Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Condoleezza Rice, College Football and Why Experience is Overrated

Last week Condoleezza Rice was selected as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee— the group responsible for selecting 4 teams to play in college football’s mini playoff. Upon selection, Condoleeza Rice unofficially became the token double minority for traditionally white, male organizations. When Augusta National decided to add a female member, who did they pick?
Condoleezza Rice.
So it’s no surprise that when whoever picked the playoff committee saw that their committee was both too white and too male, they picked Condie. (I have to clarify here that I’m in no way criticizing Condoleeza Rice, or attributing her accomplishments to some social glass elevator. I happen to like her, and I respect her accomplishments quite a bit. A bunch of crackers adding her to clubs and committees doesn’t reflect negatively on her, in my opinion)
Rice is the safest diversity addition to any organization because, outside of Clayton Bigsby (“Condolangas Rice!”), everyone likes her. Republicans like her because she’s a Republican. Democrats like her because she’s a successful black woman. Both seem like strange reasons to like a person, but that’s where we are in 2013. It also helps that she seems like a friendly, smart woman, and was a seemingly competent Secretary of State, which appeals to…everyone.
I’ve never met her; this is just speculation. But if I think she’s a nice, smart, competent person then most people probably do too, and that’s the important thing. People like her. You can’t go wrong adding Condoleeza Rice. She’s like avocado. She goes great on anything.
On October 5th, ESPN College Gameday analyst David Pollack took some heat for a comment he made regarding the rumor that Condoleezza Rice would be on the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“Now I’m going to stick my foot in my mouth, probably, I want people on this committee that can watch tape, that have played football, that are around football, that can tell you different teams on tape, not on paper.” Host Chris Fowler asked Pollack if he was implying that no women should be allowed on the committee, and Pollack said “yeah,

Pollack later clarified his comments in a tweet

I’m not particularly interested in whether Pollack was sincere when he said he thought women shouldn’t be on the selection committee (he was), or if his tweet was a more thorough reflection of his views (it wasn’t. It was damage control). There’s a lot more to his quote. It isn’t that Pollack doesn’t want women on the list. Pollack doesn’t want anyone who hasn’t played football on the list. It has nothing to do with women, and everything to do with playing experience. He’d probably be perfectly fine if Becky “The Icebox” O’Shea was on the committee.

Pollack isn’t alone as a former player (Pollack was a 3 time College All- American and a 1st round NFL pick before suffering a career ending injury. Thanks Wikipedia!!!) who dismisses anyone who hasn’t played college or professional athletics. It was the underlying theme of the only week ESPN’s First Take actually featured thoughtful debate.

Skip Bayless had a rotating cast of ex jocks come on the show and more or less explain why their opinions were more important. Inferior journalists/superior athletes arguing with a superior journalist/inferior athlete. It’s worth watching.

Hearing athletes turned journalists dismiss fans has always irritated me for a two reasons.

1) We overrate experience.
Look at every pregame/post game show. It’s 4-6 ex players or coaches being baby sat by an anchor like Chris Berman or Ernie Johnson. A desk full of ex jocks gives the set a sense of authority. These guys played/coached, so we assume they’re going to tell us information that’s gained through years of two-a-days and suiting up on Sundays.
But for every time Ron Jaworski explains a quarterback’s read progression on a play, or Barkley tells a story about how players on his team responded to a similar present day situation, we hear Shannon Sharpe or Cris Carter talking about how guys today don’t hit like they used to. Although, Shannon Sharpe does occasionally strings together complete sentences, so maybe I’m being too hard on him.

When ex players give the exact same analysis as talk radio hosts (“Might as well put skirts on ‘em!”) what’s their value? Ex- Players and coaches can offer unique insight, but too often they just rehash the same argument as everyone else. Shit is shit no matter who says it. Maybe the absence of intelligent player commentary is due to TV editors trying to keep the show accessible to the casual fan, I’m not sure.
2) We think sports are a lot more complicated than they actually are.
What exactly is the responsibility of the College Football Playoff selection committee? To say teams A,B,C and D are better than other teams. Does it really require a life centered on football to identify the 4 best teams in the country? Not really. Most fans of football can easily identify the 4 best teams in the country, and I bet all of their top 3’s would be the exact same as the current BCS poll. You don’t need to "know how to watch tape" to know that Alabama and Oregon should be in the playoff.
Can sports be complex? Sure. Football is probably the most complicated because of the challenges presented by having 22 players on the field. But are there really aspects of on field play that a studious non player can’t understand? Take SI’s Peter King for example. King never played in college and obviously never played in the pros, and yet he’s somehow become an authority on all things football. Is King less qualified to talk about football than Terry Bradshaw because he never played? People who have listened to Terry Bradshaw for the past decade are shaking their heads vehemently. (I could list GMs of pro teams without playing experience but this blog is getting to long as it is.)
I’m not sure when it happened (I think it was probably before I was born), but we treat sports like academic endeavors. And for some players, sports areintellectual. Larry Bird was a basketball genius. Ed Reed was a football genius. Miguel Cabrera is a baseball genius. But those guys are the exception. Most professional athletes are professional athletes because they’re bigger, stronger and faster than the rest of the population through nature and nurture. It’s rare to see 1 player that’s both the most physically gifted, and mentally gifted player on the field/court/rink. See: James, Lebron.
I don’t think athletes are dumb. Not even close. I’m clarifying because that would be an easy dismissal of my argument. But maybe we can stop talking about how smart some player is because they make a nifty backdoor cut.
Condoleeza Rice is probably a smart person. I’m hoping that’s a requirement to be the Secretary of State. She probably has decent judgment. I’d heard before this that she was a big football fan. Does it  honestly matter that she hasn’t played? Does that mean she can’t objectively compare two teams? At the worst she’ll just read the top 4 teams listed in the BCS rankings. I think we’re all gonna be ok.
-Joe Turner (@Joe_Turner00)

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