Why ASU could become a force, Phil Fulmer's extension and more (cont.)
Stewart: I have noticed recently that of the 13 or so news headlines that appear on SI.com's college football page, at least half of them have the words "suspension," "arrested," "pleads guilty," or "felony" in the story headline. Has player behavior been more of a problem in recent years or is that just what the media tends to focus on?
Stewart, I was hoping you could provide some insight on media coverage of some off-the-field incidents involving college players. How is it that a minor offense like a disorderly conduct, such as the one by South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia, garners much more attention in the news than a major offense such as alleged assault and battery on your girlfriend, as happened with a Clemson player recently?
I've been getting a lot of questions along these lines lately. While I certainly don't condone unlawful behavior, and while I have no empirical evidence to support the following assertion, I do not believe players are getting into more trouble today than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago. In fact, I would not be surprised if there were more incidents in earlier eras, when the old "boys will be boys" mentality was more commonly accepted and coaches often had friendly "arrangements" with the campus police to help keep certain news under wraps.
The main reason these transgressions seem more prevalent now is that there was no Internet then. There were no blogs and message boards to send fans into a tizzy over every little incident, and there were no Web sites like this one to publicize said headlines across the globe. It's also not surprising to see more of these stories this time of year. For one, players have more idle time and fewer academic or football obligations. And from a media standpoint, there's not a whole lot else going on in the sport. A wire story that might barely raise a blip in the middle of October, when there's eight million other items making headlines, not only makes it onto a site like SI.com but then stays there for several days because there's nothing new to replace it.
As for William's question, one unavoidable reality of the media is that newsworthiness is dictated far more by the person involved than the severity of the alleged crime. Garcia was a high-profile recruit who many expected to become Steve Spurrier's savior quarterback. It's not surprising that his every misdeed gets chronicled publicly (especially when he's been arrested three times in his first 15 months on campus). The Clemson player in question, DeAndre McDaniel, is a sophomore safety who's unlikely to start this fall. Is there any question which one's troubles are going to raise more eyebrows?
Last week, I saw a replay of the 2004 Purdue vs. Wisconsin game, and it got me to thinking about how far Purdue has fallen since that game. Purdue was led that year by Heisman candidate Kyle Orton and entered the game 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country, while Wisconsin was No. 10. Unfortunately, the Boilers blew a 10-point lead with under eight minutes to go, and it led to a downward spiral that saw them lose their next three games by a combined seven points and a potential Rose Bowl berth become a Sun Bowl berth. They then missed a bowl in '05. These events have led to the fans turning on Joe Tiller, who is stepping down after this season. Can you remember any other programs that have suffered a similar situation (one traumatizing loss that sends the program into a nosedive)?
I remember that game well. I was covering a Florida State-Virginia game in Tallahassee that got out of hand almost immediately (the 'Noles wound up winning 36-3), and many of us in the press box found ourselves gravitating toward the TVs in the back to watch the dramatic end of that Purdue-Wisconsin game, in which the Badgers recovered an Orton fumble and ran it back 42 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Purdue's subsequent descent over the rest of 2004 and '05 (the Boilers went 4-11 at one point) was pretty horrific. But they have rebounded from it. They've won eight games each of the past two seasons, which might not appease Purdue fans (especially after losing to Indiana last year), but it's not exactly below-average for that program.
I'd offer up two recent teams that experienced similar, abrupt nosedives with far more severe consequences. One would be conference peer Michigan State, which seemed to be headed in the right direction under third-year coach John L. Smith when it started the 2005 season 4-0. QB Drew Stanton was beginning to garner similar national attention to that of Orton. But following a heartbreaking overtime loss to Michigan, the Spartans dropped five of their next six to finish 5-6, and when the same thing happened the following year (3-0 start gives way to 4-8 finish starting with a ridiculous Notre Dame comeback), Smith was fired.
And of course, nothing can compare to what happened to the turn Miami's program took starting on the second-to-last night of 2005. Prior to their Peach Bowl date with LSU, the 'Canes had posted a 53-8 record under Larry Coker. While they had started to show chinks in the armor in the '04 and '05 seasons, they'd also gone into Blacksburg, Va., earlier that year and stunned an 8-0 Virginia Tech team 27-7. But then came the 40-3 bowl beatdown by LSU, after which Coker fired half his staff. Miami tumbled to 7-6 the following season, Coker found himself broadcasting Sun Belt games on ESPNU and the 'Canes are still trying to dig themselves out from the ashes, going 5-7 last year.
Compared to that, I'd say Purdue got off easy.
Pac-10 graduates are passionate about sports, but (a) we've got so much else going on (and not just in L.A. I'm an Arizona grad, and there's as much to do in Tucson as L.A., except no beach) and (b) we're just plain far more relaxed and laid back than some of you loons in places like Morgantown, Ann Arbor, Columbus, Lincoln or Birmingham that don't have much else to look to but sports!
This was a pretty common sentiment amongst the Pac-10 theorists, and I agree with half of it. I've been to campuses all over this fine land of ours, and there's no question West Coast fans maintain a more balanced "perspective" than many of their counterparts. Case in point: The night before last year's Oregon-Arizona State game in Eugene -- a matchup of top-10 teams, with GameDay in town, etc. -- you never would have known there was a game the next day. No breaking into chants at bars. No getting to the stadium the night before to tailgate (it's not allowed). But come game day, the lots were full, the grills were cooking and the stadium was rocking.
But don't give me this "we live in cool cities and our lives are more complete than everyone else's" crap. A) Just because people in Alabama don't go windsurfing doesn't mean they don't have interests outside of football. And B) we all know you West Coasters spend just as much time on the Internet as the rest of us. If not for Seattle and Silicon Valley, we might not have the thing in the first place.
We Pac-10 fans don't need to overhype our teams. When you have to go around telling everyone you are so great, you usually aren't as good as you think (I'm looking at you SEC).
Something tells me I'm going to regret having printed this one the minute this Mailbag is published.