Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Everybody Talks

May/June is the down time of down times for college football fans.  Spring practices are in the books, the NFL Draft has come and gone, and we're too far out from the fall to have any kind of meaningful discussion with regard to the season forthcoming.  But the college football machine is one that is fed, day in and day out, by the tiniest morsels of information become three day stories.  The cycle of news spins ever faster, the ability to disseminate the smallest fragments of a notion of an idea become fodder.  I'm guilty of feeding this machine but I am also give pause.

This week alone, three stories struck me and I was left to wonder why?
1). Brady Hoke, speaking at an awards banquet in his hometown of Kettering, Ohio, when asked a question about a move toward potential super conferences, said that he could see it, and could see the Big East going away.

2). David Brandon, speaking to the Wolverine Caucus in Lansing, discussed the fundamental changes he has brought to the Michigan athletic department since his arrival.
3). Jim Delany spoke about the president of the B1G preference to the current BCS system, then a plus one, then a four team playoff, but one that was not wedded to a flawed system of polling.

Each of these stories caused disconcert among the Twitterati, created air for sports radio fans**, and endless ability to snark.  I want to handle each one point by point because they all speak to something different.

1). Brady Hoke's superconference answer ultimately means nothing.  He was asked a question at an event where he was the honored guest.  People want to know the opinion of a major figure in the world of college football, and with conference realignment, superconferences have been much on the minds of people who have an interest in college football.  Brady gave his opinion based on what he knows.  Does this carry any more weight than a conference commissioner, or a school president, or an athletic director, or a television executive.  No.  But, many more people know Brady Hoke than many of those other people, so even those Coach Hoke's information may be more limited, his words carry more weight.
"But look, I'm just a coach. I don't know all of it."
Similarly, this wouldn't have even been a story ten years ago.  Now, every comment at every banquet or speaking engagement is a blog post.

2). David Brandon's remarks to the Wolverine Caucus are another in the master plays of "David Brandon's guide to messaging during the off-season".  Hmm, you mean David Brandon, the CEO of Michigan athletics, is speaking to a bunch of government leaders who self-select as Michigan fans or alums enough to attend a meeting of this nature?  You mean there will be press present?  You mean you want to show off how visionary you are because perhaps you still harbor visions of running for governor somewhere down the line?  So you talk about change, about the future, about moving forward, about revenue streams, to people who are receptive to this kind of dialogue.  Why?  Because you stay on message, because that's your job.

3). Delany's comments, which came after a teleconference of the B1G's presidents, are important because I think so many in the national media are missing something here.  Why are so many people convinced that Jim Delany is bad at his job?  Jim Delany may be passionate about the Rose Bowl, Jim Delany may be a traditionalist, but Jim Delany was also the guy who figured out the Big Ten Network, at a time when almost everyone was skeptical about it, and turned it into a cash cow which essentially launched conference realignment into the stratosphere.  So is it possible that Jim Delany is negotiating in public* by setting a B1G position far enough out that the conference and its member schools can give up things that they have publicly stated are meaningful to them, but of which privately they believe that they can be used as bargaining chips?  Delany knows that the SEC holds many of the cards, but sometimes its not about holding the cards.

*--Just because I can't help myself, I am reminded of political scientist Hans Morgenthau's nine rules for successful diplomacy and can see at least four of them at work, tangentially, for Delany:

"The objectives of foreign policy must be defined in terms of the national interest and must be supported with adequate power." Define your interests narrowly, stressing that which really matters, and make sure you have enough power for that purpose.

"Diplomacy must look at the political scene from the point of view of other nations." Other countries have national interests, too, and so long as they are limited and rational they are legitimate.

"Nations must be willing to compromise on all issues that are not vital to them." If you've observed the first three rules, you will be able to see what is vital and what is not. If your adversary does the same, you can find a middle ground.

"Give up the shadow of worthless rights for the substance of real advantage." Don't worry about scoring legal or propaganda points; look to see what you're really getting in terms of national interest.

Now, all of that said, the fact that the B1G ADs caved so readily on campus semifinals sites seems to violate the fourth one on the list there, but still, I think there's something to this.

My point, in all of this, if there is one, is that I think we need to consider the speaker, the venue, and their motives when examining anything that people say, especially at this slow time of year.  Otherwise we're just spinning our wheels.

**--Yes, I realize this footnote is not following the format of the others, but as much as I like The Scott Van Pelt Show, I was upset by the fact that on yesterday's show, Scott and Ryen were so ready to tell the Big Ten that the Rose Bowl is dead without thinking about what the Rose Bowl means to fans of B1G schools.  Just because the ACC or even, to a certain degree, SEC, have a long term, long standing, over century old tie to the Rose Bowl does not mean that fans of schools in those footprints have the right to tell the B1G and its fans that we're stupid for having a fondness for something that occupies a special place in our history.  Whether you want to argue that the B1G is consistently hosed by this arrangement is a whole other discussion worth having, but that is not the one being had at present.

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