|01-09-2006, 12:12 AM||#1|
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[Sports Central Newsletter] #132 - Continuing Decline of ESPN
The Sports Central Newsletter
January 2006 - Issue #132
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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|
* Words From the Editor
* The O-Files: "The Continuing Decline of ESPN"
* Editor's Pick: "Good Riddance to Bad Coaches"
* Hot Topics From the SCMB
* Shots From the Lip: "If You Can't Beat 'em, Buy 'em"
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|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|
In this first issue of 2006, we present an updated evaluation of ESPN's continued decline since first publicizing it in August 2004. To follow that, there's a look at the parallels between the Yankee and Patriot dynasties. Could it be that one ended in 2001, while the other ascended to power? And to top it off, don't miss this issue's Editor's Choice, Greg Wyshynski's "Good Riddance to Bad Coaches," an off-the-wall look at the mass firings and coaching changes in the NFL.
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|-- THE O-FILES --|
THE CONTINUING DECLINE OF ESPN
By Brad Oremland
There's a lot happening in sports right now, and I'm skipping a number of topics I'd hoped to write about: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the Indianapolis Colts, the absurd and irresponsible overreaction to a piece written by my colleague Mert Ertunga (http://www.sports-central.org/sports...r_in_2005.php), women's college basketball, and especially the U.S. Treasury Department's arbitrary and malicious decision not to allow Cuba to choose a team that will play on U.S. soil in the World Baseball Classic, which had been a source of massive international goodwill and sportsmanship.
It kills me not to spend more space skewering the issues surrounding Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, but I can not ignore the current state of ESPN. As a sports fan in the United States, you can't avoid it, and the network's lineup affects virtually every sports fan in the country.
It's been almost 18 months since I wrote "The MTV-ization of ESPN” (http://www.sports-central.org/sports...n_of_espn.php), by far the most popular article I've done since joining Sports Central in 2002. Since then, some of the problems I identified have been addressed, and the ESPN family of networks — I apologize for using that phrase — continues to do a good job of covering a number of sports events.
But ESPN also used 2005 to introduce simulated press conferences, ESPN Hollywood, an hour-long show devoted to Stephen A. Smith, and SportsCenter's inane "History in the Making” segment, not to mention lots of Chris Berman and the "1st and 10” guys. Between its television networks, radio programming, and immensely popular website, though, ESPN has also garnered an extraordinary amount of criticism and fan dissatisfaction. The self-proclaimed "worldwide leader” responded in July by hiring an ombudsman, George Solomon.
Many news outlets — especially newspapers — employ ombudsmen to serve as advocates for readers and publicly give an outsider's take on reporting. It is a difficult and demanding job which frequently leads to conflict with both readers and reporters, and ESPN's case is no different. None of that will stop me from criticizing Solomon, who has done a questionable job.
Among people who were qualified to assume the position, Solomon was probably the single worst choice available. By his own admission, he knows "nothing” about television, and Solomon had pre-existing relationships with many people at ESPN, including — but not limited to — Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, Rachel Nichols, and most egregiously, his son, Aaron, the producer of "Around the Horn." Neutrality is central to an ombudsman's function, and it's hard to see how Solomon could be capable of that characteristic, given the circumstances.
To my mind, Solomon comes across more as an apologist than as a critical observer. His frequent defenses of ESPN aren't necessarily the problem here, but I see Solomon mostly as a barometer of perceived public opinion, defending stories and tactics that aren't harmful from a P.R. standpoint, and taking aim at those everyone else has already condemned. And because Solomon's column is published only once a month — most ombudsmen report weekly — he has plenty of time to gauge public reaction before responding to something. To some extent, that is precisely the ombudsman's function, but a responsible journalist should be more than a reflection of conventional wisdom.
Many of ESPN's problems come back to something Solomon identified in his October column: the blurred line between (neutral) reporting and (opinionated) commentary. In "The MTV-ization of ESPN,” I spoke about the distinction between "good ESPN" such as "Outside the Lines" and "bad ESPN," which to my mind includes anything where "analysts” scream at each other.
One problem, I wrote then, was that "bad ESPN" "has infiltrated previously 'good' shows: SportsCenter anchors ... think the show is about them, not the sports they cover." SportsCenter remains ESPN's most important show, a way for fans to catch up on the day's most salient games and stories in just an hour. Analysis has always been part of the show, but now commentary threatens to overwhelm the news aspect of the broadcast. Viewers may wade through the inanity of a simulated press conference, or the drive to anoint this year's Trojans the greatest football team in the history of ever, but most fans would part with those features in exchange for a sober discussion in the studio — or better yet, more game highlights.
