25 June 2008

The Rivalry - Debates on Draft

In the beginning The Rivalry, Esq. was about a single thing: two boorish undergraduates, sheltered and languid in their pursuit of knowledge, camped out at a college town imitation German pub: The Steinkeller.

Sometimes we would go on Thursdays, other times, Wednesdays -- sometimes once a week, other times twice or more -- and always for the same few truths: cold beer in fat mugs, and conflicting ideas about the nature of sport.

I've often cited Stanley Kubrick for the extopian idea that "If you can talk brilliantly enough about a problem, you can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered." 

This is our attempt at mastery. Two guys. One a Wolverine. The other, a Buckeye. Taking sides on some of the more relevant issues in college football. We think football is a little bit like life. (Maybe we think too much). Still, we'd like to welcome you to take the concrete stairs down to that little basement bar. The floor is sticky. The beer is cold. And the conversation is real.

Welcome to The Rivalry.

Internet Critics in the New Blogosphere: Yay or Nay?

Is it positive for College Football (and humanity in general) that everyone is a critic in the new blog/internet obsessed universe?


Arguing with my friends about the merits of our favorite college sporting programs has been a large part of my life since age 7. In 5th grade, I remember arguing with Evan Beach, a die hard Michigan State fan, over which Michigan sports program was superior. We would play one on one basketball (I was Chris Webber, he was Shawn Respert) and claim program superiority when one of us reigned supreme. We even violated that old Bible passage ("don't let the sun go down on your anger"), arguing until one of us drifted off to sleep. This constant flow of verbal disagreement regarding college sporting programs was a right of passage for every sports obsessed youngster and we took these arguments seriously.

The landscape of arguing and stating one's opinion about college sports has changed drastically with the Internet, and of course, the blogosphere. Now, personal communication is no longer needed to expound on your opinion and everyone knows it. Post a comment, write a short attack post, start your own damn blog...the opportunities to spout your own opinion are endless and impossible to be curbed or policed. Do you hate Tim Tebow? Tell the world in mocking comments or on forums. Don't have any proof that Tebow is horrible? None needed. I will argue that this new "everyone's a critic" online culture is a negative for college football and college fans in general.

Real friends? Who needs real friends?

Every blogger has faced a number of rude, unenlightening comments. In the short time that I have been blogging, I have been called a "biased loser clown," to put 3 separate insults together as artfully as possible. Now insults are a dime a dozen, and anyone who has ever argued college football with a friend has endured much worse insults than the aforementioned attacks. But these insults are far different than disparaging your buddy over beers because he still argues that the Miami Hurricanes were the 2002 National Champions.

The short attacks, popularized in chat forums and on blogs, have replaced friendly, in-person arguments much more reminiscent of 10-15 years ago. These short attacks are impersonal and hold no accountability, people write them because they are too lazy to research or too impatient to cultivate relationships where coherent discourse would follow. Do you dislike a post or a disagree with a forum topic? Attack the manhood of the blog writer and then write YOUR TEAM'S NAME IN CAPS FOLLOWED BY AN EXCLAMATION MARK!

No Need for Lee Corso

The extremely critical Internet sniping at bloggers and fellow fans has made everyone an expert; this is a dangerous development. If everyone is an expert and already knows how results will turn out, who needs Kirk Herbstreit and his inside knowledge? Whoops, bad example. If everyone is an expert, who wants to read Phil Steele or listen to in-depth analysis?

"...disagree with a forum topic?  Attack the manhood of the blog writer and then write YOUR TEAM'S NAME IN CAPS FOLLOWED BY AN EXCLAMATION MARK!"

After one Big East blogger named Rutgers3 read my Big East football conference preview, he quickly wrote on his forum wall that I was an idiot clown and he had the real preseason rankings for the 2008 Big East. His referred to his rankings as "stone cold locks." His picks?

WVU, SF, Rutgers, Louisville, UCONN, PITT, 'Cuse

One problem: He forgot that Cincinnati played in the conference. One other problem: He doesn't care if Cincinnati plays in the Big East; this blogger got his moment in the sun to be the "know it all" expert and he seized it, albeit idiotically. The new culture of arguing college football online has demeaned the sports analysis of educated, informed writers and made fans like Rutgers3 an expert.

