Tuesday, May 31, 2011

on Tressel and the rule of law

Anyone who works in the news business long enough has been cursed at.

Sometimes it's for a missed paper, or because someone's kid's name was misspelled in the Saturday sports section. Most often, though, a good cursing inevitably is borne out of a story about someone getting arrested, or cited, or sometimes (in the case of teachers) laid off from a public job. Sometimes it's the person who actually got arrested/cited/laid off, sometimes it's their friend or relative. But every complaint is essentially the same.
"You're making us look bad! You're making it seem like I/he/she is a bad person!"
The proper answer: The media doesn't make value judgments about what kind of person is the subject of a story. A reporter's job is to report. The facts of the story should speak for themselves.

A similar attitude inevitably emerges when NCAA violations come to light. You heard it when Alabama was sanctioned; you heard it when USC got slapped last year; you heard it last fall, when Auburn fell under national scrutiny for its recruitment of Cam Newton. And you'll hear it now that Jim Tressel has been forced out at Ohio State.
The inevitable counter-cry will be something like this: Jim Tressel isn't the problem; it's the NCAA that's the problem.

Jason Whitlock jumped on this early:
Jim Tressel is not special. He’s not particularly sinister or fraudulent. He’s an executive in a major industry who is taking the fall so the lie can continue long enough for the major players to come up with a new batch of lies.

Tommy Craggs — one of the better writers for Deadspin — also joined the chorus:
Hypocrisy is the grease that keeps the system running. Everyone knows that, even Michigan fans. Pat "enduring and justifiable taint" Forde knows that. It's how gifted young men like Rose get a cut of the vast sums of money they help generate. It's the little con that grows out of the big con — the laughable pretense that college football isn't a business.

Both Craggs and Whitlock are arguing the same line of reasoning that runs counter to this story: the NCAA rules are antiquated and need to be overhauled; everybody's cheating the system; the media doesn't talk enough about the problems in the system, and are part of the problem.

All of these are a) salient points I definitely agree with (at least in part) and b) completely off the point when it comes to the Tressel story. To wit:
• The facts that the rules are bad and the system needs overhauling don't really matter here, do they? Those are the rules. You're supposed to follow the rules. Maybe you think the NFL's helmet-to-helmet legislation to prevent head injuries is unnecessary; maybe you think the NBA's "defensive 3 seconds" rule is dumb and harms the quality of play. Fine. But those are the rules. If you think the rules should be changed, I'm all for it. But as long as the rules are in place, it's the job of the participants to follow them.
Jim Tressel isn't a novice when it comes to college football. He's been coaching in some capacity since the mid-1970s. He's been the head coach at Ohio State since 2001. The man knows the way things work. He knew the rules and he violated them.
• More importantly, this incessant bleating about the hypocrisies of the NCAA obfuscate the point of it: Tressel wasn't forced to resign because of the NCAA violations themselves; he was forced out because he lied to the authorities. Period. The violations themselves — a few illicit benefits, maybe some money changing hands — were violations, sure, but nothing on an SMU level or anything. Tressel could have withstood a few arrows caused by improper benefits, had he been honest about them. He was not, and that's why he is unemployed today.
I wrote about this once before, so you'll have to forgive me for standing on a soapbox again, but ... I mean, shouldn't coaches be held to a higher level of accountability here? Coaches aren't kids. A coach, first and foremost, is a teacher: His job is to win games, sure, but he should also be concerned about those intangible things teachers should strive for: Turning boys into men, teaching life lessons, that kind of thing. What kid (or better yet, what parent of a kid) would be interested in hearing a word from Jim Tressel after finding out he couldn't be honest with his bosses?

Look, I'm not here to condemn Jim Tressel as a person. By all accounts he's a nice guy who ran a classy program in Columbus. I'm not here to make pronouncements about him personally by any means.
But he willingly broke the rules and then he lied about them. Nice guy or not, hypocritical system or no, those are fireable offenses. And that's why he had to go.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tuesday tube: Buckeye bashing

With the downfall of Jim Tressel now complete, I can't think of anything else to post today, so here's the last time Alabama played Ohio State: the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
(Note: As always, before you watch, we implore you to visit the Red Cross' website and donate, if you haven't done so already. Thank you.)

The Buckeyes actually scuffled along for a few more seasons with John Cooper as their coach, before finally getting sick of him and hiring Tressel. Weirdly, no coach in Columbus has left on his own terms since the 1940s. Kind of amazing when you think about it.

Monday links: Memorial Day edition

A quick roundup today, since I have to be off for the office — yes, I'll be honoring the troops by working today — in a few minutes. As always, let's be careful out there.