ESPN, for better or worse, is a news outlet, and it should make an effort to divide shows like SportsCenter or NFL Primetime — which most viewers watch in search of scores and highlights — from commentary programs such as PTI or Rome Is Burning, which are entertaining because of the spin hosts put on sports stories. Viewers who want straight news can choose which shows they watch accordingly, and those who prefer Woody Paige can watch any of the three or four shows he appears on. ESPN does its viewers a disservice when anchors or correspondents inject opinion into their reporting. No legitimate news outlet would allow that, and it shouldn't happen in sports reporting, either.
Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:email@example.com?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
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|-- EDITOR'S PICK --|
There have been 13 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: http://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:
GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD COACHES
By Greg Wyshynski
The New York Jets have finally cut ties with coach Herman Edwards. SC's Greg Wyshynski analyzes what went wrong, where the franchise is headed, and why Edwards' success might not be as impressive as it first seemed. That, plus more in the JQ.
|-- HOT TOPICS FROM THE SCMB --|
What's the buzz at the ultimate sports fan community?
[MLB] Boston Fans Crying over Damon--Another reason to hate these people
[MLB] How to Fix Red Sox
[NBA] I thought Wade was God?
[NBA] Best Future Rookie
[NFL] "Disrespected more than any team in the league." -Tom Brady
[NFL] 2006 NFL Draft
[NFL] "You're FIRED!"
[CBK] Who is your head coach if you could pick?
[CFB] Bill Simmons ripps Pete Carroll - and I couldn't agree more...
[LOUNGE] Ever "read" more into a movie than it seems?
|-- SHOTS FROM THE LIP --|
IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, BUY 'EM
By Bob Ekstrom
There was once a day when the New York Yankees organization was the gold standard by which all others measured their worth.
It was a day when the signature N-superimposed-over-Y logo had the same effect in the world of sports as the G-rotated-G logo had in the world of fashion.
It was a day when even those ardent haters of the Evil Empire, whose Mecca is New England, took compliment in hearing their own teams compared to the New York Yankees.
That day has passed.
It faded to night, perhaps even before that night proclaimed by Buster Olney as the last in the Yankee dynasty.
Months after the Yankees lost that seventh game to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series, the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl. Since then, there is a new standard in professional sports.
Many saw parallels with the Yankees in that first Patriots championship. Both front offices expected of their organizations — from superstar player to grounds technician — the highest in professional standards.
Player management — be they head coach, manager, or assistant in title — approached every opponent with utmost respect, preparing for them as if the game were in even balance and singing their praises after they'd beaten them.
Management instilled this same class and leadership in its rosters, as well. Players never provided opponents with bulletin-board material. Both locker rooms were self-policed and front offices spared the antics of fake injuries or the need to defend against player backlashes. The petulance of Pedro Martinez would be as unlikely a survivor in the Yankee clubhouse as the self-absorption of Terrell Owens would in the Patriots locker room.
On the field, players executed for the good of the team. When Chuck Knoblauch lost his ability to throw from second to first base, he learned to play left field and opened a slot for Alfonso Soriano. Similarly, when injuries depleted the Patriots secondary, Pro Bowl wide receiver Troy Brown stepped in to a defensive back role at the age of 33. There are numerous examples of Patriots playing both sides of the ball, still a rarity in the NFL.
In the months following that first Super Bowl, callers to a Boston-based sports talk show were already drawing comparisons between the two organizations. They were Patriots fans.
And they were proud to make such a comparison. Why not? The Yankees were a storied team, rich in history and success. They had come three outs away from their fifth World Series title in a six-year span. Who wouldn't want to be in league with such success?
But here the paths of each franchise part.
The Patriots have gone on to another two victories in the ensuing three Super Bowls and are poised at the threshold of another postseason. The Yankees have yet to again feel the chill of champagne dripping down their foreheads and shoulders.
It is a matter of deep amazement to New Englanders, and more than a passing curiosity to the rest of the country, how the Patriots have maintained themselves as perennial contenders, particularly in a league that is the acronym of "Not For Long."
Indeed, the NFL is a land of salary caps and copycats, where career-ending injuries await each snap of the ball. Within such a climate, the Patriots have had above-average occurrences of big-name cuts, injuries, and coaching staff attrition. Not many NFL teams have lost both offensive and defensive coordinators in one off-season, yet lived to see the next postseason.
Imagine the Yankees' chances for an AL East title repeat if they cut both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield under salary cap considerations, then lost Alex Rodriguez for 60 games due to injury. By the way, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams just retired in their prime due to medical reasons. Don Mattingly and Mel Stottlemyre? Sorry! Off to managerial positions with other clubs last winter.
