Monday, April 4, 2011

4 comments Gregg Easterbrook Thinks If It Weren't For Bracketology, There Would Be No War

Gregg Easterbrook is back. He has written a brief essay on one of the most important issues facing college athletics and the world today. Should the President of the United States also be a sports fan? Only Gregg Easterbrook would write a column for a sports website asking if sports are a good thing for people. Don't worry though, the premise is somewhat wrong and Gregg still has his whole "my shit don't stink" attitude going for him as well. It's like old times. Gregg doesn't have to tell you that he is better than you, he just knows it. He will not write using big words, be over-analytical and reference government agencies in an effort to show how smart he is.

Monday night, President Barack Obama addressed the nation to explain his sudden decision to order U.S. forces to attack Libya. Some critics have asked why, if as the White House claims the president had no time to consult Congress before ordering the attack, he nevertheless had time to deliver his March Madness picks to ESPN, as he has done the previous two years.

These critics then demanded to see Obama's birth certificate and boarded a tax-payer funded plane back to their home state just in time to catch the tail-end of the early NCAA tournament games.

The United Nations Security Council resolution being used to justify the attack on Libya was under consideration -- and at least 10,000 were dead in Japan from one of history's worst earthquakes -- just as the president was predicting who would make the Final Four.

Millions around the globe were starving later that evening when President Obama was eating. IF OBAMA HAS TIME TO EAT THEN WHY DOESN'T HE HAVE TIME TO HELP THE NEEDY CHILDREN WHO ARE HUNGRY IN AFRICA?

Of course, if Obama paid no attention to the annual college basketball tournament, the situation in Japan would be just as horrible.

"Of course Obama's full attention to the situations I am complaining he didn't pay full attention to would not have made a damn bit of difference in those situations, but isn't it fun to complain?"

But with a war about to begin and a natural disaster of historic proportions in progress, was it appropriate for the president to be fiddling around with brackets?

Absolutely not, President Obama was wasting time with his brackets when he could have been flying to Japan and using his superhuman strength to hold the tsunami back, while also using his power of super-cool breath to keep the nuclear reactors in Japan from over-heating in case he can't stop the tsunami's momentum. While he was at it, was it too hard to fly over Libya and singlehandedly overthrow the government? Doubtful it would have been difficult, but NOOOOO, Obama just had to take the time to predict the winner of his Pittsburgh-Butler matchup in the second round.

This raises the larger question:

Why does ESPN pay Gregg Easterbrook to write for them?

Should presidents succumb to America's national obsession with sports?

This is not the larger question, this is the smaller question. I doubt filling out and explaining his bracket took much more than hour to do. He probably filled out his bracket on a plane going somewhere where he needed to speak and then explained it to ESPN in 15 minutes.

Most do: Either because they like sports, or because they think involvement with sports will raise their popularity, or both. Is presidential affection for athletics good for the country?

What would Jesus think of sports? Would he like them? Would he hate them? Would he always help the Yankees win the World Series, because the Yankees are clearly God's chosen team?

Certainly it has long standing. George Washington, the first president, took office when organized sports did not exist. But children loved to play various games involving balls and sticks. So did Washington, one of whose favorite pastimes was playing catch.

(Gregg Easterbrook speaking to a crowd in 1775) "Why is George Washington playing catch with his friends? Is this the best use of his time? Shouldn't he be preparing ways to fight the British? Is our country obsessed with this ball-and-stick game? Why aren't they wearing helmets, doesn't this pose a negative risk to our children? What does this mean for our future count---"

(He is shot to death by a member of the crowd)

A backlash didn't take long to set in. Village competitions vaguely similar to rugby began to develop, and Thomas Jefferson, the third president, was not amused. "Games played with the ball," he declared, "are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind."

Then Jefferson went back to whipping his slaves for insubordination until he spied one good-looking slave he fancied...he didn't whip her, at least not out of anger.

Andrew Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, owned gamecocks -- today he'd be arrested for staging a cockfight -- and liked horse racing.

So is the point that Andrew Jackson was a barbarian...or what is the point exactly?