UPDATE: Two things we missed: first, the inevitable Jim Tressel resignation finally came down today; second, as always, we implore you to visit the Red Cross' website and donate, if you haven't done so already. Thanks.

— Certainly, the biggest news at home was Alabama's softball team exorcising last year's demons by rallying to beat Stanford and advance to the Women's World Series in Oklahoma City. Like a lot of other Alabama teams, these girls believe they're playing for something greater than themselves right now, which is pretty cool.
— The baseball team wasn't quite so inspiring: After winning the one game everyone agreed they needed in Hoover, Bama was pretty lifeless in two straight losses. Their regional destination will be public today — ESPN is sending us to Tallahassee, while Baseball America has us back in Atlanta.
While we're here, Jon Solomon wrote an interesting piece on college baseball's agent issue, something that, like college baseball itself, nobody really pays any attention, except at this time of the year.

Of course, there's still football to talk.

— Dr. Saturday posted his glance at Bama last week, with his usual fair assessment of the team's strengths and weaknesses.
Now the scary part: With All-SEC Mark Barron's decision to skip the draft for his senior season, this fall's defense will reprise the veteran template of the 2009 group with a whopping ten returning starters — all but defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, a top-five draft pick — every single one of them a former four or five-star prospect from the succession of chart-topping recruiting classes that have beaten a path to Tuscaloosa since 2008. (To say nothing of the latest chart-topping class that signed on in February.) If it makes good on its promise to get to the quarterback more often, the 'Bama D will again be the most fearsome unit in the country on either side of the ball, bar none.

The most worrisome issue — aside from a tougher schedule in '11 (Penn State, Florida and Auburn on the road) — remains in the passing game, with a new QB and no Julio. Duron Carter's delayed enrollment probably won't help.

— What will help: Trent Richardson's presence in the backfield, where he, like the softball girls, is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. The good news: relief is coming from everywhere, as Cecil points out in today's column.

— Elsewhere, Tower illustrates the greatest horse race of all-time; Tony Barnhart foretells the coming college football divide; and Hinton discusses the predictions of Auburn's fall as this year's hot internet meme.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Andy: I am NOT keyed up!

One man's attempt to revive the weekly visit to Mayberry: Andy, Barney and Malcolm Tucker singing "Church in the Wildwood" on the front porch.

Remember: An entire town can stand still because two women's feet fall asleep.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

shameless promotion (2.0): May 26, 2011

Editor's Note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to fire Will Heathpromote its primary author's failedcareer as a writer, we present this week's column from the St. Clair Times. As always, we invite those of you with thoughts on this or anything else to comment here, or find us on Twitter. We thank you in advance for your feigning of interest.
If the Rapture really does come, please hold all my calls

You think it’s such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they’re only princes to begin with.
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they’re gonna sin with
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it
Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet.

If you’re reading this, I guess you can breathe easier.

Or something.

Because if you’re reading this, that means it’s Thursday, meaning (I guess) either the Rapture didn’t happen, or we all just missed it.

(Note: I suppose you’re reading this even if the Rapture really did happen and we were all taken up, but I’m not sure what our paper’s eternal delivery policy is. You may need a subscription or something.)

Since man was created on this Earth, we have been obsessed with trying to figure out how we’re all going to be destroyed. Harold Camping, an 89-year-old pastor with a large following in California, felt he’d solved the riddle by examining Scripture and working a few math problems, ultimately settling on May 21, 2011.

Look, I’m not here to make fun of the guy. I’m no better than any of his followers; heck, I spent much of the night of May 20 in a fitful sleep, waking up to see if anything was happening in other parts of the world while America slept. You know, just to be sure.

I did the same thing on New Year’s Eve 1999, ultimately giving up and watching whatever college bowl games were playing that night. And I’ll probably do it again next year, when the Mayan calendar foretells our doom. I’m not proud of this borderline obsession, but I’d be foolish to deny it.

What’s more, it doesn’t seem I’m alone here, either. Popular filmmakers seem a tad obsessed with imagining an apocalypse of their own, as well — movies like “I Am Legend,” “2012,” “The Book of Eli” and “The Road” all hit the big screen within a few months of one another. On television, there’s “The Walking Dead” (a zombie apocalypse), and this summer TNT will treat us to “Falling Skies” (aliens, primarily opposed by Dr. Carter from “E.R.”).

If the biblical apocalypse isn’t your thing, maybe you can be interested in an environmental one. Maybe it’s climate change, which a number of pundits are pretty sure is responsible for massive natural disasters that seem to happen regularly now. Or maybe you’re into manmade disasters like nuclear explosions or oil spills.

