes? Did Green Bay beat Dallas because of Aaron Rodgers’ great play, or because the Cowboys defense played poorly?

The fact vs. opinion standards have always been looser in sports journalism as well.

That great liberal Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugo Black may not have approved of this. He famously said he read the sports pages first because the sports page chronicles man’s successes, while the front page chronicles man’s failures.

I do not approve of this. For one thing, it wasn’t a conservative who coined the execrable phrase “The personal is political.” I do not believe sports fans read the sports page to get a sportswriter’s sociological or political views. Sports was one of an apparently decreasing number of areas in our lives measured in wins and losses instead of lefty victim-du-jour babble, and now it’s not.

It isn’t as if sports media can afford to offend its consumers. Sports Illustrated is printing seven fewer issues this year. The increasing politicization of ESPN has dovetailed with a drop in subscribers. NFL ratings dropped corresponding to Kaepernick’s protest. There are numerous websites and smartphone apps available for those who want only the scores and avoid sportswriter opinions. And it strikes me as career suicide in an era where news media outlets are shedding jobs left and right to go out of your way to alienate a substantial percentage of your readers, who are probably more likely to follow sports than those on the left side of the political aisle.

 

The GOAT Super Bowl?

The acronym GOAT has become known in the sports world as short for Greatest Of All Time.

(Which is a poor choice to me because “goat” has usually signified someone blamed for a loss, such as Leon Durham or Bill Buckner, whether or not they should be.)

A Patriots fan and Facebook Fan claims that Super Bowl LI should be considered the greatest Super Bowl of all time.

I disagree, not because Super LI wasn’t a great game, but to me back-and-forth games are better than big comebacks. No one except a Falcons fan is likely to have found the first half compelling, and when the Falcons took their 28–3 lead I bet a lot of people turned off their TVs.

So which Super Bowls were better?

I didn’t include any Packers Super Bowls because other than Super Bowl XLV none of the Packer wins were good games unless you’re a Packer fan, and I refuse to include Super Bowl XXXII.

 

“You are looking LIVE at …”

… the end of a career next week, ESPN.com reports:

Brent Musburger, one of the most recognized and prominent voices in the history of sports television, will end his play-by-play career with ABC/ESPN at the end of January, it was announced Wednesday.

Musburger, 77, who brought his folksy delivery to countless games — most beginning with his “You are looking live” catchphrase — since entering the national stage in 1975, will call his final game Jan. 31 on ESPN as the Kentucky Wildcats host Georgia at Rupp Arena (9 p.m. ET).

“What a wonderful journey I have traveled with CBS and the Disney company,” Musburger said in a statement. “A love of sports allows me to live a life of endless pleasure. And make no mistake, I will miss the arenas and stadiums dearly. Most of all, I will miss the folks I have met along the trail.”

Musburger told The Associated Press that he plans to move to Las Vegas and help his family start a sports handicapping business.

A member of the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame, Musburger joined ABC in 1990 after a long stint in which he was the lead voice of CBS Sports. He also received the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Outstanding Contributor to Amateur Football Award in 2011 and the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting in November.

For ABC, ESPN and the SEC Network, Musburger has hosted and/or called play-by-play for the NBA, college football (including seven BCS Championship Games) and basketball, golf, NASCAR and IndyCar races and the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He called the Little League World Series from 2000 to 2011. He also hosted Super Bowl XXV’s pregame and halftime shows as well as the 1991 Pan Am Games from Cuba.

With ESPN Radio, Musburger handled play-by-play for NBA games, including the NBA Finals, for many years. He also was the original host of its daily “ESPN SportsBeat” segments.

“Brent’s presence and delivery have come to symbolize big time sports for multiple generations of fans,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement. “When he opens with his signature ‘You are looking live,’ you sit up straight in your chair because you know something important is about to happen.

“Brent’s catalog of big events is unmatched, and he has skillfully guided us through some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in sports with his authentic and distinctive style. He is one of the best story-tellers to ever grace a sports booth. We and the fans will miss him.”

During his 15-year tenure with CBS, Musburger was the host or had play-by-play duty on NFL games and the groundbreaking studio show “The NFL Today.” He also worked the NCAA Final Four, tennis’ US Open, the NBA, the Masters, the Belmont Stakes, College World Series and also did baseball play-by-play for CBS Radio.