He built part of his early public reputation by triumph in wrestling contests, though may later have exaggerated his won-loss record.

At least he didn't celebrate his wrestling victories too much after the match. If he had Abraham Lincoln (the President Gregg is speaking of here) would definitely be on Gregg's bad side.

In 1892, Benjamin Harrison became the first president to attend a baseball game. In 1910, William Taft became the first president to throw a ceremonial pitch on Opening Day,

This day is otherwise known as, "the day the President stopped running the country and started paying attention to sports," which happens to coincide with the first century where America had a huge depression and got involved with a bunch of major wars. Coincidence? I think not.

By 1905, 22 college football players died during or immediately after games. That statistic is doubly shocking considering there were then far fewer college players than today.

Without a doubt, if Gregg were alive back then he would suggest all of these football players where a helmet. Gregg would then find out what kind of helmet works best and refuse to tell anyone.

In the 2002 book "What a Game They Played," Richard Whittingham reported that Red Grange went to the White House to meet Calvin Coolidge, who was president for most of the 1920s. When Grange was introduced to the president as a man who "plays with the Bears," the famously cryptic Coolidge replied, "I've always liked animal acts."

President, comedian, Calvin Coolidge.

At age 16, Coolidge's son Calvin Jr. developed a bad blister while playing tennis. At a time before antibiotics, the blister caused blood poisoning, and Calvin Jr. died. The depression that plagued Coolidge for the remainder of his life is believed to have been triggered by this sports-related death.

This is further proof that sports are terrible and should be outlawed!

See what happens President Obama when your children start playing sports? They die.

The site also notes that George H.W. Bush installed a basketball court at the White House in 1991, following the horseshoe pits he had installed two years earlier.

We never would have gotten into the Gulf War if George H. W. Bush had been paying more attention to what was going on in the Middle East and less time throwing horseshoes!

Dwight Eisenhower was renowned for spending significant amounts of time on the golf course.

I bet Eisenhower even spent time on the putting green before his round of golf. How the hell can he have time to play golf and putt around the greens and not work hard to prevent the rise of Communism, which led to John F. Kennedy being assassinated? If Dwight Eisenhower had not spent so much time on the golf course, President Kennedy would be alive today.

In the White House, Ford's sports choice was golf. When he swung so poorly that he hit a member of his own foursome, Ford helped launch the career of comedian Chevy Chase --- and make "Saturday Night Live" a national institution -- by providing a rich vein of Ford-klutz jokes.

If it weren't for Gerald Ford's love for golf, we wouldn't have had to deal with Chevy Chase's movie career from the early 1990's to modern day because he would still be a nobody comedian working in comedy clubs. Sports have clearly ruined America.

Gregg, if you haven't noticed, is listing every President and his interest in sports. I am not sure why he is doing this, other than to kill space and ruin his (assumed) general point that the President can run the United States effectively if he is a sports fan by showing nearly every President since 1900 was a sports fan and we haven't been overrun by the Communists quite yet.

Of the two most recent presidents, the George W. Bush loved baseball, and once was an executive for the Texas Rangers.

"Executive" being defined as "he co-owned the damn team."

The current president loves basketball and football both. Obama advocates a Division I football playoff system and has discussed the issue in detail with reporters. Trim and fit, he plays lots of tennis and has a surprisingly Eisenhower-like fondness for golf,


Thus presidents like sports. Does this harm the country? No, so long as sports interest is kept in perspective.

I see that Gregg Easterbrook has been reading JemeHill columns lately. Gregg has taken a fake argument that no one is attempting to prove and then disproves it. Of course, Gregg doesn't disprove it completely, he wants to leave the question hanging out there just in case in the future he needs to make himself look right by referring to this column. The key to being right is to near have a consistent message and never take a stand. So Gregg says it is not a bad thing for Presidents to enjoy sports, until a point. He never states what this point is.

Thus presidents like sports. Does this harm the country? No, so long as sports interest is kept in perspective.

No one is disagreeing with this. A President shouldn't use his status as President to overhaul college athletics or anything while America is struggling economically and are in three wars.