Maybe the most disheartening thing about obsessing over End Times theology (like I do) is that it misses the point of the message contained in the New Testament. The message has less to do with constructing an elaborate puzzle for us to assemble, and more to do with giving us heart that we have nothing to fear.

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me,” Jesus said in John’s Gospel (14:1-3). “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Those are words of comfort, right? Maybe our obsession should be with living, not with our own destruction.

I’ll try to remember this as I’m gluing myself to “Falling Skies” next month.

Thursday cinema madness: Green With Envy

In an attempt to revive our running feature about insane people working in Hollywood making insane things, we present to you the trailer for "Green With Envy," which is about something wholly different than what it appears.

So ... there's that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday tube: Glory Days

With our campus minister, Ken Smith — one of the people in my life I count as a guiding influence — on the verge of retirement, and with me unable to come up with anything else, here's a video from one of the noisiest home games of my tenure at the university.

Yeah, we lost. We lost most of the big games we played while I was in school. Sue me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday links: they need all our help now

With yet another tornado ripping through another area this weekend, suddenly it's more imperative than ever that we all donate whatever we can to the Red Cross. Here are a few links to keep us distracted while we pray for ... well, everybody.

— Our softball team is on about the task of resolving last year's unfinished business with a whipping of Chattanooga for the regional title. That means our girls are off to Stanford for a shot at the Women's College World Series, where hopefully illegal bats won't be an issue.
— Alabama baseball did just enough to make it into the SEC Tournament over the weekend, even though it dropped 2 out of 3 to defending national champ South Carolina. Eternal optimist Cecil Hurt thinks this team might just be built for the postseason. The pitching staff — particularly the starting three — has been excellent, but our predilection to leaving runners on base is maddening beyond belief.
(Note: Beyond talent issues, it sometimes seems as though our baseball team isn't terribly smart. In Saturday's rubber game vs. Carolina, the Gamecocks brought a reliever into a bases-loaded, 2-out situation — the reliever promptly walked in a run on 5 pitches, making the score 2-1. The succeeding batter — and to be honest, I can't even remember who it was — having seen all this, took a pitch out of the strike zone, then chased the next pitch for a weak bounce-out to first base. End of threat. And this happens all the time.)
— Throughout our entire run last basketball season, I was continually amazed at how Anthony Grant coaxed 20 wins and a deep run in March (yes, it was the NIT, but so what?) out of a squad that didn't have one reliable scorer. Grant, apparently, realized that as well — last week's signing period ended with Alabama's Mr. Basketball, Trevor Lacey, and some dude from Belgium on the roster in Tuscaloosa. Assuming the 7-footer, Engstrom, develops at all this offseason, that allows him to be 10-deep on the roster, with enough flexibility to go big or small, and a variety of different defensive options as well. I don't want to jinx it, but this could be a top-3 team in the conference this spring.
— ESPN the Magazine dubbed this "The Year of the Scandal," which is fun, right? In celebration, here's Cam Newton singing a Justin Bieber song.

Also, Jon Solomon discusses the SEC's impending oversigning debate. Let's pause just for a moment so Peter von Herrmann can say something mean about Georgia.
Done? OK.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

weird trips: an exercise in catharsis, part 2: the Old Grey Lady

The feature on the strange and inexplicable road trips that I intended to carry this blog through the offseason fell off after the first try, and to be honest I really don't have much of an explanation. I'd like to blame the tornadoes, but that's not really accurate; the truth is, I wasn't sure where to go after Volume 1. So let's start at the beginning: My first trip to Legion Field, the night Freddie Kitchens did the improbable and Gene Stallings officially stepped down as head coach at Alabama.

(Note: Before we go any further, I remind you to visit the Red Cross' website and donate, if you haven't done so already. Alabama thanks you.)

The lead-up: The 1996 season was, on the whole a pretty frustrating yet successful affair for 'Bama fans. And really, that sentence describes most of the Gene Stallings tenure anyway: they won, but it always felt like they should be better. To wit: 'Bama opened the '96 season with seven unimpressive wins, then went to Neyland Stadium to play Peyton Manning and Tennessee. And we were winning the damn game, too ... but we couldn't cash in and grab a firm hold on the game, and ultimately the Vols tied the game, then took the lead in the fourth quarter. 'Bama drove down the field but failed to tie the game. The next two weeks, Alabama beat LSU in Death Valley (thanks to a breakout performance from freshman Shaun Alexander), then somehow lost to Mississippi State in Starkville, 17-16. I have utterly no memory of this game.
It's at this point that the story turns ugly: According to legend, coach Stallings and new athletic director Bob Bockrath got into a giant blowup over ... well, something after the game, and in the ensuing week, the possibility was raised that the coach would leave after the season.
Auburn, on the other hand, was suffering its second straight genuinely disappointing Terry Bowden season. The Tigers lost an early-season game to LSU (the famous "Fire Game), got crushed at Florida (the eventual national champs) and later lost a genuine heartbreaker to Georgia in overtime. Both teams were reeling coming to Legion Field that November.