“The biggest show of my life was ‘The NFL Today,'” Musburger said. “It was the first of the live pregame shows, the live halftimes and the live postgame. So we were really the pioneers.”

He has been behind the microphone for some huge moments in sports, including Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass for Boston College that beat Miami in 1984, as well as Villanova’s historic NCAA championship upset over Georgetown in 1985.

“Brent made every event feel larger,” said Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president for events and studio production. “To me, there is probably not a greater storyteller as a play-by-play person. He can spin a yarn like nobody else, and it made games definitely more enjoyable to watch.”

His career hasn’t been without controversy, as Musburger admittedly didn’t “shy from an opinion” — such as his comments about Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon during the recent Sugar Bowl after surveillance video of the Sooners running back punching a woman in 2014 was released in December.

“I am not shy from an opinion,” Musburger said. “And I know many of my opinions are gonna be controversial, ’cause there are many people who don’t like them.”

Musburger, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, started his journalism career at the Chicago American newspaper but soon thereafter joined Chicago’s WBBM-TV as sports director in 1968. He then moved to KNXT-TV in Los Angeles, where he served as co-anchor of the nightly news alongside Connie Chung.

“Nothing in the world replaces the friendships I’ve made — with crews and people,” Musburger said. “And that includes the fans. I mean, I’m never alone. Wherever I go, someone’s gonna come up. Someone’s gonna come up and ask about a team. Or a game. Or an experience. I’ve got millions of friends out there, OK?”

What did Musburger do? The easier question is what didn’t he do. (One thing not listed here: Coanchor of the 6 p.m. news with Connie Chung on CBS’ Los Angeles station.)

Musburger seemed to be everywhere either hosting or doing play-by-play for CBS in the 1980s. He was supposed to be CBS’ lead baseball announcer when CBS got broadcast rights. And then CBS fired him, according to one version because of bad ad pre-sales.

That was one contract after Musburger juggled offers from CBS (his then-present employer) and ABC (his then-future employer) and, believe it or not, WGN-TV and radio, where he was offered to work Cubs games with Harry Caray and Bears games. (Wayne Larrivee got the latter job instead before he left to announce for the correct NFL team.) After CBS fired him, Musburger went to ABC, turning down offers from WGN and Turner.

 

 

The latest sign of the apocalypse

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A judge will hear arguments Wednesday on the controversial finish to a high school playoff football game, the final outcome hanging in the balance despite the lack of a flying pigskin or crunching tackles.

Regardless of what happens in the Daley Center courtroom, the fiasco involving the contest between Fenwick and Plainfield North high schools has brought to the forefront issues of sportsmanship, ethics and a basic question that does not have a simple answer: What’s the right thing to do?

As it stands, Plainfield North is listed as the victor of Saturday’s Class 7A semifinal game. The Tigers defeated Fenwick 18-17 in overtime. Or did they?

The convoluted turn of events has led to a debate over rules and bylaws, contracts and lawsuits, while drawing the customary, if always unfortunate, pointed fingers at officials. It has also prompted a discussion about the best way to act after an agonizing defeat and a debated win, a victory which all parties agree occurred because of a mistake.

“There’s a difference,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, “between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

While those conversations take place at coffee shops, on social media and sports talk radio, lawyers for Fenwick, a private Catholic school in Oak Park, will stand before a Cook County judge to urge her to overturn the result by ruling on their lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association.

“To allow this unjust result to stand would fly in the face of everything the IHSA stands for in its administration of high school athletics — fairness, reliability, accountability and integrity,” the lawyers write.

How the schools arrived at this point is complicated, even for football fans.

Near the end of regulation in Saturday’s semifinal game, Fenwick was clinging to a 10-7 lead and had the ball at its own 15-yard line. With four seconds left, the Friars’ quarterback threw a deep pass on the fourth down for an incompletion, seemingly ending the game. But the officials ruled that play to be intentional grounding, a penalty. The officiating crew then (mistakenly) awarded Plainfield North one play with zeros on the clock, allowing them to kick a game-tying field goal.

“Not sure what just happened,” the Fenwick athletic director posted on Twitter.

In extra time, both teams scored, but Plainfield North ran in a two-point conversion, setting off a wild celebration for the Tigers and eliciting anger and confusion from the Fenwick faithful.