Some Americans become sports addicts, which is not good. Devoting a little of each day to sports is relaxing. As wit
h all of life's pleasures, sports should be enjoyed in moderation.

Wouldn't it be stupid for a President to take his love of sports and then try to pass legislation to fix college athletics simply because he enjoys college athletics? That would be crazy to do.

Wait for it, here comes an Easterbrookian contradiction...

But if a president is going to inject himself into an athletic issue, he should attempt to accomplish meaningful reform.

So the President should not get involved with college athletics past the point of moderation, but he should get involved to where he is trying to start change and reform within sports. Got that? So from Gregg's point of view, spending time watching sports and neglecting Presidential duties is a waste of time and should be avoided, but spending time trying to reform sports while neglecting Presidential duties should absolutely occur.

Considering the time Obama has spent on college basketball brackets and predictions, why has he been silent on the cynicism about education that afflicts this sport?

Gregg doesn't want Obama spending too much time watching sports, but he wants Obama to spend part of his Presidential agenda on reforming sports. This doesn't make sense.

I thought it was fine for the President to enjoy sports in moderation, so he still has time to focus on the three wars America is involved in, the economic issues facing the United States, the recovery in Japan and of course making sure he gets re-elected? If you are going to criticize a President for paying too much attention to sports, how can you advocate for that same President to spend PART OF HIS AGENDA as President focused on reforming college athletics? Rather than spending just his time with sports, the President would then be spending Congress, his aides, and countless others' time on sports. How does Gregg not get this?

Final Four entrants Kentucky and Connecticut have shockingly poor educational records. Kentucky graduates 31 percent of its male basketball players, UConn just 27 percent; both graduate a dismal 18 percent of African-American players.

Because Gregg doesn't believe in citing his sources, I have no idea where the hell he gets this information from. I do know I have seen this study that says Kentucky graduates 44% of its male basketball players and UConn graduates 31%. The totals for African-American players are 31% for Kentucky and 25% for UConn. Neither number is impressive of course.

If the president of the United States is going to stand on a bully pulpit to talk basketball, why doesn't he assail colleges like Kentucky and UConn with low standards: and also the NCAA, which averts its eyes from poor educational performance by big basketball programs?

Apparently in Gregg Easterbrook's world merely talking about sports that you enjoy leaves you to have an obligation to reform that sport. The second Obama says he enjoys NBA basketball, then he better start taking steps to ensure there isn't a lockout this summer.

Why would Obama simply fill out a bracket and not take the next logical step of overhauling the NCAA? Perhaps because he is a sports fan and doesn't want to spend administration assets that are better used on other things and in other places to take on this issue right now? How can a person like Gregg Easterbrook think Obama should be a sports fan in moderation and then expect him to spend administration resources on reforming college athletics? Is this really a relevant and desirable course of action right now?

Suppose Barack Obama pressured the NCAA -- which earns nearly all its revenue from March Madness -- to take true action regarding men's basketball and academics. Then reform might happen.

So Gregg's answer to his own question whether Presidential affection for sports is a good thing is, "It is a good thing if done in moderation on a personal level. It is a great thing if done using administration resources that are better spent somewhere else."

So spending too much of the President's time on sports is bad, spending too much of Congress' time on sports is good?

Virginia Commonwealth University graduates 54 percent of its African-American men's basketball players; Butler graduates 75 percent. By reaching the Final Four, VCU and Butler prove it is indeed possible to have a top men's college basketball program without making a sham of academics.

According to the chart I linked earlier, Butler graduated 50% of their African-American basketball players and VCU graduated 64% of their African-American basketball players. I am not sure where Gregg got his stats, because he just uses the statistics and doesn't link them in anyway. These numbers are better than other schools, but still not great.

Part of what Gregg is also going after here, and I know this because I read his columns whenever possible, is that "basketball factory" schools don't care about athletes graduating, while mid-major teams like VCU and Butler do care. I won't argue African-American basketball graduation rates are fantastic or all schools care about this issue, but let's look at the graduation rates of African-American players (the first number) and overall graduation rates (the second number) for some "basketball factory" schools. Some schools do as well or better than VCU and Butler do.

