March Madness kicks off in less than a week, which means that everybody’s dusting off their cliches about the Big Dance. So I’ll shake the rust off a piece I published back in 2008 on Blogger where I lamented, to no avail, the use of imprecise bromides that have far more fizzle than sizzle. I think there’s a good argument that King Lear would also rage against such language. Alas, here goes my attempt to change your mind.
(March 19, 2008): I feel like putting on my dancing shoes, baby. It’s time for the Big Dance where a Cinderella always pops up. And it’s also that time when cliches run rampant. Writers and editors especially love using the Big Dance, but they also enjoy many other cliches. Many of these cliches are overused well before the NCAA Tournament begins. Games are frequently called tilts, teams fight back when their backs are against the wall, victories are hard-fought, and players assert their will.
Columnists are reporters with an opinion. The best columnists are also keen observers, precise writers, and excellent storytellers. A sports columnist should offer meaningful insights, cover sports ignored by others, address cultural criticism, and analyze games in considerably more depth than the average fan. A sports columnist should, at different times, afflict and comfort us. Write with style and grace, have strong opinions (sharpened with facts), and offer fresh perspectives.
EIU women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant and two of his players address the media, and my students, after a game last week. These experiences are invaluable for sports media students.
You can grill students all you want on interviewing techniques, keeping score, taking notes and writing game stories, but they won’t really learn until you throw them into live event coverage.
Everything makes sense until one has to cover a game on deadline.
America feels as though it is under siege right now.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are eloquently, candidly and smartly addressing the concerns they have about gun violence in America, certainly do. As does the NRA, whose president says that the Second Amendment is being attacked. There’s also President Trump, who claims that the FBI investigation into his administration is a threat. And there are also millions of Americans, who are concerned about our election process being hacked by Russians. There are also smokers, drinkers, non-smokers, Christians, Muslims and agnostics who have, in their minds, grave concerns about attacks on their way of life.
Add athletes to this list.
Looks like Vince McMahon might roll out XFL 2.0, which will be announced later this afternoon. Fans love football, but they have dismissed the World Football League, the United States Football League and the XFL’s first rendition during the past 40 years. NFL ratings may be somewhat lower the past few seasons, but its games continue to attract significant numbers of Americans. More than 43 million people watched last week’s AFC Championship game, making it the most watched TV show since last year’s Super Bowl.
For starters, here are a few changes I’d like to see:
No holding at the line of scrimmage. Let’s face it: NFL refs could call holding on nearly every play from scrimmage – unless it’s done by the Patriots, that is.) The NBA gave up calling walks years ago, which allows the game to flow more smoothly. Players adapted, and fans accepted this change.
FiveThirtyEight.com offers many terrific examples on ways to develop and write a story based upon statistical research.
If you’re interested in diving into the statistical side of sports coverage, look no further than FiveThirtyEight, which offers compelling analysis that’s clearly articulated.
You can find top-notch analysis at FanGraphs, Beyond the Boxscore, and FootballOutsiders.com. You can also regularly find fantastic coverage related to advanced metrics on a Wall Street Journal website that, unfortunately, is fairly expensive for those who seek only sports news. There’s also stories based on advanced metrics in Yahoo!, ESPN, and SB Nation, among others. But all pale compared to FiveThirtyEight.
Today, for example, Scott Kacsmar concludes that NFL coaches and quarterbacks should divorce after five years, if they have not already won a Super Bowl.
I’m not trying to wade into politics here – although I’ll gladly discuss my second fave topic elsewhere – but this interview with a Texas Congressman can serve to teach all journalists how to address sources who attack, deflect, obfuscate and conflate. Just imagine that an athletic director, coach, commissioner or agent is speaking instead.
Rep. Kevin Brady, the source interviewed during a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” was asked about part of a tax bill that will probably come to a vote later today by Willie Geist, among the better interviewers on TV. In particular: he asked about carried interest, a term very few people know much about. But isn’t that a reason we watch, listen and read news?