“It would be one thing if it was a missed holding call or if it was a judgment call, but this was not a judgment call,” Fenwick Principal Peter Groom said Tuesday. “This was a rule that was not applied when there was no more time left on the clock. I don’t know how I tell my kids (to accept the outcome) in this situation.”

Several hours after the game, the IHSA issued a statement that stated the officials erred when they gave Plainfield North one final play after the passing penalty. The IHSA then cited bylaw 6.033, which states “the decisions of game officials are final,” and those decisions are not reviewable. Executive Director Craig Anderson offered “my sincerest apologies” to the Fenwick coaches, players and fans.

The IHSA board of directors convened an early Monday morning conference call about the game, determining the association’s bylaws did not allow a review of Fenwick’s appeal.

Groom said he resigned his position on the IHSA’s board of directors Monday when the school decided to file a legal challenge. He said while he bore no grudge against the organization, a lawsuit was the only way to fix what he considered an injustice.

He said the IHSA needs to have a mechanism to overturn game results in cases of clear and definitive error — he gave the example of a scorekeeping mistake in a basketball game — even though he said he understood the hazard of opening that door.

“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “Believe me, I get it. This is a horrible situation we’re all in.”

In the 41-page lawsuit, Fenwick’s lawyers seek “a declaration to ‘fix’ a breach of contract by IHSA officials. By express written contract, all parties agree that the IHSA officials lacked authority under the contract to force the teams to continue to play after the clock expired.”

Fenwick wants the judge to issue a temporary restraining order, declaring the game to have ended when the clock reached zero in the fourth quarter.

Others are urging a more gracious solution: that Plainfield North give up the spot in the championship game as a gesture of goodwill, acknowledging their win was the result of an error.

“If we care about ethics, if we care about sportsmanship, when is it justified to hang on to a medal you didn’t earn?” asked Josephson, of the ethics institute. “The greater issue is why are you holding on to a victory you know wasn’t fairly won?”

Tom Hernandez, spokesman for Plainfield Community Consolidated District 202, said district and Plainfield North administrators and those associated with the football team empathize with Fenwick, but the IHSA “is the sole and final arbiter of this.”

“The team is practicing and they’re preparing to play at 4 p.m. Saturday,” Hernandez said.

The school is not considering forfeiting the Fenwick contest, nor giving up its spot in the championship game, Hernandez said.

Fenwick players also took to the field to practice Tuesday in case the judge rules in their favor.

Several parents of Plainfield North players lamented the situation but criticized Fenwick for taking the matter to court.

“I think everyone feels bad it happened this way, but there’s lots of bad calls in sports,” said Bill Stoll, whose son plays on the team. “At the end of the day, it’s a game. Everyone in sports has something go against them. The rules are in place for a reason.”

Football parent George Miller finds it “hilarious” that many at Fenwick have called on Plainfield North to step aside for the title game.

“It’s tragic,” Miller said. “Our kids played just as hard as Fenwick. But for them to tell us to ‘do the right thing?’ There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that if it were Fenwick in our position that they’d do that. It’s not for us to do. We played within the perimeters of the rules, and the refs made a mistake. It is what it is.”

Bruce Howard of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rule books for high school sports, said the organization had no directive governing when the results of a game can be overturned.

While some state associations have overruled the final outcome of a game, including a 2008 decision by the IHSA in a wrestling tournament, Howard was unaware of a judge changing the result. He pointed to a 2014 case in Oklahoma in which a high school sought to replay the final minute of a playoff game after officials mistakenly took away a touchdown that should have counted.

The judge declined to intervene, saying such a move “will inevitably usher in a new era of robed referees and meritless litigation due to disagreement with or disdain for decisions of gaming officials — an unintended consequence that hurts both the court system and the citizens it is designed to protect.”

The NCAA has a similar rule declaring that the score of a game is final once a referee declares the contest over. But high-profile officiating errors have prompted some to advocate for a change.

The most recent episode came in a September football game between Oklahoma State and Central Michigan. Just as in the Fenwick-Plainfield game, Oklahoma State tried to kill the clock by throwing the ball out of bounds on the fourth down, only for a referee to call intentional grounding and mistakenly award Central Michigan a final play.

Central Michigan ended up scoring on a miraculous 51-yard pass and lateral, giving the school a 30-27 victory even though officials later conceded that the play never should have happened.