How we got there: To be honest, I'm a little hazy. I'm fairly certain that, at some point early that morning, my dad came into my room and casually asked me if I was interested in going to the game. "Uh ... well, yeah." He informed that some friends of ours who are generous donators to the university had offered us their tickets for the game at Legion Field. And I needed to change into something that made me look like more than a bum. Which I was able to do in a shocking amount of time.
This was my first trip to Legion Field, the second time I'd seen an Auburn-Bama game in person (the first was the previous year, when I was selling programs at Auburn games).

The trip: More to the point, this was the specific moment when a young will heath's eyes were opened to the reality of gameday at Legion Field. Specifically, I remember driving in on Arkadelphia Road and being legitimately amazed at the scores of people from the neighborhoods out on the street, waving towels, offering to park cars in their yards ... for a fee. We ultimately paid $15 to park in someone's yard, with Dad telling me afterward, "They really can't legally charge you to park on the street. The street is public. You're paying them to make sure your still has its hubcaps when the game is over."

The game: Alabama jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, then spent the next 50 minutes or so giving it all back. Dameyune Craig played a great game against a great defense, and Auburn was able to hold 'Bama at bay, holding a 23-17 lead as the nervous crowd counted down the minutes. Honestly, my biggest memory of the game was the way Alabama fans pleaded with Freddie Kitchens, the oft-maligned, pudgy quarterback who always seemed like he was one or two plays away from being great. One guy repeatedly shouted he would buy Freddie a cheesburger for every touchdown. Which, of course, made it all the better when this happened.

When the game finally ended, the couple in front of us tossed their seat cushions — nice seat cushions, the kind you'd spend a good chunk of money on — into the air in celebration. Guess it wasn't that valuable after all.
One note on the final drive: Legend has it that coach Stallings told longtime assistant (and de facto defensive coordinator) Bill Oliver in 1995 that he intended to retire following the season. However, after the season, Stallings changed his mind and decided to stay on for another run at a title. This angered Oliver enough to make him available; Bowden hired him as Auburn's DC before the '96 season.

Coach Stallings: On the way back to the car, a guy came up to us on the street and said, "I heard coach Stallings is gonna retire." I scoffed. "They say that every year." Of course, when we got in the car, Stallings was in the midst of his retirement presser. "Dammit," said Dad.

The aftermath: Alabama went on to the SEC Championship Game the week after Auburn, playing reasonably well in a 45-30 loss to Florida (again, the eventual national champs). Stallings did indeed step down after defeating Michigan in a typically ugly Stallings affair at the Outback Bowl in Tampa. They hired Mike Dubose. And that's probably all we need to say about that. Auburn actually won the SEC West the following season under Bowden, then fired him in '98.
One other thing: We didn't know it at the time, but this was the penultimate "Iron Bowl" — four years later, in 2000, Alabama moved its home game to Tuscaloosa, meaning the game was gone from Birmingham forever (Auburn had moved their home game on campus in 1989). By the time I made it to Alabama as a freshman, games on Greymont were mostly a hassle: we were stuck in a contract that required us to play there a few times a year, usually terrible games against Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana Tech.
Glad I got to see it while I still could.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday tube: Rolling Tide

Thought we could use something football related, so here's a highlight video from January's Capital One Bowl victory. As always, if you're watching, please visit the Red Cross' website and donate or get involved, if you haven't yet.

That was fun, right? Let's hope this fall is as much fun; like coach Saban said, we could use the escape.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Monday links: time to start over

It's been a big weekend here at The Home of the Party. My wife graduated from Samford's Nurse Anesthesia Program on Friday. Auburn and Alabama met in a big weekend baseball series at Three-Name Complex. And apparently the world is ending Saturday.
So, here's an attempt to get back on a regular schedule in the interim. Hey, assuming we're all still here this time next week, maybe we'll settle into a routine. As always, please remember to visit the Red Cross' website and donate, if you haven't done so already.