Well, meet the 2005 New England Patriots, AFC East division champions.
The Patriots have built success through the drafting and development of young players, but with a smattering of interchangeable free agent parts that keep the machinery fine-tuned. As dictated in the world of the NFL, they have been necessarily frugal, allocating salary to both star players and backups. This has provided the one quality that separates them from their competition, the one quality causal to their success. That quality is depth.
Depth has provided separation for the New York Yankees, as well, but it is depth of pockets, not of personnel.
The modern-day rise of the Yankees began in 1994, the year they first assumed top spending honors. After a modest payroll increase over 1993, when they were but third highest in baseball, the Bombers staked their first divisional championship and playoff appearance in 13 years.
But even as this new era was being ushered into the Bronx, remnants of the old were still visible. 1994's success was brought about by players like Don Mattingly, Paul O'Neill, and Bernie Williams, each of whom embodied that heart and grace-under-pressure character long associated with the Yankee mystique. In the ensuing years, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera came off the Yankees farm and were added into a mix that produced their first World Series title in 22 years.
Despite a payroll that had grown beyond 10% higher than any other team, you could admire something in that over-achieving club that surprised the Atlanta Braves and the baseball world.
Even today, any self-respecting New Englander will allow comparison of his or her 2001 Super Bowl champion Patriots to the 1996 New York Yankees. We can identify with their versatility, the class of Joe Torre and his players, that us-against-the-world attitude that carried them past the heavily favored juggernauts and media darlings of the day, expert analysis of their weaknesses to the contrary.
Then the freak show went full-glitter.
George Steinbrenner and his Tampa and Bronx divisions set out to acquire the best personnel — in every position.
While most of baseball could only hope for one marquee signing, excepting a few teams like the Mets, Orioles, and Red sox who could expect one, the Yankees were the only child who got everything on their Christmas list.
The list was far-reaching. Domestically, they acquired top players such as David Wells, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield. From overseas, they outbid all others for the services of Hideki Irabu, El Duque Hernandez, Hideki Matsui, and Jose Contreras.
Excused from this list are other high-profile acquisitions such as Denny Neagle, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, and Javier Vasquez, all of whom went bust but nonetheless contributed to a payroll that more than quadrupled in eleven years.
In 1994, Yankees payroll of $47.5 million was 8% higher than any other team. Last year, at $208.3 million, it was 69% over its closest competitor, this according to USA Today's database of team salaries. Despite a collection of impressive baseball cards, the Yankees have lost in the World Series, the ALCS, and the ALDS in the last three seasons, respectively.
The better they get, the earlier they fall.
So, with unlimited resources and any player he wants in reach, how does George Steinbrenner combat this trend? With the league his oyster, he extracts the pearls of the rosters who have beaten him.
The collection is impressive. Jeff Nelson, Tino Martinez, Luis Sojo, and Alex Rodriguez all came over from the 1995 Seattle Mariners. There were David Justice, Chad Curtis, Enrique Wilson, and Jaret Wright of the 1997 Indians. Tony Womack and Randy Johnson represent the 2001 Diamondbacks, the latter a two-time Yankee killer. Carl Pavano is the lone 2003 Marlin — there are now bigger fish to fry.
Enter the 2004 Boston Red Sox, a team that shamed Yankee pinstripes for generations.
Through Brian Cashman, George has acquired two new trophies this winter in Mike Myers and Johnny Damon. This brings to five the number of 2004 Red Sox he has collected to date. Attempts to acquire Nomar Garciaparra are on hold for another year, when he'll be joined by another graduating class of expired Boston contracts from which to select.
If you can't beat them, buy them.
While the Yankees busily collect rival players, the New England Patriots vie for their third consecutive championship. This would, of course, match the achievement of the 1998-2000 Yankees, but the path they've traveled has been quite different from the one blazed out of the Bronx.
New England has won each of its three championships under a salary cap. Furthermore, filtering out creative cap management techniques, the Patriots' first Super Bowl title was earned by a squad ranking 23rd of 31 teams in terms of total salary and bonuses.
In the four seasons to follow, their team salaries have never been higher than ninth, and fell to second-to-last in 2002, albeit a season in which they did not reach the playoffs. They placed 24th in winning their third Super Bowl last year. Interim reports have placed them at 27th this year.
Ask Scott Pioli, VP of Player Personnel, and Head Coach Bill Belichick why the Patriots don't also covet players from the ranks of teams they fallen to, and they'll pause.
You see, the Patriots have yet to lose a playoff game in their tenure.
Bob welcomes your feedback: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
(Thanks for reading! Next issue will arrive on 02/05/06.)
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