“We were told the result is final and there is nothing we can do about it,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said after the game. “In my mind, it is incomprehensible that a misapplication of the rules after time has expired can’t be corrected.”

An NCAA spokesman said Tuesday that while officials have had informal discussions about changing the rule governing final results, nothing official has been proposed.

Before everything else, it is hard to believe that, after a highly publicized bad call, the exact same call was made two months later. Football rules prohibit a half ending on a defensive penalty, but intentional grounding by definition is an offensive penalty, even on fourth down. If there is no time left, then the opposing offense should not have gotten that one play.

So what did the judge do Wednesday? The Tribune reports:

A Cook County judge on Wednesday turned back a legal challenge by Fenwick High School to overturn its disputed loss in a football playoff game last weekend.

The ruling by Judge Kathleen Kennedy came in a lawsuit filed by Fenwick against the Illinois High School Association, which had refused to hear an appeal by the private Catholic school in Oak Park, citing a bylaw declaring that decisions by officials shall be final.

The decision clears the way for Plainfield North High School to play in the Class 7A championship against East St. Louis on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

“Here, as on the playing field, one side wins and one side loses,” Kennedy said as she announced her ruling after hearing about 45 minutes of arguments from lawyers and taking a lengthy break to mull over her decision.

A Fenwick spokesman said the school will not pursue further legal action and wished Plainfield North luck in the championship game.

Kennedy ruled in a Daley Center courtroom packed mostly with Fenwick supporters and a few players. Fenwick’s lawyer had warned the crowd to stay quiet and show respect for her ruling no matter how it went.

A mistaken call by officials with no time left allowed Plainfield North to tie the game with a field goal in regulation and then win 18-17 in overtime on a two-point conversion.

Fenwick’s lawyer, Peter Rush, said officials didn’t have the authority to continue the game and by doing so violated IHSA bylaws that rules will be enforced.

Rush disputed the IHSA’s claim that its bylaws blocked it from correcting the controversial loss, saying the agency did just that with a downstate soccer game.

David Bressler, an IHSA attorney, said officials make hundreds of bad calls every week and that courts would be flooded with lawsuits if Fenwick won the legal fight.

“I wish there was a way that Fenwick could participate in the game, but there’s not,” Bressler said. “Sometimes the law is not fair.”

Packer fans know about that:

So, for that matter, do fans of Cedar Grove–Belgium, which lost its state championship game because of what appeared to be an incorrect call:

Bad official calls, however, are not and cannot be grounds for lawsuits. The Cook County judge had no choice, because the first judge who overturns a game result on the basis of an incorrect official’s decision will open a Pandora’s box that will never be closed. (And as it is no game is ever decided in retrospect.by one play, even the Interceptouchdown.)

Moreover, what is the school teaching its students? When a human error occurs, sue? When things don’t go your way, find a lawyer?

 

Things that may amuse only me

I wrote Thursday about announcing a state football championship game, to which a friend wrote:

I would appreciate it if you could send in some of your game tapes to FOX as Joe Buck desperately needs to be replaced. What a great announcer story. Big guy from small conference in middle America hits the big time! Almost as good as the game itself.

Independent of the fact that Fox shows no inclination to replace Buck, to think Fox would replace Buck with a part-timer who has never done network TV at any level is most kind but most unlikely. I do maintain, however, that Fox and CBS should hire announcers for each team, and then using the Second Audio Program allow viewers to choose their announcers instead of being stuck with whoever Fox assigns, similar to what TBS has done with NCAA Final Four games.

This, meanwhile, amuses me even more:

Another avocational highlight today

I have the privilege of announcing today’s WIAA Division 7 football championship game between Shullsburg and Edgar from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for WPVL (1590 AM), available online worldwide at http://www.am1590wpvl.com.

It occurs to me that for someone who does this only as a part-time thing, I’m doing pretty well. In the past four years, I have announced state football, boys basketball, girls basketball, girls volleyball and, as you know two weeks ago, boys soccer. I’ve also announced college basketball, and numerous non-state games that have been great games to announce regardless of where  they are or who’s playing.

 

A personal highlight today

I have a doubleheader of sports to announce today, ending with Lancaster at Clinton in Level 3 football at 6:45 p.m. on WGLR (97.7 FM) in Lancaster, available online at wglr.com.