— Our guys did come up with a bit of a rally in that series vs. the Tigers today, winning 7-6 to salvage a game in the series. In all honesty, these two teams are pretty closely matched: the final scores of the Saturday doubleheader were 7-5 and 8-7, and 'Bama had the tying run on base in both cases. If there was one disheartening aspect of the weekend, it's that Bama's bullpen came apart so catastrophically Saturday and dug too big a hole for the squad to climb out. In any case, we need to close strong vs. Carolina to get to Hoover. And, um, Carolina's pretty good.
— Speaking of pretty good, Alabama's softball team is set to host a regional this weekend, the No. 2 seed overall. With a win in the regional, the Tide will also host a super regional the following weekend. It's good news for a group that's been through a ton these past few weeks.
— A fun story: Shaun Alexander, set to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, admits he chose Alabama because of ... well, climate.
"Driving up from Cincinnati (to Michigan), all the roads were down to one lane on a four-lane highway. I'd never seen that much snow. It freaked me out. And when I got on campus, the only thing I could think was, 'It's cold.' "

— Slightly more depressing news about former players: Keith McCants is suffering. This is, um, sad.
— Equally sad: Alabama and Tennessee folks came together this weekend for the funeral of Aaron Douglas, which naturally stole headlines this week for its tragic nature (and, of course, ESPN's bizarre handling of the story initially). I don't even like speculating on stories like this; really, anything other than, "This is really, really sad" would be inappropriate. So let's stick with that.
— Something related to actual football: A (free) post from BOL measuring which Alabama linebackers were the best in 2010. The answer may be somewhat surprising (then again, maybe not).
— Finally, here's a link where Mark Richt criticizes coaches who are "winning at all costs." Did I post this just to mess with my buddy Peter? Mostly, yeah.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

shameless promotion (2.0): May 12, 2011

Editor's note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to fire Will Heathpromote its primary author's failedcareer as a writer, we present this week's column from the St. Clair Times. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts here or by finding us on Twitter. One additional wrinkle: We ask that, if you have not already, you make a donation to the Alabama Red Cross before going any further. Every little bit helps. We thank you in advance for your feigning of interest.
Recovering one bite at a time

Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.

The thought occurred to me this past week while some church friends and I were dragging tree limbs out of a storm-affected yard to the street. It was and is very easy to despair at the enormity of the project — rebuilding shattered homes and shattered lives from one side of this state to the other in the wake of the worst natural disaster we’ve ever experienced.

How do we do it? How do we go about getting back our neighborhoods, our daily routines or even our sense of humor?

Answer: One house at a time. One neighborhood at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time.

One bite at a time.

It was something Gov. Robert Bentley touched on last week when he toured the storm-ravaged Shoal Creek Valley area. The governor and his entourage visited just about every area that sustained devastation over the course of 10 days, and no one area was any more or less disheartening than any other. You could see the weight of the devastation weighing on the face of a man who took office only a few months ago.

Still, he was doing what he could to help people cope, one house at a time.

“When I’m with them,” he said, “they cry, I cry with them, and then I go to the next one and we do the same thing.”

One bite at a time.

Look, there’s nothing anyone can do to bring back the people we lost, nothing that will ease the healing process for people whose homes blew away, with everything they owned going with it. One area person who’s worked in Shoal Creek every day since the storm told me he’s wept every day. And who could blame him, really?

But that’s the thing. Despite the enormity of the tragedy and the overwhelming sadness, the volunteer groups keep coming back. They keep coming back, and they keep lending their hands, and they keep doing what they can.

Our group last week spent roughly two hours helping an elderly man clear his backyard, where a tree lay across his vegetable garden. A quick glance around the neighborhood told the story: Every house sustained damage; everyone was in need of help. No group of 15 people could possibly save that area with a month to work.

But we could help that resident grow vegetables again. And, for the moment at least, that was enough.

With every bite, that elephant shrinks, if only a little bit.

I asked St. Clair County Commissioner Jeff Brown Thursday about the efforts in Shoal Creek Valley. Is he seeing signs of hope? Does he think the area is going to be OK?

“These people are troopers,” he said. “They’re going to make it.

“I’m not saying they don’t need help, but they’re troopers and they’re going to make it.”

One bite at a time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday tube: you might need a tissue

Apologies for the lack of blogs the past few weeks. Frankly, I've been at a loss on how to best proceed. The best thing I know to do: post a link to the local chapter of the American Red Cross, encourage you to go donate and volunteer ... and hope that eventually we can find something that's "normal."
Also, here's last week's ESPN segment about the "Toomer's for Tuscaloosa" group. It's, um, touching.

The ESPN segment didn't mention it, but in a way, this entire offseason has been one giant dose of perspective, starting with the poisoning of the trees at Toomer's, and subsequent outcry from both sides. Maybe one of these days, football might even be fun again.
Maybe that can be the new normal.

Let's hope. Roll Tide.