Desecrating the New Sacred Soil of the Internet

Just as the football stadiums of OSU and UM have switched from old fashioned grass to a hybrid sports surface, the forum where college football fans argue and prognosticate has changed from dorms and living rooms to the Internet and Blogs. Don't get me wrong, the Internet has been a tremendous boon for everything college football. The Internet has given us Kevin Hart, Youtube highlight clips of star high school players, and year-round college football analysis. The Internet is a giant forum where information and analysis subsists positively.

But this blessing has been taken advantage of and used in a negative manner. The new college football blog culture has manifested impersonal insults and a batch of uninformed, arrogant "experts." So please, give me a beer and an opinionated college football buddy over this amalgamation of "lol ur team blows" posts and experts like Rutgers3.


Allow me to open my defense of what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called the "marketplace of ideas" by pointing out two incongruent ironies:  First, I -- the poster child for big words and squeaky-clean gramatics, who always writes complete sentences, even in text messages -- am called upon to defend the LOL crowd.  The ones who won't read down this far because they're too busy ROFL.  Here's a message you'll understand:


(Shut the f*** up and read up please.  I just want to say, I hear you.)

The second irony is an open-source blogger who tells us there's something wrong with open-source ideas.  

Blogger?  Member?  There's no real difference 

Now, I believe Graham would have us distinguish between individuals who write in paragraph form on weblogs in which they share a vested interest and orphan fans who wonder from site to site spewing the gospel of their team.  By his vantage the former is permissible (if it weren't there would be no reason to do what we do here), but the later is "dangerous."

The problem is I don't think you can differentiate between the two.  Why?  Because they're both independent pundits who 1. Sign up to take advantage of free web-publishing services (whether hanging up their shingle on Blogger or signing up on a forum by e-mail address), 2. with the express purpose of communicating with others -- friend and foe alike, 3. united by a common enthusiasm for the game.

"Whether Whitman or WTF, expression is expression."

It seems then that the only real difference is that (at first appearance) one puts a little more time into his or her work than the other.  Bloggers like us spend hours fine tuning our content.  It takes a rogue member only a few seconds to tear it down, or so the argument goes.

This is unavailing for two reasons: First, members aren't trespassers (to wonder into the law of Torts for a few seconds they're invited guests -- we say invitees).  If you don't want to take the heat from sniper fire commentators, lock down their ability to post on your site.  Most webmasters don't do this because they enjoy the sparring.  Heck, it's flattering.  And we want readers.  

Second, freelance member pundits are fans just like bloggers.  They've simply elected to spend their free time feeding off a constellation of sites rather than marrying themselves to just one.  Members spend every bit the amount of time fact checking and fine tuning their commentary as the Almighty webmasters.

No harm, no foul

Graham would have us believe that, "The landscape of arguing and stating one's opinion about college sports has changed drastically...Personal communication is no longer needed to expound on your opinion and everyone knows it" 

To quote Stephen Jenkins (of Third Eye Blind acclaim): You said that I changed/well maybe I did/But even if I changed/What's wrong with it?

The Internet has ushered in a new ocean of potential in communication.  While we continue to struggle with the sociology of web identity, and the limits on the freedom of anonymous speech, there's still no denying its tendency to empower the masses.  The pen is the poison arrow, and with the ease of the typestroke we all have the ability to author our own gestalt.    

The New Deal of Communication is overwhelmingly positive for the following reasons: 

1. Speech is speech, whether shouted from the bleachers or typed on the basement PC in the company of cinder blocks.  

2.  There's no such thing as a decline in accountability.  Has "accountability" ever mattered when you the visiting fan walk by the home team's tailgate?  

3. Despite what Hillary Clinton says, "critical sniping" isn't even close to dangerous.  Can anyone here honestly claim to be offended by anything ever said in response to a comment they've made on a weblog?  

4. There always has been and there always will be a place for mainstream media.  Bonfires need tinder, after all.  

5. Finally, open-source commenting expands a community of ideas (however limited the dialect).  Whether Whitman or WTF, expression is expression, and the wider the horizon the more room for exploration.

Graham appeals to the good ol' days of bar booths and cross-table banter.  But if you're an Irish fan living in South Bend, it's often hard to grind ax P2P with a Trojan.  The Internet allows you to do just that, in real time.  If you don't like the depersonalization of the medium -- don't surf.  Ditch the hyperlinks for your favorite neon sign.  But if you're like me you'll borrow from the old adage and keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

After all, the bars close at 2, but the net is open all night.

Call it the best of both worlds.

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