Before that, I will be announcing state tournament soccer, Rice Lake against Mount Horeb, in Milwaukee for Rice Lake’s WAQE (also 97.7 FM), also available online at waqe.com and msbnsports.net. (Which marks the first time I have ever announced games for two different radio stations on the same frequency in the same day. I hope I keep one separate from the other, lest one get an unscheduled format change, given that the first is a Hot Adult Contemporary station and the other is a country station.)

When I was asked to announce state soccer, it occurred to me that there was someone residing in Presteblog World Headquarters who would know something about Mount Horeb, since the Vikings ended his season last week. And so …

… Platteville/Lancaster goalkeeper Michael Prestegard will join me on the broadcast. He’s certainly seen enough of my on-air work from the booth (including when I accidentally hit him in the face with my clipboard), but today will be his on-air sports broadcasting debut. (To add to various things he and his brother and sister have done for my main employer the newspaper.)

The closest I have come to this before now is when my father accompanied me on two interviews with microbrewery owners for a magazine story. The owners and he kind of monopolized the conversation, but I got enough material for the story just by listening and taking notes. (My father’s career was not in journalism, but if you can talk to people, that’s a start. My kids already know Who, What, Where, When, Why and How and What Does This Story Mean to the Reader.)

Mrs. Presteblog has been with me for many games over the years …

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… but sadly not today due to this thing called work.

It’s a much smaller scale than, say, having Chip Caray work with his father Skip and Skip’s father Harry …

… or the numerous other father–son baseball teams (Marty and Thom Brennaman, Harry and Todd Kalas, etc.). But today will be a personal thrill for me.

In case you missed it …

The Chicago Tribune:

Grown men and women wept.

Fireworks lit up the sky in both the city and suburbs, while school-aged children gathered on sidewalks long after bedtime to cheer honking cars.

Thousands poured into Wrigleyville, forcing street closures around the ball park and prompting CTA trains to bypass several stops in the area because of crowding.

This is what it looks like when a 108-year-old dream is finally realized.

Chicago erupted late Wednesday night as the Cubs won their first World Series in four generations, ending professional baseball’s longest championship drought and giving its long-suffering fan base cause to celebrate. After a century of heartbreak, humiliation and good humor, the North Side faithful enjoyed a moment unlike anything they had experienced since the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

With raised beers and voices, the fans toasted a young, fearless team that never cowered to history. They applauded themselves for a steadfast loyalty that was finally rewarded. And they celebrated a city, which has found a small cause for happiness amid a soaring murder rate.

“First of all I’m going to cry. I’m going to be a babbling 47-year-old baby,” said Dan Yunker. “My sons, my daughters and my wife are texting me. This is a huge deal. This is history!”

At Simon’s Tavern in Andersonville, a wall-to-wall crowd spent the last innings vacillating between unrestrained joy and dread. Optimists in the crowd, weary from hours of baseball and alcohol, assured the others the Cubs would still win, even as the Cleveland Indiansgave cause tor doubt.

As the Cubs made the last out, the bar exploded into screaming, dancing and hugging.

“I feel so wonderful,” said Joan Kufrin, 79, of Chicago.

Sadly, Harry Caray missed last night’s win, but thanks to YouTube and editing skills …

Another baseball team, and another bad baseball team

Sunday morning I got a text:

Remember 3 years ago when the Cubs lost 96 games and you were questioning Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ plan when they were selling off all their “star” players for prospects and not wasting money on starting pitching and high-priced batters while the majority of their hitting prospects were still in the minors?? Remember when you again questioned the plan a year later when the Cubs lost 89 games in 2014 and I told you not to doubt Theo, the prospects were almost ready and they would go get the pitching they need – an ace (Lester) and a closer (Chapman), a decent 2/3 (Hendricks) – and they would dominate the Central for the next 4-5 years?? Well, Theo’s plan worked, regardless of the World Series outcome. And, hopefully I can send you a similar text in 3-4 years reminding you of this year when you ridiculed the brewers for selling of their players for prospects, not spending for quality veteran pitching or a first basemen and not really trying to be competitive this year cause they were certainly going to lose 100 games (they lost 89). Wouldn’t that be great?

Great? Yes. Likely? Where is the evidence?