VCU: 64%, 56%
Butler: 50%, 83%
Arizona: 14%, 20%
Clemson: 80%, 71%
Duke: 80%, 83%
Florida: 33%, 44%
Georgetown: 75%, 78%
Gonzaga: 50%, 73%
Illinois: 100%, 100%
Kansas: 67%, 80%
Louisville: 50%, 50%
Michigan: 33%, 36%
Michigan State: 36%, 50%
North Carolina: 83%, 88%
Notre Dame: 100%, 100%
Ohio State: 55%, 64%
Pittsburgh: 60%, 64%
Purdue: 50%, 67%
Syracuse: 44%, 54%
Texas: 17%, 42%
UCLA: 63%, 70%
Villanova: 100%, 100%
West Virginia: 57%, 71%

The study I used was calculated as follows:

The Institute reviewed the six-year graduation rates of each school’s freshman class that enrolled in 2003-04, and it then calculated a four-class average (freshmen classes of 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04). The APR data in this study does not include data from the 2009-10 academic performances of the teams, but instead uses the four-year data from the 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 academic years.

So it appears to be pretty good data. My point is that "basketball factory" schools are capable of graduating players, though the disparity in African-American and white players is a bit disconcerting. Still, is more of the President's time on this issue really a good use of his time? More importantly than that, is this the biggest issue facing the NCAA right now?

Why doesn't President Obama weigh in on that?

Perhaps because, as Gregg stated, his love for sports should be taken in moderation. This means even though he loves sports, he shouldn't take up taxpayer money or any of his administration's time on reforming college athletics at this point.

In this article, Gregg has gone from questioning why Presidents spend so much time worrying about and playing athletics with so many pressing issues out there, to wanting the President to spend his resources on reforming college athletics. Typical Gregg.


Martin F. said...

We've touched on this before, but one of the problems with "graduation rate" is it says guys who leave college early to play in the NBA are not graduates. It also helps explain slight disparity at some of the top schools with African-American vs non grad rates.

Let's not be PC about this, most NBA level players are black, if not African-American. When Calipari's entire starting 5 leave to join the NBA, it's going to absolutely destroy the grad rate and the African-American grad rate at that school. When Arron Afflalo and Bryan Westbrook leave UCLA, it's going to be about a 7% difference between grad rates.

One thing that Gregg doesn't point out with his made up out of thin air numbers is that almost 50% of male students drop out of college anyway. Any grad rate over 50% is thus above the national curve and should be lauded, not bitched about.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, that's a good point. I don't know if it is non-PC to say that most NBA level players are African-American. Buzz Bissinger has already established for us this is true and we are all waiting on the Great White Hope.

So if those guys aren't counted in the rankings, then it may make sense for higher profile schools to be ranked lower because more of their athletes are leaving for the pros.

I don't have a huge problem with the overall graduation rate of athletes. To me, the bigger problem is the disparity between white and African-American athletes. Still though, what is overlooked is what you said. The graduation rate of African-American athletes exceeds that of normal African-American students. So why things are not great, they aren't dreadful either.

Many kids drop out of college at some point, I didn't know it was as high as 50%, so I don't think the athlete numbers as a whole are as scary as they are made to be.

your favourite sun said...

The annual "Obama brackets" nonsense is annoying. Both for the thing itself(I tune in for sports news and I'm seeing ESPN dipshits fawning over a jackass politician for what reason, exactly?) and the subsequent press coverage criticizing Obama for doing it. If he should have better things to do than talk about his brackets, the media should also have more important stories to cover or offer criticism on.

I was going to bring up the same thing about general student graduation rates but I see I was already beaten to the punch. These guys who bitch about athlete graduation rates never put the numbers in full context because that would almost always hurt their argument.

Bengoodfella said...

Sun, it is an easy article and I think that is what explains it. They can talk a/b Obama's bracket or criticize him for something.

It is a good point to make. Some of the facts a/b graduation rate are hard to see, but no one ever brings up grad rate for non-players b/c it ruins their argument. Can't let the facts hurt the argument.