The most cynical perspective says that the billionaire Cubs owners (of TD Ameritrade) screwed their fans to the tune of selling multiple seasons of bad baseball for premium prices for the chance of good baseball at some point. The most cynical perspective also says that the nouveau yuppie Cubs fans deserve to have wasted money on bad baseball. And to no one’s surprise, as the text writer noted, the billion-dollar owners went out and purchased the needed added parts to seal their win.

There is little resemblance between this Cubs team and the Cubs teams I watched, with day home baseball on free (cable) TV, and Harry Caray merrily mispronouncing names, (allegedly) drinking to excess during his broadcasts, and above all showing off Cubs baseball as something fun regardless of result. Irrespective of the benefits, or lack thereof, of Cubs ownership by the Wrigley family (a few World Series, the last in 1945, and the epic 1969 collapse) and Tribune Co. (1984, 1989, 1998, the 2003 Bartman and 2008), today’s Cubs have about 1 percent more charm than the White Sox, who have none. None of the people I know (including my father) who have been long-suffering Cubs fans will be enjoying the World Series anywhere besides their TV, or their favorite bar’s TV.

Up Interstate 94, the Brewers sucked again this season, though not to the level I thought they would. (To correct the text author: I believe I said they would lose 140 games this year.) It is impossible to say when the Brewers will not suck, and it is entirely possible their dump-players-of-any-value plan to build for the future will result in no better results than today. The ratings of minor league systems apparently don’t place any value on things like team results within their minor league or players finishing near the top of their leagues in offensive, defensive or pitching categories.

Does this look like progress to you?

  • Brewers:  73-89, 30.5 games out of first, 14 games out of the wild card.
  • Colorado Springs, Class AAA: 67-71, 12.5 games out of first place.
  • Biloxi, Class AA: 72-67, 8.5 games out of first.
  • Brevard County, Class A Florida State League: 40-97, 42.5 games out of first.
  • Wisconsin, Class A Midwest League: 71-69, 15 games out of first (though the Timber Rattlers were briefly in the Midwest League playoffs).
  • Arizona, rookie Arizona Fall League: 24-29, eight games out of first.
  • Dominican Summer League: 26-44, 24.5 games out of first.

Even if you grant that the purpose of the minor leagues is development and not necessarily wins, and even if you grant that some players may have been moved around thus harming their former teams’ fortunes, if the Brewers minor leaguers were developing better than similar-level players, the Brewers farm teams should be better than this. The supposed best minor league prospects won’t be in Milwaukee for at least three years, and at that point between the Cubs’ possibly winning the World Series and this presidential election (a major-party choice between Lucifer and Satan) we may all be dead anyway.

(This gives me an idea: Until the Brewers become contenders, they should cut day-of-game ticket prices by the dollar figure equal to the number of games they’re out of first place, down to zero. That would be their way to apologize to their fans for their team’s continued poor play.)

The Brewers’ best player is outfielder Ryan Braun. He is likely to be traded this offseason, and reports claim he’s headed to the Dodgers in return for malcontent outfielder Yasiel Puig, who is reportedly hated by most of his teammates. If that trade does take place, Puig will be hated by his Brewers teammates by Memorial Day. (Claims of the benefits of a change of scenery are usually illusory. People do not change, though they sometimes become worse. Ask the ’90s Cubs about Sammy Sosa.)

This is not all the Brewers’ fault. The economics of Major League Baseball continue to be terrible, and continue to benefit big-market franchises and a few smaller-market franchises who know how to run their businesses (i.e. St. Louis) because teams do not share their local broadcast revenues. The season is too long, which will be proven by World Series games at Progressive Field in Cleveland and Wrigley Field with lows in the 30s and 40s. TV will be fine with this; the fans may need hypothermia treatment afterward.

It should not take several seasons to build a winning franchise. The National Football League is famous for teams coming out of the previous season’s nowhere into the Super Bowl, and then going back the next year. (Tampa Bay, which finished last in its division last year, is ahead of Carolina, which played in Super Bowl 50. Dallas finished last last year and is in first this year.) If you are charging major-league prices for a minor league product, the fans have not merely the right, but the obligation to not buy tickets.

What kind of business would stay in business very long if it put out an inferior product for years and years, telling customers they’re trying to get better, ,but failing to do so? As a part of the entertainment business, every professional sports team owes it to its customers (paying fans, sponsors and broadcast outlets) to try to win every single season. Every single season, no exceptions, no excuses. Is that happening at Miller Park?